Sunday, February 28, 2010

why don't they? I don't know...

Well, I screwed up again, hit the 'enter' button and posted the name of the post only. sorry.

Someone asked me today what I would like as a going away gift. And I said, without thinking, really, "I wish people would come to church...."

I've been wishing that most of my professional life and I know all the reasons people 'don't' come to church--I will be dealing with that soon enough...will I go to church if not paid to do so? But it is still my wish.

If the members of St. John's CAME TO CHURCH there would be 6 or 7 hundred people there every Sunday. That would be a challenge, surely, for those of us who do liturgy. We have nearly 400 on Easter and that's something to deal with. But I think I would be able to master having the church full to overflowing each week.

I know why people don't 'come to church'--they work hard all week and need a break, it is snowing/raining/doesn't look good, there is something else to do, it's just a pain...on and on, I could come up with dozens of reasons about 'not coming to church' and all of them would be valid and correct.

The problem is coming up with reasons TO COME TO CHURCH. Well, I can do that too, but the suggestions aren't nearly as compelling as the obvious reasons not to.

It is a way to be close to God....You can be close to God without ever darkening the door of a church. I know that. Since God is everywhere all the time, God is in your kitchen, your bedroom, the soccer field, the woods, the shore, with the coffee and New York Times. So, if you are consciously 'being close to God' anywhere else--may God bless you. But 'church' is a place where chances are you will 'be close to God', as boring as it is and all that.

(An aside about 'boring', which I'm told Church is, though I don't think so: there is no such thing as 'boring' in the universe. Bring me a cup of 'boring', or a handful, or a teaspoon full. You can't. Boring doesn't exist like a thing. I used to tell people "hockey is boring", but I've been glued to hockey games from the Vancouver Olympics. "Boring" isn't 'out there', waiting to bore you. "Boring" is inside you, ready to jump out. So, if church is 'boring', who you going to blame? God? I hope not. Maybe yourself because you don't bring excitement and anticipation and hopefulness with you to loan to 'church'? I don't know. Something to ponder.

Church is a place to find 'community'.
I would contend that what is most missing in the lives of most people is a 'community'.
We are so individualistic and so self-absorbed that we don't even imagine that the way to live is to live in 'community'. A community, unlike a family, is something you can choose. And there you will find yourself in a way you can't outside of community. Community makes us whole...I do believe that...and that is the primary reason I am so distressed about leaving St. John's. I have found 'wholeness' there and must find some new definition of 'being whole' once I leave.

You just ought to....
There are some things you simply 'ought to do'. Brush your teeth, get a good night's sleep, be kind and compassionate to your family, never abuse an animal--stuff like that are simply 'oughts'. One of those is 'go to church'. You don't have to like it, but like brushing your teeth and being kind to animals, some 'oughts' make you a better person over time, without you even realizing it. Church is one of those.

So, what I want is a full church the last 8 sundays of my time at St. John's. That's what I wish for and what would be the best going away present ever....


Ok, I never really thought about that it would come down to this--2 months, 61 days, 8 Sundays--before I retire.

This is too close, to near, to real now.

Why did I decide to do this?

I know it is finally the right thing to do. I know ultimately that all will be well and all will be well and all that.....

And, here it is--2 months, 61 days, 8 Sundays. And I'm scared shitless....Well, that's not quite true, when I get frightened I don't retain.....NO ONE WANTS TO KNOW THAT...OK?

I am much more worried about the parish than about myself. I'll be fine. I actually love being alone and working alone and doing things you do alone. I plan to get a carrel at the Cheshire Library or an office at St. Peter's church where I can do all the stuff I've longed to do for decades but couldn't because I was the priest of a remarkable and very active parish. I will be ok, promise--probably better than OK, but not because I've left St. John's...just because the things I want to do require more alone time than I've had for 20 years.

But I do worry about the parish. I've simply been around so long that the institutional memory doesn't register too well on 1988 and before.

I'm going to add up the funerals and baptisms and marriages some time soon and let you know. Just that kind of 'heavy' involvement weighs me down and ties me to this place. Hundreds and hundreds (stay tuned for the #'s)....

I know and know fair well that the folks there are fine and more than fine and will discover a future they create that will be so wondrous they'll someday say, "Jim who?" Like that. But in the short run, St. John's needs a gentle and wise hand to guide things and that's always been my job.

I am gentle, I believe. I don't make a fuss and never pick a fight and have 'the long view' about things. And I am, if I might be so bold to say, 'wise' about things--most of that wisdom is not making a fuss and never picking a fight and keeping the 'long view', so it's a lot like gentleness. Surprise, surprise--I could have told you...gentleness and wisdom are pretty much the same thing. Who knew?

What I have to do is 'let go' over the next 2 months, 61 days, 8 Sundays. I have to let go and let the folks there do what they WILL do--the right thing.

Right now, staring out my window at such a short time in the midst of things--2 months isn't long after over 20 years, after all....I am terrified.

All WILL be well, but that doesn't undo my terror at this point in time.....

Saturday, February 27, 2010

seeing michael

Michael is this black guy I've know for most of the 20 years I've been Rector of St. John's. He is an intelligent, witty, interesting man. I've never figured out quite how he is only a step or two from the streets. For years I went to the Y to walk the treadmill and take a steam bath and he was often there--lifting more weight than my car could push. He became very upper-body developed and looked like some kind of athlete. He always wears a black silk do-rag and is a good looking man.

He's never volunteered anything about his past, and I've never inquired. Just an agreement we met on early in our relationship. But he knows the Bible well--probably better than me with all my education--and, unlike most self-taught Bible scholars, he had a liberal vent to his interpretation.

I saw him on the street today, walking somewhere, dressed totally in black--do-rag and all, carrying a gym bag. I noticed his upper body has shrunk and wondered why but did not ask.

