Categotry Archives: Main Blog

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

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Rikki-Tikki-Tavi: January 22, 2017

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Last week, as we celebrated Brother Martin, we were reminded to be gentle as doves and as wise as serpents. It is true that doves are not the brightest bird at the feeder, but I think the expression gives far too much credit to serpents. While deadly, snakes aren’t that smart.

Take, for example, the classic battle between the cobra and the mongoose, fictionalized and anthropomorphized in Rudyard Kipling’s colonialist classic story collection “The Jungle Book.” In the story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” he tells of a pet mongoose protecting his family, white and British, of course. The story first came to my attention when I was twelve, in a cartoon adaptation done by Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame. Like many experiences of our childhoods, it stuck, and I’ve always noticed when something about mongooses, and that is the correct plural, appears in the Science Times or on a nature program I am watching. Continue reading →

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Cup o’ Mud: January 15, 2017

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I am sure folks referred to coffee as mud long before I thought about it, but it was in the Big Apple that I first encountered the MUD truck. You can find coffee on almost any street corner in Manhattan, not to mention the ubiquitous coffee shops, in one spot, two Starbucks within sight of each other, and countless diners and delis, though this last group is being driven out as developers rush to build investment properties for Russian, Chinese and American kleptocrats.

The MUD truck, orange with a stylish design and logo, bills itself as gourmet street coffee. We tend to blame the Pacific Northwest and Seattle in particular for coffee culture, the $5 cup of coffee and the strange notion that the quality of the beans and the degree of the roast matters, for bringing a European sensibility to US coffee drinkers, but it really all comes down to one man, a Dutch-American named Alfred Peet who died in 2007. Peet was the son of a Dutch coffee roaster, had apprenticed with a coffee and tea company, and when he immigrated to the US, he found the swill served during the post-World War II years undrinkable. He finally had the assets to open his own shop in that commie-pinko haven of Berkeley, California in 1966. The rest is history. Continue reading →

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Tel Blue: January 8, 2017

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It is our human tendency to reconfigure facts where needed to match what we have already decided to believe. Take, for example, the case of the Tel Dan Stele. Tel means “hill,” Dan is place in modern Israel, and a stele is an ancient inscribed stone, a monument or marker.

What is important about the particular stele found at Tel Dan during a dig 23 years ago was that it contained a reference to the “House of David,” which was a problem for the large number of scholars, many Jewish, who argued that King David was wholly fabricated, a national founding myth akin to that of Gilgamesh, or maybe Romulus and Remus. But here was this stone authenticated to the 9th century BCE in which an unnamed king thought to be Hazael boasts of his victory over Omri, King of Israel, and his ally, the King of the House of David. Hard, as in stone hard, evidence from only a century or so after David’s reign, the oldest evidence we have of that early Iron Age king central to the Hebrew story and so central to the story of those who would follow Jesus. Continue reading →

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Articulate: January 1, 2017

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For the ancients, keeping track meant knowing the season and how it tied into essential life activities, when to plant and when to hunt. They also organized their ritual lives around this organic system of timekeeping, dates and hours, which worked, though irregularly, because one measure of time, the sun, is not in synch with the other measure, the moon. The latter is particularly an issue, as ancient religions set festivals to correspond to the constantly changing moon cycle. We see this in the movement of principles dates in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim calendars, though with moon worship now well behind us in the Christian tradition, our only changing feast is Easter, and we cling to that variation only because we wish to preserve the correspondence to the movable Jewish feast of Passover, one of the few ways we acknowledge that Jesus was an observant Hebrew reformer.

Technology, especially transportation technology that allowed for trade, drove the efforts to standardize timekeeping. The moving stars helped guide ships across the open ocean. Railroads needed timezones and accountants, alas, need fiscal years, and so the fairly random Western date for counting years has become the standard worldwide, though in truth this Christian dating itself, BC for before Christ and AD for Anno Domini, is off by three years, and most everyone who considers that era trips over the fact that, unlike in normal numbering, there is no zero. In truth, there are many New Years. The Jewish New Year, a lunar New Year, started on October 3rd. There is a Chinese New Year, also lunar, this year on January 28. Many churches think of themselves as operating on a school year, a time period that varies widely from region to region, before or after Labor Day which itself moves, but there is also the Liturgical New Year, the first Sunday in Advent when we switch to a new gospel and attempt to tell the story of our faith, though the arc of the story zigs and zags with feasts and other interruptions so that the narrative looks more like Sidney Crosby on a breakaway. Continue reading →

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Christmas Homilies 2016

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Family Service

Waldorf education is pretty big here. Some folks swear by the Montessori method. Most of us swear at the corporate model of education, with endless rounds of standardized testing and resource draining charter schools all funneling profit to the super rich and their private equity funds. Me? I’m a fan of the Goop Method. It is among the less known education theories, and has only one principle. If you can get a child’s hands in goop, you can teach them almost anything.

