"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Friday, October 28, 2011

Leave These Poor Sick Monkeys Alone

“Is good news bad news?” My English students recently debated this question, some arguing that the only interesting (and lucrative) news was that which tended toward the tragic and shocking, with others making a case for the value of more positive, uplifting, hopeful news.

But it sure does seem like there’s an overwhelming amount of bad news, doesn’t it? From the bullying of gay teens, to corruption and scandal, to oppressive regimes and violent death, to job loss, the bad news just keeps coming.

And, sometimes I don’t want to be hopeful, optimistic, or eager to emphasize what beautiful, creative, good, compassionate things are being done by people and communities everywhere. Sometimes, I just want to lament. Sometimes I need to lament. The Psalms of the Old Testament contain much celebration but also many cries of mourning, angst, and confusion.

When I want to mourn the the seemingly sorrowful state of the world, I often turn to one of my favorite modern day songs of lament. Here’s a link to the video: "Think About it"; I encourage all to watch. The lyrics are below. Come and mourn with me awhile.


There's children on the streets using guns and knives
They're taking drugs and each other's lives
Killing each other with knives and forks
And calling each other names like dork

There's people on the street
Getting diseases from monkeys
Yeah that's what I said
They're getting diseases from monkeys

Now there's junkies with monkey disease
Who's touching these monkeys?
Please leave these poor sick monkeys alone
They've got problems enough as it is

A man is lying on the street
Some punk's chopped off his head
I'm the only one who stops to see if he's dead…
…Turns out he's dead

And that's why I'm singing
What, what is wrong with the world today?
What's wrong with the world today?
What, what is wrong with the world today?
You gotta think about it…think think about it

Good cops been framed and put into a can
All the money that we're making
It's going to the man

What man? Which man? Who’s the man?
When's a man a man? What makes a man a man?
Am I a man? Yes, technically I am

They're turning kids into slaves
Just to make cheaper sneakers
But what's the real cost?
'cause the sneakers don't seem that much cheaper

Why are we still paying so much for sneakers
When you got them made by little slaves kids?
What are your overheads?

At the end of your life you're lucky if you die
Sometimes I wonder why we would even try
I saw a man lying on the street half dead
With knives and forks sticking out of his leg

And he said "can somebody
Get the knife and fork out of my leg please?"
"Can somebody please remove
These cutleries from my knees?"

And then we break it down…

(Words and Music by Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Diversity Among Diversity

I read an excellent article yesterday morning that others of you may also have seen. Here’s the link: “Battling for Gay Rights, In Allah’s Name.” You may gather from the title the thrust of the article, though it’s worth reading. Most illuminating were the strikingly similar challenges Islam faces regarding diversity of belief to those challenges within the Christian Church.

I found the advocacy for and inclusion of the LGBTQ community from a Muslim voice to be quite novel (perhaps it shouldn’t have been). Among Christians you’ll find many passionate about LGBTQ inclusion and affirmation, and many passionately opposed; there are others who aren’t really “passionate” either way but feel conflicted and perhaps “lean” to one side of the spectrum.

But I guess I’d never considered this similar range of opinion to exist within Islam, though I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps the minority expressions in Islam—fundamentalist/extremist and progressive—are just outliers, much smaller than various minority opinions within the Christian Church.

Though at my English school, this range and diversity is visible in women's attire, from conservative to progressive: some women cover all but their eyes; some reveal their entire face; some women reveal their face and also wear form fitting clothes (as opposed to baggy robes); and I remember two women who very noticeably didn’t wear a head covering at all.

I do feel like anytime homosexuality has come up in my classes, most Muslims generally act extremely conservative in their response to the topic. But nonetheless, I probably should have realized that Islam, like Christianity, is diverse. I suppose this is a “sin” I often commit: I make assumptions about what I don’t know, or make generalizations based on my assumptions or on the actions of a few.