"Did you bring me a stone from Ireland?" is what he said to me.

Though I don't remember, I must have told him I was going to Ireland and he must have asked me for a stone, for whatever reason.

We have lots of stones in the church because the 'symbols' of Lent have started to pile up. I almost went in and got him one--how would he know, wouldn't it be 'from Ireland' if I said so?

But then I was reminded that our talks had deserved better than a 'false stone'.

I told him I'd remember this time--when I go in June. He said he'd come by the office to pick it us. God knows why he wants it, but it oddly makes sense to me--something about holy ground and stuff like that, which I imagine he is concerned with.

So, I hope I remember and don't disappoint him again. I realized I'd be retired by the time I go to Ireland--or at least not coming to St. John's but living on them during my final sabbatical.

But I'll find him a stone and bring it across the Atlantic and mail it to the church for him, if he remembers.

It's more likely that he'll remember than that I will. I hope we both do.

A piece of the Emerald Isle is something Michael should have and something I'd be honored to bring him.

How wondrous this place has been to me--to have God grant me the privilege to know Wanderers on the Earth like Michael.....

Thursday, February 25, 2010


D. was the only person I ever supervised (such as I do) who was more progressive and liberal than I am.

She was doing a summer internship between her second and last year of seminary and the Bishop of WV decided there were only two priests who could work with her, given her left-wing leanings. The other was another Jim who was the Rector of the big down-town Church in Charleston and I was the vicar of St. James, the black church. Since other-Jim was her sponsor, I got the privilege.

She liberated me, inspired me, taught me and drove me crazy!

She was an English major so we shared lots of things--she has gone on to be a novelist of note, writing historical fiction. Some of you might know her name if I wrote it out because she wrote a novel about Dietrich Bonhoeffer that was widely acclaimed. I liked that one less than her two earlier historic novel--one about Prince Hal and the other about the coal wars in West Virginia. I just have a problem with 'novels' about people who are still alive and some of the characters in the Bonhoeffer book were still alive and the others weren't dead long enough for my taste. But anyway, she was a wondrously smart and talented woman when I worked with her.

Her passion was to challenge the coal companies who were ravaging West Virginia. The tipping point was long after she worked with me when, as a deacon, she staged a protest of the banquet at the WV diocesan convention because some coal mine owners were delegates. The other Jim and I and a couple of other legitimate liberals tried to convince her to come in and eat. And she wouldn't. She carried a sign outside the hotel and fasted for that meal. We went in and, I'm sorry to say, supped with people who were destroying the beauty and integrity of the mountains of our state. She was right all along. I wonder why the food didn't turn to sand in my mouth....

God bless her and people like her. She is a better person than me--even a better 'man' than me.

She left the church for a while and taught in college. But she is back now, God bless her, still pushing the church to be 'what it should be'.

Jesus wouldn't have gone to that banquet, I don't think....And I did....

Something to ponder about myself....


When I was at St. Paul's in New Haven, a place where there were usually 2 or 3 seminarians around for me to pretend to supervise, there was a young man who I admired and liked greatly.

He was a model of a good Seminarian--willing to try most anything, open and interested in the members of the parish, a reasonable preacher, a good colleague.

I was the preacher at his marriage, down in the Mainline of Philadelphia where the celebrant was the Rector at the time, Frank Griswold, who went on to become Presiding Bishop. But here's the thing, I called him once when the bishop had made a decision about gay/lesbian issues that I felt was reactionary and did not represent the general will of the diocese. I had a long talk with him about what was going on--he was a CT priest at the time--(or, more correctly, I ranted on about how awful the bishop's decision...whatever it was...was). When I asked him to help by approaching the bishop about the decision I listened to a lot of dead air on the phone.

Finally, I realized, intuitively, that he didn't agree with me.

Now, I've never made any secret of what I think about social or theological issues and this young priest had worked with me for two years and was exemplary. But in all that time and since his ordination--I was one of his presenters as I remember--he'd never once let me know that he was a whole, honkin' lot more conservative than I was.

He finally explained that he didn't agree and couldn't help me. I was stunned. I simply couldn't understand how I hadn't known his positions and thoughts. He was, for the time before he left CT for another diocese, one of the most eloquent of the right-wing of the diocese. And I had worked with him for two years and known him well after that and never realized.

Looking back I have to ponder some things. *Am I too intimidating to disagree with? Do I come on so strong about what I believe and support that it would be hard to 'cross' me? *Did he hide his opinions from me or develop them later? *What was the breakdown in our relationship that I merely assumed we agreed on most things when in fact we didn't at all? *Did I never ask him what he thought or never invite him to share his beliefs? *Was I just so self-absorbed I never realized how we differed in the years we worked so closely?

I'm still not sure--but it was jarring to me, that day I called him....

Now it is merely something I have to sit with and ponder. And wonder, whatever the reason was, were their others...?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


One of the great thing about all--most all--the seminarians I've so-called 'supervised' over the years is how many of them were funny.

(This is, if you've been reading this blog along, a continuing of my need to catalog things--like my blue clothes, my shoes, etc. I just need to look back and remember right now....)

And maybe, just maybe, they weren't all that funny. Maybe I just find most everything amusing. But I'm sticking with my original belief--I've worked with lots of funny people.

Once Michael, who was a seminarian or intern or someone I was supposedly 'supervising' was going to open the 8 a.m. service. Malinda, the associate Rector and Bob our all-star, indispensable head acolyte, sacristan, jack-of-all-trades who makes most everything liturgical 'work' were in the vesting room with Michael. (By the way, you would never call him "Mike" or "Mickey" or any of that--he was and is, Michael.) But Michael and Malinda and I had on lapel microphones but only Michael needed his turned on. "Wait a minute," he said as we were about to go out to the chancel, "I have to turn myself on...."

