Our church prides itself on its reputation as the most liberal church in our diocese.

That our diocese itself is somewhat of a traditional haven in an Episcopal Church that, frankly, has gone off the rails, is a major reason why we have not been driven to another denomination. The dismal state of the American Episcopal Church is not just my opinion, but that of most of the world's Anglicans. However, contrary to what happens in many denominations, the very structure of its services keeps it from going too far 'round the bend in any direction, and enables people of great diversity to worship freely together. I would hate to lose that.

Why, one might ask, do we not seek out a parish that is more in line with the diocese and less with the national leadership? After all, a church that was our home for many years, and which we still hold dear, is just that. It would be disingenuous not to mention that it is 45 minutes away, and our current church less than 10. But there's another, more important reason for being where we are:

We don't fit in.

I don't mean we feel unwelcome. Ours is a friendly church, and almost unmatched in the way children are respected in the service. A nicer bunch of people than our choir you'll not find anywhere. We share a lot in common. But there's no doubt that when it comes to many political, social, and theological issues, we are among a small minority.

One of the greatest dangers facing America today is that we don't know each other. We hang around, in both our real and our virtual lives, largely with people like ourselves. A community of empathetic people is important, even essential. That's the success of 12-step programs and other support groups formed around a particular need. We all need the encouragement of people who have been where we are and are going where we are going. We need a place to be at home, to be ourselves, to be fully accepted, to share inside jokes and to let down our defenses.

But too much of that can also lead to insularity and inbreeding. While we're not likely to forget that there are people who disagree with us, we're all too likely to forget that they are no less human than we are. You think that's crazy? Look at America today. We have become a nation of divisions that each think the others subhuman.

Is there a remedy? The best I can think of is to get out of our comfortable circles and work together with "the other" on something constructive. To find opportunities to meet together on common ground, to see each other as people with jobs and families, with trials and victories, as people who bring us meals when we are sick, and to whom we take meals in their need. People with whom we can learn that discussion is not war, difference is not division, and disagreement is not hatred.

Church, where we already have much common ground, and choir, where we have common work, are obvious places for us to find this interaction, at least at this stage of our lives. Is it frustrating at times, and lonely? Yes. But I've been there before, many times.

Who am I kidding? I've been there all my life. I've never fit in. I grew up a nerd, was the only girl in some of my classes and activities, always preferred classical to rock music, was considered an anomaly by my peers for refusing to lie to my parents, was a feminist until it became popular and then jumped ship, and developed decidedly unconventional attitudes towards birth, childrearing, and education—even in homeschooling I was philosophically an outsider among outsiders. So I'm accustomed to it.

And if I'm not going to fit in, our church is a great bunch of people not to fit in with.

Wait, that didn't come out at all the way I meant it.

They're a great bunch of people, and they don't mind if I don't fit in.

For now, this is where we should be. Will it always be so? Only God knows. As long as we are only swimming upstream and aren't fish out of water, I'm okay with that.

And hopeful for America.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 12, 2017 at 10:24 am | Edit
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Today's Frazz says it well.  I enjoy a little competition in my games, but it can't be the main point.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 15, 2017 at 6:20 am | Edit
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Real bloggers include guest posts now and then, right? It's time I moved up in the world. Not, however, by acquiescing to those who e-mail me at the blog address requesting to be invited as a guest poster on my "great blog"—by which they mean they want to use my platform to advertise whatever they're selling. Instead, this post fell into my lap in the form of an e-mail from my friend SW. In response to a recent post, in which I brought back my Good Friday post from a few years ago, All the Sorrows of the World, she shared something she had written in her own journal several months ago. It was not a reply to my post, being written completely independently, but it was such a perfect and sane response to the problem I asked if I might publish here writings here. She graciously consented.


