Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Congratulations, Susan Slaughter!

With its former occupants having left their church and diocese behind, the Diocese of Fort Worth is now set to ordain its first female priest! Huzzah! From Episcopal Life Online comes this exciting news:

Thirty-three years after the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, is following suit.

The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. (Ted) Gulick Jr., bishop of Kentucky and provisional bishop of Fort Worth, is set to ordain the Rev. Susan Slaughter to the priesthood on Nov. 15 at St. Luke's in the Meadow Episcopal Church, where she currently serves as deacon...

"It is with a deep sense of awe in the mysterious ways of our Lord that I arrive at this moment," Slaughter said recently. "I am filled with gratitude toward those persons, lay and clergy, who have encouraged and supported me over the years. St. Luke's in the Meadow has been especially supportive and has helped me discern more clearly my true vocation."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Beauty of the Badlands

While driving from Idaho to Omaha in September, I had the privilege of spending a night camping in South Dakota's Badlands National Park, just outside the Black Hills and about an hour from Rapid City. I rarely journal, but after spending a few hours driving and walking around the buttes in the moonlight, I immediately sat down and wrote. Here's an excerpt from my notebook, as well as the context I wrote for it in last week's sermon before deleting it for brevity. (Picture credit.


Being there at night under a full moon and a clear sky is something else – not because it’s pretty, although it is, but because it’s so amazingly spiritual. It’s okay to look out over the buttes, but when you walk down into them and head back a little ways into the wilderness area, it’s like you’ve left the planet. I wrote in my journal that night,

Still struggling to find the right adjectives. It is an uncapturable experience. It was a moment and a place, and such things do not conflate with pen and paper. It was religious, and beautiful in an eery way. It was almost like a moon, but with greenery. And thanks to the owl and crickets, it was so alive! And not a single other person. I had been transported in a way I never had been before. For once, I was glad to be along during a wonderful moment. It was all so ancient, and made me feel safe in an edgy way.

But I was not really alone. I was with God. And the drive back to my campsite a few hours later was something else, too – I had to stop repeatedly for stampeding bison, charging prairie dogs, and a 15-point buck!

There are moments in life – children discovering the joy of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly; pilots, as John Magee says, slipping the surly bonds of earth and joining the tumbling of sun-split clouds; fisherman enjoying the calm tranquility of a still lake; farmers feeling the wise wind of the cornfield on their face or taking in the awesome power of a prairie storm; city slickers walking in a park to escape the grime and the crime – there are moments in life when we know that God loves us not because we see God in our air ducts or our transmissions, but because we feel God in the midst of God’s creation.

Here's something I found on YouTube:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Episcopal Churches Stage Events For 350

Great article from the Episcopal News Services about Episcopal Churches getting involved with the 350 International Day of Climate Action, one of the largest political events ever!

Bell ringing, postcard campaigns and community connections will point the way to Copenhagen when congregations join in the International Day of Climate Action this Saturday, October 24.

Organized by the campaign, this year's annual celebration will call for a fair climate treaty when world leaders gather in Copenhagen in December. Three hundred fifty parts per million is considered to be the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in earth's atmosphere.

Episcopal congregations have marked the day in previous years by ringing steeple bells 350 times. This year, Bill McKibben, founder of, and Mary Evelyn Tucker of the Forum on Religion and Ecology are urging greater participation by religious congregations.

Tyler Edgar of the National Council of Churches' Eco-justice unit points out that it is important for the United States to be committed to reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions if it is to be effective in Copenhagen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My New Job, Part 1: Repower Nebraska

I mentioned a few months ago that I’m spending this year in Omaha, Nebraska working for the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection’s Episcopal Service Corps program. This program consists of three main components: spiritual direction, an internship at a local Episcopal church, and volunteer work at a local non-profit. I’ve been here for six weeks and the different components of this new job are now all in place. I’d like to devote a post each to my parish placement and to my non-profit placement.

