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Tuesday, January 30, 2007


My Bias or Theirs? 

So, I'm reading this book that you see to the left - Hungry Souls, Holy Companions - and I've only made it through the first chapter, but I really like what I've read so far. By and large, this book is describing the issues of the kids in my youth group in an honest and authentic, non-judgmental way. Not all the things it talks about apply - these kids, by and large products of a middle class suburban environment, are not as postmodern as the book suggests kids in this generation are. But it is firing at moving targets (the work of describing whole generations is very difficult), so that's ok.

One frustrating fact for me is that it describes the Gen X-ers as being born between 1961 and 1981, and the Millenials as being born between 1982-2002. Being born in '81, that puts me smack in the middle, so evn this attempt at definition fails for me. I identify with the Millenials more than the Gen X-ers, I know that much.

Anyway, on page 3, it has two lists. One features words describing "Modern Values", and the other features words describing "Postmodern Values." As I read through this list, I said to myself, "Well, clearly this author is biased towards postmodern values because that list seems to have distinctly more positive connotations and the "modern values" list, less positive. Then, later in the day, I thought about it some more. Is the bias the author's, or mine? Is it possible that I assumed the "postmodern values" list had more positive connotations because I am more postmodern (than I think I am)? That was a more shocking thing to me than I anticipated, and the fact that I was unable to anticipate it shocked me more. So, let me give you the two lists here, and let you see what you think. Those of you out there who would definitely define yourselves as not postmodern, please tell me if the "modern values" list appeals to you more, or at least if more words in that list appeal to you that in the other list? I'm fascinated to know where the burden of bias falls!

Modern Values

Postmodern Values

-R


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Monday, January 29, 2007


Fish Where They Ought Not to Be 

Following a successful Annual Meeting yesterday afternoon, I was milling about the parish hall talking with several teenagers and parents and helping to clean up. Suddenly, two lads of about 6 and 3 came tearing out of the kitchen and up to me, tugging on my sleeve and pulling me in the general direction of the outdoors. Their excited declarations were almost unintelligible, but I did manage to discern that the source of their exuberance was a displaced fish.

Half walking, half being drug into the yard between the church and my house they pointed out to me exactly what they described. I was as surprised to discover such large marine life in a yard as I was that they had not employed boyish hyperbole, which was my first suspicion. There, lying in the grass with an eye plucked out was a recently deceased fish measuring no less than eight inches long and weighing close to two pounds. I could not tell what kind of fish it was.

In my shock, I asked them (as if they would know), "Where did it come from?!" Well, of course, one of them seemed, at least, to know. The younger of these lads proclaimed definitively, "It fell out of the tree!"

Upon further reflection, I suspect the boy was right. But prior to falling out of the tree, I hypothesize that the fish was in the beak of a large bird-of-prey, perhaps an osprey, when the bird lost what must have been a tenuous hold on such a large fish. Therefore, it fell from the sky, through the tree, and into my yard, much to the utter dismay of a 3 and 6 year old.

I'm not sure whether their mother was more shocked about the presence of the fish or the fact that I started to pick it up to toss in the dumpster. She protested and made me use a ziploc bag to grab hold of the thing, but I did eventually deposit it in the dumpster.

-R

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Sunday, January 28, 2007


Joining Our Voices with Angels and Archangels 

I'll be relying heavily on the angels and archangels this morn, as I sing the Eucharist for the first time (in front of all these people).

I've been practicing and I am mentally prepared.

It's go time!

-R

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Thursday, January 25, 2007


St. Mark's Youth Makes 'DaySpring Today' 

The January newsletter of our Diocesan Conference Center, DaySpring, features the youth of St. Mark's on its front cover this month. The picture is from St. Mark's Advent Camp and also represent pictorally the first time I celebrated the Eucharist as priest.

DaySpring, as you faithful readers will know, is a place where much of my discernment took place and was the place where the seed for my future ministry was planted. It was "poetic," as the Boss Man puts it, that my first Eucharist was celebrated at St. Thomas' Chapel, the chapel at DaySpring.

Here is a link to the newsletter with the picture. Check it out!

-R

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Monday, January 22, 2007


"Out of the Depths" 

On Thursday nights, I facilitate a Christian spirituality small group on Dreams (thanks Seabury and Dan!). It is a pretty good group and we are enjoying the time together. As a part of that group, I lead a short meditation about halfway through each meeting, immediately preceding the focused dream exploration time. It is a meditation that has as its goal to say what comes next is different. Each week it is different. Last week, as I was pondering what I would do for the meditation, I reflected that the prior weeks' meditations had been very focused on words, verbage. I wanted to do something that transcended words in a way, that touched the soul but without so much rhetoric.

