Categotry Archives: Main Blog

Sermons and theological ramblings of an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

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Wholly Unburied: April 2, 2017

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Categories: Main Blog

Jobs can be frustrating for all sorts of reasons. You might work in a toxic environment, with bad bosses, runaway sexism and racism. You might play a role that is under-appreciated. We all like clean spaces, but our culture does not treat those who clean our spaces and remove our waste with the dignity they deserve. Entire essential sectors are treated with such contempt that no American will take the jobs. We would all starve without immigrants, particularly upsetting to me is that the dairy industry is most at risk, which threatens ice cream. We can all expect food to take a much greater percentage of our budgets in the coming years if we continue on the current course.

Jobs can go bad for other reasons. You might find yourself in a field subject to the culture of exceptionalism and complaint, particularly brutal on our teachers these days. You might not have the right tools for the job, be asked to do something that is completely beyond your control, like so many in the human services. Then there are those of us who are called into the breach between humankind and mystery, religious leaders, obviously, but also publishers. Continue reading →

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Eclectic: March 26, 2017

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Wikipedia lists dozens of sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, including Viking Metal, Death Metal, Doom Metal, Gothic Metal, Metalcore and Grindcore, though the two that most intrigue me are Folk Metal and Stoner Metal, which seem to me to be oxymorons.

And I listen to none of them. Led Zeppelin is about as hard as I rock out. Heavy metal may be the only style of music I avoid completely, but there are portions of other genres I can do without. I can’t listen to the rap music that is filled with misogyny and glorifies drug violence and cop killing, though there is a sub-genre called alt hip-hop that I love. Continue reading →

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Moishe Shagalov: March 19, 2017

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How displaced he must have felt on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. At least he could find a newspaper he could read, find a few people that understood him, for while he had mastered several languages, he could not speak English. Thank goodness for Yiddish newspapers, allowing Moishe Zakharovich Shagalov to follow what was happening in the war. Or maybe it wasn’t goodness, for those papers told him that his hometown had been completely destroyed, his people crushed, ashes on the wind.

But we are too far into the story. It begins in in the little village of Liozna, just outside of Vitebsk in what is now Belarus but was then a part of the Russian Empire. This was the Russia of the Tsars, of sanctioned anti-semitism and pogroms, but he managed to get an education. He could have hidden, pretended to not be who he was, but instead he chose to embrace his Jewish identity. In 1910, at the age of 23, he moved to Paris, where he would study and paint for several years. He was back home in Vitebsk, a visit that was supposed to be brief, when the The Great War broke out, leaving him trapped, leaving him to witness the October Revolution of 1917. Like many Jews, he had no great love for the Imperial Russia, but the revolution was dangerous as well, a mad beast unleashed. He was by then one of the country’s most respected artists, so he was offered the post of commissar of visual arts. He wisely took a less prominent, less exposed role. He did important work during those early years of the Soviet state, including his first foray’s into theatre design. In 1923, he returned to Paris, this celebrated Russian Jewish painter known to the world as Marc Chagall. Continue reading →

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Truman: March 12, 2017

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Harry Truman served in the Great War, as the First World War was known at the time. Not that Harry Truman, though Harry S. served in that war as well. No, I’m speaking about Harry R. Truman, a native of West Virginia who lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of his adult life. Last spring, on flights to and from Eastern Washington State, I had a chance to fly over the area where he once lived, though Harry, his home, and the surrounding geography all disappeared on May 18th, 1980. For Harry R. Truman was the stubborn innkeeper who refused to evacuate Mt. St. Helens.

The two numbers to keep in mind are 670 and 680. Six Hundred and Seventy miles per hour was the speed of the debris in the pyroclastic flow when the mountain erupted, though some scientists believe it may have briefly passed the speed of sound. Six Hundred and Eighty degrees Fahrenheit was the temperature when it hit the first human victims. If there is anything that could conjure an image of hell, a wall of six hundred and eighty degree fire moving at six hundred and seventy miles per hour should just about do it. Continue reading →

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Walkabout: March 5, 2017

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Sometimes they don’t have to die, are simply distant, do not see their children for what they actually are, as in J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” though death would eventually place the real Peter, John and Michael Llewelyn Davies, as well as their brothers, George and Nico, in that sick man’s power.

Sometimes the parents are kidnapped or ill. But it is usually, after all, death of one or both parents that sets the stage for adventure. The child hero is a hero precisely because she or he has been tested. Continue reading →

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Bruno: February 26, 2017

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I learned all sorts of acronyms in the Army, most not appropriate for primetime. I had an MOS, a Military Occupation Specialty that placed me in a TAB, a Target Acquisition Battery, a position I held until my ETS, Estimated Time of Separation. I learned more acronyms in the technology industry. Many you will know, like RAM. There are other less well-known insider codes like PEBCAK, Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard, and I-D-Ten-T error. Write it down. Trust me. There were even a few acronyms in Divinity School, like TULIP, a code that would take too long to explain for the central tenets of hardcore Calvinism. Social media and text messaging have created a whole new series of acronyms, LOL and GTG and quite a few that are also not pulpit appropriate.

