Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Here is the thing I wrote about the readings a couple of weeks ago about the rich, young ruler and how his failure was not in keeping his wealth, or even that he didn't follow Jesus, but that he failed to engage.

What I didn't say is that while this reading is from Mark, and the stories are a little different in all the synoptics, in Luke the story comes just after the story of the tax collector and the pharisee. The Pharisee was a regular at temple, he was one of the leaders. If he were here today he might be a bishop, or at least a priest. He certainly knew his way around the prayer book. Like the rich, young ruler, he would have done everything properly and in good order, knelt at the right times, and stood at the right times. Oh, he seems like one of us, doesn't he? Yet, despite having done everything correctly, he was not justified.

Like the rich, young ruler they both went up to the temple, to Jesus, to the religious authority figure... it can be anything... and they both walked away. Only one was justified, though.

Who was justified? The tax collector! The sinner! It is doubtful that the tax collector, an employee of the oppressor, would have shown up at temple very often. Even in this story he has the good sense to remain in the background, but he is the one who was justified/healed/engaged.

Is there something about going to the temple, going to Jesus, going somewhere... and then coming away? What happens in between? Why are some healed and some are not?  Some are justified and some are not?  Engagement. That's what. Who engages?

When we go to God maybe in prayer, or the daily hopes and ejacualtions that make up daily life, and we just blather, or complain, or dance with the monkey mind within, then it seems like nothing happens. But, single-minded engagement seems to get the divine attention.

As I tell my students, "One of my requirements is that you are awake when I walk into the room." I imagine a deity would expect at least as much.
I am not really a coffee drinker, but my neighbor -- Mr. Tang -- likes to have a cup with me, and he takes such obvious delight in making it up with sugar and cream that it is really more like a cafe crem than real coffee. He likes confirming that he is pronouncing coffee the American way and who better to confirm such a thing than yours truly?  So it is that several times a week, in the wee hours of the morning, Mr. Tang and I stand on his patio/aquarium room and have a cup of joe. We use a combination of English and Mandarin, though he occasionally slips into a dialect of Shanghainese that would drive the Lord Jesus himself right round the bend. We talk about our scooters. He has two really big ones. I once gave him one of my LED lights which he is quite proud of and he usually turns it on to show me that it's still working. Mr. Tang and I love our LEDs, we both have them on our bikes. We both have twinkle lights in our homes, and we both have aquariums... we really are birds of a feather. But every time, just after I drink the coffee I get a sharp headache. What could be going on with that? I think he uses bottled water, the sugar looks alright, the creme is in those sealed cups like they have... I can't figure it out. I take two Pirin Tablets and feel better, so no big deal. It's worth it, frankly... I just love Mr. Tang. But, a little disconcerting.

I tried to tell Mr. Tang the bad news that I have to move, but neither of us really has the vocabulary for that. I found out yesterday. At least I THINK I have to move. I've been unable to contact the property owners -- they call themselves "landlords" even though there is no land involved and they are not my lords. This is sort of a point that I make when I am making points, if you know what I mean. -- Anyway, my housekeeper had been trying to tell me something for two days, but she only speaks that maddening Shanghainese dialect and I couldn't understand a word of it. So I went to a Chinese man at my school, and he called her up for me, but he had trouble understanding her too, but he thinks that the property owners want the flat back. And so I will have to move out of this lovely lane and probably into a building somewhere. Now that I have a scooter I can get from one neighborhood to another a lot faster than when I had to strap on my walking shoes and march through the city to get where I was going. But moving is a hassle, it's the middle of the semester, and I really think the property owners should just tell me instead of making me guess.

In other news, I have painted each fingernail a different color for the weekend, because if you are fortunate enough to have ten different colors then you should use them. I realize that this would get me labeled an eccentric in the USA, which is just another reason not to live there. I'd just wear it as a badge of honor anyway, and I know how that irritates some people. I had them all done up in business suit grey on Thursday, and it was a perfect match for my suit. I usually try to keep it down to two or three colors... but it's the weekend!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

This is a picture of my front door.

I have an extra key taped to the back of that Chinese thing. Actually, it's a key to the laundry room, and I have a spare key to the house in the laundry room. It's a system.

I do not know what the writing on the Chinese thing says, but it's pretty. Most of the people in my lane have something on their door. It could be something like this, or one of the minions.

That ivy plant is too big, and it's in the way. I like it, though, and tripping over it doesn't bother me too much.

One time the people down the lane took my ivy plant and put it with their other plants. When I came home one of my neighbors told me what had happened and we went down there and got my plant back. Nobody has moved it since then. My neighbors take care of me.

This is the lane where I live.

Those bars on the far right are over my bathroom window. It is the only window in my flat, though I have a nice screen that I can pull over the front door too. Still, it doesn't allow for much ventilation.  It is unknown how much the neighbors can see into my bathroom. One learns not to care. As you can see, we live in close quarters here.

The door knob on the far left is my laundry room. You can't actually go in there, but if you open the door there's a nice washer. Brand new, in fact. Only a few other people have machines and they are the type that have to be rolled out and connected each time you want to use them. It's no wonder they think I'm a movie star.

Also on the left you can see another door knob. That is where the old man lives. He is the patriarch of our lane. We all have to do what he says. He lets his pleasure and displeasure be known. One time I left my keys in the door lock all night. He expressed displeasure with me over that. He gives me advice which is not always helpful since he speaks Shanghainese, but it is nice to listen to him. One time I had squeaky hinges on my laundry room and he put oil on them. Now they don't squeak.

Next to him is where my other neighbor has a little patio. He keeps his fish aquariums out there, and he has plants, and strings of LED lights. It's a little paradise. He goes out there at night and smokes. He also parks his two massive scooters in there. I can't even imagine what those scooters must have cost him.

Between the old man's place and my neighbor's patio you see a sink and a counter. That is where the old man and his family brush their teeth, hack up phlegm, and prepare their meals. I know all this because it is just across from my bathroom window. Like I said, we live in close quarters.

The old man's son and daughter in law live just next door to me. They are nice enough, but I don't really know them.

