29 December 2010

(Additional) Good News of Great joy

For those of you who haven't heard through other channels (or haven't heard the story), I'm writing to let you know that I am now engaged! Kristin and I decided sometime in November that we were ready to take the plunge, and we ordered a ring at Savitt Jewelers in New Haven when I was there for Thanksgiving.

The plan was for me to propose sometime over our Christmas visits home. Now, Kristin is from Whitefish Bay, and my parents now live in Waukesha. This, combined with the constraint of not involving her parents in the planning (so as not to spoil the surprise), had me feeling particularly anxious. Have you heard people talk about both successful and (especially) unsuccessful proposal scenarios?! We're looking at a lot of pressure here. How do you make it a surprise? How do you make it memorable? Wisconsin, much as we both love it and miss it, seemed fraught with peril.

In case you don't know, my lovely fiancée loves New York, and especially loves the West Village's Church of St. Luke in the Fields. So it was only natural that she plan to be in the city for her birthday on December 18 and for church the following morning. With final exams upon me during that weekend but only one major test to take (and an online one at that), I saw my opportunity for a genuine surprise proposal. I planned to moan and groan about marathon study sessions for a liturgics class that I'd legitimately neglected ("It's only a lot of reading if you do it," is a sad VTS mantra but also sometimes an important survival strategy), while in reality making my way to the big proposal in the Big Apple.

My best friend, Carl, suggested a subway proposal (did I mention she also loves the subway), and our mutual friend and my co-conspirator, Julia, helped me refine the plan--Q train proposal to take advantage of the outdoor East River crossing, rendezvous point at James in Brooklyn if we failed to make the connection.

Of course, the only thing that could possibly go wrong did: as the week before the big day progressed, Kristin got so sick that it became increasingly clear she would not be going to New York for her birthday. With my tail between my legs, I got on the Megabus on Saturday morning planning to hop the Metro North to New Haven for a subdued and less-life-changing birthday visit. I almost left the ring in Virginia to avoid the temptation to propose in a decidedly sub-ideal city and circumstance.

But just before we went into the Lincoln Tunnel, I got a text to the effect of "Antibiotics doing their job! Feeling much better today and might be able to at least make it church tomorrow, yay!" I got off the bus, called Julia, and proceeded to plot a new plan. Julia called Kristin to confirm her improved state of health and insist that they meet at St. Luke's early and grab a quick belated birthday breakfast before the service. I scouted out the beautiful St. Luke's garden (though less beautiful in winter, of course) for a spot where she'd not see me immediately upon entering. And then I had to figure out a place to spend the night, since I'd planned on sleeping on the floor next to whatever friend's couch she'd booked for herself that night. Thankfully, my summer roommates were around and had a couch with my name on it.

The morning arrived, as did the soon-to-be-fiancée, and everything worked out better than I could have hoped. She was indeed surprised, and we had a wonderful morning of sharing our good news with our St. Luke's friends at coffee hour before and after the main liturgy. After that and a quick lunch with friends, I was off to Virginia on the 3 p.m. Bolt Bus. An exhausting weekend, but a wonderful one. To top it off, I was greeted by my classmates back at VTS by a surprise gathering and champaign toast.

It has been lovely being together in Wisconsin for more than a couple of hours, and it has been lovely sharing the news with family and friends. Thank you so much for all your warm wishes and prayers! We'll let you know when we have a date, but our lives are full of uncertainty right now, and it's liable to be a long engagement!

Sermon Catch-Up

It's been a busy couple of weeks (see forthcoming post), so I'm just now getting around to posting my sermons from the second and third weeks of Advent. They were each shortened a bit on the cutting-room floor, but this ought to give you the gist. Indeed, the Advent 2 sermon was given from the aisle with no notes (a new experience for me, and a surprisingly positive one), so the manuscript is really just what I handed in in homiletics class and was the starting point for my oral prep.

Advent 2
Advent 3

02 December 2010

A Tale of Botched Science Reporting -and/or- A Plea to Headline Writers

If I'm understanding it correctly, then I'm massively disappointed with how someone (Gizmodo? headline writers?) is shaping reports of NASA's new findings on Gammaproteobacteria GFAJ-1. The first release I read, by Gizmodo at Wired Science via an excerpt on Episcopal Café (I love my church), made it sound like a life form had been discovered in Mono Lake whose biochemical makeup included arsenic in the places we expect phosphorus to be.

Not so, explains a second post on Wired Science by Rachel Ehrenberg of Science News. Researchers believe they have coaxed the bacteria to replace phosphorus with arsenic. The actual situation is still pretty mind-blowing but much more modest than we'd been originally led to believe (apparently Tom Faber commenting on Episcopal Café's Facebbok page has since also caught the error). Here's the NYT's take:

The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic.

I'm usually not concerned with "Who's to blame?!" in these situations, but I just spent ten minutes thinking the universe was vastly different from what we thought it was. And now I find out that, well, some people working in a lab think that maybe it might be that way and have compiled some evidence based on a clever experiment. Again, this is still a mind-blowing piece of science news, but the ball has definitely been dropped, journalistically.

So who is to blame? Well, it may be that Gizmodo just didn't write a very good article. But if you go over to the NASA press release, I think you may find that the culprit could be who the culprit almost always is in these situations: the damn headline writer. Sure, the release itself starts with the outsized claim, "NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth." But then it immediately makes clear that the new life form is "able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic." That, in my opinion, is a far cry from the reality touted in the headline: "NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical." At the very least, it should be "NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Capable of Rebuilding Itself With Toxic Chemical."

To go back to Gizmodo: Yes, "This changes everything." But not quite so massively as it would have if they actually "discovered" (instead of, more accurately, "built") "
a completely new life form" that, when the experiment started, was a completely ordinary life form with an intriguing habitat and a possibly novel biochemical ability.

My guess is that it started with the misleading NASA headline. How many times do we have to make that mistake? Editors: please, please, please, let your writers suggest the headline. Doing otherwise is just asking to embarrass yourself...and to dash the hopes of excited science geeks.

28 November 2010

Update (In Words and Pictures)

A lot has happened in the past few weeks. Here are the ultra-highlights:

(1) I became a godfather. The new Christian in question is Josiah William Paul Kradel, son of my dear friends Adam Kradel and Melissa Wilcox. The baptism took place at Adam's parish, Christ Church in Media, PA. It was a special day. I was struck in particular by the very real connection I felt not just with little Josiah but also with my fellow godparents. That's us, with Adam (collar) and Melissa (right of Josiah).

