Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday's Bird's Breakfast

Red bellied woodpecker snags a juicy ant.

(And no, I didn't actually get up early to take this photograph. Let's just pretend that I did.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: More beauty

Hydrangeas from the Garden of Gethsemane in our chapel as the sun comes up.

Remember that Easter is 50 days. Celebrate it every day!

Monday, March 28, 2016


Great egret. Such awkwardness and such grace all in one bird.

Happy Tuesday in Easter Week!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;

it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart

that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,

but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, 1960

Music for Holy Saturday: Lamento

This is Marcel Dupre's Lamento, played by Thomas Rothfuss at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday: The Politics of Love

This is a hard day. 
It it tempting to move through it quickly. We already know the story. And it happened long ago - once for all, right?

But God has something to say to us here, not just about then but also about now.  And so today we must look again.

These are the details: Jesus has been arrested by a cohort of both imperial soldiers and Temple security police. The religious leadership questions him about his friends and his teachings.  They take his answers to be smart remarks. He has not bowed to their authority.  They want him silenced. 

So a brutal power show begins. A guard hits him in the face.  Peter, himself afraid of the authorities, denies him.  Jesus is taken by the Temple guard to Pilate, the local Roman governor. Pilate and his soldiers dress Jesus in a crown of thorns and a purple robe to mock him.  And then they beat him up, and they bring him out and show him to the people to humiliate him.  

And the religious leaders and the police and soldiers see how he is humiliated and see his face all black and blue and they despise him.  They shout out their demand that Jesus be crucified.  And the people also clamor for his death.  They hate what they see, this man who seems weak and powerless against them all.

All this scares Pilate. The people are showing their strength as a mob.  They are not docile or obedient after Pilate and his soldiers have flexed their muscles by exhibiting the humiliation of a bloody and bruised man.  This “moderate” show of violence should have done the trick.  A reminder that the imperial government has the power, and this is what they can do with it.

But the people are agitated, perhaps by the smell of blood, the smell of fear, perhaps most of all the public display of something shameful.  It is going to take more than this.  

Pilate is nervous. He goes back to Jesus and demands to know where he is from.  Jesus, who has just been beaten up by this man’s soldiers stands silently in the face of this demand. An incredulous Pilate says to him, “Don’t you know that I’ve got all the power here?  What are you thinking that you refuse to answer my question?”

So Jesus does answer Pilate  by stating that God is the one who has the power. Which puts Pilate between a rock and a hard place.  Jesus has made what sounds like a subtle threat to him on the one side, and the people are overtly threatening him on the other. 

Then the people play their trump card.  They shout that they will expose Pilate to the Emperor, the most powerful of the powers that be, at least in Pilate’s mind, if he does not do away with Jesus.

So Pilate stages an even more elaborate show.  He brings Jesus back out — Jesus with the bloody face and the pretend king outfit.  “Shall I crucify your king?” he shouts sarcastically.  He goads them, he pumps them up.  Pilate shows the people - this is what else we can do:  not only can we beat you up, but we can kill you.

And the religious leaders answer, Jesus is not our king.  The Emperor is the power WE respect.

Ah yes, this is the correct answer.  This is what Pilate needs to hear.  The religious leaders respect his power, and the people support his power to put troublemakers to death.  This is the answer all his sickening, posturing show was meant to bring about.

And so he handed Jesus over to be crucified, Pilate and the leaders together, with the people jumping in to have their say. They all share in the power that the use of violence seems to give.

And everybody else stands there and watches.

And at the end of the day, when the Sabbath is about to begin, the soldiers go with clubs and break the legs of the men still alive on their crosses so that they will die more quickly.  Since Jesus is already dead, they cut him open with a spear.  

Because this is a weekday activity, this beating and mocking and killing.  Not something we want to see on the Sabbath, especially around a big religious holiday. We all need to get home to our religious observances. Or, you know, brunch.

This is the world of Pilate.  Appealing to our basest emotions.  Urging us to be afraid so that we will allow someone to have power over us. Wanting us act from our fears, to despise the one who is weak, to blame the victim, to shut down the one who goes against the grain, and to fight our uneasy sense of vulnerability by supporting the one who claims the most power, using violence - physical, verbal, emotional, social - if necessary.  
Or approving the use of violence by those who run the show.  Or at least accepting that violence is just something out there that we can’t do anything about.