For my volunteer work, I am helping out at Repower Nebraska as their faith outreach coordinator. Repower Nebraska is the local chapter of Repower America, the group Al Gore started with his Nobel Peace Prize money to advocate the passage of clean energy legislation. My job here is to coordinate with different faith groups around the state and work to address the spiritual and Scriptural issues surrounding climate change. I don’t know what I can and can’t say publicly about Repower Nebraska – they may not pay me (the Church of the Resurrection does that) but I am still going to respect whatever communication protocols and chain-of-command they may have regarding blogs and the like. When I worked for Senator Baucus, I wasn’t allowed to even say so online, so I’m going to be cautious and leave it here for now. I will say, though, that this is a really important cause and I am excited to be here!

For more on the Christian perspective surrounding climate change, please see a sermon I wrote and posted last weekend and take a look at this upcoming seminar from GreenFaith. A good resource from the Episcopal Diocese of Omaha is Green Sprouts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anglican Communion Stories About Climate Change

The Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), a sometimes-updated online service of Lambeth Palace, has had two interesting stories about Christian involvement in climate change issues this month. The first, dated October 12, was titled simply, "A Statement from the Anglican Communion Environmental Network," and the second, from October 14, was called, "Act local as well as national urges Archbishop of Canterbury."

An excerpt from the Environmental Network statement:

We look to the Copenhagen conference with hope but also with realism... there must be a desire on the part of every nation to do what they know they must, not because they are legally bound, but because they share a vision for a more just and sustainable future... We pray that each nation will come to the conference wanting the highest level outcome; that demanding targets will be set, not in an attempt to discipline reluctant participants, or to give some preferential treatment which undermines the whole; but that a greater vision might be shared...

Our faith and our ancestors have always taught us that the earth is our mother and deserves respect; we know that this respect has not been given. We know that like a mother the earth will continue to give its all to us. However, we also know that we are now demanding more than it is able to provide. Science confirms what we already know, our human footprint is changing the face of the earth and because we come from the earth, it is changing us too.

And an excerpt from the story about the Most Rev. Williams:

In a lecture today at Southwark Cathedral (sponsored by the Christian environmental group Operation Noah) Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, sets out a Christian vision of how people can respond to the looming environmental crisis. Beginning with the story of Noah and the Flood, Dr Williams highlights the “burden of responsibility for what confronts us here and now as a serious crisis and challenge”. Our relationship with the rest of creation is intimately bound up with our relationship with God. The Bible offers “an ethical perspective based on reverence for the whole of life”. “To act so as to protect the future of the non-human world is both to accept a God-given responsibility and, appropriately, to honour the special dignity given to humanity itself.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Sermon on Job, Psalm 104, and the Kerry-Boxer Energy Bill

I had planned to give this sermon at an Omaha-area Episcopal church today, but unfortunately flu-like symptoms caused me to request a back-up preacher a couple days ago. Nevertheless, I thought I would post it here. The readings follow the Revised Common Lectionary, focusing on Job 38: 1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104: 1-9, 25; and Mark 10:35-45. Drawing heavily from a book by Bill McKibben, the crux of the sermon is basically this: The environment is important for many spiritual reasons. One, when Scripture reveals God’s glory, it does so with environmental and biological language. Two, we are able to experience and feel God when in nature. Three, God gave us this environment as a gift, called it “good,” and asked us to take care of it. For these three reasons, as well as the role the environment plays in justice (its close ties to things like cancer and asthma), we as good Christians must be humble and not live a lifestyle that destroys the environment. If we believe what science tells us, then we must address climate change, and one way to do that is to pass clean energy legislation. So without further ado, my sermon:

May I speak in the name of God who is Creator, Liberator, and Sanctifier.

The common message across these passages from Job, Mark, and Psalm 104 is a simple one: God is great, and we must humble ourselves before God, approaching God’s creation with humility. My understanding of that message is that when we ignore His natural works or replace them with our own, we risk running afoul of the First Commandment.

I am rather struck by the timing of these readings. I bought a book last winter called The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation about this passage from Job and this very psalm by a fellow named Bill McKibben. Some of you may already be familiar with McKibben; he is an environmental scholar at Middlebury College and the author of several popular books. He has helped organize almost every major climate change campaign in the last decade. The reason I am struck by the timing of these readings is that McKibben’s biggest event yet will be next weekend. I’ll say more about that event in a few moments.