(2) I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. This was also a really great experience. I will be eternally grateful to my friend and training partner Josiah Rengers (lots of Josiahs in my life), who kept me motivated and talked me through the hamstring cramps that set in as we hit the Pentagon parking lot. Strangest part: the eerie isolation of mile 20, above the Potomac on the 14th Street Bridge. I think there may be more of these in my future. That's us with fellow runners Katie and Lara in our VTS Fighting Friars shirts.

(3) [Not a highlight in the positive sense:] The VTS chapel was destroyed by fire. Many of my colleagues have written movingly about what the chapel meant to us. What I eventually settled on is this: The thing I appreciated most about our little mismatched chapel is that it accepted you where you were. I find the austere Georgian/Colonial style so prevalent around here to be really alienating; it's as if at any second Jonathon Edwards might just ascend the pulpit and preach damnation at me. I much prefer the stone and Gothic Revival more typical of an Anglo-Catholic parish, but for me the space can be almost too transcendent. If I've got an off-hours need for a prayer chapel, a parish whose Sunday worship is like being in heaven throughout the service is probably gonna be overkill. But VTS's Immanuel Chapel did not put on any airs. It was a great place to pray late at night, and it was the perfect place to worship after my grandmother died last year, when all I wanted to do was sit in the back of the balcony and silently lean on my classmates and teachers doing the work of the liturgy for me. I will miss worshiping in a place that was so honest about its own imperfections. And I will miss the Miriam Window.

(4) I wrote some music. Well, I harmonized some music. I'm currently taking Advanced Musicianship at VTS, and it has been a great way to reconnect with my long-dormant jazz training. My final project was to reharmonize a hymn, so I took a few liberties with the Advent plainsong chant Conditor alme siderum ("Creator of the Stars of Night"). My favorite reaction came from my friend Carl: "That's a lot of half-step motion. I think you would've gotten burned at the stake for that."

We're entering finals mode around here, so it may be more radio silence from me for a few weeks, aside from posting the sermons I'll preach at St. John's on 2 and 3 Advent. Exciting upcoming travel includes Milwaukee for Christmas and Rome for January term. Stay tuned!

18 October 2010

Sermon: "How do we solve the sandwich?"

I preached my five-minute sermon on Mark 5:21-43 today in homiletics class. I share it below in case (like at least one person I know) you enjoy reading sermons online at every possible moment. Note that it was written for and preached solely to an academic audience; I understand that the very premise of "solving the sandwich" wouldn't fly in a congregation ("who cares!"), at least not without a lot more legwork.

My one other word of introduction is that I think I belong (at least for the time being) to the school of homiletical thought that says a sermon should be inductive, allowing the hearer to "problem solve" along with you and arrive at his or her own conclusions as you go. This is apparently the position associated with Fred Craddock and excerpted nicely here in Tom Long's The Witness of Preaching:

Taken as a whole, then, the sermon form proposed by Craddock is an attempt to organize the flow of the sermon so that it "corresponds to the way people ordinarily experience reality and to the way life's problem-solving activity goes on naturally and casually." (125)*
* In this light, I couldn't help but think about my attraction to exegesis and preaching as looking a lot like my attraction to science and engineering. See Thomas Kuhn's "Normal Science as Puzzle Solving" in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

My way of thinking about this issue is that every sermon is a "teaching sermon" in that every sermon (okay, maybe most sermons) ought to be modeling how we as Christians (indeed, as particular kinds of critically thinking Christians) engage the Biblical text.

So, without further ado...


“How do we solve the sandwich?” This is the question I always find myself asking in Mark. He includes these “intercalations,” where one story is inserted into another, no less than nine times. In a gospel with so much forward momentum, why all this interruption and doubling back? What do we make of this surely intentional storyteller's device? Let's search for some clues about the theological importance of this particular Markan sandwich.

We could start by examining the two main characters, who are a study in contrast. Jairus is named and well-known, male, a religious and community leader (5:22), a person empowered to action. The bleeding woman is anonymous, female, a patient and a victim, almost certainly shunned by the likes of Jairus for her uncleanness (25) and probably taken advantage of by doctors legitimate and otherwise (26). They couldn't be more different, these two, and yet notice where they end up: in turn, meek and mighty each fall at the feet of Jesus (22, 33). Perhaps the sandwich, then, serves to remind us that “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). Both are worthy of Jesus's mercy.

Another approach might be to look carefully at the role of faith in each story. Despite his relative social empowerment, Jairus is the picture of passivity in the faith department. Before we know it, he's just part of the crowd, along for the ride as the throng “presses in on” on the healer headed for his home (24). In contrast to the woman, who reaches out to Jesus on her own initiative and receives his healing power as a result of her faith in action (34), Jairus requires a little encouragement: “Do not fear,” Jesus tells him, “only believe” (36). Perhaps the sandwich encourages us to aim for the faith of the woman at its center, but reassures us that, in the end, grace abounds, and those of us with a more marginal faith will nevertheless receive the saving help we need.

Let me propose a third option. Suppose that, at least stylistically, there is no sandwich. What if Mark is constantly interrupting the narrative because that's just the way things tended to go when Jesus was out among the people? What if the way these two stories comment on one another is to emphasize that Jesus, unlike the disciples, never suffers from tunnel vision? What would that mean for our lives of discipleship?

Well for starters, and this is the hard part, I think it suggests a motto for our lives as ministers. It's a motto you'll recognize if you join us for the fourth installment of our Harry Potter marathon on Saturday night. It's the motto of Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, a hot-shot hunter of evil wizards. The motto is this: “CONSTANT VIGILANCE.” The symbol of his vigilance is his magical left eye, which can rotate a full 360-degrees and see through both walls and the back of his own head. Now, I believe Jesus's instant awareness “that power had gone forth from him” (30) is suggestive of his own constant vigilance: a caring attention to the needs of those around him. As ministers, our own attempts at a Christ-like constancy should always be open to finding the needs of the world in places we wouldn't expect and at times that may not be convenient us. A magical eye sure would help.

Now, this sounds like exhausting news at best, and an unachievable standard to live up to. But suppose again that there really is no sandwich, that Mark's meandering storytelling is simply indicative of God's alertness and persistence and compassionate concern for the needs of all God's children. Then the good news for us and for the those we minister to is that the love of Christ cannot be contained. It is effusive, a cup overflowing, a story that cannot help but meander, an all-seeing eye that longingly but tirelessly seeks us out. And though there will be days when our finite attention narrows or our tired eyes droop closed, we can rest assured in the knowledge that God's never will.

12 October 2010

Post-Columbus-Day Prayer

One of my colleagues from the VTS Native American Heritage Month committee distributed this prayer this morning. It was published by the Native American Ministries Office of the Episcopal Church. I thought it did a fairly nice job of addressing what is problematic about Columbus Day in a positive and understated manner:

CREATOR, we give you thanks for all you are and all you bring to us for our visit within your creation.

