Thursday, May 31, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Small Solution on Energy

One hundred and thirty years ago, there was a fascinating competition in American business. Thomas Edison and his company, General Electric, promoted the use of direct current to provide electricity to American homes and businesses. His rival, George Westinghouse, promoted alternating current. Westinghouse (who employed my father's grandfather) won out. We all use AC current today.

The advantages of direct current would be a great help today: It allows for the direct storage of power in batteries, which would be great in modern devices like computers and cars (which run on direct current produced through that boxy thing on the power cord). This disadvantage, though, was fatal: It could not be efficiently transmitted long distances. Westinghouse promoted the building of giant dams to provide hydroelectric energy, which required the capacity to transmit the power long distances. Edison's idea required smaller, local plants (like the powerhouse in the painting above).

My dad thinks it is time to think about local energy generation again-- wind, solar, water, and other facilities that would be locally controlled and not rely on the larger grid and coal plants (though for practical reasons we would stick with AC).

Good idea?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


The essence of good pizza

Last night I tried a new pizza place a few blocks from my house-- Pizza Lola. Edina and nearby Minneapolis neighborhoods already have plenty of good pizza-- Carbones, Mazza Mia, Michelangelo's, and Pizza Luce-- but this is something a little different.

At the center of Lola is a big copper pizza oven that dominates the space. That's where the magic happens. It's always fascinated me to watch people work with a wood-burning pizza oven like this one, and the layout here makes that easy.

The pizza is pretty great. The owners are Korean, and have added some Korean elements to the pizza, such as kimchee and Korean barbecue. That said, the star of the show is a fabulous pepperoni and sausage pizza that is the best I've had. The sauce was just right, and the dough was chewy without fighting back.

Here's the question: What do you think makes a great pizza? The sauce? The dough? The toppings? And what makes a cruddy pizza bad?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



Am I good at baseball? No-- I'm terrible!
Do I understand baseball? Not so well.
Is my favorite team any good? No.

But still...

Monday, May 28, 2012


Haiku winner: Nancy's sister

There were some phenomenal entries this past Friday-- I encourage you to read them all.

There were many fans of RRL's work:

Be yourself, unless
you can be Batman. If so,
always be Batman.


Every rose has its
thorn. Just like every night has
its dawn. And just like

every cowboy, sings
a sad, sad song, every rose
has its thorn...guitar.

And I certainly appreciated and understood this anonymous entry!

God is love, and part
of that is community.

However, the one I found most moving was this, from "Nancy's Sister:"

She wrote it in blood
with the last beat of her heart:
Love you. Love is all.

I'm pretty sure that Nancy's Sister is one of the two surviving sisters of Nancy Bishop Langert, Jennifer and Jeanne, because that is exactly what Nancy did when she was murdered-- you can read their story here, which pretty much moots the need for a biography this week. Some things should not be reworked.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Sunday Reflection: A Question About Paul

[Click on the photo to enlarge it-- I took this picture this morning at 7 on the little bridge over Minnehaha Creek by my house]

In response to my article on gay marriage (and congratulations, Randy Roberts Potts, on your wedding yesterday!), I received this very sensible inquiry:

Hi there.

I was intrigued by your article and in fact read it several times. While I was raised extremely conservatively I have always been struck by the hypocrisy of the church when interacting with homosexuality. If a person believes homosexuality is sin, its seems s/he would be equally disturbed by all others violating biblical sexual ethics, which I rarely find to be the case. Many church pews are occupied by adulterers, pornographers, divorcees, and fornicators while the judgment seems aimed at the gay/lesbian lifestyle.

I thought many points in your article were worth consideration, and do believe Peter would have advocated that God loves the homosexual the same as any other. I have never thought of Peter as the rock the church was built on, but rather his confession that Jesus was the Christ, but that is tangential. My question to you is not regarding the Old Testament, as there are so many laws and precepts we disregard. What do you think about the passage in the end of Romans 1? I mean you no disrespect and do not seek to argue, and sincerely hope you will answer, as I would like the opportunity to have your thoughts.


Here was my response:

I think the Bible makes clear what the difference is, in terms of context, between the message of Jesus and the message of Paul. What Jesus teaches is of his Father—it is God’s word to us about what is important. Jesus keeps it simple and general; for example, when asked which of the 600+ commandments of the Torah is most important, he gives the Two Great Commandments. That is the guide for my life, though I am often failing.

Paul is a historical figure who is important but is neither divine nor a prophet (and claims neither status). He is important in building the early church, and had to do so in the context of what existed at that time. His statements on women in the church, for example, don’t make sense anymore in our society, but they did in the context where he was trying to build a church, perhaps.

I try to defer to every teaching of Christ, even the ones that don’t make sense to me or are hard to follow (ie, obeying the Sabbath is very difficult). Paul does not have the same authority. If everyone who writes in the Bible had the same authority, what does that make Jesus? One among many and something less than the son of God, and that isn't right.

In other words, once we start making every bit of the Bible equally normative-- when a story in Genesis or a line in Ephesians becomes as important as Christ's Two Great Commandments-- it stops being Christian. This view of the Bible may allow us to argue for nearly anything with Biblical support, but it denies the specialness of Christ, and that is what is at the heart of my faith, and that is why I choose love over judgment.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Portrait of Grimace as a Young Man... or whatever he is.

First McDonald's Opens With A Young Grimace Just Starting Out As A Cashier

Friday, May 25, 2012


Haiku Friday: Faith in a nutshell

[click on the picture to enlarge it]

So, for haiku Friday, let's get down to core principles. I know that not everyone has what they would call a "faith," but most of us have some kind of guiding principle, even if we haven't articulated it before. So, let's do that-- boil it down, make it a haiku (more or less), and the winner gets their bio here on Monday.

