Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral during Lent 2008, with boots and dogtags of fallen soldiers Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco during Lent 2008, with boots and dogtags of fallen soldiers walking, searching for eternal truth

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Grace in the Labyrinth at Grace

The inner Labyrinth was in use. Grace Cathedral was sharing the space with those who were meditating with Eastern music. As the somewhat yoga practice was right atop the Labyrinth, I instead went to the side chapel I use most, lit a candle, and said my evening prayers.

Instead of staying indoors, I did my walk on the Labyrinth outside of Grace Cathedral. It was a genuinely delightful time for me, as I moved along the exterior path at sunset. The slight chill breezed through my clothes, tingling, vibrating against my skin. But it felt right.

It's as though the Holy Spirit was moving me along that path. The noises of the city, the stresses of the day, they all ebbed and flowed into and out of my consciousness as I walked.

Veni Creator Spiritus

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A great musical weekend... Did I Listen or Did I Hear?

Today, at All Saints Pasadena, we sung wonderful works by Bruckner and by Hovhaness. I'll discuss the wonderful sermon by Susan Russell in another post, but this posting is about the evening Jazz Vespers and its theme of listening.

Our composer in residence is Bill Cunliffe. He and his trio performed his medley on West Side Story, a work that this year won him a Grammy. It was joyful, full of love and hope. Jazz has an amazing way of focusing the mind and yet opening the heart. I simply amazes me that less than a century ago, many people found it antithetical to religion.

Christina Honchell's homily was on listening, which touched me deeply. Lent is about listening to God, to your heart, to your past, present and future. She talked about listening to music, specifically jazz, as a metaphor for listening to God and to each other. I found the sermon quite relevant to me this weekend, given all the music I enjoyed. Moreover, it finally is motivating me to put my more of my Lenten journey down in this journal.

I've been touched by stories of loss and suffering this year. Though my family has escaped direct loss so far, there have been a couple close calls and surgeries. Something is metaphorically whispering in my ear, but it's hard to hear and I'm unsure what the message is.

Then, in the space of a week, an employee and a dear college friend both lost close relatives. Again, this whispering, this buzzing, this calling for me to listen pestered me. I don't know what it's saying or what it means.

I do know that I'm grateful that it's Lent, and I'm paying attention. I'm listening.

Of course, listening is an active act. Merely hearing, on the other hand, is passive. We hear all the time, but I dare say we know what's going on. In fact, in our crazy world, we spend more time filtering out the cacophony, trying to find peace and quiet. We're trying to not hear all this fuss. Yes, we're actively trying to not listen.

So, Lent to me is that season where I try to do the opposite, to pay attention. And lo, what a great weekend of listening. By coincidence, it was a weekend of music.

Friday night, I joined friend Glenn at a Silverlake piano bar and delighted in local singers, sharing their joys and love. An amazing older woman brought me close to tears with her smoky rendition of Roberta Flack.

Last night, friend Ted performed with the Occidental-CalTech Symphony. We heard quite amusing and thoughtful compositions: "Caminos" by Silvestre Revueltas and "Variations on a Nursery Song, Op 25" by Erno von Dohnanyi. What a feast to hear mariachis-cum-Rites of Spring followed by a highly developed study of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!

One other thing that I listened to this weekend. The rain came in odd waves yesterday afternoon. Sometimes it tinkled with petite droplets, other times it pelted us with hail. The wind blew branches against my windows at some points, and other times the howling was roared into a whisper.

Then, this evening of jazz. To tie it all together, I'll share this evening's Vespers reading, a poem. I found it amazing and will be something I'll ponder this season.

It's by the now well-known Sufi poet and philosopher, Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273). The following translation is from Coleman Barks' "The Glance: Songs of Soul-Meeting". I share it because it tied everything so well together tonight.

I share it with you in love. Shalom...


What is the deep listening? Sama is
a greeting from the secret ones inside

the heart, a letter. The branches of
your intelligence grow new leaves in

the wind of this listening. The body
reaches a peace. Rooster sound comes,

reminding you of your love for dawn.
The reed flute and the singer's lips:

the knack of how spirit breathes into
us becomes as simple and ordinary as

eating and drinking. The dead rise with
the pleasure of listening. If someone

can't hear a trumpet melody, sprinkle
dirt on his head and declare him dead.

Listen, and feel the beauty of your
separation, the unsayable absence.

