27 February 2009

Lent List


The Lent List is a series of questions, which, if you read aloud, listen, ponder, and write your answers, are a spiritual reflections of your soul.
If you only read them, if that's all you do in 40 days, that's good enough. If you read and consider one question that's good enough. If you read, consider, and try to write one answer that's good enough. If you read, consider, and do write one answer to one question that's good enough. Reading is good, but writing your answer is best; it's your spiritual memo to your self and of your soul. It's a snapshot during your journey of your spiritual road. 
Doing the Lent List is a process of call and response. Achieving one step is more likely to lead to doing more steps; doing them is cummulative. It's doing what you can, with what you have in a snapshot of time, as you're able to answer. Your result is your reflection of your soul.
  • What's your relationship with the most significant person in your life? Your spouse? Your children? Your partner? Other family?
  • What's your relationship with your work? Are you a slave to work? 
  • What's your relationship with money? With food? With alcohol? With prescription or non-prescription drugs? 
  • What's your relationship with your body? Your mind? Your emotions?
  • What's your relationship with the poor; with those who are without resources? The sick? The suffering? 
  • What's your relationship with people of different skin color, ethnic origin, or culture than your own? 
  • What's your relationship with what you believe to be your purpose in life? 
  • What's your relationship with prayer? With scripture? With worship and the sacraments? With the reality of your own sin?

24 February 2009

Stewardship & "Lape"

I want to be a caring steward of the abundance in my life. I spend time thinking about stewardship. This doesn't mean I want to make money. It means I want to earn a living with the blessings and abundance that have been given to me. I want to deploy and employ my God-given gifts and talents. It's been a lifetime learning this.

I like church life. In church life, and with any ministry by a parish member, stewardship is each person doing all they can, with all they have, all the time with their time, talent, and treasure. A "steward" is one who manages anothers' finances, property, or other affairs. Stewardship is caring administration and management.

There are a lot of people living into the life of their ministry and church who want to have deeper knowledge of what stewardship means. I recently attended a stewardship conference presented by The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS) called "Living Our Faith: Stewardship in the 21st Century." It was hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee and other regional southeastern Episcopal dioceses. Over 170 laity and clerics from across the North American continent attended. Here are some sample workshop topics.
  • Finance: "Asking Without Fear, Clergy & Money," "Stewardship & Giving: Increasing Financial Support of Your Church."
  • Property: "How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change a Christian," "Discerning God's Vision: Readiness for a Capital Campaign."
  • Other Affairs: "Sharing Your Story: A Key to Nurturing Generosity," "Promoting Planned Gifts," "Stewardship of the Body," "Generational Affairs in Stewardship Development."
I spent my conference time attending two workshops each on planned giving, working at the bookstore table and making some photopix for my diocese, and visiting with folks whom I knew or was getting to know for the first time.

The planned giving message is simple, available, and spirit filled. The simple message is it's critical for every person to have a will, a living will, a durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. It you want to do this and don't know how there are easy and accessible materials available to learn how. The available message is there are financial instruments available for you to give to your church in a manner that sustains it long after you've laid your body down and returned to our Creator. You have only to seek them out. The spirit filled message is that it's possible to plan, prepare, and direct an abundant end of life that clears a path for your loved ones to follow. In the end it will fill them with thanksgiving. It just takes your will and planning. These two workshops laid out a road map to do this. It only takes planning ahead.

One of the folks whom I got to know through conversation was Lathrop Peloubet Smith, aka "Lape." Lape is Mentor Emeritus, Stewardship Committee of the Diocese of North Carolina. Lape is a veteran of the Navy and World War II. He is one of "the greatest generation." His memoirs are part of the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center of The Library of Congress. He served on the USS Black (DD 666) in the Pacific Ocean.

