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taking issue with issues

30 March 2006
From the Department of Form Over Substance

Just so you can't say I didn't warn you... I think I'm just about to write something of substance.

A shock, I know. Especially after the past few posts that are really naught but inane drivel posted out of some sense of obligation to put something on the blog. But enough of that...

The Sem is currently in the middle of bglass Week (bglass being the lgbt and straight supportive student group on campus). Every year, at least since I've been around this place, there's been a student panel to discuss something related to lgbt concerns. Two days ago, I sat on the aforesaid panel of students talking about how one lives with integrity in a divided community. Of the six panelists, I was the only doctoral student - the rest were MDivs - and I was the only one who identified as homosexual. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in the five years that a lgbt student has sat on that panel. This time around, I was particularly struck by the honesty, charity, and substance of what everyone had to say, no matter from whence they came. To my fellow panelists, thank you and well done.

After the panel, a woman came up to me and said that she wanted to read some of my "stuff." I confessed that I readily didn't have much "stuff" to read. But, in retrospect, it occurs to me that I do want to go on record about the word "issue."

Frequently, I hear folk talking about the "gay issue," or "this issue," or "that issue that's pulling the church apart." As I said on Tuesday, I have a problem with the word "issue."

Fundamentally, to speak of lgbt persons in the life of the church as "an issue" effectively removes the human faces from what we're talking about. We must always be mindful that we're not talking about congressional legislation, but human beings. When we talk about human sexuality in a room full of people, we're talking about all of the people in the room. (And in case you've not noticed by now, you really can't ever assume you're in a room full of heterosexuals. We're there, whether you know it or not.)

I know for many folk, "issue" is simply verbal shorthand. I find myself using it at times as well. It really can be a handy word. The problem is that it can be overly handy and over used and it's here that it becomes dehumanizing, not to those of us that can speak out and speak up for ourselves, but to those of us who can't.

On Tuesday night, I attended part of a workshop on sexual ethics. The speaker used a really great phrase to describe the ethos of the conversation he wanted to have, "every voice in." To have "every voice in" on human sexuality in a room full of diverse peoples requires a sensitivity of language and of perspective.

So, I'm not out to strike the word "issue" from the English language, or even from the parlance of discussions about human sexuality.

Rather, I would suggest that by being attentive to how we use words like "issue" when talking about the lives and selves of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can begin to be more sensitive, aware people. By being aware of the realities that our words create we become more aware of the people who intersect with those realities. (Nerts. I just said something that sounded post modern... alas. Bad Medievalist. No cookie. I'll do penance for that later...)

Before I get up on a theological soap box about words/Word and speech/Incarnation in ethical discourse, let it simply be said: people are people, not issues.

Fin.

revelations

24 March 2006
From the Department of It's Funny Because It's True

The reality has sunk in.

I've become a stereotype.

I say this because the evidence is overwhealming:

(1) Today was what is usually my day off. The only problem is, I couldn't come up with anything else to do, so I went to the library and worked all day.

(2) When taking an alumni survey from my alma mater, I was confronted with questions about what I did after graduation and what I'm doing now. The answer to both was "grad school" (though I do feel a bit guilty calling an MDiv grad school - it really is more of a vocational degree).

(3) I had to remind myself that this really is supposed to be a joke and not simply a statement of fact.

(4) On my way to the shuttle bus, someone said to me, "Sloane! Watch out! You're about to walk into a sign!"

In fact, I was.

(5) This afternoon, at about 2:00, I drank an energy drink. About 20 minutes later, I decided that what I really needed was a power nap. I had no difficulty falling asleep.

(6) After the nap, I found myself explaining to a friend the logistics of power napping without leaving your study desk. (The secret is getting just comfortable enough to fall asleep, but not so comfortable that you won't have to move in 20 to 30 minutes.)

(7) In jest, I described myself as an "off-kilter, academic nut-job."

I was promptly assured of the accuracy of that statement.

•••


On a more positive note, how much does Rowan Williams rawk?

Quoth The Guardian:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stepped into the controversy between religious fundamentalists and scientists by saying that he does not believe that creationism - the Bible-based account of the origins of the world - should be taught in schools.

