Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blue Christmas

Tonight at Hope UCC I took part in a Blue Christmas service, put together by the wonderful Sarah Frederiksen McCann, pastor at Hope, and me. We basically cribbed the service from the Diocese of Ottowa, Canada. You can see their liturgy here. If you go to this link and scroll down, you find a ritual for individuals, in case you were not able or chose not to attend the service for whatever reason. The attendance was modest, at best, but those who were there were grateful for the acknowledgement that Christmas can be a time of struggle for many. We think we will do it again. The culture is so relentlessly cheerful, the emphasis is all on children and joy and family and for those who are grieving or alone or unable to take part in the frenzy of giving by reason of unemployment or other issues, it is a painful time. These are the people whom the liturgy tries to recognize, acknowledging their reality and God's presence with them in that reality. It was not the best attended service we've ever held, but it was full of potential for next year. More advertizing, a little work on the liturgy which was not always as felicitous as it could have been, a little fine tuing of the music (the selections are from the hymnal of the Anglican Church of Canada (which I have never seen) and we were in a UCC church using two different hymnals whose verse numbers etc. were quite a bit different from our hymnal. Kim Jungermann, a member of St Mark's, served as our musician, since the regular musicians of both of our congregations were too occupied by Christmas Eve planning to add another thing to their calendars.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


While I was looking at the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana in order to put the volunteer form into Deacon Burnell Esbenshade's article for Markings about a possible Mission Trip, I found another alternative gift-giving opportunity, Bundles of Hope. You can make a donation to the diocese of Louisiana for its work in helping people recover from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. You can print out a certificate to give to the person in whose honor you are buying the bundle. There are several levels of gift available. The link for it is here.

I must say that I also like giving hand made gifts, if not made by me by others, so I seek out art and craft shows all year long. There is a delightful studio show at Nori Obata and Steb Prieto's studio on the overpass of Big Bend where you can buy porcelain, photos, crocheted objects, (by Nori's brother Gen) small rugs, hand made books, glassware blown right there in the studio and fabulous jewelry. Gen and Nori exhibited at our (now defunct) art fair Heart and Hands and Voices. Here is a link to Gen's blog. You can find the details of open studio as well as directions there. And while I am doing commercials, many of my nearest and dearest are getting chocolate products from Kakao, hand-made gourmet chocolates with the finest organic ingredients. My favorite is the Missouri Pecan Clusters with dark chocolate, followed closely by the dark chocolate coated caramels.

Maybe people will comment on this entry and say their favorite places to shop and/or causes to support for Christmas.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Golden Compass and Beyond

Having heard about the eagerness of Christian groups to condemn the upcoming movie The Golden Compass, I set out to read it. Actually, I listened to it, being hooked on Audible. And then I listened to The Subtle Knife and then I listened to the Amber Spyglass. The versions on I got from Audible are narrated by Pullman himself and an ensemble of actors voice the other parts, Lyra and Roger and Will and so on. It is the best audiobook series I've heard. Pullman is a wonderful imaginative writer and his parallel worlds, especially Lyra's world, are inventive and delightful. His use of imagery from the Christian tradition and esp. from Milton, his reframing of the Fall, (and, indeed, of the harrowing of hell), his invention of an alternative from of physics, referred to as "experimental theology," all are extremely clever. The books are not as funny as Harry Potter but much more subtle and sophisticated. Pullman's universe may be without a theistic concept of God but it is a very moral world. One of the things about the books is that it is not always clear to the main characters or to the readers where good and evil lie. Even though in Lyra's world, people's demons often seem to symbolize their inner state (a particularly unpleasant character who steals the alethiometer in the Subtle Knife, for example, has a snake demon), it is still hard to know whom to trust and what to do. And then there are people like Lyra's mother who seem to be transformed almost despite themselves by the power of love.
Even though it is shelved in the Fantasy/SciFi section of the bookstore, the Golden Compass and its sequels depict very real children caught in a very adult world. Each of the books ends with triumph tinged with grief and loss, much like life, without fairy tale endings.
I'm looking forward to the movie even though it always distresses me to see worlds that exist in my head transformed into pictures. A review said that the movie makes Mrs Coulter, whose hair is black in the books, into a bleached blond (Nicole Kidman) and that Pullman himself is so enthusiastic about the way that the film makers have translated his work that he said that it made him realize that Mrs Coulter's hair really was blond, not black as he had originally thought. I am not convinced. But I cannot imagine that such richly imagined world which invites those who enter it with Lyra to see their own world with new eyes could possibly be bad for anyone. The film, apparently, tones down the anti-organized religion themes. But in the books, esp. in the first one, when one reads about "the Authority" and "the magisterium" they represent a way of being church that no one could possibly defend or seriously believe was the church as we know it. Marcus Borg says that when his students tell him they don't believe in God, he asks them to tell him about the God they don't believe in. That God is cruel and capricious and all about judgement and not love or mercy and Borg says that he doesn't believe in that God either. The church and indeed the whole concept of organized religion Pullman casts as the enemy in this book is not the church I know nor the God I know. Indeed my experience of God is much closer to the rich description in book three of Mary Malone's mystical experiences of dust, her sense of being one with all that is, even if the way that I would frame or describe that experience is in theological terms.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