And Malinda, a very attractive 40 something woman, said, "I always find that's easier than having someone else do it."

Well, Michael lost it and was laughing so hard that we all went out without him and someone else opened the service.

Then there was John, from years and years ago, who knew we owned a house at some point in North Carolina. He had just been called to a church near Long Beach, where our house was and called me up, introducing himself as Delbert Dimwit or something, the fire marshall of Oak Island.

"Fr. Bradley," he said (me buying he was Delbert) "you own a home on Long Beach."

"Yes," I told him.

"Well," he said, "the gas company was doing some work on the lines down there" (all this in an exaggerated but convincing North Carolina accent--and John was from New Jersey) "and a fire broke out next to your house...."

I became hysterical and not understandable.

"Not to worry, Fr. Bradley," Delbert/John continued, "it is actually good news. The fire left an outline of the Last Supper and a profile of Ronald Reagan on the side of your house. The property value has gone way up...."

Even then I wasn't sure I was being sucked into something so he finally dropped into his Newark voice and told me who he was.

Another Michael and Malinda story. The first Sunday Michael was a deacon he was going to read the gospel. I bet Malinda he would kiss the book after he read it. Since Malinda and I are so broad/low church we found it astonishing that he would kiss the gospel. I always say, 'when you kiss the gospel you are kissing everyone who ever kissed it' and find it just too, too precious for my taste, though not a bad thing, I assure you.

We got the gospel book and realized it required turning the page to complete the reading. So Malinda got one of those yellow sticky pads, put on lipstick and made a big, honking lipstick mouth on the sticky and we put it on the second page of the gospel Michael would read and wrote, beneath it, KISS THIS!

As Bob--our all-star, in on the prank, carried the gospel book down, Malinda panicked and whispered to me "we have to tell him...."

Of course, I said, "No, no, we don't...."

Michael turned the page, didn't miss a word though Bob was chuckling visably, finished the gospel, turned back from the center aisle to catch our eyes and kissed that sticky note....

God bless them all.

I have more for Seminarians iii, ok?


One of the privileges and honors and humbling experiences I've had as a priest in this branch of God's holy, catholic and apostolic church (whatever that means) is to 'supervise' seminarians.

I spent a while trying to remember who all I had 'supervised' and lost count several times. I think it is around 30 or so--a few less or a few more. And I loved and still love them all....

I have used punctuation (' and ') to set off the word and concept 'supervised' because I think there is nothing I have done that was, by definition, supervisory for those folks. Mostly what I've done is give them their head, let them loose and covered their asses when necessary.

Ironically, the one thing seminary education does not teach you is 'how to be a priest in a parish in the real world'.

One can learn a great deal worth learning in seminary, truly. You can learn scholarship about the Bible and learn theology and church history (though no one, including me, learned nearly enough about that in seminary) and you learn about the liturgy and pastoral care and all sorts of really important and necessary things. But you never, ever learn how to be a priest in a parish in the real world.

So, I took that on as my job, my purpose, my calling--to set them free and give them their head and cover their asses in the real world of being a priest. And one of the great things about having them around was that they kept me thinking theologically--because that was their job at the time--and kept me hoping for the future of the church with such wondrous creatures in it.

I'm pressed for time but I'll do "seminarians--cont." soon....God love them all, we are better people and a better church because of them....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Since I have been inventorying my clothes, I thought I'd add shoes--which are not blue.

Like most things, I have very few shoes. I have a pair of Berkinstock sandals I wear indoors in winter and always when spring comes. My current pair is tan and were a Xmas gift from my son and daughter-in-law in 2008. I checked the tread recently and think I can get another Spring/Summer/Fall out of them. I have a pair of Berkinstock clogs that are gray and many years old--I wore them one day recently in the snow and nearly fell down half-a-dozen times. They have no tread left at all and should be discarded. I have a pair of loafers I keep at church that are my burying/marrying shoes--just like my one suit that I keep at church.

At some one's funeral a member of the parish commented that I had on shoes. I told him the dead person was 'shoe worthy' and advised him to consider if he was 'shoe worthy'.

I also have some chunka boots, as we used to call them, that belonged to the Parish Administrator's father. After he died, she gave them to me and I've worn them ever since. I have one other pair of those green and tan over the ankle boots that I haven't worn since I got Marvin's shoes. They're at church too.

I guess I don't have as many shoes as most people. I used to have a pair of sneakers that I left in Anaheim after General Convention by mistake. I will get some when spring comes because I plan to walk a lot after I'm retired and lose enormous amounts of weight doing so.

This whole inventory of my clothes has something to do with my impending retirement, I know, I'm just not sure what.

I need to take inventory of my life as the end of April approaches. I think that's it. So I will ponder that.

How many clothes and shoes do you have? What color dominates? Can you ponder what all that means to you?

Just wondering.

One of the former Senators from Texas once said, "I have more guns than I need, but not as many as I want."

When I heard that I realized I was not like least about guns.

I suppose I could say: "I don't have as many clothes and shoes as I need...but I have all that I want...."

I'm not sure what any of this means, but I will take it into my pondering and let you know if I come up with something....

Blue, blue, blue....

Just the other day I realized something I should have 'known'--you know what I mean? I realized a 'truth' that had, for God knows how long (I certainly don't, having no traffic with linear time) I should have known.

Almost every piece of clothing I own is some shade of blue.

Oh, I have a yellow rain jacket and two pairs of khaki pants--just two though--and some socks in other colors, and a couple (only a couple) of white, long sleeve shirts. But, for the most part, I dress in shades of blue that bleed into black.

