Sunday, March 29, 2009


Yesterday a bunch of great folks were at our house to celebrate my annual celebration of my birth. I don't have birthday cake, I have birthday pie, cherry pie to be exact, and my longsuffering wife is good to me in this regard. We watched my hawks for a while, talked and generally partook of far too much sugar and merriment. At one point a dominoes table was brought over from someone else's house and I got introduced to the intricacies of Puertorican dominoes. It seems the simpler the game the more complicated are the strategies. This game is simple enough; only one line with no forks so you can play only on two ends, only using tiles up to 6X6, so there are only 7 of any one number, and usually played in teams of two for a table of four. I delighted myself in delving into the complexities of counting tiles and trying to anticipate other peoples' plays. In doing so I left conversations going in the kitchen and front room in which I did not participate. After all, I was the birthday boy, and I could do as I wanted, right?

Right and wrong. When everyone left at around 10:30 it took us another hour to get the house in some sort of shape to leave until this afternoon to clean up. The pounds of sugar are still clinging to my ribs. And I'd spent good bits of Friday and Saturday cleaning house and yard getting ready.

I guess such celebrations are as much for the body corporate as for the body individual. Yes, I could have spent my birthday doing entirely what I like to do, which would have had me camping in the wilderness and flying my hawks, but what good is that to the community? And I could have spent the evening entirely butterflying between conversations and making sure everyone got a chance to talk with the birthday boy about whatever was on their minds, but then that way it would hardly have been MY party.

Such is the spiritual life. We can live it alone, and indeed no one can live your life with God for you, you must do it yourself. On the other hand, a lone sheep is wolf-bait, and our ancient enemy will not withhold his assaults. Being together, balancing the needs of the individual and the body, learning to give and love and receive and honor and be honored, these are what make us individuals--individuals within a corporate whole from which we draw our individuality. Without the body there are no members, and without the members there is no body. So says St. Paul in I Corinthians 12.

So, yes, I'm counting down from 50 n0w and am almost half way to 45, but more importantly than that, I was surrounded by people who are important to me, who make me who I am, and for whom I can be who I am, and that makes all the difference.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Saturday I worked in the flower beds at the house with Karisse. She had bought some new flowers for the year, and it was time to put them in.

It's a ritual we go through every Spring. Toward the end of hawking season I'm thinking about putting the hawks up for the Summer moult. I won't fly them again in the field until September. In the mean time the game we chase will get a rest, and the snakes will come out, do their thing, and slither back into hiding for another Winter, and won't constitute a threat to the dogs or myself. The grass decides it's gotta grow again, so the little ritual with the flower beds constitutes a change of activity from taking the hawks and dogs out to mowing the lawn, trading the Winter's adventures for the more agricultural pursuits of the homestead, from garnering protein for the larder to carbohydrates for the pantry.

But there's a problem. I figure that the exercise of gardening and yardwork will take the place of hawking so I don't get fat and lazy, but the muscles I used on Saturday haven't been in regular use since...well, since last Spring when we went through this little ritual last time. Why is it that muscles are not merely our general muscular system, that the body is not merely the body, an all-purpose tool with which to do the tasks of life? No, the body is filled with intricacies and unexplored dimensions that only come out when you push the limits, and with increasing age those limits, rather than expanding as they did in my youth, seem to be going in the other direction. Aargghhh!

Problems aren't all bad, however. I guess if all I did was fly my hawks only my legs and my left arm would get to be really buff. This balance with more domestic chores restores a physical balance. It restores the relationship with my lovely wife as well. After almost 31 years married she is used to my relative absence during the cooler days, and she looks forward to having me around more. I need both "me" time and "we" time, now it's time to balance the books a bit.

So just as Winter turns into Spring, so life turns on the great wheel of time, balancing each season's excesses with a corrective exercise. Yes, it stretches the muscles and causes a bit of stiffness in the back and in the soul, but when seen from afar the whole is a beautiful thing to behold.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


This morning in Church we sang a song that alluded to heaven where there will be no sorrow, but only joy. It's hard to imagine such a place. Inside us all there's something that can conceive of it, but cannot fully understand it. Having an imagination that works overtime, I find it very easy to envision--in that I can tell you aspects of what it must be like, but try as I might I cannot explain it in all its ramifications: It will be a place where there is no pain, is no sorrow, is no war or contention. It will be a place of ongoing peace and harmony. But I am immediately aware that as I use those terms I'm describing it in terms of my reality now--how it's not like earth, how it is like earth--I cannot use the terminology of heaven until I get there, I guess.