If you are tired of the commercialism of Christmas or want to make a statement with your gifts of your Christian commitment to justice and peace, here are some opportunities to give non-traditional gifts:

Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) has a catalog of gifts in a range of prices for purposes such as assuring clean water supply in a village in a developing country, providing for child nutrition, mosquito netting and anti-malaria medicine and much more. Certificates of your gift are provided in exchange for your donation. ERD also packages and sells fair trade “Bishop’s Blend” coffee and coffee gift baskets. The ERD website is You can also call Episcopal Relief and Development to order a catalogue at Phone: 800-334-7626, ext 5129

A similar way to make charitable giving fun is by giving to the Heifer Project. They use your donations to provide animals to alleviate hunger and help people become self-sufficient. You can give something as small as a hive of bees or as large as an ark and they give you attractive acknowledgement cards to give to people. Their website is or you can call for a catalogue: (800) 422-0474.

A local opportunity for “alternative Christmas shopping” is at Plow Sharing Crafts, a ministry of the Mennonite Church which works with disadvantaged crafts people around the world who are paid a fair wage for their work. (Plowsharing Crafts is part of Ten Thousand Villages). You can find them online at: Ten Thousand Villages is online at There are two locations in St Louis, one in Kirkwood at 151 W. Jefferson (314) 909-9401 and the original location in University City at 6271 Delmar (314) 863-3723.

Another fair trade option is MacroSun International. They have a location here in St. Louis at 1310 Washington Ave., 63103 (314) 421-6400, or visit their website at

Trinity Food Ministry is selling Christmas cards for $1.00 a card or if you make a donation in honor of someone, they will send an attractive card as an acknowledgement. For more information on that, call Trinity at 361 4655.

Dr. Mark Manary, a Washington University physician and a member of Gethsemane Lutheran Church, has started an organization called Project Peanut Butter, a ministry with undernourished children in Malawi. He uses a high nutrient food to stabilize starving children which uses peanut butter (made from locally grown peanuts, so the project also supports farming in Malawi) as a base. $25 will feed 2000 starving Malawian children. Donations may be sent to: Project Peanut Butter, 7435 Flora, St. Louis 63143. They also send an attractive thank you card if you make a donation in someone’s honor. You can find out more on their website

Magdalene is a two year residential program working with women in Nashville with a history of prostitution and drug addiction. As part of the rehabilitation of the women and as a financial support Magdalene began "Thistle Farms" a line of bath and body products. These are natural products that are as kind to the environment as they are to the body. We showcased these products at our Holiday Luncheon this year and samples for viewing in the parish hall. Please check out their website at .

And of course you can always buy fair trade coffee, tea, cocoa and chocolate here at St Mark’s or make a donation to St Mark’s or one of its ministries or funds like the organ fund or access fund, in honor of someone you love. We’ll be happy to send a letter to your friends or family telling that a donation has been made in their honor.

