Thursday, July 30, 2015

Today we remember Ignatius of Loyola, and I am sure he will get a lot of attention today. But have you ever heard of Blessed Cecilia Schelungova? I hadn't.

She was from Žilinský kraj, Slovakia. I kind of know where Solvakia is, but I don't recognize the town. Anyway, she felt a call to religious life at a very young age, and she asked to join the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross when she was only 15. She made her first vows when she was 21. That was 1937, Cecilia was a young woman and she'd live to see the world change. The sisters made Cecilia a nun and a nurse. She was working in radiology at a hospital in Bratislava when the Communists came and began persecuting Christians. These Christians today who claim to be persecuted because someone doesn't agree with them is just nuts. This Communist persecution was real, and Cecillia helped people avoid persecution. She was able to help a priest escape, but she got caught trying to help some others.  her punishment was harsh: 12 years in prison and ten years of loss of civil rights. She didn't have to serve all her time, though. Her torture was so severe and frequent that the government let her go, fearing that she would die while in their care, custody, and control. In perhaps the cruelest twist, when she was released, death was near, but she was not accepted back into her convent because the nuns were afraid of police harassment. She died a few months later.

Persecution of Christians is real and it is severe. It is not happening in the USA, nor is it likely to... Huckabee notwithstanding. Elsewhere, though, people are being tortured and killed because they believe in Jesus. When we think we have something to complain about, we should remember Cecilia who really did suffer for acting on her faith.

I want to do God’s will without paying attention to myself, my comfort or my rest.
 – Sister Zdenka (Cecilia)

 “Blessed Cecilia Schelingová“. CatholicSaints.Info. 9 April 2015. Web. 30 July 2015. <>
From the park on Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

You 'da man!
You are that man.

In my ESL classes we talk a lot about the fact that HOW you say something is as important as the words you choose. I don't think Nathan was high-fiving David in the readings for Sunday.

What does that mean? You are the man? Besides being the man in the parable, I mean. What kind of man is David? What kind of man was the man in the parable? Uh-oh... what kind of people are we?

More on this as things develop. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From my walk on Friday

Door to an old movie thearte, above.
Close up on the window, below.

Looking down a lane.

Some street scenes

The inside of Sarnie's were I sometimes stop for a sandwich or a salad.  You can see there's a lot of action.

Me at Sarnie's

Monday, July 27, 2015

This morning I had the unusual assignment of teaching a very low level class. These are usually taught by Chinese staff, but I was assigned it this morning. I don't know why. We have some staff shortages... whatever. I really like the lower levels because they just want to talk, and they are so excited, and they think every thing I say is magical.

Anyway, it's hot in the building so I started off with some idioms about how to say that you're hot. Beginners usually don't get idioms so they thought it was really great, they really got into it.

Then I taught the class. Everybody had a good time.

As the class drew to a close I said, "Whew...I am really hot. What is another way to say that?" And they thought, and they thought.  Finally one brave student said, "You are very sad?"

It was funny at the time. Maybe not so much now.

In the same way, I am sure that at the time it seemed like a good idea to ELCA Bishop Kevin Kanouse to come out of the closet at a recent gathering of ELCA youth. It probably seemed like a great idea... you know, at the time. Kevin Kanouse is the bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana area of the ELCA. It's an important job. He has had career success. He has done something with his time on earth. Of course, you know what that means... lots of criticism from those who haven't. 

Another thing is that song, "There's Power In The Blood." I love that song. I don't love that kind of theology, but it's a great tune, none of the notes are too high, and you can just belt it out. I am a little amused, though, with those who like to go around citing it as an example of the very worst kind of theology. If you think that's bad then take a look at the reading for this morning: 

Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, "See the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."
Exodus 24:11

"Woah... He threw blood on them? Couldn't he have just come out of the closet?  Because throwing blood on people, it's so, so, well, so primitive. But, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Almost anything that anyone has ever done could be done better in the imagination of someone sitting on the sidelines. You might have taught my class differently, someone else might come out differently, and, if it had been me, I wouldn't have thrown blood on people. But, then, I a'int no Moses.

