Saturday, December 30, 2006

Another goodbye

This is an entry I've put off writing until after Christmas Day.

Father J made the announcement he will be leaving, going to a parish up in the Midwest, where he's from.


I've become fond of him over the past three years, and though his leaving will leave me sad, I can't help thinking, "Good for him."

Apart from any desire to be closer to home, this isn't a diocese in which it's easy to head a parish, except maybe for Network types who just march to the tune with blinders on. The average rector gets headaches and heartburn, I suspect, trying to hold his or her parish together.

In this parish, people have left because Father J hasn't stood up to the bishop. People have left because he hasn't made a firm conservative stand (even though his views on sexuality are pretty conservative), and he's even had female clergy in the parish. He voted against joining the Network.

In a polarized diocese like this one in Central Florida, it's hard to take a moderate stand.

Friday, December 29, 2006

What is the sound of one refrigerator door opening?

It's never opened in solitude.

Great mercies

We had barely gotten through the Christmas-Day twister when there was more bad news: a forecast for more severe weather, including tornadoes, to usher in the New Year.Now the forecast has changed, and while we're still expected to get some thunderstorms, the National Weather Service says there's little chance of tornadic activity this weekend. Yaay! Thank you, Lord.

The weather has been schizo this week, going from a low of 40 to a high of 80 within a day. Warm, chilly, hot, chilly.

Cleanup from Christmas twisters has really just begun. We don't need any extreme weather, thank you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tidings of good cheer

When I need a smile or good-cheer restorer, I always head over to MadPriest's, and tonight I wasn't disappointed. Among the delights are a most interesting interpretation of "Good King Wenceslas" and more wonderful Christmas music.

Check out Of course, I could be wrong...: The DVant Disco Presents
A St. Stephen's Day Special

I feel much better already.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

No atheist in the twister's path

I was on the scene of the twister's path today, and saw the devastation the tornado wreaked. More than 50 homes were totally destroyed, and another 150 damaged. No one died. There were few serious injuries.

It's almost unbelievable.

Stuff like this makes me think God is indeed merciful.

People will suffer a lot of hardship as they try to rebuild their lives. Some will bear emotional scars; an event like this is an injury to the soul. With God's grace, and the help of their friends and neighbors, they will recover.

Images from the aftermath

Christmas-Day disaster

Just after I finished posting the blog entry below, a thunderstorm came through, and knocked out the power at my house all Christmas afternoon. We've had warm, wet weather all week, with 80-degree high temperatures. A cold front collided with the warm system Christmas Day, bringing the storms.

I was lucky. While I only lost power, an F2 tornado ravaged several mobile home communities to the north of town, ripping homes to shreds. I haven't heard of any casualties, but I hear unofficially there are up to 50 families unaccounted for.

Of course, on Christmas Day, many of these families may not have been home, but away, visiting friends or relatives.

Please join me in prayer that no one died. Pray for those who suddenly found themselves without a home, without any of their possessions.

Dear God, we pray you hold these storm victims in your mercy. Comfort the mourning, the frightened, the injured and hurting. Grant them peace and the courage to get through the coming days. Guide the rescue workers and searchers; keep them safe, and bless their efforts. We ask these things in the name of your son, our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Update 8:04 a.m. Dec. 26 -- Still no fatalities reported -- great non-news! Thank you, Lord.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A dog for Christmas

I don't think I've told the story of how I came to own Betsy, the Best Dog in the World.

The very best dog in the whole, wide world

I had moved into this house, and hadn't owned a dog for years, after living in apartments. I had Zsa Zsa, a cranky apricot-Persian cat, but I wanted a dog, too. I decided I would go to the local Humane Society and find a cute little lap dog -- that's what I had in mind, anyway -- one who would be 10-15 pounds when fully grown.

My plan was to take off work early, and hit the local Humane Society. That morning, just before Christmas, however, I heard a report on the television about how the Humane Society in the county just to the north had been inundated with dogs. Staff at the overcrowded facility would be forced to start putting down dogs soon.

I changed plans and drove northward through the back roads to that shelter, instead of the local one.

The place was overflowing with dogs. Most of them were big bruisers, though, and I didn't want an aggressive Rottweiler or pit bull. (There are a lot of people who live in the back woods up there, who like big, aggressive dogs. I won't use the "R" word.) The few smaller dogs seemed to have poor dispositions, not good pet quality or to be trusted around a rather sickly elderly cat, either.