I was trying to self-analyze why going online makes me feel anxious and overwhelmed. It didn't take long to come to the conclusion that it's because, for me, being connected to the whole world feels like a weight I'm incapable of bearing. I read all the hurts, the reasons to fear, the foolishness, the hate, etc., and I think, "It's too much!" My desire to retreat from it actually proves to me that I am a sane person, because of two facts:

  1. I am taking it seriously. I know that every story—even if it's laced with half-truths and some misinformation—involves real, living people. People not as unlike myself as we'd all like to think. And so, naturally, my heart goes out to them. Sometimes I pray for them. But I still feel pretty helpless, because out of the half-dozen stories I read, I may be able to donate help to one, but there will be a new batch tomorrow morning, tomorrow evening, the next day, and the next...which leads into,
  2. If any of us would stop and be honest for just one cotton-pickin' moment, we'd admit that it really IS ALL TOO MUCH. It's insanely too much hurt, too much heartache, too much innocence lost, too much cruelty, too much evil, and, frankly, just too much to wade through if we are actually reading thoughtfully and giving a damn about every human being represented in those stories.

Well, the truth is, God didn't make me able to handle the weight of the world. And in my case personally, when I try, I fail to "handle with care" the FEW burdens He DID give me to carry: my husband, my kids, my close family, my actual (not virtual) friends...actually, I have my hands FULL when I think about all the dear souls whom God has gifted to my care, who are authentically in my circle of influence. If I decide to try to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, the ones I actually owe my attention to will get dropped. I mean, I don't know about you, but my time, my emotional energy, and my financial resources are all finite. I start jumping on the Internet bandwagons and there is less of my time, my emotional energy, and my limited material resources to go around (not saying we shouldn't donate, but seriously, my kids wear shoes so tattered Goodwill couldn't sell them—we're not exactly out of balance in how we spend our money). Mostly, mentally, I get caught up in the "out there" and am far less present in the "here and now" where the needs around me are.

I think the world actually would go around better if more people could give most of their attention to the small but very real, very vital, circle of people (not things) God has given them the privilege of caring for. For me, in this season, it's my husband and kids. But it could be aging parents. Mentally challenged siblings. The refugee family next door. Co-workers. A new widow. Count up about a dozen—or even only a half-dozen—and if I, we, were to really invest our all into THEM, we'd have our hands, heads, and hearts full.

I wish I could solve the problems of the world, but very, very rarely am I a part of any solution simply by informing myself of them. It's a weight I am not equipped nor designed to carry. In other words, God doesn't expect me to have the capacity to "love the whole world." (Only He has that capacity, and He did, and He does. John 3:16.) But my own little circle? I can handle that...I can love them. I can love them well. God told us to "love one another." He gave me that much. So that much I ought to do. Why fail Him in the small area of faithfulness He's given me by claiming "The world is so big, and has so many problems!" I can love well the few I HAVE, and teach them to love well the few they have, who may in turn love well the few they have. I guess that's just me, but I'd rather die knowing I was faithful to the ones God gave ME, rather than attempting (and failing!) to love every person spread across the face of the earth, including the ones who needed me most.


Thank you, SW. Please stop by with another guest post sometime.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 21, 2017 at 5:41 am | Edit
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Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

This is the time of year when Christians make special recognition of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. I love Holy Week services, from Palm Sunday to Easter and everything in between. Due to extraordinary (but good) circumstances, we missed our Taizé (Monday), Stations of the Cross (Tuesday), Tennebrae (Wednesday), and Easter Vigil (Saturday) services this year. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday services were nonetheless a good preparation for Easter.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, I began to ask myself, What does Jesus think of the events leading up to Easter? Not our church services, but the actual events, from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through his agonizing in the Garden of Gesthemene, his last Passover with his disciples, his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion, and that mysterious time between death and resurrection. What does he think of it all? I don't mean then, while he was going through it, but now. Looking back, if that has any meaning in his case.

I asked myself this question because I was thinking about childbirth. Yes, I realize how ridiculous it is to compare the pains of childbirth to those of crucifixion, let alone the mental, emotional, and spiritual agony of all the sins and sorrows of the world, but bear with me here.

Setting aside the great difference in scale, I think there are important parallels. In each case, there is pain, anguish, fear, physical and mental exhaustion, and reaching the point where you just know you can't go on any longer, followed by the unimaginable, unsurpassable thrill of victory, of success, of achievement—and the birth of something new, wondrous, and beautiful.

