Thursday, May 27, 2010

Neil Patrick Harris is at #34!

That's right -- actor Neil Patrick Harris, famous for his roles as Doogie Howser, Barney Stinson, and Dr. Horrible -- has scored his first pop single, guest-starring with the cast of "Glee" on a cover version of Aerosmith's "Dream On." And it sold enough iTunes downloads to land at #34 on American Top 50 this week. The "Glee" cast also jumps in at #38 with a cover of "I Dreamed a Dream," originally from the musical Les Miserables but most recently popularized by Susan Boyle.

Latino superstar Enrique Iglesias returns to the chart after three years away, debuting at #41 with "I Like It," featuring Pitbull on rap. Enrique's last chart entry was "Do You Know? (The Ping Pong Song)"  in 2007.

Miley Cyrus "can't be tamed"! Her song with that title roars like a wild leopard up thirty spots from #40 to #10.

You can listen to the countdown (playing on an endless loop), or view the full chart and follow the links to available YouTube videos.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Earth, Wind, Water, Fire!

I preached this sermon a year ago on Pentecost.


You may have heard it said that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. We are creatures of the earth. We are earthlings. We are made of stuff that inevitably dies and decays and becomes earth again.

The Book of Genesis describes God making the first man from the clay—from the earth—and then breathing the divine breath into him. Ah! So we are not just of earth. We are of breath. The Hebrew word “ruach” means breath and wind and spirit and air. God has created us to have wind, and to use it to fill our windpipes to speak and to sing.

If we stopped there, we might imagine ourselves as part body and part spirit. Many people have settled for that answer, some even suggesting that the spirit part is good and the body part is evil. But it’s not that simple. It doesn’t stop there.

We are conceived and carried in water, then born through a great bursting forth of that water. We survive by taking in water; scientists tell us our bodies are up to 75% water. We are creatures of earth, air, and water. When John began baptizing people in the River Jordan, he affirmed this truth.

Then John said, “I baptize you with water. But one is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.” Today is the day we become creatures of fire, too! Earth, air, water, fire: the four classical elements. We are all these things—not just dust.

The story of Pentecost is laid out in today’s first reading. First comes a violent wind, and then tongues of fire alighting on Jesus’ friends. But that energy can’t stay in the room—the people go out into the street, and foreigners from every nation understand exactly what the disciples are saying in every possible language. Two thousand years later, we’re still asking, “What does this mean?” It was a thoroughly confusing experience.

Last week at the Wednesday morning Bible study, we looked at this passage in depth. One person’s comment especially stuck with me: “The Holy Spirit most often operates in confusion.” When we are confused, we are not in control. Something amazing is happening, but we’re not the ones doing it. When we’re not in control, the Holy Spirit is.

I’ve occasionally felt the Holy Spirit moving through the confusion, taking an uncontrollable situation out of my hands. Often I’ve tried to seize control back, only to be burned by that fire. When the Holy Spirit rushes through the room, it’s best to get out of the way! Because the end result is bound to be something better than I could have imagined. Just ask the disciples: they had to let Jesus go in order for the Holy Spirit to come.

See, here’s the thing. If it weren’t for Pentecost, we might be in danger of imagining that the power of the Resurrection was only meaningful for one man: Jesus. So one man in all of history comes back from the dead: sure it’s amazing, but so what? What does it have to do with us?

Pentecost is what it has to do with us. Jesus rose from the dead, but if he had stuck around, doing all the things he used to do with his friends, he either would have had to die again someday of old age, or he would still be walking around as a superhuman creature today. We’ll leave that plotline to any sci-fi buffs among us.

But God never intended to restrict the Resurrection to Jesus. That power is available to all of us, and Pentecost marks that shift. Jesus the resurrected man had to disappear, to ascend, so that his energy could be redistributed into all of us. The Church is nothing if not the community of the Resurrected. That includes those whose earthly bodies have gone, and those with whom we live and love today.

Have you felt the energy at St. Thomas lately? Membership is growing and new ministries are sprouting in a time of transition from one rector to the next. Our first opportunities to meet Lex Breckinridge last week were electric; the church was abuzz with the Holy Spirit. It was enough to make another Bible study participant comment, “I’m almost afraid to come to church on Sunday.”

Thank you for coming to celebrate with the Church this morning. Maybe you came because you wanted to hear the rush of wind through bagpipes, or to feel baptismal water splashed on your face, or to experience bread and wine—and, later, ice cream—entering your body. Hopefully, you’re also willing to feel the fire!