This story may have taken place 2000 years ago, but it also describes our world, where we live with worries about vulnerability brought home again with every act of terror and every story about public violence, where fear and hate still hold sway and where someone who does not play the game by the rules of those who claim power will suffer the consequences.

We despise weakness and look down on vulnerability and cheer on the powerful even if - or perhaps because - they spew vitriol and disdain for pretty much everyone besides themselves, who revel in - indeed are proud of - humiliating others because deep down inside we are afraid.

We are all caught up in this in one way or another.  Some of us are implicated as perpetrators.  Some of us have been victims, and we may hear this story and feel our own humiliation and pain.  Some of us are just standing by in our own bewildered grief trying to hold onto some kind of hope.  

On this day, we look on Jesus bearing the brunt of the world’s anger and frustration and its fear; we see Jesus betrayed by a man whose feet he washed, and deserted by those with whom he ate his last meal.

And yet, amazingly enough - and here is the good news -this is the world that God wants to save.  Our world that worships power and justifies violence, that thinks the work of the world is for business days and that religious matters are only for talking about on religious days.

This is the world to which God sent angels over and over to tell God’s people to fear not!  Don’t be afraid! Because fear is what gets us every time; it’s what makes us think in terms of us and them, winners and losers, powerful and powerless.

And it seems to me, as we look on this heartbreaking convergence of hate and fear, violence and brokenness— this is the way Jesus draws us all to himself: gathering us all together the way a crash, a spectacular smash up, so powerfully draws the gaze and attention of us all - perpetrator, victim, and by-stander alike to say “Look. This is what the world does.But this is not what I intend for you.”

And so we are called to stand together today, as painful as it is, and look upon this wreckage and finally, finally see the web in which we are all caught up and realize that the world’s ways are not God’s ways.

Today, we have seen again the world’s ways. But on the third day, we will see God’s.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Music for Holy Week: Miserere Mei, Deus

Psalm 51 is normally associated with Ash Wednesday.  But this setting of the Psalm, written in the 1630's during the time of Pope Urgan VIII by Gregorio Allegri, was composed for use in the Sistine Chapel during the Holy Week (some sources say for Tenebrae on Wednesday; others say Wednesday and Friday; still others Thursday, Friday and Saturday).

The score was kept secret for more than a hundred years until Mozart, aged 14, showed up to hear it. He loved it and went home and wrote it all out from memory. This was apparently forbidden, but hey, he was 14 and you know how 14-year olds are. And after that, the score was out in the world. Thank God.

This from a BBC recording of the choral group The Sixteen, from Manchester, England.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Some thoughts on Palm Sunday

Recently, I read a book called “Bridging,” which is really a journal, by a woman named Penny Reid. It chronicles her experience learning another language in midlife by going to live in another culture for a month. Penny came to St. Stephen’s to read from her book yesterday.

Given the way our news is dominated by stories of political polarization and division among people both here and in other countries, as people confront the issues of the day by confronting one another, I began to think seriously, as Penny was reading, about the idea of a person as a bridge. And others did too; someone in the audience asked her to say more about that very idea: What is it like for a person to be a bridge? 

Penny said that the title of the book came after the experience - is not what she intended when she went to Nicaragua - but she thought to help someone make a connection is what it means to be a bridge. It’s about being willing to really experience what others experience. And it only works if you know that you don’t know everything. You have to be curious and open.

You go into a new place, Penny continued, expecting to learn, or maybe expecting to teach. But to be a bridge, to be the person who stands between two things trying to experience both - two people, two cultures, two worlds - actually takes letting go of expectations. A person who is a bridge must have a very high tolerance for not knowing, too. 

Penny described the feeling of being utterly in the dark as people around her were talking faster than she could understand. What are they saying? What am I supposed to be doing? She had to let go of her need to be in control and just let others be a bridge to her, to pull her out of her confusion into a place of at least basic understanding, so that she could be in the circle of the people with whom she was living and whom she had come to love.

Having them be bridges to her helped her become a bridge herself, so that, for instance, now, in her work at home with young children in Head Start, she can converse with Hispanic families in their own language about navigating the sometimes confusing details of their children’s education. She can understand their worries even as she can explain to them the system. She doesn't just know the words. She understands their experience. She can bring them together.

I continued to ponder this as the day went on. What we need, I thought, is more people to be bridges, willing to cross the divides between political parties, between races, between the powerful and the powerless. Bridges that allow for experiencing what others experience and bringing that experience back home, even if - or maybe especially if - that experience is suffering.

