Sunday, May 31, 2015

Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them
Deuteronomy 11:16

This is right after it says that God will give rains for your lands, and you'll have plenty to eat. But, of course, the rains don't always happen in the way we'd like. Just last week poor Texas was flooded. Oh, they needed the rain. But not like that. It seems to be feast or famine with this God. Or, maybe the psalmist didn't know about floods and droughts in other places. There was no internet in those days, after all. Here's what I do know. And it's precious little, I admit. But I know that when there's a drought on, it is easy to think about turning away. And I know something else about it too. It's seducing. You start to think that your life would be better, or easier if you just didn't believe. That is how I stopped believing in the Eucharist. And I was right too. My life has been at least less painful since I recognized it as nothing more than a way for the clergy to manipulate the laity. The seven sacraments are about the most horrible thing I've ever seen. For one thing having just the seven often keeps people from living actual sacramental lives. When God speaks to you in seven ways, you miss the other seven billion ways. And it makes one class of people dependent on another class for something they consider life-giving, and nobody should have that kind of power. The words of consecration should be uttered by a child, or a leper, or a whore. Or, if none of those are available maybe it could just be a stranger of some kind. But, never a priest. But, I digress. The thing is not to get seduced into not believing because once you stop believing you can't go back. I wish I could believe again in the efficacy of the Eucharist. I think there are times it would have been at least comforting if not helpful for me. But, I don't believe and I have been unable to make myself go back to believing. So, for today, I am going to believe that droughts end, that rains come, and that my barns will be full one day. I am going to keep believing, because once you have been seduced, once you turn away... I don't know if there's a way back from that.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

I was clicking through the calendar of saints on the train this morning and there weren't any who caught my eye until my gaze came at last to rest on the name of Blessed Jacob Chu  Mun-mo. As it turns out he's from Suzhou,. which is just a few miles from Wuxi, and just a few more from Shanghai. He went to the seminary in Beijing. and was the first priest to go to Korea. I guess he didn't speak Korean when he got there because he didn't conduct his first mass until the next year, Easter Sunday 1795. Apparently he was a hard worker and increased the church. He spent a lot of time in hiding, but died a martyr, having turned himself in so that the authorities would stop arresting others in their efforts to find him. The Korean government thought he was a spy and that Christianity was subversive. So, they were right about one thing, but I doubt Jacob Chu was a spy. It speaks to his witness, though, that Christianity was thought to be subversive while he was there. I would like to have known him.
You may remember about a week ago, or two weeks ago, I wrote a reflection piece on Holy Leisure for The Episcopal Cafe. It's the one with Rowan as the cover photo. You can read it here. It's a nice short little essay, and people like those. The short ones. But I really had quite a lot more to say about it and I thought you might like to hear it too. It really puts this little dab of scripture in its context. That is, it's the end of a longer passage. Anyway, here it is.


There is a great temptation to say that Mary and Martha are two sides of the same coin, and maybe they are.  There is always more than one way to read a story, after all. Another way to read today’s passage is not so easy, though. It calls us to examine our busy lives and to acknowledge that the trade-off for the idol of appearing busy (and too important to take a moment off for leisure) may be higher than we think.

Just to recap:  Jesus is visiting Mary and Martha at their home in Bethany. It’s just outside Jerusalem. Obviously, they want to put out a nice meal for Jesus and his disciples, but Martha is the one doing all the work. Mary is just sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet. This is a pretty revolutionary act since only men were allowed to sit at a teacher’s feet, so Mary is no withering violet. But she is not putting in her share of the work in the kitchen, and Martha is not happy about it.  Martha appeals to Jesus to intervene – a shocking thing to ask of a guest – and Jesus replies that The One Thing is all that is needed, Mary has chosen a better path.

Nearly two thousand years on we are left with the question of why, if Mary has chosen the better path, we often choose to model our lives on the example of Martha. 

