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Contending with My Carbon Pollution

Here in Chicago, it’s hot today. It’s the HHH trifecta, actually: hazy, hot, and humid. Not exactly what Ol’ Bing was referring to:

As the climate news becomes ever more dire, people around the world, and the country, and the region, and the state, and the city where I live, are forced to confront the real impacts—and considerable costs in money, resources, time, health, enjoyment, etc.—of climate change, despite what the many ignoramuses in leadership say to the contrary. Climate change is a crisis, one that builds more rapidly and gets more severe with every year, it seems.

I have done some reading about ways in which to mitigate my carbon pollution, and I make decisions and take actions everyday to lessen my environmental impact. I buy only environmentally sustainable and cruelty-free cleaning supplies, sundries, etc. whenever possible (my under sink cabinet is full of Seventh Generation products ( I’ve gone so far as to buy their most concentrated laundry detergent (, which uses only 2 teaspoons per load. I wash my clothes in cold water in my high-efficiency washer. I almost never machine-dry my laundry (My mother, who rarely visits HATES my scratchy bath towels. My Nana and Poppa didn’t even own a clothes dryer. They hung all their laundry on a series of clotheslines suspended from the ceiling of the cellar in the East Utica home, and so Mom grew up with—and developed an aversion to—line-dried towels. My father has his own pet peeve: Grandma used to take the little stubs of bar soap that were too small to use, and press them together into soap Frankenbars. To this day, my father will not use a piece of soap too small to produce its own bubbles!). I use the air dry setting in my dishwasher. My air conditioner doesn’t come on until the temperature hits 84º inside, which, thankfully is rare here. If the night will be cooler than 84, I open all the windows in the evening. I walk and bike to as many appointments and errands in town as possible. You get the idea.

But I still pollute a lot.

For quality-of-life reasons, I’ve chosen to live in a neighborhood 16 miles from my work. Despite telecommuting at least one day a week, I still drive more for work now than I ever have. It’s too far to bike all the time, and too time-consuming to take public transportation most days—and, when I had a dog, I wanted to bring him with me to the office. I also live farther from my family—and my husband—than I have in a very long time, so I take more long-distance trips than I used to.

My carbon footprint is substantial.  I’ve read about purchasing carbon offsets, but the reviews of the merits of purchasing offsets are decidedly mixed (e.g., Briefly, they’re not always effective or trustworthy. Read the linked article for more information.

I’m considering making annual donations to one or more land trusts equal to the value of my transportation-related carbon pollution. If my contribution can eliminate the risk of developing land that is wild or agricultural, it may be a good long-term solution.

Therefore, choosing where the money goes could be as important as the donation itself, so that it is most likely to preserve land at high risk of development (rural CNY, where I grew up, may not be the most strategic choice, e.g.).

Surprisingly, the carbon cost of my driving 15,000 miles year is only about $150, based on current market rates for carbon ( I estimate that I average 25 MPG of gasoline, and each gallon generates about 14.3 kg of carbon dioxide. I haven’t calculated flights yet.

I share this to encourage you to find a way to help mitigate the effects of carbon pollution you may not be able to prevent. And also, to empower you to make choices to live more efficiently. I don’t know what your air conditioner’s thermostat is set for, but I bet you could bump it up at least a couple degrees.

What are your thoughts about my ideas? Any suggestions on where my land trust donations should go to spur the greatest positive impact?

I’d love to hear from you.


‘A man was crossing the bridge from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso, and fell into the hands of robbers, who threw him in the trunk of their car and smuggled him across the border. They stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead on a street in El Paso. Now by chance a priest was walking by; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a local pastor, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Unitarian while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having put antibiotic ointment on them. Then he flagged down a taxi, brought him to a hotel, and took care of him. The next day he took out two hundred dollars, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

This is my best attempt to recast Jesus’ parable, commonly called “The Good Samaritan”. There are many current troubles that could stand in for the man on the road to Jericho, but southern border crossings have, perhaps, the closest parallels of travel on foot, roving banditry, vulnerability, danger, and intercultural tension to mimic the situation Jesus describes.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously steep, dangerous and rugged. Bandits had many places to hide and sic themselves on nervous travelers. People knew it made for risky travel. This, too, sounds like what we hear about the lands straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. Whatever your purpose in passing through, whatever your background, you are vulnerable.

Jesus doesn’t reveal anything about the identity of the victim, and thus aims his critique not at how the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan each responds to a particular type of person (Samaritan, Gentile, or Jew, for example), but instead on how they react to the man’s condition: his helpless fragility.

If Jesus had identified the battered man as a Samaritan or a Gentile—a non-Jew—then the priest’s and Levite’s shunning might have been justifiable at least on religious grounds. 1st-century Judaism proscribed firm boundaries between different peoples. Judaism had rules governing the ways in which Jews should treat Gentiles and Samaritans, priests should treat Israelites, men should treat women, etc. To maintain order—and boundaries—was a religious duty, guarding the purity of the Jewish people. It was also understood that Samaritans could be unfriendly to Jews, refusing to extend hospitality.

There was probably no way for the priest and the Levite to know what the man was; he was naked. If he had been Jewish, presumably they would have cared for him, right? But to do so without knowing risked ritual self-contamination. Jesus gives no explanation. Neither does he describe their inner reactions to the man’s condition. Their adherence to the Law trumped any potential for compassion. Ironically, if the priest had found the man dead, he would have had a duty to bury the corpse, but he was permitted, nay mandated, by the Law to avoid his broken, but living, body.

“A priest, a minister and a rabbi enter a bar…” Most of us have heard one of these jokes. It’s always a priest, a minister, and a rabbi, right? One commentator on this parable points out that, in Jesus’ day, a story like this would have begun, “A priest, a Levite, and… an Israelite…” We can assume that the would have reacted differently from—less legalistically than—the priest and the Levite, and the story would have had an anticlerical punchline.