In spite of that inward yearning that somehow most of us can relate to, I sit here writing my blog. Karisse is doing machine embroidery while she fiddles with supplies for a bobbin lace project I'm on the laptop in the sewing room so that we can be close (laptops are easier to transport than embroidery machines.) That yearning is not tugging at my heart destorying my sense of present calm, in fact, I can't say I am much aware of it at all except intellectually as I write about it. It's just nice to sit here in this room with my love not far from me, each of us doing our own thing, and yet physically close to one another, where conversation can happen when it's natural, and a simple silence fills the room with peace otherwise. I know I'll take my hawks out later on this afternoon. In the evening we will go to extended family and eat with people we've grown to love, and then share songs and prayer. This week is Spring Break, so Karisse will be home every day, and tomorrow we go to Dallas to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. Nothing about my day is anything I can't handle. I am content.

Perhaps this is closer to heaven than the yearning that sometimes I feel.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Book Review

UnChristian, What a New Generation Thinks about Christianity…and Why it Matters
by Dave Kinneman and Gabe Lyons
2007, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI,

Dave Kinneman is President of The Barna Group, ( a Christian research firm in Ventura California. He teams up with Gabe Lyons to write this book after 3 years of intense study trying to find out why the younger generations of Americans largely hold the label “Christian” to be a negative thing. In the process of this study he identified a number of significant findings:

Fewer of the “Buster” and Mosaic” adults (adults between 16 and 41 in 2007) are returning to church after having their first child than previous generations by significant numbers.

Most Busters and Mosaics have heard the Christian story some time in their lives and most feel they “gave it a try.”

The general perception is (75%) that the Christian church does not accurately reflect the teachings or message of Jesus, thus it has become an “UnChristian” Christian church.

Significant themes in the negative impression:
1. Christians are hypocritical—measured by our own standards we fail to meet them and seem unconcerned with correcting the problem.
2. Christians are too concerned with gaining converts—we fail to see the people with whom we are sharing the Good News, and focus too much on a moment of conversion, the numbers and the programs.
3. Christians are anti-homosexual—we are bigoted and fixated on fixing the problem either through “cures” or leveraging political solutions against them.
4. Christians are sheltered—old fashioned, boring and out of touch with reality. We are simplistic and unable to adequately address the complexity of the grit and grime of peoples’ lives.
5. Christians are too political—we focus more on political solutions to peoples’ problems than spiritual ones. We are fused with the conservative right wing.
6. Christians are judgmental—we are quick to judge others and re not honest about our own attitudes and perspectives. It is hard to believe we truly love people.

After presenting the introductory information the authors dedicate a chapter apiece to each theme, explaining the background and giving examples of how these perceptions are expressed and how the reaction among younger adults functions. In the last chapter, “From UnChristian to Christian,” the authors offer a corrective for each of the above themes. They call us to respond to the criticisms with the right perspective, that of Jesus who was not defined by His detractors, and at the same time had an unwavering commitment to the truth. Defensiveness will not help us here, but rather a critical look at the truth behind the perceptions.

Then they call the church to:
1. Connect with people
2. Be creative
3. Serve people
4. Develop a lifestyle of compassion

Repeatedly in the book the authors call for the church to focus more on spiritual answers than social or political, or to use their words (not a direct quote:) to focus more on being righteous than being right, more on radical transformation than behavior modification. They warn against watering down the demands of the Gospel in the face of society’s norms and values, but even more clearly they emphasize the need to be non-combative in our approach to the world, and above all to show the love of Christ.

As an Episcopalian reading this book was an interesting exercise. I found that, though I not a "Buster" or "Mosaic," I empathized with a lot of the themes. Perhaps my multicultural background approximates the experience of younger adults today. I do believe the Anglican tradition is not trapped in the “conversion and numbers” game that many of our evangelical brothers and sisters experience. Given the theological perspective that underlies the text the authors would probably judge the Episcopal church as having sold out to the norms of society in regards to homosexuality, no matter what your personal convictions might be. As I read the book I was often made aware of the subtle but significant difference in perspective between the Anglican world and the conservative evangelical protestant perspective of the authors.