The answer may be clearer if we back up a little and connect this story with the story about the lawyer which precedes it in verses 25-37. The lawyer asked Jesus a question, “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In the Socratic style which the lawyer would have been comfortable with, Jesus answered the question with another question, “What is written in the law?” And the lawyer answered correctly:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

That wasn’t good enough for the lawyer, though. He wanted to justify himself so he asked Jesus another question, “Who is my neighbor?”

It is clear that the lawyer already knew the answer to his first question, and it seems likely that he knew the answer to this one too; but, he wanted to justify himself, remember? To merely love God must have seemed to easy for him, anybody can do it after all. There must be something else required, something he can do that is really special, something worthy of his wonderfulness, something that would justify his existence and make it all worthwhile.

To answer the lawyer’s second question, Jesus tells a story. It’s the familiar story that we call “The Story of the Good Samaritan,” but it’s really not about the Samaritan at all. The story is about the violence experienced by the traveler.  The traveler lies there, He is naked, stripped, and therefore unrecognizable as a member of any class. Oh, and he might be dead. The Priest and the Levite, in their priestly and levitical clothes won’t go near him, confirming that death is really the thing they are thinking about. That and the the importance of their sacrificial system.  They surely loved God, they met the first requirement of obtaining eternal life; but, they failed in the second requirement, to love their neighbor as themselves. They walked by with ritual oil and wine tucked safely in the folds of their robes, and they were unjustified.

The lawyer knows that they were unjustified because they treated the man like a stranger, not like a neighbor. Jesus really didn’t have to tell the part of the story about the Samaritan. He uses it to make a couple of points, though: For one thing the Jerusalem Jews thought they were a little better than the Samaritans and this story shows that they are not. Jesus is saying that being in a certain group does not make you superior, even if it is a very good group. In pouring oil and wine on the victims wounds, the Samaritan also tells us is that the elements of sacrifice are more properly used in the hands of non-professionals who act out of love than in the hands of the pros who only fulfill part of the requirement for eternal life.

And that is all Jesus said, because it was enough.

Nobody in the story is a bad guy. But only the Samaritan loves God and his neighbor too.

And so we have Mary who loves God, and Martha who loves her neighbors. Certainly loving God, sitting with The One Thing, is the better path, because we can’t possibly love others if we don’t first love The One Thing.

The Lawyer only followed the first part of the requirement:  He loved God, but remained unjustified because he did not love his neighbors.

Many of us make the opposite mistake of loving our neighbors, but not loving God first. We do all the good, working all the time, and it’s all for Jesus. But, it’s as one-sided, and as inadequate as the lawyer’s approach. It leaves us unjustified.

As Jesus said, only One Thing is required. Adonai Echad! Jesus is telling Mary, and us, that she needs to put down her work and sit quietly with The One. Only One Thing matters. Adonai!

It is this sitting quietly with The One Thing which enables us to go out and love the world, the afflicted, the other. We are only justified in loving God AND loving our neighbor, but love of God comes first. Otherwise it’s just another activity.

So, what must we do to obtain eternal life? We can look to Mary and Martha. They are two sides of the same coin. But without both sides it’s not really a coin. Without loving God first and loving our neighbor we are not really justified.

Activity requires leisure to have any meaning. All love flows from The One Thing: From Adonai!

It is hard to find time for the leisure that is required for real love to grow, but if we don’t we are only going half-way. A holy walk in the park with Jesus is as important as the other things we do to help ourselves feel justified. It may not seem important. After all, anybody can do it.  But we are called to inactivity at least as much as to any activity, to quiet as much as to speaking out, to The One as much as to any plurality of other demands.

What can you do today to cultivate holy leisure?


I've written another essay for Sunday. It is short and only has one point. But there is something very interesting that I'm not putting in there. It doesn't really go with the point I'm making. But I'll put it on the blog in a few days. It's pretty interesting too.

