God Blog Conference

Last week, Mark Goodacre’s blog and a letter from Michael Pusateri called my attention to the God Blog Con recently held in Pasadena. I had been vaguely aware that it would be happening, and I checked on the coverage when these worthies prodded me. It’s interesting, looking on from outside, to see what seems to have happened, and how people reacted.

Most of the participants were unfamiliar to me, so I’d have had a lot of meeting and getting-acquainted to do from the start. On the other hand, the topics of many sessions seemed dated to me, or to reflect a different segment of blogging (and theological) culture from that within which I feel most at home. I like conferences, so I’m sure I’d have had a good time, but there’s lots more to be said, more to explore, and further to explore, than the schedule page suggests that this year’s conference said and explored.


My delightful Early Church History class evinced some curiosity the other day about martyrs and relics. In the course of trying to address their interest, I mentioned that in the Catholic tradition, it’s customary to require a primary relic (usually an actual recognizable portion of a saint’s body) for the installation of an altar, and that St. Luke’s had an assortment of relics.

Well, of course, right away they wanted to know what the relics were. I remembered that the high altar enclosed a primary relic of St. Elizabeth Seton (at least, according to parish lore); I knew we had more relics, though, so I asked John Lukens, on whom I rely for all wisdom about our parish. John pointed me to a sealed statement from the Bishop James Montgomery (ninth Episcopal bishop of Chicago), stating that our St. Luke’s altar contained a primary relic of St. Domity, a primary relic of St. Louinian, a primary relic of St. Joachim, and tertiary relics of Sts. Benedict and Teresa.

Now, I would not be inclined to doubt the sealed affirmation of a bishop, but this placard entails several problems. First, I can find no record of the existence of a “St. Domityor a “St. Louinian,” so the matter of their primary relics seems. . . cloudy. St. Joachim is familiar as the father of the Virgin Mary; that would attenuate the likelihood of a relic of his making its way to Evanston, except perhaps that the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911 notes that the supposed tomb of Joachim and Anna was discovered in 1889. Perhaps that rediscovery made available relics that had long rested in obscurity.

The tertiary relics — items that had touched a saint or a saint’s relic, as distinct from secondary relics hallowed by close association with a saint — pose no great problem; I reckon that it’s pretty simple to come by tertiary relics even of Benedict and Teresa. I’ll have a lingering fascination, however, with the question of who on earth Sts. Domity and Louinian might have been. (For the time being, I’m imagining pious dowagers in the congregation whom Bp. Montgomery decided were saintly enough for commemoration here.)

Ordination Day

I saved up a couple of ecclesiastical topics to flesh out my post relative to today’s sermon, but the headline story is that Jane has been well and truly ordained. She is a priest, and many of us have vivid, joyous memories of a wonderful service.

We pulled into St. Paul Church a few minutes late; our car had followed all the directions pretty much exactly, but with one small catch: we turned off onto Calumet Road from I-90, not from I-94/80, so the “about one mile” till the left turn Jane instructed us to make turns out to be more like four or five miles. We, meanwhile, rolled to and fro on Calumet until we discovered a street with the name Jane had given us — except that there was a median strip between us and the turn she instructed us to make.

At this point, we stopped and assigned Reverend Ref the task of asking for directions: “Hi, I’m from Montana. . . .” Once we cleared up our confusion, we got to the church with no problem. The rehearsal went fine; the sermon (complete sermon below) was received with kind warmth; the music (although not as exclusively stodgy as I prefer) was admirably uptempo, and the musicians played with lovely sensitivity to how they might swing the meter subtly to keep the music rocking; in short, the service touched and delighted me and (I believe) a very sizable crowd as well.

Seabury Group Photo

One reception, one house party, one smooth drive, and one leisurely leftover dinner later, I’m parked at my desk for the evening. Here I see a link to which Jordon called my attention, featuring a choir’s sung protest against their pastor’s despotic rule, and another link to which Margaret pointed me, which engages both my technological interest and my fondness for the varieties of iconography: the tapestries of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (be sure to follow the links to the north and south tapestries). Margaret saw a lecture in which the artist, John Nava, explained his technique and projected examples of the tapestries. Nava depicted the saints in the tapestries not as stylized or idealized human figures, but as actual humans, standing against a background that he photographed and digitally remixed from actual stone walls in Jerusalem. He then sent digital pattern-files to weavers in Belgium to execute the designs (the iomages on which were pre-distressed to suggest the appearance of aging frescoes).

The technique strikes me as a smashing success, though I wonder about what’s implied by the decision to use digital manipulation to create precisely-woven tapestries that simulate decaying frescoes. Some of the costuming ideas seem odd to me, too (the bishops wear contemporary episcopal regalia, regardless of when they lived). But on the whole, I appreciate the execution, I wish I’d been there for the lecture, and I would enjoy arguing out the ideas with the artist. Well done!
Continue reading “Ordination Day”

Light, Tunnel, Sermon

I’ve survived the fall meeting of Seabury’s trustees without embarrassing myself by falling asleep at a key moment, and I’ve even sent out my notes on the meeting to my colleagues (thereby fending off my proclivity to fall down on that particular job). I think I have a workable angle on the sermon for tomorrow morning (don’t worry, Jane, it’s a long night). And as I write out the fillips and flourishes (and, to be honest, some of the supporting body copy), iTunes delights me by playing side-by-side Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me,” and Robert Bradley’s “Once Upon a Time,” in which he sings

Once upon a time, when I was in high school
I was in love with you, lady and you treated me so cool.
I was drivin’ a Chevy ’72 had 4 on the floor, girl,
one hundred 20 it would do
I remember Marvin Gaye, singin’,
Let’s Get It On…

And the sermon is coming together; I may even get a decent night’s sleep.

DRMA: Almost Cut My Hair by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Once Upon a Time by Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise; Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) by Marvin Gaye; ; Kiss Me Like You Mean It by the Magnetic Fields; ; Softly and Tenderly by Willie Nelson; ; Where Does The Time Go by Innocence Mission; Up The Wolves by Mountain Goats; Tonk by Duke Ellington; Hammering In My Head by Garbage.

Tally Another Day

Submitted manuscript, morning-long trustees meeting, afternoon class, advisee appointments and business letters, worked on the sermon, fixed dinner, back to sermon, various family (and canine) responsibilities.

One of the business items I completed today involves the contract for the Winslow Lecture book, which will be credited as four authors — so all four of us have to initial every page of four copies of our contracts, and mail the contracts around to one another, before they make their way back to the publisher. That’s a lot of initialing.

I don’t meant to slight people who live in the Yucatan, but would be all right with me if this hurricane season expired without renewing Tom’s acquaintance with FEMA (you too, e).

How I Do It

Every now and then, someone observes the list of my responsibilities to Seabury, to St. Luke’s, to my family, and to a variety of editors, and they ask how I manage to blog every day, too. The short answer is, sometimes I just can’t. (More later, if I can.)

The Cat In The Bag Whoops!

Joi and I were chatting this evening about iPod Nanos (“Nanoi”? “Nanim”?), delighting the capacities of this small machine, and gnashing our teeth at the ways that Digital Restriction Management (David Berlind is getting credit for that term lately, but I thought I remembered Doc using it years ago) monkey-wrenches the revolutionary effects that’ll overtake the recording industry eventually, like it or not.

(To illustrate my point: what other industry devotes so significant a proportion of its business energies to preventing you from maximizing your use of the product? Does your bed restrict how long you can sleep on it, or with whom? Does your lawn mower work only on your property? What if you had to pay twice as much for a home appliances that only worked up to your property line, and shut down as soon as they contacted the border of your property? You’d better not move; you’d better have a very clear idea of where your property line begins, and not use your tools too close to that line, just to be sure. And remember, you’re paying extra for the technology that makes these hypothetical tools less useful.)