After walking back and forth, looking at the howling horde, I decided I'd made a mistake driving north; there wasn't a dog for me there. I'd have to visit another shelter.

One of the workers said, "Did you see the little border collie?"

I hadn't. I like border collies.

She took me back to one of the pens, and there, sitting quietly behind some big bruisers was Betsy. Betsy was three-and-a-half months old. She had been adopted out from the shelter, then returned, her owners stating they had to move and couldn't take Betsy with them.

This may have been true; I generally consider such statements to mean, "We decided we didn't want that dog."

What foolish people, if so. I walked Betsy around the grounds, and her forlorn demeanor turned cheerful.

I brought her home, and Zsa Zsa, who disliked most people and hated all other cats, took to Betsy immediately. She would wash Betsy's face for her.

Betsy tenderly took care of Jack, who came into the household as a tiny kitten with a clawed-up face and punctured, infected eyeball. Jack loved Betsy immediately.

Elvis took a little longer to adjust -- he came out of my mother's house, where there was a dog who used to tyrannize and terrify him. Betsy won over Elvis after a while, though, and now the two of them sleep side by side.

Betsy had been partly house-trained, and it took little work to complete the job. Betsy is a smart girl, and caught on quickly. She's a very social dog, who gets along with other pets and loves to be around people.

She's been my constant companion these seven years, always greeting me at the door when I come in, staying at my heels as I move about the house, and sleeping at the foot of my bed. She's snoozing, inches from me, as I write this.

Betsy's very favorite thing is going for walks. Going for a walk in a Christmas parade is even better, in her book.

Betsy: "Let's go for a walk!"

Her exuberance, her zest for life cheer me when I'm down. Her loving nature touches me when I feel all alone.

She is the Christmas dog, a wonderful gift from God.

I've noticed my little puppy-girl is looking middle-aged these days. The white that used to just touch the end of her muzzle has spread upward toward her eyes, and she's getting the loose skin of a middle-aged dog around her eyes.

She still dances with joy over a walk, praise, a treat, a trip with me in the car, or a visitor to the house, and she still races around playing games with Jack.

I pray she'll be my companion for many years to come. All 46 pounds of her.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Of cats and Christmas trees

WARNING: Advent purists, cover your eyes. Yes, a CHRISTMAS TREE!!!!

The tree's been up for a week now -- the first one to grace the semi-saintly household in six years.

I retrieved the big box full of tree parts from the attic last Sunday afternoon, and sneezed as I sorted out branches of various sizes, pipes and footings. The tree came up. I fluffed out its branches, sneezing a little more, and opened boxes of ornaments that had been waiting so long for me to pull them out.

A new, dollar-store, lighted star went atop the tree, and I pronounced it lovely.

Wisely (I thought), I put the more fragile and precious ornaments higher on the tree, out of Jack the Brat's reach. This worked well all week; I would come home from work to find four or five of the sturdier ornaments on the floor. Jack likes to pull them off the tree with his claws, as well as use them, as they dangle from their branches, like a boxer uses a punching bag.

The tree, slightly worse for wear

I have some ornaments from my childhood, obtained when, about 10 years ago, my mother decided she didn't want her Christmas tree ornaments any more, and she would buy new ones. Not a lot were left from my childhood, but some, and some from many years of Christmas past.

My mother was never a sentimentalist. She would hold onto old butter tubs for 10 years, but family keepsakes would bite the dust, labelled "old junk."

There was one lovely blue ornament, with the words "Silent Night" in white-and-silver frosted lettering floating above a little village. I had it high up, out of Jack's reach.

Last night, Jack apparently decided he would climb in among the tree branches and wait, like a crafty leopard, for some poor, hapless cat like Elvis to come sauntering by, and pounce!

I could see the holes in the tree where the freshly fluffed branches were mashed down.

The blue ornament apparently came flying off the tree, hit the edge of the coffee table, and slid to the floor in a smithereened heap. One of its kinfolk met a similar fate. More ornaments lay still on the floor, casualties of Christmas carnage.

Some of the forensic evidence, held for future proceedings

I was somewhat put out. Jack the Brat obviously realized that, and disappeared while I cleaned broken glass from the floor and got ready for the Advent IV church service. He's been extra sweet this afternoon, but couldn't resist trying to climb into the tree once. Sigh.

"Honest, it wasn't me. I didn't do it."

