Wednesday, January 30, 2008

For a Lift of Your Spirits....

Click here.


Some New Sites

When I started my blog, I had a goal of adding a site a day to "All Sorts and Conditions of Sites." Well, that fell by the wayside pretty quickly. Nonetheless, there are some recent additions: Jim's Thoughts, Wounded Bird (aka Grandmere Mimi), Election 2008, (for all things related to this year's Presidential election, including polls) and Doorman-Priest, among others. Do check them all out!


Edwards Drops Out, as does Guiliani

John Edwards is ending his campaign. I think it's too bad, ina way. His policy proposals were always the most complete and rigorous. His populism, i.e., support for those who the poorest and most disadvantaged, resonates with me, particularly given the Scripture's clear preferential option for the poor. If he had done well in SC, I might have considered him next Tuesday.

As predicted, Rudy is dropping out, too. So it's essentially Clinton or Obama, McCain or Romney. I predict McCain will be the GOP nominee (he should have been 8 years ago, and the country would have been in far better shape). I think he will be tough to beat in this election cycle.


New Jersey Is In Play!!

But because this is the first competitive Democratic primary in New Jersey since Walter F. Mondale defeated Gary Hart in 1984, party officials say the turnout is likely to far exceed last year’s total, when only 10 percent of registered voters cast ballots, and could approach 35 percent.

“There’s a Democratic tide that’s easy to feel but hard to quantify,” said Richard McGrath, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party.

New Jersey moved its primary to Super-Duper Tuesday, Feb. 5 (which is also Shrove Tuesday this year) and although last week's poll gives the lead to Clinton, Obama has great strength in both Newark and Jersey City, the state's largest cities. Read it all here.

I have no idea who to vote for yet either. Clinton/McCain is a toss-up, I think. Obama/McCain is competitive in some ways, but less so in others. I'm frankly torn between competence (Clinton) and vision (Obama).

New Jerseyans, or anyone else voting next Tuesday: what are your thoughts? Republican or Democrat, all coments welcome.


When you take Stimulus. (TM)...


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rudy is Done

At 9:01 PM, MSNBC is giving Rudy Guiliani 15% of the vote with 47% reporting. He's out of the race. I'm glad. He was definitely a ballbuster and carried grudges. See this analysis and this one. Regardless of what he claimed, I don't think being NYC mayor during 9/11 qualifies him to be President.

They are not calling the race yet, but McCain is ahead of Romney about 38,000 votes.

If I had to vote Republican, I'd vote for McCain. for the most part, you know where he stands. Romney is just a panderer - who knows what his real position is on anything?

Update @ 10:03: MSNBC sez Guiliani will endorse McCain tomorrow. I think that's pretty classy.


The ABC Talks about Religion and Culture

Let me start by listing five things that are often associated with Europe when people seek to identify what it has contributed to world history and culture since roughly the early seventeenth century (the significance of this particular time scheme should be clearer as we go on).

It's ultimately a very hopeful speech. He contrasts a true Christian worldview with the nihilism so common in current post-modern life. Both Islam and totalitarianism as alternatives to Western culture get addressed as well. Read the whole thing here.

If there's one somewhat irksome point is that ++Rowan prefers "European" over "Western"and I have to seems to slyly denigrate the US frequently in this speech. He labels much of American culture "derivative" of European models. Although democracy is listed as one his five things Europe has contributed (see above) he doesn't seem to admit that the US practiced it before even England. I hardly think that actuating ideas that may have had their roots in European thinkers constitutes being derivative, especially in the area of democracy. Thomas Jefferson's thinking was just as original as Rousseau's and Locke's. I have heard the ++Rowan has an anti-American bias of sorts (e.g., his refusal to meet with Gene Robinson) and I wonder if this is showing here as well.


Monday, January 28, 2008

A Monday Morning Pick-me-up

You'll love 'em or you'll hate 'em:

Police were called to a day care where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.
Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.
The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference.
To write with a broken pencil is pointless.
The short fortune teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
A thief fell and broke his leg in wet cement. He became a hardened criminal.
Thieves who steal corn from a garden could be charged with stalking.
When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.
The math professor went crazy with the blackboard. He did a number on it.
The professor discovered that her theory of earthquakes was on shaky ground.
The dead batteries were given out free of charge.
If you take a laptop computer for a run you could jog your memory.
A dentist and a manicurist fought tooth and nail.
A will is a dead giveaway.
A backward poet writes inverse.
A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.
Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I'll show you A-flat miner.
When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.
The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine was fully recovered.
A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France, resulted in linoleum blownapart.
A boiled egg is hard to beat.
He had a photographic memory which was never developed.
Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.
When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.
Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.
Acupuncture: a jab well done.



Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Epiphany III

On this Sunday we in the Church continue to make Jesus manifest in the world. Today we heard how Jesus called the first four disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John (at least in Matthew's account). We also heard a disquieting prophesy from Amos directed at Israel, and St. Paul's concern over divisions (scismata in the Greek) in the community at Corinth. And, as always, we celebrated the presence of Christ in the world anyway in the Holy Communion.

I continued my stint of supply at St. Thomas's in Vernon, NJ, and here's my sermon. I welcome your comments and feedback:

St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church, Vernon

Epiphany III 2008 (BCP)

Amos 3:1-8; Ps 139:1-17; I Cor 1:10-17; Matt 4:12-23

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr.

In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Amen.