In contrast, Jesus tosses a curveball (Take note: Christian just used a baseball metaphor, and might never again.), and Person Number Three is… a Samaritan. The Samaritan shows no concern for who or what the man is, but “was moved with pity”, and cared for him, a fellow human being.

Jews regarded Samaritans as an unclean people. The reasons are complex, but in brief, Samaritans were understood to have descended from mixed marriages following settlement of people of other cultures in the lands of the fallen Northern Kingdom by Assyrian conquerors. Samaritans’ blood made them unclean, and their religious beliefs were not orthodox. Note that, even when the lawyer answers Jesus’ question, “Which of these three…was a neighbor to the man…”, he does not call him “Samaritan”, but only describes his behavior (itself both a confession and an indictment). Jesus goes beyond an indictment of the legalistic hard-heartedness of the religious and civic authorities, and condemns a longstanding enmity toward people outside the community.

Throughout Luke’s Gospel, the writer challenges contemporary distinctions that define, separate and oppose different groups of people. More so than the other gospel writers, Luke critiques the subservience of women, the inferiority of non-Jews, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and powerful, and so on. This parable is unique to Luke, and Jesus’ answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” opens up borders, demolishes walls, and integrates communities.

I received an e-mail Friday, entitled, “Here’s what to know if ICE shows up at your door”. Chicago might be the target of terrorizing of immigrants this weekend by the government that acts on our behalf. Modern-day stand-ins for the priest and Levite are sending troops out to harass and terrorize peaceful people because they are different, foreign, in some sense “unclean”—brown-skinned, poor, uneducated, weak, hungry, bruised, scared, vulnerable. Yes, some of them are here illegally, but their crime against society pales in comparison to the wholesale immorality of corporate and government leaders whose actions and policies sicken, impoverish, and oppress millions of Americans, who are essentially helpless to defend their own interests.

I’m not saying that we don’t need to have our own prejudices continually revealed and challenged, but the question on my mind is: how can we help our more xenophobic leaders and neighbors see humanity in all those around us? Jesus showed that everyone is neighbor to us, no matter their faith, their culture, their gender, their class. We are all imperfect in compassion and inclusion, but there are people in power around this country who see the creatures on the other side of bars—bars that keep them outside our country and bars that keep them in cages within—as something less than human, something less than children of God. I believe our greatest challenge is to turn the hearts of those people. But, as with our work to expose and dismantle structural racism, there is a lot of resistance. Many of the people responsible for caging refugees at the southern border—people who metaphorically cross to the other side—proclaim to live by this same gospel.

Since long before recorded history, earthlings have been spellbound by the Moon. Only in recent centuries have we come to understand what the Moon is, and later what its effects are on our world and its life. The Man in the Moon, so to speak, is not just a metaphorical being, but a powerful neighbor—one who stirs the seas, and steadies the axial wobble of our planet [–partner-protector-benefactor/2019/06/18/a5068866-7cbc-11e9-a5b3-34f3edf1351e_story.html?utm_term=.6766e3d47503].

Fifty years ago this coming Saturday, July 20th, I was baptized in Grace Church, Utica, NY, in a private, Sunday evening liturgy attended by my parents, grandparents, and godparents. There are photos of little me in a white baptismal gown, in front of the beautiful Victorian font: a marble shell cradled in the arms of a winged angel.

Following the service, my parents returned home and tuned in for one of the momentous events in human history, for throughout that week, beginning on the 16th of July, the world’s people—those who had access to mass communications anyway—were united and transfixed by the Apollo 11 mission to land human beings on another celestial body for the first time. I was baptized just hours before Man walked on the Moon. Though I have no memory of the Apollo program, the coincidence of my baptism connects me to those moments.

Astronaut Michael Collins was Command Module Pilot on that mission, orbiting the Moon as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on its surface. You may already know this, but Michael Collins’s daughter, Kate, is an SPR parishioner. Kate, who is currently traveling with Michael to many commemorations of that first manned lunar landing, sent me some of Michael’s reflections on space and humanity. The thoughts of a man who looked back at earth from a quarter million miles away might alter perspectives and turn hearts toward compassion.

CNN reporter Ashley Strickland wrote last month that Michael Collins describes that seeing the Moon up close was spectacular, but he recalls that the view of Earth kept snaring the astronauts’ attention:

“I said ‘hey, Houston, I’ve got the world in my window,’ and the world is about the size of your thumbnail if you hold it out arm’s length in front of you. The whole focus of your attention goes into this little thing out there. It’s in a black void, which makes its colors even more impressive. Primarily, you get the blue of the oceans, the white of the clouds, you get a little streak of tan that we call continents, but they’re not that noticeable. It just looks glorious.”

Collins noticed something unique about his perspective of our home planet:

“Strangely enough, it looks fragile somehow. You want to take care of it. You want to nurture it. You want to be good to it. All the beauty, it was wonderful, it was tiny, it’s our home, everything I knew, but fragile, strange.”


In an interview published in Time magazine last week, Michael Collins said,

“…After the flight of Apollo 11, Neil, Buzz and I were lucky. We made a round-the-world trip. I think 25 major cities… And I was flabbergasted. I thought that when we went someplace they’d say, ‘Well, congratulations. You Americans finally did it.’ And instead of that, unanimously the reaction was, ‘We did it. We humans finally left this planet and went past escape velocity.’ That’s not the terminology they used, but I thought that was wonderful. North, white, rich, poor, black, white, east, west — what other achievement can bring all of those disparate interests together? Nothing I can think of, except the first lunar landing did. Albeit very briefly. But it did.” —Time Magazine, 11 July 2019

And in a CNN interview, he said even more succinctly, “I can’t think of another instance in which humankind has been more united on a specific project or specific attitude or a specific venture than that one.” —CNN interview 18 June 2019

Has there ever been a day in human history when the whole Earth looked more like Jesus’ neighborhood than the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon?

In his 1974 book, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, Collins later gave one of the best justifications for the Apollo program—an expensive, bureaucratic, political, dangerous, even deadly folly—writing,

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of, let’s say 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. The all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.”

