27 December 2008

When Your birthday is the day after Christmas

The VOR was born on December 26 an undisclosed # of years ago. Throughout the years she has suffered folk forgetting her big day due to the hubbub of the season; and she has had birthday gifts wrapped in Christmas paper. This year she reflected on some of the benefits: who else has never had to work on their birthday, who else still has presents to open the day after Christmas, and who else still has presents under the tree the day after Christmas (yes her presents always go under the tree). As I search for the perfect gift I start thinking months in advance but by the time Advent rolls around and I see how busy the shopping centers are I usually put purchasing her gift in the back of my head. Usually jewelry is a home run, but this year the VOR said how about a something from her favorite store.

Yesterday I ventured out to purchase a gift. Before going we both looked online at outfits and perused the offerings. I felt confident and sure, but once I crossed the threshold into the store I knew instantly I was out of my league. None of the clothes online were in the brick and mortar store and none of the colors (particularly the lovely shade given as Pomegranate) I admired were in the store. So I did the sensible thing I asked a saleswoman. Wrong move. The woman took me under her good Samaritan wing as if I just walked off the ship. She talked slow and loud. As if I would understand her better. We walked around the store, she asked questions, I described to her in exact details the top I had picked out online, but she did not understand me. Apparently I did not talk slow and loud enough. Eventually she led me to a section of tops and eventually I picked out a top and purchased it.

When I got home I gave the gift along with a poem and a magazine. The VOR looked at the top: it was just like the one she had on last night and in a color she has never liked. Today the top will be exchanged.

25 December 2008

Christmas Eve Sermon

Despite my best efforts the Dr. Seuss sermon did not come to fruition. I tried like the dickens but it was a hard sermon to fashion. So I went in a direction that took me by surprise. A question crept in my subconscious: What have you to do with me Jesus son of the Most High God? It is the question from the Geresane demoniac, odd I know for Christmas Eve but it worked last night, better than I could have imagined.

The Hopes and the Fears
text: “I beseech thee, torment me not.” (Luke 8:28, KJV)
Christmas Eve

This Advent I have attempted to present Advent from the poetical angles of the four Evangelists: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John. The human/angel asks us to sit a spell and comfortably listen to the story of God laborious work in a family from Abraham to Jesus. The lion of Judah wrests from our comfortableness shouting: Change, Change, Change. The ox of focuses on two families: Zechariah and Elizabeth and Joseph and Mary to show in fascinating if not mysterious detail what happens when the overshadowing presence of God enfolds human life. Finally, the eagle, with a stand up bass violin, a snare drum, and a trumpet shows us the way with the rhythm of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

Depending on where we are in life one approach is able to penetrate our thick armor of numbness and blindness to transform our heart and guts: the very essence of our existence.

For four weeks we have been preparing, not for a birth (that is tonight), but about the time to come. Advent is four preparatory, even penitential, weeks set aside to right the alignments of our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls so we can love the Lord our God with everything we have.

This evening all of time is at hand: past, present, and future. Tonight when all of the hopes and fears are met in Thee. This eve in all its innocence we fully, openly, and honestly ask: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

Yes that is our question and this is our plea: I beseech thee, torment me not. We are not all modern day representatives of the Gerasene demoniacs, but if we were to peel away all the layers of our false selves would we not find fear at the core? would we not find an unnatural fear of God? Two conversations this week engraved this for me: one, a mother (of no relation to me) told her child to straighten up for Santa and Jesus were watching. What an ultimatum! {editorial note, this was meant to illicit a spot of humor, it did not - oh well} The other conversation was with someone who harbored a deep hope that despite unbelief God would not hold it against him. These two vignettes segue into a historical and universal deep-seated fear of God.

Travel back in human history to the mythical time when the Israelite storytellers described the creation of humanity. We are in the garden, right after we ate the apple, right after it was revealed to us that we were naked, right after we quickly jimmied together some garments to cover ourselves, right after we heard the Lord God walking in the garden, right after we hid ourselves among the trees, right after we said: I was afraid. We are wrought with a fear of God. We are afraid that God is out to get us, that God is just waiting for us to screw up, that God is against us.

This eve says otherwise. For tonight a little child is born, an innocent, dependent, and vulnerable child. The child is born to parents who should be scared, but they are not. For in their arms is not just a child, but a New Adam, a new human, a new humanity whose name is not just Jesus (meaning God saves) but is also Emmanuel (meaning God is with us). This child who is fully God and fully human, who is righteousness and peace, who is all of our hopes and fears is living proof that God is not against us but is for and with us.

God pitched his tent on earth in a vulnerable enfleshed vessel: a child. A child who did not come to torment us but came to heal and set us free. A child who came to show us the way to true love. A child who came to offer an everlasting hope for life. That is the poetry of Advent and now Christmas Eve.

Brothers and Sisters sing with all you have the carols we have preserved for they are about a time when all of creation rejoices as God says once again: fear not you are now my children, my friends, my co-creators.

Sisters and Brothers, Merry Christmas.

18 December 2008

Great Minds Think Alike

Part of my 100 books in '08 experiment included reading several books from the Lyman Beecher Preaching Lectures (held annually at Yale Divinity School). The latest book I am reading from: The Church Confident by Leander Keck centers on the possibility of renewal in mainline Protestantism - a project dear to my heart.

In the first chapter he mentions the importance of hymnody. Using an Andrew Sullivan implementation, here is the "money quote:"
I cannot avoid the suspicion that one reason that neoorthodoxy did not really renew the mainline churches is that, however much it sobered their theology, it gave them no song to sing and produced no hymnody of note. Be that as it may, the experience of the Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan movement, the revivals on the American frontier, and the Catholic Church today, shows that when the greatness of God becomes real, the church is renewed, and there is joy in the heart and a song on the lips of the people of God." (p.40-41)

I suppose the troubling aspect of my thought from the past few years (expressed here) is that I am having this thought a good 16 years after the publication of Keck's book!

The Dr. Seuss Sermon

A few years ago I read where Rev. David HC Read, the late pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, used to compose his annual Christmas Eve sermon in verse. I thought/think that was/is a pretty neat idea. So this year I have been working on a sermon in verse. When I mentioned my idea to the VOR, she responded: "You mean like Dr. Seuss?"

Oh brother

17 December 2008

Faster than My Shutter Speed

Last night the VOR directed a yogurt pretzel making project (I was assigned to record this event for posterity with the camera, but as you shall soon see the kids are faster than my camera's shutter speed).

16 December 2008

Facelapped: An Introvert's Adventure on Facebook

Sometime this evening the red flag notification on the VOR's facebook account will probably have a double digit number on it; when this happens she will easily surpass, or facelap me (that is have a greater # of friends than me).  It took me six weeks to climb, in my own view, to an impressive 47 friends; it took her all of 48 hours to generate that number.  

I suppose being lapped by your significant other is the result one would normally expect when one member of the couple is an introvert and the other is an extrovert.  I suppose this is what happens when one member of the couple goes to a large public university and the other goes to a small private college.  I suppose this is what happens when one member of the couple is a clergyman and the other is not.  I suppose, no I know, this is what happens when you marry well!

Do not get me wrong I am proud of my 47 friends, I am still quite amazed at the number.  I am somewhat skeptical when I see some friends who have 300, 400, even 500 friends - do they really have that many friends or are they facebook harlots confirming and requesting anyone they can on God's green earth? 


The most surprising revelation of my facebook experiment is its (as one friend has called it) strangely addictive qualities.  I can not seem to drag myself off of the damn thing -- and it is not only me.  Tonight I watched the VOR confirm something like 20 friends in the kitchen while #3 was jumping in the sink and juggling the steak knives!  


I have yet to figure out all of the applications -- I doubt I will, they seem all ad driven.  But it is a great interface for communication and sharing of ideas and general nonsense.  Perhaps the greatest function though is the gossip.  For someone who likes gossip, yes I am talking about myself, facebook is a godsend or more appropriately a devilsend.  

14 December 2008

Parsonage Open House: 4th Edition

Last night was the Fourth Parsonage Open House we hosted; it was on hiatus for the past two. In addition to the people from church we invited friends and members from the fiddle class.  All in all about 50 people passed through.  

Here is the menu:

Sausage Balls (the first time our guest ate them all -- I was upset this morning with none for breakfast). 
Buffalo Wings (last time none were left, this time there were plenty left over)
Bread Bowl with Spinach Artichoke Dip
Party Mix (made with a full cup of bacon grease)
Vegetable Platter with a dip the VOR made
Ham and Cheese Calzones
Pepperoni and Cheese Calzones
Bean Dip with Tortilla Chips
Cheese Ball (Christopher Kimball thanksgiving recipe on NPR)

Corn Flake Clusters
Peppermint Bark
Rogues Chocolate Stout Brownies (originally with Guiness)

Pot of Smoking Bishop  (probably the highlight of the evening.)  
Odd to bake citrus, eve odder once I cut them open and the fruit separated from the skin. 
Punch: Seltzer Water, Raspberry Sherbet, Pineapple Juice
And some Narragansett 

11 December 2008

Adventing (it helps to have a little Latin)

This afternoon while trolling down to the city-state to pick up an Xmas gift I stopped by the grocery store I patronize, Whole Foods -- the Main Street edition (it is literally on Main Street, trust me there is nothing 'main street usa about it though').  On my way there I was listening to Fresh Air, the guest was talking about the credit crisis.  The interviewer asked the interviewee if there was any good coming out of the financial downturn: the re-emergence of layaway.  

As I walked through Whole Foods (officially the VOR has prohibited me from doing the grocery shopping Why? I take way too long and purchase items we, supposedly, do not need) I began to think of how much I liked the last roast we bought from there.  It was succulent, no it was savory, no it was oh yes that is the word er yummy.  But the blooming thing cost something like $30.  So I wondered if the butcher would let me buy the roast on layaway?  The butcher (is he really a butcher, I mean the meat comes in pieces already - it aint like there are carcasses hanging in the back or anything with Rocky working on his body blows) didn't seem too interested.  

08 December 2008

Letter to the Editor: On Being an Antiquarian

Last January I started a quest to read 100 books. I am not going to reach my goal; currently my grand total stands at 51. I hope to finish the year strong with another 6 to 7 titles. The process of picking out the books to read was a lot of fun, some were well planned, others were spur of the moment, and others were serendipitous selections from footnotes, reviews I stumbled upon or books laid out on the table as you walk in the Brown Bookstore.

But this post is not meant to be the final reflection on this journey (wait till 31.Dec). Today I want to share my letter to the editor I have yet to send in to the NY Times. (Full disclosure: I harbor a desire to make it into the NY Times, I have calculated my chances are best from one of following routes: marry someone famous or who is loaded and wants their announcement printed; or by writing a letter to the editor). I have yet to marry "that" couple and have yet to have the editorial board accept my observational deposits.

Last week James Gleick wrote an Op-Ed piece titled: How to Publish Without Perishing. It was a great piece and got me thinking about the primacy of books. (Thus my lead in paragraph). The article also forced to admit the sinking feeling that I am becoming an antiquarian. I love books, the feel of them in my hands, the sound of pages rubbing together, their durability (you can drop them, throw them, mark them, and it is really cold: burn them), and their communal aspect. Think about the times you have read a passage from a book to someone or a group, think about passing a book around for others to read a passage for themselves, think about sharing a book with another, think about finding a used book in a old book shop.

I love the availability of digital media but I have yet to see how it can fully supersede print media. After all, what happens when the power goes out?