I settled on music, and specifically a song by the popular Israeli group, The Idan Raichel Project. I think I've written about them on here before, about when I went to their concert and met them. Oh yes, here it is. Anyway, I picked their song, "Out of the Depths" (Mi'maamaqim). Now, it's got words in it, but they're in Hebrew so no one in the class would understand them. I picked the song for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of its sound, the emotions it evokes, and (yeah, I couldn't get away from words after all) what the lyrics mean.

One of the class members was really touched by the song and asked about the band afterwards. I told her about them, as much as I knew anyway. She asked how she might get one of their CD's and I wasn't very helpful there (I bought mine at the concert). Then, on Sunday, she came up to me and said she had been at a dinner party the night before and, it seemed, a majority of the other guests were Jewish. So, being the quick thinker she is, she thought she'd ask if any of them had heard of the band and if they had, how can she get a CD. Apparently, several of her friends were a bit shocked she had even heard of Idan Raichel and inquired incredulously, "How do you know about that band?!"

She replied proudly, "Because I'm an Episcopalian!"

I love it!!

-R

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Regarding Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell 

I finally finished that tome of a novel called, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I must say, given all the hype surrounding this book, from both professional reviewers and friends of mine alike, I was a tad bit disappointed in the book. In short, it meandered. Throughout there was only the faintest hint of a plot and many of the characters lacked, I thought, motivation. Certain sections of the story were charming and very enjoyable to read, and Susanna Clarke's use of diction and syntax is to be commended. Often I found myself re-reading particularly well constructed sentences or turns of phrase. The world she created had a tremendous amount of potential that I felt was largely untapped. The last 150-200 pages were, however, quite good and very engaging, but I don't know if the first 600-650 pages are worth the payoff? It seems to me, that this book could have benefitted greatly from some serious editing. Were I the editor (and I don't claim any particular expertise here other than as a voracious consumer of novels), I would have read the manuscript and written back, "The first 600-650 pages of your story are by and large a fabulous backstory. Remove them, and continue the novel from where it originally left off." Now, of course, there are important pieces of exposition in those first 600 pages, which would need to be retained. But most of it could serve as backstory (with the addition of more defined character motivation) for what could then have the potential of becoming a truly great first novel. There were too many loose ends at the conclusion of the pages with ink on them, and of the ones which were tied up, they were tied up a little sloppily (i.e. the demise of the gentleman with thistle down hair). I should like to have seen more done with the characters of Stephen Black, Lady Pole, and Arabella Strange because I think they would have made wonderfully fascinating characters had they any dimension to them at all! But, as it was written, they were simply formulaic characters fulfilling a literary role, and I thought that was a little boring.

In conclusion: Ms. Clarke, great first effort at crafting a novel! But it was just that, a first effort, not a satisfactory product. Try and try again, because I believe you've got it in you to write a much better story. I see it in this one, the shine of potential, but unfortunately that shine was dulled by a meandering style and two dimensional characters.

-R

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Monday, January 15, 2007


The Shellacking 

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me the pleasure and the honor of re-introducing to you a team that really needs no introduction: FOREST GUMP!

That's right, faithful readers, the Forest Gump softball team is back and better than ever. From humble and inauspicious beginnings as a thrown together team of free agents to the league champs in just one season, this astounding team won their first game of the new season tonight 21-6.

Sadly, some players have moved away and we will miss them, but we have found some fine replacements for them, my lil bro not the least among them. With some shifts in the fielding positions, Brennan (#3) took over at shortstop to great advantage. His defensive highlight of the game came when he fielded a hard hit ground ball, backhanded, and then threw out the other team's fastest runner at first. The ball hit my (shiny and new) glove with a distinctive POW and then I felt the runner's foot tag the base. The ump correctly called him "Out!" and the runner, who thought he would be safe easy was heard to have muttered, "Holy sh*&..." My defense at first base continues to improve; Allison (2B) and I finally turned our long awaited double play tonight!

Offensively, well, the score does a lot of talking. The bro went 4-4, with 7 RBIs (batting in the cleanup spot) and I, batting second, was 2-3 with 2 RBIs and a walk. Can I reiterate how I hate walking in softball?

We look forward to next week's game, so stay tuned for the post-game show, right here, pre-recorded.