This happens to me sometimes within my own faith. People will assume, as a Christian, a similar level of interest in or excitement from me about something as their own. For example, I’ve had multiple people in the last year recommend Mark Driscoll’s (Mars Hill) church to me, because, well, I’m not totally sure why—young, “hip” people attend this church? He has a potty mouth? (Actually, I think the people who recommend him to me don’t know he has a potty mouth.) When this happens, I politely thank them for the suggestion.

I also found the reference to Muslim Scriptural interpretation in this article surprising because it’s markedly similar to the way Christians use Scripture to condemn homosexuality. They apparently, according to the article, use the same Sodom and Gommorah story that Christians use as a refutation of homosexual practice (among other verses, I’m sure). Also acknowledged in the article is a similar explanation from other scholars of that particular passage’s irrelevance to the matter of monogamous homosexual relationships.

Primarily, I appreciated the article for its reminder that, as in Christianity, not all Muslims are the same. Now I do assume (perhaps wrongly) there to be a much larger “norm” in Muslim belief and practice, as opposed to the multifariousness of the Christian faith seen in our seemingly endless denominations (and "non" denominations).

But is there such a thing as a "true" Islam, a way of being a Muslim that is most in line with true Islam? Is there such a thing as a "true" Christianity, in the same sense? It seems like there's too much diversity in our faith to conclude that any one denomination is the "truest." It seems as though we're stuck with plurality, even if we may hold convictions about what way of being, seeing, understanding, and acting is most correct or true.

I’d tentatively define true Christianity as religion in which Jesus is the centerpiece. Any more specific than that gets tricky. There are many Christians who probably wouldn’t ever talk about being “born again." Others would never speak of the “beauty of the liturgy.” Some are gay Christians; some believe "gay Christian" is an oxymoron. It seems like "true" Christianity must be defined broadly in a way that acknowledges its diversity, or else we have to admit we have no clue what constitutes "true" Christianity.

The article quotes several Islamic leaders who find being Muslim and gay inherently incompatible, while others like Zonneveld (focus of the article) are pushing for an alternative perspective that sees their coherence. As in Christianity, Islam seems to call for faith: making a choice about what to believe and how to live based on insufficient data or confirmation.

I’ll end with a couple standout quotes. First, an alternative (but more Scriptural) definition of “jihad,” from a song written by Zonneveld: “In the…song, she calls on the ‘Ummah’ — roughly ‘community’ in Arabic — to take up a jihad, which to her means an ‘internal struggle to be more godly, more merciful, more forgiving, more like God is.

Jihad means “struggle” or “striving,” despite its more negative connotations in the media with violent sects of Islam, and sounds a lot like the Christian pursuit of virtue, the fruits of the Spirit, or the way of Jesus.

And finally, also from Zonneveld: “Just because I’m critical of the Muslim community does not mean I’m interested in being anti-Islam. It’s easy to be critical of the Christian Church; we all have our different ideas about what the Church should be doing more of or what constitutes right doctrine or what elements a Sunday worship gathering should include. But criticism motivated by love is different than that motivated by judgment, I think.

I respect Zonneveld for her commitment to Islam, when it seems like it would be very easy to just disassociate with her religion, and experience God outside of religious institutions. Her fidelity is an inspiration to me and reminds me of how important it is to—in contrast to the common refrain—not just be spiritual but religious too, participating in religious traditions that can shape our character and purpose.

I believe the Church to be, as I suspect Zonneveld believes Islam to be, at its best a gift to the world. I have no intention of abandoning it, no matter how much fodder for criticism it may yield, nor how much I disagree with some of my spiritual brothers and sisters on various matters.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Beauty and Fall

When I could first sense the recent seasonal change, I was not initially acquiescent. The warm, outdoorsy life of summer passed too quickly. But now that I’ve embraced the season (and the fact that seasons aren’t all that concerned with my will), I’m enjoying the moment.

It might have been today in particular, as the cloudy sky and cool, crisp air made for a peaceful, sublime day. This perfect weather brings to mind a few of my favorite aspects of fall...