In Jesus, you place the Gospel in the Center of this Sacred Circle through which all of creation is related. You show us the way to live a generous and compassionate life,

Give us your strength to live together with respect and commitment as we grow in your spirit, for you are God, now and forever. AMEN.

02 October 2010

I'm Not A Marathoner...

...but I'm getting close. Yesterday my training partner (the unflappable Josiah Rengers) and I hit the pavement at 5:15 a.m. and did our longest training run to date. We're about a month out from the Marine Corps Marathon and, after a shorter long run next weekend, will start to taper in earnest. It's been an almost uniformly positive experience.

What I was reminded of yesterday was how significant the mental challenge of these long runs can be. Before our last one, which was about eighteen miles, I didn't know what there was to be afraid of. Most of my long runs has gone really well, so I approached this one very upbeat. It didn't turn out so hot (stomach problems, caloric problems), and so yesterday I was kind of a wreck early on. It definitely helped to be with someone who's been through all this several times before.

As much as I love the solitude of running, I'd have to say my biggest piece of training advice is to find a training partner you like spending time with. Preferably one who's already an accomplished runner and with the pastoral skills of a soon-to-be priest. Perhaps that leaves a small pool of candidates. I guess I'll just count my blessings, and the last month's worth of miles.

I'm Not A Poet...

...but I play one in homiletics class. Here's my poetic/midrashic take on Mark 5. Was this poem largely an excuse to write something in iambic pentameter? Yes. But I do really wonder about what it must have felt like for the disciples to be constantly thinking narrow-mindedly only to be rebuked (in words or, as in this case, silently) by a Lord who is always several steps ahead of them. Maybe I wonder about it because it's such a familiar feeling.

A knot between my shoulder blades had inched
Its way from left to right from dawn 'til noon.
And I, for one, the last to disembark,
Had suspected we'd depart again so soon.

It seemed to be our master's way to wear
Our welcome thin with just a single cure.
At least this time he'd cast away a legion
'Ere we casted off again for the western shore.

But still, that afternoon of inching back
Did little to improve my state of mind.
Had I known The Way included so much rowing,
I'd suspect I'd not have left my nets behind.

So shoulder strain and pent up irritation
Came with me as I joined the evening's throng
And jostled just behind the troubled Jairus,
Whose synagogue, en mass, followed along.

En route there was an incident of sorts.
(In hindsight, though, it wasn't incidental.)
What's kept that run-in fresh for me years later
Is that I could be so cold, and him, so gentle.

At first he asked the crowd which one had touched him—
I asked him how and why he hoped to know—
And then, in fear and trembling, came a woman
Who for twelve years spent and suffered, with naught to show.

“It's not good for you to be here,” I'd have shouted,
Since the rules were clear despite her desperate cries.
But before I spoke I glanced in his direction
And glimpsed the sea of mercy in his eyes.

12 September 2010

What I've Been Up To Instead Of Unpacking

One of my new leadership positions at VTS is forum coordinator. Part of this job involves inviting famous people (most of whom will turn us down, but a few of whom won't) to come to campus for cheap and give talks during the lunch hour. Part of this job involves recruiting VTS students, faculty, and staff to do the same thing for free. The rest of this job is logistics.

Now, I like logistics. It's (They're?) kinda what I studied in grad school. But this job is taking over my life. I'm cautiously optimistic that my early time investment in a new system will pay off as the year creeps on (thanks, Paul). Let's hope so. Otherwise all I'll have to show for it is this lousy Web site.

Tired grumbling aside, I do think that www.vtsforums.org is gonna make my job a lot easier, and it was actually quite a bit of fun to do. It had been over a year since I'd played around with Google Apps (see the suspiciously similar www.stfrancisuw.org, www.diomil.org, and www.stjameswb.org, as well as previous posts), and I discovered several nifty new features. I still think this tool is one of the best things going for Web sites that are functional, free, and maintainable by non-experts. In particular, I highly recommend it to churches on a budget.

CSC Ethos Scores Scholarship

I recently got some glad tidings about a scholarship I applied for back in the spring. The award is given in memory of Anne McNair Kumpuris, and in their note her parents told me they thought their deighter "would have appreciated [my] view on life." It's a view that's been largely teased out on this blog, so it seemed appropriate to post the principal essay here. Enjoy:

One important ah-ha moment that came in a very different setting from where I am today but continues to shape my life occurred during my junior year of college. As part of a history of science class, I was reading about Danish physicist Niels Bohr. Bohr was influential in developing what came to be known as quantum mechanics, a subject I studied in some depth as an undergrad and then graduate student in engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But the moment itself came as I worked through a piece on Bohr's philosophy. What I already knew about Bohr was that he'd changed physics through one simple but daring mental leap. Scientists were currently arguing about the nature of light, whether it was a wave or a particle. For decades, they'd been successfully studying it under the assumption that it was a wave. The wave hypothesis had great explanatory power, and there was no real doubt that it was true. However, a series of key experiments then came along and seemed just as unambiguously to show that light is, in fact, a particle. Bohr was the one who forced us to get our heads around the fact that it is both; light behaves as a particle or as a wave depending on the way you observe it, the way your experiment aims to study it. Previously, it hadn't occurred to anyone that this was even an option. The idea is part of what came to be known as the “Copenhagen Interpretation” of quantum mechanics, and Bohr abstracted it into the slogan that would eventually end up on his Coat of Arms: contraria sunt complementa (“opposites are complementary”).

As I read this article on how Bohr applied “a general lesson to be drawn from quantum mechanics” to other fields of study, I noticed a vague but palpable sense of excitement building up inside me. Sitting on a beat-up blue couch in a crummy college apartment, I began reinterpreting whole swathes of my life and studies. I had ideas for research papers, a new understanding of my church and it's dual Catholic-Protestant identity, and some much-needed affirmation that my trying to keep up with honors humanities coursework during engineering school could be fruitful and worthwhile. There were many new facts before me, but the resounding force was more like an emotional understanding: the fact that reality is inherently multifaceted felt right to me, like few things in my life had ever felt. It's an idea that I've in some sense staked my life to, and it's one of the forces that brought my spiritual life into balance with my intellectual life and eventually gave me the courage to leave my Ph.D. program in engineering and head to seminary.

