At Christ Church Cathedral, children are invited to watch the Liturgy of the Table from the alter rail, thus bypassing all those tall people in the nave and choir blocking their view. Some places have Children’s Sermons, or Children’s Church, but to my mind, this experience beats them all. Here’s Zoey this morning, watching Father Lee preside. Just chalk it up as reason #143 why we worship here.
For the last several weeks, the Sunday Mass at the Cathedral has included the oft-neglected Eucharistic Prayer C, the so-called Star Trek Prayer. In all my time at the Cathedral, we’ve never used this option. (There are four Eucharistic Prayers in the Book of Common Prayer; prayers A and B are used most often and D, my very favorite, is usually reserved for the Easter Vigil.)
I admit I was less than enthusiastic about Prayer C; it has a different cadence than the others, sounds dated, rather than timeless like the other prayers, and it’s a little odd hearing the phrase “vast expanse of interstellar space” in a Eucharistic Prayer. However, Prayer C has grown on me. The news the last few weeks has been full of images from the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto. 3 billion miles away, New Horizons is sending back absolutely stunning images of that distant world. Did you know the two Voyager spacecraft, launched in the late ’70s, are still sending data and responding to commands, even as they both have now left the solar system and crossed into interstellar space? I’ve been browsing through the pictures NASA has released this week and well as reading from Jim Bell’s new book about the Voyager mission – The Interstellar Age and thinking about those words of thanksgiving. It is truly good and right to give thanks to God for “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.”
I recently had the opportunity to take a train to Oregon, a 40 hour journey. Most might balk at the thought of trundling along at 70 mph, making stops every hour or two along the way, and occasionally getting delayed by freight trains stuck in tunnels, but I’ve come to enjoy train travel, limited though it is for those of us not living in the Northeast. I read 4 books on my trip – all dutifully loaded onto my Nook via Overdrive beforehand – and I’d like to review two of them here.
I read this book, published in 1983 (making it nearly as old as I am, being, as it were, published in 1982) because it was suppose to be ‘steampunk‘. It was most definitely not steampunk, but no matter – The Anubis Gates was absolutely thrilling, difficult to put down, and very likely the best novel I’ve read this year. Even 30 years on, Tim Powers’ masterfully woven story of time travel, sorcerer-magicians, Lord Byron, Samuel Coleridge, demented clowns and long-dead gods, all perfectly blended with bits horror and humor, still makes for a grand adventure.
This is the fifth of Eco’s novels I’ve read and each time I pick one up, I get the same overwhelming sense – like drowning by book. But I should really should have more faith in Eco by now because undoubtedly 50 pages in, I’m totally hooked. Such was the case with The Prague Cemetery. Eco is a gifted storyteller, bringing alive history, philosophy, theology and more, in stories that, while complex, reward careful reading. The protagonist – Simone Simonini, a raging anti-Semite – is thoroughly repulsive but captivating nonetheless.
I’ve been poking around various books the last month or so looking for a novel that would really draw me in. Within a day, I found two – each quite different, but both examples of real quality and exciting futures within their respective genres.
The first, Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale, is an alternative history of the Roman Empire expanding to North America in the 13th century. Smale doesn’t really give details about how the Roman Empire lasted 800 years later than it did in reality, but don’t let that bother you. The story he’s telling is plenty entertaining even without a clear point of divergence that normally establishes the alternate history genre. Though I live only a few hours away from the site of the Mississippian city of Cahokia (near St. Louis), my knowledge of that pre-Columbian culture is next to nothing. So there was an element of discovery and learning with each chapter. I give Smale credit for the inventive juxtaposition of Native American vs. Roman, which as far as I can tell, is genuinely different from other alternate histories. The story is pretty straight forward, but full of great battle sequences and excitement building toward two more as-yet-unwritten installments.
The second book that grabbed my attention was The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner, with its beautiful prose and interesting characters. The story is narrated by Cordelia Kings, heir to the family lobstering business, struggling to preserve her family’s way of life. I loved the story’s setting – Loosewood Island, straddling the US/Canadian border – and all it’s accompanying mythology. The island is really another character in this intense (Shakespearean, even!) family drama , which you may know, is a favorite trope of mine.