As some of you might know, this past Friday and Saturday the Diocese of Newark held its 134th Annual Convention in Parsipanny. We do it every year around this time, and all the clergy of the Diocese plus three members elected from every congregation compose the Convention. That means over 400 voting members, plus staff and exhibits and all the rest, so it’s a pretty big thing. This year, the biggest item on our agenda seemed to be the election of deputies to the General Convention, which is held every three years and is the highest decision-making body of our church. It took 8 ballots to get a full slate of the four clergy and four lay deputies, plus alternates, that each diocese is entitled to send. We cast the final ballot about 3:45 PM or so, and immediately adjourned. We won’t even know what the final tally is until it’s announced, but by that time we were all a little tired and perhaps a bit cranky as well. I think the high point for me was that I was privileged to sit with the delegation from St. Thomas’s and to enjoy some good table fellowship with another St. Thomas, the one in Lyndhurst. Bishop Mark reminded us that the early celebrations of the Eucharist were done in table fellowship. We did that at both Eucharists that were offered. Bishop Mark and the convention Chaplain offered a few words of reflection on the readings of the day, and then each table took ten to fifteen minutes to discuss the readings in fellowship with one another. I found it a great experience in meeting other people and helping to be be built up as the Body of Christ. I hope we do more of that.

There was another part of the Convention that I have to admit I remember with not as much good feeling. Most of an annual convention is spent in hearing reports from various committees and task forces. We then debate and vote on various resolutions that may be presented by these committees. Sometimes it’s interesting and sometimes it’s tedious. Some of it is substantive, like the passing of the annual budget for the Diocese. At other times it seems like it doesn’t matter too much at all. But there was one time yesterday afternoon when we were debating a resolution that I felt fairly strongly about. The specific topic isn’t really important now. I recall being lined up at one of the microphones waiting my turn to speak. We’d been talking about this resolution for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. Not too much time, it seemed to me. But wouldn’t you know it, someone made a motion that debate be cut off and that we proceed to vote on the resolution itself. Well, I voted against that motion, let me tell you, because not only I but at least one or two other people wanted to speak as well. However, the rest of the Convention agreed that we had talked enough – it takes a two-thirds vote to cut off debate – and so we voted on the resolution. I think it passed as I recall, and handily too.

But as I was driving here to Vernon, I reflected at how put out I was over that motion. I still had something to say, and someone else was telling me essentially to sit down and be quiet. I didn’t take that well. I thought it was an offense against Christian charity not to allow a fellow believer to say what was on one’s mind. And of course what I had to say was of course so important that I knew the entire Convention would agree with me once I said it! I found myself stewing a bit about the entire situation and wondering what I might do. Write a personal letter? Accost the other person in the lobby and give him a piece of my mind? Do nothing and let I fester in my mind?

Maybe some of you have been, or are, in similar situations. Maybe it was a disagreement at work. Or a spouse or partner and you can’t agree on something. Maybe it’s far more significant than a mere contretemps. It could be a very real hurt from the past from a loved one. Or perhaps an unfortunate accident, or some incident in your life that has left you hurting, perhaps physically, or not, but emotionally or spiritually as well. Little or big, the hurts of the past are part of who we are, and we can’t escape them.

Or maybe it was something that was said last week at our own annual meeting her at St. Thomas’s. There were times when it got pretty heated. If you were there, you know at times words were said, tempers flared, and emotions ran pretty high. I imagine that afterward, perhaps some of you felt like I did after the Convention – hurt, angry perhaps, put out, wondering how could someone say what they said. There were some pretty serious divisions in the room. There were times, I have to tell you in my role as your chaplain, when not everyone acted at their best. Christian charity was stretched almost to its breaking point at times. I’ imagine it was as painful to experience as it was to watch.

My friends, as difficult as those moments were, the first thing I want to assure you is that this isn’t new in the annals of the church. Ever since Our Lord ascended on the fourtieth day, there have been disagreements and divisions in the church. In fact, a significant reason for writing the First Letter to the Christians at Corinth, which we heard part of today, is because of very serious discrepancies in that community. The apostle Paul, who founded the community at Corinth, wrote this to them sometime in the 50s or so:

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.

And this is just nine verses after the opening. Last week, if you remember, we heard how full the Corinthians were of every spiritual gift and knowledge. Paul is a pretty good psychologist. First he tells them how great they are, and then lets them have it with the reason he’s writing to them. He’s so concerned by what he hard from his associate Chloe that at great expense he writes a real live letter. Remember that most people couldn’t write and so they had to hire a scribe. Even Paul, in another of his letters, admits that his own handwriting isn’t very good. And there was no Imperial Roman Post Office, either, so you sent letters by personal courier - and it could take months for a letter to get where it was going. But it was critical for Paul to try to head off what he feared was happening at Corinth – division and disagreement that would split the community and hurt its members in the process and perhaps cause them to loose their faith and fall away.

Now I know you haven’t been to seminary and so I assume most of you haven’t studied Greek, which is what most of the New Testament was written in. And I’m not one usually to give a grammar lesson in a sermon. But all of you are already Biblical scholars! You already know some Greek. You know the Greek word for “division” from verse 10: schism. Yup. Schism. (σχίσματα ) Paul says to the community at Corinth, “please don’t let your schisms get the better of you.” We get our word for the worst, the deepest, the most painful controversies we know of from Paul’s plea to his brothers and sisters. And of course our word schism nearly always means a religious controversy so severe it causes people to split from one another. A schism is when one group so can’t agree with another group that it leaves it. The Reformation of which we in the Episcopal Church are a part, was a schism. There have been others as well, and in fact, we’re living through one right now in some dioceses in the Episcopal Church.

When you read the entire First Letter to the Corinthians, it’s interesting what Paul does and does not do. What Paul does well is talk about why schisms are bad, even wrong. They’re wrong because we are, as you’ve heard me say, already brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s eternal and cannot in this life ever be undone. And Paul talks about how we are all part of the one Body of Christ and individually members of it. In fact, Paul spends a great deal of time not only in this letter but in others addressing this very issue. It’s one of Paul’s central themes, this idea of the essential oneness of Christian believers gathered around the Font and the Table in community. He comes back to it again and again in his letters, and I could do whole series just on this idea.

