Thursday, August 31, 2006

And Having Done All, to Stand. 

I get to preach on the favorite passage of my childhood this coming Sunday and boy am I excited! Ephesians 6:10-20! And it's in the context of baptism. It's a homerun served up on a silver platter!

"I am the world's foremost expert on medieval weaponry!"
~Me, roughly age 10-12, Malone's Restaurant, Atlanta

In sailing news, tonight was a lovely sail, Ernesto having swept all the rain away. We did very good at the outset, but rounding the second marker we lost ground because we had to "jibe" (that is, move the spinnaker from one side to the next), and half of us, including myself, had never done this particular maneuver before, so it wasn't executed with all precision. Naturally, this resulted in several colorful outbursts from the cockpit, but other than that, no big deal. So, we lost ground and never caught back up, but it was fun and I learned some of the basics of jibe-ing(sp?)


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Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Cute Side of the Job 

I was over at a parishioner family's house on Saturday, talking with them about baptism as we prepare for their twins' baptism next weekend. (I am trying not to think about the fact that I will actually be doing that next weekend; if I think on it too much it begins to freak me out and I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach Moses surely had as he unstrapped his sandals.) It was a good and humorous occassion. The questions I had for the parents and the godparents were actually better answered by the 6 1/2 year old and the 4 year old, but I didn't work up the courage to ask if Mom and Dad were taking notes.

At the end of the conversation, the 6 1/2 year old little girl scratched my collar and asked, "Is this your church shirt?" I smiled and said, "Yes." She then pointed to my jeans (hey, it was Saturday!) and declared accusingly, "...but those aren't your church pants!"

"No, m'dear, these are my Saturday pants."

I was rewarded for all this by a hug from the 6 1/2 year old this morning at the parish picnic.


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Thursday, August 24, 2006


Does anyone feel as betrayed as I do about Pluto's recent demotion?!

I mean, honestly, I was reared on the fact that there were nine planets in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, (Asteroid Belt), Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, AND PLUTO!


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Monday, August 21, 2006

The Story of Forgiveness and Love - Version: The Kite Runner 

Over the weekend, I finished one of the most amazing books I have read in a long time. Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner was beautiful in its simplicity, powerful in its complexity, compelling to read and an engrossing narrative. I loved this book!

It is the story of a young Afghani boy named Amir; he is a Pashtun Afghan, which means he is of the dominant society, and is the son of a well respected and much beloved wealthy businessman. All his young life he tries to live up to his father's expectations and always falls short. Constantly, he is trying to earn his father's love but never feels he receives it. His best friend is the son of his father's servant and as the story progresses, it explores the question that his friendship may only be due to his servant status. That is to say, he may not really be his friend at all, even if it feels like it. Then, one day, something terrible happens. Young Amir witnesses a horrible crime happening to his friend, but is too cowardly to do anything to try and stop it. It is a day that forever changes both their lives. Set against the backdrop of modern Afghanistan's tumultous political history, the story of Amir growing up unable to ever forgive himself breaks your heart. Such inability to forgive himself for what he has done follows him to America, when the Russians take over Afghanistan, and follows him back to Afghanistan when he returns decades later to finally set his soul to rights. He discovers the atrocities of what the Taliban, touted as heroes when they drove out the Russians, have done to his native land as he encounters first hand the horrors of their rule.

This book brought me close to tears many times and it has been a long time since a book has done that. The story is so powerful and moving and yet so simple and oft-told manner of tale. You will be moved.

Don't expect a book that will educate you on what happened to America on September 11, 2001. If anything, this is a book that says to America, "there is much more to Afghanistan than Osama bin Laden and terror and oil." Don't expect a book trying to exonerate bin Laden or justify his actions; neither expect a story that seeks to attack him. Do expect to be moved as you enter a world largely unfamiliar from your own, yet with surprising and heart-wrenching similarities.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On the Honorific 

We've struggled here at work to try and figure out what I am to be called. I'm comfortable with Ryan, just fine. My business card says, "The Rev. Ryan R. Whitley, Assistant" and that is fine too. Because I am a transitional Deacon, we decided it would be frustrating to all involved to try and teach the parish to say Deacon Ryan or Deacon Whitley for six months and then to switch to Fr. Ryan or Fr. Whitley. So, in public here, I am known as Fr. Ryan. It's how I sign official emails and how I identify myself on posters and announcments in the bulletin and newsletter.

When I make a business phone call to someone, I identify myself as Fr. Ryan. But I feel weird doing it; that part of my new identity hasn't sunk in just yet. Several parishioners have asked me, "What should I call you?" I have told them, "Ryan is fine in settings like this, one on one." One parishioner retorted, "But I would never call [the Boss Man] by his first name." "Well, then, "I said, "in public we've decided on the honorific Fr. Ryan."

