13 April 2014

Palms and Treachery

So Jesus has taken to Jerusalem. He first enters in triumph. And then, the single act that brings the Temple authorities down on him like an avalanche. He disrupts and attacks the sacrificial system.

aa In a theocratic state, Israel was actually several in uneasy tension, religious actions have political consequences. Jesus interrupted the flow of sacrifice, and denounced the excesses of those who supplied sacrificial animals and temple currency. That one act of rebellion, combined with his teachings against the Herodians, made him a cadre of enemies. Enemies with power.

Everything flows from this - Jesus took on the political establishment, upset the apple cart, could never be a good member of Justin Welby's Church of England. And as Welby is willing to sacrifice Justice and lgbt members to appease evil, Caiphas was willing to have one man die to placate the Romans "for the people."

Caiaphas at least had an excuse. He was faced with a powerful occupier, and a theocratic polity. Welby has none. If the price of maintaining unity in the church or the communion is injustice, neither merit the cost.


29 March 2014

Music and Youth

One sort of folk music variant is the, "minstrel song." These came from two sorts of sources: actual minstrel shows that toured 19th century America, and Stephan J. Foster who carved a career writing them as pop music. One of them is, "Boil that cabbage" which is a sort of endless ditty. At one point, fueled by youth, brandy, and good company, I sang with a group that did 125 verses without repeating ourselves. We did not run out of couplets, but rather brandy. ;) The song is a lot like Goodnight Irene, one simply makes up a verse. The music is catchy, rhythmic, and fun. I taught the dulcimer melody, and a simple interlude / counter melody (useful when you need time to compose your next verse,) to Jamie earlier in the week. That young lady thinks! She worked out the pattern, and some simple, and rather complex variations. Tonight we jammed for about 2 hours, on that one tune. Jamie confidently took the lead, took the interlude, called the changes: when she was going where, explored the dynamics, and did some on-the-fly rhythm picking. She rocked. That little 4 string dulcimer sang. I suppose everyone thinks his or her granddaughter is the brightest star in the heavens. I just happen to be right. Brandy anyone?

24 March 2014

History: On Guilt

When I was a teen, I was outraged when I found out how my country supported Gen. Franco, the fascist dictator of Spain. Later, as we destroyed various governments in Vietnam, along with their leaders, my sense of anger grew. That international evil, combined with the tolerance of Jim Crow in the South, led me to the progressive, yes liberal, social justice orientation that still informs both my vote and my churchmanship.

This decision, to be pro-democracy, pro-diversity, and anti-exclusion is not without cost. A friend of 42 years, who now refuses to take or return my calls. A brother who now avoids conversations so completely, we have become the Christmas ornament -- seen only when the tree is lit. Other shattered or damaged relationships. At,least one job lost because I insisted on promoting a completely qualified woman.

I cherished some of those relationships and while I would not give up my core for them, I regret the losses.Still, one either shouts justice to power, or one does not.

2014 is not only strikingly cold and snowy in North America, it is quickly shaping up to be a bad year for justice. Bad enough that Uganda is trying to become the next oppressive murderer regime in Africa. Anything the Africans might have done, they will be doing worse under their institutionalized homophobia laws. Bad enough that as we leave Afghanistan at long, long last, the government is tilting towards the oppression of its women. Bad enough that Israel and Russia are being led by out-of-control expansionists.

, No, all of that pales at least for a moment as we see General Cici of Egypt make a bid to become the world's worst judicial murderer. Of course, he may not make it, we have to dig into the horror that was China under Mao, but he has a chance. 528 people whose crime, was that they supported a legitimately elected government, and objected, non-violently) to the military coupe that destroyed the elected government.

Here in, the conflict. When Mubaric's regime collapsed the Egyptian people wrote a democratic constitution, held ele'ctions. They chose a president, who had been a member of the "Moslem Brotherhood," a group that was in opposition to Mubaric regime.

I have been ill the last couple days. If you read this and wondered why it must sort of stopped, please blame that. I did write a conclusion, which appears below. I apparenty did not save it properly. My apololgies. Jim B.

The army receives a lot of its funding from Egypt. General Cici is widely seen as an American pawn. We fund his army, train his officers, and buy the ammo. All of this is explained by the price of the the Egypt - Israel treaty. When we give money, we expect and get some control. So faced with a government that neither we nor the Israelis could expect to be less compliant than Mubaric had been, we have gone out of our way to approve of the coupe which overthrew the elected government.

I am a self-confessed progressive. I voted for Mr. Obama. And yet here I sit appalled at our support of a regime that plans judicial murder, using our support. If I were Egyptian, I would understand why some of my fellow citizens are anti-American. Like most of my countrymen, I want to be loyal and supportive to government of by and for the people. Support for murder in Egypt will make that much more difficult.