For all his wisdom though, Paul neglects one key thing in my mind. He’s really good at telling believers that we are one in the Spirit, but he’s not so good about helping people repair divisions once they’ve started. And my friends, divisions are quite literally tears in the fabric of a community. They can be tiny littler tears that are easily sewn up without too much effort. But if not noticed quickly, they can rip and rip until an entire piece of the community is literally torn completely from the other. Fixing that takes a great deal more time and effort and prayer.

I want to be very clear that I do not think that anything that was heard or said last week is a lasting tear in the fabric here at St. Thomas’s. I don’t know you very well, but as I said at the annual meeting, I can tell you that I did not sense in that meeting a feeling of disengagement or lack of care. I sense that everyone cares deeply about this worshipping community and wants it to be healthy and vibrant. But I also do not want to lightly dismiss the real hurt that was inflicted and received at various times. Tears did occur, I saw it, and I imagine many of you saw it too, or unfortunately felt it. When we have been wronged we feel it and God feels it too. And that, my friend is where Paul leaves something to be desired. How do you sew up a tear, how do you right a wrong, how do you heal a division or worse, yet a schism?

My friends, it’s a simple three syllable word that is quite possibly the most fraught with meaning in all of Christian thought. And that word is “forgiveness.” The way we heal the wrongs that have occurred between each other is by forgiving them.

And what is forgivenesss anyway? We pray for it every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Is it simply sweeping past hurts and wrongs under a rug? No, because that’s a denial of the very hurt we feel, and a denial of our humanity, the humanity that Jesus shared with us. And it’s not usually simply a case of, “well she didn’t mean it” or “it really wasn’t all that bad.” Sometimes it is simply that, of course. But I’m talking about the real wrongs we’ve experienced, the wounds we’ve incurred, the losses we’ve felt in our lives. How do we deal with that? What’s forgiveness look like then?

There’s no one single definition of forgiveness. I like to think of forgiveness as looking to the future in relationship with someone that is not bound be past or circumstance. It’s saying, “I know what you did. It hurt, and you need to know that that. But in God’s grace I can see a future with you that acknowledges that hurt anyway.”

Forgiveness is powerful. It’s also subversive. It can turn enemies into friends and it’s perhaps the central way we Christians can effect reconciliation in the world. After all, the Good News is that we are forgiven. We can’t forgive God back, of course, but we can forgive others. It takes time and effort and intentionality to do that though. Just because most of us learned the word in the very first prayer we memorized as children doesn’t mean we automatically know how to do it. And so although Paul misses the boat on this one too, there are still some things we can do to understand forgiveness and put into practice right here in our relationships in St. Thomas’s.

Let me offer five concrete suggestions you can practice on the path to forgiveness. (I have taken the first four from William Countryman’s book, Forgiven and Forgiving, on p. 55-56 of the Morehouse paperback edition.)

First, I invite you to pray regarding those who have wronged you. You don’t have to pray anything in particular. In fact, notice I didn’t suggest to “pray for” people in particular. You may find, specially at first, that you can’t do that. If all you can pray is curses – and if you read the Psalms you’ll see they do a lot of that – at least you are still keeping them in your world. You have taken the first step toward forgiveness by not casting them out of your life entirely. Eventually you may be able to pray positively for those who you need to forgive, but even if all you can ever do is name them before God and let God take care of it, it’s a worthy prayer.

Second, I suggest you think about the universality of God’s forgiveness. Remember that Good News? God forgives everyone though the Cross of Jesus.. Absolutely everyone. At various times each of us may find that incredible gift hard to accept, but it’s always there nonetheless. The Season of Epiphany is really the embodiment of this idea, that God loves everybody, in all times and places and conditions.

The next one is a little harder. Think about God’s forgiveness of you specifically. Remember that you are part of what “everyone” means! Remember those old recruiting signs? They said “Uncle Same Wants You” with a big finger pointed you at you. Well, just think of a sign that says “God Forgives You In Jesus” with a big heavenly finger pointed right at you and you’ll get the right idea. Can you accept the gift of grace God is offering? Can you forgive yourself the way God does? You will have a difficult time forgiving others if you’re unable to accept God’s forgiveness of you.

And the fourth step: pray for God to lead you into the future. Forgiveness is all about living into a future that acknowledges the past but is not bound by it. You may not be able to see the future. But God can, and wants to lead you into that future.

These four practices: praying regarding those who have wronged you; reflecting on God’s universal forgiveness; considering God’s forgiveness of you personally, and praying for God to lead you into the future, can help approach actually forgiving others who have done us wrong. It can take time; true growth in the mind of Christ is not an instantaneous thing. Our poor human brains and hearts simply can’t take it all at once. But this work is ultimately the very reason we all are followers of Jesus the Christ in the first place. You and I are forgiven, no longer separated from God. And that means you and I can do the same for others. We can forgive them and thereby announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our families, our friends and even each other here at St. Thomas’s.

There’s one more thing we all can do right here and right now, to begin the task of forgiveness as our Lord forgives us: I think it’s actually the most important thing. Come often to this Table. Don’t allow yourself to get cut off from this congregation. It’s much more difficult to practice the work of forgiving others if you are missing God’s forgiveness promised through the very presence of Jesus himself. As a community united around the Word and the Font and the Table, what better way to begin the hard, uncomfortable, perhaps distasteful, but ultimately joyful work of forgivensss than right here among our true brothers and sisters?

Each of us can begin to mend the tears in the fabric of our common life in what we are about to celebrate at this very altar: Remember the hymn we sung? (No. 315 in The Hymnal – RFSJ] Kind of odd for an opening hymn, huh? Hear again what it says:

For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;

Make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;

Draw us the nearer each to each, we plead;

By drawing all to thee, O Prince of peace;

Thus may we all one bread, one Body be;

through this blest sacrament of unity.

I’m going to get over the incident I felt at Convention. That’s a relatively easy one. There are other wrongs in my life, perhaps in your lives, that are harder, perhaps insurmountable to our eyes and hearts. This Lent, I invite you to take these five spiritual practices, perhaps one a week, and make them part of your preparation for Easter. There may be a specific person, perhaps here, perhaps elsewhere, you have in mind that you need to forgive. If you’re new to this, I suggest you don’t pick something that is a deep wound to your soul. You can work up to that in time. But forgiveness, like anything else, takes practice. Start small. User those four reflections as places to start. You will find your own live more happy and more vibrant as you begin to experience the true joys of forgiveness. And those little tears that each of suffer every day, perhaps even at the Annual Meeting? They will, by God’s grace and your intention, be mended.

My friends, I appeal to you, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For we are one bread, one body, in Christ’s body, in Christ’s Bread. We can start on the path to forgiveness, right here and now, in the central act of unity that renders all divisions healed, all schisms moot.



PS - Kudos to anyone who can identify the pic....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'm Just Sayin'

As more than 250 mayors gathered in Washington for the winter meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, many agreed that the collapse of the subprime market had left a growing problem of vacant houses, depressed property values, tighter credit, and a need to cut services to close municipal budget gaps.

Read it all. There's real pain happening in many areas of the country. And it's unclear whether the new package agreed to today will help or not.

Friday morning update: more uncertainty about the stimulus package. I want to do a stimulus, but let's please do the right one!


The Proper of Tomorrow: Conversion of St. Paul

I will be attending the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of Newark tomorrow and Saturday, so I'm taking the opportunity now to post my entry on tomorrow's Major Feast.

Tomorrow the church remembers the event that launched the Apostle Paul on his great missionary enterprise: his conversion on the road to Damascus. It's so important that it, along with Peter's dream of eating unclean foods, is recounted twice in the Acts of the Apostles. And clearly Christianity would not be what it is today if it had not been for St. Paul. Perhaps more than any other apostle, he was instrumental in the spread of Christianity outside Judea. He was the one, after all, who argued forcefully that Gentiles - anyone who was not Jewish - did not have to become circumsized, i.e., become Jews, before becoming Christians. The whole agenda of the Council of Jerusalem recounted in Acts 15 is about this, and as we know, it was there that the decision was collectively made not to require circumcision. That first council's decision was momentous, because it's quite possible that otherwise, Christianity might well have died away as just another Jewish sect. It was the force of the Gospel itself that converted Saul from his belief in the power of the Law (he was a Pharisee, after all, and they generally believed that rigourous attention to the Law in all its particulars would bring salvation) and to the power of Grace in Jesus. And it's Paul's explication of Jesus as God's free gift - as unearned Grace - that has been a central tenet of Christianity ever since.

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's True!

I really shouldn't be giving away trade secrets, but haven't you wondered what's up there?


This cartoon originally appeared in the Church Times and is taken from ‘The Dave Walker Guide to the Church’, published by Canterbury Press.

I Wish More Bishops Were Like This

Have a look.


The Reduced Nativity Story

From the BBC:

Reduced Nativity Competition - Winners

The overall winner of the competition to tell the Nativity Story in under 30 seconds or in less than 90 words was someone the judge Adam Long of the Reduced Shakespeare Company commended for "taking reduction to heart".

The winner was Vandita Chisholm with this reduction:
Baby born in a stable. Lots of visitors...... Who's the daddy? God knows!!
Listen: read by Adam Long

The best runner-up was a submission on CD featuring Debbie Pepper, Randle Hurley, Cameron Pepper, Isaac Woodvine, Sheila Shipley, John Lansley and Tanya Lansley.

My fave:

To be read in the style of a Shipping Forecast on Radio Four
Here is the Nativity Forecast issued at Midnight, Christmas Eve for the next 24 hours and 2000 years.
The general synopsis:- outlook bright with stars appearing soon, moving in an Easterly direction. Visibility good,
light precipitation expected everywhere.
Three Kings:- moving slowly East.
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: arriving by camel Christmas Day.
Star in Sky: bright, also moving slowly Eastwards.
Shepherds Wake: dawn, cold, dispersing Easterly, following star.
Sheep Wander: safe
Joseph and Mary: tired, hungry, no room.
Stable, Bedding, Manger: safe.
Baby Jesus: arrival soon.

Catch it all here - hilarious, yet often quite right on, too!


tip to On Not Being A Sausage

Better ideas than mine

Here are even more - and to my mind make excellent sense - ideas for a stimulus, if indeed we are bound and determined to have one.

Of course, the problem with both fiscal policy - having to do with taxes and spending - and monetary policy - interest rate and reserve controls - is that both work slowly. Neither are particularly effective short-term remedies. Both are very important in their own ways, of course. As someone noted online today, never has there been a three-quarter-per-cent rate cut by the Fed at one time. Never. And keeping up the safety net for those who need it, like the article above is suggesting, is important also, since it takes time for jobs to be recreated or reconfigured. At the same time, check out the following (click on the image to enlarge):

(New York Times, op-ed online, 1/23/08.)

Our fiscal policy rescues, it seems, have often come far after the official recession has ended. Does that mean I think we shouldn't have one? I think we do, if only for political reasons. It will raise the deficit, but I'm persuaded at the moment that this is OK. But as I have said, I want the relief to go to those who really need it. That means the middle class and the poor, to my mind.


A Real Idea for Economic Stimulus

If people knew that their tax rates were going up next year, they’d work to make sure that more of their income is taxed at this year’s lower rates. Investors would likewise have a giant incentive to cash out their capital gains now to avoid paying higher taxes later. In 1986, stock sales doubled as taxpayers rushed to avoid the capital gains tax rate increase scheduled for 1987. If people pour their stock gains into yachts and fast cars, that’s pure fiscal stimulus.

The idea? Repeal the Bush tax cuts a year it all for the background.

I may well be accused of being a tax-and-spend liberal. I'd be willing to engage that debate if anyone wants to.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm coming out.... a bit of fiscal conservative with some populism thrown in:

I don't get it

Apparently, Rudy Guiliani said that what we need to stimulate the economy is a major tax cut. So we're already running a deficit - $164 billion in the last fiscal year. Now I'm not necessarily a stickler on zero deficits - when we borrow to invest in infrastructure like roads and bridges and stuff that will help grow the economy, that's OK. When we borrow to finance ongoing things like government operations, that's not a good thing. So a big problem with the economy right now is that people are overextended - they've already borrowed a lot and can't afford what they've already borrowed. So why does it make sense for the government to borrow more money to finance a tax cut? It's either pay now or pay later.

Seems to me what we need is structural changes in banking regulations to ensure that the subprime debacle can't happen again. There needs to be more of a balance between the unfetterred market economy and overregulation of the economy. I happen to think that at the moment we've leaned too far to the unregulated end. Time for more of a balance.

That won't help in the short run, of course. I supposed we're going to have a stimulus - seems like $150 billion or so, presumably in borrowed funds - will get sent as rebate checks, possibly by June 30. What I'd rather see is direct debt relief for those underwater in their mortgages. That could take the form of loan refinancing backed by the Fed of Fannie Mae or something, combined with several months of direct payment forgiveness while all that is being worked out. If we are going to spend $150 billion of the next generation's taxpayers money, let's help the people directly who need it most: those who, in many cases through no fault of their own, are now in trouble with their mortgages. Let's not foreclose on any more houses the rest of the year. I'll bet $150 billion could go a long way to helping with that.


Monday, January 21, 2008

How to....Do Just About Anything!

There's an interesting site called eHow where you can search for instructions on how to do lots of different things. A friend and parishioner is a contributor and is listed as an Authority. Check his advice out. And you never know - perhaps you might wish to contribute something as well.


PS - the most popular how-to? How to Lose Weight Fast....

So This is really what happened....

We've just been reading the Noah cycle in the Daily this is how Noah got everyone in the ark! (Click to enlarge.)


Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Proper of the Day: II Epiphany

This year Epiphany was on a Sunday, so all the succeeding Sundays of Epiphany feel late to me. Typing "II Epiphany" on January 20th is just a little odd. And Epiphanytide itself is as short as it can be - only 4 sundays in all before Lent begins. I wonder what it was like when the Church actually observed "Pre-Lent," the Sundays of Sexagisima, Quinquagesima, and Septuagesima. This year, Septuagisima would have been this Sunday. The Gospel for today in the 1928 BCP is Matthew 20, the Parable of the Vineyard. I guess I never understood why we needed a Pre-Lent when we have, well, Lent!

Anyway, I continued to serve supply at St. Thomas's Vernon, and here is what I offerred at the 10 AM service. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback - it's the easiest way to improve.

St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church, Vernon

The Second Sunday After Epiphany 2008 (BCP)

Isaiah 49 1:7; Ps 40:1-10; I Cor 1:1-9; John 1:29-41

The Rev. R.F. Solon, Jr.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be always acceptable to you, O Lord our rock and our salvation. Amen.

It seems like this January there’s always something going on that’s a bit unusual, a bit out of the ordinary. Two weeks ago it was the weather, and well, this past week, it’s been the Presidential campaign. Som of you know that I was a political science major in college. Although my ardor has faded a bit, I find myself drawn into this race like no other campaign in several years. I’ve been almost captivated by what’s been going on. Iowa and then New Hampshire and Michigan and now Nevada and South Carolina. If nothing else it’s been a nice geography lesson. And make no mistake, this nation is at a crossroads. We have significant decisions to make about the future of our country and our place in the world. We in New Jersey will have an opportunity to take our share on the councils of the nation on our primary of February 5. Incidentally, that’s Shrove Tuesday, too, so I hope you’ve got pancakes or something else fun planned. Go vote, and then go eat!

I’ve also been really proud of our nation in this campaign. It seems, regardless of what some of the pundits are saying, that people are really engaging the candidates and the issues. And there’s still a lot of uncertainty. For both political parties, the idea of a front runner seems to be a bit tentative at best. There is a lot of voting still left to do. That’s why February 5 is so important – it’s quite possible, even likely, that what we do in New Jersey will have a real impact on the nominations this year. Yesterday afternoon I was watching CNN, and they showed one of the Democratic caucus meetings live, from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Perhaps some of you caught it too. You’d think, compared to some of the other things broadcast live from Las Vegas, like boxing maybe, that watching people caucus would mean going right for the remote. But it was amazing! What was remarkable was the engagement of the voters. They really were getting into it. Although it seems simple enough, apparently the rules of the caucus are about as complicated as those for our own Diocesan Convention. People were patient, though, as the caucus chairwoman guided those 164 voters through the process. Voters had to show colored cards depending on which candidate they were supporting, and there was good-natured cheers for each candidate as the votes were called and tallied, right there live on national TV. Now Barack Obama won that particular caucus, although Hillary Clinton won the overall state. I was proud of America at that moment. I was proud that we have caucuses, that people in a very real sense have a say in our government. I was proud that we televised it live. I was even a little proud in myself for watching it, when there were several movies on HBO I hadn’t seen yet. Yesterday American revealed to the world, and to ourselves, us at our very best. I think we need more of that, and I was very glad to see a good start at it.

