Friday, February 29, 2008

Home Again

Sorry I've been among the missing for the past week. The virus turned into a scary drop in my blood counts (platelets went down to 4) and I've been in the hospital for the past seven days, including a stint in ICU. I'm home now, and although I'm pretty weak, I'm feeling better than I have in quite some time. I'll post more later, when I've got a bit more energy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Today's Announcement from the Dean (slightly edited to keep at least some anonymity)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preaching well is a real challenge. We have a fine tradition of cultivating preaching excellence here at Virginia Theological Seminary. The quality of preaching at our weekday Eucharist is outstanding. Under the careful supervision of our outstanding team in homiletics (namely Professors Judith McDaniel and Ruthanna Hooke), we are ensuring that countless congregations in the future will be fed by the effective preaching of the Word.So I am pleased to announce today that Patrick P and Mary T have accepted our nomination to participate in the David H. C. Read Preacher/Scholar Award. This is the most prestigious preaching award for seminarians in the United States. They have both agreed to do the work necessary to represent the Seminary at this event. So today we congratulate Patrick and Mary and wish them all the best as they represent VTS at this event.

The Very Rev Ian Markham
Dean and President

...yes, this is me. At some point I'll be over this darned flu and will actually enjoy this.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bah, Pt II

Spent most of last night in the ER. The good news: no heart problems, no pneumonia, just another truly nasty viral thing. Since I can ill afford to be sick right now, I covet your prayers that I get over this quickly, and that the ITP does not flare up again.

Others suffer so much more than me...I'm trying to offer this to God as a Lenten discipline, but I'm slipping into the pity party mode. Kick me in the hindquarters, Lord, and remind me that this is nothing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Some sort of medical problem has reasserted itself. Feels like the flu - miserable joint pain, some nausea, dizziness when I try to move around. Low-grade temp. It's hard to imagine I've got flu again since I had it in January, but it's possible.

Internist thinks my electrolytes may be screwed up, so I'm off to the doctor tomorrow. This stinks.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Busy Weekend

It is Big Old Seminary's Conference on Ministry, where prospective students and their significant others come to the campus for a few days to see what we're all about. It's a lovely blend of the sublime and the ridiculous. There was community dinner last night (I wish the refectory folks gave us such lovely food during the regular weekdays) followed by a community Eucharist. It was something of a coming-out party for the reconstituted choir, which our new Church Music professor has really revitalized. Great stuff, and a good sermon from our Dean. A friend from my home parish is queued up to come here next year, and it was great seeing her at the event and know she'll carry on the St P's tradition (whatever that is) by following me in here.

I went to Fat Club this morning and got weighed in. My loss was 3.6 pounds, ten percent of what I should lose. Would that it would keep coming off at that rate, but I know that's not the way weight loss works, so I'm grateful for the good start but braced for the long haul.

Today is Off-Campus Housing Tours (I'm co-chair of that one), icon writing, rehearsal for the Middler Class Skit for tonight's variety show (the ridiculous stuff mentioned above), dinner with some of our guests at another seminarian's house, then the Variety Show. I get a pass on going to Saint Middle School for tonight's service, but will have to get up bright and early for tomorrow's service.

Thank goodness we've got Monday off, so I can catch up on schoolwork, or a nap or something.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Way Busy, even on Valentine's Day

I haven't been blogging much of late, because school is really intense right now. Since I have five days of classes and spend Saturday evening and most of Sunday at Field Ed, there is little time to breathe. Add to that the MS fatigue, and some days are hard. The good news is that I got a medication from the neurologist that helps me sustain my energy level through the day. I'm taking a very low dose, so I don't get jittery or anything. Since I started taking it, I've finally been able to get back to doing some exercise. That will help the Fat Club business along.

The busy-ness has been added to by a couple of very wonderful and exciting things that I can't talk about quite yet. Soon, I hope, I can talk about this stuff...

