Little lamb, covered in wool,
filled with food and so many beers.
A little sheep - warm and full,
The lamb aprochces; the happy Y'ewe Nears.
-formerly attr. William Blake
First United Methodist Church of Germantown, Pennsylvania has a difficult website to find, but don't worry, I tracked it down. This congregation of Fumcog (FOOM-cog) has the singular distinction of being known as The Congregation, the title of a PBS documentary that aired earlier tonight.
The documentary is notable for recording two very different kinds of church strife: the mundane stress caused by pastoral transition and the sexier conflict caused by ordained homosexuals in the Methodist church.
During the course of the film, Associate Pastor Beth Stroud decides come out as a lesbian to her congregation in a sermon in Eastertide. The lectionary texts for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C, include the story from John's gospel about Jesus appearing in the midst of a locked room where the disciples are hiding. In her sermon, she relates this text to her own faith and her own experiences with Jesus.
The filmmakers wisely include Beth Stroud's preparation for this sermon, and her delivery of it from the pulpit. This makes for a wonderful record of a dramatic turning point both in the life of the congregation and Beth Stroud's professional/spiritual life.
Being a church snob, the film left me wanting more; I wanted to read the entire sermon.
The Fumcog website is difficult to track down since the Google search results are flooded with sites about the documentary, Beth's trial, or both. Once I found the site, however, I was disappointed by a very glaring error on the sermons page: the sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year C (April 18, 2004) isn't there.
The documentary also makes a critical omission. The Assistant Director of Music and Organist at Fumcog is Dr. Kim Beamon. He seems to do good work, which is no surprise given that he went to Oberlin.
Update, 30 December 2004: I have found the sermon in an annotated version (and the original in PDF format). It was given April 27, 2003 not in 2004. The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is the same in all three lectionary years. For me, this still doesn't resolve why the April 18, 2004 sermon (not to mention the sermon of several other Sundays) is absent from the Fumcog sermons page.
Tangent: The Oberlin connections to The Congregation don't end with Dr. Beamon. Beth Stroud's partner Chris runs Ready Set Go! consulting which has crafted a webpage for Ellen Stroud an Assistant Professor of History at Oberlin.
So, I haven't been doing this for a year yet, but that doesn't matter. It's time to review the best articles of 2004.
Okay maybe they're not "articles," but that's what I'm calling them. And maybe they're not the best, but who am I to judge? I got irritated reading really long articles by really smart people who are good writers, so I've kept most of mine short (especially since I am neither smart nor a good writer).
And I don't know how I started this weird indexy title thing. It's quite pretentious. Someday this may evolve into the "Sindex."
Enough rambling; cut to the chase. Here's the best of 2004.
I was confirmed as an Episcopalian by the Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr. on the first day of May 2004:
sorting hat - Episcopal
Several months pass, and I wrote about how I spent my summer with God and guns:
Camp - Lake Delaware Boys'
Wanting to give my two-cents, I coined this article:
Nickel - Redesign of
And finally, a hyperlinked hymn that sounded a lot better before November 2:
hymn - election, new!
Warning: This hymn contains poorly censored profanity. Not suitable for Republicans under the age of 83.
Maybe I missed the best article. Is there one you liked better? Let me know.
Several decades from now, when Sinden.org is really going strong, I'll look back and have a best of "the best of."
Labels: Best of Sinden.org
"The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there's a problem with a road, they always try to add something," [Hans] Monderman says. "To my mind, it's much better to remove things."
-McNichol, Tom. "Roads Gone Wild." Wired Magazine 12 December 2004.
Remove things: that's a radical approach to traffic engineering, Hans. But I like it. I really do. And it has me thinking about what we can remove from our Americanized "Christvent" (a societal merging of church and state, Advent and Christmas that seems to happen this time of year) that will make us more faithful to each other and to the biblical narrative we celebrate.
There's a lot I want to remove from people sometimes: the credit cards, the right to vote, etc.
But to start with, let's take away "The first Nowell."
Why would you want to take away that perfectly innocent 17th century English carol?
Most people don't think carefully about the words of this carol. If they did, they would be confused, especially if they examined the corresponding gospel passages. For instance, the shepherds see the star "shining in the East," but later it settles over "the northwest."
Well, where the star is depends on where you are looking at it from.
Your preposition is dangling
I mean, it depends on from where you are looking at it.
Right. And how does it "come to rest," exactly? Not to mention that according to the gospels, the shepherds never saw the star . . .
No. Clearly Matthew and Luke didn't compare notes on this. Luke writes about shepherds and angels (not wise guys), and Matthew writes about astrologers and a star (not sheep herders). And don't even get John started. He's too busy rambling on about "in the beginning was the Word and blah, blah, blah."
To what extent can "The first Nowell" be blamed for the sappy, conflated birth narrative celebrated in this country? Did we get our mixed up shepherds-see-the-star story from this carol, or is the carol's popularity due to an errant way of thinking? Either way, "The first Nowell" is at least partly responsible for an American Christvent pageant atmosphere that doesn't allow us to examine these two distinct events, shepherds and magi, on their own terms.
This carol is so tainted for me that at the words "the star drew nigh to the northwest" I have inexplicable visions of an astrological anomaly coming to hover over Puget Sound as if sanctifying all of Microsoft and announcing Bill Gates as the Messiah.
So, everything happens at once in this carol, but why?