Here is mine:

What matters the most?
just two things: There is a God,
And God is not me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday: Who would want to be in Congress, anyways?

As we enter the political season running up to the next election, I am beginning to wonder who would want these jobs. After all:

1) The pay isn't that great relative to private sector jobs.
2) Expenses are high, if you try to maintain a home in DC and one in your District.
3) The campaigns are brutal, and people will dig up anything and everything you ever did.
4) Candidates spend much of their time groveling for money, and
5) The atmosphere in DC is pretty poisonous, too.

Seriously, though-- who would want that job, and why?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


My Far-Flung Correspondents....

I'm still receiving a deluge of email re gay marriage, because the CNN piece refuses to die of natural causes-- it is now up at the top of the "Spotlight" section on Google news. Much of the email I am getting is wonderful-- thoughtful support or disagreement. Some of it is... well, different. Here are excerpts, for example, from a very very long note I received from "Henry & Tamara:"

Dear Mr. Osler,

I am compelled to respond directly to you since Belief Blog of CNN wouldn’t publish my comments in reference to your article “My Take: The Christian case for gay marriage," due to their anti-Christian bigotry, and their pro-homosexual bias.

You say, “I am a Christian, and I am in favor of gay marriage,” but that is an oxymoron since the Bible states, “What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? You can’t serve both, God and your perversion....

You are a Christian like you are a Choo Choo Train or an Automobile or an Airplane, otherwise you would have known without a shadow of a doubt that homosexuality is a filthy perversion practiced by those that God gave over to shameful lusts as stated in Romans 1: 26- 27, “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

...Here is how the English Dictionary defines the word Perversion: “A sexual practice or act considered abnormal or deviant.”

What could be more perverted than a penis entering the anus that is specifically designed by God with the sole purpose of evacuating excrement out of the body?

It is obvious that you are another self-deceived sodomite with fancy titles preying on the ignorant, gullible, and vulnerable.

There is nothing to prevent sodomites/pedophiles from marrying mere children as soon as they succeed in lowering the age of sexual consent through NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association.

The fact is that sodomites are determined to homosexualize the culture as stated by them in the issue of Gay Community News. Sodomite Michael Swift published “The Homosexual Manifesto” an essay on the homosexual revolution, stating in part. “We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of you shallow dreams and vulgar lies. We shall seduce them in your schools, in your dormitories, in your gymnasiums, in your locker rooms, in your sports arenas, in your seminaries, in your youth groups, in your movie theater bathrooms, in your army bunkhouses, in your truck stops, in your all-male clubs, in your houses of Congress, wherever men are with men together. Your sons shall become our minions and do our bidding.”

And in February 15-21 1987, the “The Homosexual Manifesto” was added to the Congressional Record.

And in November 1987, sodomites Marshall K. Kirk and Erastes Pill published another article, this time in Guide Magazine titled, “The Overhauling of Straight America” stating in part, “The first order of business is desensitization of the American public concerning gays and gay rights. To desensitize the public is to help it view homosexuality with indifference instead of with keen emotion. Ideally, we would have straights register differences in sexual preference the way they register different tastes for ice cream or sports games: she likes strawberry and I like vanilla; he follows baseball and I follow football. No big deal.”

It is obvious that the Overhauling of Straight America was written with the sole purpose of homosexualizing the culture, and demonize opponents opposed to the normalization of sodomy.

You said, “The question before us now is not whether homosexuality is a sin, but whether being gay should be a bar to baptism or communion or marriage.”

... here is what Jesus Christ says in Revelation 21, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the SEXUALLY IMMORAL, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Consider the matter very carefully since it has eternal consequences, if you don’t have Jesus Christ living in you, and standing next to you as your advocate right after you die, you are doomed.

You must repent, admit, and confess to God that you are a sinner misusing the Holy name of his beloved son Jesus Christ to advance the homosexual agenda, and he will forgive you, and God will give you a new heart that will be willing and able to follow his Commandments.

However, if you refuse, you will be thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur with unbelievers, idolaters, liars, thieves, self-seekers, murderers, witches, warlocks, pedophiles, zoophile lesbians, and homosexuals, and with those that love and practices falsehood.



Socialism! Lower Taxes! Liquor!

Yesterday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a great story about the fate of municipal liquor stores in Minnesota. They are very common here, though their success varies.

The story describes Edina's city-owned liquor stores as a "rock star," making as much money as the 137 worst-performing stores in the state, and raking in over $6 million in profit from one store alone (that being the one pictured above). Intriguingly, this success comes amidst real competition-- I live in Edina, close to a Costco, a Trader Joe's, and several other stores that sell beer, wine, and liquor. And yet... the city-owned store thrives.

The upshot is this: Property taxes are 4% lower than they would be otherwise.

That's some socialism you can believe in!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Did you know...

That many of the things on the blog, including haiku Friday and Sunday Reflections, were not my idea originally? They were the idea of readers who convinced me to do it. Most of the good ideas, after all, were yours-- my ideas were mostly about things like selling the blog to the French.

So... what might you like to see here in the future? Let me know.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Haiku Winner: The Spanish Medievalist!

Of course he won! His haiku was awesome:

White t-shirt and jeans,
Boulevard of broken dreams,
I can be James Dean.

And now, forthwith, his bio:

El medievalista español es un fuerte y hombre. Proviene de las llanuras de América, teniendo los valores sólidos y protección de ingle sincero de la gente de esa zona. Nacido un luterano, hizo el trabajo misionero en lo más profundo de Dinamarca, llevar la palabra de Dios a ese oscuro (en invierno, de todas formas) esquina del mundo.

Ahora, el medievalista español es venerado como un Dios en el campus de la Universidad de Baylor, un orgulloso portador de la leyenda: ganador de Haiku!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Ooh! Episco-tastic!