Today is the day that eleven people at St. Thomas will receive a generous amount of water, a scintillating dollop of earthy oil, and the fire and air that make up a flame. Where else can one go to experience all the classical elements at once, and to join a community in which those elements of existence become charged with the power of God? God is setting this place on fire, and the fire cannot be contained.

May I share one of the Church’s best-kept secrets with you? The Holy Spirit is not a magical force we can conjure. We can’t keep it concentrated in this building. We can’t possibly limit its access to those who come to church or to those who are baptized. The Holy Spirit is already out there, wherever you go, everywhere in the world. Any time we say, “Come, Holy Spirit,” it’s ironic, because we’re beckoning someone who cannot be beckoned, and who is always with us.

But if we didn’t beckon, would we notice? How often does a fish say, “Hey, I’m swimming in water!”? How often does a flame shout, “Aaaah! I’m on fire!”? How often do we stop whatever we’re doing, take a long, deep breath, and appreciate what it means to be alive?

If we did that all the time, people might well think we’d been drinking, even at nine in the morning. When people live life joyfully, wallowing in the Holy Spirit, amazing things start to happen. People reach out to others to give them what they need. The simplest actions can take on deep meaning and can break down barriers of language and social standing. The result is Resurrection on both a small and large scale.

Eleven people are joining this movement today, this movement that began on that first Pentecost. Will you be a part of it, too? Will you make room for the Holy Spirit?

Jesus’ words in our Gospel today show us how we can do that. In honest and hopeful language, he says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Count on that!

When we admit our ignorance and arrogance in the face of all that is holy, then do the best we know how, we leave plenty of room for the Holy Spirit. It might mean not rushing to judge whether a situation is good or bad. It might mean taking a leap of faith: committing yourself to a task without yet fully believing you have the tools you need to accomplish it. It might mean admitting your lack of control in a situation and leaving it to God. It might mean becoming a Holy Spirit hunter: keeping your eyes peeled for God’s Resurrection power at work in the world and then joining the movement.

So come, Holy Spirit. Feed our bodies with enough bread for today. Breathe new life into us. Quench our thirst with your Living Water. Take our hearts and set them on fire! Amen.


That's the sermon from a year ago. Then, today, I had a neat realization during prayer.

Earth = Solid
Water = Liquid
Air = Gas
Fire = Plasma

The four elements are also the four states of matter! Cool.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Children and Communion

When should your child start taking communion? I found this great conversation on that topic.

The Episcopal Church teaches that baptism makes one a Christian in every sense -- full membership in Christ's Body! In other words, if they can gum a crumb of bread, and if you can dab the baby's lips with a drop of wine, Holy Communion has occurred.

We didn't always do it that way, but I think it's the best way.

Monday, May 17, 2010

B.o.B scores his first #1 hit

On American Top 50 this week, B.o.B, a/k/a Bobby Ray, reaches the summit in his 14th week on the chart, with "Nothin' on You."

Meanwhile, B.o.B also scores his second top 10 hit with "Airplanes" at #9, a song I've already seen quoted in zillions of Facebook status updates:

"Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?/
I could really use a wish right now, wish right now, wish right now."

So all-encompassing is this song's influence that after only four weeks of popularity, there's already a Facebook page discouraging such behavior.

Also of note:

  • Eminem shoots from #59 to #7 with "Not Afraid," which was the top seller on iTunes just a few days ago.
  • The current top seller on iTunes is "California Gurls" by Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg, which enters our chart at #49 based on last week's data. Look for a gigantic leap into the top 10 on next week's chart.
  • 3OH!3 and Ke$ha team up with "My First Kiss," debuting at #17. Perhaps they'll go out on the "using punctuation as letters of the alphabet" tour?
  • The cast of Glee scores yet again with a cover of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" from season 1, episode 18. If you look beyond the top 50 to the top 100, this TV show is cranking out minor hit after minor hit, each of which fades away almost completely in its second week of sales. Not one of these songs has garnered any radio airplay, but I'll put in a bid for one that should: the cover of "Physical," featuring Olivia Newton-John herself, is actually pretty cool.
  • A few country songs typically break into our top 50. Right now, you can find Miranda Lambert at #40 with "The House That Built Me" and Lady Antebellum at #50 after having peaked at #34 with "American Honey."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rihanna's "Rude Boy" still #1 this week

Some of you follow my online radio countdown, American Top 50. Did you know you can see the chart for this week's countdown? It's here.