Anyway, I hope you learned something here. I enjoy thinking about the readings in a couple of different ways and seeing what converges for me. Since I only do a couple a month I have time for that, and I take long walks and ask myself, "What would Kirk say?" "What would Rene say?" Because in my own private mind I am on a first name basis with these people.  LOL. And I have that little pet name for Kierkegaard. He doesn't mind. I am a teacher, you know, and so I like to explain and point out all the little bits and bobs along the way, and I think others will be as interested as I am. But the truth is that they just want a little something to think about with their morning readings and they don't need me connecting every possible dot in every possible configuration.  But, for me, it's my holy leisure.


In retrospect, it looks like I didn't really edit it down all that much. Well, we do the best we can in the moment. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

[It] is not enough to pray, Thy kingdom come, but to work, so that the Kingdom of God will exist among us today. – Saint Ursula

We remember Saint Ursula today. She appears to have been a good nun, a leader of her order, but I can't tell what else might be especially saintly about her. You can read it for yourself here.

I wish I believed more of what is in the Bible. In today's readings, for example, the writer is SO sure that his troubles are just temporary and that all will be well in the after life.  "Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day,." he says optimistically. And I almost laughed out loud. If the outer nature is wasting away then it is just wasting away... I don't see any reason to hope that some mysterious and invisible inner nature is being renewed. I mean, think about it, if everybody who was wasting away were actually being magically renewed then at some point everybody would be renewed, a planet of energizer bunnies with new batteries. But that's not how it is, is it? No. The truth is that we just waste away slowly and then we die.

Have a fun day, everybody,.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

In the world of saints, King Henry VIII is best known for the number he martyred. He didn't make it to sainthood himself. Henry the shoemaker did, and another Henry did... a laborer who gave all he made to the poor. But not Henry VIII.

You want to know who did make it, though? Blessed Margaret Pole, the governess of Princess Mary. She and her sons, who were also quite religious, remained true to their convictions. Whether they were right or wrong is not really very interesting. The fact is, failure to bend to the prevailing winds will almost certainly get you killed. It was true for Jesus, for poor Margaret Pole, and for us too.

There is a chapter in the Tao Te Ching which begins:  Yield and overcome, Bend and be straight... and that's true, I think. But sometimes it is better to be faithful than to overcome. Overcoming is overrated. In fact, I suspect that if you're one of those victorious Christians then you're doing it wrong.

This is one of my favorite chapters, but Lao Tzu himself would advise me to look for the other side of bending. The other side of yielding is mere conformity. And so we must exercise a little discretion. Sometimes we yield, sometimes we remain steadfast, always we are being put to death...

Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.

Therefore the wise embrace the one
And set an example to all.
Not putting on a display,
They shine forth.
Not justifying themselves,
They are distinguished.
Not boasting,
They receive recognition.
Not bragging,
They never falter.
They do not quarrel,
So no one quarrels with them.
Therefore the ancients say, "Yield and overcome."
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole,
And all things will come to you.

May the God who went to The Tower with Margaret Pool grant us the wisdom to know when to yield and when to stand firm. 

By the way, you can read the whole Tao Te Ching on the internet. There are a lot of translations and most of the ones I've read are good... Maybe they are not good translations, I don't know about that,  but they are good for thinking about things. Lao Tzu was a good guy. He just wanted to live in peace. It turns out that it's more difficult than it sounds and he wound up just getting on his ox and riding off into the sunset. Nobody ever heard from him again. It's not a bad way to go. You can read more about Lao Tzu here and you can read some of his quotes here -- this website is called Brainy Quotes, so maybe you will feel especially bright after you visit.

You can read more about Margaret Pole here.  Just to be clear, I am not a fan of Margaret Pole. If you don't want trouble, you should try to keep yourself from high office, that's my way of thinking about it. But the times were different then and I suspect there is quite a lot about it that I don't know.

Have a good day everybody

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I think the tadpoles have been made into frogs already. In any event, there weren't any tadpoles last time I checked the pond.

Here are the latest photos:

I took this shot of a leaf and then I put the leaf in the water so you can see how big the tadpoles are:

See, pretty big...

