“Allelu…oops”

no alleluiaAh, the start of Lent. The day in the liturgical year that many well-intentioned church goers mistakenly say the verboten “A-word.” You know how it goes. After the breaking of the bread at the altar the celebrant says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” And everyone replies “Therefore let us keep the feast. Allelu….oops.”

In fairness, some members of the congregation have been lulled to sleep by the smooth, monotone of the priest as he/she blesses the bread and wine. Out of habit, that word just slips out. If this has happened to you, you may recall the disapproving glances and rampant judging by your fellow pew mates. You can either turn beet red, laugh self-consciously, run screaming out of the church until Easter, or…let me help you.

You see, out of pastoral concern for my fellow Christians (it is Ash Wednesday after all), I’ve come up with a short list of words you can say if you catch yourself in time. Once you realize you’re the only one who has vigorously proclaimed “Allelu…” you can add these ending to change direction and save face. Here goes.

Allelu…ke Skywalker

Allelu…nar eclipse

Allelu…fthansa

Allelu…dicrous

Allelu…kewarm

Allelu…natic

Allelu…theran (works better if you actually are one)

Allelu…re me in but don’t take advantage of me

The only one I’d caution you against would be Allelu…cifer. That might get you in trouble with the priest.


Seminarian Skills Test

seminary games inviteOver the next few days the folks at the NFL Network will try to bridge the gap between football and baseball seasons by televising the NFL Scouting Combine. The top pro prospects coming out of college are put through their paces under the watchful eyes of scouts for teams that may potentially draft them. Naturally, I thought it would be helpful for the church to have a similar skills competition for graduating seminarians. This way, freshly minted clergy could show off their skills while hiring rectors and search committees could get a sense of what they were getting before extending a call. Everybody wins, right?

One of the more controversial pieces of evaluation at the NFL Combine takes place off the field. The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test consists of 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in twelve minutes. A score of 20 indicates average intelligence. I’m not sure if a player’s scores are supposed to be made public but they always leak out. Here’s a slideshow with some notable scores.

All of which is to say that we already have the Wonderlic (doesn’t that sound like a place Larry Bird might vacation?) equivalent in the General Ordination Exam. Equally controversial — there’s been talk of eliminating it for years — but overall a decent baseline indicator of fitness for ordained ministry. So that takes care of the academic/cognitive portion. Now on to the fun part: the skills competition.

The Triangletriangle
The marquee event at the NFL Combine is the 40 yard dash. It measures speed and explosiveness, two ingredients necessary to succeed in professional football. For seminarians, the most important event is The Triangle. At a simulated coffee hour, a “parishioner” holding a styrofoam cup of Folgers decaf corners the seminarian and says, “Great sermon today! Your sermons are so much better than the rector’s snooze-fests don’t you think? If you go tell the Senior Warden to insist Father Dim have you preach more often, I’ll support you.”

What do you do? Give a knowing nod of complicity and leave it at that? Approach the warden? Or say, “We all have different gifts but I think it’s important to hear regularly from Father Dim. I appreciate his approach to preaching but understand not everyone relates to every preacher. If this is such a concern for you, why don’t you go talk to the warden? I see her right behind that plate of stale munchkins.”

Naming Rights
100 people you’ve never seen before file past you shaking your hand and saying “Good morning” and occasionally “Nice sermon.” While they’re all wearing name tags (this is hypothetical) the first pass, they file past you again without name tags. How many can you name? How many do you even recognize? Did we mention they all change their clothes in between?

Preach It!
Each seminarian is asked to preach a sermon on the Trinity (they may as well get used to it). They begin with 100 points. Points are deducted for: every minute past the 12 minute mark; annoying tics like hair flipping or swaying back and forth; use of any of the following words — paradigm, missional, multivalent, or homoousious; and doctrinal heresy. 30 is considered an above average score.

vatCoffee Challenge
In order to properly prepare future clergy for long drawn-out diocesan meetings, having to stay up late on a Saturday night to finish the sermon because they had a funeral and a wedding earlier that day, and mornings following a late vestry meeting, it is essential to test their coffee intake skills. Unlike the individual challenges, this is administered in a group setting.