This week, Rihanna spends a fourth week at #1 with "Rude Boy." Lady Gaga scores yet another top 10 with "Alejandro." Usher moves strongly from #8 to #5 with "OMG," and B.o.B is on the verge of scoring both his first #1 hit and another top 10 hit.

Lower down the chart, Travie McCoy's "Billionaire" shoots up 10 to #17, Jamie Foxx is up 11 spots with "Winner," and the Black Eyed Peas zoom from #47 to #30 with "Rock That Body," yet another hit from their album The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies).

There are six debuts this week, led by Mike Posner's "Cooler than Me."

American Top 50 is compiled by putting together two great Billboard charts: the Hot 100 and the Mainstream Top 40.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Augustine of Hippo

sermon preached St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Medina, WA
by Josh Hosler, Associate for Christian Formation
The Conversion of St. Augustine/ May 5, 2010

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Augustine of Hippo, the 4th century Christian who is one of the best-known theologians ever. Anyone who has studied Christian theology has something to say about Augustine, not all of it nice. When they’re not angry with him for coming up with the concept of original sin, people complain about his sexual hang-ups. Meanwhile, in other Christian circles, his theology is almost considered a part of the Gospel itself. As I learned more about Augustine this week, I was pleased to learn that I actually like him quite a bit. He is one of our more human saints.

Augustine was born in 354 in what is now Algeria. Ethnically, he was a Berber: that is, one of the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. Augustine’s father was a pagan, and his mother, Monica, was a Christian, but the teenage Augustine decided to become a Manichaean. This Persian Gnostic faith was one of the largest religions in the world at the time. It taught a cosmic, dualistic worldview in which the forces of good and evil, symbolically represented by the spirit and the body, were battling it out, and nobody really knew which side would win.

Augustine threw himself into a life of hedonism. He joined a gang that encouraged its members to brag about their sexual encounters with women, and absent any encounters, to make something up in order to avoid ridicule. Pretty soon, though, Augustine settled into a stable relationship with a young Carthaginian woman. They were together, unmarried, for thirteen years, and they had a son.

The gifted young Augustine became a teacher of grammar and rhetoric, but he was always frustrated by the apathy of his students. As he aged, he began to grow out of Manichaeism. His mother, Monica, kept pressuring him toward Christianity, and when Augustine moved to Milan, Monica followed him there and arranged a marriage for him. What a persistent mom!

But the arranged marriage meant that Augustine had to abandon his concubine of 13 years. Meanwhile, his arranged bride was only 11 years old, and he wasn’t allowed to marry her until she was 12. During the interim, he had an affair with another concubine, and this anguished him so much that he broke off his engagement. Single and heartbroken, Augustine uttered the prayer, “God grant me chastity and continence … but not yet!”

Augustine got to know Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, and it was through Ambrose’s influence that Augustine had his conversion experience, which we observe today. In the summer that he was 31 years old, Augustine read an account of the life of St. Anthony of the Desert, a Church Father from the previous generation. Inspired to tears, Augustine lay down under a fig tree and wept openly. He felt that God was angry with him for his many sins. As he wept and prayed, he heard a voice from a neighboring house, the voice of a child at play. The child was chanting and singing, “Tolle, lege, tolle lege,” which means, “Take up and read.”

Augustine thought this an odd thing for a child to sing, so he went inside, opened a Bible, and read the first thing he laid eyes on. It was from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:

"Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."

That was enough for Augustine. He entered a process of Christian initiation and was baptized by Bishop Ambrose, along with his son, at the Easter Vigil the next spring. The following year, he returned to Africa, where he was ordained a priest and later the Bishop of Hippo.

Hundreds of Augustine’s writings survive to this day. His theology continues as a primary influence in nearly every Christian sect. But here are a few tidbits you may not know about Augustine. For one thing, he was an early developer of educational theory and the study of different learning styles. He also wrote a lot about the nature of human will, and his innovative writings influenced both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

You may be surprised to learn that, without any inkling about evolution, Augustine spoke out against literal creationism. He did believe that the universe was only a few thousand years old, but he maintained that God had created everything in the blink of an eye—perhaps the first Big Bang Theory? Augustine had no trouble understanding that the Genesis accounts of creation are holy poetry meant to provide us with a logical structure and a deeper understanding of God. In general, he treated Holy Scripture as metaphorical, insisting that if our reason shows us a contradiction between Scripture and the natural world, we should trust our God-given reason.