Pumpkin Wheat Ale. New discovery this fall. Thought it might be a good concept that didn’t work for me in practice (like Pumpkin Spice Lattes...maybe I just need to add another shot), but I love it.

World Series. I would care significantly more if my team was in it, but it’s still the last bit of baseball for several months.

Candy Pumpkins. No fat! But they are candy and feel slightly nutritionally naughty. Consequently, a ritual has developed in the Boswell household. Joann and I inform one another every time we eat a pumpkin, I guess partly as accountability, and partly because we like quirky rituals.

Fireplace use. Before work today I spent some time out in the small forest adjacent to our apartment complex, using my saw to cut up fallen limbs and trees (no living trees were harmed) into fireplace-sized logs. This process has a way of making me very aware, very mindful of nature, my needs, and of what I take for granted. Turning on the electric heat is effortless, costly, and abstract compared to entering nature, strenuously cutting and gathering wood, waiting days for the wood to dry, and lighting and tending a fire over the course of the evening. But I find the involved process rich, the natural warmth comforting, and the sweet, smoky smell fragrant. Totally worth it.

New episodes of favorite TV shows. Favorite standbys: Community, Parks and Rec, Modern Family, Office, Big Bang Theory. Favorite newbies: New Girl, Person of Interest. (Does this point seem odd, considering the previous?)

New students. Summer is a chaotic and exciting time at EF, with lots of student turnover due to shorter stays at the school. Many more of our current students will stay for much longer, which partly excites me for their sake; the community that develops among students during the regular school year is deeper with more time spent together, which is fun to watch. It’s also fun as a teacher to have more time with students, for the sake of classroom productivity and for relationships with students, in and out of class. (But I love and miss you, summer crowd!)

Fall scented candles! (said with Zoolander “Orange Mocha Frappuccinos!” enthusiasm). I’ve got “spiced pumpkin pie” burning next to me, with “cozy fire” and “warm cider” occupying two other rooms. SO good.

Colors. What a beautiful parallel the cycle of nature is to the human story, individual and collective. What a magnificent spectrum of color among the leaves—those fallen, falling, and still clinging to branches, not quite ready to accept that their time has come. It's a nice built-in reminder of several facets of the human experience: the inherent beauty of those on the backside of life; the beauty and rightness of death and the need to embrace and not fear or desperately try to avoid its inevitability; and the hope that our impending “sleep” is not the end but a predecessor to new life. The gift of fall is a gift not only of beauty but of hope.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Church (s)Hopping II: A Visit to a Non-denominational Church

As mentioned in a recent post, I’m trying to make a stronger effort to find a church I can at least temporarily treat as something like a “home.” I also see this as a good opportunity to get a feel for what is happening in Olympia-area churches. Today I visited an evangelical, non-denominational church near our apartment.

My goal in these assessments is to avoid criticism as much as possible and focus instead on the strengths and positives. I admit subjectivity, knowing that my own journey influences how I reflect on my experience, what I “see” and experience in a given worship service. It would be easy to point out such things from this morning as (deleted, inconsistent with goal of post); but I’d rather celebrate than disparage.

To the bullets:

