Sunday, December 19, 2004

Dealing with Shame

This Sunday's lectionary reading is about Joseph and his reaction to his fiance's unexpected pregnancy and how he responded to it. After reading the story, I found myself asking how Joseph must have felt both as he discovered Mary's untimely pregancy or wrestled with the feelings of shame he probably experienced long after he and Mary were married. Did people talk about his as he walked by? Did Mary's parents believe that Joseph didn't get their daughter pregnant?

I believe most of us have experienced shame at one point or another in our lives. Living with shame is tough, and how we go about dealing with it truly marks our character. In any event, here is a portion of the sermon I am going to preach later tonight. You can read the entire sermon by visiting my church's website once I post the sermon online tomorrow (or later tonight).

At some point or another, some of us have been there too: It’s the dead of the night, that special hour when the silence seems spooky, and suddenly you are awakened. On the surface, it could be for any reason: a fragment of a disturbing dream, some stressful remnant from the day before. But as you lie there sinking back into sleep, something else rises up to grasp your conscious mind. It’s more than just an anxious feeling cresting on a cloudy surface; it’s a whisper from way down deep, past the layers of worry, anxiety, and need. It’s a small voice buried in the very center of who you are. And the voice asks, ‘Am I okay? Am I really satisfied with the way I am? Maybe there is something wrong [with me] after all.'

Tower of Babel?

I have discovered an interesting site this morning while doing some cross referencing for a sanskirt thing I am working on and came across this piece. The author is explaining the history of the sanskrit language as well as the theory that sanskrit is among the list of Proto Indo European (P.I.E.) languages that may have all evolved from one source language some 10,000 years ago. The theory is that all the PIE languages share common traits in pronunciation, grammar, and structure thereby supporting the idea that they all have a shared common ancestor-language.

The idea is akin to the Quelle source document (often simply referred to as Q) that is supposed to contain all the sayings of Jesus. It is believed that the authors of the Gospels each had a copy of the Q and then used his sayings to articulate and explain Jesus' life. In a more modern crass explanation, it is like the musical Roy and I saw last week called Mama Mia in which all the songs of Abba were sung in a particular order in which to tell a particular story.

Anyways, back to this PIE language theory, it is facinating and if you have a few minutes, drop by this site here and have a look-see. The idea of an original source language reminds me of what it may have been like in pre-Babel times. I love the idea of a story in the OT being written to explain the various different languages. Even if the story of Babel itself isn't factual (although one never knows), the idea that one language did exist, just tickles my bone of curiosity in ways that other bones in my body are... no wait, I had better just stop typing right now.. Lord knows I'd give just way too much information.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Deskstop Search Program

Wowsers, I have found the coolest new free program going around. It's called Copernic Desktop Search tool and its purpose is to index your hard drive, your email box, your pictures, your music, and a host of other options. Once indexed, all you need to do is type in what you're looking for in the search engine and as fast as you can say, "lickety split" you have your results. And, your results are broken down by date. You'll have sections for 'this week', 'this month', and the last 3 months, and the last 6 months and so on.

I just can't believe how useful this tool has been at work. I am one of those crazy people who gets about 150 emails a day (not including spam); it is just so hard to keep track of what I get and I am often spending more time looking for an old email than I would be if I just picked up the phone and called the sender. Now, I can save some embarrassment. Yesterday I used to feature 4 times!

Anyways, you can download this program by either going to the above link or by going to it this way, if you want to be sure the website doesn't "track itself" from the host site back through your computer: It's not too big a file, you can download it in less than a minute if you're using broadband. Also, keep in mind that it'll take the program a couple of hours or more to index your hard drive (depending on how much stuff you already have on it), I did it before I left work on Thursday and had it waiting for me on Friday morning. I did it on my home system early this morning and it took about 3-4 hours.

Friday, December 17, 2004


Like my fellow pastoral comrades, I have been too busy to post anything of note on my blog this past week. From preparing for court depositions, to planning worship services, to writing sermons, to advertising, to meetings, to yada, yada, yada... and next week looks busier than this week... I have been neglecting this blog and I apologize. However, today something happened that has forced me to write something down.