Augustine also taught that there is a distinction between “the church visible” and “the church invisible.” We should be careful, he wrote, not to assume that those who are members of the Church are more in God’s favor than those who are not. The Church is a crucial sign and a symbol, but we must not confuse it with the City of God itself. Consequently, he taught that the sacraments conveyed by priests do not lose their efficacy if the priest is a sinful person.

Augustine is most famous for developing the concept of original sin. He believed that Adam and Eve sinned first in their pride and then in their disobedience. This self-centeredness was thus woven into human nature and can only be overcome by divine grace. Clearly, Augustine the Christian continued to be influenced by his years in Manichaeism—the dualism of soul versus body speaks loudly. Much of the problem, Augustine argued, has to do with sex. Human sexuality is fallen, he argued, and can only be healed a little bit at a time through the sacrament of Christian marriage.

I find it interesting to compare a person’s beliefs and life experience. This is a situation we all find ourselves in. My experiences lead me to believe something strongly. No matter how many logical proofs you may offer me to the contrary, only a much stronger experience is likely to change my views and gain a new perspective. (I especially try to remember this when I catch myself dispensing sage advice to teenagers. It usually turns out to me little more than guilty nostalgia!) In Augustine’s case, his early sexual experiences led him to believe he was sinful and fallen, and he found his way out of the dark through celibacy rather than marriage, in conjunction with ordination.

I do think it a shame, though, that Augustine’s 13-year stable relationship with his concubine could not be blessed by the Church. I assume that Augustine couldn’t or didn’t marry her because of her social class. He referred to this woman in his writings as “the One” … it sounds like they had something very special. This makes me think about our present-day situation in America, in which many couples never get married, and many others are not allowed to, as much as they would like to. Meanwhile, a staggering number of “legitimate” marriages fall apart. It seems that in every age we have set up structures that choose to bless or curse a relationship with no inside knowledge of it.

Modern historian Thomas Cahill has called Augustine “the first medieval man and the last classical man.” But Augustine was, first and foremost, fully human. Perhaps he never fully understood that God, the one who was incarnated and became a human himself, blessed and loved Augustine’s body as well as his soul. But through his intelligence, wisdom, and failures, Augustine can help us connect with the bright spark of divinity in ourselves. Amen.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pop music of the 1980s, then and now ...

In 25 years of watching the charts, even as an obvious generation gap has grown beneath me, I’ve never lost interest in what’s hot and what’s not. But here’s something you might not have thought of before: what’s hot today won’t necessarily be hot tomorrow. Why is it that some of the very biggest hits don’t stand the test of time, while some songs that weren’t big hits at the time come out as classics?

For instance, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the top hits of the 1980s from two different perspectives.

The top hits of the 1980s at the time (listed with their original peak position on the Hot 100):

10. Kenny Rogers – Lady (#1 for 6 weeks)
9. Survivor – Eye of the Tiger (#1 for 6 weeks)
8. Blondie – Call Me (#1 for 6 weeks)
7. Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – Say Say Say (#1 for 6 weeks)
6. Queen – Another One Bites the Dust (#1 for 4 weeks)
5. Irene Cara – Flashdance … What a Feeling (#1 for 6 weeks)
4. The Police – Every Breath You Take (#1 for 8 weeks)
3. Diana Ross & Lionel Richie – Endless Love (#1 for 9 weeks)
2. Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes (#1 for 9 weeks)
1. Olivia Newton-John – Physical (#1 for 10 weeks)

The top hits of the 1980s on pop radio stations this week (again, with original chart peak position):

10. Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar on Me (#2)
9. U2 – With or Without You (#1 for 3 weeks)
8. Modern English – I Melt with You (#78)
7. Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (#1 for 1 week)
6. The Police – Every Breath You Take (#1 for 8 weeks)
5. Bryan Adams – Summer of ’69 (#5)
4. U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (#1 for 2 weeks)
3. Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’ (#9)
2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – If You Leave (#4)
1. Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer (#1 for 4 weeks)

What leaps out at you? Discuss …

Monday, May 3, 2010

Choosing a Children's Bible

There are a lot of bad children's Bibles out there: sugary, watered down, and not at all true to the mystery and wonder of Christianity. I don't believe it is necessary to "dumb down" the Gospel for kids: in fact, I think this common "dumbing down" is a reason so many kids run away from church as soon as their parents will let them!

Gretchen Wolff Pritchard feels the same way. Here's her blog post on choosing the best children's Bible: