Wednesday, February 22, 2017


On most Tuesday mornings, I meet with a group of men (all men, unfortunately!) who are, all but one, Episcopal priests (the lone layperson gives us the barest shred of credibility).

Often the conversation is rather mundane or silly or uninteresting to all but one of us. But that's the kind of group we are--we tolerate each others' hobby horses and obsessions. We've been meeting on Tuesday mornings for longer than I've been a part of it and I've been a part of it for 26 years or so. More of the people who've been part of the group are dead than are alive. (Or, since I'm reading an Alexander McCall Smith novel about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana--all of which I have read and recommend--I should say, 'more of us are late than living. I love those novels but Bern can't get 3 pages into them.)

Someday I should post about the 'late' members of the Tuesday morning clericus (which it isn't anymore since a lay folk is part of it). They were amazing men. Again, regrettably, all men. I sat at their knees for decades, taking in wisdom that became my own. I loved them all. Greatly.

Tuesday we had a conversation that started with my whole 'Christian without Creed' rant and ended up, I think, with two of my friends questioning my obedience to my ordination vows. I'm not sure that's what it was, but it was leaning in that direction.

They may be right--I'll give them that--because I really don't consciously think about 'being obedient' to my ordination vows. Not really. I'm vaguely aware I said some things--when was it?--1975, I think (if you read this blog much you know I'm, like Billy Pilgrim, 'unstuck in time') linear time, like so much else, confounds me. Like this, I helped someone arrange a celebration of their 40th anniversary of their ordination when I was a year past them and didn't even once think about it!!!

I looked at the ordination service in the Book of Common Prayer and could justify, in an email to those friends, that I kinda, sorta, in a way kept the vows I made. A strong if not convincing case I made.

But what that Tuesday morning conversation caused me to do is ponder my priesthood in a way I never have.

They made me a priest (a Standing Committee, a Bishop, God--I hope) and since then I've just assumed that's what I am. A priest. Like that. A priest.

The first parish I served was St. James in Charleston, WV. It was an historically Black parish that integrated backwards over the time I was there. The Black members knew any white person who came to St. James must be safe. Maybe 10% of the members--some from mixed marriages, others because it's where they wanted to be--were white when I left. Which made it easier, I assume, when they merged with St. Luke's (a 'white' parish) 6 or 10 years after I left. I know, I know...linear time....

I was a white guy serving and being priest to Black folk--a big reversal of my segregated experience as a child growing up.

My bishop in West Virginia called me 'the young Turk'. He was amused at my outlandish, ultra-liberal, counter-cultural way of being a priest. I've always felt on the outside of the 'Episcopal Ethos' because I'm the son of a coal miner and first grade teacher who is associated with the movers and shakers of our culture. Do you realize how many 'Anglicans/Episcopalians' have been President? Google it.

But what I've pondered in the last 48 hours is how much more I feel like a "Priest" than I feel like a member of an institution.

I probably have violated left and right my ordination vows. I recognize that for the first time. But I don't think I've violated my Methodist baptism or my optimistic view that the Episcopal Church is the last, best refuge for Christians who are left-wing.

I honor what my friends told me Tuesday. And I'm shakier than I've ever been about calling myself 'an Episcopal priest'.

But I have no compunction about saying, loud and full of truth: I AM A PRIEST OF GOD.

Institutions come and go. Some interest me, like the Episcopal Church and the Democratic Party, and others don't.

God, I'm pretty sure, endures.

And I'm his/her priest in the end.

Maybe someday I'll renounce my ordination vows if it turns out I have so ignored them. But I won't renounce my priesthood for God. That's way past institutions and vows.....

Monday, February 20, 2017

another memory

(This was one of the 10 most viewed posts ever. Thought I'd share it again.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Knowing four Jesus'

OK, I just completed a class at UConn called "Reading the Gospels side-by-side" and wrote something to read at the end of the last session. Someone suggested I publish it on my blog.

So here it is.


Most of us are looking for Jesus.
One place we could expect to find Jesus is in the Four Gospels. So we turn to them. If we read them critically and carefully, what we discover is not Jesus but Four distinct Jesus'.
When confronted with that reality, there are two obvious reactions. Either I (I'll speak only for myself here and invite you to ponder your reaction)...either I despair and give up my search OR I walk the road with each of the Gospel writer's Jesus' and glean what I can from the four of them.

When I am doubtful, it is Mark's Jesus I want to walk beside because he too struggled with doubt. He spends time with the wild beasts. He can't seem to understand what is being asked of him by God. He agonizes in the Garden. He feels abandoned on the cross. Mark's Jesus is a good companion in times of doubt.

When I am confused, it is Matthew's Jesus I turn to. Matthew's Jesus is jerked away from his home to a foreign land. His earthly father relies on dreams and visions of angels in his confusion. The Magi visit him and give him great gifts. Matthew's Jesus knows that traditions and boundaries and scripture can help in times of confusion. Matthew's Jesus knows right from wrong, truth from Falsehood, the sheep from the goats. Matthew's Jesus stands on the mountain top and speaks wisdom to those who are in darkness and confusion. The Jesus of Matthew has correctives to my confusion.