Most mothers I know like to exchange birth stories, in all their glorious and grisly detail. Those are "then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars" moments. But the toil and pain are remembered, not relived. We tell these "war stories" because we are justifiably taking credit for our part in the miracle. The pain has been crowned and glorified by its accomplishment.

Nor do we regale our children with the horrors of what it cost us for them to exist, at least not if we're psychologically healthy ourselves. If our child were to start to focus on the pain of childbirth, we would quickly tell him, "You're missing the whole point. Sure, it was a difficult process, but it was worth it. What matters is not the suffering, not the effort. What matters is that you were born! The pain is in the past, and our family is immeasurably greater because of it. The whole world is greater because you are here. That is the point. Be thankful for what I did for you, but don't dwell on it. Focus on using your uniqueness to be the best person you can be, to bless the family—and the world—you were born into. That, not your grief at my sufferings, nor even your gratitude for them, is what makes me happy and overwhelmingly glad to have endured them. Go—live with joy the life I have given you!"

So I wonder. Is it possible that Jesus has similar thoughts?

It's good to be reminded of the events that birthed our post-Easter world, and not to take lightly the suffering that made it possible. However, some people, many preachers, and even a few filmmakers appear to take delight in portraying Christ's agony in the most excruciating (consider the etymology of that word!) detail possible, even, like the medieval flagellants, attempting to participate in it. Even less extreme evangelists and theologians spend more ink and energy on Jesus' death than on his resurrection.

Could it be that Jesus looks back at that time with joy, knowing that he accomplished something difficult, important, and wonderful? Is it possible that he sometimes looks at us and thinks, You're missing the whole point? That it would rejoice his heart if we thought less about his death and more about how to use the new life he has given us?

Go—rejoice—live!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 5:29 am | Edit
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I'm bringing back my Good Friday post from four years ago, because I think it's worth bringing to mind again.

 


 

Good Friday.

Remembering the day all the sorrows of the world (and then some) were in some incomprehensible way taken on by the only one who (as fully both divine and human) could effectively bear them—albeit with unimaginable suffering.

I trust it is in keeping with the holiness of the day, and not in any way disrespectful or unmindful of its significance, to consider that as we, in the West at least, pay less and less attention to the significance of Good Friday, we find ourselves taking all the sorrows of the world on ourselves—and being crushed by them.

Consider the lives of our ancestors throughout almost all of history:  Most of them were born, died, and lived their entire lives in the same small community.  Even when they migrated, were taken captive, were exiled, or went to war, for all but a handful, their circle of experience remained small and local.

Our ancestors suffered greatly.  The unbearable sorrow of losing a child was not uncommon.  There was no easy divorce to sever marriages and blend families—but death played the same role.  The lack of sanitation, antibiotics, immunizations, and even a simple aspirin tablet made for disease, pain, and death on a scale most of us can’t imagine.  Starvation was often only a bad harvest away.  Slavery and slave-like conditions were taken for granted for most of history.  I’m not here to minimize the sufferings of the past.

But there is a very important however to their story.  Their pain was on a scale that was local and human.  They suffered, their families suffered, and their neighbors suffered.  Travellers might bring back tales of tragedy far away, but that was a secondary, filtered experience.

And today?  The suffering in our close, personal circles may indeed be less.  But our vicarious suffering is off the charts.  Whether it’s a murder across town, a kidnapping across the country, or a natural disaster halfway around the world, we hear about it.  In graphic, gory detail.  Over and over we hear the wailing and see the shattered bodies.  Full color, high definition, surround sound.

If that were not enough, our television shows and movies flood us daily, repeatedly, with simulated violence and horror, deliberately fashioned to be more realistic than life, so that, for example, we become less the observers of a murder than the victim—or the murderer himself.  (Not to let books off the hook, especially the more graphic and horrific ones, but their effect is somewhat limited by the imagination of the reader.)

