Thursday, November 30, 2006

Holiday Tag -- You're It!

My blog friend Ipanema tagged me to participate in a little holiday game, where you list (at least) five of your favorite Christmas songs -- and then tag (at least) five other of your blog friends to do the same on their sites. If I haven't tagged you, but you would still like to list your favorites, please do.

First, my favorites:

1. The Harry Simeone Chorale's performance of "The Little Drummer Boy." There's something about this song that I've loved my entire life; perhaps it dates back to hearing my parents play the recording of it from their Reader's Digest collection of great Christmas songs.

2. Not really a carol per se, but I love any recording of "The Virgin Slumber Song," a piece written by the late-19th/early-20th century German composer Max Reger. I love this song so much, in fact, that I convinced my wife to allow a friend to perform it at our December wedding ten years ago. You can listen to a small sample of it here -- just click the link next to it in the album summary.

3. "Coventry Carol," a beautiful 16th-century English piece. Again, click the song's link here.

4. "O Little Town of Bethlehem," particulary when it's being sung at a midnight Christmas Eve service in the cold air by just the choir and congregation, with no instrumental accompaniment whatsoever.

5. Nat King Cole's rendition of "The Christmas Song."

And now, my tagged friends:

Julie, of Julie Unplugged;

Dave, of Pomoxian;

Karen, of The Sword's Still Out;

Patchouli, of Patchouli Ponderings; and

Trace, of Tracing My Steps.

Have fun with this, and Merry (early) Christmas!

Monday, November 27, 2006

If You Can't Go to Linus, Bring Linus to You

Okay, after posting my list yesterday, I decided I couldn't wait for network executives to decide when Linus should explain the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown -- so I found it myself. Today's posting marks a tough comparison -- what Christmas should be and what Christmas has become.

Classic Christmas

Modern Christmas (a little funny, but quite sad, if you think about it)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Signs of Christmas

As I've gotten older, I've found that there are some tried and true ways of confirming that the Christmas holiday season -- my favorite time of the year -- is underway. Here is a list of some of my favorites (I'm sure I'll think of others to add as the season progresses); oddly, some of the signs seem to make their first appearance earlier and earlier.....

1. Going to get my monthly haircut and hearing an Andy Williams Christmas carol playing on the shop's radio -- almost 10 days before Thanksgiving!!

2. Flipping through the television channels on another job hunt-induced sleepless night and finding that QVC and HSN already have their Christmas trees up and the studios fully decorated -- in October!!

3. My daughter excitedly saying that she wants to go to see Santa Claus and give him the full list of Dora the Explorer merchandise that she wants -- only to have her stiffen up in horror and start screaming as we take her, dressed up in one of her finest outfits, to go sit in his lap. If there was any consolation to this year's trip, it's that it wasn't on Black Friday, and the line to see (a.k.a. flee from) Saint Nick was mercifully short.

4. Seeing the first carton of eggnog on the store shelves -- a feeling surpassed only by that first, sweet sip poured from the first carton you're actually holding in your hands.

5. Feeling that wonderful crispness in the air and immediately flashing back to countless Christmases from childhood -- the sights, the sounds, the excitement -- and now seeing that same excitement in the face of my daughter (provided, of course, that Santa isn't lurking close by).

6. Flipping through the television channels (not necessarily on a job hunt-induced sleepless night) to see if TBS is running their 24-hour marathon of "A Christmas Story."

7. Counting down the days until Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown.

8. Deciding when to buy the Christmas tree, whether it should be artificial or live (we're opting for the real thing this year), and whether it should be pine (my wife) or cedar (me). I haven't won that argument yet -- wonderful cedar tree stories from my childhood notwithstanding.

More than anything else, entering the season in the church's liturgical calendar where all the Biblical stories and signs point to the coming birth!

Any additions you may have are certainly welcome!!!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In Advance of Thanksgiving.....

Here's a very nice editorial from the Christian Science Monitor which appeared in yesterday's online edition. Yes, we as a country have so much more we can -- and need to -- do here and abroad, but this is a good reminder to look at the bigger picture on this Thanksgiving holiday.
Enlarging the Thanksgiving table
The Christian Science Monitor, November 21, 2006

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, uncounted atrocities in Darfur, threats brewing in Iran and North Korea. Much of the news around the world reveals little for which to be grateful this Thanksgiving. But that's never the whole picture.

It takes a fresh viewpoint, a different, more complete way of thinking to not let these calamities obscure our vision. We need to use a wide-angle lens to capture a picture that includes much goodness.

"[W]e are actually made for goodness," Desmond Tutu recently told the Dallas Morning News.

"We are so, I think, overwhelmed," added South Africa's archbishop emeritus, who has seen more than his share of great suffering - but also great healing and reconciliation - in his country.

"The media tend to inundate us with rather unpleasant news. We have the impression that evil is on the rampage, is about to take over the world," he says. "We need to keep being reminded that there is a great deal of good happening in the world."

Ultimately, he says, good does prevail. "[C]ontrary to all appearances, we are in fact made for harmony," he says. "We are made for togetherness. Ultimately, we are really family."

As family, friends, and even strangers gather around the Thanksgiving table, taking account of good may not be quite so hard if minds are set to it. For example, no acts of terrorism have occurred on US soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Isn't that worth gratitude? In fact, British police disrupted an alleged plot to blow up planes on their way to the US.

Americans can be grateful that they continue to be a generous people. Charitable donations rose 6 percent last year to $260 billion. Warren Buffett led the way when he announced in June that he would give away nearly his entire fortune, some $37 billion, reportedly the largest single charitable donation in US history.

Economic security also looks to be improving. Americans on average will earn about 4 percent more this year than last. With inflation low, that's the first real gain in years. (And remember that gasoline prices have retreated by one-third since last summer.)

For most people, gratitude begins even closer to home. They're grateful for simple joys: gazing into the inky beauty of a silent, starry night or delighting at the smell of pies in the oven. Most treasured are family and friends, near and dear. This newspaper has its own reason for special thanks in remembering Iraq correspondent Jill Carroll's release from her kidnappers unharmed last March.

Thanksgiving tables can be enlarged every year by embracing the whole human family in prayer. Americans can set a special place in their hearts, too, for US troops serving in Iraq and elsewhere overseas.

Keeping that often-mentioned "attitude of gratitude" can lead the way toward meeting life's challenges.

Take the experience of one hurricane Katrina survivor, who was displaced from her home last year.

"I think we have a nice future ahead," Deanna Misko told the Mississippi Sun Herald recently. She's grateful that her daughter "is being a big girl, being patient. She knows we'll get a house soon."

That expectation of good to come should inspire all Americans as they give thanks at their tables this year.

Response from the Presiding Bishop

Following the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the newest presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, several dioceses announced their intent to request "alternative primatial oversight" from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Others have gone a step further, announcing that they would be leaving the church altogether and aligning with other Anglican communions -- particularly the 9-million member Anglican Church of Uganda. The bishop has made clear her feelings of sadness over the course the Episcopal church has taken in recent years -- with schism continuing to be a very real possibility -- and I was curious to see how she would begin to address the bishops who were seeking other oversight or a move out of the church altogether.

The Diocese of San Joaquin, California, is one that has drawn a great deal of attention during this time, as it was one of the earliest to announce its intention of joining with the Ugandan communion. In the short term, it will be a painful split, and will undoubtedly result in a great deal of pain and a great deal of anger for thousands of California Episcopalians; in the long term, there will be long and difficult court cases over the ownership of church property and funds. I've been curious as to how the presiding bishop would address this issue -- and this letter that she just sent to the bishop of San Joaquin I think makes clear that -- as a pastor -- she will continue to seek a reconciliation for the church. However, as an administrator with responsibilities to the whole Episcopal church, she gives no sign of backing down from the fight.

"San Joaquin bishop sent letter from presiding bishop" -- Episcopal News Service, November 20, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Diversity: What Do We Do With It?

A column in the most recent issue of The Living Church (a publication about the Episcopal Church), written by the Rev. Steven Ford, touched on the theme of diversity within our denomination. The first and last paragraphs follow:

"A recent author has suggested that the current fashion of describing Anglicanism as a community of shared faith is totally off the mark. Rather, he believes, we're a motley collection of eccentrics who share a common taste for pageantry and theater. Until we accept and celebrate that, he concludes, we'll never be in tune with reality (John Glatt, For I Have Sinned: True Stories of Clergy who Kill [St. Martin's Press, 1998]).

"In the end, we Anglicans really are a collection of vastly different individuals. We came to the Church by following our own personal paths, and we take from the Church what each of us specifically needs. So a McDonald's model will never work for Episcopalians. We're a bit more like Burger King, I think, whose motto is 'Have It Your Way.' Maybe an even better motto for us is that of the USA TV network: 'Characters Welcome!'"

My question for the day: folks certainly recognize the diversity in our church, but when will they reach a point where they not only accept that diversity, but embrace it? The more diverse the church becomes, the more antiquated it seems factions of it become in their methods of dealing with that diversity. Food for thought.....

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What Can a Layman Do?

Now that Katharine Jefferst Schori has been seated as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the tone of recent comments regarding her and the direction of the church really hasn't changed much. Although many folks -- from the rectors of individual parishes to the Archbishop of Canterbury -- continue to speak of reconciliation, there are still some pretty venemous quotes being thrown out in the media (which, sadly, seems to be the default arena in which to wage war over religion, politics, and just about anything else).

One comment I read today struck me as particulary distressing, since it was spoken by the director of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. (Sidebar -- politics AND religion in the same name of an organization? End sidebar.) According to Jim Tonkowich with IRD, "'The new Presiding Bishop’s embrace of universalist language and progressive policies like gay ordination proved unsuccessful at attracting Nevada’s booming population. There is little indication they will meet with warmer reception nationwide.'

"IRD’s Anglican Action Director, Ralph Webb, commented: 'While the bishop is meant to be a symbol of unity for the entire church, Bishop Jefferts Schori has continually made comments that make orthodox Anglicans feel less and less a part of TEC.'

"He added that her controversial comments concerning ‘Mother Jesus’ and her conviction that Jesus Christ is only one of many ways to salvation, as well as her use of progressive social justice terminology in communicating her vision of the mission of the church has 'not helped heal a rapidly splintering church.'

"The TEC 'is bleeding profusely from a self-inflicted wound that has spread to impact the Anglican Communion worldwide,' he warned."

Okay, fine -- this group, just like many others, has identified the obvious problem. And again, like so many others, they focus on the problem rather than on offering ways to mend fences and bring the communion back together. The idea of keeping the church whole has been on my mind a great deal lately, as have questions about what I as a layman can do to help things along. I decided I would e-mail my questions to someone who knows more about reconciliation than just about anyone alive -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Not only did Tutu survive the horrors of apartheid in South Africa and help to foster a new life and a new national identity for that country, he also chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brought those responsible for apartheid forward to acknowledge their part in the old regime. I found his response to me both fascinating and inspiring.....

My original e-mail:

Dear Archbishop Tutu:

I know that you have devoted a great deal of your life to the concept of reconciliation, and I wanted to take a moment to share a concern I have about the direction of our church. As a lifelong Episcopalian, I remember (with a clearer memory of some more than others) some of the more important changes in the Church in the past three decades -- the ordination of women, and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests, among others. Regardless of the circumstances, it seemed that the larger faith community was strong and unified enough to survive the challenges these actions presented.

However, with the consecration of Gene Robinson (an action which I supported) and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as our next presiding bishop, it seems that we are now headed down a path which must almost certainly end with a sizeable division in the Anglican communion.

I am currently going through the discernment process for possible entrance into the seminary myself, and I know that -- should my own path lead me there -- I will be in a position where I must more directly address these challenges. However, as a father of a small daughter (with a second on the way in February), I am concerned about the type of church my children will inherit -- and I am struggling to find what I as a layman can do now to help with reconciliation in the church that I love.

Along with dialogue with individual members of my faith community, do you have any suggestions on what I can do in my role as a congregant at Christ Church to ensure that the Episcopal church my daughters inherit is as strong and inclusive as possible?

Again, my thanks for taking the time to consider my comments. Please know that you have my family's continuing prayers for improved health and for many more years of sharing your wonderful gifts, insight, and faith with the world.

And his response:

Dear friend,

Please forgive me for my dilatoriness. I’ve been celebrating my 75th and enjoying very much being spoiled.

Yes our Anglican communion not just your episcopal Church faces some difficult times. We used to boast that the most distinctive thing about us was our comprehensiveness, that our church was wide enough to accommodate the widest range of diverse views. Now we seem to have grown impatient and far more eager to excommunicate one another than to say even though we may differ even fundamentally we belong in the same family. It is so sad that our Church should be obsessed with this particular issue when God’s children out there are being devastated by poverty, disease, corruption and conflict. God must be weeping.

But we should also remember it is God’s church which has survived some turbulent times ... just think of the controversies right from the beginning of its life; eg should Gentiles be circumcised? Is Jesus really and truly God or a super human? So we have been there and pulled back from the abyss. There is no reason to think we are terminal now.

So your role is to be a good disciple of our Lord seeking to reflect the character of your Lord and Master being Jesus in this and every situation, and remembering that everyone even your worst adversary is in fact precious in God’s sight, for they too are God’s beloved children.

God bless you and yours even the one to be,

+Desmond Tutu.

Friday, November 10, 2006

God's Gonna Cut You Down

There's lots I want to write about in the coming days, and I'm still gathering my thoughts on all of that -- more in the creative front shortly. In the meantime, I heard a new song in the past few days that I think is well worth sharing.

This is, in my opinion, one of the best Johnny Cash songs ever -- and the multitude of celebrities appearing in this video (most of whom I like, some of whom I couldn't care less about) make it even more interesting. Definitely a great tribute to an incredible artist.....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gimmicky Religion

While going through my usual blog-browsing, I ran across this article posted over on Patchouli Ponderings -- "Real Men Talk About God." It certainly made for quite an interesting read, and in a way it was a big shock to me. When did we have to start resorting to gimmicks to attract people to church?

As I posted on Patchouli, and as regular readers here are aware, I am a cradle Episcopalian, and have spent my entire life seeking out and worshipping in very traditional ("Anglican") settings. As I've gotten older, I have opened my mind up to some new areas and styles of worship -- not for permanent change, but just to see what else is out there -- but I have to admit that what I read in this column isn't really something that I have looked for (or honestly expected to find if I was looking). There's no doubt in my mind that a man can be a faithful and active Christian, a good husband, and a good father without having to go out and burn loads of testosterone and act like a fool (stunts a la "Jackass?").

The whole point of this blog -- as was my original intent, and as I've posted in the introductory paragraph -- is to discover how to be a better Christian, father, and husband. I don't think kung-fu, rap music, and a flashy light show are the way for me to do it. Can't say that I would ever attend one of these events.

Give this article a read -- I'm curious to see what others have to say.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Is It November Already?

It's the first day of November -- just two months left in a year that seems to have gone by impossibly fast. This is one of my favorite times of the year -- the cool, crisp air; the changing leaves (although I can do without the nearly incessant raking); and the sights and sounds of the rapidly approaching holiday season. I spend the entire year waiting for this great time, and yet I always seem to let it go by without enjoying it nearly as much as I can; in fact, I go into November and December recalling the wonderful memories of my childhood that took place in the late fall and winter, and hoping that -- perhaps once -- I can experience just one little sound or sight or smell that will bring it all back anew.

I think with a little girl who's really getting to the age where she, too, can enjoy this time of the year, it will allow me to see things in a whole new way: through HER eyes and ears.....