Happy, Uh, Everything! To Everyone!

So, before I say anything else, I want to wish a very, very happy (USA) Mother’s Day to my mom Nancy, and to Margaret’s mom Pat, to my grandmothers Isabelle, Lois, and Del, and to Margaret’s grandmothers Ruth and Dorothy. And to Margaret — hi, honey! And without prejudice also to anyone for whom Mother’s Day entails painful recollections, awareness, prospects, and also to mothers-to-be. Seriously, my best wishes and thanks and sympathies to you all.
This morning I preached the sermon I was struggling with yesterday, and it went well, I think. I’ll post it below in the “More” link. If you’re a critical preacher (by which I mean, you think back over the mechanics of what seems to have worked, what not, how and why things worked or didn’t, how it could have been better, and so on) Sunday afternoon can be an intriguing time. I’m utterly exhausted, as are most clergy I know. At the same time, I can’t resist tinkering with the sermon, especially as I copy-and-paste it into my blog.
The Scottish elections resulted in a landslide for the Scottish National Party, an interesting group that is explicitly pro-independence for Scotland (but which may, behind the scenes, be hoping not to have to cope with the economic ramifications of — you know — actually separating from England). They had one part of the right spiel for higher ed in Scotland: no fees for home students (we’ll surely impose fees for students from the rest of the UK, otherwise sticker-shocked English students would flee for the border by the thousands. The £9000s, to be precise). The SNP would have done better to promise us also fully to fund university education in Scotland, perhaps with provisos about the integrity of programmes so that they don’t end up underwriting “degrees” that amount mostly to money grabs by unscrupulous profiteers. Still, it’s hard times around, and I don’t begrudge other parts of the social and cultural fabric the support they need. Go, NHS!
Our friend Madhavi got a post-doc last week, that commences in January, after she finishes her contract with Glasgow. It’s great that she got a job, thus avoiding penury and deportation, but it’s sad that she won’t be part of our immediate close-knit group of local friends.
Twitter and Facebook are strangling the intertwingled web by cold-shouldering RSS. Say, remember when people had a lot invested in RSS, its precise versions, its alternative Atom, and who invented what? Now Facebook and Twitter are trying to make sure that you access their data only in the form they control. Someday, I fear, we will look back on the Aughties and see with regret the way that an open web and an open social-media infrastructure flourished before interested capital stifled them.
Margaret and I leave tomorrow — she to the States, for graduation and Pippa-pick-up duty, and for visits to the mothers we are greeting and saluting today (Hi, moms!); I, to Wales, where I will represent the Scottish Episcopal Church in the Four Nations (England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland) Faith and Order meetings. If you were thinking of committing heresy, don’t try it for the next three days — I’ll be on your case in a flash and will solve it in an hour, just like the crime dramas that Margaret watches.
I found a very nice bargain fountain pen on eBay this week, and it arrived yesterday. It’s a rather dated shade of green (olive-avocado-ish) but the Triumph conical nib is sweet and it’s a Touchdown filler, one of my favourite kinds. That made a nice treat.
Too much blether. I’ll paste the sermon below, and will try to spread out my blogging more evenly hereafter.
Continue reading “Happy, Uh, Everything! To Everyone!”

Two Of Three

I’ve preached each of the last two Sundays, and I’ll be preaching again next Sunday, too (but don’t worry, pulpits are safe from me the Sunday after). Last Sunday I was at St Aidan’s, Clarkston (where I’ll be next week), and this morning at the cathedral. I’ll post last Sunday’s sometime soon, but I don’t have it right at hand; instead, I’ll post this morning’s, video below and the text in the “more” section.


I was worried about continuity problems. It seemed to me that the sermon didn’t sustain its focus as well as it should, and several of the paragraph-to-paragraph transitions were too jarring. Yet though I was dissatisfied with it, a number of our friends in the congregation expressed their very positive response — so whatever my internal editor might think, it seems that things worked out all right.
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Bullet Time

I’m not Neo, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a succession of obligations this week whizzing at me like the missiles in The Matrix. Missing one day of a busy week for travel will do that, I guess. This week I must prepare two course proposals for next year (for our new-style taught Masters programme), continue interviewing colleagues for my Learning-and-Teaching responsibilities, continue developing one grant proposal and turn in another, write back to my wonderful hosts at Oxford, make time for community worship on Tuesday and Thursday, gear up for beginning my New Testament lectures Monday, and prep my role for the all-day Gospel of Matthew Study Day on Saturday.
It is good, though, to remember that the sermon seemed to have gone down well (it’ll be posted in the “extended” portion of the entry; it needs a couple of corrections, which I’ll get to anon) and that Margaret and I had a delightful time down south. I must say that the guest rooms in the Warden’s Lodgings — which the College had only just finished refurbishing Friday for our arrival Saturday — were extraordinarily comfortable and elegant. We’d have loved more time to meander and explore Oxford, but I think we dare hope that we may have another visit sometime.
Now, back to work.
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Serving the Fruits of my Labours