It is my theory, and the testing has been less than rigorous, but experience has shown me that in a world that treats children like little cpu’s that need to be programmed, if you put a kids hands in something, mud, bread dough, plaster, it doesn’t matter, you open pathways in the brain, because it turns out that children aren’t brains on a stick, but little amazing learning animals that have hands and feet and everything, that learn with sound and color… Continue reading →

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Pax: December 18, 2016

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Many old southern families, and mine is among them, operate under the delusion that they are English nobility displaced and disconnected by the accidents of history, Downton Abbey on the down-low as it were, never mind that many of these families have been working class for generations, and 19th century charlatans made a fortune convincing people they had long-lost titles, castles across the sea. Some things never change.

These Southern families long for a return to Tara, ignoring the fact that the entire colonial economic and social system was built on broken brown bodies, or worse, these Southerners celebrate their ancestor’s efforts to preserve the institution of slavery. All can whip out a family tree in an instant, as can I. Continue reading →

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Good Being: December 11, 2016

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You may be one of those odd people who likes winter. Certainly for those who retired here from away, that would make sense. Personally, if I’m going to hurtle down the face of something at high speeds, I’d just as soon it be a wave, though I’ll admit there are slightly fewer sharks on the ski slopes. And go ahead and strap on those snowshoes and head off into the woods. Me? Not so much. Oh sure, I love the look of the fresh snowfall, the hushed quiet, but give it a couple of days until everything is gray, when there is a seven inch puddle sloshing over the top of your boots where there was only two inches of space. It seems to me that snow melt falls into the realm of the impossible quantum, defying the laws of space and time.

Now, I attended Divinity School in Massachusetts, and my last church was in New York, so I’ve learned to adjust, even to the dark and the mud, but I do not rejoice in winter. I get the need for fallow time, for dark time, for the changing seasons in creation and in our lives, and even if I didn’t get it, that whole spinning planet thing is going to happen anyway, so I might as well accept it, but I truly rejoice in late spring. Continue reading →

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Bronies: December 4, 2016

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In a book review in the Mainline Protestant magazine The Christian Century, reviewer Marcia Z. Nelson writes that “Heaven is not a place where Jesus rides a pony with a rainbow mane.” This will come as bad news to some Bronies. You may have never heard of Bronies, the name itself a portmanteau of “Bro” and “pony.” It is a self-identification used by adult fans of the My Little Pony franchise, tech-savy, often male. Weird? Yeah, maybe.

You might remember My Little Pony, a Hasbro brand introduced in the 1980’s when America was trying to feel good again, to turn its back on the complexities of the Sixties and Seventies by dividing the world into a simple binary of good guys, with a white-hatted cowboy in charge, and bad guys, a new Red Scare with commies and pinkos and homos around every corner. It was the decade I went from apple pie, Boy Scouts and Go Army to being one of those Commie Pinko Homos. Continue reading →

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72″ Happiness: November 27, 2016

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I had learned enough to know that I had better leave my cell phone in the rental car, so as I rode Space Mountain, as I joined the Foolish Mortals in the Haunted Mansion, I had no idea that my phone was, as the saying goes, blowing up. It was only many hours after the fact that I discovered dozens of voicemails, emails, and text messages, all sent to me while I was away on vacation, all over whether or not the soup kitchen could adjust its serving time by fifteen minutes so the church could have an after school program.

Boundaries are important. Knowing how to take sabbath, when to disconnect, is important for everybody, especially those who care for and support others. Technology has made this even harder, these personal communicators right out of Star Trek that beep and ping and do everything except beam us up. But I imagine keeping good boundaries is hardest of all for Jesus, who must be exhausted from watching Facebook on his smartphone all night to see when a post hits ten thousand shares so someone’s disease can be cured… Continue reading →

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Time Being: November 20, 2016

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Disney’s The Lion King is sort of Hamlet with a lot more music and a little less angst. Which is to say, that like so many stories told for as long as humans have told stories and organized themselves into tribes and states, The Lion King is a tale about the conflict over who is properly to be in charge of earthly affairs. Simba, the cub who would be king, has it a lot better off than some kings.

The Fisher King, a central figure in the Arthurian Legend and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” is tied to the fertility of the land, his wounded-groin infertility everyone’s infertility, as crops fail, nothing falls from the sky, all is stillborn. Indeed, in some primitive cultures, the king himself would be sacrificed, his blood drained into the soil to appease the gods and insure a return of fertility. Only then, only with the blood of the king, spoke the thunder.

In other cultures we might consider civilized, or at least on the road to civilization, earthly rulers were divine, half-breed demigods and those elevated to the pantheon. Take the Caesars, that Julio-Claudian Dynasty that ruled from the Thames to the Tigris at the time of Jesus. W.H. Auden writes “Great is Caesar: He has conquered Seven Kingdoms.” The poet goes on in his Christmas Oratorio, “For the Time Being,”: Continue reading →

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