There's a moon inside every human being.
Learn to be companions with it. Give

more of your life to this listening. As
brightness is to time, so you are to

the one who talks to the deep ear in
your chest. I should sell my tongue

and buy a thousand ears when that
one steps near and begins to speak.

Lenten Journal

It's Lent and I think I'll bring this blog back from the ashes.

Reading two books. Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God" and Marcus Borg's "The God We Never Knew". Both were on my Kindle, but I like many other books, were only part-read. At least I have good incentives to move forward now: All Saints Pasadena has these two books on the Lenten reading list.

Monday nights will be on Armstrong and Thursday on Borg. I'm looking forward to see where these discussions go.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Scientific Proof and God

Someone asked what proof I had of God's existence.

I answer the same way I usually do about this question.

Are you asking for the scientific method to be applied to test God's presence? If so, then I doubt I can give a satisfying answer because it's comparing apples to oranges. It's not a good technique in this situation. For example, the scientific method doesn't prove that a song is good, a landscape is serene, or a picture is lovely.

It's not a matter of faith in God's existence. Faith applied in the modern way seems so bizarre. It's as though I'm asked to believe something contrary to scientific evidence. I don't have faith this way. This is faith in antagonism with scientific methodology. My faith is irrespective and independent of scientific methodology because the aforementioned inappropriateness of the test.

Without any testing, however, I witness evidence of God every day.

  • I hear a good song
  • I walk a serene landscape
  • I view a lovely picture

These tests work for me, they matter to me and they give me faith to know that there is something indefinable operating somewhere out there.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Care "Debate"

I don't understand the current tone of the health care debate. We seem to be debating about whether the government should not participate in the health care business. I thought the point was to discuss US health in general, which is unfortunately short of the mark compared to other advanced economies of the world.

Here are some thoughts that I just wanted to jot down.

  • Many think: Things are fine as is

    I find this to be the sentiment of those with good health care. I accept that, but the selfishness astounds. For those without health care or with inadequate health care, it's a nightmare. They certainly don't seem happy with status quo. As a small business owner, I am also frustrated by the enormous cost of providing health care to myself and my employees. It's not that I don't want to do it, it's just the cost that's so egregious. Moreover, it's disturbing whenever I hear (and I hear it a lot) that people use health care as a decision making factor when looking to change jobs or further their education - that's just downright economically inefficient for a capitalist market.

  • Many think: Keep government out

    This is a legitimate concern. What the current legislation seems to be doing is offering an alternative to the open market in health care. Interestingly, the government does this in other economically vital areas: finance and higher education. Many people in America would not be able to afford homes or finance college without the option of government assistance. Bond markets would not function as effectively if we did not have Treasury bills as alternatives. These instruments are out there and they have not destroyed private lenders or the bond market.

    As such, why is a government option in health care going to kill private industry? It doesn't have to do so and it's wrong to assume that it will.

  • Many think: It will cost too much

    Yes it will. Quite a bit. But currently, when you consider the number of people who are not receiving adequate health care, what is the true cost to the economy, much less our faithful hearts? The cost is currently quite high. Conservative estimates put the uninsured (not the under-insured) at 20% of the working population. If that 20% were healthier they would and could be more productive.

    Imagine a minuscule 2% improvement in productivity from these folks (one week more productivity in a year due to access to medical advice and medication). That means a 0.4% increase in GNP alone just in labor productivity. We're talking a $57 billion dollar improvement on a $14.3 trillion (2008) economy.

    I'm no economist and I simplify outrageously, but it seems like we can afford at least this amount as a reasonable investment.

  • We aren't talking about alternatives any more

    If the status quo isn't sufficient, have we really exhausted alternatives? If the idea is to use the government to combine millions of the uninsured into a huge insurance pool, then why aren't there significant private offerings. Why can't the government subsidize or encourage that?

  • People hate insurance companies

    Insurance companies have to keep the costs low and have to assume that people are cheating the system. Consequently, people hate the perceived run-around for payments to the health care system.

    The government isn't rushing out to hire doctors. They're out to offer an alternative to insurance companies. That does mean that they open themselves up to the ire and vitriol held for insurance companies. Why on earth would they want that ? Only those "on a mission" to do something would want that...

  • Tax us equally

    I'm a small business owner. Big companies have great deductions but not me. Level the playing field. Either tax the big companies, tax the people receiving the benefits or give me an equal deduction or credit to offer these benefits.