I'm trying to stay focused to get some of my papers started for this quarter, since the end of the quarter will come very quickly. I may spend part of President's Day working on that...then again, I may spend it sleeping. I got done with my last class at 3:30 pm, then ran over to Costco to buy cat food, cat litter, vitamins, etc. etc. and then stopped at a couple of "little stores" for a few things for tonight (I'm cooking a nice steak dinner for PH). It took longer than I expected, but I still managed to get some time in on the elliptical.

Too much reading, too much writing, not enough fun time, but I'll survive. At least I've got wonderful PH to smile at across the dinner table, with glasses of wine in our hands...

So what are you doing for Valentine's Day?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Book Meme

My friend Mary Beth tagged me for this delightful little meme. I'm afraid my responses are going to be pretty boring.

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)

I'm sitting on the couch, my favorite workspace (I really tried to work on my desk upstairs, but the couch is so darned comfortable) and the nearest book is A History of the Episcopal Church by my CH prof, Robert Prichard. No exciting books within reach...unless you consider some of the internecine battles of my denomination exciting. Prof. Prichard does.

Find Page 123 and Find the first 5 sentences.

"A generous donor, leaving funds for a general seminary in New York, solved the problem. The two institutions had to combine to receive the gift. Hobart gained two important concessions.His own assistant was to be the first professor of ecclesiastical polity (thereby guaranteeing a proper stress on the episcopacy that separated the Episcopal Church from other Protestant denominations), and his diocese was to receive representation on the board of trustees proportionate to contributions. General Seminary, while an institution of the church at large, became a successful proponent of Hobartian high church doctrine."

...don't say I didn't warn you....

Post the next 3 sentences. sure you want me to do this?

"Meade and Wilmer and a host of others founded a seminary near Alexandria, Virginia, that accorded better with their evangelical understanding of the church. As at General Seminary, the students at Virginia used texts from the list prepared by Bishop White, but Wilmer, who served as the first professor of the school, took a very different apologetic stance from his counterparts at General. He stressed the similarities, rahter than the differences, between Episcopalians and other Protestants."

Thus you have something of the story of my seminary, presuming you're still awake.

Tag 5 people.

Okay, I'll tag reverendmother, cheesehead, preacher-blogger-procrastinator, kathryn at good in parts, and lorna at see-through-faith. Forgive me!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday This'n'That

I preached this morning (see below). It went well. I'm relaxing more and more, really engaging with folks, and I'm so enjoying the process of writing and delivering the sermons. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

A little group of us have joined what my blogpal Cheesehead affectionately calls "Fat Club." It is, of course, that place which has meetings rather akin to AA ("Hello, my name is Mibi and I've lost 2 pounds this week.") with the program that requires you to count points. The upside is that there is no food that is truly illegal, but the yummies carry more points, so if you play by having something like a slice of bittersweet chocolate torte, you pay by not having much points for anything except a whole lotta salad with a little tuna on top. All so one is not overly embarrassed by the number on the scale each Saturday morning. I think I will not weigh myself between Fat Club visits. It will feel less like a diet if I don't obsess about the scale each morning. Just eat right, do the exercise, and let the chips (or the hips) fall where they may.

The purpose of this, of course, is to get my weight back down to where I can fit into my business suits by this time next year, when I'll have to be interviewing for jobs. Given my up-and-down weight over the past thirty years, trying every diet under the sun, and my various and sundry medical issues, I don't know if this will be doable. But I'm darned well gonna try.

Today's Sermon - Fully Human

Sermon: Matt 4:1-11
Sunday February 10, 2008, Saint Gabriel’s Episcopal Church

Sometimes you only think of what you should have said long after the fact. You know how it works: you get into an argument with someone, they say something sharp, and you stand there, just feeling stupid. No quick retort, just something like, “well…ummmm…ermmmm…yeah.” And then you go home, stewing about it the whole way. And you go to bed that night, cranky and feeling small and beaten. And at two o’clock in the morning, you suddenly think of the smart reply you SHOULD have made, but didn’t.