We were imagining the world I wrote about last month, in which Nani are just a little less expensive. You buy one for your sweetie, and load it up with music — do you really re-purchase every selection all over again, to fill up a 2-gig (you cheapie) iPod, or do you just download songs from your CD and mp3 collections? You have a friend whose musical taste you want to improve — you buy him an iPod and. . . what? $500 worth of bluegrass music he may not like? You know a DJ, an archival-music whiz, or just somebody with whiz-bang taste in music; what makes more sense than that they fill your iPod with files they have right on hand? And I’d bet that the situation only gets hairier, faster, as TV-on-iPod becomes more generally available.

I’m not at all against musicians and filmmakers earning a living — I’m against their intermediaries demanding that technological innovation accommodate carved-in-stone business practices, rather than requiring business practices to accommodate innovation. “Your failed business model is not my problem.” (And now that I notice that Meg has given up the subway-tile design for her blog, I may try my hand at it; I always loved that design.)

I can’t imagine that as iPods grow more affordable, more common, and more capacious, that the music-buying public will remain docile about intrusive restrictions on the simple act of copying a file. There’s tons of profit to be made in other areas, friends, with an extra-big helping for those who get there first.

[Later: By the way, I wanted to tip my hat to Joi for a post earlier in the week, where made a specific point of acknowledging that “[he] knew nothing about Eastern Europe,” then went on to show that he took that as an occasion to start learning. With that one post, Joi provides a powerful illustration of Margaret’s and my convictions about how and when people learn. On the other hand, it looks as though he’s spending most of the time he should be working on his thesis playing “World of Warcraft.” . . .]

Checking In On Church Sites

Over the weekend, a couple of correspondents pointed me to church-oriented sites. Congregational and Diocesan Development Issues uses a Blogger interface to outline the author’s perspective on Congregational Development. I give high marks for recognizing the value of a blog for web communications; next, the writer needs to let go of the board-room PowerPoint prose style and actually communicate. There’s no better model in Blogaria than PR blogger extraordinaire Jeneane Sessum, whose professional work you can see over at the Content Factor — but notice that the heavyweight names who get invited to address snazzy-sounding conferences with influential presentations don’t write this kind of ponderous jargon on their websites. I wouldn’t be surprised if church clients prefer their consultants to sound like this — disappointed, but not surprised — but this blog sounds like a pitch, not a conversation. (I haven’t read the blog itself closely; I can’t assess the soundness of the cong-dev proposals here, but then it’s not up to me to fight through the marketing-speak.) Oh, and the blog should get a more digestible name, and it wouldn’t hurt for you pay the modicum it would cost to get a domain name and hosting.

Over at Subversive Influence, Brother Maynard gives a useful counterexample of web-based communication. He’s linking to others, and quoting from them. He’s writing in a dialect of English that non-marketers can easily apprehend. Even though his post is quite as long as the posts at Cong and Dio Dev Issues, it’s infinitely more readable. If I wanted advice about sizing up a congregation, I’d turn to Brother Maynard in a heartbeat, but I’d procrastinate a long time (something at which I’m an expert) before I got around to contacting Congregational and Diocesan Development Issues.

Now, the point of Brother Maynard’s post (which I actually read, because it’s clear enough to read) involves a comparison between “The Purpose Driven Life” and Windows. (Why would anyone compare something about which they feel unambiguously positive to Windows? Rick warren has to know that there’s a significant constituency of people who mistrust Microsoft and dislike Windows; even if they’re entirely wrong-headed, does he think he’s gaining rhetorical yardage by comparing his version of the gospel to their least favorite operating system, an OS that they perceive as letting them down,, that they resent for having been forced onto their machines, that they imagine as an impediment to productivity and happiness? It doesn’t matter whether such people grossly undervalue the crystalline perfection that is Windows — just by making the comparison, Warren has stepped on their tows and insulted their mother. No matter how oversensitive their toes or degraded their parents, you don’t win people over that way.