Next door to them, though, is my real friend, the man with the patio and the massive bikes. He does all the cooking for the family, and that's pretty common in China. My ayie eats with them every evening. She lives next door on the other side. You can't see her house. I don't know why she eats with them. They might be related. I just don't know. It took me a long time to figure out that the old man was related to my next door neighbors. They have all lived here forever and they know who is kin to whom... Me? I don't know.

I just thought ya'll might like to see the neighborhood.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Both the pope and Kim Davis have said things which I completely agree with, and as Christians we really do have to try to find some ground for agreement.

First Kim Davis:  "I am just a County Clerk who loves Jesus and desires with all my heart to serve him.”

I believe that's probably true. I think it's how she thinks of herself, and I imagine it's one of the ways that Jesus thinks of her.  You can be sincere, though, and still be sincerely wrong. That's a thing the Baptists used to say to me, and it's true. I do not doubt Kim Davis's sincerity for a minute. I embrace her as a sister in Christ and a fellow struggler.

I don't even have a problem with Kim Davis's theology. It's not my own, but I'm in no position to point my fingers at anyone and say that this one is right and this one is wrong. In many quarters there is no theology, so the fact that Kim Davis has a theology at all seems like good news to me. Go out, everybody, and get some theology. Find a quack, or a saint, or somebody who has said something about God and think about it for awhile. There are lots worse things you can spend your time thinking about than God.

For the Christian, and I assume for Kim Davis, life can't be compartmentalized into little boxes. What we do at work is intrinsically related to what we do in Church, at home, and in the rest of our lives. That is why people like me try to teach with love, my ayie cleans with joy, and people give their best selves to work when they are working. In this way, everything becomes an offering to God. I understand that Kim Davis can not reconcile her job requirements with her faith. (I don't agree with her, but I do understand.) And that is why she should quit her job.

Kim Davis would not be the first Christian to leave a job because it conflicted with her faith. The early church encouraged members not to work as gladiators or actors. Whether or not to serve in the military has always been in question, with many objecting to combat roles and taking on other roles (sometimes even more dangerous) instead. Holding political office has been a hot-topic too, as has being an inn keeper, making guns, being a merchant, and even banking. Most recently, David Brooks of the New York Times suggested that professional athletes who are Christians should quit. "The moral ethos of sport, " he said, is out of sync with "the moral ethos of Christianity" which requires humility. Some may disagree, it is acknowledged, though, that some jobs are not fit for Christian people.

At it's most basic level Christian vocation is to love God and to love others. That can take the form of healing them, preaching to them, selling them food, or helping them make money. It might even include entertaining them, the way actors, singers, and prostitu.... uh-oh. The lines are not clear. What a Christian can do is ask these questions: Am I loving God? Am I loving my neighbor? There may be more than one answer to the same question. In charity for one another we allow for that.

We also allow for religious workers to be accommodated. In the USA most workers can arrange to have significant religious holidays off, they are permitted to wear special clothing, or abstain from food or drink that is not allowed in their religion. Most people of one faith are willing to work for someone of a different faith, exchanging work holidays between religions. I've done that. I think most people have. I am glad my country requires workplace accommodations.

Here is what we don't allow:  We don't allow the religion of one person or group to disrupt the work. If the work is being a doctor, but your religion doesn't allow you to care for gay and lesbian patients, then you can't be a doctor. If you are a vet, but your religion doesn't allow you to care for dogs, then you can't be a vet. And, if you are a county clerk, but your religion doesn't allow you to issue marriage licenses, then you can't be a county clerk, because that is the work. Religion can not disrupt the work.

Kim Davis should either join that rather large group of other conscientious objectors who have quit their jobs, or she should be fired for not doing the work. That is what happens even when people love Jesus very, very much.

Now for the pope: Pope Francis said that conscientious objection is a human right of everyone, including government officials.

He is right. Conscientious objection is a right. It's in both Nuremberg and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rights do not come without cost, though. In The United States we have certain rights: Freedom of speech, the right to assemble, pursuit of happiness. These rights were not free, though, they were bought for us by the first United Staters. Many of them gave their very lives for the rights that United Staters enjoy today. 

Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, are perhaps the best known conscientious objectors, though Mennonites, the Amish, and Brethren are also war pacifists.* Joshua Pollard Blanchard is the first US conscientious objector that I know of. He was a Quaker who refused to serve in the war of 1812 and there was a trial about it, though I don't know the outcome. There was another early United Stater who refused to serve in the Union Army. He also refused to supply the army with goods from his business, and the business nearly went under for it. As the USA entered the world wars, Quakers began to have a harder time of it. Some went to prison for long terms for their refusal to serve. Between the wars the churches began to set up alternative service which allowed many to serve in non-war positions. Some of those positions, like smoke jumper, were very dangerous but they allowed conscientious objectors to be true to their conscious without being unfaithful to their country. 
Here's what never happened, at least in modern times:  Conscientious objectors never just continued on as before. Conscientious objectors to war make a sacrifice, they serve, or they pay, they may leave their country, or they go to prison, but they do not simply go on.

Kim Davis is trying to play it both ways. She wants to be a conscientious objector, as she has every right to be, AND she wants her life, and salary and benefit package, to go on as before. That is not being a conscientious objector, that's called running a scam. It's not at all the same thing. So, when the pope tells her to stay strong, he is basically telling her that it's OK, and that he approves of her overthrow of the rule of law and flouting the principles of conscientious objection. I am not sure that's what the pope intended to say, but that's what came through loud and clear.

I really suspect that we have not heard the last of Kim Davis and the pope. My suspicion is that the pope is more complex and nuanced as all that, and that Kim Davis is not. There is a lot which is not known, but quite enough that is.

When I think about the pope and the things he has said, I can't bring myself to believe that he really has it in for the homos, the trannies, or the women whom he just ignores. He has surely had gay friends -- probably no lesbians -- but gay priests, gay students, gay parishioners. He can't have remained completely unexposed to their lives. My suspicion is that he never wished them any harm, though I doubt that he understood their lives very well either.