The Comforting Whirlwind points out that when God wants to reveal His glory, he uses language of an environmental and biological sort. God appears to Job in a whirlwind, one of the basic elements of nature, and talks to him about “the foundation of the earth” and the “morning stars,” reminding the man that he wasn’t there when these things were created; that they are bigger than he and that he should remember than when contemplating his relationship with the creator. Then, in verses 34-41 (“optional” verses for today in the Revised Common Lectionary) God says,

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, “Here we are”? Who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert?

Waterskins of the heavens! Lions! That is some awesome stuff, all of it speaking to the glory of the Creator and all of it found not in our cities but in God’s forests and skies. There’s more of the same in Psalm 104, which highlights God’s “majesty and splendor” with verses like “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” These verses are neither the first of an environmental nature in the Bible, nor the last. Where does Jesus go, McKibben asks, when he wants to pray? The Temple? No! A garden, and the Wilderness. And who was the original conservationist? Teddy Roosevelt? American Indians? How about… Noah? Remember Genesis: “The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.” And God saw that it was good.

There is a reason God and the psalmist talk of weather, geology, and animals when they want to show His glory. God considers those things good—and we can experience why for ourselves. There are moments in life – children discovering the joy of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly; pilots, as John Magee says, slipping the surly bonds of earth and joining the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds; farmers taking in the awesome power of a prairie storm; city slickers walking in a park to escape the grime, me camping in Badlands National Park under a full moon during the drive to Omaha from Idaho – there are moments in life when we know that God loves us not because we see God in our air, but because we feel God in the midst of God’s creation.

If we are to honor God, then we must honor the things God calls good, the creations that reveal God’s glory. Part of honoring them is learning to approach them with humility, which is one of the lessons in today’s Gospel. Here we have James and John caring not about what the Kingdom of God will do for humanity but about what it will do for them. Dr. David Garland, the seminary dean at Baylor University, writes of James and John, “They want to dominate, not to serve” and of the reaction of their traveling companions, “The disciples would rather bear a grudge than a cross.” And so Christ very lovingly puts them all in their place: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

So we are called to act with humility, and yet we do not. Our culture is one of consumerism; our society demands a lifestyle that takes more resources from the earth per year than the earth can replace. I am speaking not just about materialism, but also about climate change, which is a scientific issue far more than it is a political one. NASA has made it clear that if we keep relying on coal as our primary energy source and on ungodly amounts of dinosaur bones to fuel our daily transportation, we will put enough greenhouse gases in the air to raise the average temperature of the planet several degrees. If that happens – and nine of the ten hottest years on record are in the past two decades – we will see several Katrina-style storms every year. A report from the Nature Conservancy says the largest temperature increases in the U.S. will come right here in the Midwest, causing massive drought. The refugee crises won’t just be limited to the population of Bangladesh moving to China; Omaha will have to deal with incoming Miamians. This is the lifestyle that we lead right now – a lifestyle that says using bottled water instead of filtered water bottles is worth destroying homes around the world, and leaving the lights is worth the cancer caused by mountaintop removal in West Virginia. Where is the humility in that?

McKibben writes in The Comforting Whirlwind, “Most cultures, historically, have put something else—God or nature or some combination—at the center. But we’ve put these things at the periphery.” Instead of building ourselves around God, we have built ourselves around the proposition that growth is always good, that we always need more. And while McKibben doesn’t say it, this means that we are not putting God first, that we are dangerously close to running afoul of the first commandment. Clearly, if one believes the science, then there is a Christian imperative to combat climate change. Fortunately, while there is a tipping point to climate change, we probably haven’t reached it yet. It’s not too late to green our lifestyles, to restore the balance of humility in our relationship with God. The biggest thing we can do is lobby the elected representatives to pass major energy legislation. This country has to break its addictions to foreign oil and coal. We need renewable energy, and in my opinion, nuclear energy. This is not a partisan issue – conservative Republican Senators from Alaska and South Carolina have climbed on board and may soon be joined by colleagues from Tennessee and Arizona.