You can see the very beginnings of some legs on this one:

 And here are the fish. They didn't let me get a very good shot on this day, but I like this one because there are two of them in there:

When it started raining I took shelter in here. Bamboo makes a nice canopy so I didn't get wet at all. Of course, I could have just gone inside. I just now thought of that.

Here are some of the flowers:

So, look, I'll go back to the park soon to see if I can see any frogs. I'll try to go at night. One of my favorite memories of living in Venice Gardens (Wuxi) is going out to the garden late an night and sitting quietly, just listening. I could hear fish jumping, wings winging, all kinds of animal sounds, and I don't think the animals knew I was there. Even in this busy part of Shanghai we have this island of quiet. And, of course, the lane on Tong Ren... maybe the best place in town.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day used to be a day that I really wanted to honor because, despite the current troubles, the United States was strong for many years because of the sacrifices that others made: From the Revolutionary War, right up to WWII. people fought for freedom. or at least against tyranny. Many of them died or came home wounded.

It seems to me, though, that since that time there hasn't been a good reason for any of the wars we've been in. We want to honor the troops, but we keep sending them into meaningless battles. It seems to me that if we really wanted to honor the troops, we'd stop starting new wars.

Memorial Day makes me feel like a hypocrite: I thank the soldiers who serve, while asking them to run along and die again in a meaningless war which has no bearing on me. I can't do it.

If we really had any respect at all for the generation of youngest adults we would work to build an economic infrastructure in which they could all get jobs with a living wage, and not feel compelled to join up with the war machine that has become America.

I say this because of my patriotism, and because I believe in the idea of America. But I don't think the ideals of liberty and justice for all have to be financed with war.

I was struggling to identify why I felt so uncomfortable with Memorial Day this year, but June and Marlene helped me. It's not that I don't honor the troops, it's that I can no longer be a hypocrite.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Luke 14: 28-30
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.

This reminds me of King Bodawpaya's unfinished pagoda. He started construction in 1790, but it really drug down the economy and almost everybody hated the pagoda, and the huge bell that had been commissioned to go along with it. Bodaypaya was superstitious so the people started a rumor of a prophecy that his reign would be over and that he would die when the pagoda was completed. Obviously there was only one thing to do, slow construction as much as possible. Eventually Bodawpaya died of something else and construction of the pagoda stopped all together. There is still a ruin of the pagoda in Mingun, and the bell was actually completed and it's huge! There is room for maybe ten people to stand underneath it. It is not as big as the Dhamazeddi Bell, but it's the largest in Myanmar, I think.

It is easy to blame Bodaypaya's superstition on the failure of the pagoda. But if the pagoda had been completed it might have brought about the end of his kingdom anyway. We can't know. Mingun is still a town, small but proud of its history. And Burma is still a country, though it's been occupied a couple times, and ruled by tyrants ever since Thibaw was sent into exile.

I don't want my life to wind up like the Unfinished Pagoda. I want to finish, and finish well. There are times when I would like to quit. But I don't. I won't. I do think I'll aim for something smaller than Bodawpaya, though.

So, here it is:

I won't quit on life.

And I won't use slave labour to build myself up. 

And I won't do anything to take away from the prosperity of others. 

And I won't get caught up in wild superstitions.

This is the gospel according to Bodawpaya. 

And here is a picture of the bell, if you're interested:

This was a big night for me. After months of walking by and looking in at the Mah Jongg game I was finally invited in. They didn't let me play, but I got to watch and I had a slice of melon. I don't think they know I can play. They are very serious so I am not sure I want to get involved, but I do love the clink of the tiles.

When I got home from that I had a note from my ayie (housekeeper) informing me that she needs to come TWICE a week instead of once because I am a little bit messy.


I am not messy. My flat is one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest on this lane. I don't know what's going on, but she said she'd be here at 7:30 in the morning so I'd better hit the hay.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Just a couple things from the Psalter this morning, both from Psalm 147...