  • The service was entertaining. The Episcopal church experience (which I loved) was not entertaining; I don’t believe this was its goal, nor my expectation. This service was definitely a production. I haven’t really been to a service like this in a while, so I think I’d kind of forgotten what it was like. It may sound like an implicit critique, but I was truly entertained. And maybe there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I go to the movies to be entertained; why can’t a gathering like this be similarly produced to captivate with sound and light, aimed to produce an emotional response from me, sitting in the pew? I enjoyed myself. If the church’s partial goal was to make Christianity seem exciting, then I imagine for many this “entertainment” factor is truly meeting a need.
  • I appreciated the outright “battle” visible among the church between worship styles. I only noticed this because I visited the website this morning. In what appears an obvious reply to the morning services, the evening service is billed as “more natural, raw, and organic” and that the music is “nothing you would hear in a typical, Top 40, Jesus-my-boyfriend church atmosphere.” That seems an obvious means of distancing itself from the morning crowd, and kind of a surprising statement to make on your own website. Still, I was more interested in the “uncool” morning service. At one point the worship leader, in his worship leader voice, said something like “we’re not a top 40, Jesus-my-boyfriend church here.” Fight! Fight!
  • The pastor took about ten minutes to interview two women involved in a non-profit that took the angle of “sustainable development,” helping people in Haiti and Liberia (among a couple other places I can’t remember) have both proper water and proper cooking equipment while also setting up local non-profits in these countries to continue the mission after they leave. It seemed like a very creative type of service/ministry, and I appreciated the way it was used in the service—seemingly to stimulate the imagination and inspire people to challenge themselves to find ways to help others. At least that’s the message I received; I don’t think one has to start a non-profit to do some good with what abilities and resources one has.
  • The highlight was probably when the worship band played “Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan. It was meant to be a setup to the message. It was fabulous! The congregation sat and listened to the performance, complete with backup singers, very talented guitarist, and a tenor saxophone. People sort of clapped afterwards, I think a little unsure as to whether they were supposed to clap or say “amen.” I clapped.
  • Actually, I take it back. The real highlight may have been when a grandfather and granddaughter read the morning's scripture passage, which was from Matthew 24. It was hard to not laugh out loud when the gentleman, in a very warm, kind, grandfatherly voice, read “beating his servants,” followed by the girl in her sweet voice saying “cut him to pieces.” Oh Jesus, you and your confrontational, blunt language.
  • The pastor used an iPad for his Scripture and sermon notes. Steve Jobs' fingerprints can be seen not just in the wider culture but in the Church too. An iPad. I will probably get an iPad one day, but it will be when iPads are as relevant as audio cassettes and Tom Cruise are today. Which reminds me: While at the theater recently, a trailer was playing for some sort of action movie. For several moments, the plot wasn’t clear and the actors unrecognizable; then we saw a shot of Tom Cruise, saying something like “then I’ll have to catch him myself” or “looks like an…impossible mission!” The audience replied with a mix of laughter and groans, simply at the sight of Tom Cruise. I think we all forgot that Tom Cruise did movies.
  • This is more about me than the church, but...am I the only one who changes verb tenses of songs/hymns from time to time? I purposely changed an “am” to a “will be” at one point. Nobody looked at me funny; it was a large, loud congregation.
  • I appreciated the pastor's message. It may have, in brief moments, been (deleted, inconsistent with goal of post), but it had a centering effect for me, and I imagine it challenged and redirected and comforted many present. Also, the pastor had a mustache.

The church seems very good at what it does. Though, I really can’t see myself there. Other than when I want to listen to a little Sunday morning blues.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Bumbling Pursuit of Virtue

There are plenty of methods out there for those who want to better themselves. I’ve decided to tentatively pursue such betterment through engagement with the virtues. The reason? Simple: I desire to—as role-model-to-many Barney Stinson might say—be more awesome.

By this crude and facetious way of putting it—“awesome”—I mean a person of great character, the kind of person that strives to live something like the kind of life Jesus lived and called his hearers to seek.

By character, or virtue, I don’t mean someone who obeys rules well or is extremely religiously devout. I mean, rather, one who has learned, maybe through discipline, practice, and the aid and grace of God, how to live excellently. To do what is good and right, almost without thinking.

I want this because I believe it to be my responsibility as a Christian. I believe that if I’m going to identify as "Christian," I don’t want to do so simply based on past history and experience alone, nor on my doctrinal stances, nor on religious, church-y behavior.

For me, to be a Christ-follower means to have accepted Jesus’ invitation to—excuse the melodrama if you feel it in my word choice—join an adventure. I’ve long thought of the Christian life as adventure, fuelled by past encounters with the “epic life” portrayed in stories like LOTR or by authors like John Eldridge. (LOTR still inspires me today; Eldridge and his understanding of gender roles does not).