It would be miraculous if the same energy and unity attached to the Apollo program could now be directed to uniting God’s creatures in one vast, safe, bountiful neighborhood, saving our world from climate catastrophe; its creatures from mass extinction; its people from oppression, violence and starvation.

Some of us already say, “Hi, neighbor!” to the Man in the Moon; and “Thank you, Mother!” to this fragile earth, our island home; and “Good morning, sweetie!” to our beloved dog. We chat comfortably with our Moroccan cab driver. We bring water to our thirsty neighbors in the Sonoran desert, as they walk north fleeing danger. We provide companionship and resources to a refugee family from the war-torn Middle East. We provide nutritious food to those who are hungry right down the street. Of course, none of us—myself first and foremost—gets it all right, but I wonder: how do we show the haters, the exploiters, the profiteers, and the Grim Reapers that God sees that the way they love “the least of these” is a reflection of the way they love God, even the way they love themselves? As Jesus challenged the lawyer, how do we convince them that if they “do this” they will live? And what more can we do to live?

I forgot to post this back in the spring. I hope you enjoy it, and find it provocative and inspiring!


Sisters and brothers in Christ, this is my second annual Great Vigil sermon. I’ve decided that this is the second in a very drawn out preaching series.

The slow rollout of this series reminds me of a pair of articles in the New York Times in May 2006. The title of one of the articles, “An Organ Recital for the Very, Very Patient” [], might suggest a name for my series. The articles describe the ongoing performance in the eastern German town of Halberstadt of a piece entitled “As Slow as Possible” by the 20th-century American composer John Cage. Cage originally wrote the piece in 1985, then later adapted it for the organ, calling it “Organ2/ASLSP”. On 5 May 2006, town officials, managers of the performance, tourists, locals, curiosity-seekers, John Cage fans, and others gathered to hear and see the first chord change in roughly a year. To accomplish this, every year or so, one or more pipes are added to or pulled from a very small, incomplete pipe organ. The organ has an electric blower, and solar panels and batteries are at the ready in case of a power failure. Keys are held down with small bags of sand, so the sound is continuous. The Halberstadt performance began in 2001, and is scheduled to conclude in the year 2640, exactly as many years after the turn of the millennium—639—as the first organ with a modern keyboard arrangement had been built, in Halberstadt, before 2000, in 1631.

It’s a powerful statement of faith in humanity to start a project whose completion is many generations beyond one’s own lifespan. Similarly, the great cathedrals of Europe were started, completed, redesigned, demolished, repaired, expanded, and restored over several centuries. How ironic, and sad, that on the very day that I started writing this sermon, Nôtre-Dame de Paris went up in flames, a casualty of its own much-needed restoration. Will we live to see the new completion?

I wonder:
What similar projects were not expected at their start to be completed in a single lifetime? [pause]. Finding cures for cancer or Alzheimer’s disease might be modern equivalents. Or achieving safe and controllable nuclear fusion to stop the ruination of our planet by reckless carbon pollution.

These long timespans make me think of this Great Vigil of Easter. Last year, I spoke about the symbolic power of the Great Vigil—in its use of time, darkness, and light—to recall the fear and uncertainty felt by Jesus’ first followers in the hours between his death and the discovery of the empty tomb. You might remember my connection between waiting for dawn and the vigil for Jesus’ resurrection. Before artificial light made true darkness almost unimaginable, dawn’s early light breaking over the horizon and through the east windows of an ancient church was a vivid metaphor for the resurrection. The Great Vigil was a long—an all-night long—event. It was the “As Slow as Possible” performance of the liturgical year, though even our much-abbreviated modern vigil feels long within our fractured attention spans.

Studying tonight’s scriptures, I thought about the thematic thread that runs through them: God’s repeated efforts to redeem God’s people: to save us from our enemies, but mostly from ourselves—from our own foolishness, selfishness and shortsightedness. These stories and the other options are united by the overarching theme of God’s salvation of humanity. This vigil is a liturgy of trust in God and of hope in salvation.

What we don’t hear tonight are stories of countless self-wrought human messes that prompted God’s saving acts. Take the first, for example, “The Fall”: Adam and Eve get duped into eating the apple from the tree of knowledge, and God has to drive them out of the garden, lest they also eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. To live forever with a little too much knowledge is a dangerous cocktail. For thousands of years since, God has been trying to get humanity back in line, with decidedly unimpressive results—a performance that probably wouldn’t earn God a promotion in most companies; but, one must admit that humanity has been anything but cooperative.

I wonder:
When God took on the redemption project, did God know that thousands—maybe tens of thousands—of years of work would bear so little fruit? God’s sense of time is very different from ours, but does the work of salvation feel to God as long as the Halberstadt performance of “Organ2/ASLSP” does to us?

We take for granted that God will always forgive our failure to love God fully. But we fallen humans are imperfect at both loving and forgiveness. I fail you, and you might not forgive me. You fail me, and I might strike back. I have my own ways of doing things—the best ways, obviously. You have yours. Yours are different, and so are you. I attach my being annoyed by your weird ways to your appearance or your language or your clothing or your beliefs. I generalize that all people who are different like you are, are also annoying. I gather allies to my view. You do the same. Soon, we are at war.

Tired of marginal success, God ramped up the salvation efforts, and sent God’s only son to take on human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to God’s self. In Jesus, people saw and heard and touched God, and witnessed God’s sinlessness firsthand. Jesus taught humanity how to become like God again, we who are made in God’s image, but who fail both to embody God’s pure goodness and love, and to see God in those around us.