There’s a lot of that revealing going on in the Scripture appointed for this day as well. John announces Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Believe it or not, it’s only in the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation that Jesus is given that title. It’s very evocative. We’re reminded of all sorts of things when we hear it. You might think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or maybe the 23rd Psalm. You probably know that I like things liturgical, because I believe there is no higher calling for Christians than to first proclaim God’s Good News in our worship. Just before the distribution of Holy Communion the traditional anthem is “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” It became part of the Eucharistic service as early as the 7th Century, and although the printed program says differently, we’ll sing it today as well. This particular title is so important that John repeats it again the next day. Throughout Christian history the image of the Lamb of God has been much loved and appears in art through the centuries.

John gives an important clue to what’s going on when he says. “I came baptizing with water for this reason, that Jesus might be revealed to Israel.” It’s an odd thing to say, when you think about it. Apparently, John’s whole purpose in life, his entire reason for being, was to baptize Jesus. This makes sense of course, if you remember that one of John’s own traditional titles is The Forerunner. He’s the one who comes first and announces who Jesus is. He admits it himself. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the older translations of this passage, the word “revealed” as we have it today was translated “manifested.” The King James Version has it, “And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.”

Remember we sang about Jesus being manifested at the end of our worship last week? Manifest at Jordan’s stream. Manifest at Cana, wedding guest. Manifest on mountain height.

This is the season of Epiphany, the season of Jesus being revealed, shown, announced, to the whole world. John cried out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” That’s our message too. That’s the Good News, that here is the One who can and does end all the separation between humans and God, between humans and each other, between humans and the universe, and even between humans and our inward selves. We join John is saying “We ourselves have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” And we can say that honestly, because do see God in Jesus, in his Body and Blood right here in our Holy Communion.

We’re watching America manifest herself this political season as once again the America of honor, of pride, of respect for the rule of law and in our political processes, the America that believes in democracy and human rights for all. It’s good to see. It’s a task long overdue. And yet, we Christians have an even more honorable calling. It’s more important than politics, more important than caucusing, more important even than voting. Our task is to announce our Good News not only to America, but everywhere. Our task here at St. Thomas’s is to reveal, show, manifest, the Good News here in Vernon and the surrounding areas. Today is your own Annual Meeting. I encourage everyone to stay and attend if you possibly can. It’s an important time of the year for this congregation. You’ll celebrate and reflect on the past year, both its ups as well as its downs. You’ll take counsel for the welfare of this congregation and its work in the world. You will elect members to the Executive Committee and Diocesan Convention. The acts of worship, service, and community that St. Thomas’s performs is the very mission of Jesus, to reconcile all people to God in the power of the Holy Spirit. You are living out Epiphany by your very presence here on Rt. 94. I think you can be proud of the work you have accomplished, like we can all be proud of what America is accomplishing as well. You are showing Christians at our very best by your worship and welcome on Sundays, the Hiker Hostel and Interfaith work, and all the other activities that members of St. Thomas’s perform on a regular basis. Every Sunday, every day, actually, you here at St. Thomas’s proclaim with John, “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…Come and see!”

May it continue to be so!

In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.


Friday, January 18, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Confession of St. Peter

St. Peter, along with St. Paul, gets extra days on the calendar. His Confession - "You are the Messiah, the Christ" - we commemorate today, and then he gets another day (with St. Paul) on June 29, on the traditional date of their martyrdom. (Paul's other day is his Conversion, which we celebrate a week from today.) Interestingly, in the pre-Vatican-II Roman Calendar, today was St. Peter's Chair at Rome. Now it's an open day, although St. Paul still gets his extra day a week from now in the Roman rite as well.

Today also marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Episcopal Church has a nice bulletin insert about how this came about here. Since this week began exactly 100 years ago, I wonder if we 'Piskies added the Conversion of St. Peter in the 1979 BCP as a way to more formally mark its beginning. Perhaps the Romans dropped a feast today because well, after, all, if you want unity, y'all just come back to Mother Church....

Regardless of this day's provenance or theopolitical significance or lack thereof, it's not a bad idea to commemorate the most basic confession of Christianity. Of course, when we say "You are the Messiah, the Christ!" it means both more and less then when Peter said it. It means more because we have the fullness of Jesus' ministry in our minds and hearts: his birth, work among us, passion, death, and resurrection. Peter only saw what he saw, but he was led by the Spirit to acknowledge Jesus as the long-expected One who was to come to Israel.We can speculate as long as we want whether Peter, who apparently was not very well educated, would have known much about the prophesies and the the beliefs about the Messiah of his day and age, so to impute more meaning to his pronouncement than what he himself had witnessed might be pushing it too far. But at the same time, it's worth noting that when the Gospels were being written down, to say "Jesus is Lord" was high treason, because the Emperor was lord, after all. So Peter's Confession means more to the earliest hearers of the Gospel than perhaps to us, since to hear that phrase was to really take it to heart that that was a Lord greater the powers and principalities of the day. It's far easier to us to make that Confession because of the freedoms we celebrate in the West of expression and thought and speech. It's also perhaps cheaper for us, because we aren't putting our lives, fortunes, and our sacred honor on the line when we do so.

May each of us learn to understand both the awesome power, and the awesome responsibility, of declaring Jesus as Messiah, not only in the First Century, but especially now in the Twenty-First.

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The Black Keys on the Piano....

Check this out, and then go watch the recent movie by the same name....