-R

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The Bern's Experience 

Due to the graciousness of the class I teach at church on Thursday nights now, who allowed me to move the time of our meeting up by an hour last week, I was able to take my father and his office up on their offer to treat me at Bern's Steakhouse. They do this every year just before tax season.



This is a place which the Boss Man was telling me about by saying, "Bern's. Get someone to take you there."



Probably the fanciest and most historic steakhouse in Tampa, and maybe even Florida, it also tends to be on the pricy side of things. Having been built many decades ago, it now stands in what appears to be an odd part of town for such a fancy restaurant. You turn your keys over to the valet and walk into a red lit, cherry panelled foyer where the hostess greets you and asks under what name your reservation was. I take that to mean you must have one in order to dine there. The menu is long, and filled with as much story about the restaurant and about meat as it is with choices of food. The wine and spirits list is nothing short of momentous. As I was about a half hour late, the folks I was meeting were already at the table and into their first or second cocktail. A double Balvenie Doublewood 12 was poured for me as I sat down, having been ordered for me by one of my father's business partners who also shares a love of the single malt. I enjoyed some fabulous Oysters Gratieè for an appetizer (sort of their version of my favorite, Oysters Rockefeller) and even tried my father's appetizer of Golden Steak Tartare. It was not bad tasting, but I could not consciously get over the fact that I was eating raw meat. I was glad therefore, when the famous french onion soup arrived. It lived up to the hype, let me tell you! A sizeable salad was served next, dressed with chunky homemade bleu cheese. Then came the entreè: Chateaubriand. A steak expertly and precisely cut against the grain and grilled to medium rare perfection. This was accompanied by their famous shoestring onion rings, a baked potato, and a orange vegetable of undetermined origin, but which I guess to have been some sort of squash. Either way it was all succulent.



Dinner was followed by a tour of their kitchen where we saw them cutting the meat, their huge grill which can hold something like 270 steaks at once, if need be, their salad and vegetable station and then the coolest thing. At the end of the kitchen was a bent over old man filling soup cups. He was the French Onion Soup Guy: making, perfecting, and serving French Onion Soup for Bern's for the last 40 years. We travelled from there to the wine cellar where they hold about 100,000 bottles (their warehouse across the street holds the other 900,000 bottles of their collection). The prices per bottle ranged from about $20 to upwards of $10,000.



The Dessert Room was next. You must make a separate reservation for the Dessert Room, where they seat you in pod like structures with rounded walls all the may to the ceiling for ultimate privacy. They had a range of standard desserts like cheesecakes and tiramisu, but also featured their house desserts like Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee, which they flambè table-side. Paired with a Remi Martin XO Cognac, we were as close to heaven as you can get on this side with our Bananas Foster.

The evening then unfortunately drew to a close, but we were very satisfied. So, in conclusion, allow me to reiterate the Boss Man's remark:

Bern's. Get someone to take you there!

-R

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Saturday, January 13, 2007


Acknowledgement 

Tomorrow's sermon on the subject of racism is dedicated to David C. Bloodworth Jr., who once knocked me down, but in so doing, woke me up.

-R

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


To Preach on the Best Wine 

No, that is not to say that one should consume excellent, even miraculous, wine before preaching, but rather to say that I am scheduled to preach this weekend on the text about Jesus' first miracle: the transformation of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.

I've long since known, as have those who have known me, that I am a storyteller. Consequently, I have a very strong narrative view of Holy Scripture and my preaching generally takes on a narrative character. In his book, The End of Words, Richard Lischer has this to say about narrative preaching and storytelling, "I am convinced that one of the reasons the church continues to thrive in the South is that southerners have not lost the capacity to tell or hear a good story. I have friends who are constitutionally incapable of speaking in any mode other than narrative. If you ask them for the time, they will tell how they acquired the watch. To any factual question they can only reply, 'That reminds me of a story.'" (You may find a link to his book on my sidebar at the left under the heading, "What I'm Reading")

Yep. I'd say that about pegs me. So, not to disappoint, when I read the passage about the wedding feast at Cana, it reminds me of a story. I will share the story here, because there is no way it will be able to make its way into my sermon for Sunday.

