Gospel Reflection for Proper 7 – Year A -June 21, 2020

Matthew 10:24-39

A number of us write reflections on the Gospel reading for the week at St Andrew’s Church Madison. Here are my reflections this week.


Eventually somebody is going to lift back the corner of the rug and see all the stuff that’s been swept under there for years. Hopefully, it doesn’t smell too bad, or decay, or attract bugs, because once you’ve disturbed it, it will remain disturbed.

The Gospel this week is not a word that is cuddly and warm from gentle Jesus. This is a prophetic word, not so much a threat but a truth telling. Much as King said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” this is not a threat, but a description of the way the world works. Jesus made a practice of showing love and support for those who were marginalized in his time, foreigners, women, disabled, ill, the list goes on. By giving these his attention, he demonstrated that they had worth, and allowed them to believe they had worth as well. When people understand their self-worth, they are no longer content to live on the margins. They insist on standing side by side with those who occupy the center.

This was disruptive in Jesus’ day. It is disruptive today. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This is not a threat, it is a description of the way the world works. Justice can be messy, and depending upon which side you stand, it can be profoundly disturbing to realize your personal unwitting or witting participation. Therefore we ask forgiveness for what we have done and left undone.

What is under your rug? In fact we may not have personally been the sweepers but we’ve enjoyed the comfort of the carpet. Just read the paper and watch the news. “The Moral Universe” is showing us that we have some cleaning to do. How shall we increase justice today?  

OK Boomer – Thoughts on staying home

Twenty years ago we passed through what could have been a global crisis, AKA Y2K, with hardly a bump in the road. For a number of years leading up to 2000 people were warned about what could happen, lights going out, financial systems crashing, chaos. When the date passed and little to nothing happened the scoffers emerged proclaiming it was all hysteria for nothing. Why was it so hyped up and worrisome. Starting in 1997 my IT team in the banking industry worked on nearly nothing else but replacing, upgrading, repairing, testing and re-testing systems so we could all sleep comfortably after midnight December 31, well, so everybody else could. We were up monitoring and on call in case something failed. Ratchet ahead 20 years, another global crisis has emerged and the scoffers are back, trying to minimize, reduce, and raise doubt. They will not grow quieter. Legislators grouse over stay at home orders. Leaders claim that tests are perfect and we’re ready to start opening our doors again.There is too much that we do not know. There is not enough testing to know how extensive the rate of infection is. We cannot yet vaccinate against it. There are even too many vagaries about how and when it is transmitted. It is still time to be cautious. If you can, stay home. Listen to public health officials, don’t listen to the scoffers. The numbers we know about are not good, but, like twenty years ago, if we don’t do what we need to do right now, our numbers might just become far worse.

and a river runs through it

I expect sleep to remain elusive for a few more days. It is 3:30 am as I pen these lines after repeatedly dozing for an hour or less at a time. So be it. In trying to synthesize a series of jumbled impressions from the day it is of the flow of history and the people who populated it through these lands and abroad. We often complain about the craziness that we see populating the people of our country but traveling puts you face to face, literally or historically with craziness far more potent than the instability we whine about daily. Given the context of some of the crap going on around the world today, our whining is a little like an adolescent complaining to an octogenarian about acne.

Imagine the sacred serendipity of stopping at one of Budapest’s premier coffee houses, Gerbaud, (map) for lunch and world class pastry and finding ourselves seated next to a couple of friends in their 20’s from Capetown, South Africa. One, works for Red Bull and is travelling for work to the corporate offices in Austria. The other is studying oceanic electrical generation (wave and tidal generation) at university in Sweden. They decided to meet for the weekend in Budapest. This kind of chance encounter is exactly why we travel. We chatted about politics, about South Africa, the experience of going from winter in warm sunny South Africa to winter in cold dark Sweden and found ourselves marveling at how different the lives of these two men is so much different than they might have been not that long ago from our perspective but from before they were born from theirs.

Our tour guide, seeing history through the eyes of a Magyar, the Hungarian people since about the 9th century, was clearly proud of her tenacious people through all the changes over the centuries. The Turks spent time here and left behind the Turkish baths.

