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tea and my what?

22 May 2006
From the Department of Aggressive Marketing

I drink tea.

I drink a lot of tea.

Thus, I buy a lot of tea and my culinary snobbery extends to tea snobbery. Ito En rocks my world. But when it comes to herbals, I'm really quite keen on the stuff the good folk at The Republic of Tea put out. Over the past year, I've bought a lot of tea from them and in turn, they have sent me a lot of catalogs. Woo. Really. Sending me five copies of the same catalog is really going to make me buy more tea. Apparently tree death = increased sales.

But this is not why I'm blogging... It seems the Republic of Tea has become unnecessarily concerned for the health of my prostate.

Along with the five catalogs, I have received five samples of prostate tea.

Fortunately, it is not tea made from prostates. Rather, Man Kind Tea is apparently a tea for prostates. A nice idea. But I just can't bring myself to drink blueberry green tea.

And it really doesn't help that somebody in marketing is so interested in my, well, you know.

convalescing in azeroth

From the Department of Addiction

For a couple of months now, I've been having problems with my voice. It'd be fine, then it would give out, quite unexpectedly. So, I decide to do the sensible thing and after a month of putting up with it, I went to the doctor. After a string of really fun referrals, I got an appointment with an ENT. After waiting a month for the appointment date to run around, I go in and they shove a camera up my nose and down my throat to have a gander at the old vocal chords.

It turns out that you can have acid reflux and be utterly unaware of it. It also happens that acid reflux can put the hurt on your vocal chords. Solution? Prevacid and vocal rest. Now, we're not talking vocal rest on the order of Carthusian silence, but I have been instructed: no singing, no public speaking, and as little talking as possible until it heals. This order begged the question, "How long will it take to heal?"

As he was writing out the prescription for the Prevacid, the ENT said, "Oh, a couple of months."

Ahem. What?!

Yeah. So, for the month leading up to my Germany departure, I've been a bit tight lipped especially since I'm going to Germany to talk. Sigh.

But, as with all mackerel skies, this one has an argent lining. The term is over and has been for a while. I took last week off and pretty much did a whole lotta nuthin'. E'en so, the week was not boring. I biked when it wasn't raining and did a good bit of pleasure reading. But, it was ever so much better than that. You see, a friend finally persuaded me to join in the reindeer games, namely, World of Warcraft.

Meet the dwarf.


19 May 2006
You know, there are days when I genuinely loathe living across from a child care center.

Especially on days when the folk at the center tell the children things like, "Yell louder!"

That is all.

a sermon

14 May 2006
Preached 14 April 2006 at St Andrew's Episcopal Church, Lambertville, NJ
The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B:
Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 66: 1-11, 1 John 3: 14-24, John 14: 15-21

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

“Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.” (Acts 8: 26-27)

The wilderness road. The wild. The desert. Where the editors of the NRSV have cleverly added parenthesis, the English reads, “This is a wilderness road,” the Greek simply says, “This is wilderness.” And by wilderness, the author of Acts means desert.

It wasn’t that long ago that our liturgical life had us planted firmly in the middle of the desert. In the forty days of Lent, we remembered and were made present to Christ’s forty days in the desert, where he was tempted by Satan after baptism in the Jordan River.

And here we are, five weeks past Easter and we’re back in the desert again, this time with Philip, on a wilderness road.

Interstate 95 is not a wilderness road. As much as it feels like it, neither is the New Jersey Turnpike. Nor is its more obnoxious cousin, the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you really want to understand what a wilderness road is, you’ll have to leave the United States and the twenty-first century. In the first century, wilderness roads were dangerous places. They ran through deserts and places where highwaymen, thugs, waited in ambush for travelers. They ran through deserts where there was little food, little water and scarce shelter. They were dusty, dirty, unpleasant and uncertain.

They were generally not places you want to be.

If you absolutely had to travel on a wilderness road, large groups were preferable. There was safety in numbers. If you were an influential government official, say the head of the treasury of Ethiopia, you’d have a large number of armed guards with you.

Of course, Philip had no such advantage. Quite out of nowhere, “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza’.” The angel may as well have said, “Get up and go for a long walk in Central Park after midnight.” I do believe my response would have been a hearty, “No thank you.” There’s not going to be anyone there to meet and anyone I do meet is going to be someone I don’t want to be meeting in the first place. I say again, “No thank you.” But, according to the account in Acts, Philip utters not a word. He simply gets up and goes into the wilderness; into the wild.

But why?

The desert is a powerful and important place in our tradition.

Moses meets God in the wilderness on Mount Sinai while tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. (Exodus 3) The Israelites wander for forty years in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. After winning his contest with the prophets of Baal and being threatened by Queen Jezebel, Elijah flees into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights to reach mount Horeb, (1 Kings 19: 1-9) where he hears the voice of God not in fire, tempest or earthquake, but in the sound of “sheer silence.” (1 Kings 19: 12) Our Lord’s incarnation was proclaimed by John the Baptist, who “appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1: 4) After His baptism by John, “the Spirit drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts.” (Mark 1: 12-13)

The earliest holy men and women of the Church, the desert Fathers and Mothers, went out into the desert, into the wilderness to be with God. The word “hermit,” the word used for these holy people who went out to live alone in the wilderness, comes from the Greek word for ‘desert’. It's the same word used in the lection from Acts for ‘wilderness’. Even today, men and women are called by God to live their lives in spiritual deserts, as monks and nuns. Indeed, some even live in literal deserts like the monks of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico or the monks of the oldest operating monastery in the Christian world, St. Catherine’s at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt.

So it is with our observance of Lent. But even in Easter, even in the Great Fifty Days of the Resurrection, the great feast of resurrection light and life, we find ourselves pushed back into the desert, back on the wilderness road with Philip.

But why the wilderness?

One could easily write a dozen books trying to answer this question and not come close to giving an adequate answer. I want to suggest one answer is that the desert, the wilderness, is a wild, untamed place where we can come face to face with the wild, untamed love of a wild and untamed God who is “greater than our hearts” and “knows everything.” (1 John 3: 20) This is precisely what our God is about, wild, untamed love in wild, untamed places. And we are to be wild, untamed lovers of God and of each other.

You see love, like the wilderness, is dangerous.

That Christus Rex above the high altar, Christ vested as priest and king on the cross, is a very tamed symbol of a wild, untamed love. It’s pretty, and I’m really rather fond of it. But by and large we’re comfortable with it. But it points to a love and a truth that should make us very uncomfortable. It points to God wild and untamed love in Christ Jesus who became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man, was crucified, died and was buried. Christ Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 6-8)

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him.” (Acts 8: 32-33, Isaiah 53: 7-8)

God’s love in Christ was so great that He left behind superabundant light and fullness, perfect joy and perfect love, to become flesh and live among us, (John 1: 14) and to die for us. He went into the wilderness of human sin that we might be lead out of that wilderness into the Promised Land. But how can we reciprocate such a love?

Of course we love because God loved us first and continues to love us and so we must love, “not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 John 3: 18) But how can we reciprocate such a love? This love is a gift of infinite cost. In truth, we can’t. There can be no reciprocity because nothing we have can equal the love that is poured out on us. But, while “we know love by this, that He laid down His life for us … we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3: 16) We ought to go rushing down wilderness roads because the Lord has said, “Get up! Go!”

Such was Philip’s love. “So he got up and went” (Acts 8: 27) straight into the wilderness, straight into the desert, with all its uncertainties, dangers, brigands and monsters. And it was there that Philip did his work by preaching to the Ethiopian eunuch. By rushing into the desert, Philip quite literally was laying down his life – risking his life – for one he had not even met until he was on the wilderness road.

The domestication of animals is an interesting thing. Before a dog is domesticated, that is, made suitable for human use, it goes where it wants when it wants. It does what it must to survive and is called feral. Feral dogs are scary things. They have little regard for human beings. But if they can be domesticated, they become subservient and docile. They’re made suitable for families and children. In short, they’re made to conform to our standards and our way of life. As human beings, we can impose domestication on a number of things. Plants species are domesticated and made suitable for harvesting. Horses and livestock are domesticated. Cats are domesticated, sort of.

We make ideas suitable for our own use as well. Things that scare us are rationalized. Things that make us uncomfortable are made pretty and accessible. We change them, dress them up and make them our own. Domestication implies that we have taken possession of a thing and retooled according to our wills. It means that we have made things in our own image.

But some things can never be domesticated.

I'm a great fan of the Discovery Channel. I'm a Shark Week addict.

The great white shark cannot be domesticated. Neither can the Sahara desert. Try as we might, we cannot tame the wild desert. If you go out into the Sahara, you take your life in your own hands. You can live with the desert, if you follow the rules of the desert like Bedouin have for thousands of generations. But you cannot tame it. If you get lost in the middle of the Sahara, it will kill you, no matter who you are or where you come from or how much money you have or don't have. The desert will kill you. It cannot be tamed.

Neither can we tame God’s love. It is love without respect for anything but our being the object of love. It encompasses us, surrounds us, no matter who we are or from whence we come. The love of God cannot be retooled and reshaped to conform to our desires anymore than we can retool or reshape a hurricane or an earthquake. This love is indiscriminate. No matter what our inadequacies, failings, flaws or foibles, we are loved. No matter our politics, ideology, or theology, we are loved. And it is this love that stirs us to love, “not in word or speech, but in truth and action” to go running down wilderness roads.

As Philip was commanded to get up and go, so we have our own commandment. “And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us.” (1 John 3: 23)

To believe in the name of Christ Jesus and love one another; this is the wild place to be.

Loving God and loving neighbor means laying “down our lives for one another.” Our lives. Our bodies, our flesh and blood. All that we have and all that we are, we are to lay down because of what we have been given. It means going into those places that are terrifying and unknown, places of discomfort and pain, for the sake of love. It means to be drawn far beyond ourselves and into the knowledge and work of God in steadfastly following the steps of Jesus Christ in the way that leads to eternal life, (the Collect for Easter V) straight down the wilderness road.

In this wild place, we are not left comfortless or alone or orphaned because we have been given “another Advocate,” the Holy Spirit, who is with us forever. As the Epistle tells us, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you, and He will be in you.” (John 14: 17) We are not alone in the wilderness. Rather, the wave of superabundant love that washes us out into the wilderness stays with us, surrounding us, running over and through us, spurring us on because “we went through fire and water,” (Psalm 66: 11) through Baptism and Pentecost so that the Holy Spirit, “who holds our souls in life … will not allow our feet to slip.” (Psalm 66: 8) No matter the wilderness we find ourselves in, when we live for Jesus, when we love for Jesus, when we love Jesus, we live because He lives.

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

••• ••• •••
The Christus Rex pictured is not from St. Andrew's.

nong toom

05 May 2006
This from the guy who owns both Tomb Raider movies?

I have recently become a Netflix addict, largely because of my love of foreign film (of the 74 movies in my Netflix queue, over half are foreign films). This is due in no small part to my general disgust with Hollywood. It's not because Hollywood is overly commercial (which it is) that I take exception with the films made in the States. Rather, I tend to take issue with American film because, with the exception of the occasional independent film, American movies always have happy endings. And when American movies try to end on something other than a happy ending, it usually turns out to be really nothing more than thinly veiled emotional masturbation. Barf. Barf. Barf.

Don't get me wrong, I like happy movies. But I detest saccharin movies. Elizabethtown would have been an infinitely better movie if Orlando Bloom's character would have just gone back home and killed himself with the ginsu knife-exercise bike thingey. Really. (He was so much hawter as Legolas anyway...)

That being said, I'm not an utterly morbid, callous, irredeemable cynic. Amélie is one of my all time favorite movies. It's cute. It's sweet. And it's a good story with a happy ending. I wouldn't have it any other way. But let us not deceive ourselves. There is a huge difference between Amélie and Elizabethtown.

So, disclaimers having been disclaimed and all that, last night, I saw a movie (by way of Netflix) that you simply must see, Beautiful Boxer.

Beautiful Boxer is based on the true story of Nong Toom, a Thai boxer who fought his way to the top in order to pay for a sex change operation. (She is now a professional model and actress in Bangkok.) The movie is eight different kinds of beautiful and it's a wonderfully told story. In a lot of ways, it's really your average transgender person fights life's struggles and gets a sex change kinda movie. The difference between this and every other film of that sub-genre is that this movie is exceptionally and genuinely beautiful. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or American Beauty kind of beautiful.

The film has won all kinds of film festival awards and has gotten rave reviews. Quoth the Berliner Morgenpost:

"Thailand's famous transvestite boxer is immortalized in a new movie. Beautiful Boxer is a HEARTWARMING TALE of a woman trapped in a man's body... Asanee gives a BRILLIANT PERFORMANCE, both as a shy boy-girl in the masculine, sweaty-body world of kickboxing camp, and as a tormented androgynous star struggling with his sexuality…"

Go see this movie.

a grateful sigh of relief

From the Department of Deserved Endings

It is finished. The first year of my PhD program is firmly under my belt and I have until Monday morning to chill out. In the words of a friend, "Praisealuia!"

As an added bonus, I have now completed all the required seminar papers for my program. Next term, I will only have to write one paper for a course I'm taking at the University, and that one may well help advance the dissertation, so no complaints there. For my other two seminars, I get to just hang out and read. (Believe me when I tell you that's not as luxurious as it sounds. It's still reading ridiculous amounts. It's just reading ridiculous amounts without having to write a paper at the end of the term.) On the downside, I have realized that it's quite impossible for me to write two really good seminar papers in one term. I can write one paper really well and the other one will just be kind of meh. I'd feel worse about that if we actually got grades. As it is, we get these weird pseudo-grades with no grade points attached. E for excellent, VG for very good, G for good and U for unsatisfactory. Worst case scenario, the meh paper gets a G.

The hard part this weekend is getting myself to actually relax. As it is, I'm fighting the urge to go sit on my porch and read Kirkegaard or start on my summer reading list. I'm fighting that temptation. What I need to do is chill my shit out. So I'm going to go work on that. I think I will take that seat on the back porch but it will be a novel or a PSP in my hands, not work.