Giving his first, wide-ranging, interview at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop was emphatic in his criticism of creationism being taught in the classroom, as is happening in two city academies founded by the evangelical Christian businessman Sir Peter Vardy and several other schools.

"I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it," he said.


The complete interview is available here.

um, ew.

20 March 2006
During my MDiv years, the refectory had a reputation for putting together unspeakably heinous "foodstuffs" with the result that one really had to be creative to put together an edible and sufficiently nutritious meal, particularly on the weekends. One day was especially heinous. We couldn't even get our hands on sliced bread to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. So in what seemed like a good idea at the time (I think hunger had a lot to do with the lousy decision making process here), a friend and I made use of the only bread-like substance available to us. Namely, a day old (or older) donut. Let it be here said that donuts do not good sandwiches make.

So, with that in mind, you can understand the absolute wave of revulsion that coursed through my body when I checked Kevin's blog only to discover that some poor, misguided soul has decided to create a Krispy Kream Bacon Cheeseburger.

To quote an old friend, What is wrong with people?!

But hey, this makes is all better.

Well, not really. But a Princess Leia puppy? What's not to love?

a sermon

19 March 2006
Preached 19 March 2006 at Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church, Lambertville, NJ
Lent III, Year B: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19:7-14, Romans 7:13-25, John 2:13-22


In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

At the beginning of the Liturgy this morning, we prayed through the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. As Father read each Commandment, we replied, “Amen. Lord have mercy.” In the use of the Ten Commandments in the Penitential Order, the authors of the Prayer Book tap into a very ancient Christian penitential tradition. Over the centuries, the Decalogue has been used by Christian folk before going to confession as a kind of mirror to reflect on sins they had committed.

So it is with us. In praying our way through the Penitential Order in Lent, we are reminded of our sinfulness, of the broken relationships with God and with each other. Indeed, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

Throughout Christian history, Lent has been a season of penance – of prayerful reflection on the broken relationships in our lives as a means of living into the Paschal Mystery. But we keep having to do it. Lent by Lent. Sunday by Sunday. Day by day. Hour by hour. There can be no doubt that sin has a tight hold on us and on our lives, in things we have done and things we have left undone, in thought, word and deed.

Paul’s language from the Epistle is spot on. “I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.” (Romans 7:14)

Slavery.

To have neither power nor the ability to control one’s fate. To be utterly at the whim of something more powerful than yourself. To “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”(BCP, 218)

As many of you know, in Christian Formation, we’ve been reading the Confessions of Saint Augustine, in which this great Doctor of the Church gives his reader a very sense of the depth of human sinfulness. He writes:

I have personally watched and studied a jealous baby. He could not yet speak and, pale with jealousy and bitterness, glared at his brother sharing his mother’s milk. Who is unaware of this fact of experiences? Mothers and nurses claim to charm it away by their own private remedies. But it can hardly be innocence, when the source of milk is flowing richly and abundantly, not to endure a share going to one’s blood-brother, who is in profound need, dependent for life exclusively on that one food. (Confessions I.vii.11, 9)


Augustine’s point is profound. Sin has such a grip on us that it penetrates our very souls to depths deeper than we can plumb and from times in our lives earlier than we can remember. We are, when left to our own devices, as helpless before it as a newborn babe.

We are then left with a profoundly divided self. We want to do what is good, but we do not do it.

In the lection from the Epistle to the Romans, Paul quite accurately describes this divided self. He knows the law; indeed, having been trained as a Pharisee, he knows the ins and outs of Torah far better than your average person on the street. He knows the law, and he desperately wants to be able to adhere to it. He lays the full force of his will into adherence to the law, and yet he sins and sins and sins again. Paul, who has seen the Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road, (Acts 9:3-8) was on a mission from God. Paul, one of the great Saints of the Church and prolific writer of Epistles in the New Testament – this Paul, this Saint, describes himself as being “foremost” among the sinners of the world. (1 Timothy 1:15) Paul was a sinner, trapped under the power of sin.

So when Paul writes of the divided self, his internal conflict between his own will and his sin, he knows quite well what he’s talking about: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it its no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” (Romans 7:15-18)

Paul sees himself mired in sin; stuck in a predicament with dire consequences, since “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Hence, Paul’s (and our) lament, “Oh wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24)

But Paul continues, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

There is, then, a paradox about our selves: like Paul, we “delight in the law of God” in our inmost selves, but we see in our “members another law at war with the law” of our minds, making us “captive to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:23) The only solution to this paradox is the saving act of God in Jesus Christ.

One way to come at this crisis of sin is through the language of the soul as God’s dwelling place. Teresa of Avila describes an interior castle, the center of which is God’s dwelling. John Donne described a city under siege. (Holy Sonnet XIV) In the Confessions, Augustine prays:

The home of my soul is too small for you to come to it. May it be enlarged by you. It is in ruins: restore it. In your eyes it has offensive features. I admit it, I know it; but who will clean it up? Or to whom shall I cry other than you? ‘Cleanse me from my secret faults,’ Lord, and spare your servant from sins to which I am tempted by others. (I.v.6, 6)


Augustine describes the soul as a ramshackle hovel, unfit for welcoming such a guest as Christ. Yet, even as Augustine would welcome Christ, he must ask this the noblest of guests to remodel the very home in which he would stay!

Of course, another metaphor for the soul is the temple.

The Gospel text for today comes immediately after the Wedding at Cana, early in John’s Gospel. More than anything, this text tells us not about the corruption of the Temple in Jerusalem, but of who Jesus is and what he does. The cleansing of the temple is the cleansing of what is God’s, just as our souls belong to God. In the early Church, the Gospel text for today was understood as “symbolic of the purification of candidates in preparation for their Baptism on Easter eve.” (Sloyan, John, 39)

That’s really not a bad reading of the text. Just as Christ drove out the livestock from the temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers, cleansing it, purifying it, so it is Christ who must do the same work in us. The means for this cleansing lie in Jesus’ words to the temple authorities: “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:19-22)

Notice that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus did until after the resurrection because his actions were tied up in the resurrection, tied up in his saving act. If I were speaking like one of the early Christian writers, I would say that the Jesus’ cleansing of the temple prefigured, pointed to and set the pattern for, the cleansing of our souls as people living between His resurrection and our own resurrections.

It is in His death and resurrection that sin is broken, death is overturned and we, who are Christ’s body, are inheritors of the promise of eternal life. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:25)

It is this Mystery that we are to live into during Lent. It is in living into this Mystery that we, with Augustine, invite God to enlarge our too small souls. It is in living through this season of grappling with the depth of our own sinfulness that enables us to enter more fully into the Paschal Mystery of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord.

Through penitence, through the “sincere desire to amend for sin or wrongdoing,” (OED.com) through Lenten disciplines, we are able to take stock of our lives and, with God’s help, prepare ourselves as individuals and a community to live through the act of remembering that makes present, the anamnesis of Holy Week and the Triduum. In this our reflections, meditations, introspections and disciplines become mirrors to our selves and souls that we might realize our complete and utter dependence on our God, and in realizing that dependence, we may begin to see the light and life contained in God’s superabundant love for us that would make our divided selves whole.

This is why we must reflect on our own sins. This is why we observe the Penitential Rite and make our confession of sin, as a community in the Liturgy and as individuals in the Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent. This is why we say, “Amen. Lord have mercy.”

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

it seemed perfectly cromulent at the time...

18 March 2006
From the Department of the Irrepressibly Snarky Blogger

The story itself qualifies as beyond friggin' cool, naytheless...

Quoth the BBC:
"It's frustrating if you're a microbe that's been wandering the Universe for a million years to then die striking the surface of Europa," Dr Gladman said.

Asked after his presentation by one scientist whether he thought microbes would be able to survive Titan's freezing temperatures, Dr Gladman answered: "That's for you people to decide, I'm just the pizza delivery boy."

oh why me?

12 March 2006
From the Department of Yoda's Larder

I have held forth before about the almost mystical effects that chilies have on good chocolate. I have an almost dangerous relationship with the habeñero dark chocolate gelato from the Bent Spoon. Now, I had to go and stumble upon a chocolate bar with bits o' real cacao floating about coupled with chilies, Dagoba Xocolatl.



Come on. It's like the universe is taunting me.

I'm a freakin' graduate student. By definition, I spend all of my time square on my patookus, reading. I don't need the cosmos wagging yet one more irresistible hunk of chocolate in my direction, damnit.

a guest post

A few days ago, the BBC ran this story about the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, TX.

Some of you know that the summer after I graduated from High School, I worked at the Big Texan, steak joint and tourist trap extraordinare. The Big Texan used to (and may well still) advertise that they had the largest live rattlesnake in captivity. If you could find a bigger one and bring it to them, they'd pay you for it.

Well, yesterday, I got this email from a semi-regular commenter and fellow member of the West Texas Diaspora (it's a good thing), "e-":

Here is your heritage, boy. It is BBC, after all, so I am sure you saw it:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4795604.stm

Rattlesnake round-up draws crowds

Some farmers collect large quantities of rattlesnakes Rattlesnake hunters are gathering in the Texas town of Sweetwater for what the town styles the "World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up".


But you may have missed this one: a little piece from a relative in West Texas (of course):


Texas Rattlesnake!!!!!!!!!


THEY GROW 'EM BIG IN TEXAS!!!

This snake was recently found at the old Turkey Creek gas plant located just south of the Alibates Turnoff on Highway 136 south of Fritch Texas.

[THAT'S JUST NORTH OF AMARILLO]


A reminder that these creatures are actually out there and no matter what you believe, sometimes they should get not only prescriptive rights to be there but the full right of way!

9 feet, 1 inch - 97 lbs.

No matter what anybody else tells you, kill the snake before you try to do anything else to it! It's the safest way for you and the snake doesn't care anymore.

DEEP-FRIED RATTLESNAKE

1 medium-sized rattlesnake (3-4 lbs.), cut into steaks
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup cracker crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1 teaspoon salt
dash pepper

Mix dry ingredients. Whisk milk into beaten egg and use to dip snake steaks. Then coat them with dry ingredients. Fry, uncovered, in 400 degree oil until brown.


Now wasn't that fun?


The email came with this picture:





























•••


For those of you that don't know where the thriving metropolis of Fritch is, here's a map courtesy of Google Earth:

bork bork bork

08 March 2006
From the Department of King Prawnery

Well, after years of research, it seems scientists have finally discovered a deep sea Muppet:

sponsored links gone wild

From the Department of Revelations

We all do it. One might even say that it is inevitable. The challenge is to face the revelation with grace and dignity, to realize that it is a part of one's full humanity, and that it is not something of which one should be ashamed. Indeed, if done with poise and a bit of panache, one might even be able to consider it a bit of a triumph. Whatever the case, as one ages, this moment of revelation is inevitable.

I've become my mother.

I. I the child who loathed cleanliness and order; I the young man whose wayward stack of Cigar Aficionados threatened to topple the very structure of my closet; I the college student whose dorm scruff would have frightened FEMA; I have become positively obsessive about having a clean home. (My car still exists in a state of perpetual squalor, so that makes it all okay, right?)

For those of you who did not know my mother, let me see if I can't help you get a sense of this significance of the word "clean" as a part of her vocabulary.

At Mom's funeral, during the homily, the priest said (aptly and to the amusement of all), "I hope for God's sake Heaven is clean when Laurie gets there."

Preach on, sister.

When I was growing up, Mom would clean the house every Saturday. Chairs and couches would be moved so that they could be vacuumed under. Tchotchkes, gegaws, bibelots, gimcracks, and netsuki would all be removed so that shelves could be dusted and the aforementioned knicknackery could undergo a thorough scouring. While I have not so come to be such a past master of dust busting as to hebdomadally sluice my own flotsam and jetsam, I still came to quite a startling realization once I finished cleaning my apartment.

I was aware of two things. First, that it felt like my nose hair was on fire from my liberal use of bleach in my vain attempt to unsully my kitchen floor. (NB, the floor was much worse off when I moved in than it is now.) Secondly, that I felt as though I had undergone a spiritual high colonic.

I still don't enjoy cleaning, but damn if I don't feel as though all is right with the world once it's over and done with.

•••


Now, when I sat down to write this post, I Googled (actually, I Blingo-ed) "mother" with the intention of finding some matronly caricature. That attempt was thwarted. Instead, I discovered that the world of sponsored links just isn't all it's cracked up to be. Behold (Hwæt, even):



Ahem. Qua?

(s)he's really done it this time

04 March 2006
From the Department of Razzle Dazzle

I just got back from the 222nd Convention of the Diocese of New Jersey. There was a fair amount of razzle dazzle, as is to be expected at such things. There was also a good deal of heated discussion around (sadly, not actually about) the Windsor Report and human sexuality. Among things "discussed" was a resolution on a statement on inclusiveness, ideally to be read at Convocations and be posted on the website, fairly usual stuff for inclusiveness statements. Naturally, it was contested.

And, while I managed to quietly mind my knitting for resolution after resolution, and presentation after presentation, someone finally said something that really pissed me off. It pissed me off enough to stand up in front of a room of around 1,000 church folk and take on the issue.

I hadn't really intended to speak about sexuality. I had it all planned out. I was going to speak about inclusiveness (differently abled-ness, race, gender, age, etc. ktl. usw.) as a matter of mission, and I still managed to do that. But somehow, in the midst of holding forth about why we need to be explicit about what we mean when we say, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," I went and did it.

You see, there are a number of folk that don't know that we mean that the Episcopal Church welcomes you. We mean you. (Well, most of us do and the rest of us bloody well should.) We mean every shape and human condition. The truth is, some people approach the statement "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" with a well earned hermeneutic of suspicion. I intended to take this up with out speaking about myself or about sexuality in general. But, rather like the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man, it just sort of popped in there.

In front of the assembled representatives of the Diocese of New Jersey -- bishop, priests, deacons and laity -- about two-thirds through my allotted three minutes, I said, (and I quote myself to the best of my recollection where square brackets mark my internal dialogue):

... Saying "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" isn't enough. I'm a gay man. [Fuck. Did I just say that?] I feel welcome in this Diocese [mostly] and welcome in this room [well, at least I felt welcome until I opened my big yap]. This statement isn't for us. Our fellowship of altar and font cannot be forged or broken from such things. We remind ourselves every year with the reaffirmation of our baptismal vows at the Great Vigil that we are to "seek and serve Christ" in every person and to strive for the "dignity of every human being." This statement is for my gay brothers and lesbian sisters outside the church that still don't know that they're welcome. That don't believe they're welcome because that's what folk have told them. You talk about wanting to be a missionary church. This inclusiveness statement is a matter of mission. You say you want to grow the Church. We can grow here. This isn't about being afraid, this is about being Church."


As I was walking to my seat, a woman stopped me, looked me in the eye, put her hand on my shoulder and silently shook my hand. Another stopped me as I was leaving to thank me. I was humbled. Frankly, I was still shaking two hours after the fact on the ride home. I can't imagine myself having done that three years ago. Half of me can't believe I did it now.

My only regret is that I didn't have something more glamorous on than my black turtleneck and tweed sport coat.

silly computer

02 March 2006


Yeah, typing in Latin tends to do that.

Seriously though, there have to be enough Latinists out there that somebody surely has to have come up with a Latin dictionary module for OS X or M$ Word.

Surely.

s.o.p.c.d?

01 March 2006
From the Department of 1 Corinthians 10:19

While reading Boing Boing this morning, I stumbled across this entry about an edible sacred heart available for purchase here.

I particularly like that you can have it hand painted. It's not just your every day theophagic confection. No, no, no. It's a super-duper glamtabulous theophagic confection!

But hey, if that's not your speed, you can always gobble the goddess of Willendorf, gnash on Ganesh, or ingest Ixchel.

But you've got to ask yourself, why the hell not?

(By the way, while I'm rather epistemologically and ontologically committed to the superiority of the Triune God, I'm fairly certain one chocolate idol tastes just as good as another. You might say that when it comes to chocolate deities, I'm a polychocolatist. So do feel free to send chocolate Kaun Yin or Venus of Laussel my way. But please, no chocolate Marduks or Demiurges.)