That's all for now. I hope people believe that it's a moral responsibility to care for those who cannot do so. Given that basic moral stand, there are many ways of meeting this obligation, but we repeatedly fall short and have not yet succeeded. I pray that should people agree these two statements, we can further the debate in an atmosphere of constructive problem-solving rather than acrimony and finger-pointing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

General Convention 2009 - Things I Learned

It was my first General Convention, and the 2009 Anaheim Episcopalooza was something that brought many lessons home to me. Though I have a "normal" secular job in the IT world, with employees and customers across the nation that depend on our services and products, I am drawn to matters of faith, unity, and diversity of opinion. As such, though I only attended three days of the conference, I in spirit paid a great deal of attention to the tweets and press releases arising just a mere 30 miles away from my Pasadena offices.

Rather than bringing form to these many lessons, here are some highlights, memories, and opinions that I dare not forget.

1. Integrity Eucharist service - see other blog posting.

2. Bishop Barbara Harris - what a sermon! I've never fully experienced Father Ed Bacon's comments at my All Saints Pasadena parish until now: I indeed had a "Glory Attack" during her talk.

3. The faces of joy, wonder, and awe of the congregants at the service. People were visibly moved and filled with the Holy Spirit. I came in thinking that these church politicians would be somewhat distant and reserved but was surprised at their reaction to the rather evangelical fever of that night.

4. There are many more small progressive churches across this nation than I had imagined. I heard witness from rectors and priests describing their efforts for social justice, in places I would have considered inhospitable to such notions.

5. The exhibit hall carried gorgeous, marvelous, luxurious textiles. I only suspected this in the past, but I think I need to freely come out of the closet as an Altar Guild-oriented, gold-thread loving aurumvestiophile (priestly drag queen)... Those garments and altar coverings and wall hangings were so beautiful and inspiring. Art clearly has its place in the church, as it so quickly stimulates our attention to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

6. The House of Deputies was the upper house? It was so rowdy and loud and confusing. It's the clergy and laity, and they clearly want to be heard. The only problem is there are a lot of people that need to be heard.

7. The House of Bishops was the lower house? It was so subdued and clubby. During the debate over blessings, my mind fantasizing a scene that I have previously pondered: the Board of Directors at Augusta debating what would happen if an African-American golfer ever would win it all at the Masters.

8. Asian-Americans? There were Asian-Americans at the convention in the exhibit hall. Outside of the exhibit hall, well, they were at Eucharist. But I still definitely feel outnumbered at the convention. It's more of recognition on my part that the urban and coastal states have far more Asian-Americans than the rest of the country and that national organizations such as this church highlight that regionalism.

9. Wonderfully helpful clergy. Father Jim Newman of St Bede's (Los Angeles) practically dragged me to the House of Bishops debates and answered all my questions regarding the proceedings. He recognized my understanding and interest in the Parliamentary procedures and encouraged me to consider participation at the diocesan convention. More importantly, he introduced me to Bishop Barbara Harris (see #2).

10. Bishop Steven Charleston - Another amazing sermon, this time on the environment. I must agree that a tremendous amount of energy is spent fighting battles that distract us from real issues at hand.

11. Why aren't Episcopalians recognized for their sermons and marvelous theology in action? We need to convince our non-Episcopalian colleagues that old stereotypes just don't fit with much of our church today.

12. Twitter mania. Found so many interesting uses of twitter at this convention. Thanks to the oppressed opposition in Iran for showing us how Twitter can organize people in such an organic way. And thanks to: @integrityusa @johnclint @revsusanrussell @episcopalcafe @vagabondfaith @josephpmathews

13. Lunch-hour Eucharist had a funny moment for me on one day. I stretched out my palms during communion and was handed the Host from large loaf of bread. Not an unusual occurrence, expect this piece was about the size of 1/2 bagel. I clearly did not know how to handle such a large "wafer". I must have been staring at the bread as I walked to the chalice, because the chalice bearer sort of giggled at the look of fear in my eye. And let it be said, I've never looked at the communion bread with fear before or doubt I ever will again. "I could use some butter" passed through my head. After a few moments I eventually was able to take the wine. Note to self: Ask someone about proper protocol if someone chokes on the holy Host.

14. There were many interesting brochures from the various Episcopal seminaries. I continue to assess, ponder, and pray about my needs and calling. For yes, I am feeling called, and it frightens me.