I went into an eyeglasses store to begin looking at replacing my glasses. I've had them for over two years and am thinking I should replace them with something nicer looking. So, during my lunch break, I went over to a Cohen's Eyeglasses Shop located around the corner from the church.

While I was checking out some really cool frames, I found one that I thought had "me" written all over them. The glasses looked expensive (and they are) but the store is having a 50% off sale on all their frames. So I inquired how much the glasses would cost, including eye exam and the lens. The receptionist said, "Well that all depends, will you be needing bifocals with this pair?"

"BIFOCALS?!! How old do you think I am lady?!", I replied in a rather loud manner.

Unfazed, she (the receptionist) repeated, "If you are going to need bifocals, it'll cost more, that's all I am saying."

"BIFOCALS?!! Good gawd," I replied, coming down from my shock.

Checking out the mirror again with the new glasses on my nose, I thought to myself, "I don't look that old. The gray hair on my temples look sexy. My skin is darn good for almost 40 years old. Thank you very much."

Thinking reflectively, it appears that I am going into older age kicking and screaming. I am glad Roy wasn't there to hear my reaction and rant. My rants tend to embarrass him- I think I was absolutely justified in my response. Don't you?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Inventive Midrash about John the Baptist

This past Sunday I preached a sermon about John the Baptist and used, what I thought would be creative license, to better explain his situation in prison. In the lectionary reading from Sunday, John the Baptist asks his disciples to go ask Jesus, "Are you the Messiah or should I look for another?" Given John's close relationship with Jesus, and his baptism of Jesus where he heard the voice call down from heaven, and given the fact that John had been preaching Jesus as the Messiah, what brought about John's doubts and what lesson might we learn from it?

And so, I thought I'd do something creatively different. I created a midrash story. Midrash is a Jewish literary art form in which a story is taken from the Old Testament and certain details (usually fictional or historically accurate) are added to the story whereby a moral is gleaned that remains somewhat consistent with Hebrew Scripture. This form of storytelling is as older than them Jewish hills- heck, even the Talmud is full of midrash.

Anyways, I applied some inventive midrash to the story of John the Baptist. And certainly, I told everyone I was doing it- I just did it to help clarify John's situation. Some folks absolutely loved it... others though were clearly offended. You'd think we liberal Christians would have more licenses but I guess there are always those who don't want anyone messing with their Christian history- even if that history isn't as complete as we'd like it to be.

Here is a sample of the sermon and the link to read the rest of the sermon at the bottom of the post.

And so, John went to live and study in the desert with a bunch of very bright religious zealots who wore long white robes. The Essene community, as we understand it from the translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, was comprised of men who had escaped the city life to dedicate themselves to monastic and ascetic spirituality. These Essenes were waiting for certain signs to usher the known world into a new age of religious practice and belief.

I can just imagine the eagerness of John was well received by this community of scholarly but perhaps seemingly very boring men compared to John. With John’s vigor, he delved into his studies with excitement.

As John studied and learned the teachings of this community, something began to come together for him. As the teachers spoke about the true Messiah fulfilling the prophecies of the prophet Isaiah, having been born of a virgin, suddenly a light began to dawn in him. His cousin Jesus was born of a virgin! And doesn’t Jesus’ name mean ‘God with us’? Excitedly, he told his brothers in the commune about his cousin Jesus and that he was the chosen Messiah!

Casting sideward glances to one another, the Essenes nicely but firmly told John that this couldn’t be. “The Messiah would come to set things right, not rise up from the within it,” they said. Or, “The Messiah would bring about a new world order—in a way that crushed the enemy. How could a carpenter’s son accomplish this?” Angered and thwarted, John knew his brothers had to be wrong. As much as he pestered them to reconsider, the angrier they became until they decided that John was no longer
stable enough to consider becoming a brother of the Order. They asked him to leave.

