Friday, March 31, 2006

Learnin' Things - Important Distinctions 

So, as some of you may have noted, I've taken up learning about baking. It's something to do that isn't playing video games and it seems its actually a practical skill to develop. Tonight, I wanted some cornbread to go with my soup. So I followed the directions on my corn meal canister and popped it in the oven. It came out looking like cornbread. Smelled like cornbread. Must be cornbread. Why does it taste gross then, and faintly like soap? I read over the recipe again. Seem to have done everything right. Sugar, salt, baking powder, milk, egg...wait, wait, wait...did that say baking soda or baking powder? Hmm, powder. Wonder if that's the same as the soda version. I look it up. "Baking soda is four times as powerful as baking powder and though it has the same net effect, it accomplishes it in a slightly different chemical way. If you use baking soda instead of baking powder, use an appropriately reduced amount. Too much baking soda will result in a slightly soapy taste." Damn.

I'll be making some more cornbread tomorrow and will be using appropriately less baking soda. Cornbread will not defeat me.


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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"You'll be paid in other ways." 

It is days like today that remind me my life will not be normal.

It will not be like the lives of my friends, my brothers, or my parents.

It will be different.

Before 11am and after about noon today, I lived a normal day. I went to worship, to lunch, to the gym, I attended class, sang Evensong, had dinner, came home and watched tv. But that 11:00 hour was something. And as I sit here tonight, writing this between commercials on tv, trying to think about it and not think about it at the same time, I feel so strongly that I have to sacralize this in some way. I cannot let a moment like that time pass without reflection, without further notice. I cannot go through the rest of my day like it was any other day.

If you told me 10 years ago, heck even five years ago, that by the time I was 25 I would hold the hand of no less than three people as they died, I would have thought you crazy and maybe a little morbid. But today, at about 11:20am, as those of us sitting vigil were in the midst of praying the 23rd psalm, a man breathed his last and surrended his spirit back unto God who gave it.

CPE had its moments like this, but this time it was different. This time I knew and was close to the family, through my time at St. Luke's. This time, the pain hit me harder; the sorrow of the family struck a chord closer to my heart and I shared in their grieving and their thankfulness for his life in a deeper way. For that, in some way, somehow, I am grateful.

Very early on in my journey towards seminary and eventually ordination, during or maybe before even the aspirancy phase, I met with the rector of my home church, St. Hilary's. And in that very candid conversation we had, Bob mentioned compensation. I'll never, ever forget what he said.

"It is true. You will not be paid as highly as you would be in other careers. But, you'll be paid in other ways. The first time to hold someone in your arms as they cross over the barrier between life and death, the first time you hand someone to the Lord and then let go, you'll know how you are being paid."

Bob, thank you for those words. They are uber-true.


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Kadima Wins in Israel Election 

Ehud Olmert, the Kadima party PM who took over after Ariel Sharon's stroke, declared victory for his party early in the election count process in Israel on Wednesday. Now that 99.5% of the votes have been counted, it seems his victory is assured. Kadima is the party created by Sharon after he split from the Netanyahu dominated Likud party over the Gaza withdrawl (among other things). In case, you missed the report, the Labor party won 20 seats, and the ultra-Orthodox (religiously, as oppossed to necessarily politically) Shas party won an unprecedented 13 seats, making them the third largest part represented, even over Likud.

I believe all of this represents a victory for Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Sharon was on the right track with his Gaza withdrawl, which of course, upset the right-wingers who back Netanyahu. Now it seems Olmert will continue on this track and begin working with Palestinian PM Abbas (and hopefully with Hamas as well) on the plan for a withdrawl from the West Bank. Many people suspect that this election will provide the government that will determine the borders of Israel and a Palestinian state. If that is the case, then a Kadima victory may be one of the best things to happen. Now, Hamas needs to get on board. They need to agree to work with Olmert and Abbas on getting this done. As always, Jerusalem will likely be the sticking point. Only time will tell, but I believe Israel is finally stepping up to the plate to admit their mistakes and begin to do justice to the Palestinian people. Chesed may be too much to ask for at this point, but one can hope for an outbreak of it between Israelis and Palestinians!