No one imagines that the death of a stranger half a world away, much less in a scene we know is fictional, is as traumatic as a death "close and personal."  But a few hundred years of such vicarious suffering is not enough to reprogram the primitive parts of our brains not to kick into high gear with horror, anguish, and above all, fear.  Our bodies are flooded with stress hormones, and our minds tricked into believing danger and disaster are much more common than they are.  We repeatedly make bad personal and national decisions based on events, such as school shootings and kidnappings by strangers, that are statistically so rare that the perpetrators cannot be profiled.  We hear a mother wailing for her lost child, and our soul imagines it is our own child who has died.  We watch film footage of an earthquake and shudder when a tractor-trailer rolls by.  Did anyone see Hitchcock’s Psycho and enter the shower the next morning without a second thought?

Worse still, for these sorrows and dangers we can’t even have the satisfaction of a physical response.  We can’t fight, we can’t fly, we can’t hug a grieving widow; no matter how loudly we shout, Janet Leigh doesn’t hear us when we warn her not to step into the shower.  Writing a check to a relief organization may be a good thing, but it doesn’t fool brain systems that have been around a whole lot longer than checks.  Or relief organizations.

I don’t have a solution to what seems to be an intractable problem, although a good deal less media exposure would be a great place to start.  

The human body, mind, and spirit are not capable of bearing all the griefs that now assault us.  We are not God.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Edit
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I've never aspired to be a leader. I learned that in elementary school, when my parents and teacher were talking about "leadership qualities" and I thought, "Doesn't sound like fun to me."  I don't mean I necessarily like to be a follower—mostly I like to do my own thing (child of the '60s) and other people can come along, or not, as they wish.

But a man at our church, who died not long ago, is making me rethink the idea of leadership. I barely knew him, but our choir sang for his funeral, and what I learned about him then made me wish I had found a way to cultivate his friendship.

He was accomplished enough for 10 people. He graduated in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering from Princeton. He was a marine, serving in World War II and Korea. He followed that up by working for the CIA, earning the highest possible award for valor. For three years he endured Communist prison camp in Cuba. His civilian life achievements and community activities are too numerous to mention.

And they played bagpipes at his funeral.

Most amazing of all for someone so distinguished, everyone who knew him remarked about his humility. Churches talk a lot about "servant leadership" but apparently this man actually embodied it. He was, indeed, a "humble servant."

And yet....

The other thing said about him was that people did things the way he thought they ought to be done. He was humble, he was gentle, he was soft-spoken—but you didn't cross him. Somehow, he induced people to see things his way without pushing them around, without exerting his power—which is real power, indeed.

What might the world be like with more leaders like that?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 11:25 am | Edit
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When she was in fifth grade, Heather won her school's spelling bee. It was a significant accomplishment—the competition was stiff—and we were proud of her.

Imagine how Edith Fuller's parents feel. The homeschooled five-year-old from Oklahama won the regional championship spelling bee and on May 30 will be competing in Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. The contest is for children through eighth grade. Here she is in action.

This Slate article takes a positive, if somewhat mocking tone, but asks, Why?

Spelling bees have a certain poignancy that, say, a science fair lacks. Being a good speller is like having beautiful handwriting or being an excellent seamstress: It’s impressive, but it’s almost totally unnecessary for most 21st-century adults. If STEM is the future, spelling feels like the past.

To which I must respond, Why basketball? Why golf? Why the Olympics? If the significance of spelling bees, and of spelling as a skill, are questioned "in the age of spell-check," what's the point of knowing knowing how to throw a javelin or to jump long and high in these days when we don't need to hunt for our food and escape cave bears?

It's possible to overdo anything, of course, and not everyone will find it worthwhile to attain Olympic or spelling bee champion status. But developing the mind and body is its own justification.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 6:40 am | Edit
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Homegrown Hollywood:  Searching for Family in All the Wrong Places showed up this morning in my Weekly Genealogist magazine.  It's a short and sweet story of a woman's efforts to learn about the grandmother she never knew.  I'm linking to it here because it epitomizes what our country so desperately needs.

A writer from Los Angeles travels to a small town in North Carolina and meets a distant cousin who might as well live on a different planet for all they have in common ... on the surface.

She welcomed us with a warm drawl and a tight hug. We sat on her couch as she told us stories and pulled out pictures. The longer we stayed, the happier I felt and something calmed inside of me.

The author wasn't the only one who'd had doubts about the cultural differences.