You may read the rest of the sermon here.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

"The 23rd Sigh"

I know the dangers of mixing politics and religion; however a church member just shared this with me tonight and I want to pass it along.

"The 23rd Sigh"

Bush is my shepherd, I dwell in want.
He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests.
He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness.
He restoreth my fears.

He leadeth me in the paths of international disgrace for his ego's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of pollution and war,
I will find no exit, for thou art in office.
Thy tax cuts for the rich and thy media control, they discomfort me.

Thou preparest an agenda of deception in the presence of thy religion.
Thou anointest my head with foreign oil.
My health insurance runneth out.
Surely megalomania and false patriotism shall follow me all the days of thy term,
And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

God's Special People

I have these two friends who drop by ever so often to chat and say hello. One is a homeless man with severe mental dillusions and the other, a grandmother, who lives up the block who is completely off her rocker. One is named Ted* and the other is Roberta*.

Ted is a guy in his late 40s who sleeps in the park at night and roams the Upper West Side during the day. Wearing layer upon layer of clothes and smelling of both rotten eggs and a combination of human poo and urine, he is quite the odoriferous fellow. Stopping in at various churches, he conjols others for money in whatever way he can muster. With me though, he doesn't ask for money (although he used to, I guess he just got tired of me saying, "No. However, would you like a sandwich?") Every Tuesday and Thursday, Ted comes downstairs to my office and sits down to talk about his life and whatever is going on until its time to hand out the sandwiches. Usually his discussions make absolutely no sense, he jumps from one conversation to another in quick succession. Lately he's been talking about killing his uncle by slitting his throat or by pouring bleach on him and setting the bleach on fire. I haven't told him that bleach isn't flamable--just in case he actually does this. I don't really think he'll ever do this- but I have mentioned him to the local police who smile and say, "Nah, I wouldn't worry about ol' Ted, he's fairly harmless." I think he's harmless too.. although last week he did give me a fright.

I had been relunctant to tell Ted that I was gay because one never knows how a homeless mentally challenged paranoid schitsofrenic (sp?) would handle such revelations. However, the day finally came when I told him because of his insistence that I need a woman to make my nights more enjoyable. Upon hearing the news, he was shocked.. and responded in a loud, "You are going to hell!" kind of way. But that wasn't what was frightening. The next day he came back and to say, "You know, perhaps I can help teach you some special techniques to show Roy (I told him about my boyfriend) and preceded to ask for my home address and when a proper time to drop by so he could sexually satisfy me. Gasp!! I was too shocked to actually answer right away. Gathering myself, I told him that, "No, I didn't need him to do that," that, "No, we will never have sex," and "No, I do not give you permission to talk to me like that."

He stopped in today and apologized for the way he talked to me last Saturday. And, almost as if the conversation never happened, he went back to why he hates his uncle and how he misses his mother (who died last year) during this holiday season. Ted is a bit of a staple around this neighborhood and, seeing him reminds me that life continues on.. day by day.. with all its idiosyncricies.

Roberta is a bit different. She is in her mid 60s, as thin as a rail, and is missing earlobes that look as if they were bitten off by something (or someone). And, she always has painted on her lips the brightest red lipstick you ever saw. Sometimes she tries to sneak a kiss on my cheek just so that she can see the bright lipstick on my cheek. Today she came in (as she normally does) laughing and carrying on very loudly. Screaming, "HOW IS MY PASTOR BO DOING TODAY? I LOVE MY PASTOR BO!" She is someone who knows she's nuts and takes the appropriate medication that really only sedates her.. you ought see her when she's not sedated! Still, she brings a warmth and a smile into the office whenever I see her. Unfortunately she's always looking for money, a cigarette, or a piece of cake. Still, when I see her she lightens my day.

Roberta came to visit me this past Sunday too. Wearing a fancy dress and a bright red wool coat, she asked if I had any change, a cigarette, or a piece of cake. Unfortunately, I had nothing of the sort but we talked and we both got a big kick out of seeing each other. She had to leave shortly after she arrived because her "show" was coming on the television and, as she said, "I JUST GOTTA HAVE MY SOUL TRAIN!" I found at today that Aretha Franklin was on Sunday and Roberta preceded to sing to me some of Aretha's fine singin'. I think Aretha's a mighty fine singer too so we both joined in a rendition of, "You better stop, think, about what you're doin' to me.."

We had a great time.

This past Sunday our guest preacher preached on the times in which we entertain angels unawares. The sermon highlighted the many times in which people come into our lives that enrich us and then, sometimes depart before we have a chance to thank them. I have been fortunate to thank both Ted and Roberta for their friendships.. even when our meetings are odd or off the wall. To me, they are like angles (heck, they might even be angels.. if it wasn't for Ted's horndog-ness, I might really wonder).

Sometimes I wonder if I am not entertaining angels, then who might I be talking with. I say that because of something Jesus said once, "In as much as you do it to the least of my brethren, you do it unto me." Hmm.. whether I am entertaining angels or Jesus, I know that God is calling me to care for the poor and lonely. I wonder if God just said that about the angels or if Jesus just said that about himself, just to make sure I do it. Regardless, I have found people like Ted and Roberta as God's special people and I am sure glad they are my friends.

* Not their real names.

Monday, December 06, 2004

This week's WinXP News

I have been debating about downloading Service Pack 2 for XP. I have heard so many horror stories from folks who did so and am ever so relunctant to experience those problems. Today while reading this weekly eNewsletter, I found a webpage at Microsoft (as explained in WinXP News) that details particular problems to expect and which programs I have that will conflict with the service pack update. As a result, I have DEFINATELY decided NOT to download Service Pack 2.

You can read about this and other exciting computer talk about this month's issue at WinXP News.

Another great quote

"Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." -- Thomas Alva Edison

Books, books, and more books

I have been told by he who says he loves me, "Pare down your books, all of them.. get rid of the ones you'll never read again, this looks crazy!!"

Getting rid of one's books is a tough thing to do. I mean, each of them tells a story of where they came from, why I bought them, and how much I enjoyed reading them. It's a shame really; surely no one will value them as much as I do were I to give them away. Lord knows I won't throw them in the trash (that just has to be a sin).

So.. I am looking at my bookcases here at home and am wondering, "Where do I start?"

I have been able to make the case for keeping my reference books on liberation theology, the Idiot's Guides to everything (which also includes a few cookbooks), cultural anthropology, teaching methods, and Biblical exegesis. I am left with about 3 shelves that I could honestly discard in their entirety (and probably a fourth shelf, the shelf on cultural anthropology deals with cultures around the globe as they deal with lgbt identities, this is probably a bit dated.)

To make this challenge easier, I have decided what I am going to do with the books first. For starters, I am going to donate by books on a queer identity and other relevant cultural discussions, to the Gay Center here in New York City. Then, I am going to go through the bookshelves and actually trash the old papers, binders, and reports I have stuffed in-between the books.

Finally, I found a bookstore yesterday that will give me a $1 store credit for any fiction book I bring in that they need. The rest will be donated, through them, to other book-related charities. I am pretty psyched that I have a plan. The next hurdle though, is taking down the books and packing them up. I need to get myself motivated and do it all very quickly- I have to "not think, just do" it. But, I'll need to wait until the movitation takes hold of me.. it won't be too long, I've been given a deadline.

Also, I will need to do the same thing at work. While he who loves me understands that my books at work are my responsibility, it only makes sense for me to do a bookshelf cleaning there too. That'll be tougher though.. my best and most favorite books are at work.

Still, as I think about this age of technology I am living in, I realize that most of my important reference books have now been digitalized and that keeping all my hardcover books are now more about sentimentality than actual, "I just know I'll need to reference something in that book someday soon." I am amazed at how seductive sentimentality really is.. and how powerful it is too. I guess I just need a big dose of 'mean as hell cantankorism' to begin and finish this task. Pray for me kind folk, its going to be a tough week of paring down.