And I think adventure, then, meant something like “sucking the marrow” out of life, feeling my experiences deeply, refusing complacency, engaging with beauty, seeing the world, being caught up in something larger than myself, a sense of movement. It still does mean those things.

But while I think the virtuous life includes a certain attentiveness to and participation in this kind of rich, abundant, "epic" life, I think it also involves the painful work of making adjustments to my character, of being transformed. The adventure is also one of spiritual, character formation.

Does God love me as I am? I think yes. Does God want me to stay the way I am? I think no. I think there is a feeling of resistance among many of my fellow Christians toward anything that has hints of “effort” or “works.” And, frankly, I find it a bit tragic the way “grace” can be used as an excuse to do nothing, or at least very little, when grace (I believe) is meant to ignite a fire for holy and radical living in the lives of those who encounter it.

And by radical living, I don’t mean becoming “louder.” There’s a place for passionate expression of your belief, but that’s not my interest. I don’t want noisier faith, I want deeper faith, faith that trains me to become—with blood, sweat, and tears perhaps—a little more like Jesus.

This is my journey, my conviction. It’s not about earning salvation. If you know me, it’s definitely not about that, since I think “salvation” in the sense that we usually talk about it happened a long time ago, and extends far beyond the boundaries of the Church. But that’s another matter.

I believe I am free in part, but not in full. I’m bound to bad habits, bad inclinations, bad thought patterns, wrong understanding, poor motivations. These things limit my freedom. When I think of Jesus, I think of a free human being, one so right and good in thought and action that he was free to live excellently—to “be awesome.”

Aristotle saw “telos” as central to this conversation. How we understand our purpose, our end goal as humans, informs the kind of people we should be now. I think Jesus thought of it this way too, inviting people to demonstrate the future Kingdom of God now—to be “Kingdom people” whose lives anticipate what we hope and believe is our future destiny as God’s creation.

These are the philosophical and theological underpinnings of my desire to better myself. I think this is best done in community, be it face-to-face in a church or monastery or through “contact” with others throughout history or through the global community found online. And, of course, being a Trinitarian—with a little help from the Holy Spirit.

The great world religious have their own understandings and lists of virtues. Many of them overlap. As much as we at times want to polarize and differentiate, I think one finds a lot of similar goals and ideas of virtue among these various traditions. That’s not to say all religions are identical; but it is to say that they aren’t worlds apart.

As I told Joann last night, “a virtue a day keeps the devil away.”© J So I’m trying an experiment. My goal for the near future—which I may abandon if it becomes unhelpful or if I simply become lazy (I hope not)—is to pick one virtue a day. This could be virtue defined by Aristotle or Aquinas, or by Jesus or Paul, by Muslim, by Hindu, and Buddhists writers and leaders...whoever.

I hope to pay attention to when I’m tested. Hopefully, conscious of my “virtue-of-the-day,” I can make small choices to combat indulging in these vices and failing these tests. My hope is that such basic choices in various moments of testing will over time have an effect on my character, making such action more natural in the future and less of a choice.

I’m not advocating this as the best method, nor the only method. My approach may be nuanced in ways that differentiate it from other effective approaches, but it's nothing new to seek with discipline a more virtuous life.

Also, while I’m a Christian, I find in other faiths wonderful expressions of what it means to live life well, in a manner that can be illuminating as to how pursue and better live the kind of life I think my own faith demands of me.

But I also believe that the more we engage with other’s viewpoints, other faiths, the better off we’ll all be, and thus it’s worth the effort to understand how others are seeking holiness, betterment, or to more fully fulfill their purpose. (What strikes me as tragic is when any sense of overarching purpose is lost—all too common today in our world, I think.) Where others' pursuits intersect with or enhance my own, I’m eager to absorb their wisdom.

