December 19, 2012

Café au Lait

I generally began taking my coffee black when I became concerned about cholesterol. Of course, this meant that I no longer was brewing the dark roast coffee and chicory with scalded milk that I grew up drinking in New Orleans. Tonight, I decided to make myself a cup of café au lait. I put what seemed like an outrageous amount of coffee and chicory in my coffeemaker, scalded some milk, and used real sugar, rather than Equal. Ah, yummy. Too bad I didn’t have any beignets!

Café Du Monde coffee and chicory

Whither Sandy Hook Elementary?

This morning, NPR reported that Sandy Hook Elementary will be closed for months and may never reopen. I already knew that surviving faculty and students were being shuffled off to a nearby mothballed school and wondered if that was absolutely necessary. On reflection, I realized that Sandy Hook is a crime scene and a building scarred by blood and bullets. Police (and Newtown residents) want to learn all the details they can about Friday’s massacre, and the building surely needs to be cleaned up before it can be re-occupied.

Sandy Hook Elementary School
Sandy Hook Elementary School

I am distressed, though, by the thought that the school might never re-open. In recent years, Americans have shown an inclination to abandon sites of tragedies and turn them into memorials. This is an easy path to take when there has been substantial destruction at a site, such as in the cases of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City or the World Trade Center in New York. After the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado, cinema, there were calls to close the Century Aurora 16 permanently . (The theater is being renovated, however, and is scheduled to reopen soon.) The Columbine High School library, where 13 students died, was demolished and turned into a memorial, though the school remains open. After a small child fell from an observation platform at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and was mauled by African painted dogs below, there were calls to close the exhibit and send the surviving dogs to another zoo. It was decided instead to remove the viewing area from which the boy fell “out of respect for the community and for the Derkosh family [that of the boy who fell].”

Will Sandy Hook Elementary School be demolished and turned into a memorial “out of respect for the community and the families of the victims”? I sincerely hope not. It is a substantial facility and community asset, and its loss would be unfortunate. (See photo above.) That is not to say that no memorial should be erected to acknowledge the Newtown tragedy, but we need to keep matters in perspective. Not every awful event deserves to have acres of real estate devoted to its memory or to have associated structures forever removed from public view.

Are we becoming a nation of extravagant monuments? Do we need—and can we afford—all these memorials? I don’t doubt that many family members of Newtown victims will never want to enter (or even see) Sandy Hook Elementary again. Some may choose to move to another town. But do the rest of us have such refined sensitivities that we never again want to see or use Sandy Hook Elementary?

Memorials have their place, but so many recent ones have been costly, both to construct and in lost opportunity costs represented by land and structures taken out of normal productive use. At least some of that money that might be poured into memorials could be used to relieve other instances of human suffering or to memoralize significant events that have not benefited from our current passion for monuments. (The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire still awaits a memorial.)

Sometimes an appropriate memorial is just a brass plaque by the side of the road.

December 16, 2012

For Gwen

My friend Gwendollynn Santiago was ordained to the priesthood yesterday at Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral. Charles Hamill, Terence Johnston, John Schaeffer, and Todd Schmidtetter were ordained at the same service, the first ordination presided over by our new bishop, Dorsey McConnell. (I took my camera to the service but decided to let Andy Muhl document the event with his much better equipment. You can see his photos here. The photo below is courtesy of Andy.)

As I have often done, I wrote a poem in honor of Gwen’s ordination. (My other ordination poems can be read here, here, here, and here.) These poems often reflect the troubled context of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Gwen’s poem, reproduced below, is no exception. I pray that my next such poem need make no allusions to what the recently retired Harold Lewis called “the recent unpleasantness.”

For Gwen
by Lionel Deimel

A priesting in our diocese
Is now a time of joy
Devoid of worries for those things
A bishop would destroy.

Each priest can now be healer,
Evangelist and friend,
A comforter and confidant
On whom one can depend.

The troubles of a broken world
That lately filled the news
We’ll contemplate another day
And file into our pews,

For Gwen today becomes a priest
Who’ll help mend what’s been rent,
She’ll do her work with grace and love,
Enlarging God’s big tent.

New priests with bishop: (L to R) the Rev. Charles Brent Wagner Hamill,
the Rev. Gwendollynn Gettemy Santiago, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey W.M. McConnell,
the Rev. Terence Lee Johnston, the Rev. Todd Thomas Schmidtetter,
and the Rev. John Robert Schaeffer

December 14, 2012

Right to Work

Michigan just passed a right-to-work law, and, by way of providing background, NPR ran a brief story this morning about the origin of the term “right to work.” It was pointed out that the term does not have an obvious and precise meaning and that liberals do not have a catchy, alternative for it. Like “right to life,” however, “right to work” is catchy and has a positive ring to it. President Obama’s “right to work for less money” doesn’t quite fly as a slogan or as a description (as in “right-to-work-for-less-money law).

The story got me thinking and inspired me to post the graphic below on Facebook. (Click on it for a bigger image.) “Right to exploit” may not be the perfect alternative to “right to work,” but I think it’s in the right neighborhood.

Right to Exploit

December 12, 2012

TSM and The Episcopal Church

Many would argue that Trinity School for Ministry (TSM) has played a critical role in undermining The Episcopal Church. (The official name of the seminary remains Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, but “Episcopal” has lately disappeared from all publications.) Ostensibly, the seminary was founded to advance the evangelical cause within an increasingly liberal Episcopal Church. Arguably, it was successful in doing that, at least up to a point. Many of the school’s graduates have now left The Episcopal Church for the Anglican Church in North America or other ultraconservative denominations. Thus, Trinity and its alumni (and alumnae) are engaged in decreasing the influence of evangelicals in The Episcopal Church.