Lape is an extrovert, so seeking comfort from a conference where four bishops were speaking, he gravitated to us at the book table with his aluminium walker. He loves to talk and he believes what he says is important. He knows you think it's important too. And he told us story upon story I'm certain are in his memoirs in the Veterans History Project. And he talked about what "stewardship" was like in his prime in his day. He lamented it transformation and how my generation has to work so hard learning what "stewardship" is. I suspect he has a point since we are so accustomed to abundance. I can assure you Lape knows what stewardship still is, and he was happy to tell me and Daphne. Well, one story led to another from Lape, so easily prompted and revealed by our interest and listening. At times I could see the hole of sadness in his heart from one experience or another. But as story upon story went on time went on and we parted happy to have been in conversation. I had been amused, enlightened, and tired out by this happy effervescent man.

The conference ended with a Eucharistic service. Lape was the first reader. The text was 2 Kings 5: 1-14, about Naaman, the great and renowned military leader, who suffered from an enlarged ego and leprosy. Before I was aware Lape was reading at the podium up on the raised platform. I will not soon forget the beauty of his voice. A reading knowing, familiar, gentle and deep; a text from thousands of years past, a reading intuitively conveying Naaman's transformation and learning of God. It was as if I was hearing the transformation for the first time. I must've been ready. This cheerful aged warrior had been my teacher. And then I felt the most extraordinary phenomena. Lape finished his reading. He and his walker made their way off and down the platform, not a person helping him, no sir, everyone could see he needed no such help, slowly back to his seat at table, among us, all our eyes and ears and hearts upon him. He had enraptured us, all of us seeing the Transformation, all of us in a perfect transformed silence.

Thanks be to God.

21 February 2009

iPod Therefore I Am


iPod Therefore I Am is an essay by Peter Aspden that appeared on January 23, 2009 in the Financial Times. This essay is smart.

The title iPod Therefore I Am is an update on Rene Descartes revelatory summary of self-consciousness, I think therefore I am. In "Wisdom of the West" the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote, 
Descartes' famous formula 'I think therefore I am' is typical of this individualism, 
('this individualism' refers to the value of a person's skepticism of an all-knowing central theological, economic, or intellectual authority, or contrariwise, values the individual's experience, insight, and ideas on theology, politics, economics, social relations, etcetera)
since it throws everyone back on his own personal existence as a basis for knowledge.
In America the cultural value placed on the individual's decisions is parmount. Every economic, social, political, media, technological, and cultural thread presumes the supremacy of the individuals' perception, discernment, experience, and choice. The New Yorker cartoon above appeared in the '70's. I love it and it illustrates the self-infatuated pomposity of the era in which it appeared with Descartes 17th century insight. 

Aspden goes on to refer to a podcast he listened to by the English theologian Don Cupitt. Cupitt believes in a "non-realist" God. Aspden writes,
In the podcast, Cupitt outlines the need for Christianity to dispense with the imagery and myth-making that served it so well for many hundreds of years, but which is distressingly at odds with modern sensibilities. These days, Cupitt, says, he finds the words “God” and “life” to be virtually coterminous. Anything that speaks of life is Godly, and there is no greater indicator of God’s existence than a life lived well.
Well now . . . here's where the hook is really set in me. Why this is surprising? Aspden calls Cupitt "brilliant," so I sense admiration of him. Multiple religions have existed for millennia. America is awash in a marketplace of religions and cults. Christianity in America is in the form of multiple denominations among them. Christianity has existed for about two thousand years. My particular form of Christianity, Episcopalianism, has existed for somewhat less time, but I'm happy enough with it.

Imagery and myth-making are central to Christianity.  All religions are about imagery and stories and how humans stories and images of God have evolved over time. Christianity is one example. But Christianity's images and stories are specific; that in which we all move, and live, and have our being, became human in Jesus of Nazareth. I believe homo-sapiens notions of God and life are coterminous. But without the humanity of Jesus the Christ there is no Christianity. I worship God in human form, Jesus Christ, as written and handed down in the Old and New Testaments, and according to the forms, traditions, teachings, reasoning, and hymnady found in the Episcopal Church. There is no Christianity without human imagery and stories. No God in human form then no Christianity.

Christianity, when done well, and bears the fruit of what it does well, is always distressingly at odds with modern sensibilities. Christianity lived well is not easy. It is difficult. Jesus was, Jesus is, the incarnation of God. God made man. In the perception of God we are transformed.