What I see in the pope is an unwillingness to do anything to change a very misguided system. It may be that cowardice, or just the clerical love of the status quo are his biggest sins. I have sins too.

Either way, it's nice to know that I can agree with both of them.


We are on the cusp of ANOTHER stunning day here in ShangHai.

Yesterday I took moon cakes to my neighbors along with a note telling them my name and some things about where I from and about my family. Not they are all bringing me presents and saying Lin Da and Tax Is.

I have recently figured out why the Chinese go to such unbelievable contortions of the calendar when they have a holiday. It's balance. We have to maintain the balance in the society at all times. Thus, if you take off a Tuesday, there has to be another Tuesday before the close of the week so you can make it up otherwise the balance is all off. I shared this revelation with a Chinese friend who just said, "Yes, of course." Of course... all this time I have marveled at the crazy, crazy scheduling around the holidays. But then I was thinking of society in another context and balance and it hit me: The calendar has to stay in balance. See, it does make sense. Oh, these Chinese, they are a mystery and a bafflement. And occasionally I figure out something.

My ayie came this morning. She has recently moved in just a couple of houses from me and she took me down there this morning to show me her new apartment. She is proud of it, and it's a nice joint. I wonder how she affords it. There are secrets I do not know yet.

As for the lectionary, I find that I am more interest in Job than in the other readings. There are so many extra-canonical stories about him, and his wife too, including one I wrote a few years back. That's how great stories are:  They inspire other stories, people sit around talking about them, they have life in them.

OK. No real news. And I think we've all heard quite enough from me today anyway..

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nothing says, "I'm ready for National Day" like a fresh chicken in the pot. I took this about a week ago between JingAn and Qufu Lu. I assume that these birds were destined to be part of today's National Day celebration.

The whole town was empty this afternoon. I rode my scooter for a little while, but then it felt like more rain was on the way so I got back home as quickly as I could. And it was cold.

Still ruminating on the readings for this week. We see Adam -- who was the first person, not the first man, really -- we see Adam needing a companion and then getting one. Then we see that relationships get broken. Jesus is not for that, but the fact that he's talking about it tells me that it's a reality. And then we see that we are still to welcome one another like little children. Children are not married which brings single people into the community of faith in a way that the pope seems incapable of.

And there is Job. Why, why did poor Job go through all that?  Answer? There is no answer. Can we live with that? I gotta say, I have a real hard time with it. I only live with it because sometimes I have to. I have never been happy about it, and I am only marginally faithful in the midst of it. So there might be something yet to learn from Job.

I have a few days off. I am just futzing around here and taking naps.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

There is a place around the corner form me where they sell fresh-water pearls. I didn't have anything to do the other day so I went in there to see what it was all about. It's a huge building. Anyway, they also have an area where they show you how the pearls are farmed. I thought it was pretty interesting.

First, there's the oyster. This is a lot bigger than the oysters we have down along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Then the poor babies are injected with enough irritants to make all these pearls. 

They've got lots and lots of jars of pearls. sorted by the size of the pearl. I put my hand up there so you can see how big the jar is.

So that's the story of what's ion the pearl building. There is also a large retail section which I went through, but I didn't have much patience for it. The women who worked there really wanted to show me their pearls, but I thought the oysters were a lot more interesting.

Today is the day we remember Good King Wenceslaus of Bohemia. We could use a few good kings just now.

There was a low-key celebration of the full moon here on Tong Ren Lu. People went to other people's houses and ate a meal. Not me, of course. They leave me alone.

I found a beginner English language book which I passed on to my neighbor who wants to learn. He was happy.

I've been riding my scooter a lot. This afternoon I made a practice run to the place I'll park for work, for the subway. It will be nice to have my scooter there when I get off the train instead of trying to get a taxi at that particular spot. Then I rode down Shanxi Lu to Fuxing Lu and down Fuxing Lu quite a way. I had not realized that they ran perpendicular. It as been hard figuring out the streets as none of them run parallel, it seems like. In ShangHai most of the streets have trees on both sides. Almost any street is a nice place for a drive.

And now we are at Monday morning again. It's a short week, only two days. Then we have a week off for National Day. When I hear people say that no good thing ever comes from excessive nationalism I know that they are not from China, because in China we get a week off work for it and that seems pretty good to me. Of course the next week we will work eight days in a row, so there is that.

Take a look at the lectionary readings for next week and tell me what you'd do with that! I am not touching the man/woman thing. I like Job, but it's a story and too many people take it too literally. I rather like the anthropomorphizing of the deity, it's fun to play around with that. But, I don't know if I can write anything about it. Maybe go with the children thing again. Or a saint! I have been wanting to do one of my saint potpourris again. Though, for Sunday, I like to nail something from the lectionary. It's only Monday. We'll see what surfaces later in the week.

Have fun, everybody.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The thing I wanted to say last week about finding the child spirit in ourselves and others -- and I don't think I got around to saying this -- is that it's in our enemies and in people we don't like too much.

Kim Davis, for example.

Donald Trump. Still the greatest internal threat to the USA, but also a child of God.

Or, really irritating people, like the woman in my office who is a real prissy-britches. Of course, it takes one to know one so...

I'm just saying that we have to extend all that love to people we may think don't deserve it, because thinking is not really our job, loving is.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Today is the day we remember Jonah, the prophet.

The Bible story has often been read as a tale of disobedience, and I guess that's in there. It also seems like Jonah had a bad attitude about it all, too, complaining when God didn't actually destroy Nineveh. But, I don't know. He was so well regarded that his tomb was venerated for centuries before Marauding Muslims destroyed it last year. And, if I ever visit Iraq, and it looks less and less likely by the day, I will go to the place where his tomb used to be. So, there's more there than a disobedient man with a chip on his shoulder.

Anyway, we can think about Jonah today and give thanks for his life.


Here's the thing I finally wrote on the readings for last Sunday (yesterday):


And here's a picture of me with my new bear plate! There was a guy selling plates on the street outside the lane I live on and I couldn't resist this one. Who could! So now I own two plates, and one of them is a bear plate. Life doesn't get much better than that.

 Here's a close-up:

Have a good day everybody.

Friday, September 18, 2015

When I checked in with Facebook this morning I saw that there was a blooper reel from the recent GOP debate, and I thought that would be a fun thing to watch. Until I realized it wasn't the blooper reel, it was the highlights. If you missed it, Marco Rubio took his own water to the debates, Mike Huckabee thinks that he is part of the A-Team, Carly is going for the feminist vote... I really can't understand what's going on in the USA anymore.

When I was in Myanmar I re-read all the George Orwell books so they are still in my mind. The fake crowds, the backwards talking (also called lies), the sheer hubris of Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, it's all so newspeak, so ministry of information. I mean, even Sarah Palin -- and I am no fan of Sarah --  but, she had the decency not to run. Whether she realizes she is an idiot or not, I don't know, but somehow she realized that she couldn't be president and didn't run. The others... I don't know where they get off. It's just wild.

So I stopped watching that. Obviously. The state of USA TV almost makes me glad that Netflix is now making TV shows. Almost.

I am thinking about the children this morning. Jesus says to welcome the children. Yet, Australia sends them back out to sea to die, the USA is not a lot better, nobody wants the children refugees any more than they want the adult refugees. (Anyone who is different must be a terrorist, you know.) Forty percent of African-American children live in poverty. Honestly, how did we let that happen? But also, and here's something I do when I think about scripture, I go: Who, What, When, Where, Why... it's simple, but usually it's one of the WH questions that speaks to me.

So, regarding the children we have Jesus, the children, the disciples, and the children's parents... that's the who. 

The what is, teaching and welcome.

When, is between who is the greatest and if you're not against us you're for us -- compared to a later statement that if you're not for me you're against me (Matt. 12:30)... confusing Jesus, very confusing. Mark is the earliest of the canonical synoptics and it is assumed that the writer had a variety of early texts to borrow from. Not that the saints would EVER plagiarize... different times, different standards. But the when is within Jesus' lifetime.

The why is teaching. And I think Jesus may be working out his own vision for the kind of reign he imagines.

The where is Capernaum, simple enough. They had come down a mountain -- transfiguration, remember -- and were walking through The Galalie. We are always going to Jerusalem, remember. Twists and turns, but always headed to Jerusalem. Later they will head beyond the Jordon for more teaching. So, between a mountain and a river. In The Galalie. In a house. But, that's really just the location.

Where is Jesus? Well, if you believe the pictures in the children's Sunday School rooms, Jesus is sitting on a big rock. You've seen the picture, I'm sure. It's not an actual photo, but it must be accurate or it wouldn't be in all those Sunday School rooms. And, actually I don't have a beef with that image. The story in the Bible is that Jesus was in a house and had called the disciples to him, but it's just a story and I like the outdoor setting with the rock just fine. Also, the teacher would have been sitting and the students standing... a configuration I wish we'd return to, btw. So, to have Jesus on that big, white rock is OK.

So, now we have set the scene and can start thinking.

The first thing I like to do is change the time zone. 

Who are the children today?
What are they doing? What should I be doing?
When:  TODAY. The time is always NOW.
Where are they right now?

I will write more about this later. But for now I need to have a ride on my scooter.

Love to all.

I took a little tour around town today on my new scooter. It felt nice to be out and about on my own: No taxi, no subway... just turning where I want to, stopping when I feel like it. I rode down to The Bund -- Wai Tan, as we call it in Shanghai -- stopping for lunch, shopping, and walking around.

This is looking across the HungPu River into PuDong. That funny looking building is the Oriental Pearl Tower. It's a radio tower, but you can also go up in the middle ball and have a meal or visit an observation deck. You may recall that we did that several years ago. It's a good thing to do, but but not the kind of thing you need to repeat.

I just call this the hideous new building. You can see that the Jin Mao tower stands, stately, in the shower of the new building. It's supposed to look like it's twisting, and it does look that way. But, why? I just have a soft spot for the Jim Mao Tower.

I am still taking my selfies in the old fashioned way of holding a small camera at arms length. I was one of the few people on Wai Tan who did not have one of those dangerous and ubiquitious selfie-sticks. I would be surprised if someone hasn't put an eye out by now. I really would.

I would be hard pressed to say that I actually DID anything, but somehow it took all day. Finally, I was back at home sweet home:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I've been looking for a good sermon on last week's gospel lesson. I kind of wanted to write my thing for Episcopal Cafe on the gospel, but I got interested in the Proverbs reading. I am almost never interested in Proverbs with it's talk of good wives and pithy advice. It makes me feel like it should be in the Ladies Home Journal. I am not a lady, and I don't have a home... It's just not my book. But I was interested in it last week so that's what I did my thing on. Another reason I didn't write on the gospel is  that it would have taken me awhile to work out all the twists in the story, I would have gone on and on about Heidegger, and my essay would have been too long.

This week I am thinking about the little children, and especially about that little boy found dead on the beach. Welcome the little children he says... and this is what we give him.

I was also struck by this one statement "They were afraid to ask..." Really?

The new job is going well. It's hard, but I like it. I am finding my spot among the other teachers. The students run from delightful to wild beasts. Some have a very low level of English Language ability and they are mixed in with higher ability children so that's interesting.

Rain for the past two days, but I think it's supposed to clear off today. Rain again for the weekend which may get in the way of my electrical bicycle riding, but not much.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A lot of people, including me, go out into nature and we experience something of God there. I am not saying it's as good as church, but it's not bad either. God is everywhere, after all. It shouldn't surprise us where anybody finds her. To those who have seen Jesus on toast, or experienced God in a sunset I say, "Well, there are worse things to see in there," right?

But where is wisdom? She is out in the marketplace, on the busiest streets. Wisdom has not withdrawn from the world, she is rubbing shoulders with mortgage bankers, and high-rollers, homeless, and those who are just trying to make a living. There she is, in the hoary mass of humanity.

Makes me wonder if I am looking in the right places.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

You know what I noticed about the gospel reading for this morning? It's the amount of snark. People are just talking smack to Jesus, aren't they?

"Save yourself..." they said.