Back to my comments about distraction from real issues at hand. I definitely think that discrimination hurts the church's missions. But I think this not because of issues regarding institutional preservation or institutional integrity. I think it hurts the evangelical nature of the church and those of us who want to make the church do something.

The young people of today care deeply about things that they consider secular. They are energetic, passionate, and well educated. They are also more liberal and frighteningly worldly (thanks to the Internet?). If we are to enlighten them of the saving power of Christ, if we are to maintain stewardship over our earth and help those in need, then we cannot afford to scare off the young and marginalize the outcasts. If all are welcome at this table, then all are needed to bring in the harvest.

All hands on deck people, we have some important work to do!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Integrity Eucharist 2009

As a church singer, I don't usually remember most of the events or services that I participate in. I get very into the music, as the Holy Spirit moves me, and I vaguely try to watch the service so that I don't get too lost. However, last Friday's service at the 2009 Episcopal church General Convention, a triennial event, struck me with particular joy and thankfulness for gifts granted to me.

It was a Eucharist service, with communion, brought to us at the Anaheim Hilton by Integrity. It was full of ubuntu incense, multiculturalism, love, and Christ. Episcopalians from across the country formed a standing room only congregation of perhaps 1600 people.

Bishop Gene Robinson celebrated the Eucharist. Integrity President Susan Russell and Integrity Founder Dr Louie Crew gave moving welcomes and invocations.

The sermon was outstanding, brought by the Episcopal Church's first female priest, retired-Bishop of Massachusetts Barbara Harris. This sermon was honestly poignant, assertive and frank. For the first time in my life, I had to restrain myself from standing and shouting "Allelujah", as I was sitting directly behind the Bishop during her sermon...

I found the music to be thoroughly uplifting. For those unfamiliar with All Saints Pasadena, our music program is exemplary and though we only practiced during the 45 minutes preceding the service, we were familiar with most of the program. I am blessed to sing with the All Saints's Coventry choir (and have previously been with the other adult choir, Canterbury). Members from choirs formed the Integrity choir this evening.

We sang
Wade in the Water - arranged by Carl Hayward
Wana Baraka, - traditional Kenyan folks song arranged by Shawn Kirchner
Sanctus - from Misa Bilingue, Kevin P Joyce
Savior of the world, save us - Community of Taize
Take, Oh Take me as I am - John L Bell
Sweet Hour of Prayer - words William W Walford, Music William Bradley, arranged by James Walker
Lead me, guide me - Dois Akers, arranged by Richard Smallwood
Nada te turbe - Community of Taize
Breathe on me, Breath of God - Nova Vita, Lister R Peace
Siyahamba - South African folk song

We also sang an unfamiliar processional song, along with a Cantor: Amen, we praise your name, O God, by Gobingca George Mxadana. Check out a supershort clip.

The words were:

Amen sia-kudu-misa! Amen sia-kudu-misa!
Amen, ba-wo. Amen, ba-wo. Amen, sia-kudo-misa!

The procession included drums and worked itself throughout the entire crowded ballroom.

Here's another short musical clips I found.

My Full Blog

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just do it

Michael's dead. We won't see his moonwalk this summer. Nor shall we see any innovation that may have been in store.

But without much elaboration, must we really see the world media (and I ask this while sitting in a bar in Paris) profit so thoroughly from his death?

I'm disgusted... I have to think about it some, but everyone from CNN's King to Sharpton all seem to be exploiting Michael Jackson's death. It's wrong.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Protecting the Sanctity of Marriage

Some thoughts went through my head as I surveyed the pummeling that the institution of marriage took this week.

* Today, the rather fiscal though not very religious conservative Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted that his week-long disappearance can be attributed to an affair with a woman down in Argentina. His leadership of the Republican governors club as well as his presidential aspirations are history.

* Last week, the rather religious though not very fiscal conservative Republican Senator John Ensign admitted to an affair with the wife of an employee. Though he tried to force another Senator to resign for sexual impropriety (Larry Craig), he himself did not resign, though his presidential aspirations and his chairmanship of a powerful committee are history.

* Yesterday, a highly public reality tv couple "Jon and Kate Plus 8" announced their impending though not surprising divorce. The fate of the many children remains unknown. Adultery is highly suspected.

A lot of noise indeed.

So what did I notice?

* Those who were born gay had nothing to do with these marital problems.

* Adultery seems to be a common issue in these marital problems.

* People who live in the public eye are held to a higher standard of morality than we care to admit.