18 March 2014

Oremus (Let us pray)

Admirers of Integrity and its founder,Louie Clay, supporters of +Gene Robinson, old folkies, and anti-Vietnam war progressives, Sue-z and I have had some moments of contact with the "Westboro Baptist Church:" none of them pleasant. Founded ( I believe) and led by Fred Phellps, the church is notorious for its, "God Hates Fags" website, and its noisy, angry picketing of not only lgbt events, or gay friendly churches, but tolerant communions, and military funerals. That last claiming that casualties suffered by American military are divine retribution for American tolerance of "gay marriage" and other alleged sins.

This week brings the news that Mr. Phelps is dying has died. He has been admitted to a hospice near his community.

Westboro is a sad, vicious and I believe both un-American, and un-Christian institution. None-the-less, a human life is ending. A husband, father, and grandfather faces judgement, a family faces loss.

More than perhaps many, he needs our prayers, even if he does not desire them. Oremus! Let us pray:
Receive him Lord, who placed his trust in You. Grant that he pass from life through death to You without fear or pain. Enter not into judgement with him, but regard him with mercy. Grant him rest in you, surrounded by light perpetual. Grant healing and send to comforter to his family.

13 March 2014

From time to time, as I prepare for worship, by reading the lessons for an upcoming Sunday, I think about the sermon I might give if my path to priesthood had not run into the bigot who blocked it.

This morning one of the most inspiring priests I know was discussing a small but interesting idea from another parish in the diocese. Nothing particularly stunning, merely the use of special wine (champagne) to mark the joy and celebration of Easter Vigil and Easter Morning. I was about to suggest a vintage that I think might be a bit more child friendly than Brut when another member of the worship and liturgy committee suggested just doing it. That is not publishing her intent in the Lenten bulletins. "OH no! came the response, they (presumably the parishioners) hate surprises."

My sermon, the one I shall never preach was about the surprises we see God give the Hebrews, and the Apostles. Over and over again, God is surprising. And over and over again, humans say, "no!" or at best, "but we have always" the four most deadly words in the Episcopal church.

Consider: Moses was surprised when he saw the burning bush, and probably more surprised when he heard the voice come from it! Moses clearly was not Episcopalian, he did not tell God he always stayed there and raised flocks.

Hebrews working on the Pharaoh's projects, did not expect Moses. They certainly did not expect the passover of God! Nor did they expect a pillar or fire, a path through the waters, or a rush of water coming to destroy Pharaoh's army. Their actions suggest the did not expect the law of God, food or water, and they probably never expected to finally cross the Jordan river.

Bishop N. T. Wright whose work on parables stands head and shoulder above most of the scholarship on them says that the resolution of the stories always is surprising, always called the hearers to a new way of seeing and acting.

The listeners considering the plight of the victim in the story we call the "parable of the Good Samaritan" were not expecting any goodness from a Samaritan. The division between Judeans, and Galileans on the one hand and the Samaritans on the other was deep, angry, and long standing. The idea that the clergy, honored men who were acting consistently with their understanding of the holiness code, would come out less holy, less decent than a Samaritan was not not merely a surprise, it was shocking.

Jesus was not the only one who surprised people. The leprous viceroy told to wash in the Jordan was certainly surprised. He was angry, and the idea of any liturgical innovation would produce anger, actually makes sense.

Lent of course carries the most surprising truth of all - God loves us. With what we know of ourselves, that is shocking. God is, as a curate at Emmanuel used to say, "crazy in love with us." I cannot think of a single thing I did to deserve that. I doubt you can say a thing you ever did to merit that divine love.

In La Grange, where I pray, some folks are not surprising. They seek not to cure poverty or homelessness, but rather to render it silent and invisible. It is their "right" to live in a community that suppresses others to keep their distorted view in sight. What may surprise you is that these people purport to be Christians. What I found depressing and surprising is that their clergy do not speak to them about the standards Jesus enunciated.

Ah well, as Jesus said, "they have their reward." It is Lent, the second week. How are you surprised by God this Lent? Are you open to the surprises? Or, do you respond the way those who heard the Samaritan story might have, by saying 'no!' to the poor, possibly homeless person. Refusing to be surprised by opportunities to radical hospitality is not Christianity, it is not surprising, it is sad.

14 February 2014

Listen to what the children say

I am, without any doubt, a doting 1 grandfather. There is little if anything I, and Sue-z would not do for the, "grandbabies."

In the Chicago area we have had some difficult school days. Recently, in spite of 30 to 60 mph winds, and 0 to 9f temps combining to drive effective temps as low as -30f 2.; I had a lunch date with Gabriel. As we drove away from school towards his desired Happy Meal, we were talking about how grown-up he is becoming. Somehow, when I told him he would be a grown-up someday, his thinking went in an unanticipated, at least to me direction. He said, "Yeah and Jamie will get there first and be able to use swear words on me while I can't.

I think I did well. I did not swerve, and I held my interval while laughing so hard I nearly cried. Gabriel demanded to know what was so funny? I told him I thought few kids ever think of growing up quite that way.

As we waited for his Happy Meal; we continued the conversation. It seems that he knows that there is some language used, sometimes by adults, especially parents, uncles, and grandparents, that is, "inappropriate" and not available to him. He has combined that knowledge with an awareness that his older sister will become an adult two years before him,. I pointed out the plus side, parents often impose rules that tweeens, and teens find onerous. Being second means that Jamie will have softened up the adults before his battles begin. He was not impressed.