Reality based people don't have much time for second-guessing themselves or others. We are busy checking on schools, doing a job, loving our neighbors, learning new things, being good friends... these things take up ALL my time. And that doesn't even include playing my ukulele! I think that if you have time for such in-depth analysis of the actions of other people, maybe you should be like me and get a hobby. That's good and serious advice. Get a hobby. You'll be happier and, frankly, so will the rest of us.
Before I head off to bed I want to tell you about the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The thing I love about this story is that it is important to both Christians and Muslims. In fact, I first heard it as a Muslim story and only today became aware of it's place in Christian haigoraphy.

The short version is that during the reign of that old devil Decius there were seven young men who were Christians. In order to avoid persecution they hid, but were eventually found. As punishment Decius ordered that they be walled up in a cave where they promptly went to sleep. 300 years or so later (300 solar years according to the Muslims, which would be a different number of lunar years, and whatever. Right? It was a long time. Let's call it 300.) Three hundred years later they woke up and by then our man Theodosius II was in power -- Decius having met his fate -- and Ephesus was a Christian city. The seven sleepers appeared to some people and then I guess they died. Not sure.

The main difference between Christian and Muslim accounts is that there is a dog in the Muslim story.  The dog plays a very positive role, guarding the cave. That seems hard to square with most Muslim people's aversion to man's best friend, but... I don't know. Things can change a lot in a just a couple centuries.

Anyway, I was thinking about the allure of falling asleep for a hundred years or so. Rip Van Winkle fell asleep for only twenty, you remember. It offers escape from current troubles, and a glimpse into the future too. I wonder, if you had the chance to go to sleep for a year, or five, or ten... would you take it?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

This bird lives at the very end of 330 Tong Ren. There is also a wild bird that comes and visits, but does not live in a cage. Since my bird-language skills are about on par with my Shanghainese-language skills I've been able to make friends with the birds to about the same degree I've made friends with my neighbors.  This is not a great shot. The lens was fogging up, and the bird was not inclined to have its picture taken. This is the best I could do, but I want to get a couple good shots before I leave. Maybe I can even get a short video of us talking to one another.We do a duet of Do-Re-Mi every morning, and the bird and I talk to one another.

It was really my day today:

  • When I got off the train one of the moto drivers asked me if I wanted a ride. I told him, "Not today, Sugar... Mayo chen," I've got no money. And he pulled right around and gave me a ride for free. That's right. Free moto ride.
  • When I sat down for work one of my co-workers brought me some lunch. It was some fish and chicken in a Chinese sauce... it might have been vinegar, or something. And there were also some meat-like cakes. Pretty tasty, but I am not sure what they were.
  • On the way home I ran into the dog that nipped me earlier in the summer. He always acts like he doesn't like me and I'll admit that it bothers me. Dog's like me. It's one of the laws of the universe. Anyway, tonight he did smell my leg, which I take to be a sign of progress.  

So that's three things for the win column.

I was all lazy this morning and didn't read the assigned readings. This almost never happens and it felt really weird. But while I was on the train my mind drifted over to Abigail, from Nabal and Abigail. You may note that I spelled Nabal incorrectly a few days ago. Sorry about that. These Biblical spellings matter -- not so much in English as in the original language. Nabal - Nun, Bet, Lamed - is also the word for a foolish person. So, that's a clue to you about Nabal.

Nabal had real issues. I think that by this time most everybody would have known that David was going to be king after Saul. The reason I think that is because David is already protecting them. Nabal is just another shepherd under David's care. But, instead of bowing before David and allowing his soldiers into the feast, he pretty much declared that HE was king! Nabal acts like he doesn't even know who David is. It's almost like he's looking for trouble. But, if you spell his name correctly, then you've had the clue that he's a fool.

I originally thought that David was just pissed off, like men do sometimes. But when I thought about it I realize that he was defending his kingdom. Nabal was defying the throne. Maybe.