I've learned a few things about the Bohrs of the theological world since coming to Virginia. I've seen contraria sunt complementa at work in the early church rejecting the Diatessaron (the gospel harmony that eliminated the distinct, multifaceted witness of four separate gospels), the Council of Nicea affirming the dual nature of Christ as both fully human and fully divine, and Thomas Aquinas's ingenious philosophical method of engaging the tension between two apparently contradictory truths. Time after time, God prods us into acknowledging that this world we live in is stubbornly resistant to oversimplified or monolithic thinking. It's there in the doctrine of the Trinity and in our Anglican via media and in the sub-microscopic phenomena that I think a little bit less about these days than that morning four years ago. As I reflect on that strange day in my life, I realize the Holy Spirit must really have been with me if today I can sit at my desk at Virginia Theological Seminary and write that—at least in some sense—everything I learned in seminary I learned first from Niels Bohr.

01 September 2010

Back on the Hill

The good news about this year's dorm room: more living space. The bad news: less closet space. It's going to be a long day or two. But not just yet. I've got a Web project to finish that I hope to be able to announce soon!

31 August 2010

King Jed

I'm in Media, PA, visiting my friends Adam Kradel (Rector of Christ Church, Media) and Melissa Wilcox (former chaplain at St. Francis House). And this is their youngest son, Josiah. I just had to share.

In case you're keeping score at home: After meeting the vestry of my new field ed parish outside of Baltimore (St. John's, Ellicott City), I will finally be arriving back in Alexandria late tonight. Looking forward to no longer living out of a suitcase. At least until Friday, when I leave for New Haven for the holiday.

29 August 2010

Preacher Man, Part 2

Madison was, as always, a delight. (The Twitter feed is probably a good summary of my weekend there, in case you're interested.) I still remember visiting Madison during my senior year of high school and saying to my girlfriend, "Man, I can't believe we're going to get to live here for four years." It turned out to be seven in my case, and I still can't believe it. In particular, Madison is an amazing city to run in, and I got my money's worth on Friday. I also got to catch part of a former colleague's Ph.D. defense and another's oral examination practice; turns out I've forgotten a lot of nuclear engineering material already. Other than that, Wisconsin micro-brews were consumed, stories were told, and good times were had.

Also, this sermon was preached. Thanks for having me, St. Andrew's!

23 August 2010

Preacher Man (Two-Week Stint)

Yesterday I preached at Trinity Church, my home parish of many years. It was a really positive experience: a warm welcome from familiar faces, good feedback from parishioners and clergy, and a wonderful liturgy besides. The highlight of the morning was definitely the vestry member "faith story of the week," which had us all in tears at the late service.

Interestingly, it turns out that half the retired Protestant clergy in Wauwatosa (Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians) attend Trinity, which made for some interesting conversations in the "receiving line," or whatever we call it. On the whole, though, the lay feedback was much more specific and useful than that from all these retired pastors. The moral of the story: Trinity is a healthy, thriving, and appealing place to be right now. I'm so glad.

If you're interested in having a look, here's a link to the PDF. Bill says the audio will also make it here at some point.

Next week: St. Andrew's in Madison. The service times are 8 and 9:30. The texts?: "a sort of a progressive Miss Manners." Should be interesting.

16 August 2010

Home Again, Home Again

Well, the summer of CPE is behind me, and I'm back in Wisconsin for a couple of weeks off. I'm sure I'll have some more summative thoughts on New York, the hospital, and the summer in general, but for now I've got sermons to write and a school year to plan for (and geeky, biblical procrastination endeavors [think open-source BibleWorks] to engage in). I'm preaching at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa on 8/22 and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Madison on 8/29. Feel free to come check it out if you're interested in what this life I'm signing up for is (partly) about!

In the meantime, it's good to be home. I've picked a good temporary office, no?

18 July 2010

My On-Call Week Reflection Paper

What have I learned and seen during my week of being in the hospital for seven days in a row?

I've learned you don’t have to be a cantor to leaf through a hymnal and sing to a woman who’s used music to keep her going through twenty-some years of cancer treatment. I've learned you don’t have to be a fiery prayer giver to mean a lot to an elderly Baptist woman (a psalter and, more importantly, a warm hand will do). I've learned you don’t have to be a Rabbi (or even Jewish) to feel inescapably moved to sing the Shema to a scared and dying man alone in a too-quiet ICU room.

I’ve seen patients, families, and caregivers disagree vehemently about end-of-life care, sometimes selfishly and sometimes -lessly. I’ve seen paranoid and uncooperative patients who want to triangulate the hell out of you still needing and able to accept (in their own way) the care you offer. I’ve seen communities of faith and communities of a city block be the kind of lifeline that St. Paul and the Deuteronomist dreamed they could be. I’ve seen a patient who hadn’t spoken for a week (and who I assumed would never speak again) tell me how he likes to look out his window at the river. I’ve seen what a gift high-strength pain relievers are for people who live their lives in constant, excruciating pain.

A lot of these things I’d learned and seen before. Some I hope I’ll never encounter again. But I think the value of experiencing it all in so short a time was to see the enormity of what even a very inexperienced chaplain can do to help in just one week, albeit an unusually long one. For me, the great paradox of this job is that we can do so little and yet we accomplish so much. It seems algebraicly impossible. It’s the kind of heavenly math that—despite all the psychologizing and pastoral toolkits and mnemonic devices and hospital procedures and scholarly articles—reminds you that the Holy Spirit is very much at work here, somewhere.

17 July 2010

I Write (/Think) Like...

I recently plugged a couple graphs of my review of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (excluding quotations, of course) into the Web site I Write Like. The humorous and perhaps unsurprising result was that I apparently write like David Foster Wallace: http://iwl.me/s/d7939cdb

Granted, I've always written in a childishly DFW-esque way; that's part of why an old writing teacher of mine recommended him to me. But I also find that an author's style will sorta bleed over into my own style--and, more disturbingly, into my internal monologue--when I finish reading a book.

Is this a common experience? I'm wondering if this shows up in book reviews often. The only time I've noticed it, actually, is in other reviews of books by David Foster Wallace. I also wonder what will happen when I finish my current book, Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, which changes point of view (and therefore voice) every chapter. I'm preparing for a narratively schizophrenic couple of days in my head.

Thanks, Matt, for passing this tool along!

09 July 2010

Hundred-Word Highlights

Our official mid-unit evaluation day at CPE took place on Tuesday, which means my time in New York is more than halfway done. One of my late-emerging CPE learning goals is to be more concise when speaking and writing, so let me offer a few hundred-or-so-word highlights of my time here. Here's some of why I love CPE and New York in general.