Jesus offered two essential disciplines: 1) to love God—who, by the way, IS love—with our whole selves; and B) to love our neighbors as ourselves—those neighbors who, like us, bear the image of God, equal in God’s love. However, since we can’t see all of God, because God is so very, very big, and we are so very, very small, we fail to recognize that the unique image each of us bears is a tiny facet of God’s whole self. Since we can’t see God in God’s wholeness, we don’t recognize that little bit of God in each other. One minute, I see your curly hair. I crane to see your subtle smile, for it is so much higher than I am. Or, I have to crouch down to get a good look at your beautiful brown eyes. We lack both the wide gaze and the deep memory to gather, hold, and assemble all these tiny mosaic pieces into a complete picture of God, a picture of all-encompassing love; and, in our myopia, we fail at loving each other and God.

I wonder:
To what degree can we only love another person if that person is a reflection of ourself? Can an aging, orange-haired, scowling, hypersexualized, white, straight male love only his mirror image? Does everyone else exist only for exploitation and objectification?

I wonder:
Where do we each find ourself on the continuum between unconditional love and narcissism?

Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross—whether for our sins or on account of humanity’s sinfulness—demonstrated for us a sacrificial, selfless, unconditional love for God’s children. As KJ intimated in her sermon yesterday, the merit of a crucified God is that we have an example of a life lived selflessly for the benefit of all humanity and all creation.

I wonder:
Did God think that this would have turned out better? Did God expect that humanity would finally embrace love and justice after Jesus showed us what selfless love looks like?

In a few minutes, we’ll throw the switch on another resurrection party, with bells and whistles, and confetti, and fireworks, and champagne. There will be dancing girls popping out of a huge, triple-tiered orange chiffon cake, and brass bands and conga lines and feather boas. It’s gonna be great! Bigger and better than ever!

But as I look around the city and country and world, our waiting here in fear and darkness reflects reality more accurately. Standing in front of this curtain of origami cranes, created for the National Prayer Vigil against Gun Violence held here last December, I see our current challenges as a kind of vigil. Each of these cranes is labeled with the name of a Chicagoan injured or killed by gun violence.

Someone told me years ago that many children who grow up in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods—and I bet that they are racial and ethnic minorities—may never visit the Loop or the Magnificent Mile or Museum Campus. Even if their families could afford bus fare, what could they do once they got downtown? Wouldn’t they feel out of place there? The poverty they endure, and the violence memorialized by these cranes, are results of systemic, structural, discriminatory policies rooted in selfishness, not in unconditional love.

I’ve been concerned about environmental issues since I was six. I get literally depressed by the constant bleak news. Have you heard about the spread of an aggressive species of tick that is following rising temperatures northward? In my beautiful home state of New York, these new ticks swarm on moose calves, as many as 50,000 per moose, and feed so aggressively on the young mooses’ blood, that the calves are weakened to death. The plight of these wild animals is only one dot on the pointillistic canvas of ecosystem collapse, being painted ever more rapidly by humanity’s selfish consumerism. United Nations research estimates over 200 species have gone extinct since 3 PM yesterday, the hour when we commemorated Jesus’ death. This nearly 1,000 times the “background” rate of natural extinctions before modern human interference.

Jesus’ resurrection happened nearly 2,000 years ago. We say, or we are told, that we believe that, in dying and rising, Jesus has redeemed us from our sins, reconciled us to God, and given us eternal life. If so, why does the world look so bad?

I’ve come to believe recently that Jesus’ resurrection was just the start of the process of renewal and redemption, not a fait accompli. Jesus gave us a perfect example of God’s love for humanity and all creation, but God expects us to change—to save—the world by practicing the Way of Love Jesus taught us. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has described it, “the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus” gives us the power to transform the world by committing to living the way of God’s “unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love”.

Early this spring, I saw an artsy little sign tucked away in a building entryway that read,


Friends, we have to starting living and loving like we care like crazy… and we must get many others to do so, too.

What’s your care? I offer my care for the environment as an example. Climate change may be the greatest existential threat in the modern era. Am I making choices in my life that support my concern? My choice to live 16 miles from my work here at SPR is in direct conflict with my carbon-emissions concerns. What should I do?

I care about income inequality and economic policies that consign poor Americans to a hopeless future, devoid of opportunities to achieve financial well-being. I frequently vote for candidates whose policies might actually increase my tax burden, because I believe we will all be better off if everyone can live securely with good and equitable nutrition, health care, and education.

Do we think about the impacts of our choices on God’s children and creation? Flying business class results in about twice the carbon emissions as flying economy. Heating and cooling our buildings excessively requires more coal and oil and natural gas, the extraction and burning of which causes pollution that inordinately harms the poor—Native Americans, minorities in poor urban neighborhoods, Creole residents of the Gulf Coast; it upsets an already fragile ecological balance, threatening vulnerable species. We air-condition to sweater temperatures, and poor people in cities like Mumbai die from heat stroke as temperatures soar into the hundreds, and they have no relief. Pikas, adorable little rodents that live at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains can’t migrate off their mountain peaks. When rising temperatures make their homes uninhabitable, they will die out.

What do we choose and how, if we can choose? Are our choices selfless and loving toward others? Hundreds of millions of poor people around the world are vulnerable to climate-related disasters. Does saving the lives of countless Bangladeshi families living at sea level alter our choices?

Among my recordings of music for passiontide, this year I was repeatedly drawn back to Arvo Pärt’s Passio, his 1989 setting of the St. John Passion. Do you know it? You should. [] It’s almost constantly dissonant, yet definitely not ugly. The sound is somewhat detached, and listening to it is sort of like being in an uncomfortable state of suspended animation for an hour, watching this horrible thing, Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, going on just a little ways over there. This year, this music represents to me the state of our world: so much pain, so complex, and yet so much beauty, that it makes my heart ache. I see the headlines, and I start to cry.

After Jesus’s death in Arvo Pärt’s Passio, the choir sings a brief prayer set so beautifully, and in such contrast to the angularity of the music of the passion story, that I always cry: “You who have suffered for us, have mercy upon us. Amen.” Its momentary beauty is so powerful because it contrasts so starkly with the preceding hour’s sounds and story.