The Nazis were here and left behind their own devastation. A small but powerful reminder is an art installation on the Pest side of the Danube known as Shoes on the Danube Bank, which remembers hundreds of people rounded up by the far right wing Arrow Cross party who were in power for a short 5 and a half months at the end of WWII and during that time were able to murder some 10 – 15 thousand people and deport some 80,000 to various concentration camps. This memorial created in 2005 remembers those who were brought to the Danube, ordered to remove their shoes and shot on the banks of the Danube so they would fall into the river and be carried downstream. Perhaps when we whine about our situation we are mindful of how much damage bad actors can cause even when in power for a short while.

The Russians came into Hungary and defeated the Germans only to then impose Soviet rule. You can still see the Hungarians recovering from the years of deterioration during that time. Communism was never an econmic powerhouse where it was imposed and you can still see rebuilding going on throughout the city.

There is great beauty here. Ruby initially was lured to Budapest by the Viking commercials which depicted a cruise down the Danube in front of this incredible building that, as it turns out, is the Parliament building. Apparently it cost as much to build as the entire rest of Budapest combined.

After our circuitous tour of the city we took the option of having the bus drop us off downtown and we strolled along the Danube. It was during our stroll that we met the gentlemen from Cape Town and took in the Shoes along the Danube. We walked about 5 miles through town marveling at beautiful Art Nouveau architecture as well as Soviet style apartment blocks. Finally we arrived back at our hotel and napped (crashed) when we got back to the room.

Dinner would be a relaxing cruise on the Danube with traditional Hungarian fare and taking in the lights of the city.

Haute Cuisine

Today we landed in Budapest. We are 7 hours earlier than our time zone, trying to get ready for bed at local time 10 PM and home time of 1PM. We travelled and layed over about 11 hours. So even if we did spend much of it sitting on our butts we’re tired. Our butts are tired. So I’ll not regale you with the wonders of the land or people or food or further information about my butt, I’ll be able to do that after we’ve slept, however I do want to talk briefly about food, food on the plane.

Eating dinner on the plane is an acquired skill. Now, I’ve heard magical stories about the wonders of what goes on behind the curtain that leads to first class but that is not where we sit. Back in the cattle car, dinner is a very scripted and efficient endeavor. Once you’ve made your choice, meatballs or vegetable pasta, vegetable for me this time, the flight attendant (I think that is what they are called now) deftly places a perfectly architected tray with little containers, containing each course. The trays perfectly fit the space on those flip down table tops, leaving only room to put your beverage of choice in the little round indentation on the upper right side. You of course are squeezed in closely enough so that any wrong move will spill that beverage of choice all over your complimentary pillow and blanket (thankfully the blanket comes wrapped in plastic for just such an eventuality).

Everything is covered with plastic lids or plastic film that need to be removed before you can eat. Tip: always remember to tip the container with the corner that you are removing, elevating it a little from the rest of the container, or the air pressure that has built up inside the container from now flying at 36,000 feet will spit the wet contents out. Again, lucky they thought of that plastic cover for the blanket. Not so lucky for the little pillow.

The whole meal is like those little plastic 15-puzzles that you got as a party favor when a child. There are 15 numbered tiles in four columns of 4, with one tile missing. Your job is to slide the tiles up, down, left, or right to put the tiles in numeric order. There is one tile missing so you have an empty space to move into.

That, however, is where the similarity ends. In the airplane dinner puzzle there are no empty spaces. In order to make an empty space you need to be holding one of the “tiles.”

So, let’s start with the entree. Lift up the entree. See, now you’ve magically created an empty space into which you can move the other tiles, however that empty space will be needed for those lids and plastic coverings and “silverware” packaging and salt and pepper packets. Firmly holding the entree with the corner you are opening slightly elevated, gently tear the cellophane off the meal. You were holding gently right. You didn’t squeeze the meal too hard when the cellophane came off? Remember that pillow.

Good. Now that filmy piece of plastic needs to be set down in the newly opened empty space. Be careful, because one side is covered with the gravy or alfredo sauce from your pasta. Did I mention that you should make sure that the air vent over your head should be turned closed before executing this step because those gale force winds from the ceiling will pick up that cellophane and drop it, sauce side down, on your pants, or your blanket.

You can now eat your entree, holding it in your non-dominant hand and your fork in the other. Did I remind you to take your fork out of it’s cellophane package. You’ll need two hands (or your teeth) for this and you can’t put your entree back in the empty space since the gravy covered plastic is now there. If you’d like to have a little of your coleslaw with your veggie pasta, you will have to take the top off the coleslaw, with one hand, careful not to jiggle the seat back table since your are holding your entree. You’ll need to stick your fork into the entree to free up your hand. Did I mention that your beverage of choice is red wine. No risk there. Place the lid on top of the little pile of detritus that you are accumulating. It never seems to pile neatly, however, always threatening to topple to the floor or pillow.

Once you’ve finished the entree you are now home free because you can start stacking containers inside containers and freeing up more room so your chocolate cake can be eaten in peace.

One final complication: did I mention that all of this needs to be done without moving your elbows. Since you are squeezed in firmly with the rest of the cattle, elbow movement is not allowed. Hopefully you are traveling with an intimate who is already used to your elbows, but even then movement is not allowed.

I need to get to bed. This is crazy talk.

On our way to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague

Last stop before we embark for the tour. From time to time we complain about the horrendous traffic in Madison, the beltline, fighting students and cars during Badger football games, sitting at crosswalks between classes, the annoying politeness of Wisconsin drivers at intersections (my New York and Chicago sensibilities taught me that the right of way is something you take not give), what with the competitive waving (you go, no you go, no go ahead, its OK I’m happy waiting for you….).

Every once in a while we have to come back to Chicago to remember perspective.

From the 8th Floor of the Hyatt Regency O’Hare

When we return to Madison all of a sudden it looks positively pastoral, including the cows.

We embark on our flight this afternoon just after 4 for Amsterdam and after a 2 hour layover on to Budapest.

See you there.

Amazing Grace – Instrumental Descant

Over the last 40 years I’ve written descants for hymns from time to time. I’ll post them here. They are free for non-commercial use. Enjoy. If you do use them (usually it will be in church) let me know when and where. If you like them feel free to buy me a cup of coffee at: https://www.paypal.me/jfillian

Download the PDF here

The audio file is recorded with the descant on one channel and the organ on the other so you can adjust as you like.
Creative Commons License
Amazing Grace – Descant by Jeffrey Fillian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://jeffrey.fillian.com/2019/11/30/amazing-grace-instrumental-descant/.

A document to help with installing Zoom

I started using Zoom with some groups this month and many were nervous about this new technology. I wrote up a quick and dirty document to help them. One caveat though. I don’t have an iPhone so that page is real short! I’ll fill it out more when I get my hands on one!

WordPress Exploit

This weekend during ARRL Field Day I was posting to Twitter, Facebook and the club website. Toward the end of the day I was ready to upload some pictures to the gallery so I tried to log in to the site. I was told that because I had logged in too many times and failed that my account was locked. Apparently this is a function of the iThemes WordPress Security module.

This is a bit of an inconvenience so I asked one of the officers to see if he could get in and unlock my account. Surprise, surprise. he was locked out as well. This was going to be more inconvenient that we expected.

After viewing the activity against the site we found what appeared to be some script kiddie who had found our ids, probably from one or more posts that we created and then went about trying to guess our passwords. This only worked until the system locked out any further attempts, frustrating the script kiddie and us.

Our admin then tried to log in and got the same error. Now of course we can fix the issue by getting into the MySQL database and fiddling with the data. Kinda messy. However our admin had another trick up his sleeve. In a moment I watched him switch usernames and log in with no trouble at all. Whaaaa?

Apparently his strategy is to create administrative user names that he never uses to post or create content. It appears that if you only use it to administer the site and not create content there is no way to easily discover the user name from the front end.

So, that is what I am doing. For each of the wordpress sites I administer I am creating a user named, for example, “oV9T450RxgDt” with a password of “H9umpELvcJWl” (trust me, this won’t work on any of my sites). Of course this is only practical if you use a reliable password management program like LastPass or KeePass. I’ll let you know if I get hacked with this in place. I’m sure that security wizards will tell me that there are a ton of other things to do but I’m guessing this can’t hurt. I think the key is to NEVER post using this ID.

Can’t we all just get along: Reflections on 50/50 political returns

My Church and society professor in Seminary made an interesting observation about Jerusalem. Why would He have placed the most sacred places of three of the world’s major religions so close together if He didn’t want us to learn to live with one another?   

Of course, that is not the reaction we are most apt to hear these days. “Get them out of my neighborhood,” might be more typical. Whoever “them” happens to be at the moment. 