So, Abigail saves the day. And she didn't tell Nabal about it at first. It I were Abigail I wouldn't have told him about it at all. I would have just let it go, hoping for the best. But then I got to thinking about it. Did Abigail see the way David looked at her? There is a story about how he accidentally saw part of her thigh and it just about sent him into spasms. Maybe she was hoping to find a way out of her marriage with Nabal so that she could marry David. I wasn't there, and I don't know. But it's possible. I mean, UFOs are possible too. We live in a universe of possibility.

Anyway, Abigail decides to tell Nabal and I am betting that he blew a gasket. But ten days later he died. Why not nine days? Why not eleven? Well, at what other time do we observe ten days? The ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. They are supposed to be days of introspection and repentance. It's a chance to get it right for the next year. That's what HaShem was doing for Nabal. Even fools get a chance to repent.

Maybe Nabal repented and God killed him so that he wouldn't fall back into sin. Because you know he would have.

Maybe Nabal didn't repent and God killed him as a punishment.

There is a story that Nabil was reincarnated as a rock. Maybe that happened.

Don't know. What I do know is that Abigail and David got their wish to be married.

So, that wasn't much about Abigail. But that's what I thought about on the train this morning. And then I got a free moto ride. All in all, not a bad start to the day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sometimes I wonder about the parables. I mean, why not just speak out plainly? I love the parables, they re great stories. But it seems like they've caused a lot of trouble among the literalists, and even among those who are really trying to understand. You do have to have a little knowledge of the first century to sort of "get it." They were going to kill Jesus anyway. Maybe he had some hope of not being found out, though, if he spoke in parables. I don't know. 

Paul and Barnabas had a chance to be gods. I wonder how Christianity would be different if they hadn't resisted, if Paul had looked over at Barnabas and said, "Hey, dude... this is great... we're Gods!" I wonder if they were even tempted. The reading makes it seem like it was a no-brainer for them, but I wonder. Sometimes I am tempted when people say that I am "the best teacher," or something. Of course, I am not. But I will admit to a little trill when I hear it. If somebody said that I was Hermes! I am pretty sure I'd at least try it out for a day or two.

But the heroine of today’s readings is Abigail, Nabal’s wife (I Sam 25) It was Abigail’s quick thinking and willingness to grovel that saved the day.

I always say I don’t mind groveling a little if it’ll get me what I want. I think Abigail knew that lesson too.

Monday, July 20, 2015

I've been thinking about poor Uriah the Hittite all day. I know it's not the reading scheduled for today. I must have forgotten to change the year on my thing... sometimes I do that. But, anyway, I read about Uriah today and he really got a bum deal  Here's a guy with all the integrity, and look what happened to him. If only he'd gone down to his house and enjoyed some time with his wife. But, no. So, he died. And Bathsheba's baby died too, btw. And, David... what of him? He had hundreds of women he could have had sex with. Why Bathsheba? It's all just so sad. Well, especially for Uriah.

I had a nice day. A good night of sleep really is what I need. If I could sleep like that every night I'd have it made. I had dreams, lucid dreams, and a gentle re-awakening. And I felt so strong all day. It's a mystery to me where we might go in our sleep and how we get back.

In Burma there was a belief that when people go to sleep their soul can take flight, like a butterfly, and enjoy its freedom. The thing is, the soul has to return to the body before it wakes up. Usually the soul is very good about this. Here's the thing, though, if there's a loud noise or something and the body wakes up before the soul gets back then it's very bad news for that body and soul because they are separated forever. That is why the Burmese whom the British hired as their man servants and valets would hesitate to wake their masters. Thus the British began to characterize the Burmans as stupid and incompetent. The Burmans, however, believed that they were saving their master's lives.

I rather favour the Burmese way.

I like a little time between sleep and the clanging world. It is such an assault if one is not properly prepared. For me, the hours between the bed and the world are when I put on the armour of God. Without it, I'd be overwhelmed. But, if I can take a little time, acknowledge what has gone on during the night, and brace myself... well, then I can handle it.

Speaking of Burma, Ko Ko Gyi is going to run for president on the NLD ticket. I know most people were hoping that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would be allowed to run, but the elections law has not been changed, and for other reasons too, I am pleased to see Ko Ko Gyi run. He is actually a member of The 88 Student Generation Party, but they have a lot in common with NLD. I think that there won't be any problems on that account. The NLD uncles are too old to run, and Ko Ko Gyi will be a formidable opponent to the current regime.

Last Sunday was Martyrs Day in Burma. It's the day we remember the assassination of the Bogyoke Aung San and his eight comrades. They were meeting in the Secretariat Building in Yangon when armed thugs broke in and opened fire. I have mixed feelings about the direction Aung San was headed. And, like everyone, I wonder how Burma might have been different if he'd lived. But, I do love him in a way.

I miss Burma.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

God sure has lived in a lot of places: A tent, a house of cedar, and in the Judo-Christian community. Maybe other places too. But, this makes me feel a little better about my own peripatetic wanderings and some of my abodes.

I sometimes wonder if I will ever have my own house of cedar. God said he would give one to David... after David DIES! And, let's face it, I 'aint no David.

I have a friend who lives in Albuquerque and each year he reports in on the changes in his garden; what has grown, and what didn't make it through the winter. I think it would be nice to be so rooted to a place that you can observe the changes year to year. Maybe someday I will settle down. I would like that.

I think that sometimes people forget that the reading in Ephesians is about the coming together of the Jews and the Christians. It's not a new thing that is established by Jesus. The cornerstone is for joining the two communities together.

OK. I am blogging again.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I saw this erhu player about a week ago near the Science And Technology Museum Metro Stop.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt,.." -- Exodus 19:1

In Torah we read for the smallest detail.

The new moon represents new beginnings. This being the third new moon, it would have been about seven weeks since the Israelites left Egypt. So we think of the seventh day of creation, Shabbat! And what is different about this day? It is a day of rest, sure. But, it's not just a time to do whatever you want. Some people think that's what "sabbath rest" is, but that's not it. From here on in the Israelites will be defined by their relationship with God, and it's not a passive relationship like it's been in previous new moons. From now on they are a covenant people! It is impossible for the people of God to leave the covenant of God, but on Shabbat we enter more fully into our identity as covenant people: We read and study the texts that connect us with God, blessings are made and received. We screw up, sure... like the Israelites will, over and over. But, we are still people who are in a covenant with God. We are not passive. We are participants!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died." -- Acts 12:23

This seems odd to me. Shouldn't it be, "He died and was eaten by worms..."? The dying should come before the worms. Unless it was death by worms. Not the way I'd like to go, I'll tell you that.

I do wish I had more spiritual thoughts about the readings, but I am afraid that's it for today. And the days prior haven't been much better.

We do have Jesus eating with sinners again. I usually eat my lunch with a bunch of sinners. Men. Big talking men. I like to point out that sin because I feel that I don't have it too much. You almost never hear me talking about the sins I commit. I like to concentrate on the sins of others. Don't we all.

At the end of the reading Jesus reminds us not to put new wine into old wineskins. Of course, being liberal, and cutting edge, and everything I think I am a new wineskin, ready for new wine. But sometimes the new wine pushes on me in ways that make me think I might not be as nimble or as new as I should be. Old wine is better, but we equate the Holy Spirit with new wine. What about the old wine? Where is the wine that has been sitting around aging for awhile? I might prefer old wine.

I haven't blogged in awhile. There was only one reading I really wanted to blog on and it's long since past... the one where Ba'al and Yahweh square off over who can light a fire fastest. Yahweh wins. Most mornings I am not too excited about the readings, or even the saints. You know how I love my saints.

I do enjoy going to the reading if I am going to write something about it. I have written some essays for The Episcopal Cafe, and when I go to the readings for one of the days I am scheduled to write for that feels like a treat because I know I'll live with those passages for awhile, maybe a week! Those passages become old friends. I love going around with a passage, or a saint, in my heart. I think about it on the subway, walking home, wherever. Otherwise I just get observations like the worm thing. Alas...