Today’s arbitrarily chosen virtue is temperance—or self-control, restraint, moderation. As I look back on the day, I’ve had some successes thanks to my intentionality, but also a few missteps; perhaps I will report more on this in the near future.

So I press on, “beating my body into submission,” as the Apostle Paul writes (1 Cor 9:27). I imagine, depending on the particular virtue and my quality of character (or lack thereof), some days will involve more self-flagellation than others. All part of the adventure, I suppose.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy Sesame Street

From an anonymous source:

Participants in the ever-spreading Occupy Wall Street movement have yet again expanded the reach of their protests. Following their most recent demonstrations in Portland, OR, protestors have taken their movement to another famed street: Sesame Street.

Home to such beloved characters as Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and, unfortunately, Elmo, the renowned street was flooded yesterday with a slew of child demonstrators.

But in contrast to their adult counterparts, children were not directly critiquing the greed of Wall Street. Their concern is not the withholding of wealth from the majority of the nation, but with a crisis much more immediate to their situation: the withholding of dessert.

“My parents continue to refuse me dessert, just because I don’t finish my greens…I’m sick of it!” remarked an angry nine-year-old. “What right do they have to dictate my eating habits?” When asked the meaning of “dictate,” the child shrugged his shoulders.

Children marched down Sesame Street, expressing their frustration in relatively non-violent ways, save the occasional pinching of a Muppet’s nose.

“Too long have we been oppressed by parents interested in our ‘health’ as they say,” asserted a three-year-old girl, before quipping sarcastically, “‘yes, mom, that makes a lot of sense…I should definitely finish my pepperoni pizza…what good habits you’re teaching me, to eat more than I’d like of such healthy main courses. Gosh, mommy, I can’t figure out why the obesity rate in this country continues to rise.’ I mean, come on!”

Cookie Monster witnessed the procession. When asked for comment, Cookie Monster characteristically shouted: “COOKIES!!!”

His retort captured the sentiment of many participants, who, like Cookie Monster, want to believe in a world where anything really is possible—not merely the reality of a just economy that gives hope for every individual to pursue his or her dreams—but of a world where if one wants a cookie, one may have it, without all the preliminary hoops to jump through.

“I remember one time that I wept and wept because my parents didn’t let me have dessert,” an eight-year old girl somberly recalled. “They sat in the other room, feasting on strawberry shortcake, laughing, talking about the great taste, all while I sat in my room alone, sent there dessert-less because I wouldn’t eat my damn lima beans. They could have at least been quiet about it; they didn’t have to gloat.”

A five-year old boy, when asked what oppressive actions by his parents drove him to join the protests, remarked: “Oh, nothing really. When I want something I just throw a fit and usually get what I want. My parents are pretty accommodating. I’m just here because I heard there was free tiramisu.”

Free tiramisu. And with all the free dessert at the OSS rally, there is sure to be a significant amount of waste covering the streets. One local excited about this? Oscar the Grouch.

“Oh I don’t mind the kids,” Oscar told us. “They have a right to express themselves. I don’t care much for dessert myself, but I do love leftovers! And by leftovers, I do of course mean: TEEERRRAAASSSHHH!!!”

Elmo was also asked to comment on the protests, but rambled incoherently for about two minutes, the only intelligible words being “parfait” and, of course, “Elmo.”

Dr. Ping, professor of sociology at Boston College, was present, eager to observe the phenomenon of an organized child protest. When asked to what extent the demonstrations would impact parents’ attitudes toward dessert, Ping chuckled. “Um, not at all. This whole ordeal is a joke. I’m not sure why I came. I’m actually extremely confused.”

A joke to some, perhaps. But to children eager to make a statement, the protest was anything but funny. A child summed it up: “Parents, if you’re listening, we’re not going to take it anymore. We’ll get our dessert, and we’re not going to eat kale or asparagus to get it.”