I realized this because I was looking for a particular blue shirt the other day--a pull-over that didn't have ABT (American Ballet daughter's company) on the front. And what I found that made me a little crazy is about a dozen blue pull-overs...short-sheeved and long-sleeved--that weren't the one I wanted. Then I started looking at my closet and realized that almost every shirt I own is some shade of blue. (I do have two or three red short-sleeved shirts and some other tee shirts that aren't blue and a pullover that is gold because it is a WVU shirt someone gave me.) But what I wear is blue of some hue.

I don't own many clothes. I have a suit I keep at church that is my marrying and burying suit. It is basically brown but with blue lines running through it. Like lots of my clothes, I bought it at the consignment shop and was, now that I look back on it through these new blue eyes, attracted to it because of the blue threads....

I have two khaki pants and two pairs of, you've figured it out, right? BLUE jeans. That's really all the pants I have. And when a pair of them wears out or something, I go replace them with pants from Marshall's that match them as best I can. From what is clean and in my closet right now, I have about a dozen pull over shirts and 9 of them are some shade of blue or black...though 'black', as I think of it, doesn't really have 'shades'. Black is like pregnant--it's either black or not, it seems to me.

I have three white button up shirts, two are white and one is white with, of all things, salmon (or pink, if you want to be honest) stripes. I have three other long sleeve button up shirts that are all some shade of blue. (My summer shirts are in the other room now, but I bet if I went to see them there would be a couple of red polo shirts and one white one and all the rest would be blue of some kind and black.

So, I ask myself, when did this happen? When did I become an essentially 'blue' man?

I have four sweaters I wear. One is black, one is deep blue and the other two or lighter shades of blue. Go figure....

The thing is, if you had asked me, off-handedly, sometime last week, what colors I wore, I would have probably told you, "I wear a whole rainbow of colors--never the same two days in a row...." And I would have meant it.

Surprise, surprise....How truly unconscious I am about any number of things. Over the years I've filled my closet and drawers with 'blue' stuff--my pajamas bottoms are all blue except for one dark brown and one yellow Sponge Bob Square Pants that I got from Pauline when I was in the hospital after cancer surgery five or six years ago.

That's another thing I didn't know--I remember where I got most every piece of my scant number of clothes....Not hard since most were from the consignment shop or Marshall's....But something to ponder anyway.

I'm all blue....What color are you? Ponder that.....


I was just out on my little 'smoking porch', well, smoking, if you must know. It is just off the sacristy and on West Main Street. It is the only place I allow myself to smoke at St. John's and though I do smoke there it is much less than when I could smoke out other doors.

It snowed last night and this morning and snowed like crazy here between 10:30 and 1:30. Then it started to rain. Welcome to southern New England's late winter....

I saw an Hispanic woman across the street with her two children--a boy and a girl--probably 3 and 5 or so. She took them up to the door of the apartment house, gently brushed the wetness off their hoods and led them inside.

I also saw a young white woman in pigtails, walking with her two children--and older boy, 10 or 11 or so and a little girl of 5. He had on boots but the girl didn't, so this woman, who was so young and vulnerable and thin, picked her up so her feet wouldn't get wet in the inches of slush. She carried her and they moved on.

I went to see my daughter in Brooklyn, NY on Saturday. She and her boyfriend, Tim, who we love, moved into a new apartment on South Elliott Place in Fort Green, a great neighborhood. Their new apartment is wondrous and they are wondrous. This only a few weeks after visiting my son and his family--Cathy, Morgan and Emma the twins and Tegan Hoyt, the baby--in Baltimore.

Both my children are in their 30's and successful in their lives. And when I see them or talk to them on the phone, I am like those two mothers with their little children I saw today in the snow and rain and slush.

I have walked with them through snow and rain and sleet and blistering heat and the wondrous warmth of Spring and early fall. I have held their hands and brushed away the flotsam and jetsam that the weather left on them. I have carried them through the slush and held them near me, feeling their warm and perfect breath on my face.

I know they are wondrous adults and live their own lives without me involved and yet I know them, when I see them, as children in a snow storm, a rain fall, a perfect day that I lifted into my arms and held and hugged and loved and kissed.

Children are like that, I think. They are always young in our hearts. They grow older and wiser and don't need me anymore, but what I know and see when I know and see them is the child they were, that gave meaning to my life, that made me matter, that were the only thing that mattered to me.

And still, that is true. Children get under your skin. That is just the way it is and the way it goes....

So, when I saw what I saw, I remembered who I am and who my children were....And it was wondrous....

Monday, February 22, 2010

Letting go....

Do you remember Sting's song that goes something like, "If you love somebody....let them go...."

Well, I don't remember the words exactly but I know what he means. Love can sometimes be confining and disabling. You must love only those who are free to love by having an option to walk away. Something like that.

I spent a while in the church today just bathing myself in the beauty of it all. I love this space and I must, some 79 days or so (which is what Bill told me, our evening sexton, who is apparently keeping track) do. {For an English major that was a crazy way to write a it goes.}

I must 'let go', but not yet. For now I will cling with crazy enthusiasm to every precious moment of my time here. Letting go is something I'll think about later. I will, I know. But for now, it is the last thing in my mind.

I've asked the bishop elect, who I've know for decades, to come visit us one day before he is Bishop and I am gone. I hope to show him what a paradigm for urban ministry St. John's is and how vital it is for him to do what he can do to nurture and pastor this place through the long process of having a new Rector.

St. John's is remarkable and, in many ways, not repeated around the church. The parish exists, in a way, to do 'outreach'--which, I might say, is why the 'church' exists. And St. John's really does it. I should have done more to impress people about how important St. John's is to the city--both people in the larger church and in the city. But I didn't. I simply enjoyed and reveled in how astonishingly this parish has 'been church' in a way that matters.

My only fear in leaving--besides the fear of how well I can 'let go' and move on--is that my leaving might change the fabric and purpose of the parish. We--St. John's--have, like most urban churches, a great financial problem. However, what we DO and if we continue to DO that is more important than any other concern.