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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Play Church" Assignments 

The third quarter of the third year at Seabury, students can elect to take the Liturgical Practicum class, otherwise known as "play church". It's where we get to learn about how to "do" the liturgies, which we have already studied theologically and historically. Over the course of the term, we have to participate in three fake liturgies: once as a presider, once as a Deacon/Assistant/Preacher, and once as a participant. So, the assignments were finalized today. I will be:

Assistant Priest as a standard Rite II "Eucharist"
Presiding over the "Wedding" of two of my classmates
--and the crowning glory--
"Baptized" by Immersion

This made the term seem slightly more interesting. Between that and a friend of mine who is a junior telling me, lovingly, to quit whining about having a whole 7 or 8 more weeks of school left (point being he's got 2.25 years), I'm going to try and do a little less wallowing. This is not aided by the fact that I found out today another classmate of mine is doing 3 extra credits of field ed and doesn't have to return to class. Now, why didn't I think of that?! I was briefly tempted to do some serious drop/add work, but already being signed up for group projects and all, I thought that would be a jackass sort of thing to do. Plus, I don't want to deprive my classmates the joy of drowning...err...immersing me.


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Lacking Enthusiasm 

I went to class today and I must admit I am seriously lacking enthusiasm for this quarter. I need 1/3 of a credit to graduate, but I decided I was going to take close to a full course load anyway to get the most bang out of my buck.

But I miss being at St. Luke's already.

The student-preached sermon today at Mass was inspiring and hit home for me. Part of it dealt with the fact that in seminary we spend all of our time preaching the Gospel Mission but not doing it, talking about action but then rushing off to our next meeting while throwing a semi-joking remark over our shoulder about being over-scheduled, and spending more time reading about ministry than practicing it. I wanted to say, "Hey! I was doing it! I was actually doing ministry and loving it! But then I had to come back here and sit in a classroom again! What gives?"

I wonder if other third year seminarians feel the same way? I wonder if those who graduated before me experienced the same kind of disappointment after field ed?

I went to the mini-course at St. Luke's tonight on the Battle Over the Holy Land and as I walked in and went into my office to get some materials needed for the AV setup, I had a brief moment to reflect. I won't be sitting in there during the week much anymore. As I walked into the parlor to help set up, I thought, "I am excited to be here. I want to do this more. But I have school still."

I guess this is good for when I start at St. Mark's in July. But for the time being, it's all a bit anti-climactic, disappointing, and, I'm sorry to say, kinda boring.


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Monday, March 27, 2006

All of a sudden I have class again... 

After a semester of field ed and a week away, all of a sudden I have class again, starting tomorrow. This is my last quarter of school. Ever. If it weren't Lent, I'd say the "A" word. I think it might be hard to get back into the school mindset; motivation is lacking at this current point in time. But, what must be done, must be done.

On an unrelated noted, I learned a new trick today. Inspired by the example of some others, I decided I needed to amp up my cooking skills and learn some basic techniques. I found some ridiculously cheap -- we're talking $2-$4 -- cookbooks at Border's today on the clearance racks, so I picked those up. Then, I went to the grocery store and bought some staples (for the kitchen, not the office). Upon my return home, I began educating myself. So, for my new trick, I discovered that you mix up some flour with some other ingredients in the right amount, do something called kneading, wait forever in a day, then bake, and something remarkably simlilar to this comes out:

It was/is (I'm far from finished with it) both tasty and delicious. My baking pan wasn't large enough to contain it, thus the crescent shape. I'm amazed at myself and at the fact that it worked. WHat'll they think of next?!


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Friday, March 17, 2006

The Little Hurler 

Now, while I did suggest to my brother Brennan that he begin his own blog to update his fan base on his latest sporting feats, the one I got last night is so good, it bears mentioning here. Brennan threw his first complete game at the Varsity level, leading his team to an 8-2 victory in Miami last night. I did not get the number of K's but knowing how he throws, there were several. Well done, bro!

So, after that game, my parents returned to the Hard Rock Casino hotel where they were staying to fulfill one of my mother's life long aspirations - playing a slot machine. Now, she was sorely disappointed, not only cause you did not win, but because there was no lever to pull and the figures spinning round and round were not fruit, but unrecognizable indistinct objects. My aunt, who only last year won the Florida Lottery, puts in $10, plays for 5 minutes, and comes out $50 ahead. When Dad told me that, I blurted out, "Ok! She is no longer allowed to gamble!" Dad replied, "What are you talking about? We should hire her to gamble!"