But while their mission is very serious, they are children, and know how to laugh and have fun. “Cake and ice cream, get your cake and ice cream!” shouted Ernie at one point. “But only if you’ve eaten your dinner,” he said, deadpan. After a moment of silence, the entire street erupted in laughter. The children have gained a sense of purpose, without losing their sense of humor.

(Source: Me and my imagination, killing time between classes yesterday afternoon.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Church (s)Hopping: A Visit to an Episcopal Church

We’ve been in a season for several months now where we haven’t been connected with a particular church. We’ve occasionally attended churches in the area and have often returned to “home” churches in Portland and in Woodland for visits.

But since our church planting endeavors fell through last Fall, it’s been hard to find the motivation to find a new church to call home. I think the reasons are many.

Part of it is a tinge of disillusionment. Part of it is laziness. Part of it is what feels like the difficulty of breaking in to a church, assessing whether it’s a place we’d want to call home in a single visit. Part of it is my (our) being guilty of the vice of cynicism.

Part of it is uncertainty about where I “fit” denominationally and what elements of a church are essentials and what are secondary, non-essentials. Part of it is uncertainty about how long our Olympia season of life will last. Part of it is a lack of urgency, feeling like I’m living a rich life of faith without being connected to a church family, even if I don’t believe this is the healthiest long-term solution for a Christian.

This is just where we’ve been at, the season we're in. However, I’m hoping to do a bit of hopping around in the coming weeks, feeling like I might be ready to put more effort into finding at least a temporary home.

I here share only the positives. While I value criticism, I also know the allure and addictive nature of it. It can be energizing to critique those things I find imperfect and lacking, sometimes leading to deeper insight and right action but at other times simply leading to indulgence, pride, cynicism and negativity.

So...some bright moments from my visit to an Episcopal Church this morning:

  • There were dogs in church. Apparently, today is a day for honoring St. Francis of Assisi, partly known for his friendships with animals. Church members had been invited to bring pets into the sanctuary for the entire worship service, to receive a special “pet blessing” immediately after the service. I only saw dogs, and what I think might have been a pet spider. Awesome.
  • Loosely related, I appreciate the church’s posture toward children in the service. They seem to really emphasize that kids and their noisiness are a welcome presence and not to be seen as a distraction to the worship experience.
  • I’ve long appreciated liturgy. I cared less for it at one time, feeling like it stifled spontaneity and freedom or lacked freshness and relevance. Now I’ve come to appreciate the structure and tradition of it, feeling like within this pattern of prayers and songs and practices that I do find a certain freedom and connectedness. The Holy Spirit can work through structure and pattern and repetition just as much as through spontaneity.
  • I appreciated the boldness of the giver of the homily, who appeared to be a Franciscan monk. He talked a lot about peace and the inherent goodness of others. At one point he made a remark about Troy Davis—executed last week for a murder of which many claim he is innocent—being "probably innocent." Now I know the Episcopal church generally opposes the death penalty. But this was an assertion about a particular person's culpability, and I was shocked by his confidence. Yet I suspect part of the ethos of this church involves a freedom to disagree and that the speaker did not expect his opinion to be blindly accepted by his listeners as truth. I can appreciate that kind of provocation from a Christian preacher.
  • He told a great story about St Francis and his interaction with a sultan during the time of the Crusades and how the two came to discover their common love of and devotion to God—one using the term "Allah" and one "God." We have many ways to divide Christians into categories (most notably denominations). I sometimes think that there really are just two kinds of Christians—those who emphasize their differences from other religious expressions and those who emphasize the commonalities. I believe both are extremely important—identifying where we agree and where we differ. But it does seem like one is usually given precedent over the other, which I think can often tell you a lot about the whole of a person's theology.
  • The choir sang a couple songs, and it was beautiful. Absolutely sublime. It was very simple, not showy. But hauntingly gorgeous.
  • The quote of the morning, from the monk/speaker, went something like this: “When I’m driving, sometimes I get a peace sign from others; sometimes they give me half of a peace sign.” Picture it. I laughed. I wonder if the joke was original. Witty monks.