In these last few minutes before our Easter celebrations really begin, I ask you to join me, and to help me, to take up the work of resurrection. We have lived for too long as spectators of, and participants in, the passion of our world, of our brothers and sisters, of our fellow creatures—through selfishness, hatred, fear, jealousy, pride, hypocrisy…you name the sin! It is past time to look at our fellow travelers on this tiny blue celestial orb and recognize that little bit of God each one reveals; to see God’s creation—and to choose to love it all selflessly, unconditionally. The work of resurrection will not be easy, but it will be loving, liberating, and life-giving. It can lead us to true joy. This year, instead of celebrating Jesus’ resurrection per se, let’s celebrate the privilege of restoring God’s good world, and give thanks for the tools given us to get the job done through Jesus’ willing example. It’s a project for “the very, very patient” AND the very, very persistent. Remember: Nôtre-Dame wasn’t built in a day, either. But time is short. Let’s start.

SPR Chicago Great Vigil 2013

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I confirm your intuition that we are superior to many of our Christian siblings: Give yourselves a hand for another post-sunset Vigil! Do you know how many Vigils begin before Wheel of Fortune has ended?!

But, our superiority notwithstanding, I’ve been troubled by this night for years. Sure, we outstay the sun; but overhead, high-pressure sodium vapor lamps blaze “at a characteristic wavelength near 589 nanometers.” Under their glare, we look like monsters or jaundice-sufferers; and their replacements aren’t much better: piercing LEDs blaze skeletal light between 4500 and 7000 Kelvin. I don’t think this is what Jesus meant by “the light of the world”.

Still worse than bad artificial light is that the darkness itself is gone. Other than a closet or a cave, where can we flee from the ubiquitous stain of artificial light?

Tonight, I want to take you back to a time when people knew darkness, and the Great Paschal Vigil was REALLY Great!

So close your eyes, but remember to keep your candle upright!

I’m going to channel the spirit of a beloved storyteller… Sophia Petrillo. Instead of saucy memoirs of her youth before emigrating to America—such as her torrid affair with Pablo Picasso— and moving in with The Golden Girls, we’re going back farther. Imagine you are gravelly-voiced Dorothy Sbornak, or promiscuous southern belle Blanche Devereaux, or ditsy Minnesotan Rose Nyland, and travel back with me…Picture it: Sicily. Twelve-hundred twenty-two.

You gather in the darkened piazza before the Norman cathedral in your small city, the only light coming from the first vernal waning gibbous moon, from thousands of stars overhead, and maybe from a few torches burning at a cozy 1900 Kelvin.

As you await the bishop, priests, deacons and choir, you marvel at the dome of the sky with its innumerable little lights. And the moon, so cool and bright. Perhaps you know enough of the Bible to recall that,

“God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’”

You don’t understand those lights, but you know that they order your year: planting, harvesting, traveling, and praying. They are teachers and guides. You look up one night, and seeing Orion’s belt, you’re reminded that it’s time to mend a fence, or hoe a row, or make a votive offering to help out your late, great aunt, who died under Orion’s belt a few years back, and who, you think, is in purgatory for 240,000 years—yet probably doesn’t deserve more than 50,000 of those.

The clergy arrive. The Bishop sings something in Latin, strikes two rocks together under some dry straw, lighting the new flame, and a taper is lit from it, and the great Paschal candle from the taper. You all move into the cathedral. Picture it: that grand, vaulted volume, pitch-dark except for the spreading candlelight. Imagine no exit signs; opaque windows, unlit without our now-ubiquitous street lights. Imagine how you feel huddled in the dark in the darkest night of the year—the night when Jesus lay dead in the tomb.

Keep your eyes closed as long as you like, but promise not to set your bulletin afire or drip wax on your neighbor’s new spring frock.

Lest all this exposition confound you, or you wonder why this musician was given leave to prattle on about darkness and stars, I declare to you in this night of all nights that these images are not beside the point. They are the very heart of the matter. They are our jump seat from a “faith airplane” pulled down by religious precepts and dogmas. They are the trampoline on which we bounce upward from lifeless rationalizing to belief in the inexplicable.

It’s easy to not believe stories about global floods, talking bushes, men living in fish bellies, virgin women bearing children, men bringing the dead back to life and returning to life after being murdered. We roll our eyes when hearing that Methuselah’s nine-hundred years old. I mean, c’mon, Methuselah, you look like hell, but isn’t that because you chain-smoked and spent too much time at the beach as a young man? 900?!

To our enlightened credit here at SPR, we’re pretty OK with metaphor. If during coffee hour someone divulges an inclination to believe that The Man Upstairs really did create the heavens and the earth, et… al… , in six days, you might hold back a guffaw (and with it a blob of moist cookie), and opine that, if God did create the universe, God has been more impressive for having enough patience and persistence to spin out the project over 12 billion years. Way to go, God! Most of us would have gotten bored or distracted at least eleven billion years ago.

But with the lights dimmed, and the organ sparkling in our ears, and Amos’s words shimmering from the choir,

“Seek Him that Maketh the Seven Stars and Orion
And turneth the shadow of death into the morning.” —Amos 5:8

becomes a lot more compelling, at least to my heart–soul–mind contraption. Composer Jonathan Dove took two short and disparate phrases from the Hebrew Bible, and gave us a sublime channel to contemplate the source of darkness and light, of life and death.

My tastes seem to cluster under two headings, and I’ve described myself on Facebook as “teetering between the sublime and the ridiculous”. Examples:

* gothic architecture and the Muppets
* Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and tongue-in-cheek hymn rewrites (“Pleased as punch with us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel”)

I love the Great Paschal Vigil, because it, too, teeters between the sublime and the ridiculous. It is our most elaborately symbol-laden worship event, containing within itself the transformation of darkness into light, of mere words into inspiring stories, of tree sap into perfume, of oil into armor, of wheat and grapes into bread and wine, and of bread and wine into flesh and blood, of strangers into family, of death into life. It is the sensory smörgåsbord of the year, delighting with sight and sound and scent and taste and touch.