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Full, and Fulfilling Day 

Ever have those times when you have a million things to do, wish that you could have gotten some of them done in advance, but know that was impossible? Today, and really, this whole weekend is like that for me. But, all those things I need to do and have done today have been fulfilling and in the service of the Lord, so for that I am thankful. Today, I met with a parishioner for some pastoral work and some laying on of hands and prayer; I designed and planned three liturgies for this weekend's St. Luke's vestry retreat (a morning devotion based loosely on some Celtic prayers, a Night Prayer and a Eucharist, both based on the prayers from the New Zealand Prayer Book); I had a heck of a work out; I met someone for coffee; and I talked to a friend on the phone with whom I had not chatted in a while - we talked about her potential call to ordained life that she has just started feeling. In the course of that conversation she said a really nice thing that made my day. She said, "Ryan, I've always felt like I could talk to you about all those things that other people would just laugh at me for." Now, that's something I want said at my funeral (not that I plan on it coming up anytime soon). We talked. We laughed. We remembered. We prayed. And I hope we moved a baby step forward in some important discernment work that seems to be crying out to be done. She would make a great ordained person. Whether that's going to manifest itself as a permanent Deacon or as a Priest, we'll see, but she will make a great ordained person either way. It was a fulfilling and encouraging conversation. Pray f0r her with me, if you would, faithful reader.

Tomorrow, if I am to get everything done I need to get done before I have to leave for DeKoven for the retreat, I think I am going to need Prof. Emmett Brown's DeLorean.

In other news, the sermon went well yesterday, if "well" is an adjective that can be applied to that sort of sermon. It had the delivery I wanted it to have. My message was conveyed. And I obeyed the Spirit and didn't try to talk longer than the Spirit was giving me words. So, it was somewhat brief, but that's ok. It elicited several quite loud acclamations of "Amen" from the congregation, which is unusual for that congregation, so that made me feel like the message was received well and in the spirit in which is was given.

And now, I need to get to bed.


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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sermon on the Morrow 

I am preaching at Mass tomorrow morning at St. Luke's and the anger which I referenced in my previous posting has come out in my sermon. I feel like I just preached a hell of a sermon; my first ever that approaches true fire and brimstone. But I preached it to myself. I pray that tomorrow it comes out even stronger, when I am sharing the anger of my heart and spirit with my brothers and sisters. If it is of God, it will.


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I'm Confused 

So, the Israeli government says they need to see more autonomy from a proto-Palestinian government. They need to see a proto-Palestinian government deal with their own security issues and clamp down on terror and suicide attacks. That before they see this, they cannot relinquish military and police control totally.

So, then, not even hours after an international watch community leaves a prison in Jericho, Israel lays siege to the prison with tanks and bulldozers demanding the prison hand over one of the prisoners, who is reputed to have been involved in the assasination of an Israeli cabinet member. But wait a minute. Wasn't he already in prison? Now, I may have misread the situation, cause I admit, the news reports were confusing, but this just doesn't make any sense. And it makes me mad. This week, I find myself filled with more anger than is usual about the situation over there.

I'm angry. And if I'm angry all the way over here, I can only imagine how folks over there feel.


[Later: As if in reply, BBC offers this Q&A. Next time, they can just post it under the comments section.]

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In short, today was a great day. I slept in, recovering from my weekend and spent a little time this morning with my thoughts, processing. Some processing work done with a friend over the phone too, with whom I've had anti-racism type conversations before, and that was good.

Went in to the office after lunch (we typically get Monday mornings either off or begin them at a leisurely pace) and met some parishioners who were coming in to set up the AV equipment for this week's installment of the "Battle for the Holy Land" class. Spent almost two hours just chatting with them and learning a little more about what is going on in their lives. The relational aspect of this vocation is one of the major reasons I wanted to get into it, cause I love it! One of the parishioners has a company called Xunesis, working to bring together science and the arts on stage and screen. Their website is very interesting, you should check it out. But, he was telling me about their latest project and it sounded so cool. They're doing some work around the psychology and sociology of criminal confessions, particularly when the confession is false and the perceived perpetrator actually innocent. It was fascinating stuff.