"Let me tell you, honey," she drawled in her thick accent. "I was nervous about meeting ya'll, but as soon as I saw you I thought, 'now there is blood kin.' And then everything was different."

The key to healing our fractured nation is real people.  Not stereotypes, not Hollywood depictions, not news stories, but real, physical people who have families and serve dinners and smile at strangers.

She was right. Everything was different.

I had been trying to reach my grandma through gravestones and houses and hats I'd put on in a dusty old attic.

But where I'd actually found her was in people like Shelvie Jean.

Hope for healing lies outside our bubbles.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 7:37 am | Edit
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Our church publishes a little booklet every Lent, comprising short meditations on chosen Bible verses, done by members of the congregation. This year, when they asked for volunteers, I signed up. Part of the reason was the challenge of saying something meaningful in 100 words. As you will see, I exceeded that slightly—but was still within the boundaries. April 3rd was my day, so I'm publishing it here as well.

Romans 9:33:  and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame

These words occur several times in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. "Him" refers to the Messiah in the Old, identified with Jesus Christ in the New. In context and in combination they portray Jesus as a rock that can be a secure foundation or a stumbling block. The characteristics that make rock a good base on which to build also make it painful and costly to ignore as we walk along.

"Never be put to shame" is also translated as “not make haste, not be disturbed, not panic, not worry, not be disappointed.” If Jesus is the foundation of our lives, there is no need to worry or make frantic efforts. Our responsibility is to do our work with calm confidence:  God has our backs.

What was remarkable, for me, was how I accomplished the project. It may not seem like much to those of you who can whip off such things easily, but trust me, my usual approach to such assignments has always been (1) put it on the shelf because the deadline is comfortably far off, (2) periodically think to myself, "oh, yes, I need to get that done," (3) forget about it entirely, and (4) remember at the 11th hour, panic, drop everything else, and stay up late to finish the job, with the dissatisfaction of knowing I could have done better.

However, this time the scenario went like this:

I received my assignment on Tuesday. I took a quick look at the context of the verse excerpt, then laid the task aside, keeping it in my mind and prayers as I did other things.

During the day I found a few moments here and there to look up information about the verse and make a few notes. (Hooray for the Internet.)  I continued to think in the background and pray.

Wednesday I sat down and wrote my thoughts. This was the longest part, but it wasn't hard because I had done the legwork already. Saying what I want the way I want to always takes time, but it flowed well, which was a good thing because Wednesday was a very busy day. I finished it Wednesday night after choir and still got to bed on time.

Thursday morning I reread it, made a couple of minor tweaks, and sent it off—earning commendations for being the first to return my meditation, three weeks in advance of the deadline.

It's a small victory, but gives me hope that eventually I'll figure out how to make it spill over into the rest of my life. You know, the "do my work with calm confidence" part!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 3, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Edit
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Somewhere, in one of Glenn Doman's books, is an important clue to progress in any endeavour:

We arrange for the child to win.

Doman was dealing with severely disabled children. Forget walking—these kids couldn't claw their bodies forward two centimeters on a level floor. So he set them at the top of an inclined plane with a slippery surface. Suddenly, their random limb movements began to have an observable effect: they moved! Thus they began the critical process of associating their movements with results. Many of those children went on from that tiny beginning to learn to walk.

In an apparently radical change of direction, I bring you this article on Why Typography Matters—Especially at the Oscars.

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I never watch the Academy Awards shows, but apparently this year there was a major, embarrassing mix-up, with the best actress award winner's movie being announced as Best Picture. Designer Benjamin Bannister shows how the actual Oscar card (left) could have been designed (right) to greatly reduce the odds of misreading the card in all the excitement and bright lights. The card designer could have arranged for the card readers to win. A small change could have had great impact.

How often do we miss opportunites to make small changes that could arrange for our children, our spouses, ourselves to win? Do we somehow feel we don't deserve the help? If we have to spell out to our spouses how they can make us feel loved, it doesn't mean anything, right? Our children need to struggle for success, or else how will they grow? If we were the kind of people we should be, this—whatever this is—wouldn't be so difficult; it's cheating to make life easier for ourselves.