Another acronym that has come into popular use in recent years is STEM, which stands for a cluster of academic disciplines, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. We talk a lot about STEM for two reasons. The first is that sexism, both blatant and systemic, has worked to keep women out of these disciplines for decades. We lose a significant number of potential workers in STEM disciplines while they are still in the mandated years of education, K through 12, simply because of their gender. Making matters worse, our failing schools, under-funded but turning a profit for the educational corporations that develop standardized tests, are simply not producing high graduates with the skills needed for undergraduate and graduate study in STEM fields. The result is that our nation is increasingly dependent on other countries to educate STEM specialists. Without immigrants, most graduate schools, research labs and medical facilities would close. This is why universities and technology businesses oppose the xenophobia and isolationism that have become dominant in our nation, for if we can no longer attract STEM workers from other countries, we lose our ability to compete in the world economy. Continue reading →

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Vespuccians: February 19, 2017

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I guess it could be worse. We could be called Vespuccians, but somehow it was the first name of the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci that stuck, though in a feminine form to match the feminine names used for Asia, Africa and Europa.

As it is, the Americas, treated as a plural, refers to the entire land mass in the Western Hemisphere, North, South, islands, everything above Antarctica. Properly used, the phrase “Make America Great Again” would refer to the indigenous peoples of Guatemala, the descendants of slaves in Brazil, the Japanese in Peru, and even those strange neighbors to our north, with their bizarre sense of decency and the common good, a rainbow of races. If “Make America Great Again” means a taco truck on every corner, I’m all in, baby… Continue reading →

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Amundsen: February 12, 2017

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Years ago, while I was still adding to the thousands of comic books in my collection, DC decided to re-boot the Batman series after a year-long narrative arc called “No Man’s Land,” Gotham recovering after a devastating earthquake. They brought in new writers, even started a new title, called Gotham Knights, that focused on the inter-relationships between Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, the original Robin who had gone on to be a hero called Nightwing, Tim Drake, the third Robin, the second having met a gruesome death at the hands of the Joker, Barbara Gordon, former Batgirl and, since being paralyze,d a cyber-hero called Oracle, and a host of other minor characters. In the series’ first issue, the first major Batman work written by a woman, Batman is investigating the murder of parents who left behind a young son, so similar to Batman’s own origin story. The other characters wonder why he can’t see what they see, that the boy was not the traumatized orphan Bruce Wayne once was, but was in fact the killer.

It is the sort of gritty realism that took hold in the Batman family of comics in the 1980s. In fact, many comic books took on a gritty realism. They even tried it with the Superman series, but it just wouldn’t stick, for like a bar of soap dropped into a puddle, Superman is self-cleaning, the ultimate Boy Scout goody-two-shoes. Which is okay. Sometimes we need that sense of unblemished good, hope and purity in a time when everything feels a little too real, even if that unblemished good is in the form of a resident alien from Krypton. Continue reading →

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Pedialyte: February 5, 2017

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After last week’s sermon, in which I spoke about beer, one worshipper wondered if I might have pushed an alcoholic off of the wagon. Were I only that influential! While I did mention that I enjoy beer, I don’t think my descriptions were particularly florid… Madison Avenue I’m not. The point was that four simple ingredients produce a transformation and a tremendous variety of flavors, much in the same way that our faith, which is simple according to both the prophet Micah and Jesus, has the capacity to transform lives, comes in many variations.

Then I got home and opened my Sunday New York Times, where on page 22 of the Magazine I found an article extolling the virtues of Pedialyte. It was not, however, by a parent who had used the product to treat a child with an illness. Instead, it was by a man who describes purchasing a supply of Pedialyte before a night of heavy drinking. Now there, I thought, is a real alcoholic, someone who knows that a product designed for sick children is also effective for hangovers. Fortunately, he also describes using the product after sessions of hot yoga, and catalogs the effects of excess, so not exactly a ringing endorsement of boozing it up. And just wait… the author is still under 40. Try that nonsense when you are 50 and you pay for a week. Continue reading →

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Reinheitsgebot: January 29, 2017

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I sometimes say, in jest of course, that I need coffee to get me started and beer to slow me down. In truth, while there is at least one cup of coffee every morning, usually two, the single evening drink might well be wine, or might be skipped entirely. Still, I love good coffee and good beer. And just as one man was responsible for America’s contemporary coffee culture, one man was responsible for today’s beer culture. His name was Bert Grant, a Scot, who opened the first independent brewery since Prohibition in Yakima, Washington in 1982.

Since then, the beer world has changed. You can still find beer that is mass-produced, watery and flavorless, but you can also find hundreds of other choices, beers in every traditional style and even a few completely new styles, though Cave Creek Chili Beer, with a whole chili pepper in every bottle, is a stretch even for me. Continue reading →

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