It is also ridiculous. That we would “waste” a night off sitting in the dark, listening to these same old stories, eating a bite of bread. That a splash of water on the forehead could make us impervious to sin. Jesus came back from the grave? Walked through walls? Cooked a fish? Gathered a billion followers, practically none of whom ever met the guy, or even saw him on telly? Ridiculous!

In his book, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, English philosopher and self-identified atheist Alain de Botton argues that atheists cheat themselves of valuable life resources by dissing religion. Instead, Atheists should steal from religion, for what apart from it has given the world so much in the way of Wisdom, Community, Kindness, Education, Tenderness, Perspective, and Art? Between us and them, the gulf widens and narrows along its course. The average atheist asks the same questions we all wrestle with, and concludes that there can be no God. Yet we, with no more hard data than she has, are prone to gather in darkness, sing inspiring poetry set to lovely melodies, and converse with compassionate friends. Who looks wiser to you?

Faith gains traction with a seepage of aesthetics and experience. My anemic faith is nourished by a couple of people taking the plunge for Christ right here in this pool. I’m more inclined to go looking when Amos commands because Jonathan Dove adorned his words with sublime music and thus sang them directly to my heart. Sitting here with you, our faces warmed and illumined by these flickering candles, and a little incense on the nose, I feel strong enough to raise my head above the ambient Trumpian miasma and fill my lungs with pure air when Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Our liturgy, and especially this Great Paschal Vigil, is the Church’s greatest offering, buoying us across rough seas of doubt and despair, as it has for millions through the centuries.

So, my friends, let’s exploit it! Be promiscuous in sharing it! Have you been to an SPR funeral recently? Maybe David Wallace’s or Glenda Mowatt’s? Or a wedding, like Lydia & Laurie’s? In all these cases the church was PACKED with visitors. And those same visitors, whether churched or not, gushed about…the liturgy! About the preaching and music and the dignity and the beauty—and the welcome. I bet if they were here tonight, they would be transfixed and transformed! Invite them!

To a world in need of solace and strength, we present our marriage liturgy, our burial liturgy, and our Great Paschal Vigil. All come with rich experiences; all name and invite our joy, hope, grief, anxiety, loneliness, and love at times of great importance in our lives—the creation of a new family, the death of a loved one, and the welcoming of a new Christian into the household of God; and each houses these actions and emotions within a time-tested framework that permits worshipers to rest in the knowledge that it’s all been done before, and there’s nothing to worry about. The liturgy supports us.

Gathered here in relative darkness, we keep vigil for salvation promised in scripture. We know the end of the story, right? Jesus rises from dead! Happiness comes to us all! But it’s not quite like that—the story is still being written. Salvation is still being wrought. This Great Vigil is a metaphor for our lives. We are becoming the army of light to slowly and fitfully perfect God’s justice on earth. When we renewed our baptismal vows, we renewed our promise to respond to God’s call to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Yet first, we promised to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers”. You see? Before we are sent out to continue the resurrection work God calls us to, we promise to let the Church inspire and nourish us through word and sacrament. Tonight is our feast of feasts.

This resurrection work is immense, like God. Do you remember the words of the second half of Jonathan Dove’s anthem?

“Alleluia, yea, the darkness shineth as the day, the night is light about me.”

This comes from Psalm 139, which is all about divine perspective: how big God is, how God is everywhere, how small I am, how intimately God knows me. A now-deceased friend, scholar, teacher and priest, Marilyn McCord Adams, delighted to remind us in her sermons that “God is very, very big; and we are very, very small.” It may seem ironic, but we need to know how small we are. Alain de Botton writes about perspective that,

“Being put in our place by something larger, older, greater than ourselves is not a humiliation; it should be accepted as a relief from our insanely hopeful ambitions for our lives.”

The work of salvation is God’s work; it is Jesus’ work through his death and resurrection and the building of his Church. Yes, God needs us, but we also need to remember how small we are, how much we need God. We cannot do it alone, nor are we asked to.

Let’s return to the darkness, to the 13th century. In that imagined piazza, the night sky reminds us of God’s very-bigness. In that dark imagined cathedral, the Church tells story after story—12 or more of them!—of God’s miraculous creation and redemption of the world, then baptizes and exorcises and anoints and prays through the long darkness until the Greater Light creeps over the horizon and through the stained glass windows, the sun carrying the resurrected Son—in the eucharist—back to his flock on the dawn of the new day. In this great drama, the Church uses the natural order as stage and props, “and it is marvelous in our eyes. On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

And then we can “go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, whose resurrection we both await and celebrate.

Thanks be to God.

A Walt Disney World 25th anniversary


Twenty-five years ago today, I began a brief but enjoyable stint as a Cast Member (CM) at Walt Disney World (WDW),  from which I derived some valuable lessons for life and work, many great and happy memories, and some wonderful friendships.

For those of you who want more details, I started working (after 3 days of Disney Traditions instruction) at The Land Theaters (Kitchen Kabaret & the film “Symbiosis” in the Harvest Theater), then, after a few months cross-trained at Journey into Imagination (where my trainer chewed gum and platonically smooched fellow CMs onstage—No, no no!). After a few more months, I cross-trained for the oh-so-glamorous Spaceship Earth. In the meantime, I also was a facilitator for the Seas Immersion Program, a half-day field trip experience in marine science for elementary school groups; and Synergy and Science, a full-day field-trip experience in science and technology for middle-school groups. They were the real highlights of my year of full-time employment, but there were fun times on the front lines, too. Cleaning 3D glasses backstage on Christmas Day was not my most inspirational time, but processing thousands of guests a day in the queues of “Imag” (How many cars can I pack full when these people aren’t related?) and “Spaceship” during Christmas and summer rushes was exhilarating in a way.