Given that, however, one cannot discount the assumption that non-Christian young adults do not draw a distinction between Evangelical and Episcopal, which means that by association we bear much of the same bad press. In an ever-aging church with a poor track record in attracting young adults, perhaps this book offers some new insights into why and what we need to do about it. The significant thing to me is that the “fixes” offered are not a “new strategy,” but merely a call to authentic Christian living in today’s world.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kids in Church

My church is blessed with something of which many churches would be envious--we have lots of little children. We are close to a large military instalation so we have a lot of young families, and that means kids! They are the future of the church, and in many ways they are the present--so much of our parish life revolves around them! I love it when they smile at me, when they wrap their arms around my legs, or give me a freshly picked flower before church (out of the flowers in the beds around the door, mind you!) I am no more deeply humbled when one of them calls me "Jesus." (The allegation is not hard to explain. I am a man, I talk about God, I have a beard, and I seem to live at God's house....)

There is a down side. Kids are by nature noisy. From time to time folks who are not used to kid-noise in their own houses find that kid-noise in church is distracting. I can understand. When you have come to hear a scintilating sermon and cannot because a little one in the back wants to make the sermon a conversation it can be annoying. When the quiet of a holy moment is broken by a wailing waif it's hard to maintain heavenly thoughts. Less-than-charitable ideas about the quality of parenting these days renew our need for absolution just when we were assured we had it! And it's hardly a win-win situation. Not only do others find it hard to stay in a worshipping mode, Mom can't even begin to worship. She's distracted, embarrassed and flustered. Taking the kid out helps everyone else, but leaves Mom in the unholy silence of the Narthex wrestling with her ankle-biter-gone-demonic while the rest of God's people continue their pious prayers. And any opportunity to teach the kid how to worship is lost to the tyranny of whatever is eating at the little one's soul.

Perhaps I learned a valuable lesson while doing field work in seminary in Ecuador. My assignment was a brand new mission in a poor area of the city, and for a while we met in an unfinished upstairs room. The distractions there were not children, though we had plenty of them. It was the chickens and dogs that wandered through. I quickly learned to include kid-noise with the necessary sounds of good worship. So perhaps I'm a little less sensitive to the disruption than some, but I believe a godly forebearance toward our littler worshippers who have their own particular style is in order. If you find the noise hard to handle and you know the mother personally and know that she would trust you with her little one, a helping hand might let her stay and worship while you took a moment in the Narthex to let the child know how much it is loved. But if not, maybe we had best learn that the sounds of kids in our church is a symbol of vitality, a constant reminder that we DO have little children among us, and putting up with some kid-noise is a small price to pay for the opportunity to show them God's love. If Jesus welcomed the children and blessed them you have to wonder where He might feel more comfortable: in our stately and beautiful worship or out with the kids? May the "extra" sounds in our worship fill us with more gratitude than dismay.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I know I haven't blogged in an age, maybe to get back into the discipline I ought to add it to my Lenten practice this year. Perhaps if I do I will continue to do so after Easter.

Funny thing, that. We pick up good habits during Lent, and then drop them after Easter, as if the season that is greatest in the Christian faith is the one in which we are the least worried about the quality of our soul! How many times do I ask people to consider giving up something for Lent with the intention that after Easter they would continue the good or healthy practice...I'm not sure to what avail I have done so.

On another related theme, however, my Bishop recently reminded us that in these times of economic hardship people tend to seek out the church. He is right, of course. People come not only for concrete help in meeting their financial obligations, but even more importantly for a sense of security when all that they had depended on seems shaken. This is a good thing, and the churches should be ready for this. But will it just prove to be a typical Lent in which as soon as the driving fear is asuaged the felt need for a good relationship with God will disappear into the panacea of an economic upturn? Or will people find that the purifying experience of having their economic world shaken will resurface truer and nobler priorities that will then hold sway?

Time will tell, but in one sense the misfortune of the many may prove to be an opportunity for goodness--again!