And those who killed him taunted him too, and gambled for his clothes.

It reminds me a lot of what is happening to that poor county clerk in Kentucky. Oh, I don't support her cause, not for a minute. But she is getting crucified in social media. And she is getting mocked, even taunted. Look, this woman hasn't been a follower of Jesus for very long, only about four years. She is bound to make some mistakes. I've been following Jesus for 47 years and I make mistakes, and I think some of you do too. She is not perfect, but she is trying. She is willing to put it all on the line for her faith, and I admire that. I disagree, but I admire her for what she thinks she's doing. She has sacrificed more for her faith in these last couple of weeks than most of us ever will. Let's give her that. She is trying.

If we have to find someone to blame, let's blame ourselves. Mainline Christianity doesn't speak out about these sorts of "theologies" which imperil the saints. If the rest of us had reached out to the saints in Kentucky back when it first became apparent that they were a bunch of wack-o nuts then we might have avoided this, and God only knows how much more. Some have said that she won't listen to us if we reach out to her. Well, she probably won't. But this is a good time to make some inroads into alien territory. This is the time for religious leaders to speak out with compassion to show this county clerk how she can be true to her faith AND follow the law. Write her a letter, or write to her pastor. (If you find contact information on the church or pastor let me know because I don't have it.) Don't mock, don't even judge. That is not our job. You can just say, "Here is how I see it... This is what the Bible says to me... " and treat them like colleagues in the Kingdom, because that is what they are.

Even the chief priests had a meeting about Jesus in which they asserted that if he did come down from the cross, then they would believe. The Bible says that they were mocking Jesus. but I don't know. I have been in more than a few meetings where it was clear to me that we were merely absolving ourselves and planning our strategy in the event we were questioned. You know, you can kind of feel it. It's that little voice that says, "We are fooling ourselves." Well, poor chief priests...

There is enough compassion for them, for the county clerk in Kentucky, and for all of us. I guess that's what I got from the readings today.

I have to get going. My hair color, which I paid a lot of money for, and which took ALL afternoon to get, is not right. It's too dark. I hate it. And, NO I am not having much compassion for they guy who did it. But, I'll try. I will. That's on the agenda for today. I want to get this hair situation sorted. Add that to the list of other things... Have a good day everybody.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Today we remember ten Christian martyrs. The Saint Of The Day page says that their names appeared on old martyrologies, but that all knowledge of their lives and deaths has been lost. Their names are:











These are in addition to the 191 other martyrs, killed during the French Revolution for refusing to take an oath to make the clergy accountable to the government. Collectively, they are called the Martyrs of Paris and the Martyrs of Carmes. They are named here.

I was never taught about these martyrs , or any other martyrs for that matter. When I was a young Christian I was vaguely aware that Stephen had been martyred and the other disciples. I knew that people had died for their faith throughout the ages, but nobody ever said these people died for this reason. It was all very vague.

I wish that new Christians could be taught that real people die, even today a lot of them die, for the sake of this gospel which refers to the whole of our oh-so important lives as a mist. Just a thing that will soon pass, and not of any real significance except that we give it away before it can be blown away.

If you've seen the ISIS videos you know that there is no white-robed glory to it. Not on this side of it anyway. Still, I think we should all keep ready.


In personal news, I have managed to get a few days off this week. I am changing jobs and taking some vacation I had coming from my last job. It's that time of year, you know, when the language school teachers look for jobs in real schools. All the teachers who were at my language school when I got there have now either gone, or have resigned. It was a good gig, but those of us who can get better jobs will. The students were lovely when I left. I got some good presents and they all said things that made me feel good. I don't know if any of it is true, but it gives me something to aspire to.   In the new job I will still have a long commute, but not as complicated in terms of train changes. I will just get on the 12 and go. School is about a five minute walk from the station, and it's another ten minutes across campus. The International Department is almost an afterthought, behind the gymnasium. The hours are Monday through Friday 730 to 415. Weekends off. Three months holiday, only two paid. But, this being Shanghai, I can get work if I want it. No problem. Overall, not a bad package. I am not doing anything special on my days off, just trying to clear the decks for a new school year. Various parts of me have been waxed, colored, and cleaned. I cleaned out the closet and one cupboard which was getting cluttered. I still have to do some banking and buy a pair of shoes. I have explored some new areas. This afternoon I plan to go out to a thing in PuDong. The Chinese have built an Italian village out there, apparently. We'll see. It will be an adventure anyway, or at least an activity.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Here is a new picture of the bird who lives at the end of the lane. He does not like to have his picture taken so I try to be discrete, but it's hard to get anything over on him.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sometimes people ask me why I live in Jing’An. It’s expensive, and it’s far from where I work. I usually just smile and say, “Oh, I don’t know… I just like Jing’An,” and I let it go at that. But, here’s the real reason:

Last night I came out of the subway about 8 pm. The first thing I heard was a guy playing saxophone. He was standing at the entrance to a little consumerist festival which we have every weekend. It’s a small lane that wends across the back side of the park. People set up tables and sell whatever they’ve got, and it’s different every week! So I paused at the sax player, and looked at the goods for sale. I rarely see anything I want, but I talked to people and I petted a small dog.

After I crossed the street I dipped back into the subway station and bought a loaf of blueberry, walnut bread. On the way out I spoke to the brolly seller. He kind of knows me because I’ve bought a couple of umbrellas. Then I noticed the Ports building which is clad in lighted bricks. The whole building is made of lighted bricks. It’s amazing. We don’t have anything like that in Sweeny.

At the Kerry Center I stopped to watch the dogs play. Most of the dogs are only interested in their doggy business, but one old beagle came over and touched my leg with his nose so I gave him a head rub. I didn’t see the dog that bit me that time, but I always look for him and his guardians.

At the corner I saw some people whom I see frequently. They have a little baby who reached out for me and gave me the nicest little baby cuddle.

At the other corner I saw one of the homeless guys. He wants a yuan, but he also wants to feel that he is part of the regular ebb and flow of life, so I talk to him and pay attention to what he says. This reminds me that, though I may be made of stardust, I am closer to dust than to the stars.