Then you hear this gospel. Jesus, saying exactly what was necessary to respond to the devil. We wish we had a little of that. In our moment of weakness, to have a calm knowledge of how to respond, not to win the battle, but to end it…we wish we had a little of that. This gospel is an object lesson in how to overcome, even our moments of weakness, with grace.

It’s been an interesting sequence of stories over the past couple of weeks. John has baptized Jesus. The Transfiguration has occurred. And now Jesus has gone off into the desert, and has had a shout-down with the devil.

It’s the Gospel of Matthew, of course, so the focus of these stories, as our sermon series says, is all about who Jesus is.

John names who Jesus is, and God confirms it: “This is my son.”

Then Jesus gathers up a few disciples by the Sea of Galilee.

And last week, Jesus and the disciples are up on the mountain, and suddenly Jesus’ face changes – it’s almost unbearably bright, and Moses and Elijah are standing with him.
Peter, as usual, gets it all wrong…he wants to pitch some tents. But the booming voice of God comes again: “This is my son”.

All this is good, and it’s typical Matthew: he wants to remind the Jewish Christians who Jesus is, and how his coming is a fulfillment of the prophesies. That question, who is Jesus, is answered time and time again in Matthew’s story.

But here we are now in Lent, and in this story, we go deeper into the question and into the answer..

In this passage, for the first time, Jesus owns who He is. It is a beginning for Him.

Many cultures have rites of initiation for young men beginning their journey to manhood. For Native Americans, it may be a vision quest. For some tribes in Africa, it is a solo hunt with little more than a spear to kill a lion. Aboriginal youth in Australia go alone into the outback, on walkabout. More often than not, the young man is sent out into the wilderness, with limited resources, to prove his ability to stand up to the elements, to conquer something within himself and outside himself. Sometimes, the young man has visions. He comes back from the experience fundamentally transformed. It is viewed as a spiritual quest.

In some ways, Jesus’ trip out into the desert has the feel of a rite of initiation. He goes to the desert to think and pray and prepare himself for his active ministry. And as the young men on their vision quest have some very strange things happen to them, so too does Jesus. Instead of hallucinations, he sees something much more terrible. It is the evil one, the deceiver, Satan.

For the first time, Jesus says who He is. In each of his responses to the devil, He says who He is. Not quite “I am the Son of God,” but pretty close. He’s the one quoting the Scripture. He’s the one who answers the devil’s questions, those teasing questions that start out with “IF you are the son of God…”

The Evil One wants to derail Jesus’ ministry. And what better way than to try to tear apart Jesus when he is at his weakest, after being alone without food in the wilderness for forty days? What better way than to dare him to prove who he is?

I don’t know about you, but I’m most vulnerable when I’m tired, when I’m angry, when I’m lonely, when I’ve missed breakfast and lunch and can feel my stomach growling. It’s when I am physically weakest, when I am at my most human, that someone can pick an argument with me most easily. And make no mistake about it, after forty days in the desert, Jesus is most human. He’s tired and hungry and lonely and achy.

The Evil One knows that. So he does what my kids would call the “Double Dog Dare .”

“If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.”

There it is. The double dog dare. Prove it. Because if you don’t, we won’t believe you. And you don’t want that, do you?

And it would be ever so easy for Jesus to do it. He’s got the power. But he doesn’t use that kind of power. He simply reminds the devil that bread isn’t the most important thing, that there are other things that are more important.

So the devil ups the ante. Now it’s not just about hunger, it’s about proving His value to God, to the angels. Throw yourself off the Temple. Show me how the angels will catch you. Prove that you’re worth it, that you are who you say you are.
And it would be so easy for Jesus to do it. He knows that the angels would catch him, and then he could shut up this aggravating devil. But he doesn’t. Once again, he quotes Scripture: Don’t test God.