To help pass such legislation, we can write our Senators, and we can take part in the 350 campaign, the upcoming Bill McKibben event that I mentioned. 350 parts of carbon per million parts of atmosphere is the sustainable level of carbon output we should shoot for. We are currently at 390ppm, a historically unprecedented level. McKibben has started a website called that seeks to bring attention to this number and to the measures we need to take to reach this goal. Next Saturday, thousands of events around the world will highlight the number. Musicians will sing songs about 350, outdoor enthusiasts will arrange 350 canoes in the shape of the number 350, and churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia will ring their bells 350 times. We don’t have an outdoor bell here at Holy Spirit, but Repower Nebraska, the non-profit I have chosen to work for as part of my internship, will host an event at St. Mary’s College from 2:30 to 3:50 next Saturday, right about the time the Huskers game ends. We’re going to have free popcorn, live music, the mayor, and a wall on which event attendees can right their favorite reason for passing climate change legislation. We’re hoping to get 350 such reasons, and Christian voices are not just welcomed but desired. On a side note, I also recommend joining the e-mail lists of the Episcopal Ecological Network and the Episcopal Public Policy Network.

These goals are not about politics. They are about being better stewards of what God has given us. Yes, Genesis does say we have dominion over the earth, but dominion does not replace humility. I like what McKibben says: “God, who had gone to the trouble creating myriad species and who had called them ‘good,’ did not understand dominion to include thoughtless destruction for short-term gain.” God does not understand dominion to include thoughtless destruction for short-term gain.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Churches and Climate Change

The following is excerpted from a longer Blue Moose Democrat post on the environmental movement's recent traction in its battle against climate change. This is the section that talks about momentum in the faith community - and even this is just the tip of the iceberg. For more about the politics, see the full post.

My own beat is the intersection of faith and politics. I started a new job this week working with Repower Nebraska as their part-time faith outreach coordinator. (This post is not endorsed by Repower America, but I want to be clear about who I am.) All across America, churches are waking up. I had a phone call today with an Episcopal clergywoman who said there are three areas of concern for churches on climate change: spirituality (experiencing God in nature, recognizing the environmental language of Scripture, etc.), environmental stewardship or creation care (heeding the call of Scripture to take care of what we have been given), and eco-justice (climate change will disproportionately affect the poor). Churches are getting that message. I wrote here last week about Day Six, a new effort from the progressive group Faithful America to make sure climate change legislation helps the poor. The Episcopal Ecological Network is a great resource to learn what Episcopal churches around the country are doing to green their communities.

You may be saying yeah yeah sure sure, of course the liberal mainline Protestants are getting involved - but the good news is the movement is broader than that. Thanks to the language of "creation care," many Evangelicals are getting in on the act, too. Rich Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, resigned his job after announcing his support for civil unions, but not until he had spent quite some time building support within the Evangelical community for action on climate change. Joel Hunter, a conservative megachurch pastor in Florida, was hired to be the new president of Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition in 2006. The board asked him to resign over his positions on climate change, but the fact that his selection even got that far is indicative of a huge shift within the community.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Orleans on MSNBC

It wasn't the climate change-caused storm, it was the faulty levees and the devestation of the wetlands that slammed New Orleans.

Also, Chris Matthews seems to have a habit of missing the point, but whatever.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

R.I.P., Eric "Luigi" Blair

My computer died today. It wast approximately four years and one month old.

"Eric Blair," as well as his C Drive "Luigi," was pronounced dead approximately 20 minutes ago, at 8:18 PM Central Standard Time. He is survived by a Logitech mouse and a Seagate external hard drive in a Rosewill case. This was the computer on which virtually all Wayward Episcopalian entries, including my widely-read dispatches from the 2008 NH presidential primary, and virtually all my Dartmouth papers, including the many twenty-page all-nighters, was written.

In some ways he was lucky to make it this long; many Dartmouth students seem to lose their computer right after the warranty expires at the beginning of the senior year. Others lose their computers during random finals periods, either before or after the warranty expires. My computer, Blair (so named because I am a pedantic jerk who wanted to mock a dear friend who called her own "Orwell"), made it a year the warranty's expiration before succumbing to pre-existing conditions.