At six, Gabriel has a well developed understanding of morals - what mom and dad say is what is right. As he matures, that will change, but for now that is his guideline. I asked him about sin, he thinks of it as what mom and dad say is wrong. Mom especially, seems to speak to and for god.

Isn't the responsibility incredible? Those of us who (grand) parent lead the children into their journey. It is our job to guide, and teach all the important things. Schools do secondary topics, algebra, French or Spanish, history, and the like. But mom, dad, and even grandparents teach ethics, responsibility, and for some of us, faith.

This process, "raising children" as I knew it growing up, or parenting as we called it when I was doing it, requires some considerable confidence in the children. If we are who we tell them to be, if, "Do what I say -- not what I do" is never our instruction, then we have to let them broaden their vistas, launch themselves into the wind, and fly. Otherwise, we are less than useless, we are a hindrance.

I thought of this today as I discovered a town in South Carolina attempting to censor reading for middle school students. Some of the works they are after were required of me when I was that age. Most are widely accounted great or at least very good literature. Looking over the protest facebook page the students have created, I was alternately amused and appalled.

One of the books the foolish school officials want to ban is, "Catcher In The Rye." I recall a review that began by noting that in New York publishing circles it was rumored that Salinger made so much money off that book, he would never need to write another. The reviewer noted, and I agree, if he does need money, we should pay him not to write. I loathed the book. But ban it? Never! Let it stand forever as an icon of pretentiousness.

Banning books, declaring that some ideas, expressions, or even art needs to pass the approval of a censor, is the first step towards tyranny. In a free society, censorship is simply wrong, period.


1. Here is a link to a dictionary page "doting. " *
1. Metric wind spped is about 48.3 kmh, with -30f is -34c.*

29 December 2013

Christmas Joy

This Christmas came to us with some issues. My daughter-in-law and grand-kids came to the first Christmas since the loss of their beloved (great)grand father. Kurt was a really nice, bright, loving man. We felt that loss again, in some ways even more, than when he died.

Sue-z and I attended the "longest Night" service. We found it a moving experience that led us to releasing our pains, and facing the road ahead. Losses happen: the service calls a person to name, and then release them. I found that possible, at least a bit. After that, for us, Christmas joy became possible.

We thought a lot about the gifts we bought, there was a very limited budget. Still, we found new dulcimer for Jamie, and a new Bodhron for Gabriel. When you give someone that sort of gift, you sort of hold your breath -- will they like them, play them?

Jamie had to wait several days for her dulcimer, we have all heard of the shipping issues. Finally, it came. Jamie loves it! We spent some time stringing it. Jamie decided to adopt a 3 string set, letting the second melody string wait until she has developed some tolerance for the wire strings. I set it up as she wanted it. "Babe," as Jamie calls her, is her instrument now. In the process, we started her birthday list. She wants her own electronic tuner, and a case. I suspect that these wishes we can fulfill. We spent hours talking about how the modal tuning relates to her violin, how to play, trying different tones and songs. Gabriel joined in and he and I drummed together. At their ages, with a bit of support, no "talent" excuse or difficult fingering gets in the way of loving the music. Like most musicians I know, I think talent is mostly myth. Practice, work, dedication, those I believe exist.

And so, came the evening when they both sat down to jam with grandpa. Gabriel reveling in the importance of the drum, his position as the leader into the song, Jamie picking out melodies on the melody course, trying out strums and finger patterns, while I played the harmonies and chords. We jammed for a solid hour! When Christal called the kids for bedtime, we agreed to play again tomorrow, and we did.

This is the way music should pass from generation to generation. Not in a dry academic setting, but with respect, fun, and joy as the music moves on, within and to new families. Jamie is fortunate that her violin teacher seems to think so too. I know, everyone knows, that the kids will become teenagers and move towards the new music of their day. And grandpa will still be playing, offering to drum for them. As the kids carefully wiped down their new musical friends, and went off to bed, I felt finally, the joy that comes from sharing a love.

I am 67. Yes, my fingers are a bit stiff now, and my voice a bit less robust. It does not matter. What matters is the music, flowing through our lives, carrying sorrow in blues, and love in ballads. The music calling us to celebrate life's special moments. The music demanding justice, crying peace, expressing love. The music celebrating lives lived, and resurrection. When it is my turn, I hope Gabriel drums me in and out of the funeral and that he and Jamie play for me. Let the music call us to celebration.

Christmas 2013 is our song for now. Name your losses, your pain, your failures, and yes you loves and joys. Then play, dance, or sing. Sing while you drive to work even to a new assignment a half-continent from here, as our intern priest now is doing. Sing, dance, play, or get a tambourine and shake.

Sing, dance, or play music of tradition, of change, of justice, of love. Joy to the world, the Lord is Come. Let heaven and nature sing, dance, or play.

St Laika's

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