Verse 3
"He heals the brokenhearted,
          and binds up their wounds."

But it doesn't always happen quickly. In fact, I've never known it to be quick. I am a slow healer, slower than most. I know this. And, yet, I can't help but wonder just how long, how long... And I think it should be now.

Like Abraham (Hebrews 6:15) who patiently endured, like everyone before me who knew that healing is coming, eventually, I wait. I don't know what to do. But I wait. Helpless, but hopeful. There's got to be hope.


Verses 10 and 11
" His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
          nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
  but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
          in those who hope in his steadfast love."

For some reason I thought that said that God does not delight in strength or speed, but in the one who keeps on running. I must have read this Psalm a million times by now, but that's what I thought.

That is not what it says, though, so we can all just stop running.

The other thing it doesn't say is that we will win. That's not in there. So, I guess I can dispatch with that bit of imagery too.

We westerners love running and winning.

The thing that delights God, though is for us to fear him and to have hope. I am not a very good runner, but I can do that.

Like Mary (of Mary and Martha) who sat quietly while her sister went running off into the desert to find Jesus, I can sit quietly and fear God, I can wait, and I can have hope. Sometimes it's thin, but I have hope.


I have not been blogging regularly. I just go at my own pace. But I am reading along with you. I think it's the readings that really keep me in the church, whatever church is, or wherever, or anything... It's the last thing I understand. But Mary Green can't kick me out of the Bible.

I do regret, though, that I didn't write to you about Lag B'Omer. It is the 33rd day of The Omer. Lag is spelled Lamed, Gimel. (There weren't any vowels in ancient Hebrew. Vowel points have been added to make it easier for modern speakers, but they weren't around back in the day.) In Kabbalah, Lamed has a numerical value of 30, and Gimel has a value of 3. So you can see how Lamed and Gimel make 33.

It's not a big holiday. There are several reasons that the 33rd is special. The most cited is that it is the day a great plague ended. Rabbi Akiva's students were not kind to one another and that resulted in a great sickness among them. Many died. On the 33rd day of The Omer the plague ended. Rabbi Akiva got more students, but only four of them received all the knowledge that Rabbi Akiva had to impart. It is thought that if more of his students had survived that we would have much better Torah knowledge. I do think it's sad about the young talmidim, but I suspect that HaShem is not too limited by even such a great loss as that.

It is customary to not get a haircut, or to get married during The Omer. Lag is an exception, though. You may remember that I got a haircut during The Omer, though, and nothing bad came of it. I might even get another one because I don't particularly like this one. To my credit, I did not get married during The Omer.

Of course I have lost track of The Omer. I am not a good Jew, though I did make it longer than last year. But counting The Omer is not one of the requirements, and I feel adequately blessed anyway. It's true, I guess, that I might be even more blessed if I counted The Omer properly, but we'll never know. I can live with that.


I continue to keep an eye on the tadpoles in the little park. They are getting even more sluggish, and some have little protrusions which I think will become legs. Still, there are no actual frogs. I am on the case, though.

Love to all.

And stop running. It's OK.

Friday, May 15, 2015

This morning's first Psalm is about God's work... the writer says how God's work makes him glad. And what he means is the works of God's hands, or creation.

I won't create anything today, certainly not a tree, or a planet, or anything at all. Still, I hope that my work will bring some gladness.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Whenever we have the reading from Ezekiel it does make me wonder about the aliens. Just sayin'.

I have a busy day. My ayie will be here in a few minutes, then I will meet a colleague who is helping me buy a new phone, then ukulele lesson, and then home to wait for the grocery delivery. I might find time for a foot massage in there somewhere.

Maybe a nap.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Here are some pictures from my walk home. This is between the tadpole park and the corner of Nanjing and Tong ren Lu. I live on Tong ren.

Sometimes I sit on one of these benches for awhile. Less frequently, I take a shot of my trainers.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Remember that time I told you about a kind of secret place I found? Well, here are some photos.