* Heterosexual divorce rates are astonishingly high. Though the exact numbers vary depending on the study, the scale seems consistently saddening:
The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%
The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%
The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%

* Gays cannot marry in most of the United States. Their divorce rates are therefore unsurprisingly low against the overall gay population. What are the divorce rates are for those who are legally permitted to marry? Not enough information is available yet.

* Should Americans criminalize or penalize adulterers? Adulterers clearly create havoc. Should divorce again become a stigma?

* Should Americans make divorce more difficult once more?

* Why are irresponsible heterosexuals allowed to enter a sanctified state of marriage whilst thoroughly committed and loving gay couples, many of whom would be married in their churches if the government allowed, barred from such a commitment?

* Why are heterosexuals continually allowed to diminish the sanctity of marriage? The reality tv shows, the Vegas supermarket weddings, the shotgun weddings - - it's disgusting and blasphemous.

Nuf said for today

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Where is the Kingdom of God and when do I get to see it?

So I was posed this question on a Facebook message...

Here's a question I'd like to bounce off you. In the AM I've been reading through Mark. This morning I was reading Mark 14:25 in The Message and the NIV. In this passage, Jesus seems to imply that he is not yet in the Kingdom of God.

However, for the past year or so I've been thinking that the "Kingdom of Heaven" doesn't necessarily refer to a place in the afterlife and that we can be in the Kingdom of Heaven now if we understand Christ and live by Christ. All other references in Mark (up to 14:25, so far) fit with this (4:11, 4:26, 4:30, 9:1, 10:14-15, 10:23, 10:27, 12:34).

Your thoughts? Is the Kingdom of Heaven an afterlife-only thing? If not, how does 14:25 get reconciled?

For a common discussion, I have Mark 14:24-25 in the NIV :
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

Matthew's reference to that fateful Passover dinner was similar at 26:29. It was stated during the Passover dinner.

Seems like my friend's basic question was : When was the Kingdom of Heaven supposed to occur?

First, I just want to make sure I understand the phrase Kingdom of Heaven. I have to assume that it's in reference to the Kingdom of God. Mark and Luke prefer using the phrase Kingdom of God and it's Matthew that uses the phrases Kingdom of Heaven.

As such, it depends on your translation and reading of that phrase. I concur with many scholars who believe that the Greek words translate better as "Reign of God" or "Dominion of God" rather than an actual nation with a monarchal God in a Palace. It's a phrase that's pretty much New Testament jargon, since there are hardly any references to a coming kingdom in the Old Testament.

Second, where is this domain or reign? To some it's in Heaven, and to others it's on Earth. It's a tormenting question that I think affects many folks and is one of the basic ones used by people to figure out which church they find comfort and compatibility.

To me, Heaven is Earth fully realized. Just as Man redeemed is Man fully realized as he was originally made by God, so is the Earth. I tend to environmentalism because I see much of the New Testament asking us to be shepherds to the world and the needy and that the original covenants demanded we take care of and sanctify the earth.

When Jesus said he wouldn't drink wine, it's even more relevant when compared to John 9:1-5 (where he says he's the vine, God's the gardener and we are the fruit or wine). John's verses make Mark sound like we the fruit are not to be united with Christ the vine until He is in the Kingdom of God.

But that's where the aftermath of Mark 14 matters to me. Christ died. The Pentacost drop shipped the Holy Spirit into our lives. A new promise was established during Mark 14 at the Last Supper. The Crucifixion sealed the deal and Pentacost brought God, Christ and Man together.

So Christ did enter the domain of God. And he walked on it among his disciples here.

This, to me, means that Jesus did usher in a new era, a new reign. The point of Mark 14:25 was that Jesus would not touch the fruit until He saw the Kingdom. It wasn't about us seeing the Kingdom. And since He did, He the vine can touch us the fruit once more.

I believe we are supposed to be realizing the promise of this era but we are not. I think we're called out to love another and the world, all as Jesus outlined, to do our part of the promise.

Our failure to do so keeps us of realizing Heaven here on earth.

So is it an afterlife only thing, as asked? To me, unfortunately, yes, but only for now. I think it's an afterlife only thing because we continue to not fulfill the two commandments that Jesus identified (Love God, Love one another). I think Jesus brought the dominion here to Man on Earth because of His death and Pentacost (He did reach the kingdom). But we don't benefit from it because we haven't shown ourselves to be proper stewards of this kingdom.

Our Kingdom can be here, but we must first prove ourselves to be model citizens.