Quacking is easy. Blogging is easy. iPodding is easy. It's a medium that is its own message. It transforms how we do intellectual pursuits how we are exposed to God and theology. But it's nothing like living and working to do all that we can, with all that we have, all of the time. Doing that is difficult. The iPod won't do it for us.

13 February 2009

Addicted to Love . . .

"The lights are on, but you’re not home
Your mind is not your own
Your heart sweats, your body shakes
Another kiss is what it takes

You can’t sleep, you can’t eat
There’s no doubt, you’re in deep
Your throat is tight, you can’t breathe
Another kiss is all you need

Whoa, you like to think that you’re immune to the stuff, oh Yeah


It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough,
you know you’re
Gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to love

You see the signs, but you can’t read
You’re running at a different speed
Your heart beats in double time
Another kiss and you’ll be mine, a one-track mind

You can’t be saved
Oblivion is all you crave
If there’s some left for you
You don’t mind if you do

Whoa, you like to think that you’re immune to the stuff, oh Yeah

It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough,
you know you’re
Gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to love

Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love

Your lights are on, but you’re not home
Your will is not your own
Your heart sweats your teeth grind
Another kiss and you’ll be mine

Whoa, you like to think that you’re immune to the stuff, oh Yeah
It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough,
you know you’re
Gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to love

Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love."

The video and it's imagery smolders. I hope you clicked on it. It's moving restrained passion. It's hot on its own invisible leash. I love the brief cutaway to the tongue and lips; makes me howl. The implicit denial is the muse to the lyricist's knowing expression of his addiction. Even though the the writer is in the third person he's describing the eddy of his erotic sweaty pounding heart, body shaking kisses, and grinding one-track cravings.
I wish of writing like that; I couldn't come close. I think it's why I like the linked video, lyrics, and music so much. It's captures the reality and the denial of eroticism I felt. Not only could I have not formed the words, but if I could've formed the words I'd've been so ashamed that I would've acted as if I was naked. Instead I was a nice guy. I loved Ann and she was not like the Jane Russell pix. A few years later when Ann and I met in NYC, then parted again. Ann said "You're still a nice guy.", touched me on the cheek turned and walked away. I still feel a disappointment. I can't discern if it's hers or mine or ours. We were young. Now I feel I was very young. I was head over heels in love with her.
I recall, I was 7 or 8, while visiting my grandparents on their farm, my Grandma and I were watching tv, and an ad for the Boots Playtex "cross your heart bra . . . it lifts and separates . . . you're suddenly shapelier" came on. (Hey, I can't make this stuff up.) The bra was prominently illustrated. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, my Grandma was in the room . . . sitting right next to me! I hope I disappeared. Sidebar: I discover Howard Hughes was the original cross your heart bra designer. He had it designed and made just for Jayne Russell for her role in his movie The Outlaw. Jayne and Howard were lovers. She didn't like his bra, wore her own bras, and padded them. Jayne never told Howard. Howard never noticed. So much for romanticism. I like the music video more.
And romantic lyricism was out for me. If I must, I'm still reduced to hallmarkisms. The poet and author Judith Viorst says, Brevity may be the soul of wit, but not when someone's saying "I love you." I sense Judy and I wouldn't have lasted. Romance is my unconquered challenge. Sentimental romanticism is the donkey for my defensive witty tails. It just my sense of being vulnerable.
Thanks to Robert Palmer and his band for illustrating . . . being addicted to love.

06 February 2009

Abundance

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

This parable is sometimes known as The Parable of the Rich Fool. I may say to my adult children, should they bless me with their confidence, they are choosing unwisely, to caution and thus shape their ideas and choice. I hope the parable writer is speaking to the rich person in this manner. But I hear a rebuke too. I sense God is speaking directly to a person who, while blessed with ‘ample goods’ is also a person takes abundance for granted, indulges appetites and enthusiasms, foolishly believes in his or her efforts alone.

America’s capitalist and commercial cultures wrap us in visions of abundance. They are woven into the fabrics of our lives. We are surrounded by them. Our lives do not look like Dorthea Lange's depression era image of a mother, surrounded by her children, pondering her plight. I wonder how the mother might consider “abundance." I don't think she's saying, "I have nowhere to store my crops."