Sometimes I find myself smiling when I think back 10 years ago, sitting across the table from a stern-faced Elder who told me straight up that my “eternal soul was in jeopardy” because I was questioning the role of women in the Church. Specifically, that women had a role in the Church. Say what you will, but this guy never beat around bush or left any room for ambiguity. Women couldn’t be leaders in the church. Period. Any visible role – even public reading of Scripture or passing communion trays – was de facto leadership. Period. Therefore, these actions were the exclusive, God-ordered realm of men (and select boys whose consciences were sufficiently bothered by thoughts of eternal hellfire that they got baptized at age 6.) Period. After subsequent meetings with the whole board of Elders failed to assuage my doubts, I was asked to leave, which was a bit traumatic at the time, but looking back, was in fact, a blessing.
About a year or so later, I was regularly attending an Episcopal Church, and received communion for the first time outside of the church I was raised in, and from the hand of a female priest no less. Another year or so still, and the Rt. Rev. (and awesome) Catherine Waynick, Bishop of Indianapolis, would lay hands on and pray over me, confirming me in the faith, and receiving me into the Episcopal Church. So anyway, I smile now when I think back to that Sunday afternoon.
I admit to being a little jealous of Rachel Held Evans. She and I are close in age, and faced similar crises of faith as young adults. When confronted with questions and doubts about biblical inerrancy, literal readings of Genesis 1, theodicy, salvation and more, she wrote a book and started a blog, tackling these issues head-on and with more humor, grace and style than I could ever muster. Her new book, Searching for Sunday, follows in line with her other work – thoughtful, smart, candid, funny and all with her distinctive voice shining through. Like I said, I’m jealous.
My jealousy aside, the first thing I liked about Searching for Sunday was Rachel’s decision to structure this book around the sacraments. Though we usually associate talk of sacraments with the Catholic and Orthodox churches, Evans makes a good point that nearly all Christian traditions hold that God can be encountered in and through the physical. Most churches have some sacramental understanding of even if they don’t often use that word. Her vignettes at the start of each section
could be should be republished as a teaching aid for catechumenate classes. When people ask why I ended up in the Episcopal Church, I say, “the sacraments, the historic liturgy and Book of Common Prayer, the sacraments, the middle way of Anglicanism, the sacraments, women in leadership, the sacraments, my questions are welcomed, have I mentioned the sacraments? Water, bread, wine, oil, incense, bowing, kneeling, touching, saying – all become, within the community of the church, conduits of God’s grace and salvation.
When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again….[the sacraments] reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church. [p. 18]
The other thing I greatly appreciated about this book – and Rachel has taken some heat for this, which, frankly, baffles me – is the esteem she holds for the people and churches that formed her faith early in life, even as she wrestled with serious questions along the way. Some have read this book as a denominational spat, evangelical vs. mainline. This is a serious mischaracterization of the book. [Confession: I smiled and gave a little ‘Woo, TEC’ when I first read, a month or so ago, that Rachel and Dan were regulars at an Episcopal Church.] But my blithe denominationalism isn’t found in Rachel’s book. Again, my jealousy. I’ve wrestled for the last 10 years with how to honor the places and people who first taught me about Jesus and Bible, who baptized me, prayed for me, formed me in ways I likely haven’t yet processed.
I realize I can no more break up with my religious heritage than I can with my parents. I may not worship in an evangelical church anymore or even embrace evangelical theology, but as long as I have an investment in the church universal, I have an investment in the community that first introduced me to Jesus. Like it or not, I’ve got skin in the game. [p.196]
Besides being jealous, I am glad Rachel Held Evans wrote this book. As she’s discovered through her blog, her experiences of doubt are shared by many, many people. She’s brave for sharing these stories with us and working through a process of moving forward – doubts still with us, for sure – with integrity and hope.
Why be boring and publish a year-end list of books at the actual year’s end? Here’s a list of a few books that I read in 2014 and stuck with me into the new year.
The good folks over at Brick City Depot have put out a lovely book full of ideas for your LEGO city. It includes great pictures and tips for making modular-style buildings to fit in with the official LEGO sets as well as all the little details, like lamposts, park benches, furniture, etc. that bring your LEGO city to life. The book also includes instructions for several townhouses, and for the old-fashioned soda fountain/pharmacy building pictured on the cover.