My CNN piece is now up on "The Lead" at the Episcopal Cafe blog. Thanks for the tip, Neil Alan Willard!


Sunday Reflection: From the Razor Mailbag!

After the response to our piece last month on CNN about Trayveon Martin and the February piece I did there on abortion, I expected a reaction to yesterday's piece on gay marriage. Well, I got it-- over 6,000 comments, more than 11,000 Facebook recommends, and over 200 emails from people who took the trouble to track me down. I'd like to share with you some of the good, bad, and ugly from the e-mailbag today.

But, first, I just want to say... much of this response makes me extremely grateful to work at St. Thomas and with colleagues like Teresa Collett. Teresa, I am sure, completely, certainly, and wholly disagrees with me. Yet, she does so in a way that is Christian, loving, intelligent, well-informed, and principled. More than once, she has come to me with a disagreement, and has been right... and I changed my mind or corrected a careless statement.

And now, the mailbag. (I will use only first names here, and have included verbatim excerpts).

This message came to me from Kenneth, who echoed many other writers:

You are NOT a Christian. That's easy to see. You said, "[t]he reason I am for gay marriage is because of my faith," yet Jesus said, "go and sin no more," to the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:11).

Interestingly, dozens of writers pointed me to one of my favorite verses, John 8 (where Jesus condemns a legal execution). Of course, as regular readers know, I find it very odd that the lesson people draw from this is that we are to go around telling people to "go and sin no more." That only works if we put ourselves in the person of Jesus. How arrogant is that!?! I am not God. We are clearly the people with rocks in their hands, who are being taught by Jesus-- and being taught that we can have the moral authority to cast stones only if we are without sin (and none of us are). Perspective matters, and we are the sinners, not Jesus.

More pointed, and less nuanced, was this friendly note from Daniel:

You should keep your mouth shut, you are causing real Christian to look like total idiots. The Bible says you should abstain from the mere appearance of evil.

You have done the opposite. I feel sorry for you. All this to make a name for yourself, maybe a book deal or what??

You should just come out of the closet and admit you are a pervert that wants to engage in a same sex relationship or have you already?? Again don't tell me, I don't really want to know.

You sound like someone in denial or a laden homosexual trying to find a way to justify what you lust after. God doesn't not hate people but sin, you seem to have forgotten that.

Sex has a purpose, reproduction. I mean this isn't hard to figure out. This is impossible between two men or two women. I'm pretty sure the reproduction process requires two different sets of plumbing.

Therefore the sex act between two men, sodomy is not a natural act and is immoral. And we've got AIDS for it that we all have to deal with now. I hope you get fired not for hurt or harm to yourself but for the damage you are doing poisoning young minds with you ideology that is so queer.

You have perverting the teaching's of Christ, you got it all wrong. You are an offense to every born again believer and to God Himself!

JJ, like many others, seemed to miss my reference to Leviticus in the article:

I would implore you to retract your article, if you are truly a Christian how can you say your faith approves gay and lesbian marriage when gods word says the following > Seriously, do you even read your bible??

Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination."

Andy wrote the following anti-Catholic screed not only to me, but to the administration at my Catholic law school, which is a little confusing (sorry, guys!):

The word repent means a lot more than what by nature you have been conditioned to believe. And when you do repent you will learn that you are not a Christian and a follower of Christ but rather a follower of an image of a false god and false Christ (Matthew 24:24). You will also learn that Peter was not the ‘rock’ or the first Pope. There were no Popes for more than four hundred years after Christ’s death. We encourage you to read the article ‘Popes and the Princes of This World’ listed on our website and after you do your research please do advise us of anything that is not true what has been written.

Tony sent the shortest note:


In addition to a suggestion that I be thrown into a lake of fire by a writer named Patrick, there was this from someone of the same name:


You're an asshole...not a Christian. I figured someone that is honest should tell you. Now you know in case you were confused.

God bless,


Got it! However, there was also grace and support in some other notes, like this one from Marilyn:

What a beautifully written piece on the sanctity of the sacraments and that none of us may deny them to others who freely choose them for themselves. As a heterosexual, Roman Catholic Christian, my response to fellow Christians who have attempted to gain my support for legislation against gay marriage is that our sexual orientation is biological and as such was determined by God; who are we to question the wisdom of God's creation? No one has ever debated that position with me. Your opinion piece citing Scripture comes across as even more accepting and loving. Well done!

This came from Debra:

I am gay and I have always believed in the words of Jesus, but never considered myself
Christian. The words you wrote for CNN were very moving and true. Although I do not
belong to a church I have never thought that Jesus would deny me for who I love and
your words reflect that very beautifully. Your analogy of the water being stronger than
those who wish to withhold it were wonderful.

I would proudly visit your church and shake your hand!

This came from a military officer (I have redacted it to protect his/her identity).:

Sir, after reading your CNN piece "The Christian case for gay marriage", I just wanted to personally thank you for your words. As an officer in the [United States Military], I have led many men and women who have experienced the discrimination you allude to in your piece, and would cite the recent dissolution of the DADT policy in the Department of Defense as a testament to what can be achieved by inclusion versus exclusion. As a father of two beautiful young ladies and as a career [military] professional, I am constantly looking for examples of character to display to my children and my men, thank you for providing me such an example.

And finally, my favorite, from Elle:

Dear Dr. Osler,
I was against gay marriage before reading your article. You have changed my mind. Thank you.

Dialogue is good, and even the harshest critics of my position often do so from a good heart... let that dialogue continue!

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Up now at

They put this piece up at the top of the home page, and between 2 am and 6:30 am it got over 600 comments-- most of them angry. And you should see the emails I'm getting!


Friday, May 18, 2012


Haiku Friday: Clothes you can't do without

What is your favorite thing to wear? That's a good haiku topic-- let's do that! Here is mine:

Name tag says "Donny."
I sewed it on there. My
Friends were not fooled.