Friday, November 02, 2007

All Souls' Day

So today is November 2, All Souls' Day, a day when the church remembers those who have died. More and more we blur the line between All Saints' Day-- when we remember those particular heros of the faith who have been outstanding examples in one way or another or whose lives have shaped the Christian tradition-- and All Souls' Day. We blur that line because we know that only God knows what kind of hierarchy of saintliness there is among us, how much each life matters to the coming of God's kingdom. And we blur that line because we have people in our lives who have been examples of wisdom and courage and faith who will never be "officially" saints for the whole church but who have been holy examples for us. And we blur that line because we believe that God makes us holy by our baptism in to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and calls us all to holy lives.
One of the difficulties about keeping a church blog is that many of the really amazingly wonderful moments in ministry are about being privileged to be part of the lives of other people -- I get to hear people's stories, to journey with people as they seek new direction in their lives, as they search for the sacred, as they make commitments to service in the world, as they face disappointment and setbacks, as they struggle with disease and approach death. But mostly, this is material that is not appropriate for a blog. I know there are people who blog about the most intimate details of their relationships but I don't think that a priest can write that kind of stuff about parishioners. But I thought I would post the homily I preached at a memorial service on October 19th on my moribund sermon blog. You can also listen to an old sermon there. Maybe more will appear to join it soon... Maybe not. Here is a quotation from Frederick Beuchner which a friend sent me yesterday

On All Saints Day, it is not just the saints of the church that we should remember in our prayers, but all the foolish ones and wise ones, the shy ones and overbearing ones, the broken ones and whole ones, the despots and tosspots and crackpots of our lives who, one way or another, have been our particular fathers and mothers and saints, and whom we loved without knowing we loved them and by whom we were helped to whatever little we may have, or ever hope to have, of some kind of seedy sainthood of our own."

- The Sacred Journey p.74

Thursday, October 25, 2007

For the BIble Tells me So

For the Bible Tells Me So was shown here in St Louis, sponsored by HRC. It was well done, moving and amusing in that "laughing until you cry" way. I was especially touched by the story of the Robinsons and by Gene and his story made me feel proud to be Episcopalian all over again. As a Missourian (by adoption and grace) , I was also touched by the Gephardts' story.

But as the parent of a child who identifies as "gender queer" and another who identifies as bi- (both of whom are not at all clear that the church is a place they will find nurture as adults, grateful though they are for growing up in it in some ways) I noticed the following:

In the lovely animated segment which was a parody of the sex-ed films many of us grew up with but devoted to explaining sexual orientation, the issue of being "bi sexual" was dismissed out of hand in a way designed to make the audience laugh.

There was no household with a child who was gender variant or self identified as "transgender". In fact, in various ways parents described their gay and lesbian children as NOT like stereotypical gay men --portrayed as ridiculously effeminate and "limp wristed" and not like "butch" lesbian women. In other words, the parents acceptance of their childrens' sexuality seemed to be predicated on the fact that the children were gay or lesbian but still stereotypically masculine or feminine.

Please understand that I loved this movie. I loved in particular the story of the Poteat family, where theological convictions about the wrongness of the lifestyle of a lesbian daughter struggled alongside a love for that daughter and a commitment to remain in relationship with her. I was moved by the tragic story of the mother whose religious beliefs made it impossible to accept her child's sexual orientation until it was too late. I loved the stories of parents whose gay and lesbian children turned them into amazing activists. I plan to show this movie when it is available on DVD in my congregation. I have recommended it to friends. But even though it seems too controversial for many PBS stations, it was a reminder to me of how much work we, as a church, have yet to do.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fall already?

I just sent out a new e-mail, artfully formatted, in the hopes that it will facilitate better communication in the congregation. On my grumbly days I feel that we don't have a communication problem, we have a listening problem or a reading problem. I just grumbled to someone at the Y that the meeting she was asking me if I planned to attend was one I never had heard of before. "I sent an email" she replied... Yeah, she probably did and I probably didn't read it or didn't transfer the info to my Palm or didn't synch it or... We all get so much data and have so many options for how to spend out time it is amazing any of us can keep track of anything...
In the email I included a link to this blog and to my shame I see that the last posting was in August. How interesting is that?
Since then we've had opening day, two "Children in Church"Sundays (or squirmy Sundays as some of our parishioners say), over a month of 9 a.m. "Life up Your Hearts", two Christian Education suppers in our talking about money series "The M Word". We've had a gifts discernment workshop, several meetings of our youth groups, two stewardship meetings, several choir rehearsals and much more.
Here is how The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori closed her webcast today:
One of my predecessors was fond of saying, "in this church there will be no outcasts." I concur, and I challenge each one of us to consider who it is we would most like to be rid of. That person, my friends, is the image of Christ in our midst. There will be no outcasts in this church, whether because of sexual orientation or theological perspective. God has given us to each other, to love and to learn from each other. May God bless each and every part of this body.
If you missed it (I did) I think you can watch it here .