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An Interesting Take on Job Competition

Economist Stephen E. Landsburg wonders:

All economists know that when American jobs are outsourced, Americans as a group are net winners. What we lose through lower wages is more than offset by what we gain through lower prices. In other words, the winners can more than afford to compensate the losers. Does that mean they ought to? Does it create a moral mandate for the taxpayer-subsidized retraining programs proposed by Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney?

His thesis is that there may be no difference morally (and thus as a policy imperative) between going to buy one's meds on the Web rather than the local pharmacy because it's cheaper, and buying one's labor in a cheaper labor market. One wouldn't compensate the pharmacist for lost income; Prof. Landsburg asks why compensate a worker whose job has gone overseas?

I think it's an interesting argument. I myself am not sure there is a moral component to this; as a practical effect, I don't think government is morally obligated in this area. This is quite apart from any moral obligation that Christians have to help each other out. That may be quite a different thing entirely. But the whole argument is worth a read, nonetheless.

See what you think. Comments always welcome!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Something to remember for Sunday School....

So who's on first, anyway?

(Click on image to enlarge)


Monday, January 14, 2008

Works For Me....

Although I'd prefer a Manhattan myself....

(Click image to enlarge.)


Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Proper of the Day: First Sunday After Epiphany; the Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Christ, by Edward Burns Jones

This week I continue to serve as supply clergy for St. Thomas's Episcopal Church in Vernon NJ. We celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord today, with renewal of the Baptismal Covenant at 8 and three baptisms at 10! It was a wonderful worship celebration. The kids from Sunday School came up to stand around the Font so they could see. Afterward i had the disctinct honor to give Holy Communion to Ashley, the newly baptized adult. What a great day for the Church!

Here's what I offered at 10:

St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church, Vernon NJ

Epiphany 1 2008 (BCP) 10 AM

Isaiah 42:1-9; Ps 89:20-29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr.

May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Hasn’t the weather much of this past week been wonderful? A bit bizarre, though. It was over 60 degrees in Manhattan and Bayonne midweek, and we actually had thunderstorms on Friday afternoon. I was out on the street running an errand with my umbrella and I happened to notice the water streaming out of the gutters and into the eaves and then down the storm drains. I imagined all that water flowing out into the Hudson Rover or Newark Bay. Bayonne is unique in that it’s surrounded on three sides by rivers. It’s not quite an island like Manhattan is, but it’s close. Before the bridges went up, life in Bayonne was defined by those rivers, the mighty Hudson and the much less dramatic Hackensack. I remember growing up in Toledo and loving to go downtown to the riverfront. The Maumee River rises pretty far to the west, in Ft. Wayne, IN, and meanders its way across northwest Ohio, though Defiance and Napoleon, and empties into Lake Erie at Toledo. Part of the Miami and Erie Canal was built along the Maumee back in the 1830s or so, because it’s an impassible river – most of the time it’s shallow and muddy and the only boats that can get through are flat bottomed ones – rafts, really.

When I lived in Indianapolis, I used to love to take Old US 24 along the river during the leg from Ft. Wayne to Toledo. At various places you drive right along the old canal route. Some parts of the canal channel are still flooded, and at other places you can see the grassy depression in the ground where the channel was only partially filled in. In Lucas County, where Toledo is, there are a whole series of parks along the river. At one park during the summer you can ride a small boat that goes through a working lock right on the river. You get in the little flat-bottomed boat, at one end of the lock, and the boatmen use long poles - used to be donkeys, but I don’t think they do that any more – to push the boat into the lock chamber. There are these big wooden doors that close behind you, with another set in front of you. The lock chamber itself is lined in stone, and you can see the high and low water marks from the river water out the windows of the boat. Before you know it, you can see the walls moving around you – the boat is rising! Once the water levels equalize, the doors in front of you open and you have been lifted several feet up the river. It’s both soothing, because there’s no motors or anything loud – and amazing, that the power of water could do all that, when harnessed correctly. I think my own love for water and rivers comes in part from the way we celebrate our history along the river in Toledo. The Maumee is certainly not like the Hudson, or like the Hackensack for that matter, or like the Nile or the Thames or even the Jordan. There are all kinds of rivers, from tiny and fast streams to the wide, deep, and slow. Human life has often been defined around rivers, it seems, and there is something about them that continually fascinates us and pulls at our hearts about them.

Today is a very important day in the life of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church. All Sundays are important, of course, and we do well to come together every Sunday to celebrate the amazing things God is doing in and around Vernon. But today is even more special, because today we welcome three new members of our Christian family. Brynn and Taylor and Ashley are, in just a few minutes, going to be baptized. You probably figured out that something like that was going to happen because we have all the stuff ready. Today is a second birthday for Ashley, Taylor and Brynn. Because today they will be born again. Few of us except the parents of these three were witnesses to their first birth. But all of us are going to witness this second birth. Neither Brynn nor Ashley nor Taylor will look much different, except perhaps a bit wetter. But let me assure you with every fiber of my being that they will be different. They will be adopted daughters of God in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. And that adoption is more powerful than anything that might happen in a court of law. Because what happens today can never be undone. No matter what happens in the life of Brynn or Taylor or Ashley from here on out, they are God’s children. [We will seal each of them with sacred oil and that will mark them as Christ’s own, even after the oil is washed off. The oil will come off with a little soap and water, but the claim by God as his own children will be with these two for the rest of their lives.]