A giant vat of coffee is set up in the middle of a mock parish hall. Contestants line the walls. At the command “The Lord be with you,” the seminarians dash to the vat and attempt to consume Herculean (even though he’s a pagan) amounts of black coffee. At the end of 10 minutes, the winner will have consumed the most coffee (without dying). If you’re not sure how much coffee it will take to kill you, click here.

Let the games begin!


A Date with Grief

Scan 18The emotions surrounding the anniversary of a loved one’s death are…unpredictable. We may be gripped by barely controllable feelings — especially when the grief is raw. Yet in some years the day may slip past with barely a whisper of awareness. In both cases, I find solace and joy in reaching out to those whose lives are connected to my own through the person we’ve lost.

While I keep the anniversary of my father’s death on my calendar — as if I could ever forget February 19, 1992 — there’s something about keeping a date with grief that feels peculiar. I’m often moved at times I don’t expect and in ways I least suspect. Perhaps I glimpse someone at a ballgame who shares a physical feature with my dad – his smile or the tenor of his voice. Or I encounter an object in the far recesses of my closest that serves as a talisman to a particularly vivid memory. Maybe it’s a smell that evokes time spent together in a way that is forever lost.

I was surprised at the degree to which the anniversary of my father’s death affected me today. Twenty-two years isn’t a particularly memorable number. Yet I woke up very aware that I’ve now lived more of my life without his physical presence than with it. This day is always tinged with regret as the seminal events in my life — the ones he missed — dance through my head. He never met my wife Bryna or sons Ben and Zack. He never knew of my calling to the priesthood or how my life has unfolded as an adult. And yet he continues to have a major impact on me every single day — in my faith, my parenting, my approach to married life, my vocational passion, my personality, my values.

Sure, his musical talent (he was a symphony orchestra conductor) wasn’t as hereditary as I might have hoped, but none of us are exact replicas of our 99923712527_p0_v1_s260x420parents. [Here's the obituary from the Baltimore Sun if you're interested -- I just reread it for the first time in years and it still breaks my heart].

Of course “keeping a date with grief” is precisely what we do when we commemorate saints in the Church. We remember these men and women who have come before us in the faith on the anniversaries of their deaths rather than their birthdays. Why? Because we celebrate their lives in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and we see their deaths as glorious moments of reunion with the risen Christ.

The Good News of the Christian faith is that death is not the end — it is merely a temporary farewell. That’s the glory of the Easter message and it’s why, while the pain of loss endures, hope always transcends grief.

If you’re part of a faith community, I encourage you to share these special anniversaries with one another. There’s no reason we must bear them in isolation. To be human is to know grief and we are called to share one another’s burdens. Make an appointment to speak with a member of the clergy on an upcoming anniversary in your own life or call a friend for a coffee date. Shared experience and empathy are two of the great spiritual gifts we can offer our fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith.


Grammatically Incorrect Slogans

apple-think-differentI’ve always been both fascinated and righteously indignant about grammatically incorrect advertising. I’m not a grammar fascist — frankly, my grammar’s just not good enough to qualify and I still have flashbacks to trying to learn how to diagram sentences in Mr. Grimes’ sixth grade English class at Gilman School in Baltimore. But overt linguistic fouls annoy me. Maybe it stems from having two English majors as parents who always insisted on speaking and writing correctly. It’s not like they slapped me with a ruler if I used “good” instead of “well,” but if I delved into the realm of lousy grammar at home I generally heard about it.

Now, I’m not as bad as my mother who would often call over a poor, unsuspecting waiter to complain about a typo or grammatical sin on the menu. It didn’t matter if it was a fancy French restaurant or a truck stop. This usually had to do with a missing or extraneous accent mark, though even I had to agree when “Chicken Franchise” showed up on a menu in the Poconos when what they meant was “Chicken Francaise.”

I also remember my dad talking about grammatically incorrect advertising slogans like the old cigarette tagline “Winstons taste good, like a cigaretteimages should.” Of course it should have been “Winstons taste good, as a cigarette should.” 

This got me thinking about current or recent advertising that plays fast and loose withe the rules of grammar. I’m sure you can think of others but here are a few along with how they should read.

Eggo Waffles: Leggo my Eggo — Let go of my Eggo

Milk: Got Milk? — Do you have milk?