John's Jesus is my traveling companion when things are going well and I am feeling confident. John's Jesus is certain and resolute and convinced of his purpose and his way. John's Jesus has an ego to match my own. Nothing much bothers him. His eyes are on the prize. His feet are firmly on the ground even as his soul soars to heavenly places. In 'good times' John's Jesus is the ideal companion. He can validate my confidence, inspire me to even greater things, teach me that I am loved and meant to love others. He breathes on me and wishes me “Shalom”, which means fullness and health and hopefulness. There is nothing like the Jesus of John when God's in his heaven and all is right with the world. Walking the road with him just reaffirms my optimism and hopefulness and sense of well-being.

But when I suffer, when I am in pain, only Luke's Jesus will do. He will walk with me to Emmaus and calm my fears and set my heart of fire. The breathless, timeless songs and poetry of Luke soothe me, heal me. Luke's Jesus is the healer, the non-anxious presence, the font of all Compassion. Luke's Jesus walks with those in distress, in pain, in need. Luke's Jesus is constantly standing with the marginalized and outcasts. Luke's Jesus teaches us on the same level where we stand. He is always on my level, near me, suffering with me, forgiving me, holding me near. Luke's Jesus walks the road of our world's suffering. He knows me through and through. He bears my burden. He lightens my load. He touches me and makes me whole.

Seeking Jesus and finding four is 'good news'. Four companions on the Way to the Lover of souls, four brothers with various gifts for various needs, four faces of God, four revelations of the Almighty.

A hymn from my childhood says, “What a friend we have in Jesus....” It is wondrous and precious to have a friend. But to have four, all of whom love me and care for me and walk my road with me. What could be better than that???

Every silver lining has a cloud

Silver Lining: We paid off our mortgage!!! (which I can only spell with spell check--what's with that 't'? No one says "Mort-gage".

Cloud #1: All the paperwork came the other day so we could have our credit union taken off the deed and I was going to the Town Hall to do it and found Town Hall deserted. Oh, right, I told myself--Presidents' Day!

Cloud #2: I was looking over the paper work from the credit union when I discovered it referred to our property as '25 Cornwall Avenue'. There is no 25 on Cornwall Avenue. We're the second house on the left and we're '95'.

Cloud #3: I called the Federal Credit Union we belong to to ask them to correct the mistake and no one answered!

Oh, yeal, Presidents' Day....

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Some memories

I've done over 1800 posts on this blog. This was the first.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My first post

Sitting under the Castor Oil Tree (March 7, 2009)

The character in the Bible I have always been drawn to in Jonah. I identify with his story. Like Jonah, I have experienced being taken where I didn't want to go by God and I've been disgruntled with the way things went. The belly of a big old fish isn't a pleasant means of travel either!

The story ends (in case you don't know it) with Jonah upset and complaining on a hillside over the city of Nineva, which God has saved through Jonah. Jonah didn't want to go there to start with--hence the ride in the fish stomach--and predicted that God would save the city though it should have been destroyed for its wickedness. "You dragged me half way around the world," he tells God, "and didn't destroy the city....I knew it would turn out this way. I'm angry, so angry I could die!"

God causes a tree to grow to shade Jonah from the sun (scholars think it might have been a castor oil tree--the impications are astonishing!). Then God sends a worm to kill the tree. Well, that sets Jonah off! "How dare you kill my tree?" he challanges the creator. "I'm so angry I could die...."

God simply reminds him that he is upset at the death of a tree he didn't plant or nurture and yet he doesn't see the value of saving all the people of the great city Ninivah...along with their cattle and beasts.

And the story ends. No resolution. Jonah simply left to ponder all that. There's no sequel either--no "Jonah II" or "Jonah: the next chapter", nothing like that. It's just Jonah, sitting under the bare branches of the dead tree, pondering.

What I want to do is use this blog to do simply that, ponder about things. I've been an Episcopal priest for over 30 years. I'm approaching a time to retire and I've got a lot of pondering left to do--about God, about the church, about religion, about life and death and everything involved in that. Before the big fish swallowed me up and carried me to my own Nineva (ordination in the Episcopal Church) I had intended a vastly different life. I was going to write "The Great American Novel" for starters and get a Ph.D. in American Literature and disappear into some small liberal arts college, most likely in the Mid-Atlantic states and teach people like me--rural people, Appalachians and southerners, simple people, deep thinkers though slow talkers...lovely for all that--to love words and write words themselves.

God (I suppose, though I even ponder that...) had other ideas and I ended up spending the lion's share of my priesthood in the wilds of two cities in Connecticut (of all places) among tribes so foreign to me I scarcly understood their language and whose customs confounded me. And I found myself often among people (The Episcopal Cult) who made me axious by their very being. Which is why I stuck to urban churches, I suppose--being a priest in Greenwich would have sent me into some form of I would have driven them to hypertension at the least.

I am one who 'ponders' quite a bit and hoped this might be a way to 'ponder in print' for anyone else who might be leaning in that direction to read.