The two greatest joys, however, were the wonderful friends I made, many of whom are still important in my life, and the almost endless freedom to explore the theme parks and resort areas of WDW—onstage AND backstage—at virtually no cost. This was the ten-year dream come true! EVERY Saturday evening, a dear friend, and fellow Land Theaters CM, and I would scramble as quickly as we could from EPCOT Center up to park the car at the Polynesian or Grand Floridian Resort to catch the boat launch to the Magic Kingdom for Mountain Madness Saturdays, when MK was open until midnight, even in low season, celebrating the recent opening of Splash Mountain (the grand opening of which I participated in). Every Saturday, there were two performances of the night parade SpectroMagic (9 & 11), and a 10 PM fireworks show. I could watch exactly the same fireworks over and over again for years, which basically I did, every Saturday at the MK, and often at EPCOT Center (Illuminations) whilst working. We dashed from ride to ride, usually ending the evening with a just-before-midnight ride on one of the Frontierland mountains, or on Peter Pan’s Flight, simple yet lyrical and magical. Then, we would shop our way back up Main Street, USA, as the crowds thinned, and sometimes sit in the rocking chairs on the front porch of the Town Square Theater to watch the last of the tired but contented guests leave the park before we would catch one of the last launches back to our car. I’d get home around 1:30 AM, and get to bed around 2.

Then, every Sunday morning at about 7, I would get a call from Bill the Lead saying that that same unnamed Cast Member had called in again, and could I work a double shift, starting at 9. For the overtime pay, I was always willing, even if I dragged!

As a Cast Member, we had access! If we were in the Magic Kingdom on a busy day, and wanted to get quickly from Adventureland to Tomorrowland, we could slip in a Cast Members Only gate, go downstairs into the mysterious and exciting Utilidors tunnel system, and shortcut all the way across the park without encountering a single stroller. If we were out playing anywhere on property, and got hungry, we could drop into any one of the Cast Member cafeterias (there’s at least one for every park and resort hotel), and eat well and cheaply. The cafeteria at the Yacht & Beach Clubs was my favorite. It often had yummy leftovers from the nightly Clambake at a steal, but we tried all of them, I think. And, if we wanted to splash out, we could use our WDW ID to get discounts in sit-down restaurants. We got great deals on hotel rooms, and, if family came to visit, who could pass up the chance to stay in a Disney resort hotel? Mom came; Dad & brother came; Mom & cousin came. Later on, we made memories on a great family trip, after I had left full-time employment, but still had seasonal privileges.

Those Utilidors! For years, I had read about the magical system of tunnels below the MK, the heartbeat of the whole operation. On Day Two of Traditions, we boarded a bus outside Disney University, north of the MK, and were driven to the tunnel entrance under and behind Pinocchio’s Village Haus Restaurant. My heart skipped a beat when I first stepped in there (ignoring, I guess, the enormous and smelly dumpster off to one side). Later on, we figured out how to drive around behind the Magic Kingdom with our CM parking passes and ID cards. We explored the tree farm, where, at least in the good old days, every tree on property had growing a twin, so, should damage or destruction occur, replacements could happen almost instantly. One night, on a back road, we saw armadillos. We went to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review way too many times, at half-price for the last show. We went to way too many character breakfasts. And bought way too many discounted souvenirs from Property Control in the north service area, and from Bargain Basement, a long-defunct shop under the MK where CMs could snap up soft toys et al at 80% off retail.

So many great memories, but advancement wasn’t coming quickly enough, and I really disliked Central Florida (& its weather). Along the way, I had taken my first church-musician job, at a conservative, evangelical, pro-life Episcopal Church in Longwood, north of Orlando. I was looking for a way to make music again after having not played piano or organ for months, and I needed some extra money, since full-time at WDW only guaranteed 30 hours a week (we usually worked 40 or more only during high season), and pay was only a little above minimum wage. In the few months that I served this congregation (where I was the musician for the “traditional’ service, i.e, fewer songs with guitars, none of which guitars I had to play), I learned that I loved the work, but that I needed more say over the kind of community I could work with, and also that I needed more training to be able to make church music to the level (King’s College Cambridge!) to which I aspired. I left WDW in October 1993, 13 months after I began, though I kept my Casual Temporary status until August of 1999, returning at least one week a year to work and play again.

When I interviewed for a church musician job in Branford, Connecticut, just as I was beginning graduate school, the committee asked me what skills I could bring to my work in church music from my recent experience at Walt Disney World. It was, I think, the most unexpected question ever posed to me in a job interview. But, you know, I had an answer. I learned at Walt Disney World that safety, courtesy, show and efficiency are all values that we can transfer to all our work, even our life. Dignity and polish in worship is an important goal for most of us in church work, and Disney excels at polish. I had learned that there is a difference between my on-stage and off-stage personae, and the way I carry myself professionally is extremely important; as Kramer said to Miss Rhode Island in Seinfeld, “Poise!” I had learned to respect all people, and to treat everyone with dignity. I learned that “they are not handicapped people (or worse yet, ‘wheelchairs’!), but people with disabilities” (language that has been further finessed in the years since). I learned that, though I may have seen a show hundreds of times, for someone in the audience, it was their first time, and I needed to ensure that their first time was as enjoyable and exciting as everyone else’s first time had been. I learned that keeping your hands and feet inside the car at all times might save your life, or at least your limbs (literally); that Vo-ban is your new best friend; and that “a cockroach the size of a small puppy” on Mr. Hamm was ample reason for the show to go 101.

Great times. Valuable lessons. Beautiful places. Wonderful people. Those were my Peter Pan days, and I am so grateful for them!


What the Retro Roman Barber Wrought

When your vocabulary is limited, outcomes are not always what you desire at Il Barbiere di Roma!



It’s time to start a new category. Something like “Rants I Need to Broadcast”. Or, perhaps I should entitle it “Y’know What Annoys Me” as a tongue-in-cheek homage to my late, beloved Poppa.

I went to the local post office yesterday to buy stamps for an important mailing, and didn’t want just ‘anything’. They had two options: US flags and a person. Neither was appropriate. The reason given: “The postage lady has been on vacation for two weeks and we’re out of everything.” The [very pleasant] clerk suggested that I could “go to the post office just down the street… well not JUST down the street” (3 miles away) to see what they had available.