Now it is your turn! Just make if 5 syllables/7/5, and the winner gets a bio here on Monday!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday: A backlash against no-compromise politics?

I was really intrigued by this story in the New York TImes, which described the efforts of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint to reshape the Senate to be more like the combative lower chamber. Most recently, he put his muscle behind a Republican candidate for Senate from Nebraska, and failed-- that candidate finished third. As the Times described it:

Mr. DeMint, a product of the more polarized House, is the father of efforts to bring the lower chamber’s more combative tone to the Senate. By his own admission, his success has been mixed. In 2010, he broke with his party leadership in supporting some contenders, diluting unity as Republicans came up short.

To this day, some party stalwarts blame Mr. DeMint for the Republican Senate loss in Colorado — where his candidate, Ken Buck, vanquished the more moderate Jane Norton, then lost in November, in large part because women bolted to the Democrat, Senator Michael Bennet.

He also backed Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, who beat the moderate Republican Mike Castle, only to be crushed by a relatively unknown Democrat, Chris Coons, in the fall.

I would note that the combative mood and often needless posturing in the House is a product of both parties, not just Republicans.

I'm a little stumped at why anyone would want the Senate to be more like the House, which at this point seems dysfunctional in relation to its central tasks. It was fascinating last week to travel from House office Buildings (Rayburn and Cannon) over to the Senate's Hart building-- the change in mood was discernible. Of course, the Senate has already changed, as the stepping down of Olympia Snowe of Maine made clear.

Of course, we are responsible for these changes-- we are choosing more polarized and polarizing people to represent us. Why?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Joy of Tweeting (@Oslerguy)

At the commutation conference we had a few weeks ago, Dafna Linzer encouraged me to start using Twitter to spread the word about the blog and some of my other writings. I had avoided Twitter because it seemed like 140 characters is just not enough to do anything worthwhile, but I had undervalued the benefit of sending links out this way.

So... now I am hooked. I'm wondering if and how others out there use Twitter, and what your experience has been. It seems like a pretty inefficient way to keep in touch with individuals, but not a bad way to follow the news... but that just might be based on the people I have chosen to follow thus far.

In the meantime, meet me on Twitter-- @Oslerguy is my twittername. Or whatever that is called...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Interesting developments...

In the wake of Dafna Linzer's great Washington Post piece yesterday on the pardon office, Families Against Mandatory Minimums is asking for a Congressional investigation. Here is the heart of their argument:

This report is extremely disturbing but not surprising. Between this report and ProPublica’s earlier report on the pardon process, the Pardon Attorney’s office has been shown to willfully misrepresent the facts of commutation requests to the President and contribute to a racial imbalance among pardon recipients. The Pardon Attorney’s office is not a gatekeeper but a brick wall.

Congress should investigate this egregious behavior immediately with oversight hearings. The entire clemency process should be removed from the Department of Justice’s control. It is not in the president or the public’s interest to have a Pardon Attorney’s office that is captive to a prosecutorial agenda, doesn’t take clemency cases seriously, and doesn’t treat applicants fairly.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Haiku winner: Ang!

It was a tough call, with several great entries, but my favorite comfort-food haiku was this one, from Ang:

Whoever helped could
lick the cake batter beaters:
Ooh! Ooh! Let me help!

It was just so... evocative. It made me really want some of that-- the sweetness with the metalic tang you get when you lick those beaters.

Ang, of course, is a long-time Razorite who lives in Central Texas. She lives there with her two children, Duncan Hines Ang and Betty Crocker Ang, who run a cupcake truck off of Valley Mills Drive near the Wacoan offices. If you want an excellent cupcake, I would really recommend it. They are real innovators in the cupcake arts, too... their creations have included all of the following:

Tuna Tort Cupcakes
Waco Water Cakes
Dave Bliss Chip
Baptist Sunrise
Betty's Bacon Cakes


More on Commutations...

Dafna Linzer's latest piece on commutations really lays it out-- and I think there is movement for change right now.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Sunday Reflection: Pebbles All

What a week! Speaking in Washington, a little lobbying with the ace help of Clay Harris, a death penalty lecture in Mechanicsville, and then I gave this sermon today at Holy Comforter in Richmond, Virginia (more or less-- I varied a lot from the text I prepared, and couldn't remember all of it):

It's good to be home-- this is one of my homes, and such an honor to be back. I also have the pleasure of worshipping beside Mrs. Jane Smith, who played a role in sending me here. Four decades ago, I lived at 67 Colonial Rd., and she lived at 81 Colonial Rd. with her wonderful husband Bill. I would go to their house, knock on the door, and demand a book. Mrs. Smith would bring me one, and I would sit on their porch and read it. When I finished, she would bring me another. When I was hungry, she would bring me an apple. If I was thirsty, she brought me water. I don't know why I thought that this was appropriate behavior.

Then, three decades ago, she convinced me to attend her alma mater, William and Mary, and there I met Craig Anderson, who brought me here, and thus this is all her fault, really.

Now I live in Minnesota, and worship at a wonderful church called St. Stephens. There is a river that flows around the back and side of that church with a delightful name: Minnehaha Creek. That is where we do baptisms. The Rector stands in the creek in his robes, the cool water coursing by his feet, and takes an infant into his arms and baptizes her with that same cool water. We sit on the grassy bank and watch, a gentle army.

At the bottom of the creek, in exactly that spot, is a floor of smooth pebbles. The water rushing by has rubbed off the rough edges, bit by bit, day by day. If you hold one in your hand, they can be like silk. The pebbles have been transformed by that water, into something new.