After that, I hit the gym with Jonathan, who said he wanted to max out the bench today. I said I would help him do that but that I was just going to do my regular set. But then, watching him max I got pumped to do it myself so I got in on the game. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a milestone day for me. I am almost at my weightlifting goal. In college, the last time I maxed and when I was arguably in the best shape of my life, I maxed out at 185. My lifetime goal is to bench 200 (and then I'll buy the tshirt). Today, I put up 195 with no assistance but didn't have 200 in me. Nonetheless, it was so exciting! I lifted more than I ever have before and am really, really close to my goal. I can taste it! "195" became the cahnted mantra for the rest of the day! (I know this kinda stuff bores some of you out there, and some of you even feel it is a bit narcissistic, but exercise is important to me and that is why I share it here. I'm not trying to boast that "I'm so strong, look at me..." type stuff at all. Cause believe me, there are guys in the Y who bench what I can't even fathom. What I am trying to share is that I have set a goal for myself that is important to me, and that I have almost reached it.)

To top off my great day, the "Holy Land" class was great and then I shot some pool with some of the guys afterwards, while also getting to spend some time with a wonderful young lady.

Like I said, it was a great day.


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Monday, March 13, 2006

Training Weekend 

I was at an anti-racism training weekend for the past three days. It was there that the instructor told us that, from time to time a little self-flatulation was a good thing. I think she meant self-flagellation.

The weekend was long, difficult, exhausting. In no way am I prepared to say it was a good thing, either. For me, it was not one of those experiences where I can look back on it and say, "Yes, that was painful and tough, but it was worth it because of all I learned" (like CPE). If I learned anything at all, it was a few interesting techniques for manipulating a group of people and the fact that no mater what I do, where I go, whom I serve, or how ever many trainings I attend, I will, always and forevermore, by virtue of the fact that I am white, be a racist.

Apparently being able to say that is a good thing. Cause the next thing I'm suppossed to say is that I am also an anti-racist. Well, I always thought of myself as one. I've always (in my adult life - in my youth I made a grave error for which I learned a hard lesson) held to the belief that a way to increase equality is not to take away privilege from those who have it, but to extend privilege to all.

In any event, racism is, in my firm opinion, a generational problem that will only be "solved" through the passing of generations. No matter how good or how bad any 2.5 day training session is, those alone will never "solve" racism. The good ones may help (and what those look like, I don't know). The bad ones...well, I'll let you know what their effects are after I figure them out.


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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What they don't teach you in seminary... 

...apartment living just might be able to teach. Many of my recently graduated and employed colleagues say that seminary does not teach you many things you need to know for parochial ministry. Chief among these areas of ignorance are maintanence issues, like electricity, plumbing, even roofing. Well, today I got a full dosage of maintanence education, but not from seminary. This came from my very own living environment. Upon arising, I went to the computer to pay some bills. When I opened my electric bill I was astounded. It showed a $77 increase over last month's, and frankly, over all the previous bills. The amount of Kwh's it said I used was unreal, actually, given the small space I'm in and the relatively small amount of electrical demand I place on it (which is in and of itself sometimes too much with the vacuum running, causing a fuse to blow), actually impossible. There is no physically possible way I could have used that much electricity. So, suspecting an error, I called the company. They said that sometimes the meter reader misreads the meter, and could I go read it myself. I said that wasn't a problem. She asked if I knew how to read a meter. Having never thought about it before, I said, "I guess not." She explained it, gave me the meter reading for which I was billed and said if I read it and it is lower than this number, then it is a misread on their part and they'll correct it. So I went and read it. Indeed, it was lower, by, oh, say just a thousand Kwh. I called back and they corrected the error, and billed me according to my reading. So, I learned about electricity meter reading.

Then, this evening, when I came home I walked into the apartment to be greeted by the overwhelming smell of gas (and not the kind that my body produces after getting near oregano). I hastened to open a window and checked to see if the stove was off. It was. Knowing no other recourse, I called the gas company and chose the option for a possible gas leak called, "Report an Emergency." It made me feel a bit like Fox News to actually say that, but I did. The woman told me that the technician would be out within the hour and for me not to turn on anything electric that may spark. Wonderful, thought I, I could blow up at any moment. So, what did I do? I showered. If I was going to blow up, at least I would be clean. The technician came out, inspected the stove and immediately announced, "Your pilot light has gone out." Feeling dumb, I said, how do you know? He had me touch the stove and said this part of the stove top should normally be warm. It was cold. He said that anytime that happens you'll smell gas. He went on to say that I should relight the pilot cause if he did it, it would cost me forty dollars. Feeling dumber, I said, "I've never had to do that before, how do I get to the pilot?" He very calmly and patiently lifted up the stove top (which I did not know you could do, and so also discovered a way to clean the spilled tomato soup for a month or so ago) and there were two pilot lights, one flaming, the other one out. I relit it, expending one paper match and saving myself forty dollars. And so, I learned about gas leaks (including a special instrument they use to detect them), and pilot lights and their relighting. You could say I learned that in the world of gas stoves, it is possible to have too much turned off. All in all, an educational day.

Also had a helluva workout at the gym, so I feel good.


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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A "Slaughteration" 

My brother rightly pointed out that I haven't blogged in a while, and that is in part due to the shocking fact that I really haven't had that much to say recently. He, doing his part to get things moving at a regular pace again, suggested modestly that I blog about him. Specifically his high school team's baseball score tonight. Facing an obviously weaker opponent, the mercy rule kicked in during the 5th inning. In the course of the "slaughteration" (as my mother put it), Brennan went 2-3 with two 2B and 3 RBI's. The final tally was 30-4. Well done, bro!


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Friday, March 03, 2006

Everybody's Just a Little Bit Racist 

I should email the Anti-Racism Training Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and tell them I no longer need to come in a few weeks to the training. Last night, I watched Crash. Yep, that outta about do it.


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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Two, Unrelated Notes 

Earlier this week the St. Luke's community celebrated the life of one of our members who graduated (as my dear departed friend Jim Newton would have said) to his reward. The homily was given by an old friend of his who is a retired Lutheran pastor, and it was quite stirring. During it, he recited a poem that he and the departed often shared with one another in times of national strife. The poem, by Robinson Jeffers, is entitled "Shine, Perishing Republic" and I commend its reading to you highly.

We are now in Lent, a time of penitence and fasting, a time of hope and renewal. As I began to reflect on what Lent means for me, this year, in this time and place, I was compelled to read aloud, to myself, the Invitation to a Holy Lent, found on page 264-65 of the Book of Common Prayer. Sure, the priest reads it each Ash Wednesday, but sometimes, I'm only awake enough at that early service to vaguely understand someone is smearing something on my head. So, I reread it, almost in a Lectio Divina style. What really jumped out at me were the themes of restoration and reconciliation as being the end towards which our Lenten goals should be aimed. What is it in my life that prevents me from being restored to God? From being reconciled with my neighbors? That is what I needed to think about. And think about it I did. So, for my Lenten disciplines, I will not be drinking alcohol and I will be reading Dr. Aaron Lazare's book, On Apology. What will you be doing?


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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

We exorcised that squirrel 

And, we're back, ladies and gentlemen! When the cable guy arrived this morning, he took one look at what the TV was doing and declared this was a problem with the wiring outside. So he got up on his ladder and opened the cable box. He almost fell over backwards when the squirrel leaped out at him and scurried down the wall. Then, amazed, he extracted an enormous nest comprising twigs, moss, leaves, plastic bags, a half bag of rotted wonderbread, and various other unique items. When he removed the damaged wire, it had been chewed clean through to the copper core by said squirrel. You would think this would shock the squirrel, but I guess not. With the wire replaced, everything worked as normal and I went about my day - a very long, but blessed Ash Wednesday.

The Lady Chapel was far fuller this Wednesday than normal Wednesdays at the 10 am service, and it was great to see so many people. I assisted with the imposition of ashes and the Mass, which was a blessing. There is something incredibly human, incredibly personal about imposing ashes and saying those time honored words (which will forever resound in my head in Fr. Miller's bass voice). Then we traveled to the home of a man who cannot make it to church and did the service with him. From there we went to a rehab home and met a parishoner who lives there. We did the service in the Cafeteria and after we finished, a friend of the parishoner came over and asked if we could do her. Happily, we agreed. Soon, there was a small line of other patients and staff. Then, more and more staff came over to have ashes imposed on thier foreheads. We probably imposed ashes on over twenty foreheads. Of course, we thought later, the lower tier workers of these places are usually all Hispanic or Filipino Roman Catholic women who will not be able to get to a service that day because of work. We thought for next year, what a ministry it would be to go to hotel kitchen, restaurant kitchens, nursing home staff, custodial staff everywhere and impose ashes right there in their workplace. The ones today were truly blessed and a blessing.


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