Trinity logoI don’t intend to document the trajectory of TSM here or to justify my belief that it should no longer be considered a seminary appropriate for the education of Episcopal clergy. Instead, I am writing this modest essay in response to my having just browsed through the Fall 2012 issue of TSM’s magazine Seed & Harvest. (The issue has not yet been posted on-line, so I cannot link to it here.)

An article titled “The Year in Review” can be found on page 11. It begins by mentioning the addition of three new faculty members at TSM. Two of the three are ordained, but neither is an Episcopalian. (I can verify Episcopal clergy on-line but have no sure way of identifying Episcopalian laypeople.) The story later notes that, last summer, “we had the opportunity to participate in three major denominational conventions,” namely, the Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, and the Convocation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). I can attest that TSM was represented at the General Convention, but I think it more significant that TSM had a presence at the ACNA gathering—ACNA was formed largely by congregations “liberated” from The Episcopal Church, ably assisted by TSM faculty and graduates—and the NALC Convocation. (NALC split from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with which The Episcopal Church is in full communion.) In reality, although TSM serves many churches, it is most conspicuously the principal seminary for ACNA.

Page 14 for Seed & Harvest lists TSM’s Board of Trustees and Faculty. (This information is also available on the TSM Web site.) Sixteen faculty members are listed, 10 of whom are ordained. Only three are Episcopalian; Dean and President Justyn Terry is not among them. Of the 25 trustees, I could identify only two Episcopal clergy, one of whom, the Rt. Rev. Greg Brewer, is bishop of the very conservative Diocese of Central Florida. The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence is also on the board, but, of course, he is no longer an Episcopalian. Most of the remaining names, both of clergy and laypeople, are known to me to be ACNA members, including chairman Wicks Stephens, Robert Duncan, and Alison Barfoot. Geoffrey Chapman (of infamous Chapman Letter fame) is among the retiring trustees.

It must be admitted that TSM is working hard to to achieve acceptance among Episcopalians. The seminary is physically within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and it has not only had a presence at diocesan conventions, but has also provided food for receptions. Moreover, I don’t mean to suggest that all the school’s graduates remaining in The Episcopal Church—many are in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh—are members of a fifth column. I believe it is time to admit, however, that TSM has lost any legitimacy it may have had to be considered an Episcopal seminary.

Postscript. I can offer an earlier post on my blog to suggest the nature of TSM’s influence and that of its supporters. As I suggested earlier, I do not intend to be offering the definitive case against the school here.

December 9, 2012

“Jingle Bells” Misunderstood

When I was a young child, I was under the mistaken impression that there were two distinct songs, “Jingle Bells” and “Dashing Through the Snow,” that were sometimes sung together. The two melodies seemed too different to be part of the same composition. Somehow, I overlooked the relatedness of the words associated with those melodies, which might have disabused me of my misunderstanding. I don’t remember when I realized that “Jingle Bells” and “Dashing Through the Snow” were really parts of the same song, a song that includes a chorus.

By the way, some interesting facts about “Jingle Bells” can be found on Wikipedia.

Do any readers share my childhood misunderstanding?

One-horse open sleigh

December 7, 2012

Blog Updates

Under the heading LINKS at the right, I have added two links. You can now go directly to my Facebook page or to my page on Twitter.

I have also updated my blog table of contents. I have been remiss in adding new blog posts to the table of contents, but I am now up-to-date.

I suspect that most readers are unaware of this blog’s table of contents, as such a listing is not a common feature of blogs. (A link to the table of contents can also be found under LINKS.) I also suspect that the feature is more useful to me than to my readers, but perhaps not. In any case, since I do not tag posts with keywords, one cannot use tags to find related posts. Both the table of contents and the search box on the Blogger toolbar at the top of blog pages can be used to find a particular post or related posts. If you have a good idea of when a post appeared, the blog archive, also shown in the right column, can be useful.

December 4, 2012

“Hawk!” the Herald Angels Sing

Ideas often spring from multiple  influences. The day after Thanksgiving, I was stalking eagles, hawks, and waterfowl in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Now my choir is preparing music for Advent and Christmas. Somehow, these activities inspired the verse below that is intended to be sung to the familiar Mendelssohn tune for “Hark! the herald angels sing.”

“Hark! the herald angels sing” was originally penned by the prolific hymnist Charles Wesley, though his version began “Hark, how all the welkin rings, / Glory to the King of Kings!” Wesley associate George Whitefield is responsible for changing that into the opening we have come to know.

I have often found that first couplet of the text strange or ambiguous. What is being said by the poet, and what is being said by the angels? The confusion is encouraged by the fact that the hymn has been variously printed. The current Episcopal hymnal renders the first couplet as “Hark! the herald angels sing / glory to the new-born King!” I have an older Presbyterian hymnal that shows this as “Hark, the herald angels sing, / “Glory to the new-born King; … !” (Two versions of words and music can be found here and here.) On reflection, by the way, “Hark,” meaning harken to, is not intended to be a word spoken by the angels.

My verse, a parody, really, is below. I have formatted it in my own usual style rather than trying to follow any particular rendering of the traditional hymn in a hymnal or elsewhere.

“Hawk!” the Herald Angels Sing

“Hawk!” the herald angels sing;
“Watch those raptors on the wing!”

“Peace on earth,” the angels cry,
Struggling hard to rule the sky.

Joy they bring to those below
While large birds dart to-and-fro.

Angels, guard your wings and face
As you sing of heav’ly grace.

“Hawk!” the herald angels sing;
“Watch those raptors on the wing!”

Angel and hawk