December 31, 2013

Merry Christmas?

As every good Episcopalian knows, Christmas does not end on December 25; it begins on that date. Christmas continues through January 5. Epiphany, the following liturgical season, begins on January 6. Most of what secular society thinks of as the Christmas season is, liturgically, at any rate, Advent. Advent is a time of preparation for the Incarnation, but, in the population imagination, it might be designated the Shopping season.

Prior to December 25 of this year, I mostly refrained from wishing people “Merry Christmas,” though I did reciprocate if someone wished me the same. (I considered telling strangers “Blessed Advent” but concluded that people would simply find that weird.) Since Christmas is now here, I’ve decided that I should begin wishing “Merry Christmas” to people with whom I interact.

I must report that this is not going well. In doing Christmas shopping (i.e., post-Shopping-season shopping), I have wished a number of sales clerks “Merry Christmas.” So far, I have elicited three different reactions. The first person I greeted responded to “Merry Christmas” with “Happy New Year,” which is something of a non sequitur. Others simply ignored me. And the woman at Dairy Queen  closed her drive-up window before I could say anything at all.

Well, Merry Christmas!

Christmas wreath

December 24, 2013

A Bizarre Parkway Experience

I was driving toward Pittsburgh on the Parkway East a few miles from the Squirrel Hill Tunnel the other day and saw flashing lights ahead of me. As I approached them, three flatbed PennDOT trucks carrying large illuminated signboards pulled away from the shoulder and positioned themselves parallel to one another, each in one of the three traffic lanes. The signs, which are usually used to display arrows, each showed a horizontal row of yellow lights. Two police cars pulled in behind the trucks.

I was driving in the center lane and found myself directly behind the police car in my lane. I kept back a few car lengths, and the cars in the lanes to my left and right kept a bit farther back. I had been traveling 55 MPH or so but suddenly found myself is a strange procession moving at about 5 MPH. What, I thought, was going on? Traffic was backing up behind me. I have no idea how far.

We proceeded at the same slow pace. I saw no accident or construction that might provide an explanation for what was happening. About a mile down the road, all the vehicles in front of me pulled off to the shoulder, and traffic resumed its accustomed pace. On the roadway to my left, however, I could see vehicles that had likewise slowed outbound traffic to a crawl. They, too, seemed to be pulling off the road. As I resumed normal speed, although I didn’t know how many cars were backed up behind me, I could see that the outbound lanes were jam-packed.

There seemed to be no purpose to the delay I had just experienced. Was it akin to the bizarre lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that may have been some sort of political retribution?  Who knows?

December 23, 2013

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, 2013

I wrote the poem below in 2002 and added it to my Web site, along with a description of its origin. I’ve posted it occasionally at this time of year. Merry Christmas to all, in spite of everything.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
by Lionel Deimel


The jingle bells are back,
Ringing jingle-jangle ding-dong-ding
On the street corners and at the mall,
Where the giant Damoclean snowflakes
Hang menacingly from the store ceilings
Over the heads of the make-up consultants,
Displaying their perfect faces, Santa Claus hats,
And belligerent helpfulness.

The colored outdoor lights are back,
Contending with high-pressure, sodium streetlamps
To banish night and veil the pallid twinkle of the stars,
Letting the phosphor-white icicles,
Dripping electrically from the eaves,
Highlight the unnatural landscape
Of rotund, glow-from-within snowmen
And teams of gene-damaged reindeer.

The entertainments are back—
The last-minute, Oscar-hopeful blockbusters
Playing beside cheap trifles luring the momentarily vulnerable;
Pick-up-choir, stumbling-through-the-notes Messiahs
Competing with earnest Amahls and Peanuts Specials;
The cute-but-clumsy, tiny ballerinas tripping through Nutcrackers
Sorely in need of crowd control;
And the latest made-for-TV, hanky-wrenching, feel-good melodrama.

The emotions are back,
With love-thy-neighbor, brotherhood-of-man yearnings
Schizophrenically vying with loathing for the driver ahead,
As we pursue our private quests
For perfect love-showing, obligation-meeting, or indifference-disguising gifts,
Our anticipating the giving-terror, receiving-embarrassment,
The disappointing joy, and the exhilarating letdown assuring us at last
That Christmas is upon us.

Snowflake  Snowflake  Snowflake

December 16, 2013

Lessons and Carols at St. Andrew’s

Cover of bulletin
I read the third lesson at A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols yesterday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Highland Park. I read Isaiah 9:2, 6–7 from the Authorized Version.

The passage is very familiar (“For unto us a child is born,” etc.). I had trouble with verse 7, however. In the Authorized Version, the verse reads as follows:
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
The first sentence is clearly a run-on sentence. It took a friend to point out that it is a sentence with one too few verbs. Until I realized that, I spent untold time trying to figure out the grammatical structure of the sentence in order to figure out how to read it.