The Radios

I do not lead with this item lightly. My off-hours life in the Upper West Side and West Harlem is blessed by the presence of countless people engaged in one of the few cheap recreational activities New York offers: sitting outside listening to boomboxes. Maybe I just miss my parents' backyard, where this activity comprises a fair chunk of my family's time together. Or maybe there's no better soundtrack to summer than Michael and Marvin (in Harlem) and endless salsa (on Columbus south of Morningside). Plus—in a New York moment I can't believe I've now experienced—one night I heard someone very appropriately rocking LL Cool J about a block from my house. I don't think I could live without it either, LL.

The Markets

Not that I missed grocery shopping all that much, but among my pining for Madison apartment life during a year in a suburban dorm room was the occasional desire to be back at Regent Market Co-op, picking up groceries on the walk home from St. Andrew's. Well let me tell you, RMC (unsurprisingly) can't hold a candle to the likes of New York markets like Fairway (“Like No Other Market,” indeed almost otherworldly) and the more modest Westside Market (still frickin' beautiful). New York markets have so much delicious food crammed into so little square-footage that I'm surprised none have collapsed into some sort of gastronomic black hole.

The Multi-faith Chaplaincy

My short list of complaints with Virginia Theological Seminary includes what one of my classmates calls “the orthodoxy wars.” Think of it as an omnipresent, just-below-the-surface tension that descends on practically any conversation of theological import. This is in many ways a good thing. It's the result of bringing together opinionated and highly intelligent Episcopalians and other Anglicans from across the theological and political spectra to teach and learn at a deliberately centrist institution. It can be fun and a tremendous learning experience. But it's also exhausting. I'm so grateful for this summer in the hospital, for the opportunity to recharge my spiritual batteries via an experience founded on the goodwill that results from people of different faiths coming together to do work that is, let's be honest, far more important than systematic theology.

The LGBT Pride

Check out Kristin's post and pictures for much better coverage. I would add that it was incredibly moving to hear the passion in the various parade-side emcees' voices as they gratefully announced the approach of the Diocese of New York's marchers (and float!). It's quite something to walk through the Village in the Pride parade and be thanked for being part of a church that (at least in some places) was welcoming LGBT folks back when practically no churches were. I also picked up a little New York gem: People say “Happy Pride” the same way they would greet each other on holidays (as in—to choose a not-at-all random example—“Happy Thanksgiving”). The whole thing was a tremendous experience that I felt really privileged to be a part of (including, unexpectedly, as a substitute acolyte at the St. Luke's Festive Choral Evensong that night).

The Prominent Judaism

As I've alluded to previously, only a couple of books have changed my life of faith more profoundly than Harvey Cox's Common Prayers: Faith, Family, and a Christian's Journey Through the Jewish Year. Well, I've now shared a fair bit of common prayer with both the many Jewish patients I serve in the hospital and with my fellow CPE chaplain interns, three of the four of whom are Jewish. In fact, at 8:11 this evening, Kristin and I will help light Shabbat candles with the latter up near Jewish Theological Seminary. I can't overstate what a joy it has been to be a part of so many lunches of comparative-theological exploration, so much shared ministry (a touchy word in this context, but my colleagues have encouraged me to go with it), and so much mutual affection. (I'm also totally excited to live and work within the truly massive Manhattan Eruv. I can't really explain my strange fascination with this theologically rich enclosure.)

The Soccer

My past three weekends have revolved around multiple viewings of a sport I spent a lot of my life hating, and I couldn't be happier. Yes, perhaps the greatest highlight of all has been watching soccer in a wide assortment of Manhattan drinking establishments with a rabid Germany fan I happen to be quite fond of. While die Mannschaft can sadly do no better than third place and the Americans squandered a golden opportunity in a lopsided bracket, I'll count this year's Cup as a success because I'm now hooked on an exciting, beautiful, even sexy sport I've spent too long ignoring.

24 June 2010

Soccer in the Hospital

Kristin has a new post up about soccer in the port. The soccer-aiding-chaplaincy factor is definitely present in the hospital as well. I met one cancer patient yesterday who is almost always asleep when I swing by. They were saving her a seat for the U.S.-Algeria match, though. She told me she's more of a tennis fan (speaking of which, holy smokes) but that she'd really gotten into the World Cup. Nice to be able to high-five a serious leukemia patient, even if it is over a last-second goal rather than a more important piece of good news.

Come to think of it, the World Cup was probably on in 85-90% of the patient rooms I was in today during match hours. I guess there's not much else of value on TV during the day, but still...I think Kristin's right about the U.S. continuing to catch soccer fever.

13 June 2010

Newbie Soccer Thoughts

I am a systems person; I enjoy watching new systems in action and trying to figure out what makes them tick. I'm also, as one of my CPE supervisors pointed out to me this week, an associative person; I like making connections between seemingly disparate things (both a blessing and a curse in the CPE context, let me tell you).

As such, I've had a field day--or would it be a pitch day?--watching World Cup games this weekend with my my über-enthusiastic, half-German girlfriend. I've been dipping my toes into soccer's waters off and on since the last Cup, but it's starting to get a bit more serious. Among the questions I've been pondering are the following: why don't more Americans like soccer, and am I allowed to support* Germany in the plausible event that Germany and the U.S. meet in the Round of 16 (apparently it would happen if Germany wins its group and the U.S. takes second in its, or vice versa)?

Regarding the former, my working hypothesis is built on the lens of looking at the two most dominant presences on the American sports landscape: football** (it dominates our current sports culture; we can't get enough of it) and baseball (it dominated our past sports culture; we're slowly abandoning it). I'm coming to the conclusion that soccer is more like baseball than football. It's subtler. It requires the fan to have a greater appreciation of small details and a more patient orientation toward brief, intense action rather than the throb of regular scoring. And, just like in the game where the best players only succeed about a third of the time, soccer doesn't always reward brute effort. Kristin caught this telling gem in the Times this morning: "It was a characteristic American effort, full of resolve[***] instead of beauty."

This comment actually sort of leads me to my second question. Many people rightly sing the praises of international soccer's coolest attribute: that the teams' styles often mirror their national personalities. And a major reason I want to support Germany in this tournament is that they play, well, like Germans: organized, patient, attentive to detail. Somewhere around the tenth minute today, I said, "They look like they're spending more of their energy thinking than playing." Like a Bo Ryan basketball team, they're patient, plotting, and sometimes plodding. They're like my parent's Volkswagon Cabrio, which was a humorous and kinda futile attempt at a midlife-crisis car. They're not a sexy pick. They're a sensible one. Sounds like my kinda team.