Ever so often, someone calls my bluff when I go into my "I'm just a boy from the mountains of West Virginia" persona. And I know they're right. I've lived too long among the heathens of New England to be able to avoid absorbing some of their alien customs and ways of thinking. Plus, I've been involved in too much education to pretend to be a rube from the hills. But I do, from time to time, miss that boy who grew up in a part of the world as foreign as Albania to most people, where the lush and endless mountains pressed down so majestically that there were few places, where I lived, that were flat in an area wider than a football field. That boy knew secrets I am only beginning, having entered my sixth decade of the journey toward the Lover of Souls, to remember and cherish.

My maternal grandmother, who had as much influence on me as anyone I know, used to say--"Jimmy, don't get above your raisin'". I probably have done that, in more ways that I'm able to recognize, but I ponder that part of me--buried deeply below layer after layer of living (as the mountains were layer after layer of long-ago life).

Sometimes I get a fleeting glimpse of him, running madly into the woods that surrounded him on all sides, spending hours seeking paths through the deep tangles of forest, climbing upward, ever upward until he found a place to sit and look down on the little town where he lived--spread out like a toy village to him--so he could ponder, alone and undisturbed, for a while.

When I was in high school, I wrote a regular colemn for the school newspaper call "The Outsider". As I ponder my life, I realize that has been a constant: I've always felt just beyond the fringe wherever I was. I've watched much more than I've participated. And I've pondered many things.

So, what I've decided to do is sit here on the hillside for a while, beneath the ruins of the castor oil tree and ponder somemore. And, if you wish, share my ponderings with you--whoever you are out there in cyber-Land.

Two caveates: I'm pretty much a Luddite when it comes to technology--probably smart enough to learn about it but never very interested, so this blog is an adventure for me. My friend Sandy is helping me so it shouldn't be too much of a mess. Secondly, I've realized writing this that there is no 'spell check' on the blog. Either I can get a dictionary or ask your forgiveness for my spelling. I'm a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa ENGLISH major (WVU '69) who never could conquer spelling all the words I longed to write.

I supose I'll just ask your tolerance.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

But bless their hearts...

I wrote a few days ago about how my WVU Mountaineer sports teams will always, as Bern tells me, 'break your heart'.

So today, behind at home to Texas Tech at half, I went to the store to buy stuff for dinner.

In essence, I let them down the way they let me down so much.

When I came home I went on line and saw they won 83-74 in double overtime. Which means they outscored TT by 9 in the second overtime.

Bless their hearts.

I should have hung in there and brought them home rejoicing.

Instead I bought broccoli and thin cut pork chops (because I can't find smoked pork chops anywhere any more).

My bad.

I love you Mounties!

I won't doubt you again, though  you'll break my heart....

(Is this a dysfunctional relationship???)

Russia is watching

I just noticed I've had 172 page views from Russia this week compared to 168 from the US. Their were views from 9 other countries as well.

I checked the all time statistics and found Russia was #2! All time though, US page views were about 90,000 more than the 9,000 from Russia.

So Russians are stepping up their reading of Under the Castor Oil Tree.

First the Democratic National Committee and now an aging white man who happens to be an Episcopal priest.

I'll have to ponder who on earth in Russia is reading my blog. I have no idea. I just hope it isn't the KGB. Or Putin.

Putin might even let Trump know how critical I am of him as President.

Maybe though, when I think about it, it would be an honor to be called out for a 'fake blog'.....

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'll never play Monopoly again

The company that makes the board game, Monopoly, announced today that it is discontinuing the board piece shaped like a thimble.

Users of the game apparently were asked to vote on which pieces they liked and the thimble lost.

Of course it did--anyone under 35 doesn't know what a thimble is!

I'm disgusted. I grew up around thimbles. Thimbles were great things for people who actually repaired things by sewing rather than throwing them away. My mother had so many thimbles I could put one on all my fingers and pretend I had metal hands.

Get rid of that stupid race car if you want, Monopoly. I hate race cars. But I love thimbles.

I'll probably never watch another Presidential press conference either. At least as long as Trump is President.

(Notice I capitalize 'President' and admit that's who Trump is. The electoral college is part of the Constitution and I'm an American. OK? Nobody give me grief if I hate my President as much as I hate ear aches and sudden death....)

Did you see or hear of it?

If not, consider yourself blessed of God, maybe a saint to be.

If Yogi Berra had been President, he would have made more sense.

If Rodney Dangerfield had been President, he would have been less caustic.

Bullies need someone to pick on. For Trump (now the Bully-in-Chief) it's the free press assured us in the first Amendment to the Constitution (that pesky document, according to Trump, that allows 'fake news' and 'so called judges').

To have a 'press conference' to chide the press is rather lame at best and terrifying at worst.

He insulted the BBC, told a Jew to sit down for asking a question about the rise of hate crimes which was asked with great deference, and asked a black journalist if she could set up a meeting between himself and the BCC (which he didn't understand so she said "Black Congressional Caucus"). Of course all Black folks know each other......

In the same press conference he said he was the least anti-Semitic and least racist person in the world.

Like the thimble, truth too is in short supply these days.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.