I believe abundance is composed of eight resources.

FINANCIAL ~ Having the money to purchase goods and services.

EMOTIONAL ~ Being able to choose and manage emotional responses, particularly in negative circumstances, without engaging in self-destructive behavior. This is an internal resource and shows itself through stamina, perseverance, and choices.

MENTAL ~ Having the mental abilities and acquired skills (reading, writing, computing) to cope with daily life.

SPIRITUAL ~ Believing in His purpose and guidance.

PHYSICAL ~ Having physical health and mobility.

SUPPORT SYSTEMS ~ Having friends, family, and backup resources available to call upon in times of need or trouble. There are external resources.

RELATIONSHIPS/ROLE MODELS ~  Having frequent access to adults who will nurture and care for you, and your needs, as a unique and valuable creation of God, and who do themselves not engage in self-destructive behaviors.

KNOWLEDGE OF HIDDEN RULES ~  Knowing the unspoken “cues” and “habits” of a social group. These unspoken cues are passed along in day-to-day human relations.

I try to do all I can, with all I have, all the time. I bet the mother does too. How about you?

04 February 2009

Bailouts Redux . . .

Can we stop with the tax evasion, and can we please stop with the "honest mistakes"? An apology is fine, I'm heartened by it, but it's not an excuse, which is what the "honest mistake" sounds like. The apologies, the give-backs, the repayments in hindsight that should have been made in the first place, feel like excuses. These all fray and tear at our trust. The ponzi schemes simply rip up trust. Money, credit, our banking system is built upon trust among people.

My maternal Grandpa Savage was a yeoman, a farmer, a husbandman, a businessman. He grew apples. He tended 40 acres of apple orchard. He raised chickens. He delivered eggs; he was known as "the eggman." He offered produce at his roadside stand. He was elected Assessor of Berlin, served on the East Berlin Fire District Committee and was its treasurer. Granpa was a deacon of his Berlin Congregational Church. He was a local banker. He was a trustee of the Berlin Savings Bank in Berlin, Connecticut. The bank was founded in 1874. It was a local savings institution.

In 1924, its' 50th Anniversary, the trustees wrote a vision statement for the bank.
The prosperity of the present is based on the thrift and the savings of the past. The prosperity of the present and future can only be continued by the same practices.

The mutual Savings Bank is a special friend of the persons of moderate means; it receives their surplus moneys in such small sums and as such times as they may choose for depositing it, and invests it solely for their profit, not its own; the investments are made with great caution, and with a single eye to safety; there is not temptation on the part of the Trustees to make loans at high rates of interest on doubtful securities, for they receive no part of the profits; and experience proves that a multitude of persons, each with a little money, can make no more safe or profitable or convenient investment of their means than by bringing them together in a Saving Bank. 

The mutual Savings Bank is the proof of community life as its owners are those who become depositors, and the Banks exist solely for their welfare. Its Officers as Trustees, and the State of Connecticut, by constant supervision, holds them responsible for an efficient and safe administration of the funds entrusted to the.

A Savings Bank's influence is all pervasive in a community and affects the best quality of character of its people. The Savings Bank is not only an institution, it is also an inspiration to character building and prosperity.

I believe this mission statement is a remnant of a time when a bank represented its community, reflected the character of its depositors, and was hoped to be an inspiration to character building and prosperity.

If our banking system is an example of our community life then what kind of community have we become today? We know what a small part of it once was. The Lord always leaves a remnant.  If we will allow it we can see it, take it in, learn from it, and reform. 


03 February 2009

Apple Tree

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. (Song of Solomon, 2:3)


During Christmas Season we sing "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree," often on the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. I find the hymn's music and lyrics simple, tender, and emotionally rich. The title is a link to hear it; here are the lyrics.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
laden with fruit and always green:
the trees of nature fruitless be
compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
by faith I know, but ne'er can tell
the glory which I now can see
in Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
and pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
'tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil,
here I will sit and rest awhile:
under the shadow I will be,
of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
it keeps my dying faith alive;
which makes my soul in haste to be
with Jesus Christ the apple tree.