"Yeah, it was Jacko, all right"

Ah well. I spent the afternoon roasting a chicken I'd planned to cook yesterday, but went to the movies instead. Betsy, the cats and I had a little taste, but its about to go into the refrigerator -- I'm having dinner at friends' tonight. The chicken will be good for leftovers tomorrow, and for chicken sandwiches. I used my special recipe of fresh orange, garlic, pepper blend and sage. Heavenly. Crispy skin on the outside, succulent and falling-off-the-bone tender inside.

I like to roast a chicken or turkey at Christmastime -- it makes the house smell so good, along with the pumpkin pie that's in the oven now. It will go out to dinner with me, at the house of some friends. Then, I'll be off to the midnight service, where I'll serve at the altar. This is my favorite service, and time to serve, of the year.

Now, I'm sitting here with a cup of latte, made with my own espresso machine -- my Christmas gift to me. Jack's perched in the chair next to me, his favorite spot when I'm on the computer.

"This is pretty tame, after being a TREE leopard!"

Good times.

Addendum, in answer to Caminante's question.

Stay mad? Who could stay mad at this?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

O Come Emmanuel

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Emmanuel. Isaiah 7:14

Here's a great site for pre-Christmas perusing: Take a look at the history and prophetic references found in the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel, with a midi, too.

There's a whole section on Christmas hymns -- just go to the main page and choose 'topic."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's truly, truly awful

Just in time for Christmas -- the mayhem and chaos of Christmas toys past, recalled. It's truly, truly awful. Heed this warning if you choose to visit.

The descriptions of these recalled toys and the damage they've inflicted are so funny, you'll find yourself guiltily laughing at them. You'll have to says prayers of repentance. Perhaps even go to confession.

Feeling truly unsaintly,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Musings on a Mexican Christmas

One of the neat things about my job is I get to go places and see things I wouldn't ordinarily see. Saturday, I went up the road for my second visit to a Mexican-migrant community of fernery workers, and watched a celebration of Las Posadas.

Las Posadas is a traditional Mexican Christmas celebration. Beginning Dec. 16, nine consecutive days of candlelight processions, prayers to God and parties pave the way for Christmas Day.

Each day, children lead a procession, re-enacting the Holy Family's attempt to find lodging in Bethlehem. The procession stops at a designated house to sing a traditional litany, through which the Holy Family requests shelter for the night. The children are turned away.

The scene is repeated at a second home.

At the third stop, the pilgrims are told that while there is no room in the posada (inn), they are welcome to take refuge in the stable. This time, the doors open wide, all are invited to enter, and the celebration begins, with food, music, and gifts for the children.

Since the homes here in Central Florida are more spread out and along a road busy with traffic, the, the procession went to the front door, then to the rear door, and back to the front door of the same home, three times. This kept the children on the same property all evening.

The group entreating entry sang a litany to the accompaniment of a guitarist, and the “innkeepers” inside sang responsively.
Upon the third visit to the front door, the procession was told there was no room at the inn, but there was room at the stable, and the children bearing the Holy Family were allowed to enter.

Children quickly headed for the tables of toys. Food ran a distant second in this race.

Holding hands and talking with friends made time in the toy line go by more quickly.

I got a fresh-hot tamale. Before the processional started, I went into the house, where a team of cooks was preparing the food. One of them pulled a piping hot tamale out of the giant pot of them and put it on a plate for me.

For the Brits and others who may not be familiar with tamales, its a spicy meat mixture wrapped inside a cornmeal breading. The concoction is wrapped in a corn husk and put into a pot with its brethern and a little water, and steamed until done. It's yummy. Tamales, rice, beans, tortillas and similar fare are staples of the Mexican diet.

After consuming the goody and turning down offers of a second -- not because I didn't want one, but because I was afraid they might run short for all the people they had to serve -- I wandered back outside.

I watched the kids playing tag, weaving between pockets of socializing grownups. It struck me that I saw no children screaming in temper tantrums. I saw no exasperated parents screaming at children. On the contrary, children were frequently picked up and hugged. They are treated as precious.

For all our lip service about the importance of family in the U.S. culture, I don't think we always treat our children as precious. They're often viewed as baggage, or attachments to their parents. I've seen a lot of young-adult parents who see no reason to change their lifestyles just because they have children. So, the kids are left at home while dad's out wherever and mom is down at the karaoke bar, even if the parents aren't divorced.

Even when left with caring people, kids get the impression they're not that important to the people who matter the most to them.

By the time they're teenagers, some of these kids are psychopathic young people who are used to spending a lot of time alone, without adult supervision, and with minimal interaction with adults. These kids know they're "baggage." They spend time on the Internet learning ways to blow things up or shoot people. Or, they're out doing drugs. Doing whtever is antisocial.