It’s appropriate to celebrate this today because it’s also the day when we remember that Our Lord also was baptized. Unlike, us, He didn’t need to be. After all, Jesus never sinned. He never was separated from God or from his fellow human beings or from the world like we are. The word “baptism” means “washing” or “bathing.” John the Baptist was baptizing people at the Jordan River in Israel as a sign for those he baptized that they were committing to a new life, and that their old lives were washed down the river. So naturally John was puzzled when Jesus showed up and requested baptism. John may not have known exactly what was going on, but he knew enough to realize that it was he who needed to be baptized – washed, made clean – by Jesus and not the other way around. But Jesus says a puzzling thing. He says, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was saying that it was God’s will that he, Jesus, should be baptized. Not to wash away sin; that part is for you and me and Brynn and Taylor and Ashley. But hear again what the voice from heaven says: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” The baptism of Jesus is nothing less than the public acknowledgement by God – in a very dramatic way! – that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. At the very beginning of his public ministry, Jesus is marked as God’s own forever. He’s filled with the Holy Spirit so he can fulfill all righteousness - so he can do God’s will - by his life, ministry, and death.

God’s will for Jesus as his life unfolded was to do nothing less than reconcile everybody to God. And he of course did that, and by doing so, changed the nature of baptism forever. Jesus is baptized at the beginning of the Gospel, and we are commanded to continue to baptize at the end of the Gospel. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” What we are about to do today is part of God’s will, God’s plan for the universe. God wants all people to be reconciled to him, and that includes you and me and everyone. When we are baptized, God sends the Holy Spirit to inspire us. “Inspire” literally means “in-spirit” after all. Just like Jesus was inspired at the beginning of his public ministry, each of us is inspired as well. Each of us is part of God’s will, God’s plan for the universe. Like Jesus, each of us has some part to play, something to contribute, to the ongoing work of God in the world. Each of us is in-spired to do that work, that ministry, as God’s children. Individually we have gifts and talents – time, talent and treasure – that God gives us. If we are listening to that inspiration of the Spirit, we learn over time what God would have us do with those gifts, what ministry God calls each of us to do. It might be as simple as being right where one is, living one’s life, raising children, going to work, being a witness for Jesus by one’s very life. For some others it might be more direct, perhaps participating in something here at St. Thomas’s or some direct service to make this world a better place. For some few, it might be ordained ministry, which is just a specialized form of ministry no better than, just different from, any other ministries any of us offer to God.

For all of us, our ministries, whatever they are, our calling, flows directly from our baptisms, when each of us was implanted – inspired – with the Holy Spirit as a seed or a spark that can never be extinguished. And even though that spark is present, we may not know how to hear it or what to listen for. The bright lights of the world may overshadow the Light of Christ that lives inside each of us. And that’s where the Baptismal Covenant comes in. The Covenant which we and Ashley make when we’re baptized, or is made on our behalf if we’re children like Taylor and Brynn, commits us to certain thoughts and actions and patterns of life that can help us discover specifically what God would have us do. It isn’t a contract, which has terms and conditions. It’s unconditional. We are God’s beloved, period. Our joyful response to that realization is to commit ourselves to the Covenant, which outlines how to grow up as God’s children in the world. We don’t do it to earn God’s love, because we can’t. God can’t love us any more than God already does! We can’t earn salvation. It’s God’s free gift to us. And we can’t pay God back for salvation either. But we can pay it forward. We can, by our words and actions, make God’s love for us known to everyone. That’s the spirit of Epiphany, the season we’re in now – the urge to spread the Good News, not because we have to, but because we want to.

And the Baptismal Covenant helps us figure out what that might look like. It’s for both individuals as well as communities. Not every son or daughter of God is going to be gifted to be able to do everything in the Covenant equally well. But I do think that every Christian community, if it is healthy and strong in the Lord, will exhibit aspects of all the promises of the Covenant. I think the calling of St. Thomas’s in the next weeks and months is to reflect on the Baptismal Covenant and see what that means for the community, just like each individual believer is called to do so as well. What things do you feel called to do strongly? What things may you be doing now that seem of lesser importance? That’s the kind of reflection the Covenant can help with, for you and me in our own daily lives and in the life of this community as well. That’s God’s will. That’s fulfilling all righteousness. Jesus did it not only at his baptism but throughout his life and ministry. We who are God’s children by adoption and grace are called to do the same thing in our own lives. Ashley and Brynn and Taylor are called to do it in their lives. The rest of us are too. It’s both the privilege and the challenge of baptism.

Brynn and Taylor are going to be enrolled in the Baptismal Covenant by their parents and godparents. Ashley will do so of her own free will. Taylor and Brynn don’t have much to do today. But we and their parents and sponsors do. We’re going to promise to make it possible for Ashley and Taylor and Brynn to listen to the Holy Spirit that in a few minutes will be implanted – inspired - in each of them, so that they can grow into the full stature of Christ that God intends for them. So they, too, can fulfill all righteousness and pay God’s love forward into the world. Neither we nor they know what that’s going to look like for them yet. But our job is to do everything we can to make that possible for them. That includes things the Covenant calls all of us to do, like regular worship, participation in the life of this or another worshipping community, and the other promises we’re about to make or renew. My prayer is that all of us, candidates, parents, sponsors, and all the members of St. Thomas’s, will take our promises seriously and to heart today. We renew those promises several times a year just for that very reason.

My friends, what we do today isn’t merely pouring a little water on foreheads of little babies. What we do today is more than simply declaring their names. It’s more than just “getting them done” at the church. What we do today is exactly what happened to Jesus at the Jordan River Not all rivers are broad or flowing and deep, or cold and bubbling and clear. Our river is not mighty Hudson, nor the muddy Maumee, nor the brackish Hackensack. No, our river is far more grand than any of these. Today, our river is a bowl on a pedestal right here in the midst of St. Thomas’s church. Today, a voice from heaven will make a stunning announcement. And you know what? God isn’t going to say it just to Brynn and Taylor and to Ashley. God says it continually to each of us and to this community of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church: “You are my sons and daughters, my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

Come, let us gather at the river!