St. John's, I've often said, 'would have to be invented' if it didn't exist.

The easier and more productive way of proceeding, after I let go, would be to make sure it just keeps doing what it does and does it even better. That's why I invited Ian to visit--he's coming in early April--and why I pray those who have been with me on this journey for the last 20 years will realize the journey has just begun....

Letting go is hard, harder than I imagined....

Friday, February 19, 2010

who knows, maybe it's just me....

I'm reading a novel by Jane Haddam. She writes about a retired FBI agent named Gregor Demarkian, who lives in an Armenian enclave of Philadelphia. Jane Haddam isn't PD James or anything, but the Armenian stuff is interesting and Gregor is a cerebral kind of crime solver. However, I almost put it down because it's about a little town in the foothills of the Appalachians near Harrisburg PA that is divided over a school board that wants to make Intelligent Design an option to Evolution in the science curriculum. Even that is an interesting thing except that all the Christians in the book are total nut-cases, yelling at people who don't agree with them that they will burn in hell if they don't come to Jesus and school bullying is all about who is 'that kind of Christian' and everyone else. The 'everyone else', according to 'that kind of Christian' are called secular humanists or atheists though some of them are Methodists, for goodness sake.

So I decided to put the book aside and finish reading the parts of the Sunday NYT that take me almost until the next Sunday to finish. And what do I find in the Times Sunday magazine but a long article on how the Board of Education of the State of Texas has been taken over by fundamentalists who want to change the study of history to include such thoughts as that the US was intended to be a 'Christian nation' and that the separation of Church and state is an invalid interpretation.

Texas, I learned, is one of the few states to have state-wide curriculum decisions made by an 'elected' state Board of Education. So Texas is going to have some folks running things a little to the Right of Center--well, a LOT to the right of center!--so what? Here's 'what'--Texas, besides California, is the largest purchaser of public school text books in that multi-billion $ business. So, what Texas will tolerate in school books has a vast influence on what text book publishers provide. That's 'what'....Some 40 states will be effected by what Texas wants.

The difference between the Texas BofE folks and the folks in the Haddam novel is this--they are all very smart, highly educated and much more adept at dealing with the larger culture. One of them, who was the chairman until even Texas realized he was too fundamentalist Christian in his opinions, is a dentist for goodness sake. Some are lawyers and academics...but a majority of those who have a vote of the BofE are fundamentalists.

The writer of the article visited Liberty University's School of Law (the school founded by Jerry Fawell...) and was astonished that the goal of that law school is clearly to make sure the US is 'returned' to the status of a Christian Nation. I put 'returned' in quotes since most main stream historians don't believe a CHRISTIAN NATION (capped because of the myriad of implications from civil liberties to academic freedom to the right of non-Christians to worship or the right of non-religious people to be non-religious) was what the framers of the Constitution intended.

The framers were steeped in European Christianity, surely, and most of them--with the exception of Jefferson, for example--were practicing Christians. But because they were so familiar with the mess the mixture of religion and state had made over the centuries in Europe, they studiously avoided including religous (or Christian) language in the document. The word "God" does not occur in the Constitution...all that language about 'endued by their Creator with certain inalienable rights' is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. And, whenever the writers of the Constitution, including Jefferson who wrote the Declaration almost independently, refered to God in any context it was to a 'Creator', 'Prime Mover', 'Architect of Nature' and not to the Christian Trinity. The Constitution insures an absolute 'freedom' to practice religion but studiously avoids equating that to 'practicing ANY religion' as the basis of the State's functions. Go read it, I'm not making this up....The Constitution might have been, in my opinion, the first truly 'secular' document outlining the workings of government.

Maybe it's just me, but I am profoundly thankful that the Framers of the Constitution establish a division between Church and State. And I know that term was from Jefferson and doesn't itself appear in the Constitution. Imagine if the Anglicans had run the new nation! (Well, they practically did since a majority of the signees of the Constitution were Anglicans along with the first five presidents (absent Jefferson)...but nevermind...what a mess that would have been. A Senate made up of Bishops and such....Good grief, we can't even run a denomination efficiently, how would we run a nation?

At any rate, the folks on the Texas BofE and their allies at places like Liberty School of Law and several ultra-conservative 'think tanks' (I'll resist saying that 'untra-conservative think tanks' is an oxymoron....) believe that the prohibition in the Constitution about the 'establishment' of religion merely meant the Baptists or Congregationalist or Methodists couldn't be 'the State Church'...but the assumption was, those folks believe, that Christians and only Christians would run the whole thing along the line of Christian precepts.

One of the members of the Texas BofE through a fit when a Hindu said the opening prayer for the US Senate one day....Hey, I thought these guys liked 'prayer'! He said a Hindu doesn't believe in the 'real' God.

Here's the rub...who knows, maybe it's just me...but what scares me about the folks in the NYT magazine article is that they think they are the ones to decide what 'religion' and 'prayer' really are and, beyond that, who is really a Christian. Whoa, Nellie! I AM A CHRISTIAN, thank you very much, and I support the ban against enforced school prayer and crucifixes in court rooms and would support a ban against any other intrusion of any particular religion or any definition of who is 'religious' or not sneaking into a text book or a court room or any public place. Just so we're clear: I am a Christian, no matter what anyone else decides I am or am not.

So, I took up "Living Witness" the title of the book I put down. I'll finish it now because I need to learn how other people think and what they think of how I think....Know your enemy, is the phrase. I may not think of fundamentalist Christians as necessarily 'my enemy', but since I am, clearly, an 'enemy' to them, I don't have much choice.

I was driving my wife's truck today. It is covered with Obama bumper stickers. I was stopped at a stop light and the guy on my left tooted his horn and rolled down the window. "Did you really vote for Obama?" he asked.