Christian Capitalism

Here is an interesting and thought-provoking article on Christian capitalism written by someone who seems to defend it and yet, wants to seem as though he's criticizing the conversation. Still, its worth a read. Here is an excerpt:

I have always found it puzzling whenever nonevangelicals -- whether in the media or in casual conversation -- express shock and surprise over the commercialization of Christian religiosity through popular media and commodities. That shock suggests that even the most secularized among us remain susceptible to an essentially religious axiom: that the sacred and the profane must be kept separate as a matter of proper moral order. Even people who do not believe in Christ the Redeemer still want to believe in a Jesus who throws a fit when money-changers show up at the temple. And they want evangelicals to believe in that Jesus first and foremost, as well.

Go here to read the entire article.

The Emergent Church

I read a great article over at Christianity Today's website about the Emergent Church, what it is and what its trying to understand as it re-evaluates the Christian message from a "been there, done that" evangelical perspective.

I am increasingly interested in the Emergent Church discussion. I have a couple of friends in Oklahoma who are involved in this discussion and it intrigues me greatly. They poke and prod me in interesting and insightful ways (to which I am grateful for in many ways).

I, who lead worship in a liberal pilgrim congregation, find that our message is missing something.. and I would sure like to find what that "something" is. One particular challenge I have in the pursuit of an emergent church within my faith tradition is that many of my congregants are dyed-in-the-wool congregational liberals who have no understanding (or patience) for those who have a message about a personal/devotional faith. How does one encourage others to grow their spiritual lives in a direction towards growth that still honors those who choose to travel more slowly or not at all?

Another challenge is that while we're good liberals in that we do social justice very well.. its just that we don't bring a devotional voice into that justice. We see Jesus as a motivation, and example, to do good- but where does the Christ fit into this discussion? Where does Christ lead us in this discussion? Are my questions simply a post-tribulationist perspective (which I can't say I actually believe, but don't ask me why). Its my odd questions and desire for something more that brings me to the Emergent Church discussion.

Unfortunately many of my liberal collegues do not share in my pursuit- some feel that I am hanging on to that which I had (speaking to my evangelical roots) and can't seem to let go of. A few other collegues are satisfied with liberalism enough that they don't want to change a thing. And still yet, there are a few collegues who are encouraging me to drop this pursuit entirely (for the sake of my well-being and my career).

I say all this to say, sometimes I feel like I am journeying alone (or more alone that I should be) in this pursuit. And that, in and of itself, is very challenging. As a result, I don't pursue this discussion or conversation with the same rigor I could have if I had others to journey with. I am left with only asking those tough questions or doing personal investigations only when I am 'up to snuff' physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Still.. its a discussion I am not giving up on and its something I feel is leading me in the right direction (I do believe that God is in the journey that our questions take us.) It is in articles like the one linked in this profile that feed my inquisitive soul and gives me encouragement for another time when I am ready to continue the discussions of an Emergent Church.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Unexpected Response

Okay, so I've spent the last two days filling out petitions against the CBS and NBC response to renig on their negotiations to air the UCC commercial. I've created my own petitions that will be handed out on Sunday after the service. I'm also one of the organizers for a planned response for NYC's clergy and laypersons- we're gathering names and ideas on whether to have a demonstration or offer a press release. People are calling me, phones are ringing, my email inbox is "running over".

And then, I get an email from the denomination saying this,
1. Please don't over-react to what's happened, the majority of our ads were intended for cable stations; only a small number of ads were going on the major networks anyway.
2. The negative response and the outcry from just about everyone against NBC and CBS have garnered us more publicity than we thought imaginable, so its really been a blessing in disguise.

As of today, over 200 major news houses have printed, emailed, did television coverage, and loads of commentary about our commercial. Each time a news station has reported on the commercial, they've shown the commercial in its entirety. The NY Times did an article on it, practically every news source in England has come out in our favor, and word has spread in NYC like wild fire asking, "Wow, who are the United Church of Christ?! We love what they stand for!"
And so, I am wondering (at 1am in the morning), is a press conference or denomstration really necessary? We've gotten probably 100 times more coverage than we would ever have dreamed; and the commercials were only supposed to air for 3 weeks anyway; now the denomination has decided to continue airing the commercials (if only on the cable stations) well into 2005.