I thought about Jesus being the bridge between us and God, between earth and heaven, between this life and the life to come. The earliest Christian theologians said that Jesus brought the divine to earth when he was born and after he died he took our humanity back into heaven, that he became human so that we might become divine. He shared our human nature (or more to the point, he suffered as we suffer) and he also showed us what it is like to be holy. And in the end he gathered up our brokenness and carried it back to God so that we all might be made one with God again.

And so on the day we watch Jesus ride into Jerusalem to experience hate and violence without resorting to hate and violence in return, I wonder how and where it is that I am called to be a bridge, what divides I need to cross, where it is that I might see suffering and not be afraid to experience it, instead of standing on one side and wringing my hands. 

So that I can come back to tell about it, in the name of understanding, in the name of love and peace, and in the hope of reconciliation. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Music: The Wedding Song (Anais Mitchell)

This is another song from Anais Mitchell's folk opera Hadestown. Here is a song about the marriage of Orpheus and Eurydice in which she wants to know just how this wedding is going to happen, times being what they are.

We don't traditionally do weddings in Lent, but I love this song.

Here's Mitchell singing both parts, with harmonies by Jefferson Hamer, live at Joe's Pub in New York City a few years ago.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A little Irish music for St Patrick's Day

This is my favorite Irish traditional music band, Altan.  I have most of their records.  I saw them in Atlanta once and also was in a pub in Donegal where two of the members were sitting in on a session (and they played the first song on this video).  They're not as flashy as Lunasa (another favorite group) or as "commercial" as The Chieftans - just great, professional musicians immersed in traditional music who play so well together.

Here's a slow song and a dance tune:

This band was one of the great bands from the 1970s - Planxty.  Here are three reels from them:

And the great, influential Bothy Band playing "The Laurel Tree" from 1977:

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday Psalm

Psalm 102:15–22

Domine, exaudi

15 The nations shall fear your Name, O Lord, *
and all the kings of the earth your glory.
16 For the Lord will build up Zion, *
and his glory will appear.
17 He will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless; *
he will not despise their plea.
18 Let this be written for a future generation, *
so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord.
19 For the Lord looked down from his holy place on high; *
from the heavens he beheld the earth;
20 That he might hear the groan of the captive *
and set free those condemned to die;
21 That they may declare in Zion the Name of the Lord, *
and his praise in Jerusalem;
22 When the peoples are gathered together, *
and the kingdoms also, to serve the Lord.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday Poem: Blessing the Boats

blessing the boats

                                    (at St. Mary's)
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     
may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lent 5: I am about to do a new thing

Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,

who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;

they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

The wild animals will honour me,
the jackals and the ostriches;

for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,

to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise. 

Isaiah 43:16-21

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Music: Take up your Spade

This is the official video of Sara Watkins' Take Up Your Spade, a song she wrote about starting over. I heard her play this in concert a couple of weeks ago.  Bonus cameo in the video of Jackson Browne.

It's a beautiful day here in Richmond, with spring springing forth for real. Enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread 
which gives life to the world: 
Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday Music: Why We Build the Wall (Anais Mitchell)

Anais Mitchell is a quirky singer/songwriter who I saw in concert with Sara Watkins and Patty Griffin last week. I had not heard her before, but it turns out that some years ago she wrote a folk opera called Hadestown, which is based on the story of Orpheus. She sang this song, Why We Build the Wall, during the concert and I couldn't stop thinking about it.

There are a number of good videos of her singing this piece, some with harmonies (which is how I heard it at the concert), but this one captures both Mitchell's personality and you can clearly hear the words of the song. It may be a conversation between Hades and Cerberus, but it has a much broader application.

Food for thought for this Friday in the Third Week in Lent.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thursday's Bird

A new goose at the duck pond at the University of Richmond where I walk these days. I think it may be a Pilgrim goose or possibly a hybrid Pilgrim/Chinese goose. At any rate, it's an elegant bird. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Splashdown

Yesterday, astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth after 340 days orbiting in space. He didn't actually splash down in the ocean like they did in the old days - rather, Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikail Kornienk , along with a Russian crew member flew in a Soyuz capsule which parachuted onto the steppe of Kazakhstan.

Nonetheless, I imagine Kelly might enjoy splashing around in a city park after his year in space.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Prayer for an Election

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States (or of this community) in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 823)


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