I admit that I’m grouchily unsympathetic to the whole Purpose-Driven Remedy For What Ails You megaplex of books, products, seminars, and coming soon to a desperate impoverished nation far away from the USA, but I’d be much more apt to listen patiently if Rick Warren didn’t take the bold first step of unembarrassedly declaring himself to be out of touch with my interests and perspectives. I have a long way to go toward Getting Things Done, but I’m radically more receptive when exponents of effectiveness show that they have a clue.


Tonight, Pippa and I dropped Margaret off at the train station for her trip to Rochester to visit Nate, before she returns to Durham. In case anyone out there is wondering whether, after twenty-three years of marriage (twenty-seven years together), people can still get sentimental about reunion and parting, the answer is “yes.”

On the same trip, we looped down to Midway to pick up Josiah, home for a long weekend from his first year in college. He’s having a great time — one might even think he had a flair for life in an academic community. By the sheerest coincidence, this weekend Laura will be home from her college, too.

Finally — and this is not related — if what I hear is correct, this is the golden year for job applicants in Islamic studies. I suspect that if you’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia more than once, you may be able to squeak into a tenure-track appointment; there can’t be that many Islamists looking for work, but it sounds as though half the Religion Departments (and some History and Area Studies Departments) in the U.S. are searching in that area. A hat tip to the jobseekers for whom this is a favorable development. Academic hiring is such a wildly capricious domain, it’s great that someone can catch a favorable market.

More Stromateis

  • As I was leaving my office to run an errand, I spotted a name tag on my shelf. It reminded me that nine years ago today Margaret, Pippa and I were in Washington D.C. serving as volunteers at the last display of the full AIDS Quilt. While we were there we saw newly-placed panels for my late colleague, David Weadon and for our friend from Florida, Gary Seife.

    Disasters didn’t start in Louisiana this September, and they didn’t stop in Pakistan, where a Himalayan winter is coming up on people without homes. AIDS combined with poverty is still killing millions — even if they’re further from our home.

  • The news that BlackBoard and WebCT are merging doesn’t surprise me in the least. (Stephen Downes has some PR clips here). A commenter at Inside Higher Ed suggests that this makes them the Microsoft of online learning; I’m just glad that Seabury got out of their grasp a few years ago.
  • Ron Jeffries picks up the dangerous rhetoric in the Bush administration’s increasingly frantic efforts to get Harriet Miers onto the Supreme Court. He cites the threat to a Jeffersonian separation of church and state that results when a President cites a candidate’s faith as the basis for knowing she’d make a good Supreme Court Justice. I8’m more offended by the overt doubletalk: “You should support her, cause she’s a conservative evangelical Christian, but her faith won’t make a difference in how she rules as a judge.” This kid of talk reveals Bush’s deep disdain for the intelligence of the public.
  • Yesterday afternoon, I checked in to see what the big fuss had been about at Apple: so, a new iMac model, new version of iTunes, videos and TV shows available from the iTunes music store, and video-capabilities for the iPod. The iMac seems like a good plan — Pippa immediately wondered how much it would cost and how wide the screen is, envisioning its use as a TV-substitute right away. The video iPod looks to me like more valuable for its reinforcing Apple’s momentum than actually for changing the consumer environment (the Nano is a more interesting design change, and watching short intervals of video on a tiny screen has limited appeal for most users, I think). It still looks to me like a gesture to sustain interest and buzz while (a) they develop a credible library of short-form video to watch, for which TV is exactly the right source (that part’s brilliant) and (b) they iron out the kinks on a video cell phone.

    Wouldn’t it be great if the Apple dominance of DRM’ed audio and video provided the impetus that the entertainment industries need to loosen their fixation on restrictions? After all, in a year or so, the studios and record companies could have established a very big installed base of files that depend on using Apple software. In the long run, non-proprietary formats serve the interests of both provider and server; proprietary formats serve only the owner of the format, as both providers and users have to abide by the format-owner’s dictates.

  • Larry Lessig was great on Marketplace tonight.