"I did," I said proudly.

"Like how things are going?"

"I do," I said, knowing a stoplight is not a place to have a political discussion of any depth, "if people would let him do his job."

The guy gave me the finger and pulled out since people behind us were beeping and the light was green.

His truck costs a good four times more than Bern's.

Who knows, maybe it's just me. But I think I will start considering the importance of 'knowing my enemies'.

Something to ponder under my castor oil tree for sure....

Oh, and there's as little danger that I'll move to Texas as there is that I'll move to Armenia, in what ever form it exists today, though Gregor's Demarkian's people are interesting....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

serious thoughts

I've been thinking about things lately--things I've never had to think about before--things about packing up and leaving...painful thoughts and very serious.

Yesterday was my last Ash Wednesday at St. John' some point I decided Ash Wed was so important that we should make it easier and easier to take part. So, we started out by having 3 full services: 8am, noon and 7:30 pm. Then, every half hour we'd have someone in the chapel to 'impose' ashes and give communion from the reserve sacrament. That sort of broke down until now we simply have someone in the chapel in a cassock all day long. It's 'all ashes all day' at St. John's.

Over the years that has worked and worked and continues to work. Though we had a normal noon crowd and a far above normal 7:30 crowd, there were more people who just drifted in and through than the total of the 3 services. Whole families come. The youth group came. People from the Soup Kitchen--volunteers and guests--came. People I never dreamed would come, came. People who saw the sign outside the front door dropped in. It is truly exciting, the way we do Ash Wednesday. I have dozens of stories. Maybe I'll tell them in another form when I get around to writing stuff down about my experience as a priest. I'll try to remember to do that. But for now, there is this: it is wonderful and exciting and the height and depth of 'inclusion', the way we do Ash Wednesday.

I'm really going to miss that.

Then I was thinking about dis-embedding the vestments that belong to me from the vestments that belong to the parish. That might take a whole day, someday soon. And packing up the pictures I have at the parish and my other stuff and 'moving out'. What a nightmare. Why did I decide to do this anyway...?

But dis-embedding my stuff from that place will be nothing compared to un-enmeshing myself, my heart and mind and soul, from that place and from, most of all, those people.

We had a staff member once who talked about how 'enmeshed' the parish was. I don't think that person meant it as a compliment. It was a criticism of how people become so involved in each other's lives that they begin to define themselves as a 'group' and not as strictly 'individuals'.

I could write a great deal about this theory--and will someday--but the truth is, I never saw that as a negative thing. We are, after all, 'the Body' of Christ....and though the eye has its job and the hand its job, they work as one, enmeshed, as it were.

So, that is my job these days--to appreciate the connections that hold me at St. John's and begin the painful process of cutting them away so I can walk away. A friend who reads my blog told me I was much more emotional here, in writing, than I seemed as I went through my life and connections and work day by day. And that is so. This is the work I need to do--I don't need to impose it on is my work. And it is painful and fraught with loss. Yet, I shall do it...and in my day to day work I will seek to free people from the mesh that holds us now, so they can walk on when I walk away.

It is difficult and trying. And it must be done. And I will do it.

Above all things but one, I want to walk away free to face the possibilities of the future. The only thing I want more is to allow St. John's to be free of me as well.....That will be a 'completion' and we can all move on with a light step to what God has in mind for us next....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

no hash tonight--trying again...

I hit the wrong key and published a blog that I hadn't yet written. I probably shouldn't be allowed to be near a computer....

So, I remember how it started. Jack Parker, one of the great people in history--I'd put him up there with Moses, Abe Lincoln, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King Jr., Kurt Vonnegut and Elvis--didn't come to the Shove Tuesday Pancake Supper at St. John's. When I asked him why, he said because Christ Church in the East End had corned beef hash on Shrove Tuesday. So I made him promise to come next year and I made a small bit of corned beef brisket and a few onions and potatoes and (my secret) evaporated milk and parsley. But people liked it so each year over the years I've had to increase my production of hash.

This year I had over 12 pounds of briskets, 15 pounds of potatoes and five pounds of onions (though I cheated and bought onions already diced in plastic containers). I cooked the briskets yesterday when no was around since the church was officially closed for Presidents' Day. I peeled the potatoes and was ready to go today as soon as the Soup Kitchen closed and I could have the stove to myself. Alas, the snow came and we actually cancelled the Shove Tuesday pancake supper. Alas, again. People were coming to cook the cakes and sausages and the hash would have been ready by 5.

But it was a good call. I slid all the way home and the snow was a slushy as it is in Vancouver at the Winter Olympics...another, alas....

Jack, I believe, would forgive me--I hope he had some hash with his pancakes in the Kingdom.

I miss him.

no hash tonight....

Monday, February 15, 2010

Here's a poem

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training this week. The snow will eventually melt and the most perfect of games--baseball--will be back....Believing in Baseball is akin to believing in God, only moreso..


I love eating breakfast
in local restau;rants
in tiny North Carolina towns
with odd names that have 'boro'
at their ends:
because I know the sausage gravy
is real the biscuits made from scratch
and the grits won't be runny
except with butter--real butter.
And I love you more than that.

I love reading three books at a time:
a mystery, a fantasy, a straight novel--
all on my bedside table,
sometimes in my book bag,
letting each capture me,
mixing up the characters and plots,
racing with each of them to the end.
And I love you more than that.

I love a beach and the stuff
washed up on it--odd and weird--
and a dog...snuffling and running along...
beside me, behind me, ahead of me,
and the smell of the ocean
and the heat of the sun,
buring my bare shoulders and face.
And I love you more than that.

I love the taste of Pinot noir--
the husks of nuts,
the almost too ripe grapes,
the way it slows me down
and slurs my speech
and opens my heart to truth.
And I love you more than that.