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kiva Suppers -- Eat in to Help Out

A group of about 18 Saint Markans gathered for a supper on August 12th. The rector (me) and Senior Warden and spouses were the hosts, our children and their friends provided extremely efficient and amazingly cheerful help. We ate in the parish hall. The guests were to bring money, whatever they would spend on a night out (and that night out might be at McDonalds or at some amazingly fancy restaurant) and we would pool our money and use it to give microcredit loans through the website The menu was local food from the Tower Grove Farmers' Market-- Lamb kebabs from Prairie Farms, roasted veggies from Biver Farms, a tomato salad with tomatos from various local vendors and local potatoes with herbs from the Speller garden. The desserts were a raspberry tart with local raspberries and jam from Centennial Farms in Augusta, a plum berry crisp featuring blackberries from Centennial Farms. The wines were not so local, which was probably okay, too... We raised (including a couple of donations from people who loved the idea but could not attend) $550. While dinner was getting ready (and we ate local tomato and Black Bear bakery bruschetta with local goat cheese and another kind of bruschetta from local egg plants) people browsed on the Kiva Website for worthy entrepreneurs. We decided on two -- a farmer in Azerbajan and a woman shop owner in Nigeria. But by the next day, when we had set up a Pay Pal account for the church, these two entrepreneurs had been fully subscribed. So Sue, the treasurer who set up the Paypal account, and I "shopped" for other entrepreneurs and this is what we came up with:

These loan recipients are like the original ones in representing more than one area of enterprise, more than one geographical area and in at least one case, our loan helped the recipient achieve his or her total loan goal.

It is amazing to think that $550 could make such a huge difference in the lives of four people and their families, allowing them to take businesses to the next step and to be economically independent and able to educate their children. To most of us around the table, $550 is an amount of money we would notice-- not just the kind of change you'd drop on the street and not bother to pick up-- but for few of us was it a life changing amount of money, either. It reminded us of our many advantages and privileges as Americans and maybe made us think about our regular patterns of giving and whether as individuals we might want to become KIVA investors.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Toothpaste and the paradox of choice

Today I was in the supermarket and thought I should buy more toothpaste as the tube we are currently using is almost used up. When I was a child, we used Colgate toothpaste and it seemed to me that it came in only one flavor. Other families used Crest and others used Pepsodent, although obviously not very many because it went out of business. I had a strong preference for Colgate but John came from a Crest family and I became a Crest convert. But recently when I have gone toothpaste shopping I have noticed that there are more and more KINDS of Crest. There are gels and creams, there are kinds that whiten, kinds that help with sensitive teeth, kinds that have mouthwash to prevent bad breath, kinds that protect against cavities, kinds that prevent against tartar, kinds aimed at kids, kinds with baking powder (the kind I hate the most) and kinds that do various things but have non minty flavors like cinamon, citrus and lemon. There is a kind called "nature's expressions" which comes in Mint and Green Tea, among other flavors. So I am standing there looking for the kind I like, which has Scope and something else in a stripy paste. Can I see it? Can I figure out which-- of fhis vast range of choices-- it is... not really. My goal, of course, is to find the brand of Crest which tastes the most like the Colgate of my childhood. Anyway, as I stood there, wondering which flavor I wanted and which attributes, I was thinking, not for the first time, about an NPR interview I heard with a man called Barry Schwartz who wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice:Why More is Less which describes this very dilemma -- we think as a culture that choice is a good thing but then we are overwhelmed by the problem of choosing. Here is a link to the interview. John's dad always said that Coleman's mustard made their money from the mustard that stayed on the plate not the mustard you put on your meat. I wonder whether toothpaste manufacurers have discovered that the secret to profitability is having so many kinds of toothpaste that desperate consumers buy a kind and CAN'T STAND IT and go back for a different kind the next day...

Catching up... and new Blog

Maybe I am not cut out to have a blog.

So much has happened... so much to report... and I have not made time for any of it.

But I'm writing now to point out that I have made a blog for the General Convention Deputies from Missouri to respond to the Draft Anglican Covenant. If this is interesting to you, you can find it here:

I gather that the office of the bishop will be doing something when the House of Bishops' response is ready but I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to offer input, whenever it is offered. I'll be offering discussion this Sunday and next at 9 a.m. at St Mark's.