That still doesn't take away the uneasiness I get by telling a woman who could be my grandmother to call me "Father". Nor does it take away the uneasiness I get from that pesky Matthew 23:9 passage, either.

But, "Pastor" sounds too, pardon me brothers and sisters of this persuasion, protestant. "Mr." doesn't signify anything besides gender. I'm no doctor, so that won't work. "The Rev." is just cumbersome. And everyone wants to say "Fr." anyway. So, I guess I have to get used to it on the one hand, while not losing my uneasiness about it on the other hand.

I still want my friends and family to call me Ryan, though, and that's final.


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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Here's a Curious Thing 

Most folks in my business know the plight of young ordained persons. You get to your new job, your first job out of seminary, and practically the first words out of anyone's mouth are, "Oh good! We've really needed someone to work with the youth!" In both my field ed experience and now here at St. Mark's, I've tried to be careful to say that while I am happy to work some with the youth, I don't want it to become my sole job responsibility just because I am closer to them in age than the Rector or other aduly lay volunteers.

So, when I arrived at St. Mark's, what happened? You guessed it. "Oh great! We've really needed somone to jump start the youth program again!"

And I have been happy to do it. As I've mentioned, it turns out several of the youth of this parish remember me from DaySpring days of yore, and it seems they have shared that with their friends, so that I came into this job with an established rapport that other youth workers could probably envy. And after the success of last week's kickoff youth group meeting, I think I've intrigued them sufficiently enough to come back. I find I have a lot of ideas that I am excited about and when I share them with the youth, they get excited about them too. One young lady said to me, "I like it that you have so many ideas." Last week I sent them off to think about coming up with a name for themselves, and this week they'll report back on what they've come up with. I did this with a mind toward eventually coming up with a logo of their design that we can put on tshirts and signs and things like that. But I didn't tell them that part yet. One thing at a time. But, one young man said, "Yeah! And we should come up with a design or something to go with it, that we can put on tshirts." They make my job easy.

Anyway, back to the point of this post, which was "a curious thing". As I was planning this week's Bible study (they have an intense desire to look at the stories of Genesis) I was getting excited about all the questions and possible tracks the conversation will have. The Boss Man says to me, "You know, for someone who didn't want to get stuck doing only youth work, you absolutley have a tremendous amount of energy for it. You just light up around them and when you're thinking about what to do next. It's wonderful."

So, indeed, this is a curious thing. No matter how hard I wanted to push against God on this, it seems I do have some gifts for youth work.

I think that's why I wanted to push against God on it. Cause I knew I was good at it and I wanted to get good at other things too. But the Boss Man said, "You know, there's a certain sector of people who think you should always be working on your weaknesses. But then all you ever do is just bring everything up to a level of mediocrity. Focus on your strengths; it's good for you and for the Church." Now, that's not to say don't ever stretch yourself or never look at your dusty corners, but I guess right now I don't have to do that. Heck, to really think about it, I just spent 3 years doing that. Maybe God wants me to focus on my strengths right now.

And as it turns out, one of those strengths is getting youth group kids excited about Scripture, the Faith, and finding out how to serve God.

Praise be to God.


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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Run out the guns! 

After church today I decided to get ready to go the beach and then get in my car and drive til I found one. Living in Tampa, it's not overly hard. I headed West til I saw water, and then, lo and behold, I was on Clearwater Beach, which boasts an average of 361 days of sunshine per year. It took me a little longer to get there than I should have liked, but then again it was farther away than I suspected. Nevertheless, I spent an entirely pleasant afternoon lounging in the sun, reading my book, and breathing in the salt air - an activity I heartily recommend. While sitting in my foldable, transportable chair-in-a-bag and drinking in the sun, I noticed a three masted ship not too far off the shore. It was not under sail but looked as though it should be. Actually, it looked like a party boat dressed up like a pirate ship - like a boat you could rent for a fancy corporate "team-building" event. I subsequently ignored it.

Until it fired on us.

That's right. I was reading my book when the air was ripped with the bass boom of cannon fire. Recalling the sound as a familiar one from my previous life as a swashbuckler, I looked up suddenly, curious to see smoke emitting from the ship's side. Then, even move curious, I noted two more gun ports being opened and guns being run out, only to be fired seconds later. Now, this cannot be confirmed, but I suspect they were not actually shooting cannonballs, but merely "dry-firing" as they say. All told though, it had an humorously unsettling effect that simply added to the afternoon's color.

Grouper fingers and a beer were had for dinner at a local beachside cafe and I wrapped up my excursion. I believe I shall make a habit of this.


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Friday, August 11, 2006

Sailing Again 

It feels good to be back out on the water, particularly water with a higher concentration of salt in it than Lake Michigan. I showed up a little before 6pm last night at the docks and was greeted by surprised smiles from the captain and crew of "Air Rights". "Most people don't come back," said the Captain's wife, "they can't deal with the way he talks." I laughed and said, "I went to public high school."

Now, this week was a lot more fun than last week, primarily for two reasons: we had a lot more crew (almost too many!) and there was no storm.

With more crew, things ran smoother, cutting down on the captain's verbal explosions significantly (but far from eliminating them!). Everyone had assigned jobs, which meant no one had to do everything like last week. I was in charge of raising the main, the jib, and the spinnaker (the three sails we employed at varying times), of handling the attachment of the spinnaker lines, and of skirting the jib.

As it turned out, two of the people who "crewed" with us this time were loafers. They did nothing. They sat their laurels on the rails and talked. I thought the captain or someone knew them, but around the bar afterward it came to light no one knew them and they got on board the same way I did last week, by signing up to crew. I said to Captain, "I thought you actually hard to crew to do that." He said dourly, "You thought right, so thanks for actually working."

We didn't win the race this week, but neither did we come in last - at least one other boat was behind us. I felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin this week. Being able to anticipate what the Captain would order and when he would order it was a big help and that will only get better with more experience together. The first mate and I work well together it seems, by which I mean he is patient with me and explains a lot of things. Speaking of explaining things, lo and behold!, when we pulled back into port, Captain explained to me several finer pieces of docking, in a calm voice! I think he is surprised I came back and I think he's hoping I'll become dependable crew. I fully intend on it.

For those who are interested, "Air Rights" is a 32 foot S2 9.1.


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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lord, Open Our Lips (and close our ears) 

With the realization setting in that our 10:15 Sunday service is a sung service, and that, come December, I'll have to do that, I've begun talking with the Boss Man about how to prepare for this. He seems to think, for whatever befuddled reason, that my "set of pipes" is actually good raw material. His mother, a piano/voice instructor, agreed apparently. But there is no argument that is needs tempering. In what forge is the question, however. Wednesday night is both youth group and choir practice, so I can't do choir practice. The choir practices also on Sunday morning, but I am then engaged in adult ed.

Since we've been doing daily Morning Prayer as an office staff, I said, 3/4 of the way joking, "Well, we could start singing Morning Prayer." The Boss Man, "That's a fine idea." Our Parish Administrator laughed and said, "They're your ears," referring to her own fears about singing.

"No sense in putting off the self humiliation," said the Boss Man, "I'll sign up for the first humiliation tomorrow morning, and you two can join in the fun next week."

Oh boy, I hope this works.


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Monday, August 07, 2006

Open Letter to CM Almy 

Dear CM Almy Design Executives:

I have recently been ordained a transitional deacon in the Episcopal church and as such, have made several orders from your company. During my seminary years, I also ordered from your company and enjoyed your products very much.

Now that I have been ordained, there have been some significant changes to my daily wardrobe. Namely, during the work week, I wear your clergy shirts almost exclusively. Since I have begun doing this, I have made a startling realization.

I am not fat enough to be a clergyperson.

In wearing your shirts, I have noted there is an abundance of room, shall we say, in the midsection of the shirt that does not correspond as one might think with the comparable neck size or arm length. Now, I understand that you have to design products that will suit many types and sizes of persons, but not all of us require so much "growing space." I think you are missing out on an important market here: primarily, the market of clergymen (yes, men in this case - you women have "Woman's Spirit" and all manner of pastel colors) who have close to a .5/1 neck size to waist size ratio.

Therefore, I am proposing a new kind of clergy shirt. This shirt, like your shirts which you advertise as being for customers of "ample" girth, would be aimed at those of us clergymen who are trim and fit. It would have a fitted chest (I recommend taking a page out of the book for Express for Men's 1MX shirt and use 1-2% lycra) and a slightly tapered tail (for the male "V" shaped body). For the short sleeved shirt, I recommend a banded sleeve, fitted to the arm.

I really do think there is a market for this; at least three of us that I can name.

Please let me know when I can expect the new line. Thank you for your time and attention in this important matter.

Ryan Whitley

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Crew Looking for Boat! 