Today's reading from Acts [10:44-48] shows Peter similarly transformed. He had been a naive, sometimes goofy but always spirit-filled follower of Christ in the Gospels, but now he is something different: Bold and strong and righteous. The debate before him was whether or not Gentiles should be baptized-- some felt they were unworthy because they had not complied with the rules on circumcision and other requirements of Leviticus and other parts of the Torah.

The Bible tells us, first, that the Holy Spirit fell upon the crowd. Next, Peter makes a stunning, bold, profound statement: "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And then... and then... he orders that they, the different, be baptized.

Just as in John 8, where we see Jesus telling the executioners that they don't have the moral authority to stone the adulteress, here Peter commands that we mere mortals do not have the moral authority to withhold a sacrament from those who share the joy of the Holy Spirit with us. What is the water we withhold? The love of God? The presence of the Holy Spirit? That water that flows over us, rounding off the rough parts and making us whole? What arrogance to think that we could do so! It is as likely as holding back Minnehaha Creek after the rain, so that some pebbles will not get wet. I say this to those who would withhold to some the water of baptism, the joy of worship, the honor of ministry, or the bonds of marriage-- you are less strong than the water, which will flow around you, find its path, and erode each of the walls you erect.

When I checked into my hotel here in Richmond, the desk clerk asked why I was in town. I said to talk about the death penalty, and to give a sermon. She then asked me "and what about gay marriage?"

"What about it?" I responded.

"It's destructive," she said, shaking her head.

"Destructive? Of what?" She didn't answer.

I do know what is destructive, and that is withholding the water of love, to our brothers and sisters and children and friends. I have seen the rage in those who have felt that rejection, and witnessed their tears as well, water from within, flowing like the creek.

But... the walls are wearing away.

They are wearing away because we are as wet as those pebbles in the creek, we are drenched, we are beloved, each one of us, and none of us can stop the water. To those who would deny the water to those who thirst, I offer the truth of the Bible, the boldness of Peter, and the redeeming power of that gentle creek that makes us all into something better and new.

Saturday, May 12, 2012



On several levels, I have been deeply troubled but this Washington Post story (published yesterday) about Mitt Romney's behavior at Cranbrook, the Michigan prep school that is also the alma mater of Razorite Tydwbleach.

The core of the story is that there was a boy in his class who wore his hair differently and was suspected (correctly, as it turned out) of being gay. Romney led a group of boys who held him down as he screamed for help and cried. Romney, wielding scissors, cut his hair as the others laughed. The boy later left school. The others involved confirm the incident, and remember it well. Many seem deeply chastened by their involvement.

I think that people do dumb things when they are young. We, properly, gave George Bush a pass on all his bad behavior right up to and beyond age 30, and I certainly appreciate the way that he corrected those problems (it is one of the truly admirable things about Bush).

However, Romney claims he doesn't even remember the incident at Cranbrook.

Could that be true? And if it is... does that really make it any better, that he can do something so destructive and then put it out of his mind?

The contrast is quite striking between Romney's personal history and that of Barack Obama, who was once the boy pelted with rocks in Indonesia because he was black. They both ended up at Harvard Law, but the difference in their paths is unmistakeable-- one guided by privilege and the other marked with more struggle (like the paths of Reagan and Clinton, and unlike either Bush). Should it matter?

Friday, May 11, 2012


Haiku Friday: Comfort food

You know what I mean.

Here is mine:

Meatloaf sandwich? Yes.
It's rainy and cold. Gravy?
I nod happily.

Now it is your turn. Just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5, and make it real. I will create a mostly accurate bio of the winner here on Monday!

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday: Ban the Superheroes?

After seeing the most recent reports on the misadventures of the "Avengers" superhero group (in which they dim-wittedly lure aliens to earth, engage in extended combat which includes the destruction of the Yale Club, and leave Manhattan a shambles), I have concluded that we need to ban the activities of these tights-clad do-gooders.

How many of them should we ban? All of them? What about the seemingly harmless ones, like RomneyMan or Triple Biden?

Also, should superheroes be allowed to enter into same-sex marriages?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Best Superhero Team: The Great Lakes Avengers

Long-time Razorites know that I am a big fan of Squirrel Girl, the only superhero whose primary talent is chewing through things. However, you might not know that she is just one part of a fabulous superhero group, the Great Lakes Avengers, based in Milwaukee, as depicted by Marvel Comics. Their task is guarding Wisconsin. Their leader is "Mr. Immortal," whose only discernible talent is that nothing can kill him, at least for long.

No, I am not making this up.

I'm not quite sure why there would be a D-League Avengers, but it's hard to argue with the success of such interesting characters. For example, who wouldn't love Big Bertha, whose talent is the ability to strategically maneuver her fat to specific parts of her body? Or Flatman, who is... well, flat, and won the Superhero poker tournament. And then there is Dinah Soar, who is just downright creepy.

I'll say this: Wisconsin needs defending too-- I'm sick of all the serious action going to New York. If we lose Wisconsin to the super villains, you can say good-bye to America's supply of Harleys and lite beer, and we all know what that would lead to...

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


The Avengers: A few questions

So, I went to see the new Avengers movie, and I thought it was great. I just have a few questions...

1) How lethal are these alien invaders, exactly, if they are so easily defeated by a primitive medieval weapon, the arrow?

2) What, exactly, is the possible advantage of having an aircraft carrier fly? I mean... the thing is already carrying lots of things that fly. That's the point. It seems like having the aircraft carrier fly around (apparently about 40 feet off the ground most of the time) offers little advantage, while adding a lot of risks-- like being shot down by arrows, which actually happens in the movie.

3) At one point, the Black Widow appears to kill someone with her hair. Sure, a waving sheet of blonde hair has been proven to incapacitate grown men, but this death was caused through direct contact with short, somewhat mousey hair.

4) How is it that this crew of brilliant scientists and spies come to be under the command of a remarkably doltish group called "The Council," which thinks it is a good idea to nuke Manhattan?