Subway: Subway, eat fresh — Subway, eat freshly

Apple: Think Different — Think differently

McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it — I am loving it

Staples: We got that. — We have that.

What others can you think of? (and yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition).

 

 

 

 


Some Valentine’s Day “advice”

St. Valentine_fol.197 croppedOne of the great advantages of being a priest is that you can give your beloved leftover funeral flowers for Valentine’s Day. Jam some candle nubs that don’t really fit into your candelabra and set them on your table alongside some stale donuts from last Sunday’s coffee hour and voila! A romantic, low-cost dinner. I’m kidding, of course. As far as Bryna knows.

But if you really want to spice things up with your Valentine tonight, try this: show up to dinner at that cozy bistro dressed as the martyred St. Valentine. He was evidently beaten and stoned before his beheading at the hand of the Roman emperor for marrying couples in the Christian faith. So, depending on how realistic you want to make this, it might get a bit messy. Perhaps a simple Steve Martin arrow-through-the-head prop would suffice. Though maybe you should just stick to the roses and either borrow a red cassock from the acolyte room or, if you’re a priest, wear that seldom-used red chasuble hanging in the back of the sacristy closet.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s helpful to reflect upon the real St. Valentine. Actually, there’s some confusion over this since there appears to 1506575_10152253412466354_588056348_nhave been more than one St. Valentine. The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 to mark the death of a St. Valentine on February 14th. But even then it seems to have been a day to mark several martyred saints sharing the name Valentinus (from the Latin valens meaning worthy).

Nonetheless, the modern feast day likely commemorates the St. Valentine who was a priest in Rome during the reign of Claudius II (260-270 AD). He was arrested for marrying Christian couples and assisting those facing persecution – a crime in those days. Valentine tried to convert the emperor and was put to death.

It wasn’t until 14th century England that the feast started to become a celebration of romantic love. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer is often credited with bringing together the romantic imagery of blooming spring and birds choosing their mates. In The Parliament of Fowles Chaucer’s was the first mention of St. Valentine in a love poem.

None of this should actually matter to Episcopalians since Valentine doesn’t appear on our official Calendar of Saints. Indeed we commemorate Cyril and Methodius on February 14th — a pair of 9th century Greek brothers who were missionaries to the Slavs — rather than Valentine.

The good news in this for forgetful husbands/boyfriends is that if you forget to pick up flowers, you can always give your beloved a copy of War and Peace by Slavic author Leo Tolstoy or dramatically read a poem by Vaclav Havel.


Gay Guys Named Sam (Dr. Seuss)

Mizzou-football-michael-sam-580x386As the nation looked upon the courage of Missouri football player Michael Sam for coming out as a gay man, I couldn’t get the phrase “Michael Sam-I-Am” out of my head. This little take on Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” is for all the gay athletes out there — past, present, and yet to come. I hope you’ll take it in the spirit in which it’s meant — with great admiration for having the courage to be the person God called you to be.

Gay Guys Named Sam
(Green Eggs and Ham)

I am Sam. Michael Sam-I-am.

That Michael Sam! That Michael Sam! I do not like that Michael Sam!pretendingtofarm.typepad.com

You do not like gay guys named Sam?

I do not like them, Michael Sam.
I do not like gay guys named Sam.

Would you like them here or there?

I would not like them here or there.
I would not like them anywhere.
I do not like gay guys named Sam. I do not like them, Michael Sam.

Would you watch them on the turf? Would you watch them run a reverse?

I do not like them
On the turf.
I do not like them
Running a reverse.
I do not like them
Here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like gay guys named Sam. I do not like them, Michael Sam.

Would you watch them from a box? Would you watch them throw a block?

MICHAEL-SAMNot from a box.
Not throw a block.
Not on the turf.
Not run a reverse.
I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere.
I do not like gay guys named Sam. I do not like them, Michael Sam.

Would you? Could you? Watch them sack?
Watch them! Watch them! Give a smack!

I would not, could not, watch them sack.
I would not watch them give a smack

You may like them. You will see. You may like them running free.

I would not like them running free.
You let me be!
I do not like them making sacks.
I do not like them giving smacks.
I do not like them on the turf.
I do not like them running a reverse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere. I do not like gay guys named Sam.

Would you watch them from a box?
Would you watch them throw a block?

I would not watch them from a box.samIam
I would not watch them throw a block.
I would not watch them here or there.
I would not watch them anywhere.
I would not watch gay guys named Sam.
I would not watch them, Michael Sam.

You may like them.
You will see.
You may like them on your team.

I would not, could not on my team.
It’s not as easy as it seems.

You do not like gay guys named Sam?

I do not like them, Michael Sam.

You do not like them, SO you say.
Watch them, watch them and you may.
Watch them and you may I say.

Michael Sam!
If you will let me be, I will watch them.
You will see.

Say! I like gay guys named Sam!
I do! I like them, Michael Sam!

green-eggs-and-ham-happy-samAnd I will watch them from a box!
And I will watch them throw a block!
And I will watch them make a sack!
And I will watch them give a smack!
And I will watch them on the turf!
And I will watch them run a reverse!
And I will watch them here or there
Say! I will watch them anywhere!

I do so like gay guys named Sam!
Thank you, thank you, Michael Sam!


Liturgical Olympics

Borromean_Rings_IllusionJudging by my Twitter feed a LOT of people have been watching the Olympics. For some, Olympic watching borders on a two-week obsession with sports never given a second thought in the intervening four years. I don’t know too many people who are luge fanatics outside the friendly competitive confines of the Olympic Games. Or who could name all the members of the Slovakian curling team in non-Olympic years.

Anyway, it’s made me think that we should institute an every-four-years Liturgical Olympics. Each diocese could field teams in church-specific events. Instead of the ugly jackets worn by Team USA in Sochi, the “athletes” could wear hideous vestments during the Opening Ceremonies at the Washington National Cathedral. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We first need to come up with comparable events. Here are some suggestions:

Freestyle Skiing — Thurible TwirlingCensing-incense-with-thurible[1]
Everybody loves the daring, gravity-defying thrills of freestyle skiing. Why not transfer this to the skills of our best thurifers? The possibility of setting things on fire adds to the danger of this exciting event. Thurifers show off their skills with 360s, around the worlds, figure eights, and even the newest move called the spinning nautilus. Extra points gained for smoking out any Protestant spectators.

Speed Skating — Speed Mass
After the starting gun/sanctus bell, Celebrants compete to say the Eucharistic prayer and distribute communion as quickly as possible. Everyone begins with the altar set for communion, 100 communicants in (mostly) good standing, and one deacon. Giant running digital clock behind the altar allows spectators to track each competitor’s time. While this event is Rite II, the Liturgical Olympic Committee (LOC) is considering a switch to Rite I to watch Celebrants trip over the words “innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.”

Pairs Figure Sakting — Acolyte Choreography
Acolytes must serve at a high mass without extraneous movements or fainting while using perfect form and correct manual acts. Additional points are awarded for singing the hymns and not falling asleep during the sermon. Points are subtracted for unruly hair, wearing sneakers, and getting wax on the cassock.

Ski Jumping — Changing the Worship Space
Participants are challenged to make a substantial change to the worship space and then suffer the wrath of parishioners. The losers either give in and change it back or go home and curl up in the fetal position. “Substantial change” may refer to the removal  of flags from the sanctuary, repositioning the altar, or removing anything — no matter how ugly — donated by a current parishioner (i.e. the modern baptismal font, 1970s-style altar hangings, etc).

boringchurchmrbeanCross Country Skiing — Endurance Preaching
The ultimate liturgical endurance test, preachers are set up in a pulpit and asked to preach extemporaneously on a surprise text for as long as possible. There are two ways to get disqualified. 1) Uttering the words “um,” “er,” “ah,” or  any other vocal placeholder or extra long pause (judges’ discretion) 2) When the first spectator falls asleep. This is the least popular event to attend especially because smart phones and knitting are not allowed.

Hockey — Coffee Hour
Participating clergy are thrown into a loud, crowded room with people drinking bad coffee out of styrofoam cups. They have 20 minutes to remember everyone’s name, have heart-felt pastoral conversations with long-time parishioners, identify and talk to all newcomers, answer passive aggressive questions about the hymn selection, and suck down two cups of coffee.


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