Under the encouragement of the boss lady from Chicago, who said when I get to Tampa, I should look into crewing on a boat for the mid-week fun races, I called the Davis Island Yacht Club earlier this week inquiring about that possibility. I was told to come on down for the Thursday night races - someone is always looking for crew. So, not having any idea what to expect, I drove down to the club, boldly strolled past the sign that said "Members and Guests Only", and into the clubhouse, where I confidently presented myself to a lady standing by a whiteboard. "I was told to come down here," said I, "and inquire about crewing on a boat." She nodded, picked up a microphone and announced, "Crew looking for a boat! Crew looking for a boat!" Not a second later did a woman call out, "I need crew!" Apparently, this kind of thing is done regularly. And just like that, I was aboard the 32 foot "Air Rights". I made sure to inform the kind lady who picked me up that my experience was limited and I was just looking to learn and have fun. She seemed to indicate that was fine. I was introduced to the Captain, and the other crewman. Pretty soon we were under way. The captain spent most of the time employing colorful language at high decibel levels, which turned me off at first, until the other crewman said, "Don't take it personally. It's just his way." The phrase, "mouth like a sailor" came to mind, and I relaxed into the role of landman, adjusting my attitude to that of a subserviant laborer, which provided the right frame of mind for me to enjoy the rest of the sail.

As it turned out, we could not even finish the race due to large amounts of lightning in the area and a quick storm that blew up. There was plenty of excitement to be had, however, between two boats colliding, another boat being overpowered by the storm and capsizing, and one man having to be wheeled off the dock due to injuries. The lightning was exciting, and I was grateful to get out of it when we did. The sailing was a lot of really hard work, more that I was expecting, having only crewed aboard the much lower stress level "Hot Flash" in Chicago. My muscles and hands are sore today, and my fingers are blistered from trimming the jib, which I have to learn how to do much faster to satisfy the Captain. It was a great experience all in all, I think, and one which I'll repeat. Much to my surprise, the Captain invited me to return next week and crew again. "It's the only way you'll learn," he declared. The other crewman said in his thick Irish brogue, "Once you get to know her better, things will go smoother. But you did real good tonight, man. Real good." The Irishman told me to report directly to him aboard the boat next week, and he'll show me all the steps towards getting ready to make sail.

We all shared a meal afterwards and there was much commiserating over the race. Captain asked if I was available for Sunday races, to which I replied, "No, I'm usually pretty busy on Sundays." He asked what I did, and I gave him a card. About a thousand looks crossed his brow at once as he comprehended the card's nature. Finally, he got out, "Well, I guess I understand why you're busy on Sunday's." This led to a discussion about the '28 Prayer Book, of all things. In his brief flirtation with religion, it seems he went to an Episcopal church that still used the old prayer book. Or maybe it was before the '79 had come out yet, it was hard to tell. In any event he said, "Well, we definietely want you to come back now. There's plenty of souls to save in here."

Me, I'd rather just concentrate on sailing (it is to become an escape from the office, after all), but the Lord will use me as the Lord will.


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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Again and Again, You Called Us to Return... 

I've never been one of those folks who dislike Eucharistic Prayer C (I'm sorry, this will not make sense to non-Episcopalians). In fact, I usually enjoy it. Its language speaks powerfully to me of the cosmic proportions of the universe in which I participate in but a small, infintesimal part. So, I did not balk as some may have when it was announced that for this coming Sunday, to honor the Trasfiguration of our Lord, we would be using Prayer C. I asked the boss man if he'd be singing it, and he said he hadn't thought about it, and he did not know where the music was for it. Recalling the "secret part of the hymnal" from my Liturgical Music class, I showed him where it was and said it was a beautiful setting. Then, our interim Organist/Choirmaster said he had a great setting for it too. So, he pulled his setting out and played through it with the boss man singing the celebrant's parts and I singing the congregations parts. It was amazing! Astounding! Huge and powerful! The drama of the Prayer hit me in a way it had never hit me before and I am pumped to hear it on Sunday. I think it is going to blow the congregation away! The sheet music at the top says it is by a "Northup and Pollard" for those of you who might care. Either way, it is going to be superb.


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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Long Awaited Meeting 

Today, on our travels around and about town, the boss man suddenly turns to me in the car and says, "Would you like to stop in and get introduced to the folks at the Council on American-Islamic Relations?"

I thought for roughly a nanosecond, then replied, "Ummm....yes!"

So we went in and I got introduced around, after which we sat down for a while with the local chapter's director, Ahmed Bedier. We had a great conversation, exchanged contact info and tossed around some ideas on how we might be able to work together. I got invited to attend their annual banquet, and I think I might go. It would be a lot of fun. We talked a little bit about Scripture, both Islamic and Christian, and about the recent Seattle violence, and about the Lebanon-Israel war. All in all it was a fruitful meeting and I just know we'll be doing good things together in the future.

After we left, the boss man and I got in the car, and really without thinking about it, I blurted out, "That was awesome! I've dreamed of that meeting. I never knew where it would be or who it would be with, but I've dreamed of that meeting."

I thought about what I had said, and it is true. I have longed for, dreamed of, however you want to put it, the meeting I had today: where I as a leader in a Christian community can sit down with a local leader in a Muslim community and work together. I believe it will prosper both of our communities and I look forward to working together for peace, justice, and mutual understanding.

I feel...fulfilled.


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