Any ideas?

Monday, May 07, 2012


Haiku winner:

I've picked two of my favorite stanzas from last week, which cobble together some different personalities:

First, from Renee:

How you loved that wind!
Loved the barren plains,the work
Loved your man so fierce.

Next, from Anonymous:

Where is she? I asked.
"In heaven," said Anna Rose.
I looked in saint's book.

So, who is this Anonymous Renee?

We all have our reasons for seeking a certain amount of anonymity, and this was true, also, of Renee. Perhaps it was the constabulary back in Seattle, who keep their grudges close, or that guy in seat 26E who had too much to drink before he even got on the plane, or that outlandish Ukrainian spy who certainly had her confused with someone else...

At any rate, hats provide great disguises. But not great enough. That's when she brought out the big guns-- Goldy the Gopher. Case closed.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


I'm pretty sure this won't work out well.

Romney Courts Hispanic Vote With Animated Sombrero-Wearing Parrot


Sunday Reflection: On Sode

Last week, in this space, I reflected on something I had heard from Rabbi Norman Cohen. The good Rabbi wrote me later, with some explication of the point he was making about a "secret" meaning of scripture, and they were so interesting that I received his permission to post them here:

In the rabbinic paradigm of PRDS, the Sode, secret, is an extremely esoteric understanding that comes to very few. It is beyond the ken of most of us. No Jew whom I know would claim to have access to it, without his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. I am often satisfied (although not as frequently as I would like) when I "get something" in a text, but I always relate it to Remez (the hint that lies beneath the surface, or Drash, the digging that exegesis requires, which still most often regrettably yields eisgesis instead.

Claiming to have access to the Sode usually negates its validity because of the hubris that is often involved, thus sullying the claim. Usually, ultra Orthodox "mystics" claim it, but that is another reason why I see red flags when they speak with their authority. It is very insightful and appropriately humble that Mark in his blog claims that never did he get it "on his own".

Yet, I would still hesitate to call it the "Sode".

One of my favorite thoughts is one ascribed to Professor Louis Finkelstein : "When we pray we speak to God...when we study God speaks to us."

Rabbi Cohen also attached the following Yom Kippur sermon from a few years ago, which I thought was wonderful:

Finding the AHA in the HO-HUM
Kol Nidre 5771
Bet Shalom Congregation
Rabbi Norman M. Cohen

When the Romans conquered Jerusalem, they entered the ancient Temple and made their way to the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, into which only the Kohen Gadol, the high priest, was permitted to enter and only once a year, on this day Yom Kippur. They understood that to conquer a people one must lay bare their power, and it was clear to all the other nations that the invincibility of the Jewish people was due to our Holy Covenant with God. How disappointed they must have been when they drew back the curtain in the Holy of Holies, to see only an empty space, no fabulous being, no rare animal, not even an unusual object. There was absolutely nothing in what was supposed to be the center of Holiness. They, like us, expected something spectacular, inspirational, and impressive. Instead they discovered the truth: that Judaism believes that holiness is found not only in the miraculous, the heightened dramatic depictions of the extraordinary a la Cecil B. DeMille. Rather it is when we are in what others may regard as the HOHUM of life that we can experience the most meaningful AHA moments.

Let’s be honest. When we prepared for this evening to come to this beautiful sanctuary, did we not have expectations of holiness? After all, this is Kol Nidre; the building has been cleaned and polished. The clergy are dressed in white, spotless robes. There is an aura of holiness like no other time of the year. It is not just Erev Yom Kippur, the holiest day on our liturgical calendar; it is also Shabbat, that precious gem in the crown of the week. There can be no more holy time than this. Or can there be?

What about those ceremonial moments in the life cycle? We feel especially holy when we celebrate the birth of a new child with a bris or baby naming; when our children stand on the bimah at Simchat Torah, newly consecrated with their own personal Torah scrolls, reciting the shema for the first time; and when we watch with pride as our kids read the Torah and deliver a message about its meaning in their lives at the age of 13, that threshold of adulthood, B’nai Mitzvah. Confirmation is a moment of utmost holiness as those same children, more mature by 3 important years stand on the bimah and talk honestly and openly about wrestling, like Jacob, with our tradition and its demands. Under the chuppah, who feels more holy than a couple and their parents going through a ceremony which is after all, called kiddushin, from the same root as kadosh, the Hebrew root for all things holy. Anyone who has ever been to a conversion ceremony also knows the deeply spiritual atmosphere that surrounds that event from the mikvah to standing in front of the ark reciting the sacred commitments and responsibilities that he or she is taking on. And even in sad moments such as a funeral, there is hardly anything that feels closer to heaven than shoveling earth over the grave of a loved one, tucking them in like a blanket.

Human nature, popular culture, and religious tradition also suggest to us that there are certain places that have more spiritual substance than others. How else do we explain the fascination with the Kotel, the so-called Wailing Wall in Jerusalem? I have climbed the mountain that many believe is Mt. Sinai where the Ten Commandments were first revealed. We arose well before dawn climbed the treacherous path and watched the sunrise. I remember that as a unique AHA moment in my life.

And don’t we also have sacred expectations of certain people. Catholics revere the Pope and Mother Theresa. Many look that way at their religious leaders. At Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, where I served as a rabbi before Bet Shalom began, Rabbi David Philipson was their senior rabbi for much of the 20th century. He had a long beard and an imposing presence. Many of his congregants thought of him as God or at least God’s rep here on earth. Is there such a thing as Holy people?

Yes, these are all popularly conceived notions of holiness. But Judaism teaches about other kinds of holiness, more common, yet most frequently overlooked. Not the so called AHA moments, but mere HOHUMS.