I love sleeping in hotels
that have too many pillows on the bed
and HBO on the TV,
so I can pile the comforter
from the other double bed
onto mine and snuggle down in the pillows
and go to sleep with the TV on
knowing I'll wake up in time
for the conference I'm attending.
And I love you more than that.

I love the smell of vanilla (love that a lot)
and the first taste of every morning's coffee
and the feel of cashmere sweaters
(my own or some lovely woman's)
and the look of the night sky in deep winter
and the first few notes of anything
Motzart wrote (God bless him)...
I love my senses:
and I love you more than that.

And I love when the pitchers and catchers
arrive for Spring Training,
just imagining it--the leather of the gloves,
the shining white of the baseball,
the weight room designed to overcome
the indiscretions of the off-season,
the green of the grass,
blue of the sky,
warmth of the air,
the soothing symmetry of the game
and the promise of spring around the corner.
I love you profoundly, eternally, always and forever:
and I'm not sure I love you more than that...

jgb 2006

"Play ball...."

my next calling....

I've decided today what I'm going to be when I grow up and retire--I'm going to be 'a pain in the ass' to everyone who needs one...starting with doctors.

I had an eye appointment today at 2:30. At 3 I walked over to the desk and was called. I was taken to a room and I started complaining to the technician. "I had two appointments today--I was to celebrate the Eucharist at a nursing home at 11 and meet with a couple who is getting married at 1. I was there, on time, for both. If I had kept either the folks in wheelchairs or the young couple waiting a half an hour I would have expected them to leave....Why do I wait a half an hour just to be called in? My appointment was at 2:30, why didn't I get in this room when I was told I would be?"

Well, you can imagine that conversation..."the Dr was in surgery" and I said, "did he get to the office late?" "No, but things got backed up..." And I said, "Why, what backed them up?" And she said, well, Mrs. Jones needed an injection we hadn't planned on?" And I said, "so why didn't you come and tell me I was waiting because Mrs. Jones needed an injection? I would have appreciated that...." And she said, "we can't give out that information because of the HIPA laws." and I said, "Well, I know from experience that Hipa laws suck--I can hardly find people from the parish in hospitals...but someone could come out and tell me, 'gosh, jim, the Doctor had to do a proceedure I can't name on a patient I can't tell you about and that's why we're late taking you in...."

Then she sent for the Office Manager. We had a good conversation, actually, she really listened and has had to go to doctors herself so she knew what I was talking about. I compared it to two things: one, if a service is supposed to start at 8 a.m. or noon and I delay it without explanation for half an hour or more, I wouldn't expect people to stay. After all, church is only about your Spiritual health and most people don't get that in the same way they 'get' physical health. Besides, if I'm a few minutes late for the Wed. noon service, everyone knows each other and I have to interupt their conversation to start the mass! You know people you are waiting with in don't in a doctor's office.

The second thing I compared it with was the Department of Motor Vehicles. At least I know and know fair well that going to DMV is a crap shoot. I have to stand in line to get a number and then wait for my number to be called--like at Deli--but I can be counting down all the time and always take a book to DMV. Sometimes you're lucky--I had to change my registration, since the DMV put the wrong description of my car on it and I'd been told that by a Cheshire policewoman who checked my VIN # and let me go...AND I had to get a new driver's licence because my wallet got stolen. I was in and out in 15 minutes! But I've waited an hour or more before. But I could see the #'s on the screen and knew where I stood.

I told her--the very patient Office Manager--that I love my eye doctor and he did surgery on both my eyes and I knew things 'happened'. I just wanted to be kept informed about 'why' my 2:30 appointment didn't really mean 2:30. I trust she took in my complaint and I truly believe the desk folks and nurses will make sure people 'know' they have to wait for a good reason. We'll see. But being a pain in the ass, especially a somewhat charming and very polite one, suits me well. I am somewhat charming and terribly polite--I still call people "Mam" and "Sir" for goodness sake.

Then there was the exam. It always takes forever for me. Oddly enough I didn't need to change my glasses. The Dr. suggested I get one of those little clip on lights to put on the altar book so I can see it better....Well, he's Jewish and doesn't realize what a liturgical faux pas (did I actually spell that right? my spell check allowed it) that would be.

Because of my age they dilate my eyes until my pupil is about the size of a gerbil and then make me click a thing every time I see a light and stare as deeply into my eyes as Spencer Tracy used to stare into Katherine Hepburn's eyes. Then he brings out the torture device--a little piece of glass that he puts between my eye and the light that makes me reveal all the security secrets I know and tell him about how much I used to masturbate as a 15 year old. I'd rather be water-boarded than have that light shined in my eyes....It's like staring into the sun on the equator at noon.

"Doesn't that hurt my eyes in some ways," I asked him.

"Probably," he said, 'but only short will wear off in a few hours...."

I left with two pairs of the plastic sunglasses over my eyes and drove home. There are still auroras around everything and my computer screen is blindingly bright. But I am committed to being a pain in the ass to the medical profession from this day forward.

I'd recommend that to you as well. They call it an "appointment" for a reason. Don't wait--get aggressive (though be charming and polite) and point out that you matter and your time matters and you need to at least have the courtesy of being apologized to for being made to wait and given some HIPA approved explanation for the delay.

Aging folks of the world unite! Let's get this handled, beloved....

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lightening up a bit....

Ok, after my diatribe about guns--and notice this about me, I get concerned with 'educated' people start shooting people. What an a**h**l Classiest I am! Ponder that...I will, I promise....

So, I thought I'd share some of my poetry with you. I'm facing a wierd and unknown future in about 2 and 1/2 months when I retire from St. John's. Here's a poem I wrote in 2005 about the future....