As I walk down Tong Ren I speak to a lady I see. I thought I said “good evening” to her but it turns out I said “good morning.” I always get them mixed up. She corrected me and then herded me into her shop where she really, really wanted me to buy something. I kept telling her, “I fat… this very small,” but she made me try on the biggest thing in the shop before agreeing with me. Then she tried to sell me a purse.

After that I stopped by to see the hookers at Red Sky Bar. I trade them a little English and I tell them Bible stories. I don’t really trade them FOR anything, but we call it a trade. They can give good information, like where to get keys made. I’ve gotten that information from them. There was only one hooker and she felt sad because nobody had picked her. She needs the work. It is getting hard, though, because she is older now and… we talked about that. They have been enjoying the stories of the kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. My friends at the tranny bar like the stories about women: The one getting water, the one who was a whore, the virgin… what a hoot, that one. They love those stories. But these women like hearing about betrayal, opulence, God coming in dreams. They have dreams… still.

Then I finally got to 330 Tong Ren where most everybody was sleeping. I checked on the bird at the gate. He was awake, but I told him he should be sleeping. Two white cats ran out to look at me. I paused at the door for the all-night mah jongg parlour and heard the click of the tiles. My neighbour had taken some of my laundry in the day before when it started raining and he returned it. It was mainly towels and I had assumed that someone stole them. But it was just the neighbor taking care of me again.

There is a club across the street from the lane where sometimes they let me sing.

The juice seller around the corner remembers what I want. Blueberry, strawberry, and a couple kiwi slices. I call it the Lindy. Nobody else calls it that though.

Almost everybody who has a cart and sells things off it knows me.

It’s a great neighborhood for walking. People’s Square and the Bund are an easy walk, as is the former French Concession.

It has a lot of cool history.

My friends from other parts of town enjoy visiting because… Jing’An.

So, why do I live in Jing’An? Why doesn’t everyone? Sure, I might save 1000 RMB a month living somewhere else, but… I dunno.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I had trouble with the internet this morning, or maybe just the VPN. Hard to tell. I'll say this, though, on December 13 when my subscription to Astrill runs out, I won't be renewing. It has got to be the worst VPN in history. But I don't want to be one of those people always complaining about my technical problems.

I enjoyed reading a few more chapters in the Tao Te Ching book. A lot of the chapters are about power, or have power in the title. The one I'll give this morning is Kinds Of Power, Chapter 33:

Knowing other people is intelligence,
knowing yourself is wisdom.
Overcoming others takes strength,
overcoming yourself takes greatness.
Contentment is wealth.

Boldly pushing forward takes resolution,
Staying put keeps you in position.

To live till you die
is to live long enough.


I loved each line more than the one before it.

Contentment really is the wealth I want, and I think it's the wealth most people want. But my poor students are so intent on getting money. I am sure they would say right out that money is their god. If I asked them to choose between money and family, most would choose family, but quite a lot of them would have to think long and hard about it. I always have to remind myself that these are the children of the survivors. Morality, loyalty... those are luxuries. Surviving is still key for them. Give it a few more generations.

Once you are in survival mode it is hard to break out of it. But there is so much more to life when you're not devoting all your energy to survival.

To live until you die is to live long enough... easy enough for Lao Tzu, he was what?... I dunno... a hundred? 
What about the children and young people in Bangkok this week? I am not sure they'd agree. I have always said that the factions would never let the violence come near the tourist centers, and I've always felt perfectly safe in Bangkok. I've been to both blast sites lots of times. I used to shop at the Big C and the Boots just a block away from the Erawan Shrine... Whoever did that, was trying to hurt tourists and upper class Thais. It's a shame. I hope it really was long enough...

I do have a big theology of enough. It comes from Hannukah. There was only a tiny little bit of oil, but they lit it, and it was enough. There is enough, I think. Use what you have. It's enough.

Monday, August 17, 2015

In the gospel reading this morning we see that the leaders of the religious institution are afraid of the crowds. Sometimes I think that not much has changed. The religious leaders still live in fear of "the sheep." That is why they call us sheep. Because they are afraid, bless their hearts.

Absolom did something interesting. I don't think I've ever noticed this before. But, he knew that there wouldn't be anyone to build a monument to him, so he set one up himself. For some of us it's not a bad idea. There won't be anyone to put a stone on my grave, I know that, and probably very few who will even remember me. But all of us can leave some kind of monument. Hopefully it's not a stone in the desert! But we have our lives, the investments we make in others. That's a kind of monument. 

I think the worst of my spring cold is behind me. I had a pretty good night's sleep and I feel ready to go again. Like a puny little baby I have been taking taxis to work, but I'll take the train today. I feel ready to face the hoary masses of humanity, their smells, and jostles. I complain, but it is interesting to me to see what they wear. Shanghainese really dress up. I am sure they think I am a countryside person, which I am, because I don't wear the high heels and sparkly things. I do put on a nice suit every day, and the patent leather shoes... but nothing on me sparkles. I am going to work, after all, not the disco. Though, I do admit to a penchant for the patent leather.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

fig tree leaves wave
even when there is no fruit
where's the fruit, fig tree?

We have the story of the crazy fig tree this morning.

Fig trees are different from all other fruit trees. Fig trees put out fruit before they put out leaves. I don't know why, but they do. The leaves come later and cover the delicate fruit. But this crazy fig tree put out its leaves even though it didn't have any fruit to cover. Of course we see this in religion all the time, the showy leaves of fine vestments and furnishings, but no fruit. People like me who are not in church do it too, but it's most easily apparent in church. That's why the story where Jesus throws the money changers out of the temple is inserted into the crazy fig story. An immature fig is a pretty hard little bulb. But the mature fruit is tender and delicate. Too much sun, birds, all kinds of insects, even small mammals are a threat. Thus the big leaves. For protection. It's not a story condemning the big leaves, it's a story condemning the lack of fruit. So, just because we see billowing incense, and golden chasubles, and the like doesn't mean it's all just showy nonsense. Those things can be protecting delicate fruit. But, of course, they can also just be showy. It's pretty much up to Jesus, though, to decide which is which.

The reading from Psalms tells us that we become like our idols. And I think it's not just those idols where we have a little golden statue and bow down before it. But event he things we admire. I think we really do become like the people we hang out around. Whether or not that's causative or coincidence, I don't know. Still. Something to think about.

I am still coughing and wheezing, but I've had a good night sleep and some fruit for breakfast. My medications seem to be getting me through. I am admittedly a big baby about the least little bodily complaint, I know. I am grateful for my body. Everything on it works to one degree or another, and it gets me around.

Off I go to teach some English and be in the world.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

It's early in the morning, about 6 am. That's early for me. There is just the gentlest rain falling. My flat is down a lane and to see the sky I have to look straight up. It's going to be a gray day. Maybe rainy too. Yesterday we had what I call a rain burst. It rained hard for about ten minutes, then it was clear.

I just finished a thing for The Episcopal Cafe and there is a story that I wasn't able to fit in. It's about King Solomon. He had his good points and his bad, you know. But there is an Islamic tale that he had a special rapport with the animal world. You know, the Muslims never say anything bad about their holy people. It's a lot more black and white for them. Anyway, there's a story that when Solomon and his army were going through a valley an ant saw them coming. The ant, being very conscientious, yelled ahead to warn the other ants that they should take cover lest Solomon inadvertently harm them. Solomon smiled when he heard about it because he was glad that the ant knew that he'd never hurt any part of Allah's creation, and he thanked Allah for saving the ant's lives. You know, they also have a story that Solomon can talk to the animals. That would be cool.

If you go to church this morning you will probably have a sermon about bread and wine. I just couldn't bring myself to write about it. I wish I still believed that it was something, that it meant something, just anything. But it doesn't make any sense to me anymore. When I see it in church it strikes me as an oddity. It is hard to believe I ever lined up for it, much less believed. I feel very far removed from church. For good or for bad, don't know. I suspect the later.

I saw a leaf fall on Tuesday: It was not an earthshaking event, just one leaf. It was large, brown, like other leaves. It is not the sort of event I should remember; but this one leaf, wending its way down, end over end, has stayed with me.

On the Lunar Calendar, observed in China and some other Asian countries, the first day of fall was last week. Maybe it was the day the leaf fell. I don't know.

The Hebrew month of Elul, a time of self-reflection and turning, is now upon us. Elul started yesterday, I think.

Summer, with its stiffing heat, is almost over. Soon enough we will  be complaining about the cold and digging out the coats.

Things are changing.

In our reading this week, Israel has changed kings. King David sleeps with his ancestors, and King Solomon will reign. He is wise, but he screws it up... like most of us.

I have a new Tao Te Ching. Ann sent it to me. I am trying to take it slowly, only one or two chapters a day. I am not being organized at all about it, just opening it up to see where the pages fall. I read 79 and 80 this morning. Here's a bit of wisdom from Chapter 79:
People whose power is real fulfill their obligations;
people whose power is hollow insist on their claims.
So all those insisting that they are in the right... maybe their power is hollow.

I still have my cough, and now my whole head is stopped up. I have some Chinese herbs to sniff and that helps some. I would just about kill for a Sudafed, though.

I am running out of western medicine.

In the daily readings for today Jesus tells people to stop with their incessant Torah study and listen to him. I will admit that I'd rather study the Bible than sit quietly and listen for Jesus. For one thing, he never says anything to me and it seems pointless to tell him anything. Also, I like to feel that I am doing something; you know, doing something, working at it. But it is the sitting with this confounding silence that is the real work, and I hate it. So, sometimes I say to my self, "Look, Muffin, you don't have to try... give it a rest, go easy on yourself." But, here's the thing, I've got all my eggs in this one basket. I have no other eggs, and I have no other basket. And so. If praying is easy, or if praying is hard, or if I'd rather just write a long-ish blog post instead of trying to pray... whatever... I will try anyway.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

If you put all your eggs in one basket and it turns out that the basket has a hole in it... Well, that is unfortunate.

I read some about Jonathan Daniels this morning. I hadn't known of him before, but I think people are making a big deal out of it this year. There seems to be a lot of racial business going on in the USA these days. For good or not, hard to say. But it has held the attention of my FB friends for more than the usual week or so.

I am sick. I feel so bad, with a sore throat and cough.

I have felt bad for a long time, though. There's not much life in me. My world is flat. I try to choose joy, I try to be interested, I want to rejoin the living, but I have to admit that I am dead inside.

Something inside me used to be alive. It would pray all the time. When I woke up in the night, or in the morning, I could hear it. Now there is just silence. I can not pray. I don't think I even know how. It has been unconscious for so long, like breathing, I didn't have to think about it. Now I realize that I don't even know how!

My body was the only thing moving things forward. Now it is weak too.

In the evening Psalm last night the Psalmist says:  

I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
          I have no good apart from you.”  (Ps 16:2)

And I worry about him because he has put all his eggs in this one basket, much as I have, and the basket has a hole in it.

I should have gotten another basket. I have put all my hope in this Christian God, and now look. I have no good apart from God, and I don't have God either!

God is not what I need anyway. I need cough medicine, that is what I need. And some tea.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From Psalm 97:7

All worshipers of images are put to shame,
          those who make their boast in worthless idols;
          all gods bow down before him.

I do a class where we talk about corporate image, and towards the class we talk about self image. I ask the students how they see themselves, and how others see them. I think there's some image worshiping going on there. 

This verse is not just about ancient gods, long past from the scene. Nor is it just the thing that gave rise to the iconoclasm of the Byzantine era, or the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation -- Yes! Some of the newly-minted Protestants went a little over-board. And there is iconoclasm even today in the desecration of sacred sites by Muslim extremists. But, I think these little icons of ourselves may be the most dangerous of all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

If you've ever clicked through pictures of Shanghai on the internet, you are sure to have seen this thing. I don't know what it's supposed to be, but it's interesting. Another thing I didn't know is that you can get right up close to it. So, I did.