No, it's not.

Those immobile children who learned to walk succeeded because someone made it easier for them to make progress with their first efforts.

We use levers, wheels, pulleys, sharpened knives, WD-40 ... whatever tool or trick we can find to make our work go faster and better. That's the way progress is made. When our work goes more easily, we can do more. Plus, of course, we feel better about what we are doing and that makes us want to do more still.

Successful people work hard. They know how to delay gratification and don't indulge themselves in luxuries while building their businesses. What successful people don't do, however, is waste time with dull knives, broken pencils, worn-out machinery, people who drag them down, or anything else that hinders their productivity. They don't tell themselves, "I can make do, because I'm not that important, the work isn't that important, and I don't deserve to have better until I'm more successful with what I have." Tribulation breeds character, but unnecessary tribulation breeds frustration and failure.

What can you do to arrange for someone—yourself, your children, your spouse, a neighbor—to win? The cost might be much less, and the rewards much greater, than you think. Be creative. Until you see it, it's not obvious how an inclined surface might help a child learn to walk, nor how a small style change could prevent Oscar embarrassment.

Above all, don't wait to seek a better way until you or someone else deserves it. It's not about what we deserve; it's about setting ourselves up to do our best. If you're still stuck on your own lack of merit, think about your family. Don't you want to be your best—for them?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Edit
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Mind. Blown.

Even though I don't understand half of the items, the U.S. Debt Clock is fascinating. Because statistics without sources are useless, you can mouse over a number to see where it comes from. Amidst all the depressing figures, at least I can say that we're far better than average when it comes to personal debt, which amounts to over 56 thousand dollars per person! Fortunately, that figure includes mortgage debt, which can be less of a problem, though recent times have shown that's not always true.

On the other hand, the fact that our children and their families collectively own almost $860,000 of the national debt is more than a bit disconcerting. Those who are also Swiss get to add another $16,000 or so, with the consolation that the Swiss national debt is actually going down. You can see world debt clocks here.

From the main page you can also check out the state clocks. Or use their time machine to see how far we've come.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 13, 2017 at 10:54 am | Edit
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Last night I listened to Afghanis singing "Here I Am to Worship" in their Dari language. It was surreal, but I'd had similar experiences before. I have met the universal language, and it is American praise and worship songs.

I have sung them in church in Japan: American praise songs with Japanese words.

I have sung them in church in Switzerland: American praise songs with German words.

I have sung them in church in The Gambia: American praise songs with English words.  (That makes more sense when you realize that English is the written language in the Gambia.)

I have no doubt that, as with McDonald's, I could encounter the same songs in China, India, New Zealand, Brazil, Kenya, Russia, and almost anywhere else in the world.

It does not make me especially happy to realize that the Church Universal is singing fast-food music. Just writing the above evokes images of Green Eggs and Ham: I will not sing them in a box, I will not sing them with a fox.

But I do, and I'll admit it is lovely to be able to worship fully with the local congregations. I'd rather be eating a more nourishing meal (singing hymns and/or local music), but I'll take fast food if that's what's served.

Everyone knows Makudonarudo. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Edit
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Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. — Thomas Edison

I'm accustomed to hearing one or another of our grandchildren referred to as a genius. Naturally, as a proud grandmother, I agree. Every one of our ten grandchildren is a genius. Absolutely.

But what do people other than grandmothers mean by that word?

It seems to denote some ability a person is born with that makes them especially good at something—a gift that one either has or doesn't have. I believe that's a vast oversimplification, if not entirely false.

The gift, if there is one, seems to me to lie in interest and focus.

  • Our grandchild who plays piano really well? He's no prodigy—but he loves to play the piano, and that's what he spends a lot of time doing, even on vacation.
  • The one who at age six earned $300 doing real work for a real business was able to do so because he had spent hours and hours mastering the necessary skills and doing the work for free before he earned his first dollar.
  • The grandchild who could count to 100 before he was two and read before he was three played with numbers and letters every day for hours.
  • My nephew, when he was three years old, could not only identify dozens of dinosaurs but could tell you many facts about each of them. You guessed it: he spent much of his time learning about dinosaurs.