The computer contracted some sort of Malware or Spyware the other day, presumably while I was watching the Simpsons online at The virus basically hijacked my web browsers so that over half the time I was surfing the Internet, all HTML links rerouted me to the websites thefeedyard or livefeedinc. Sometimes Firefox would just randomly behave like Internet Explorer and close without warning. System Restore didn't work; it wouldn't restore my system claiming no changes had been made (baloney). Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware, Symantec Anti-Virus, Spybot's Search and Destroy, and Security Scan all failed to solve the problem, finding bugs but not the right ones even though several online forums claimed that Malwarebytes and Spybot tended to work on this particular virus. The Symantec website gave me instructions on how to delete files from my computer's registry (its deepest bowels, save binary code), but they turned out to be for the wrong virus as well. I only had two options left: work in safe mode and/or download Hijack This on a computer guru friend's advice. Hijack This is a little complicated so I was saving it for last, but safe mode bit me in the butt tonight. The regular F8 Setup menu option wasn't working - I would select safe mode but it wouldn't be able to access it, and would just give me the menu options again. So I restarted Windows in normal mode, used the MS Configuration menu to set it up to automatically start in safe mode, and restarted again. All this seemed to do was prevent Windows from opening normally, but it still wouldn't start in Safe Mode. So, now when I try to start the computer, it just goes in an endless cycle of trying to open Windows, failing, going back to the options menu (normal mode, safe mode, etc.), failing again, going back to the menu, etc.

I guess technically my computer isn't dead, just on life support and unable to function on its own. It's a vegetable with massive artery blockage. I could pay to get those arteries unblocked, but instead I am going to constitute my own death panel and, unlike a government but like a for-profit private insurance company, rationalize the computer's care and deny it the operation.

In other words, the timing here is pretty damn good - I've got a new computer on the way anyway! It may not be here for another week or two, but there's no point shelling out big bucks to extend this particular grandpa's life by six months when the kidney could go to a young teenager with even more to lose and thus more to save. Wait, what?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

This Blows Me Away Every Time

I've posted this before, and I guarantee I will post it again. But I mean, seriously, MOST AWESOME THING EVER. No, I mean it - there's Beethoven's Fifth and Ninth and Piano Concertos, there's Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, and there's this.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Musical Socio-Economics

The last paragraph in this excerpt is great. From the website of Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues:

Look at it this way: When we think of the blues, don't we think of some guy wailing on an old beat up guitar in a smoky tavern with a bunch of people in jeans and T-shirts? When we think of classical music don't we flash on an ornate concert hall with a grand piano on high stick and a performer in tux and tails and women in sparkling evening gowns? Just the visual image alone makes it seem like classical music and blues are worlds apart.

The music itself is innocent of this visual diversity. The music is made up of chords, melodies, harmonies, counterpoint, dynamics, articulations and rhythm. It doesn't know about smoke-filled rooms, blue jeans, or tuxedoes. It doesn't rely on ushers passing out programs or a society passing out dress codes to fit with a particular genre. The music is blind. All it cares about is having a wonderful time.

Once a radio announcer who was obviously a classical music fan confronted me on the air and stated that blues is a lowly form of music whose text is relegated to the gutter with stories of loose women and booze and etc. ... and sometimes you can't even understand the words. Then he asked the question; "What do you think about that Mr. Siegel?" I answered immediately; "Opera! I rest my case."

Hahahahaha. ZING!

Monday, October 05, 2009

When Peanuts Aren't Peanuts

I was eating some Southwest Airlines peanuts on Sunday and watching Rachel Maddow on my iPod, and was persuaded by this segment to take a look at the ingredients list. My bag of airline peanuts contained the following: "Peanuts, Honey, Sucrose, Wheat Starch, Maltodextrin, Peanut and/or Canola Oil, Salt, Molasses, Brown Sugar."

What I want to know is, is there a reason a bag of peanuts can't just be, you know, a bag of peanuts? Maybe rinsed with water and covered with just a touch of salt, okay, but in the end, just peanuts? I mean, maltodextrin? Really? What the hell?

Musical Monday: R.E.M.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Off To California

I may not blog much until Sunday or Monday - I'm off to San Diego for baby-but-not-little brother's graduation from Marine boot camp! Ooo-rah!