There are no saints in Judaism. All people are endowed with a spark of God. There is the potential for every person to be holy. Indeed, our approach to death and burial is based on the fact that the body is a vessel in which a sacred soul has lived. This is why we treat the body the way we do. The Bible says that even the body of a common criminal should not be left unattended overnight out of respect for God’s creation.

When we think of those who Jews regard as holy people, we put Moses at the top of the list. Yet this Moses first became aware that he was in the presence of God at a burning bush. If you think about it, there was nothing majestic at all about it. It was just a bush, designed to teach us that God’s voice and presence can be perceived anywhere, not just in the officially sanctioned sacred high places. And the miracle was not that it burned unconsumed, rather that a human being, Moses, could stare at it long enough to realize that it was not being consumed. In other words, it was a demonstration of patience, one of the divine qualities, not so spectacular, that humans are capable of imitating.

This other kind of holiness is not so obvious. It is found in the most unlikely places, until we begin to notice that they are not unlikely at all.

The poem that we read in last week Torah portion, Haazinu, contains a number of beautiful similes: comparing God’s doctrine to the soft rain and the morning dew. This is real insight into the way in which we become aware of holiness. The morning dew appears on a blade of grass, sparkling diamond points of moisture. There is nothing very dramatic about its appearance, no thunder and lightning, no downpour, the dew is just there. Its life-giving power is manifest on the grass where it rests. While we might believe that God only thunders down from Sinai or hovers over the face of the deep at Creation or supervises the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, the morning dew is Jewish holiness at its best.

If you get up early enough in the morning, open your door to fetch the newspaper you may notice it. But it is only there for a brief time. And it is just a little water on the lawn. Yet without that water, things would not grow. They would die of thirst.

And so it is in human experience. We fool ourselves when we look for miraculous supernatural intervention to alter the course of our lives. We defeat ourselves if we remain long embittered when calamity strikes and we curse God. We dull our sensitivities to the grandeur of life if we see only brutality and deny goodness, truth and beauty. God is there all of the time just waiting to be discovered. That is Jewish holiness.

Indeed, it is in mere dust and ashes and ordinary grains of sand that we find the greatest potential for holiness. The Torah, in addition to all the wonderful stories we share with our children, occupies itself abundantly with the sacrifices that were offered in the Tabernacle. The priest was responsible for conducting the ceremony, and afterward he was also the one who changed into special vestments and carried the soot and ash away from the altar to dispose of them in a ritual that was not so ordinary.

The Hebrew word for ash is deshen, dalet – shin – nun, which can also be taken as an acronym for the phrase, davar shelo nechshav, "something without importance." Even the ash of the altar was to be “lifted up” and recognized as something holy.

The truth is that our tradition does not point us toward the extravagant and supernatural for real holiness. We often feel that way because of human nature and popular culture. Jewish tradition more significantly beckons us to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. For Jews, holiness comes when we transform the HOHUM into the AHA.

What may appear trivial is anything but trivial. Rabbi Israel Salanter was in a strange town on Shabbat, and was invited to eat with one of the most respected families. Returning from services, his host noticed to his great horror that his wife had forgotten to cover the challoh. Fearful that Rabbi Salanter would think his house was not knowledgeable about the tradition, the man yelled at his wife for forgetting this most basic act. Mortified and blushing with shame she ran to drape the cover over the bread. When it came time to recite the Kiddush, Rabbi Salanter stopped the man and said, “I am not sure the food in this house is kosher. It is a home that worries more about embarrassing bread than embarrassing people.” Holiness is found in our everyday relationships and how we treat them.

In tomorrow afternoon’s Torah portion, Kedoshim, we have concrete examples of how we can be holy. You shall not steal—not merely property, but also a person’s reputation, by gossip or slander or by false flattery. Do not place a stumbling block before the blind. A blind person can be anyone who is a figure of misfortune, inexperience or moral weakness. That advice warns us against leading people on erroneous ways, giving them bad advice, and the like.

The Bible, in fact, begins with an act of holiness. God clothes Adam and Eve. We can take our cue from that. Let us help to clothe others. We can feed the hungry and care for those less fortunate than ourselves.

The end of the Torah, too, finds God doing holy deeds. We read that God buries Moses. We, also, in attending a funeral and comforting mourners, perform holiness by imitating God. Escorting someone to the gates of heaven is a great mitzvah – for we have no ulterior motive of expecting them to return the favor. To sit in a room as someone takes his or her final breath, to hold their hand, to say goodbye and express gratitude for the gifts of love and guidance and caring they gave in their life to you. That is a holy act. In the Torah, many of these mitzvot are accompanied by the phrase: Be holy for the Lord your God is holy. We cannot be God, but we can be like God. That is the spark of God within every human. God is not out there but in here.

One of Woody Allen’s classic movies, Manhattan, has a scene where Woody is chided by his friend, who accuses him of playing God. Woody’s reply is a very Jewish one. “Well”, he says, “I have to model myself after someone.”

We should imitate God, in the Divine acts of loving-kindness and holiness. This is the best kind of God complex – not one of the ego, in which we seek control over others, but one in which we truly imitate God in the spirit of kedoshim.

The Hebrew word for holiness, itself, is kedusha, literally meaning sanctification—making special, singling out. Indeed, holiness helps us single out and make special the mundane, ordinary aspects of our lives. We lift ourselves above the usual, the humdrum. We can make holiness within our everyday activities. We can turn the HOHUM into the AHA.

This, I believe, is what distinguishes the Jewish concept of holiness from many others which have that magic aura of tabu. Judaism does not. Many conceive of holiness as dangerous; many define holiness by the place wherein it occurs. Judaism teaches that it is to be welcomed as part of normality. We produce it each time we perform a good deed, every moment when we are aware of the wonders of the universe, in all instances of moral and social involvement.