I called ahead. *ring* *ring* *ring* (about 20).

A woman finally answered. I asked what she had in stamps. She went away for a couple of minutes, and came back with news that they had one design that should suit my needs.

I drove out there (20 minutes), and stood in line for 20 minutes or more, chatting with two very friendly women ahead of me, one of whom commiserated about the sorry state of customer service at the USPS. She said that, after too many times waiting in long lines to buy stamps, she started buying them online…

…until the time that about $50 worth of stamps never showed up. And—can you believe this?!—since the USPS sends stamps ordered on their website by regular first-class mail with no tracking or guaranteed delivery, she had no way to prove that they were never delivered.

So, now she’s back to standing in line at the post office (or buying elsewhere, where you have much less to choose from).

I reached the counter, where the “stamps we have available” card on the desk showed about 8 designs…

…and was told that they had only 2: “Celebrate” and “Eid”.


I asked the agent what one is to do. She basically told me that they can’t order stamps as fast as they sell them, because the higher-ups don’t trust them not to lose or have them stolen.

People, WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?!?! This is the F#$%ing United States Postal Service. Their whole BUSINESS is selling stamps and delivering mail. I already know that they are, generally speaking, at least in Chicago, pretty incapable of the latter. [Remember when the slogan for Priority Mail was “2 days, $2”? Now it’s “About 6 dollars, and it probably won’t get there any sooner than if you had just sent it first-class, which is also pretty slow and unreliable nowadays, but you can hope that the recipient will be distracted by the swell of patriotism that comes from seeing all that red, white and blue on the envelope/parcel”]


From now on, at least until I no longer require the services of the USPS at all, I’m buying them on, which doesn’t charge me for delivery, and offers parcel tracking at no additional charge.

And I used to kind of like the post office when I was younger. I guess it was total naïveté.

And, by the way, where’s my mail?




Tonight, I am listening to “Simple Gifts: Shaker Chants and Spirituals”, a 1995 recording by The Boston Camerata with The Schola Cantorum of Boston and The Shaker Community of Sabbathday Lake, Maine, conducted by Joel Cohen At the time of its recording, only a few Shakers were still living at the only continuing Shaker community, Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I have pulled my two books by Sister Frances Carr, “Growing Up Shaker” and “Shaker My Plate” from my bookshelves, both of which Sister Frances inscribed for me during Hurricane Irene in August 2011, the first time we worshiped with the then three remaining Shakers. Today, I learned that Sister Frances, 89, died after a brief bout with cancer. She was the eldest Shaker and the senior member of the community she entered at the age of 10

Today, 2 Shakers remain, from a peak population of 6000 in the mid-19th century.

But do not forget that there are still Shakers, and Sabbathday Lake continues as a Shaker family. Even within the last decade, some have come to Sabbathday Lake to consider joining the community, though none have stayed. The family prays daily that they will receive competent vocations to grow and perpetuate the Shaker community. I join them in those prayers.

For more than two centuries, the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance has been an important and distinctive witness of God’s love for the world through their life, faith and work, not just resourceful inventors and creators of art and artifacts. Faithful people are called to discern God’s will for their lives and ministries, and a living Shaker community allows us to learn from those bearers of a different witness, rather than from relics of a dead faith. Long may the Shakers live and thrive, that they may continue to build up God’s family on earth, and we may learn from their vision.

Rest in peace, Sister Frances. May God receive your soul with a loving and joyful embrace.

Shaker Village, Sabbathday Lake, ME, August 2007


Bach & Mexico

Apparently, I said this 3 years ago today upon attending a CSO performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s B-minor Mass, not a bad piece of music. Facebook reminded me of it, and I thought it was worth broadcasting more widely.

Chicago, IL
16 April 2013

I ate salsa, guacamole, torta, and drank mescal and margarita. Then, I stepped outside into the cold, damp, gray, windy Chicago evening. A fitting reality check before a performance of Bach’s B-minor Mass. What would Bach, that dour old Lutheran, have known of the sultry, sensual pleasures of Mexico? Bach was a Chicago-style composer.

I heard Bach’s B-minor Mass this evening by the CSO. IF I had run into the composer at the bar afterwards, I might have said, “That was a pretty good song, Jack. Good effort.” Would a Lutheran expect anymore than that?

[delivered at The Great Vigil of Easter, Saturday 26 March 2016
at The Church of St. Paul & the Redeemer, Chicago, IL]

I stood before the stuffed & mounted bird, and read about Martha, the last passenger pigeon to die, and I wept.

Martha’s death on September 1st, 1914, marked the first documented extinction of a species at the hand of Man. Hundreds of millions of passenger pigeons had been sacrificed almost purely for sport, by selfish, myopic humans.

Consider the ram. The angel intervenes to save Isaac. A ram appears. Abraham kills the ram in Isaac’s stead, yet the angel did not command it.

Abraham ram passenger pigeon

God tells Adam and Eve, “subdue” and ”have dominion”, and for a hundred thousand generations, we have our way with creation.

Industrial agriculture leads to e. coli contamination, and the flesh of millions of animals is discarded. Animals are merely products, commodities.

We heat and cool and fly and drive and shop and waste, and polar bears starve and drown as the ice melts away.

The Son of God is sacrificed by human hands for human sinfulness, yet we continue to sacrifice God’s creation for our own vainglory and ignorance. How many more of God’s children must die to satisfy our craving for wealth, comfort, status, power?

The Psalmist says God does not require burnt offering. How many more substitutionary sacrifices do we require?

“The Lord will provide”, but for our needs only? Or also for our whims, capricious wants, selfish desires?

We the recipients of such priceless gifts as forgiveness of sin and eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ taunt God by despoiling the same creation that God deemed “very good”.

To use God’s creation gently, to care for it as if its Creator will return home from a long absence: these are true actions de grâces—thanksgiving—for the endless love and mercy of God toward us and all creation.

Consider the ram.