An oversimplification, I know, and a lot of other factors are involved, but I think there's some truth there.

I hardly ever see the migrant workers out without their kids. Whether it's grocery shopping, a trip to the laundromat or an occasional meal in a restaurant, their children are with them.

I wonder.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Joy is; joy remembers

As I drove to church yesterday, the first ping hit. I was tooling up the highway, listening to some of those verboten Christmas carols on the radio.

It was as if I felt a hand on me, and heard a voice with my spirit, not with my ears.

"Trust in me," God/Holy Spirit said.

It was not a question, but more of a statement of fact, as in "You do trust in me." It was a request for affirmation. There was delight, satisfaction in it.

I have put my trust more fully in God, after a time of depression and defensiveness, when I felt I had to leap in and do. I've been learning to relax more, to let go and let God -- as corny as that sounds.

I said, "I trust you, Lord," and felt something lift off me.

My eyelids fluttered; I got goosebumps and shivered. It's a good thing there was no traffic around me. I think I barely stayed in my traffic lane.

Joy flooded me; it was joy meeting joy -- my joy meeting God's delight. I was overwhelmed with the Spirit.

Profound contentment stayed with me through the service. Toward the end of the service came portions of one of my favorite spirit songs, by Martha Butler. The second ping:

I looked up and I saw my lord a coming
I looked up and I saw my lord a coming down the road

Alleluia, he is coming
Alleluia, he is here

I looked and I saw my lord a coming
Mary's son, Mary's son.

Alleluia, he is coming
Alleluia, he is here

Tears began to stream from eyes as I sang this song, so full of longing, so full of joy. It acknowledges the now and not yet: past present and future, all wrapped into one. And pain. It is a song most often heard around Easter.

Jesus is coming (again? for the first time ?); he will shed tears for us; he will die for love of us (we know this, even as we see him walking down the road toward us for the very first time), but he will rise. This little baby, Mary's son.

This song has special meaning to me, I think, because it's one I heard frequently as I was first coming into Christ's love, which was as the season of Lent turned to Easter.

Yesterday, I sang with joy, with true joy that acknowledges pain, past and future. Joy remembers; joy takes its moments and lives, in the best and worst of circumstances.

Alleluia, he is coming.

I love you Lord, and I put my trust in you.

Alleluia, he is here. Mary's son.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Confessions of an Advent penitent

It was a short wagon ride

After being chastised by members of the blogging community for my wayward ways -- listening to Christmas music during Advent, and giving Christmas gifts, too -- I resolved to reform.

Saturday, I spent a quiet and thoughtful day at home, shampooing carpets. No music, no pet gifts, no ho-ho-hos.

I meditated upon the symbolism of of everyday life's dirt and grime being whooshed out of the carpets, leaving them fresh, while black, dirty water went down the drain. It's a process that takes willingness and work.

Saturday night, I fell off the Advent wagon.

I went to a party at the home of our associate priest, who lives by the river. We watched the Christmas boat parade, a line of brightly lit boats decorated in various secular and Christmas themes, to the sound of Christmas music: carols and popular Christmas music, both.

Oh, aye, I tried to tune out those Christmas carols, but I found myself humming them under my breath, anyway.

I'm not a boater, but there are few things more beautiful than the line of a sailboat, and one emphasized by lights of the season is particularly beautiful. Here are a few of the boats from the parade, docked by the Yacht Club, where I'm sure they wouldn't let me in on my own. I went there after all the festivities for a nightcap with my hosts, who are members.

Anyway, the timing was perfect -- just after the boat parade finished, the shuttle Discovery lifted off, and from the second floor of the building, just by the intercoastal waterway, we had a perfect view of it arcing over us into the sky, like a giant Roman candle. I didn't have the presence of mind to grab my camera, but here's NASA's photo of the liftoff. We watched this part on TV before running outside:

After all my dissing of Advent music, the service of Lessons and Carols at church Sunday morning was beautiful. Partly because little of the music actually came from the "Advent" section of the hymnal. We heard the likes of a selection from Handel's Messiah, some Bach and other classical music. The stellar voices of several of the performers, including Father J and his daughter, did honor to the music. We're also blessed with a concert violinist and the talent of our music director, who pulled off a beautiful one Sunday.