You can see that it's in a pretty busy part of PuDong. There are two parts of Shanghai: PuDong is the newer part, Puxie is the older part. The names just refer to either side of the river. I live in Puxie.

I was really happy to be able to get some close-ups. Until this, I'd only seen it from a distance. There's a selfie towards the end.

Solomon was wise,
A big-shot murderer too.
God loved all of him.

The RCL readings for this week include a reading from the books of Kings. It starts in I Kings 2:10-12, and then it skips to chapter 3:3-14. When the lectionary skips like that, it always makes me go, hummm.

It is easy enough to just look at all the good stuff, like the readings do. But the verses it leaves out are pretty telling, I think. And I think they are hopeful. Yes... those verses about murder, betrayal, deceit. That is hopeful to me because it means that I don't have to be all wise and good to be in God's favor. Because I am not.

We all have a dark side. I wonder why the lectionary isn't showing us Solomon's. It seems to me that if we deny the darkness in Solomon, we might deny it in ourselves too, and our institutions. I don't think that's very smart.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

We have mail on tong Ren Lu!
My pal in Oregon sent me a copy of the Tao Te Ching, translated by Ursula K. LeGuin.

This morning I will share Chapter One with you:

The way you can go
isn't the real way.
The name you can say
isn't the real name.

Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
names's the mother of ten thousdand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what's huidden,
and the ever-wanting soul sees only want it wants.

Two things, one oriogin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Myatery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.


Here is want she says in the comments:  A satisfactory translation of the chapter is, I believe, perfectly impossible. It contains the book. I think of it as the Aleph, in Borge's story: If you see it rightly, it contains everything.


Of course, that is not a very original thing to say. It's in most commentaries. But it is true not just for the book, but for us readers as well. The more you think you see and know of the Tao, the faster it slips away. it's like smoke. You can see it, but once you reach out to possess... Nothing.

I don't know about Borge's story, but I do know about the Aleph, the hidden Aleph. You probably know that the first letter of the first word of Torah is NOT an Aleph, as you might expect. It's a Bet! The second letter of the Aleph Bet. So that tells us that something -- the Aleph -- has come before. That's right. "In the beginning..." was not THE beginning. It was a beginning again. God, the story goes, was not happy with previous creations. His subsequent attempts show that God had mercy and compassion on himself. God gave Godself second, and third chances. So we can say that the very first creation was self-compassion. And God knows other people have said other things. The sages warn against looking into this hidden period too deeply. It is not for us to know. Some things aren't. I think that's hard for our western, always expanding, and oh-so curious minds. But, really, some things are beyond us.

There is actually a lot more to tell about Aleph, but now I am off to work.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho...

Saturday, August 8, 2015

From Psalm 103 we have this:

13  As a father has compassion for his children,
          so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him.
14  For he knows how we were made;
          he remembers that we are dust.

And if you can't relate to that, maybe you are lucky enough to be a teacher. Teachers have compassion for their students. We know how hard they are trying. They don't realize that their problems aren't really unique, most students have the same issues. We have compassion for them because we know... maybe we don't know how they are made, but we know how languages are made.

I am glad to think that God is not surprised by my shortcomings. She knows already.

It's the same kind of knowing, though, that lets Amnon off the hook for Tamar's rape. David didn't say anything to Amnon because he knew, he understood. So the other side of the coin is that as much compassion as God has for me, she has at least equal compassion for guys I'd rather see knocked down and beaten with a rod of iron... to borrow a little imagery.

I actually prefer my way, but I am not God.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Even the sparrow finds a home,
          and the swallow a nest for herself,
          where she may lay her young,
     at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
          my King and my God. 
Psalm 84:3
Wait! Aren't the altars in the churches? Those special tables where the high and holy priest works her magic... aren't those the altars?

Of course they are not... Not any more than sacraments or holiness or any other uncontainable, unmanageable, wild thing of God.

The Christian religion would like you to believe that the body and blood of Christ are in the church, on the altar. They would like to manage the sacraments for you. There's no need to pursue a broken open, bloodied, unpredictable and sacramental life when you have an institution which can do it for you, after all. And if the church can manage the sacraments for you, then they can use those sacraments to manipulate you. Smart people fall for it all the time. I did. It's all so neat and clean: the seven sacraments, all with a special liturgy. It's orderly. That's appealing, isn't it? Sure, because if God is organized then life makes sense. Good on you if you can live in that kind of delusion. I mean it. Live the dream as long as you can. But sometimes there comes a thing called reality.  If you live in the real world it is not hard to see through the Sunday sham. Neither God, nor our lives are organized, predictable, or neat and clean. Altars do exist, but they are more than tables in churches. They are the areas of stillness where sparrows lay their young. The vulnerable, feathered, small, and unnecessary are safe at the altar. I don't think you'll be finding that much in church. I can hardly think of a more spiritually dangerous place than the institutional church. But if you can sit quietly, you might find an altar closer than you think.

This is also the day when shining stars and sea monsters are commanded to praise God, so if you're a star or a sea monster...

Monday, August 3, 2015

On my way home I noticed how soft the light was.
It was just before a full moon, the blue moon. Maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe the light is always soft and I just noticed. Either way, I couldn't resist it. I observed its texture and form, so grateful for its almost-living presence. There are stories in the light, of course, but we'd never see them without the darkness. The soft light lets reality in gently. Note the soft edges, the color. Light has as much shape as the things it illuminates. Can you see it dancing?

This is the day we remember Gamaliel. He is on the Christian calendar of saints, even though he was a Jew. Gamaliel may have saved the lives of Peter and John by his reminder to the Sanhedrin that most things play out if you give them a little time. I find that this is a good rule to follow whether you're wanting to convict heretics or just get through contract negations. A little time works wonders.

Here is a passage said to be a quote from Gamaliel's speech to the Sanhedrin regarding John and Peter:
But a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up, ordered the men to be put outside for a short time, and said to them, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him.*

Also, from today's readings we have this little gem:  

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

I think that most of the time my own mind is set on human things. I wonder if Jesus has softened his tone on that any?
* “Saint Gamaliel“. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 July 2015. Web. 3 August 2015. <>