This is the entrance to the park. I thought that this pergola was covered with Wisteria, but there aren't any blooms on it... not yet, anyway.

Then I go look at the tadpoles. They are getting bigger, and they don't move so fast anymore. I don't know exactly how long it takes, but some of them should be getting legs before too long.

This is the pond where they live.


Here they are:

Then I quietly make my way to this bridge to look for the fish. There are only a few and I don't want to disturb them.

You can see that there's quite a lot of debris in the water. We've had some high winds and rain lately. It should clear out in a few days.

Then I turn my attention to the flowers. They are so big and colorful that I feel badly about trying to contain it all in a picture.  The wind was blowing and they looked like they bobbing up and down on some unseen wave.

Look at all the different colors in this one.

This little bird was taking a bath and enjoying himself. Regretably, the sound of my camera frightened him and he flew away. I am sorry little bird.

I can always get my bearings by looking for this thing. It's visible from the park.

So that's our little trip to the park.

Monday, May 4, 2015

 Do not put your trust in princes,
          in mortals, in whom there is no help.
  When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
          on that very day their plans perish.    

Psalm 146:3,4
We have this saying, "Where there's death, there's hope." And we usually say it about people who disagree with us or cause us some consternation. It's a little bit mean, but it is also true.

What I wonder about, though, is who is saying it about me? And why?
It might be alright if, for example, I was breaking barriers like Peter in the reading that's coming up for this Sunday. But, if they are just waiting for me to kick off because I'm a bitch... and sometimes I am.... well, then I might want to take a look at that.

I also think about this a lot when I'm reading the news. If a few people would just kick off... But there would be others to take their place. There always are.

And, mainly, I think of my own plans. If I die today... and there's no reason to think I won't... then what of all my plans?  Poof! Gone! So I don't spend too much time planning. Make a plan, and then do it right away. That's how I do it. Sometimes I should be more thoughtful, consult more widely, but stuff does get done that way. I don't want them to write on my tombstone, "She was going to get some food to those people next week. She intended to build a little school next year. She was going to do this, or that, or some other thing... later." I don't really care what they put on my tombstone. I probably won't even have one. But, I want to get things done while I'm alive on the Earth plane because I don't know if I'll be able to do much after.

Also, I am planning to spend a lot of time making mischief in the afterlife so I want to get all my do-gooding done now.

In other news, my tooth is bothering me a lot, but the dentist is going to take it out on Thursday and to a root canal on the other one.

Also on Thursday, the new ayie (house cleaner) comes. She wants 50 RMB an hour which I think is OUTrageous. But if she's really good it's OK.  I don't think she is going to be very good. I think that I am going to have to teach her everything. I think that she won't know any English. And I think that she is going to wash my dishes with the same sponge she uses to clean my toilet, which is why I have to be here while she cleans, and why I have just been doing it myself all this time. But, if she cleans to western standards... Well, that's as good as it gets.

Lag B'Omer is almost here. It's a day when we feel that we have come out of some kind of oppression. There's a story there, and I'll tell you. I am rather looking forward to Lag this year.

I have managed to keep up my Omer count this year. I don't have any actual wheat to offer, mind you. But I have managed to observe the passing of each day consciously and deliberately, and with gratitude most days.

I am bored with my job and the lengthy commute. But, the thing is, when I do get home I'm in Jing"An, and I can't think of a better place to be. So, I'm off for another day of working with a weak curriculum, teaching people who don't understand why their English is still bad, and fuming that there are some pretty big things missing from the curriculum; not wonky grammar things either! Things like articles, countable/uncountable nouns... I mean, how can I teach English without teaching that? (I teach countable/uncountable nouns on the side... don't tell anybody. And I read poems. What are they going to do, fire me? I'm so scared.)

Off I go.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”  Luke 7:28

Sometimes, when I wonder whether or not God can stand me anymore, I take a little comfort in this verse. John is obviously pretty great, after all.