Sunday afternoon, my dog, Betsy, and I took part in our second Christmas parade of the year. Betsy loves parades -- not watching, but marching in them -- and she got to prance along my company's business float in two of the local Christmas parades this year. She's a performer! And she loves all the children who want to pet her.

A small-town Christmas parade is more Chamber of Commerce than true Christmas. I prefer the boat parade, where boat owners decorated for the pleasure of it.

Every year, the Christmas-parade committee comes up with a theme for the town parade, and every year, the businesses pretty much ignore it, coming up with themes they can accomplish with their vehicles and personnel, and get their businesses on display.

The churches try valiantly to get the Christmas message out, but they are displaying themselves, too.

I suspect Jesus would be somewhat amused.


Lord Jesus, I wait for you in the chill, predawn darkness of winter. I look to the East, and see a glow on the horizon, a sign. I long for you; I mourn your absence. O come now, and bring your light, your warmth, your presence among us. I wait, ready to offer you my adoration and praise.
-- saint pat

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Drunken cats and other signs of Christmas

Faugh on all you Advent-music Puritans! I've been humming Christmas songs since Thanksgiving, and I'm not about to stop! In fact, I may rifle through my music and put on a Christmas CD.

If most Advent music wasn't so dreary, it would be easier to take. I can be reflective and thoughtful without it.

You see, I'm all in the Christmas mood this year, for the first time in a few years. I've worked my way out of the despondency I was in, and zest for life has been creeping back.

I had a little bump -- a mini-panic attack -- the night before I went on the cruise last month, wondering what on Earth might go wrong while I was away. The last time (on a mission trip, summer 2005) I was gone on a Saturday the 11th of the month and returning on the 13th of the month, my brother died on the 11th.

Last year, I finally got in the Christmas mood and started humming Christmas songs right around Epiphany. This year, I'm going all out. I'm climbing into the attic and pulling out the Christmas decorations that have been sitting there for four years.
I haven't had the heart to do much decorating the last few years.

Oh, I know, the grimy-gullies are still out there, and **stuff** is just waiting for its chance, but life happens, anyway. God has gotten me through the bad stuff past, and will be there for bad stuff future.

I went to the Evil Empire tonight (America's largest discount-retail chain) and bought presents for needy families, humming along with the canned Christmas music the whole time.

I got the cats a catnip toy for Christmas, but gave it to them as soon as I got home. In fact, Elvis smelled the catnip as soon as I laid the plastic bags down on the table, and started rooting through them, looking for the catnip.

Catnip! I smell it! Where is it?"

Oh, baby, that's some tripping 'nip.

He rolled around, hugging it for a while, then dropped the toy on the floor. He didn't notice. Jack took over, holding the little mousie close and nipping and biting at it in passion.

Jack: Yeah, mouse. You're all mine, now.

Betsy got a squeaky-Santa pull toy. I had to throw it endlessly for her, after she chewed on it and softened/slobbered it up for me a bit. She would pick it up, run back to me, play tug of war until I wrested it away and threw it across the room, starting the loop again.

A good time was had by all.

More good times to come.

From the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6:25-27, 34 (NIV)

Do Not Worry

2"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? ... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I'm giving up worrying so much. Not enjoying the good things God gives us is a sin.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A smashing idea

I just had a terrific idea: Bishop Katharine can appoint MadPriest of "Of Course, I Could Be Wrong" fame to the post of Primatial Vicar, in charge of alternative oversight.

He's Anglican, so the Anglican Communion Network can't complain about that. And he's very orthodox. Just read today's entry on Advent versus Christmas music. And he's made noises recently about being in the job market.

Just think of what those Alpo-demanding bishops will be like, after six months of MadPriest messing with their minds!

They'll beg to come back.


Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's response to San Joaquin's Convention, Dec. 4:

I lament the actions of the Bishop and Convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin to repudiate their membership in the Episcopal Church. While it is clear that this process is not yet complete, the fact that the Bishop and Convention have voted to remove the accession clause required by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church would seem to imply that there is no intent to terminate this process before it reaches its full conclusion. Our task as the Episcopal Church is God's mission of reconciling the world, and actions such as this distract and detract from that mission.

I deeply lament the pain, confusion, and suffering visited on loyal members of the Episcopal Church within the Diocese of San Joaquin, and want them to know of my prayers and the prayers of many, many others.

I continue to consult with others involved in responding to this extracanonical action.

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop and Primate

It's cold comfort, but good for Bishop Katharine -- she's not letting them get away with the word games. I lament the situation also, though.

What's the next move to be?