My problem is this: I'm not so sure we get to pick our loyalties. I grew up a Pirates fan because I lived in the town in Florida where they Spring Trained (this was before the Marlins). And then, when I moved to Milwaukee, I became a Brewers fan. "Root, root, root for the home team" is not easily dismissed in my sports worldview. I think Americans who have spent substantial time in countries that actually care about soccer are well within their rights to transfer their allegiances abroad. But that's not me. Am I stuck with Team USA until they're out?

What do you think about sports allegiances? Do we get to be primarily aligned with the team that makes us say, "I like they way they play"? Or is there something bigger at stake?

* Pitch instead of field and support instead of root for are among the charming vocabulary upgrades you get when you watch soccer (others: match instead of the more pedestrian game and side instead of team, which is fun even though the connotations are troubling). But see below for a major vocabulary pet peeve.

** If you are an American living in America and have not spent significant time in a foreign country (that's context information your hearers usually have), please don't call soccer football. Don't get me wrong, I think it's kind of obnoxious and typically American that we call our much more provincial game by the same name that everybody else (more accurately) uses for the world's most popular sport. But you only confuse things when, as an American having a conversation in America, you use the non-American convention. Not only is it confusing, it's kinda obnoxious. It's like insisting on calling the theater the theatre, spelling gray with an e, or putting periods and commas outside of quotation marks: nice idea, classier perhaps, but you're in the wrong country. I want to be British too--that doesn't give me license to punctuate or spell as if I were.

*** Even I can see that this is why an America-Germany matchup will just be a train wreck. The Americans will be stubbornly flying all over the pitch wearing themselves out while the Germans very patiently pass the hell out of the ball and dissect their opponents' feeble defense (especially if Howard is out).

30 May 2010

Brief Review of Brief Interviews

I've written a fair bit on this blog about one of my top two or three favorite authors, David Foster Wallace. I'm hoping to use this summer's respite from required reading to finally finish slogging through his rather daunting catalogue. Of the three books that remained for me, I decided to start with Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I think the requisite "acclaim for" pages in the softcover version nail it pretty well, especially the blurb from Time's R. Z. Sheppard:

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is meant to interrogate the reader, to elicit fresh responses to horrors that have lost their edge in the age of information overload . . . It displays a range of intellect and talent that is unseemly for any one writer to have, let alone show off.

My only quibble with Sheppard's assessment is his implication that Wallace is showing off. I mean, maybe. But I think the truth is probably more innocent and more tragic. I think he's simply trying as hard as his prodigious talents will allow him. I think more than just about anywhere else in the Wallace canon (at least the 85% or so that I've encountered), Brief Interviews is where Wallace fesses up to what seems to account for some or perhaps most of why he writes. Things come to a head in Pop Quiz 9 of "Octet," which begins, "You* are, unfortunately, a fiction writer" (145).

Ironically, there's no fiction to be found in PQ9, because it's where Wallace lays out, in agonizingly self-conscious detail, what he's up in "Octet" and--as Sheppard points out--in pretty much the entire book. The piece isn't working as he intended, he comes out and tells us, and so urgent is his desire to quote-unquote bare his soul** regarding the apparently undefinable thematic backbone of the Pop Quizzes that he decides to "address the reader directly and ask her straight out whether she's feeling anything like what you feel" (154).

I frequently get the impression that Wallace haters think all his formal acrobatics are just some tiring attempt to be cute. I think they couldn't be more wrong. As I said, I think he's concentrating really, really hard. And, to borrow from Dave Marsh's characterization of Aretha Franklin in "Respect": "[Wallace] when [he's] concentrating is as good as it gets" (Heart of Rock and Soul, 10). Here's his description of his own desperation in resorting to this fourth-wall-breaking ploy, "which in the late 1990s, when even Wes Craven is cashing in on metafictional self-reference, might come off lame and tired and facile, and also runs the risk of compromising the queer urgency about whatever it is you feel you want the pieces to interrogate in whoever's reading them" (146, emphasis his):

The trick to this solution is that you'd have to be 100% honest. Meaning not just sincere but almost naked. Worse than naked -- more like unarmed. Defenseless. 'This thing I feel, I can't name it straight out but it seems important, do you feel it too?' -- this sort of direct question is not for the squeamish. For one thing, it's perilously close to 'Do you like me? Please like me,' which you know quite well that 99% of all the interhuman manipulation and bullshit gamesmanship that goes on goes on precisely because the idea of saying this sort of thing straight out is regarded as somehow obscene. In fact one of the very last few interpersonal taboos we have is this kind of obscenely naked direct interrogation of somebody else [Ten years later we have an abbreviation for the self-revelation that rhetorically must accompany such prying: TMI. ~KMO]. It looks pathetic and desperate. That's how it'll look to the reader. And it will have to. There's no way around it. If you step out and ask her what and whether she's feeling, there can't be anything coy or performative or sham-honest-so-she'll-like-you about it. That'd kill it outright. Do you see? Anything less than completely naked helpless pathetic sincerity and you're right back in the pernicious conundrum. You'll have to come to her 100% hat in hand. (154)

This is the sentiment at the heart of all the material I've found most compelling and heartbreaking--but also the most deeply reassuring--about Wallace's work. For more of what I mean, see the painfully self-conscious Dean or President or Provost or whoever in Infinite Jest (my copy is currently missing or I'd name him for you). Or see that scene in IJ where he's talking about all the things you learn in AA or the halfway house and there's like four or five pages of semicoloned subclauses that just make me want to weep because they so thoroughly finger the jagged grain of each of our darkest secrets and most relentless insecurities. Or see, for the closest thing to PQ9's direct and explicit desperation, the "intertextual quotation[s]" that contain "the really urgent stuff" as part of the "multivalent defamiliarization-flourish or some such shit" in "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky" (Consider the Lobster, 271).

The reason Sheppard's show off misses the mark is that Wallace's decision is ultimately a move of deep humility:

[I]t's not going to make you look wise or secure or accomplished or any of the things readers usually want to pretend they believe the literary artist who wrote what they're reading is when they sit down to try to escape the insoluble flux of themselves and enter a world of prearranged meaning. Rather it's going to make you look fundamentally lost and confused and frightened and unsure about whether to trust even your most fundamental intuitions about urgency and sameness and whether other people deep inside experience things in anything like the same way you do . . . more like a reader, in other words, down here quivering in the mud of the trench with the rest of us, instead of a Writer, whom we imagine to be clean and dry and radiant of command presence and unwavering conviction as he coordinates the whole campaign from ack at some gleaming abstract Olympian HQ.*** (159-160)

In the end, Wallace knows all he can do is ask us to think about it: "So decide" he concludes (160). I will be forever puzzled by the people who decide he's simply putting up a front.