Good question! Isn't it amazing enough that the shepherds heard the terrifying song of the angels? And hasn't the opening of this song begun the Gloria, a staple of the liturgy, for thousands of years?
Isn't it incredible enough to contemplate the rich symbolism in the presence and presents of the magi: a journey to Herod and ultimately Jesus with the royalty of expensive gold, the sweetness and of fragrant incense, the bitterness of embalming myrrh as cargo?
Apparently not! The two events are blended on "frappe" and the result is poetic and theological goop.
Well, it's not really about the words. It's about the tune.
Oh really? You mean a tune that Erik Routley calls "so familiar that it is seldom realised [sic] what a very peculiar tune it in fact is?" You mean a tune that was probably once a descant to another tune? A tune whose stanzas and refrain consist of essentially the same musical material? Singing this tune's praises makes about as much sense as achieving National Anthem singability through key change.
Yeah, but [singing:] Nowell, Nowell . . .
Okay, Nowell. What does that even mean? My father scrambled the letters in out "Noel" decoration to spell the name of the college my sister attends. It's also fun to spell "Leon." That makes about as much sense as anything else.
Surely some people know what "Nowell" means.
I would bet the proportion of Americans who know the location of Iraq is comparable to the number of Christians who know how to translate "Nowell."
Okay, what does it mean?
I'll tell you after the article, Hans. But when you take into account the mixed-up narrative and, for most people, the meaningless "Nowell," you have to realize that this carol amounts to unbounded sentimentality. Is this really of adequate musical consequence for the liturgy?
I see your point. So that's why you want to get rid of it.
From Christian worship, yes. Christvent exists because we give in to society's demand for instant gratification through sentimentality in our worship.
Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. "I love it!" Monderman says at last. "Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can't expect traffic signs and street markings to encourage that sort of behavior. You have to build it into the design of the road."
If our liturgy is like busy traffic circle, which I think it is, how can we engineer it so that we are "looking out for each other"? What would our Christmas and especially our Advent liturgies look like if they were created light of God's expectations and not those of society?
Let's start removing things and find out.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Update, 1 January 2005: Another good article about the emergent traffic anti-engineering movement.
Baker, Linda. "Why don't we do it in the road?" Salon.com 20 May 2004.
Tangents: Potential four-letter names for first-born son: Hans, Luke, John, Erik, Leon.
The opposite of Christvent is "Admas." When glossy advertising material outweighs informational newsprint in the Sunday paper, this is Admas. Or it's Mt. Ansel Admas, or Admas the band, or Admas Limited Health Consultants, or a font development project, or an Ethiopian college, or it really is advertising.
Christians are generally not ones to violate city ordinances, especially those concerning fire safety. Many churches, faced with large crowds on Christmas Eve, find themselves violating fire code by narrowing aisles with extra chairs and obstructing exits.
Maybe it's just me, but why is it, the one night of year when the church is full or overflowing, we give everyone a candle and let them set it on fire? I mean, thank goodness for drip protectors or there would be wax on every hymn book's "Silent Night."
Somehow, because we're singing about the birth of Christ, we don't need to be conscious of fire safety? Wrong. Drips aren't the only thing we need to be protected from. We're still human, and we can still catch on fire and/or be trampled to death. Not exactly Nativity memories I would wish on anyone.
Christians are not above the law (see the book of Romans). Mitch Hedberg, however, says that if you're flammable and have legs, you're never blocking a fire exit. I think Christians should consider adopting this as their motto:
"Christians: we're flammable and have legs."
Helmsley is exactly 27 measures long. Coincidence?
I think not.
"Called to Common Mission," an ecumenical agreement between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church, has 29 sections and footnotes one resolution of the Conference of Bishops of the ELCA. 29+1 = 30
"Called to Common Mission" was amended by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on August 19, 1999.
Using the distinct characters in the month yields:
A U G S T
1 21 8 19 20
1 + 21 + 8 + 19 + 20 = 69
Now using the year and the day two 19s (19 and 1999) cancel out leaving:
99-69=30 Again, the number 30 appears! What relation does this have to the hymn number 27?
27 + 30 = 57
I think so.
I can't forget to mention that today marks the 139th birthday of my favorite composer: Jean Julius Christian Sibelius.
Hopefully I can still find time to listen to the seven symphonies and drink the appropriate beverage (one of Sibelius's most famous compositions is Finlandia, Op. 26).
In entering the website for the appropriate beverage, I entered the following information in honor of Jean: 1865, December, 8, Finland.
Labels: Jean Sibelius
I have exciting news today: I am getting married!
Now, hold your horses. You can't come to the wedding because it's tomorrow and I am getting married to someone famous: Hilary Hahn.
Maybe you've heard of her. She's a violinist. Anyway, she really likes organ music. And she is a brilliant photographer, just like me. Who knew?
Update, Dec. 10, 2004: Hilary and I have just been divorced. I for one take solace in the fact that our marriage lasted (slightly) longer than some other musicians.
Stick two organ majors in an ensemble that sings one lackluster mass over and over again and they'll come up with this.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tuba.
Posaune in excelsis.
They'll sing it in the dress rehearsal too. Maybe even the concert?
Tangent: I need to be listening to harpsichord music. Why haven't I been doing this? Harpsichord music, I invite you to be a part of my life.
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Yes, but they're not the kind you buy on Wheel of Fortune.
the owner of a bower at Bucklesfordberry?
Full daintily it is dight.
interested in touch lamps?
And fountain pens.