Reading all the scores this morning from Tuesday night’s “Big Game” I was struck on how evenly divided the results were. Yes, there were some outliers, with wide margins between the candidates, but overwhelmingly the differences between winning and losing candidates were pretty razor thin, needing decimal percentages to report the difference between winner and loser. Percentage-wise we are not separated by much. Percentage-wise we are living in the same neighborhood, next door to one another. There is no mandate on one side or the other. The mandate is to not exacerbate the razor thin gulf between us but to work at strengthening those things we hold in common. “The other side” is not an irrelevant minority. “Them” is fully half of the nation, the state, our neighborhood. The mandate from this election is to struggle with the difficult task of leadership in an evenly split electorate. The most appropriate question is, what can we accomplish together? This takes creativity. I repudiate any elected official who uses a razor thin margin, on either side of the aisle, as an opportunity to wield a sledgehammer in the public square, no matter how high or low the office. 

Reflections on Goodness in Genesis Chapter 1

Imagine, if you will, that you are an inquisitive youngster. Your family lives in relatively close proximity to the ocean and you are in love with the rhythm and power of the waves. Each day, or as often as you can pull yourself away from chores, carrying water, feeding the livestock or picking on your little sister, you wander down to the shore, sit at the edge of the sand and just watch. Observe. Study.

You marvel at the way the sand disappears beneath the surf, the way the blue of the ocean flows out further than the eye can see, the way the blue of the sea seems to end and then appear to then take a sharp turn up and up and up and overhead and behind, disappearing behind your village. You observe the jagged rocky places jutting out of the water, off shore, further than you are allowed to swim, surrounded by water.

Some evenings you are allowed to stay down by the sea while the great light of the day disappears beneath the edge of the sea and soon a tableaux of smaller lights bedecks the expanse above as the color of the sky changes to black. Across that array of smaller lights one larger one rides on its own speed across the heavens, along with a number of others travelling the same road, at their own speed sometimes backwards sometimes forwards as you watch them night after night.

It is not hard to imagine that the first chapter of Genesis was born of this kind of observation. Before humans understood orbits and the elliptic, the revolutions of our own planet, gravity, ionospheric refraction, stars and the like. It appeared that the waters of the sea extended out to the edge of a firmament and was then held back by this firmament creating a bubble below and above in which we lived. The stars the sun and the moon performed their dance against this backdrop every day, and we lived and worked on this little island home under that firmament.

What then is the role of faith as we read this story about the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of the creatures with which it is populated. Is it in the mental calisthenics required to stand against all scientific inquiry and observation and hold that this is an accurate description of the creation of the space in which we live?

I read this story and see it not as a repudiation of scientific inquiry but as an example, creating a hypothesis that explains the observed universe. Here we have an inquisitive soul seeking to understand his observations and describe a paradigm that fits what he observes. Later inquiry, exploration and technology would cause him to adjust his hypothesis but given the tools with which he had to work, it was a pretty good paradigm.

I would further suggest that using our mental and spiritual energy to present this story as an accurate description of our living space, to literally believe it, is expending our energy in the wrong place. Faith calls the believer to task in this story, but it is not in stubbornly accepting the mechanics, the how of this creation. Rather, faith is challenged, in every age, not by the how but the what and why. The call to faith resides in the word Good, “and God saw that it was good.”

I believe this is the particularly challenging question of faith for today. How do we treat a creation that God called good? How do we care for that with which we have been entrusted.

I was also reminded during this past week, while I sat in a in a jet travelling home from Europe, of how fragile this home of ours is. I can comfortably stroll 5 miles in a couple hours. If I were to “stroll” that distance straight up the air temperature would drop between 90 and 100 degrees and if that didn’t kill me, the lower air pressure, about one third of what I normally live in, would. And this, at the distance of a casual stroll.

Our habitable zone, what seems vast and robust, is rather thin and fragile on a global scale, less than the skin of an apple. Absolutely amazing that it supports such wonder and diversity. The challenge of faith asks us how we care for this. Do we litter plastic, spew carbon, pollute precious waters without concern. Or do we seek to live sustainably, to allow for the questions about our impact on the planet to be asked and then to find sustainable ways to respond. How should I practice my responsibility to care for that which God has called good, by stubbornly believing the scientific accuracy of at story with pre-historic roots, or by acting responsibly toward that creation today?