And so on. None of them was pushed in these endeavors, but they do have parents who respect and encourage their interests. When you discover that playing with an alphabet puzzle keeps your fretful child happily occupied for hours, what do you do? You buy him a similar number puzzle. You give him his own, real tools. Read him books about dinosaurs. Keep the piano in the middle of the family's living area and let him play as often and as loudly as he wants—even if you long for just a moment of silence.

And the children take it from there.

I am convinced that neither I nor any other human, past or present, was or is a genius. I am convinced that what I have every physically normal child also has at birth. We could, of course, hypothesize that all babies are born geniuses and get swiftly de-geniused. ...  I was lucky in avoiding too many disconnects. — R. Buckminster Fuller

Perhaps the secret to helping our children reach their full potential is neither early formal education nor leaving them to develop "naturally," but giving them as many opportunities as possible to discover the many wonderful and valuable things of life, and actively supporting—not pushing—any healthy interest that develops.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Edit
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Recently I've seen many suggestions for Lenten disciplines, including some attributed to Pope Francis, though I haven't been able to confirm that.  What they all have in common is giving up something altogether bad, such as ingratitude or selfishness.  This is good, but it does make giving up something for Lent seem more like baptizing New Year's resolutions.  It was Jennifer Fulwiler who opened my eyes to the idea that giving up something you know you should quit altogether misses one of the best parts of Lent:  the symbolic value of experiencing the Easter resurrection joy in a personal, physical way.  Here's how she put it six years ago:

Here’s what [Lenten disciplines] I decided on: a decade of the Rosary first thing each morning, and no adding sugar to my morning tea (a small but surprisingly noticeable sacrifice for me). And…well, umm…there’s one other thing that I couldn’t decide if I would admit or not…but I guess I’ll go ahead and say it:

I’m giving up cursing for Lent.

Now, before you form an image of me yelling at my kids to stop jumping on the $%^! couch or asking my husband to pass the $%&*!# salt at dinner, let me say that it’s not that bad. I don’t use bad words in front of the kids, and it’s not like I walk around spewing profanity when I’m around adults. It’s just that I’ve noticed lately that, well, sometimes I just can’t seem to express myself without pulling out a word from my pre-conversion lexicon. So I’m really working on that during Lent, hopefully adopting habits that will last for the long-term.

Giving up adding sugar to drinks was actually a last-minute addition to my Lenten plans. I’d always heard that you should give up something good, but I didn’t really get why, so I just went with giving up cursing for Lent. But then I heard people who had given up something good talking about their plans for Easter, and it all clicked.

For example, someone I know who gave up cheese talked about how she’s going to get a huge, lavish cheese tray for brunch on Easter. When I imagined her going that long 40 days with nary [a] bite of one of her favorite foods, I could see how the ecstatic joy of the Resurrection would hit her at an even deeper, visceral level as she bit into savory chunks of Camembert and felt the luscious Brie melt in her mouth after the long fast.

Then I pictured myself rising on Easter morn’, taking a deep breath, and shouting the f-word. Umm, yeah. That’s why giving up something that’s bad anyway doesn’t quite have the same effect. So no sugar in my tea for Lent.

 

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 3, 2017 at 7:51 am | Edit
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In July of 2015, the Rt. Rev. Gregory O. Brewer, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, wrote a response to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage.  On a recent file-cleaning expedition, I came upon my copy of his wise words again, and was struck by how much this attitude is needed right now, as we face still more opportunities to respond humanely across deep divides.

Bishop Brewer's words are specifically for and about Christians, but there's much here that could be of benefit to anyone.  Since he has graciously allowed me to publish his letter in its entirety, I'll spare you my usual cut-and-paste quotations.  Context is important.

Early in Israel’s history, the people prayed for a King. They said that they did not want to be ruled merely by judges, but they wanted a king like other nations. Through the prophet Samuel, God warned the people that to have a king would only bring about additional difficulties and sorrows, but they pleaded with God and eventually God relented and gave them a king.