The occasion was high school homecoming (1997 I believe) and we had finished the dance and were celebrating at the after party my group always threw. Compared to the kind of partying other classmates of mine at the time did, we were pretty mild. Indeed, homecoming and prom parties were the only time in high school that I remember alcohol being present at our gatherings. Nick would always show up with either some Boone's Farm or some Jack Daniels. There would be some gross beer of some cheap variety and other such libations. We always made sure that those who would be imbibing turned their keys in to the host and would not get them back until the morning. On this particular night we were at my friend Jesse's place, which had the delightful feature of an outdoor spa. Once the Boone's Farm had run out, I was enticed by my peers to attempt a similar miracle to that one at Cana by trying to turn the spa water into more wine. I failed. But I did give it a go. Then Nick asked his infamous question, "Ryan, can you bless the wine in my stomach so I don't have to go to church tomorrow?" I think I attempted that as well, but I didn't know what he was so concerned about - Nick rarely went to church anyway.

Now, the reason (well, one of them) that story will not make it into the Sunday sermon is because I have decided to combine the Gospel lection with the celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose national holiday occurs on Monday. I think I'll take a tack that will lead me to compare the preaching of King from the Lincoln Memorial, in which he said that they had marched on Washington to cash a check, to the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine. In essence, the men and women of color of our country had been given tap water when they had been promised the finest wine, which is their full right as much as it is white men and women.

And I think I'll manage to work in a story or two, just not the one cited above.

In preparation for the sermon, I watched Dr. King's famous speech on a You Tube video and I think that if it's been a while since you've heard it or seen it, or if you've never heard it or seen it, now is as fine a time as any to renew your knowledge of his prophetic call to all of us.

-R

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Monday, January 08, 2007


A Moment of Anxious Anticipation and Honesty; A Moment of Hilarity 

Played nine holes of golf yesterday with a friend (I've recently re-taken up the game of golf, now that I'm somewhere where I can actually keep golf clubs) at one of the Tampa Municipal Courses. This course was pretty nice, weaving it's way through an old Tampa neighborhood. We were teeing off on hole 4 or 5 (a par 4), Anthony gives the ball a good whack with his driver. He marches up to it, confidently wielding his 9 iron, and strikes. The ball flies low, then begins to slice right. Then begins to slice right hard, past the out of bounds marker, across the street and with a decidedly disgusting, metallic, thwack-thud, tink-tink-tink-tink, slams into the passenger side door of a Jeep Cherokee parked across the street. I grimaced. My friend looked terrified. We approached to investigate and discovered to our mutual horror an enormous dent in the door panel. "What should I do," he asked. I said, "The way I see there's two choices. You can either knock on the door or leave a note." He walked up the drive and approached the front door. I stood on the sidewalk, ready for any reaction that might occur. A man answered the door. The two chatted briefly as my friend explained what happened. Then my friend gave a big sigh, and laughed. The man patted him on the shoulder, and the two shook hands. Of all the reactions for which I was prepared, this was not one. My friend said the man explained to him that the dent had been there for over a year and it was not the fault of the misdirected golf ball. Thus, the sigh and laughter. My friend pointed out it was a case of double honesty, cause even as he was being honest about hitting the man's car, so too was the man being honest about the dent already being there. He could easily have recognized the situation as being one where he could have gotten his door fixed for free. I had not considered that possibility and felt my heart warmed by such a display of honesty and compassion. My faith in humanity went up 2 points.


After the golf game, my friend and I agreed to meet up at Outback for dinner after we got cleaned up. His fianceé and another friend of ours were out doing wedding planning stuff, which left us with boys night out. When I arrived at Outback however, there she was, sitting there. I berated her, humorously, for ruining boys night out and stated emphatically that I thought she was doing wedding shopping with our other friend anyway. She cited that they had to quit once the money ran out. At this point, a woman waiting on the same bench felt called to interject her thoughts into our conversation. She turned to me and said, "Obviously they're getting married and you're the best friend. Otherwise you would not be able to make such remarks and get away with it." We chuckled and agreed. The woman inquired when the wedding was to happen and then turned back away. I picked up a menu and, in a terrible Australian accent, read some selections. The woman turned back and said to me, "Oh and you do great accents as well!" My friends told her that I used to act and can do all manner of terrible accents. The woman laughed and said,

"Just as long as you don't show up on their wedding day acting as the minister!" She laughed at her own joke. My engaged friends and I nearly bowled over.

I quipped, "Yes, I think I could even manage to find the right costume for that." The woman thought this was exceedingly funny, so I continued, "But, I have a sneaking suspicion the shirts will not fit properly."

-R

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Monday, January 01, 2007


That Test Starts Tomorrow 

My thoughts and prayers are with those taking the GOE's beginning tomorrow. It is an ordeal, and one that must be traversed, but it is not insurmountable. May you test takers be calm, be collected, be reverent, and be mindful of the moment you are in and not overly concerned with the end.

-R

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