I love a good post-apocalyptic novel and plenty of not-so-good ones too. If you’re scared off by the phrase ‘post-apocalyptic’, this book just might win you over. The apocalytpic stuff is really just a device for delivering a moving story about great characters. What more could you want from a book? Follow the Traveling Symphony (motto: Because survival is insufficient), a troupe of actors and musicians who journey around the Great Lakes, performing Shakespeare and classical music for the small pockets of humanity still around after a world-wide pandemic re-shapes civilization years earlier.
I read this book on the recommendation of two people whom I greatly admire – one a theologically conservative Christian, the other quite firmly in the liberal camp. Any book that gets a good word from both sides grabs my attention. Once I started reading Pastrix, it became clear why it was recommended. Nadia is herself quite liberal; she pastors a Lutheran community in Denver called The House for All Sinners and Saints. (To my great delight, she’s also an ex-Church-of-Christer!) But unlike some theological liberals who have a tendency to downplay or dismiss our sinful nature, our brokenness, and our clear need for a Savior, Nadia lays it all out for us to see (and God to use). She shies away from nothing, and while she levels plenty of criticism at the conservative theology found in much of the Church, the truly interesting parts of this book are her blistering critique of her own liberal tradition. I found this to be a great guide for molding a humble yet progressive faith in Christ.
A thrilling and largely satisfying ending to a brilliant modern fantasy series (are you paying attention, George? This is how it’s done.) My favorite book in the series in still the second – the Magician King – which stands out because of the engrossing story of Julia, who is a secondary character in the first novel. Still, Magician’s Land ties together the first two and concludes Grossman’s razor sharp yet loving critique of fantasy fiction, especially C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. I realized while reading these books that I can’t wait to share the Narnia books with my daughter in a few years. I hope she always lets her dad recommend books to her.
Part of me is very pissed that George R.R. Martin is writing 10,000 words of back story for his magnum opus instead of working feverishly to FINISH THE [your choice of expletive] BOOK ALREADY. Write for me, monkey! Write! You started this epic during Bill Clinton’s first term! Finish it! *deep breath*
Another part of me is profoundly grateful for whatever scraps Westerosi-based literature that Master George deigns to throw at me, worm that I am. Naturally, I ate it up immediately and loved it. Back story aside, the artwork is fantastic and nearly worth the price of the book alone. Nearly.
LEGO recently revealed the newest set in their Creator Expert series (often simply called “modulars” by fans for the way the buildings can snap together to form a street scene). It’s been a year since the release of the last modular building – the Parisian Restaurant – a set so wonderfully detailed, inside and out – it set the bar on future Creator sets very, very high.
As rumored, the new set is The Detective’s Office! Here is LEGO designer Jamie Berard (who has perhaps the best job in the world) explaining the new set.
The variety of actions and businesses represented here is a marked departure from earlier sets in this series, though I do not, in any way, see this as bad thing. Indeed, my first impressions of the set are great! With a pool hall, a private detective’s office, a barber shop, and two floors of that may or may not be intended as an apartment – the pattern of 32- or 16-stud wide buildings is finally broken up!
The Detective’s Office also dramatically expands on the story-telling element in the series, with significant play features not usually found in this line. The first Modular set – 2007’s Cafe Corner – featured several mini figures, but offered no interior detail. 2009’s Fire Brigade included a fairly detailed interior, and each successive set has added interior detail and story features. With the Town Hall, we had a couple getting married, the Parisian Restaurant featured a couple getting engaged (sort of a love theme running through these). The Detective’s Office, as explained in the Designer video, really steps up the storyline however. The pool hall, barber shop, and rooms above are all part of a cookie and candy smuggling operation, which the gumshoe, Ace Brickman, must uncover. This smuggling theme fits nicely in my city and will compliment the Camoflauged Outpost-inspired MOC, as the criminal underground grows.
Not sure, but I suspect this is first time the Bishop of Rome has had an audience with a female bishop : Pope Francis meets with the Rt. Rev. Cate Waynick, Bishop of Indianapolis and my diocesan bishop! Bishop Cate is on the Board of Governors of the Anglican Centre in Rome, which works for cooperation between the Anglican and Roman churches.
Photo from Diocese of Indianapolis website