* In all of these pop quizzes, we're asked to make an ethical judgement or some other decision about one or more of the characters or situations in a short sketch. The sketch of PQ9 is of a writer writing an octet of quizzes (this "Octet" of quizzes, as it were), and so the implicit quiz question is something like "What would you do in my situation?" Thus, it's important to be clear about the pronoun antecedents in these quotations: "you"--the reader of the Pop Quiz--are Wallace himself.

** See B.I. #20 and much of PQ9 on how we all get reduced to such banalities when we really drill down deep into the big-insights-into-the-human-condition layers of personal experience and attempted expression.

*** I wonder if being a good priest/pastor/preacher is perhaps analogous to learning--to use Wallace's terms as he's developed them here--when to be a reader and when to be a Writer, or more appropriately just a writer. I think the great emphasis on cultivating self-knowledge as part of priestly formation is so we can learn to see and get some kind of handle on which of these two impulses is most strongly informing whatever bit of priestly advice bubbles up for us in a particular situation. I.e., "In recommending X, am I actually just responding to the way this situation pokes at my own insecurities, or do I have the kind of critical distance that surely almost all of us need in order to be truly open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit?" Of course, theologically and rhetorically, the ability and desire to relate to fellow human beings as Wallace's reader rather than his Writer is also really important. Most of us know a seemingly 100% Writer-priest or -pastor, and there's a good chance he or she is not very effective.

28 May 2010

Kyle's Blogging Tips (80% of which are too specific to be useful)

I am probably the worst kind of blogger (OK, maybe not the worst kind: see Exhibits A, B, and C). I know a lot about blogs (I used to evaluate them for Newstex) and about blogging best practices (having edited many words on the subject), but I don't put that knowledge to very good use. For better and worse, I primarily write posts that explore rather vague and abstract notions of complementarity and wholeness, because these are ideas that seem central to my life/work/ministry/interests (it's hard to resist the forward slash when your life/work/ministry/interests have something vaguely and abstractly to do with complementarity and wholeness).

Thus, CSC has a theme but no focused topic, except maybe the worst topic any writer can have: him- or herself (e.g., the experiment with video blogging to keep in touch during my first year of seminary, regarding which experiment: thanks for all the good feedback this year, friends). Prompted by a couple of recent incidents (a retweet by David Meerman Scott of my post about BEA and then a very minor burst of secondary exposure on Twitter because David also mentioned in another tweet that I was the one who filmed this video), I took a look at the CSC stats today to try to glean what (silly) tips I might have for bloggers (silly because, for the reasons outlined above [and more], this blog is no example to follow). Here goes:

  1. Name your blog after a snobby Latin expression. Almost all of my traffic from Google comes from people searching for the phrase "Contraria Sunt Complementa," presumably trying to figure out what it means. Sorry, y'all, I'm afraid you'll find only very opaque, inductive help here (I guess with the exception of my first post, which actually does do a decent definitional job and is--probably not coincidentally--my most popular post).
  2. Know some important bloggers. I know two, sorta: David Meerman Scott--whom I rather shamelessly mention here from time to time and who as I said has been very kind with comments, retweets, etc.--and Freakonomics co-author Steven J. Dubner. OK, I don't actually know Steven J. Dubner, but I know (and currently live with) his pirate-obsessed research assistant, Ryan Hagen. And Ryan once saw my post about the Wikipedia article for "real life," which in turn prompted a post about what fantasy is for. The h/t traffic from that post has made freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com my fourth-largest all-time referrer, although I now believe that stat to be skewed because of a rather hideous record-keeping blunder on my part (see No. 4 below).
  3. Have lots of time off and/or periods of isolation and a desperate need for concrete goals during same. As the last two weeks have reminded me, I am--like Sports Night's Dana Whitaker--terrible at having "unstructured time on my hands." Blogging has typical been for me a great way to manufacture some structure. I first got into blogging during a summer when I lived with my aunt and uncle in Cold Spring, NY, worked a pretty mindless job as a totally unqualified assistant to a medical equipment company field engineer, and had pretty much no friends and nothing to do. I started this blog during a Christmas break from grad school, by which time most of the high school friends I still kept in touch with had stopped coming home for more than a couple of days at the holidays, and anyway my parents now live pretty far from "home," or at least where home used to be. Point being: I do my most productive blogging during long school breaks. I recommend getting some of those.
  4. Keep your counter's URL information up to date. This one is only silly because it's sad, though it's also only a problem if you care about your visit stats. When I bought my own domain name about a year and a half ago, I went ahead and moved http://contrariasuntcomplementa.blogspot.com over to http://blog.kyleoliver.net. However, I failed to enter this piece of information into my profile over at Blog Counter. Thus, I have like sixteen months' worth of statistics wherein the only recorded visits are via an outdated URL. I only discovered this blunder when I checked to see how many people had visited the site after David's recent retweet of my post, only to discover that only one person had. David currently has 40,558 followers on Twitter, so that number seemed pretty unlikely. (If only tinyurl.com, which I use for all my tweeted links, offered statistics the way tiny.cc does. Perhaps I should switch my allegiance.)
  5. Write about your adventures wrangling household bats. What can I say? My most popular post not about physics (or about BookExpo America, but see Nos. 2 and 4 above) is about my adventures trying to usher bats out of St. Francis House while working as the House Fellow there. I guess it was funny.
So there you have it, my probably-not-at-all-helpful blogging tips. By the way, in other news of blog traffic suddenly and rapidly expanded, the secret is now out (thanks to the enthusiastic and tech-savvy clergy and parishioners of New York's St. Luke in the Fields [the former parish of my favorite VTS professor, incidentally]) that my smart, observant, and unusual-adventure-having girlfriend, Kristin Saylor, blogs about life as a port chaplain, St. Luke's parishioner, Wisconsin transplant, and amateur urban anthropologist at Wisconsin meets NYC. Since the cat's out of the bag, I can now offer a whole-hearted recommendation. It's a highly entertaining read, and she's got lots of interesting insight on the challenges of port ministry.

(P.S.: Apologies to any cat bloggers, cat lovers, or cat blog lovers reading this. You all can and should continue to blog or read about whatever you want.)

26 May 2010

A Lesson and Some Highlights from BookExpo America

My friend David Meerman Scott was at the Wiley booth today at BookExpo America, signing copies of his new book, Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Engage Your Market, Connect with Customers, and Create Products that Grow Your Business Now. Since I now live in New York but haven't started working yet, I was able to attend. (David scored me a free pass. I was a John Wiley & Sons "Exhibitor Author," which made for a couple of initially awkward clarifications at other publishers' booths, since no conversation began without a subtle name-tag check.)

One thing I learned today: You really can come to know somebody pretty well without ever meeting him or her. I've been doing early-manuscript editorial work for David since the first edition ("1E," if I'm successfully extrapolating from an abbreviation I heard thrown around today to describe later editions) of his popular but "underrated" The New Rules of Marketing & PR. That's four years of reading "every word of every book that [he's] written for Wiley," he noted today. But because we got introduced via email by a mutual colleague (EContent's Michelle Manafy, who I've also worked for but never met), and because until now I've never lived in a city that's especially well trafficked by business speaker-authors, we've never had the chance to meet. And yet, after reading and deeply engaging with so much of his prose, it really did feel like I already knew him. I was highly encouraged by this realization, since I don't expect the trend of increasing numbers of "e-colleagues" to ever reverse itself.

Anyway, David, if you're reading this (and if you doubt that he is, I can only assume you've never read any of his books), thanks for getting me in to a really fun event. It was great to finally meet you.

What kind of loot did I come away with? Well, the highlight might be an autographed copy of Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters's Android Karenina, from the publisher who brought us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I confess that I've heard about but never (yet!) read one of these remixes, but I was pumped nevertheless. I also procured a signed copy of Colette Brooks's Lost in Wonder: Imagining Science and Other Mysteries, the 2010 Frommer's guide for D.C., an unsigned copy of Richard Miller's Fighting Words: Persuasive Strategies for War and Politics, a half-dozen less promising titles (some signed, some not), and--of course--a galley of David's new book.

All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon! That's it for now. Stay tuned for thoughts on why I love Minneapolis-St. Paul, even though the Brewers always more-or-less collapse when I go there.

20 May 2010

My Favorite Preacher Unexpectedly Reminds Me Why I Miss Him

[First, a guarantee: I will post something about my life and not about church very soon. Probably when I get back from the Brewers-Twins series this weekend!]

I remember reading at the beginning of the school year some article in which the author claimed, "Good preaching changes lives." I know that statement is true when it comes to my life, and no one has changed it in that way more than Alan Jones, whom I'm profoundly lucky to have been introduced to during my discernment year.

I listened in Central Park today to an old sermon of his, one I'd never heard before. The text, I presume, is from Jeremiah 18 (the potter's house), but from the sound of his voice you've got to assume he was riled up enough about some personal or news-reported incident that it wouldn't have really mattered what the text was. His subject is authority, in particular the challenge of interpreting scripture and the peril of bringing it to bear on our lives without proper care, perspective, and--most of all--humility.

The sermon got me thinking back to one of the last late-night patio theology sessions that I was a part of before I headed north (yes, this is what seminarians do in their free time, which I'd despair of if I didn't have a record of how I spent my free time as an engineer). I said a lot that night about why I think the Anglican ethos gives us answers to how to be a functioning church without resorting to sola scriptura disengagement from the world's present realities or to a reliance on theological witch hunts to defend orthodoxy. Unsurprisingly, Jones sums up what I was trying to get at rather gracefully:

We are not without resources. We're not floundering around. We look to the cross; we share in this Eucharist; and surely we see a trajectory in scripture and history, the trajectory of inclusion and justice. That's our pilgrimage together.

Anyway, I highly recommend this gem from the "master of the serpentine sermon" (thanks, Gary). It has greatly lifted this exhausted liberal-centrist seminarian's spirits. I can't find a direct link anymore, but you want the 9/10/07 sermon that seems to be available here.

In other news, I watched the VTS commencement ceremony today. Brian McLaren, who I've never read but had assumed I would dislike, gave a great address (full disclosure, though: I missed the last few minutes to take a phone call and haven't had a chance to catch up yet). You can check it out here.

18 May 2010

Spring Update

Well, that's a wrap for the first year of seminary. Man, did it go fast. If you want the short version, it was a challenging but formative and faith-deepening experience. On the whole, very positive, very blessed. Click below for some more details and information about my new gig in New York for the summer.

01 April 2010

250 Words About My Favorite Bible Verse

When the LORD restored the fortunate of Zion *
then were we like those who dream.
(Psalm 126:1, BCP Psalter)

Our hope as Christians is for restoration with God, our neighbors, and ourselves, through Christ. I can think of no better way to describe the joy of that restoration than to note that, when we experience it, we are "as dreamers." As a trained and duly pragmatic engineer, I need this verse's insistence that we should not be content with a small-potatoes promise; God's abundance extends beyond all that our most wild and reckless dreams can come up with. At the same time, I find it possible to trust this verse so deeply because of what we learn from it in the wider context of the psalm. We live and minister in a kingdom that is already here and has not yet fully arrived, and so it should resonant deeply when the psalmist goes on to call for God's re-restoration of Zion. When the verb tense changes in verse 5 (thank you, Dr. Ferlo), reminding us that our earthly fortunes will always be like the rhythmic waxing and waning of “the watercourses of the Negev,” the imagery from verse 1 makes even more sense. The LORD is also with us in our deprivation, and in those decidedly darker dreams it produces. For me, the sustaining witness of this verse is that in most moments of our lives, all our joy and thanksgiving (“O LORD, we are restored!”) intermingles with all our hope and even regret (“O LORD, restore us!”), and God declares the whole lot good.

08 February 2010

Ice-chaton 2010

Yes, my friends, it's true. I have seen, in the past couple of days, more snow fall at one time here, south of the Mason-Dixon Line, in balmy Alexandria, VA, than I did in 17 years in Wisconsin. 28.8" in about 31 hours. Pretty impressive. Here are some pictures.

Album link

03 February 2010

On the Marq, Finally

A while back, I lamented all the difficulties involved in establishing a paperless seminary workflow. Lots of people chime in, but in the end we didn't locate an ideal way to do the main task: mark up PDFs (with highlighting, marginalia, etc.). During that process (though not on the comments--perhaps via Twitter?), someone told me about Marqed.com, and online service that provides tools for doing most of the things we had discussed. To my great frustration, however, it was really buggy (perhaps just on my system--Firefox 3.0.17 on Ubuntu 9.04).

However, highlighting at least seems finally to be working well enough to make this a legit go-to tool for now. You get ten PDF uploads per month with the free version, or you can upgrade to unlimited. (The paid account allows you to upload MS Office documents as well, though don't ask me why you'd want to involve a Web tool to edit a document that can already be marked up natively. Maybe for read-only files?) Of course, I'm not wild about being dependent an Internet connection in order to view my files, but all our classrooms here at VTS have Wi-Fi, so I guess I can deal with this for now. Anyway, I feel like I can finally recommend it. Check it out at www.marqed.com.

In other news, we got some beautiful snow last night here in Northern Virginia. I posted a few quick pictures to Facebook here.