More modern translations render the verse much more sensibly. For example, the New Revised Standard Version offers this version of verse 7:
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The New International Version translates the verse this way:
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
My solution to the reading problem was simply to read verse 7 as if it actually made sense. This seems to have work just fine.

The service, by the way, was glorious. The St. Andrew’s choirs performed to their usual high standards. Yesterday was the first time I had attended a service in the church with its newly installed floor, and I was impressed. Aisles are quarry tile, and hardwood is below the pews. (The center aisle has smaller tiles in two colors bordering the central tiles—a nice touch.) The result is a sound that envelops the listener.

December 12, 2013

Back Together

Earlier this year, I took an on-line songwriting course. I’ve only just gotten around to revising and posting the song I wrote as my last assignment, “Back Together.” Warning: it involves adult themes. (That’s to get you to read and listen to it.) You can find the song on my Web site here.


December 8, 2013

St. David’s Update

The Rev. Kris McInnes
The Rev. Kris McInnes
From time to time, people ask me how St. David’s, Peters Township, is doing. The diocese does not always give us updates, not even when there are significant deployment changes. We are likely to get even less news next year, for which there are significant cuts to the diocesan communications budget.

St. David’s, whose congregation left the Episcopal diocese for the Anglican diocese and then returned the property with but a skeleton congregation, seems to be doing pretty well. St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, which had been helping St. David’s in its efforts to become a healthy, mainstream Episcopal parish, today held a reception for the Rev. Kris McInnes, who is shedding most of his duties at St. Paul’s to become the sole priest-in-charge at St. David’s at the start of the new year.

The changes for St. David’s and for St. Paul’s were explained in an e-mail notice sent to St. Paul’s parishioners on November 22:
In May of 2012 we entered into a companion relationship with St. David’s Episcopal Church in Peters Township. When the property and a remnant of the congregation returned to the Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s agreed to a two-year relationship in which Kris and I would serve as Priests-in-Charge of St. David’s to work with its members to help heal and rebuild the parish. In exchange for our help, the Diocese agreed to provide funding during those two years for half of the cost of an Assistant Rector for St. Paul’s, thus allowing us to call the Rev. Michelle Boomgaard on a full time basis rather than a half time basis.

Rebuilding has gone well at St. David’s, due in large part to the hard work and commitment of Kris along with the members of the congregation. In 18 months St. David’s has grown to the point that it is larger than the average parish in the Diocese, and is well on its way to self-sustainability. Therefore, the Bishop and I, in consultation with Kris, have decided that effective January 1, 2014, Kris will become the sole Priest-in-Charge at St. David’s on an almost full time basis. He will continue a limited role at St. Paul’s as Assisting Priest, helping with occasional 6 pm and 8 am services and some pastoral care. Michelle will become our Associate Rector. The funds that the Diocese has been providing to help with her compensation will be redirected to St. David’s to help them provide Kris’ compensation.

This is a significant moment in the life of the Diocese, St. Paul’s, and St. David’s. We can be justly proud of our contributions to bringing St. David’s back to health and vitality. We can also be proud of having nurtured Kris in his journey from Curate to Assistant Rector to Associate Rector and now Priest-in-Charge. We will miss having Kris with us as much as we would like, but we can feel good about our contribution to the larger Church. We are very fortunate to have the services of Michelle who has become such an integral part of St. Paul’s over the past 18 months.

Kris will be preaching and celebrating at the 8:45 and 10:45 a.m. services on December 8. Please join us for what will likely be Kris’ final appearance at our main Sunday morning services. There will be a special reception in Kris’ honor between the two services. Please also consider making a contribution toward Kris’ St. David’s Discretionary Fund. Discretionary Funds are used by clergy to assist people in need in the parish and the community. You may write a check to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with “Kris” noted in the memo line.

Lou Hays+
The December 2013 newsletter of St. David’s includes a letter from Kris explaining the coming changes and reviewing the progress made by the parish:
You may not have heard that as of January 1, I will become the sole Priest in Charge at St. David’s and take on a very limited role at St. Paul’s as a pastoral assistant. This will make me full-time at St. David’s. I am so very happy to be able to make this move and I am confident it is where God is calling me to be.

When I started helping out at St. David’s I had some mixed feelings about coming home to the parish where I grew up. At the same time, I knew that St. Paul’s was in the best position to help the continuing parish of St. David’s and I welcomed the opportunity to help rebuild. In the year and a half since, we have seen tremendous growth and vitality return to St. David’s and I have found myself falling in love with this place and this community all over again in new and exciting ways.

Last year at this time the congregation was half the size it is now and there was tremendous uncertainty surrounding the future of our life together. Now, a year later, we are are stronger and more confident in our identity and mission.

A year ago, almost all of our Lay Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, and Altar Guild members were volunteers from St. Paul’s. Today we have a corps of about a dozen parishioners who fill these roles (and we are always looking for more who would like to join in). A year ago, the community garden was just an idea and today we look back on a harvest totaling almost 600 lbs of fresh, organically raised produce. Add to this the wonderful Acolytes that serve at the altar each week and the ever growing praise band and choir and we have a recipe for a bright future together.

There are such wonderful, loving people who call St. David’s home and I look forward to inviting many more members of the community to come and join the great worship and mission we have here. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people with which to share in the work.

With Love,
Fr. Kris
St. David’s is not yet self-supporting, but it is well on its way to becoming a stable parish. The diocese and the clergy and laypeople of St. Paul’s have been important in bringing St. David’s this far. A significant factor in the success of this enterprise has also been the small cadre of parishioners who chose to return with the physical plant to The Episcopal Church.

Not every property that has been returned to the diocese has benefited from the availability of a priest who is a son of the parish. I suspect that Kris’s connection to St. David’s was critical to the progress made there. Moreover, as Lou Hays implied, Kris has matured as a priest since he first came to St. Paul’s. There was reason to have doubts about the young priest in dreadlocks when he first came to St. Paul’s. His early sermons seemed to be informed more by the Internet Movie Database than by serious biblical scholarship or theological reflection. His farewell sermon today at St. Paul’s dispelled any residual doubts as to whether St. David’s was being left in good hands, however.

We should all be grateful for the ministry of the Rev. Kris McInnes and wish him well in his new position.

December 7, 2013

More Mispronunciations

A few years ago, I wrote a post titled “Trying Too Hard.” It was all about over-scrupulous (but misguided) pronunciation. For example, I noted that some people say skoo-wul for the single-syllable word “school.”

Tonight, I watched (via Comcast On Demand) the live production of The Sound of Music that was broadcast on NBC two nights ago. I caught two words pronounced incorrectly: “mittens” and “kittens.” These words should not be pronounced as mit-tens and kit-tens. Look it up.

December 5, 2013

Duncan Speaks Again

Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church of North America has again offered his views on developments in another church. (See also “Thoughts on the Duncan Statement,” in which I analyzed Duncan’s pronouncement about Bishop Dorsey McConnell’s recent pastoral letter.)

This time, the target of the archbishop’s displeasure is the Church of England, in particular, the recently released Pilling Report. That report endorses blessing same-sex unions and recommends church-wide facilitated conversations on human sexuality. It does not recommend any change in doctrine, but it does not rule out future change. Duncan, however, does. His attitude toward doctrine is quite conspicuous in his latest pronouncement (emphasis added):
The Church must not waiver from its received teaching. Scripture and the catholic consensus must be treated as givens, the attitude of the signatories not withstanding. Those who would re-construct the received moral order in the 21st century to respond to a culture bent on self-actualization, rather than dying to self, will do no better than those who—quite unsuccessfully but with much damage—in the 20th century sought to re-define the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ.
Conservatives have never quite gotten over Bishops Pike and Spong.

It was arrogant of the archbishop to comment on developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, though he at least has a connection, however troubled, to our diocese. Duncan has less of a connection to the Church of England, despite his attempts to assume the mantle of Anglicanism.

The two recent statements from Archbishop Duncan have many elements in common. They begin with positive statements—this part is quite abbreviated in the Pittsburgh statement—and follow up with his criticism, which suggests great disappointment on his part. That criticism emphasizes the need to avoid change and to engage in self-sacrifice. (Duncan seems to have a Puritan’s aversion to joy.) The statements conclude with a commitment to pray for all those benighted people who don’t understand the will of God the way he does. This last element is the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Southern expression “bless their hearts.”

I’m sure Archbishop Duncan is doing God’s will as best as he understands it.

Bless his heart.

December 4, 2013

Tunnel vs. Tunnels

Pittsburgh has three twin-bore vehicular tunnels. Two of these are now being rehabilitated, and the third was recently refurbished. Each carries its name on its portals. I began thinking about those names when I saw the newly rebuilt portals of what Pittsburghers generally refer to as the Liberty Tubes. Over the twin bores on both the north and south side of Mt. Washington are the words, incised in large capital letters, “LIBERTY TUNNELS.” (Liberty Tunnels has always been the official name of the bores.)

What is curious is that the names of the other tunnels are the “Fort Pitt Tunnel” and “Squirrel Hill Tunnel.” Worldwide, paired tunnels are generally given singular names. Why is “Liberty Tunnels” (or “Liberty Tubes”) plural? I have no idea.

December 1, 2013

Where Were You?

I wrote a song back in 2002 called “Where Were You?” I know a whole lot more about songwriting now than I did them—this may not be saying a lot—so I decided to clean up the song a bit. I changed the lyrics slightly and greatly improved the tune. The song is something of a romantic lament written in a woman’s voice. You can see the music here, listen to the tune here, and read about the song here.