To be holy does not mean to wait for a determination from God, who will magically grace certain people with that trait, like those who have had hands laid on them by a faith-healer. .

It is a quality people—all people—may have when they act properly. Holiness does not separate that which is holy from everyday life; rather, it elevates everyday life, itself. It is ethical, not magical.

This past week we observed the 9th anniversary of 911. A couple of weeks after the terrorist attack, the dust had finally settled and people started the painful task of cleaning up. One woman stared at her grime-covered windows, when she suddenly paused and took a deep breath. Indeed, it dawned on her that mixed in with that dirt was flesh and blood, human remains. Immediately she called her rabbi.

They decided that she could not merely wipe it away with Windex and a paper towel. The ashes need to be treated with care and properly disposed. Of course, her simple realization was extraordinary. To see in these simple dirty ashes something quite awesome, the remains of a human life or two or three or a hundred gives us pause about such an ordinary act as cleaning a window. She was like the priest who changed his clothes to remove the ashes that were sprinkled with the remains of the sacrifice that could not merely be swept away, not in a bucket, for there was in those ashes trace evidence of holiness. What is often considered menial in human eyes is holy and high in God’s eyes.

The quest for spirituality sometimes leads people to exotic missions taking them to far away so-called holy places, meeting with spiritual swamis and gurus, so called holy people. Spiritual seekers are often narcissistic – wanting to feel God touching them – wanting to feel important. Who doesn’t?

But for Jews, our example should be our forefather Jacob who discovered holiness when he awoke from a dream, sleeping with his head on a simple rock. After picturing a ladder with angels going up and down, Jacob exclaimed, “God was in this place and I, I did not know it.” He had not been seeking God. In fact, he was running away – in that flight, he experienced the Divine. In the process of taking care of what life brings you, you may encounter that spiritual moment. Take notice and appreciate it. It is so elusive when you seek to find it. Instead it is more likely that it will find you.

The holiness we seek can be found in many places. Yes, here tonight at Kol Nidre Shabbat, a combination of two sacred times. It is obvious. But even more abundantly in our ordinary lives in ordinary moments, it can be palpable. There is potential AHA in every HOHUM. Notice it – holiness is everywhere.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


Unusual, but good

Checking out of a hotel recently, the person at the desk asked "is there anything that could have been better?"

What a great question! My answer was simple-- that it would have been nice to have had a trash can in the room-- and I'm sure they fixed the problem. It made me feel better, too, as I left, thinking that they would care to ask, and probably fix the problem. I wouldn't have mentioned it if the question hadn't been posed to me.

Still, I don't hear that question asked very often. Why?

Friday, May 04, 2012


Haiku Friday: Mom

I know that Mother's day isn't for another week or so, but let's jump the gun, shall we? Let's haiku about our Moms. I realize that for some of us, that means reflecting on someone who has passed on, and for others it is a rumination about someone who is right there in the room, but it is worth it nonetheless. If you'd rather, feel free to haiku about someone else's mom (if they were close to you), or Grendel's mother. Whatever. It's all good.

Here is mine:

Late night, I found her
Reading Shakespeare in the dark
Holds words in her palm...

Now it is your turn! The winner gets a bio on Monday here on the Razor. Feel free to make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, more or less.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Problem with Football

I really enjoyed the movie "The Hunger Games," and not just because it payed for IPLawGuys part of the ski trip. I thought it was very compelling, and troubling in the best way.

It can be read any number of ways as a metaphor or analogy, but one obvious allusion is to our obsession with football.

In the movie, children up to 18 are forced to battle to the death in the arena for the entertainment of millions. In football, children (and young adults) sacrifice their bodies for... well, the entertainment of millions. They don't die, but they are injured.

Yesterday, pro football legend Junior Seau killed himself at age 43, the 8th member of the 1994 Chargers to die. That's an incredibly high mortality rate for a group of young, fit men.

Is this a societal problem?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


Demonic Mice

One of the things about The Simpsons that I've always found unsettling is the hyper-violent Itchy and Scratchy Show, which is Bart's favorite cartoon. It was only recently that I found that this is a parody of an old cartoon series, Tom and Jerry, that also was bizarre in its level of violence:

And who doesn't remember the East German classic of the cat/mouse genre, "Worker and Parasite?"

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


The Departure

Last night, the faculty here at St. Thomas had a reception for our outgoing Dean, Tom Mengler, who is heading off to be President of St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

As often happens, part of the reception involved standing in a rough circle and giving remembrances and tributes. I'm new here, so I did not have one, but it was one of those times it was probably best not for me to talk anyways-- nothing I could have said would have improved on the perfect spirit of it.

There were funny stories (lots of those) and poignant ones, and allusions to difficult moments, and in all it swirled together into a very human portrait of what this place is. It made me proud to be here, and grateful for Tom Mengler.

Here was one of the stories: In 2006, the dean got some amazing and wonderful news-- that the school had received full accreditation, way ahead of schedule. He wanted to announce it some dramatic way, so he left mysterious signs around that everyone should gather in the atrium one evening for a special announcement. For reasons no one really can explain, the rumor went around that the surprise was that Oprah was going to show up. Instead of dispelling this rumor, they fed it. They made the security guys look like they were smuggling someone into the courtroom, then kept people out of there. When it came time to make the announcement, they teased it out... i.e., saying that it "had to do with the color purple..." etc. Then, once everyone was straining for some glimpse of Oprah, Tom Mengler made the announcement about the accreditation, and they shot off the confetti cannons, and everyone cheered. And then they did some musical theater. That's how it goes here.

I would imagine that there are times an architect like New Christine will stand quietly and look at a building she designed with a quiet and righteous pride. That was the spirit last night as my colleagues reflected on what they had built, and it was wonderful just to stand on the outskirts and watch, knowing that now I am a part of that creation.

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