An intense few weeks of lecturing, preaching, and giving presentations peaked with yesterday’s sermon at St Mary’s. I won’t have another extracurricular commitment until the weekend after next, at the Christian New Media conference (I’m appearing in one of the Theology sections, “Homo Connectivus,” but they astutely reckon that my name might scare registrants away, so I’ll be a surprise to the delegates). That’s Saturday and Monday, and then I’ll have another lull until November.
Last week being exceptionally busy, I was experiencing a degree of frustration with sermon-writing. Eventually I decided that since this was one of the Sundays for which I’d written a lectionary help over at Working Preacher, I would take my own advice and work from the interpretive points in my essay. (I’ll paste the sermon into the “More” part of the post.) I think it worked out pretty well. In a more leisurely week, there are texts I’d have wanted to weave into the exposition, and I’d have liked to give it a thorough once-over, the kind that comes between the early service and the later service — but since we only have one main service at the cathedral, the first go-round was all we got.
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Joy Doth Wait

I did mean to post Sunday’s sermon yesterday; I just ended up in two committee meetings that ran much longer than I expected, and then after I strolled home and made dinner I remembered that I was supposed to go to the Monday evening Bible Study at the cathedral, so I dropped everything and dashed to church. By the time I got back and chatted with Margaret, I just wanted to go to bed.
It’s now only a few days till Margaret will arrive. I need a sermon for Sunday, and I have a series of administrative obligations to fulfil this week, and I haven’t even opened the file for my James commentary for two weeks (augh!), and I need to clean house for Margaret’s arrival — but the weather is lovely, I’m gratified that my colleagues respect and trust me with responsibility after so short a time in this new system, and above all, I’ll be together with Margaret in less than a week!
Sermon in the “more” link below, or you can watch the video over at St Mary’s.
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Morning’s Sermon

I don’t really know what to say about this morning’s sermon. Just before the service, I was sure it needed another day or two spent marinating in my homiletical sauces; I suspect I was nervous because preaching about death can risk touching on some people’s very strong, very raw feelings. Moreover, I really wanted my theological affirmations to be as sound as possible, and I wasn’t confident that I hit the mark.
The preaching itself went okay — I tried to keep my voice at more of a subdued, steady volume — and I was intensely relieved when the sermon was over. The feedback after the service was positive, and several people seemed to have locked in on the general direction I had been trying to strike.
After church, I was exhausted and ravenous, which would have been more fun if I weren’t trying to cut down on salty snacks. Munching has a different valence when your midday indulgence is red grapes and carrots (sequentially, not mixed). When my hunger was sated, I put on a long episode of Taggart, watched lazily, drifted to sleep, woke up in time to figure out much of what I missed (and in time to hear Jim Taggart diss Edinburgh). I’m glad the sermon worked out satisfactorily, especially for the folks who pulled me aside to talk after the service, and am thankful also for the opportunity now to curl up on the couch, read a detective novel, and continue unwinding.
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No, I’m not talking about the beginning of the baseball season, nor of Duke’s convincing victory over WVU (sorry, Mountaineer friends). I’m talking about navigating last week’s complications without having run smack into any shoals. Oh, plus, there’s that whole Jesus thing.
My lectures ended a week ago last Friday, which might have triggered my annual end-of-year physical collapse, except that Pippa was here and I fought on to do as much with her as her sleep schedule, the weather, her interests, and the days allotted us permitted. Then I put her on her plane Thursday, and that might have triggered my annual end-of-year let-down plus missing-Pippa let-down, but it’s Holy Week and I had services in which to participate and a sermon to write. Then too, Friday was the anniversary of my father’s death, so that might have triggered my annual let-down, compounded with missing Pippa and missing my Dad, but I still had the sermon to write and services today. So I spent yesterday working on the sermon, chanted the Exsultet at this morning’s Easter Vigil (happy Baptism, Ruth! Happy baptismal anniversary, Si!), preached at the ten-thirty main Easter service (sermon included in the extended portion of the post), had a sip of celebratory champagne, and walked the two miles home.
So guess what it’s time for now.
I’ll finish eating (ferociously hungry) and have a wee lie-down. The Festal Evensong starts at 6:30, and I may take a cab tonight, or perhaps just give it a miss altogether. For now, though, I wish you all a happy Easter, and we’ll see how I feel in a few hours.
Continue reading “Alleluia!”

What’s The Angel Constant?

This morning’s sermon is one of those sermons that benefits from being preached once at the early service before I arrives for the main service of the morning. (Sadly, I didn’t preach at the early service today.) There are a number of edits I would make to tighten it up, to underscore some points I’d want to make sure were clearer. Although the congregation received it very warmly, it would have been significantly more satisfactory with a slightly longer gestation period.
Interstingly enough, one of the choir members came up after the service to show me that he had in fact been calculating the number of angels required to catch Jesus before he hit the ground. He and his friend and I had a convivial visit, discussing numbers we remember from science classes (Avogadro’s Number = 6.02 × 10^23 = the number of molecules in a mole, along with the Quadratic Formula and of relevance this morning, the rate at which falling bodies accelerate). I spent the rest of the day, though, wondering how one knew exactly how much force to reverse Jesus’ downward accelaration we could assign to each angel. Sermon after the fold….
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Semi-recursive Sermon Comments

This morning’s sermon seems to have gone well, even among the people who helpfully noted before the service that they were expecting a strong one. The specially odd part is that (as you will see, if you’re so inclined) the sermon pivoted on the question of “self-esteem,” and whether Isaiah and Paul and Peter suffered from low self-esteem — so in commenting about how I felt about it, I have to observe a robust enough confidence that I can mention, in passing, that I see some rough patches.
Actually, my original draft began with a description of Chris Locke’s relentless polemic against bogus self-esteem-mongers. It got off to a great start, then modulated into the problems that arise when students arrive for study with a boatload of groundless self-esteem. But I try to be very, very cautious about saying things from the pulpit that I can easily imagine stirring up needless trouble, and if students were there it might have been problematic for me to suggest that I knew of over-confident students. Then too, the transition to the Scripture lessons wasn’t working out, so I scrapped that beginning and just started writing in the middle. Eventually a beginning paragraph attached itself to the middle, and I wrote the ending in the wee hours of this morning. Took a nap, walked to church, and — as I said before — people received it very generously.
All that being said, I’m pretty tired. I look forward to a comfortable night’s sleep, and I won’t bother getting to work by eight, the way I usually do. It feels good just anticipating it.
[Later: Kelvin has put the video of the sermon up — here it goes.]


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Sauna High Mass

This morning’s services went well, especially since it was the first time several of us have celebrated this rite, especially together. Everything went relatively smoothly (if you allow for a couple of whispered prompts). I think I was not pitch-perfect on a couple of the chanted parts, but everyone was too polite to say anything.
Among the three morning services, we sweated through several layers of vestments — but there were no sacramental catastrophes, no awkward silences. Just a couple of extra genuflections, and heaven knows that won’t hurt me.
I’ll post the sermon in the extended section. for now, I’m taking the rest of the day without any productive activity (apart from walking the contrasting dogs: 10-pound Beatrice and 90-pound Scout).
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Play It Again, Jonah

This morning’s worship at St. Joseph’s went very well — no mix-ups in the readings, the congregation received the sermon very warmly, and Rhonda described me in extravagantly laudatory terms that set back my spiritual discipline of “receiving compliments gracefully” by about ten years.
I left out the line that tickled me yesterday (and still delights me; I’ll be looking for years for a good context in which to place this): “Many are called, but few are boatswain.” I’ll put the sermon as I actually preached it in the “More” section of the post.
Now, it’s time for me to walk the dog, drive to the airport, pick up my beloved and rhinoviral daughter, and eventually to settle in for the night. I’ll swing over to J. P. Kang’s blog (he assures me that “I started blogging seriously”). I’ll start thinking of random things about myself, since both Kazpah and Yroa tagged me for one of these internet exercises in self-disclosure (Kazpah asked for a less inquisitorial 7 items, but I’ll roll hers into Yroa’s and pad them out with a few more). Continue reading “Play It Again, Jonah”

What It Was

Yesterday morning, I preached at Duke Divinity School’s daily chapel service (they allow fifteen minutes here!). It’s an odd experience, since I still don’t feel well-attuned to the chapel congregation (and the congregation itself changes a fair amount, depending on the kind of service that people are anticipating). I prepared for a more Baptist-inclined congregation than actually turned out; if I’d known who actually would be there, I’d have tuned it more toward sedentary-Methodo-piscopalians. I’m observing that because I’m an incurable rhetorical tinkerer, though, not because the service was markedly off-kilter.
In the course of the sermon, I coin* the neologism “bourgeoiscracy” to characterize the smothering ideology of self-congratulatory (upper-)middle-class normativity, the creepy pseudo-mystical side of which Chris chronicles. I had a few things in view, in deploying that term. First, it has a memorable sound: it vividly conveys the sense that it’s hard to pronounce (the chaplain, Sally, commented to me about that after the service); in that way, it’s a notch better than “bourgeoisity,” which was in my handwritten draft of the sermon. Second, I wanted to identify the way of life, not particular bourgeois people. It wasn’t a “Repent, sinner!” gesture, but a “this afflicts most of us to some extent; let’s name it and try to get over it” gesture. Third, it captures what I had in mind more satisfactorily than “mediocracy,” which I’ve used before to describe a similar condition, but which circulates even more widely. The word then constitutes a sort of auditory/cognitive piton onto which I can hang the points I wanted to develop. (I did the same sort of thing when I used “Sacramerica” in my Ekklesia Project talk).
The congregation seemed to receive the sermon well; most importantly, the rest of the service brought to bear a coherently Methodist iteration of Anglican liturgy and hymnody, and we all had a chance to pray and sing together. I’ll add the sermon itself in the “more” part of the post.


* As I write this, I see that others have deployed the term before me, so I won’t make any far-reaching claim to have originated it. For the purposes of this entry, working on this sermon, I coined it — but others did get there first. (Even more people have used “bourgeoisity,” so I’m even gladder I chose “bourgeoiscracy” instead.)


Continue reading “What It Was”