Now the Evil One is really frustrated. How to torment this Jesus? Play to his ego, maybe? He takes Jesus to the top of a mountain and promises him the world, if Jesus will honor the devil. After forty days of fasting alone in the desert, with his body exhausted, what will he do? Will he take the devil up on the offer? Not a chance. Jesus fights back, but his weapon is words, is scripture. God is the only one to be worshipped. Not a mere devil. He brushes him off like so much lint on his garment. The devil skulks off, and then the angels come and care for Jesus.
Jesus could have done each of those things the devil challenged him to do. He had the power. He is God. He could have turned stones into bread, just by thinking of it. He could have leapt off the pinnacle of the temple, and called the angels to catch him, and they would have done it. He could have used the overwhelming powers of his divinity to smack down that devil.

But he didn’t. He wrestled with the devil not with divine power, but with his vulnerability, his humanity. An extraordinary thing, for Jesus to be so fully human and to respond to temptation with his humanity…and to succeed. What a gift to us, that he showed us that even in weakness there can be strength! That’s the message here: Jesus shows us that we don’t have to be God to defeat the devil! We’ve got tools! We can turn to scripture, we can own our vulnerability, we can rely on God to help us through. Jesus defeated the devil by following the covenant that had been agreed upon between God and His people Israel. With each temptation, when He quoted the Scripture, He reminded the devil of that covenant: God’s words count most of all. God should not be tested. Worship only God. He put on the armor of the covenant, and He defeated the Evil One, more surely than if He had driven a sword through his dark heart.

Jesus told us precisely who He was in the Gospel, not by what the theologian Johann Metz described as “the empty shell of power,” using His divine power like it was a circus trick, but by his very humanity, and by his willingness to trust and to live the covenant. He overcame the devil as a man, so we would see that we, too, could overcome evil even in our weakness by living that covenant.

That’s the marvelous gift Jesus gives us here. It is easy to use the excuse of our weakness, to say we aren’t strong enough, when we are tempted. But Jesus reminds us that we can do it, we can fight back against the evil one, with the power of God’s word, with the humility that we do it with Jesus at our side, even when we doubt we have the strength.

Lent is forty days. This is our time in the wilderness, our vision quest, as we prepare for the resurrection by praying, and fasting, and meditating, and wondering how best we can fulfill the covenant. Know that each one of us is alone on this quest, and yet we are not alone. We have the Word, we have the love of Christ, we have each other, and we have the sure knowledge of the coming Resurrection. What more do we need to overcome evil?


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Still Here

...but busy like everyone else.

I've been asked to be TA (teaching assistant) for the Church Music prof and to function as his music assistant,which is a gas and an honor and it pays, so life is good. I doubt it would take more than ten hours a week, so it should be quite manageable.

Today was Quiet Day at Big Old Seminary, with silence and imposition of ashes and eucharist and meditations from my bishop. Midday I went over to the dr's to get my platelet count checked, and it is now back to normal range. Thank you, Jesus! I was a bit anemic, which explains why I feel sort of tired, but I was so happy to get the good news about the platelets.

At 5:30, I drove out to Saint Middle School to assist at their Ash Wednesday service. I imposed the ashes on the vicar, my first time doing that - it was a moving moment. The service was lovely, although we are experiencing shockingly warm weather here (got up to 73 deg F today) and it was brutal and sweaty wearing a cassock and surplice and being under the lights. I felt like a giant ThermaCare heat wrap. Got home about 9:45 pm, and I am so ready to sleep now.

Litigator, newly graduated from college, is coming tomorrow for a couple of days' visit. Life is good!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Classes have begun. I am already feeling a bit swamped, but I'm determined to not get majorly behind this semester. It will be a challenge, since I've got several intensive reading and writing classes (Systematics, Ethics, Church History). Ah, I'll survive.

Health is close to back to normal, thank God. I just need another 6 hours in every day. Friday is a light day, for which I'm grateful. First paper is due on Tuesday. Dang. Hittin the ground running, or back in the saddle, or some other metaphor to be named later...