It reminds me of that old addage: "Bad press is still good press- and its free." Needless to say, I am not as angered or frustrated as I was the other day. Me and several of my collegues were still stinging a bit from the election- the action of NBC and CBS seemed to exacerbate the our overall feelings of mistrust and corruption. For those who let me rant while holding your tongue, thank you.

That said though, the petitions are still going out and we'll probably have a press conference of some kind soon enough; I'll let you know when whatever happens, happens.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Offending Commercial

You can watch the UCC commercial by going to the UCC's "God is still speaking" campaign website at

Thoughtful Quote

On a completely different note of my tirades against the NBC and CBS networks, I read this great quote in my weekly (or semi-weekly) receipt of WinXP News.

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.-- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Pretty cool, eh?

WinXP News, by the way, is an eNewsletter that helps you navigate through Windows XP and fix all sorts of problems. They have commentary on computer news as well as programming tips (even for those who don't know how to program). It's a free eNewsletter that I highly recommend.

A Shocking Thing to Say

This morning, like about 10 minutes ago, the Rev. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY said on Good Morning America,

The United Church of Christ's commercial "is a diabolical misrepresentation of Christianity."

Good Morning America ran a segment about the UCC commercial that NBC and CBS are refusing to air because of its message that welcomes gay and lesbians into its (our) congregations. GMA had Albert Mohler and the communications rep of the UCC discuss the commercial and why its causing such a fuss.

In a public statement you can read in a post below, CBS specifically refused to air the ad because of the Presidential recommendation to change the constitution to prevent gay marriages. While there are many cable stations who are running the ads, CBS, NBC, and UPN are refusing to run the ad based on its welcoming theme for gays and lesbians. ABC said they don't run religious ads although ABC Family will run the ad.

Last Spring, the UCC ran these ads on these stations in test markets where no local or national station received negative feedback. What has changed since last Spring that these stations would now say are too controversial to broadcast?

As per CBS's own admission, the reason is a political thing and I hope the UCC will take this issue to the courts to get resolved.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

So it IS a political thing!!

This is from the press release from CBS:

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by individuals and organizations," reads the explanation from CBS, "and the fact that the Executive Branch has recently proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable to broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks." (italics mine, added for emphasis)

Similarly, a rejection by NBC declared the spot "too controversial."

So our networks are no longer a free agent in the world of news and politics? This just shows how closely our networks are tied with more powerful people who determine what news to report and how that news is viewed or not viewed. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!!

Double-talk and Hypocrisy A-flame!

I just can't believe it.. I really can't!! The major tv networks, NBC and CBS have refused to allow the United Church of Christ to buy airtime for our first commercial kicking off our nationwide "God is still speaking" campaign. And, they did this on the eve in which the commercials were to air. They decided at the last minute that a commercial that advertises a church that welcomes all people is "too controversial."

And yet, NBC and CBS have ads for drugs that will give a man a four-hour erection; soaps and prime-time shows that portray sexual activity between teenagers, and men & women who aren't married to each other, as the norm; CBS can run a 20/20 episode with the Matthew Shephard murderers - in spite of their plea-bargain, where they escaped a potential death sentence, in exchange for a promise to never, that is spelled N-E-V-E-R talk to the media about Matthew's death.

And . . a mainline church wants to BUY commercial airtime for an add that say 'our church welcomes everyone' - and the networks say no.

It's hypocrisy pure and simple. And, its probably a little bit political too-- a bunch of people not wanting to show a church that is so welcoming might go against their own religious views. Show sex during the day, and thats fine! Oh sure.. but show a welcoming church, "I am sorry, but that is going too far."

Fortunately, the commercial has been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land, among others.

If you want to see the commercial now, you can see it by visiting the website of the United Church of Christ at