The prophet Samuel anointed Saul with great affection, praying for him and calling him “the desire of Israel” (1 Sam. 9:20). He anointed him king over Israel, all the while warning Israel that they had rejected the will of God.

I believe that the anointing of Saul as king over Israel and the legalization of same-sex marriage are analogous. While God’s intention has always been that marriage is between one man and one woman, people in our nation have, for decades, pleaded for gay people to be able to legally marry, and now, through an act of judicial activism, it is the law of the land. Some are elated. Some are weeping. Some are angry. The Church is divided over these matters, and we as a nation do not know the long-term impact of these decisions.

How are we Christians to respond?

1) For some Christians who are deeply committed to Jesus Christ, the legalization of same-sex marriage is an answer to their prayers. For other Christians, the legalization of same-sex marriage is a sign of moral decay. However, the demonization of those who support same-sex marriage by those who do not, and the demonization of those who oppose same-sex marriage by those who do [not] must not be present within the Body of Christ. Such antagonism is an affront to the Gospel and a great sin. That is not to say the matter is inconsequential. The divide between these two positions is a serious one and not to be taken lightly. But it is our faith in Jesus Christ as God in the flesh, who died for us and rose from the dead that unites us, and nothing other than this. Christians must choose to continue to work together across this great divide. It will not be easy, but it is our God-given task. Splitting into tribes of those “for” and “against” within our churches will bear no good fruit, and will only display to the world our lack of faith in Jesus Christ, who prayed that we might be one.

2) I fear that some backlash against LGBT people by those who oppose same-sex marriage could be one of the outcomes. Incidents of angry retaliation could be in the offing. May this not be named among Christians! If incidents of violence break out, Christians must be the first to rise up and publicly condemn them. If we do not love those with whom we disagree, then our witness for Christ is null and void.

Such a public witness of love means we must beg God to root out of us any anger and resentment we may be feeling because of this change in our laws. Forgiveness, love and mercy are our righteousness: and they are gifts from our God who makes rain to fall on the just and on the unjust. If we do not triumph in love, we triumph in nothing.

3) There also are some legitimate fears that the legalization of same-sex marriage will further marginalize those who oppose it and bring about a tacit acceptance of persecution of these Christians. Again, our call is to forgiveness, love and mercy.

4) Traditional Christians should continue to make the Biblical case for heterosexual, lifelong marriage both in our churches and in the public square. This is where I stand. While same-sex couples now enjoy the freedom to choose legal marriage, many will not. Those who do not marry will join the trend of many straight couples that are indifferent to marriage at best, even if they are raising children. The fact is that the practice of marriage (much less lifelong marriage) in comparison to previous generations continues to plummet. In our culture, it is not so much that same-sex marriage has triumphed, as it is that the case for marriage for anyone is failing. This is where the church must speak clearly.

5) As a church, we must choose to care for children, regardless of who their parents might be. Children should not be treated prejudicially because of who their parents are. They did not choose their parents, and our churches have an opportunity, even a divine calling, to invite these children into the Christian faith and enfold them (and their parents) in bonds of love that will bring many to Jesus. Again, the testimony of our faith is evidenced in our call to love by word and by deed, nothing else.

6) Importantly, Justice Kennedy’s opinion in this ruling places a profound connection between marriage and “dignity,” which leaves single people all the more marginalized. Many of our churches already, in their preference for married couples, place single people in a kind of “less than” separate class. Such a classification is entirely unbiblical. The goal for our churches is a missionary community, not a club for the already married. Both Jesus and Paul were single, with Paul exhorting his preference for the single life. While clearly upholding marriage, we need to find ways to see marital status as secondary to sacrificial discipleship.

We are in the midst of an enormous cultural sea change and we do not know the outcome. What I do know is that it is my responsibility to care deeply, love without prejudice, speak the truth as I understand it with boldness and compassion, and pray fervently. I ask that you join me.

Let's "think on these things" when events go against us on issues of profound importance, and equally when we find ourselves on the favored side.  Above all, let's remember Bishop Brewer's wisdom as we interact with our fellow Americans—our fellow human beings—when each thinks the other is standing on the wrong side of an apparently impassable gulf.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 17, 2017 at 7:15 am | Edit
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