"There is this about magic doors
you pass through them unawares."
--Celtic saying

The future is out there, obscured from sight
by the mist that flows up from the sea at dawn,
impenetrable--a fog wall closing in, narrowing
the moment down to its nub, its essence,
a particle of time.

Straining to see doesn't help.
Squinting is useless.
Standing on tip-toe in the cold damp grass,
vainly trying to peer above the close, clinging clouds.
The future undoes your hope,
unties your pleasures and aches alike,
stripping away this moment, now.

"The present", someone told me once,
"is just what you miss while awaitng the future."
Something like that is what they said.
But I missed it then,
wondering what they would say next,
not wanting to miss that....

On this side of the future, fog is all we have
or can have. A road beneath two trees,
sweet wet grass for walking barefoot
and maybe
some magic door we entered already.

Guns DO kill people

Before I get to that, there is this--it took me about 10 minutes to get to this point when it usually takes me 15 seconds. I don't know what I did wrong but GOOGLE, hereafter known and the Spawn of Satan, keep rejecting my password which had always and ever been waterbury, or, as GOOGLE (SOFS) shows it *********. Actually, it is little dots instead of little stars, but I can't make it on my keyboard.

I HATE and DESPISE beyond all knowing the Internet and everything about it. I wish it did not exist. I do like email and being able to look things up, but it is both a pain in the ass and a Right Wing Conspiracy to suck our souls away so we can't be liberals and human beings any more.

But since it is here and I have finally found my Blog, I'll just write a bit......

Unless you've been on one of the moons of Jupiter, by now you've heard of Dr. Amy Bishop, a Harvard Ph.D. who pulled out a handgun and killed three of her colleagues and wounded three other people in, for God's sake, a faculty meeting of the Biology Department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

OK, I was hysterical enough when the Army psychiatrist killed all those people at Fort Hood. My Lord, a psychiatrist killing people with a gun....But he was in the army and did have access to weapons. But a Harvard educated Ph.D. shooting down other Ph.D.'s--we've got to draw the line somewhere....Why in the hell do we live in a country that would let a highly educated person own a gun?

I do not own a gun. I grew up around guns. I grew up in a place where people hunted and did target shooting. I've shot a lot of guns in my life. I respect people who hunt and do target practice. But when I moved my father out of his house and brought him to CT, I took his pistol--which I shot a lot as an adolescent--and turned it into the police in Princeton, WV. I didn't want it. I didn't want to own a gun.

You want to know why I don't want to own a gun? I don't want to own a gun because I know I would use it. I would shoot someone who was breaking into my house threatening my wife, my dog, my cat, my two birds. I'd shoot them as soon as look at them. I simply would. I am an 'almost' pacifist--but pacifists are dangerous people. I wouldn't carry a gun in a war because I know I'd use it to kill people and I won't own a gun because I know...given the situation...use it to kill people. And one of my rules is this: DON'T KILL PEOPLE.

So where did Dr. Bishop get a handgun--not for hunting or target practice, but to kill biologists?

The two most ignorant bumper stickers I've ever seen--and I 'like' bumper stickers by in large--are these: GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE and THEY CAN TAKE MY GUN WHEN THEY PRY MY COLD, DEAD HAND FROM IT.

Jesus Christ, what idiocy. GUNS KILL PEOPLE. Ask the families of the soldiers that Army shrink killed. Ask the families of the biologists Dr. Bishop killed. If they hadn't had a gun they might have tried a knife but people can fight off a knife attack much more effectively than they can dodge a bullet. They might have punched and scratched and kicked at people, but I doubt they would have killed them.

All you idiots out there, listen up: GUNS KILL PEOPLE.

Already they are talking on Public Radio and everywhere else about how Dr. Bishop killed her brother WITH A GUN when she was an adolescent. They are trying to explain "why" she killed her Ph.D. colleagues.

I'll tell you WHY. She had a f***ing GUN, that's why....

No one would have written or spoken a word about an Army psychiatrist or a University of Alabama professor who scratched, kicked and punched people until restrained.

Here's the other bumper sticker, third on my list for idiocy: WHEN GUNS ARE OUTLAWED, ONLY OUTLAWS WILL HAVE GUNS.

No, you morons, the Police will have guns too and if guns were illegal we might put some people out of the society for simply having one without waiting until they killed someone with them.

I won't go so far as to say that 'only outlaws have guns' now--keep your hunting guns and your target practice guns--but, for God's sake and all our sakes, stop letting people...people like Dr. Bishop and Dr. Bradley...have guns. We'll use them, beloved, and none of us need folks like us with our fingers on the trigger....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

old pictures, new thoughts

My wife moves stuff around constantly--furniture, pictures, other stuff. I noticed last night that a picture of me from my high school graduation. She balanced it on the top of the bottom part of the window where my computer sits.

I look at that picture and can't quite come to grips that it is a picture of me. He's so young and clean-shaven--and his chin has been air brushed so it isn't nearly as sharp and distinct as mine is (covered by a beard grown for that purpose some 40+ years ago!). He reminds me of a song I don't know where I heard or why I remember or who performed it or anything except two lines:

"He has the cold, clear look of a seeker of wisdom and truth,
And an up-turned chin and grin of impetuous youth."

Well, look is neither cold or clear anymore and my seeking of wisdom and truth devolved into a fascination with paradox and chaos. I still grin a lot but it is the grin of an aging white man who sometimes can remember 'being young' and though I'm still a bit impetuous, it is the impetuousness of a mischievous elderly man, not to be trusted completely....

Looking at him is like being lost and unstuck in time. How young, how optimistic, how much skinner! how dressed up, how air brushed to be almost handsome....

Sometimes we need to ponder where we came from and who we used to be and probably, in some way, still ARE. Not bad for a session of pondering....

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

a note about 'pondering'

I realize I often use the word "ponder" in these musings and thought I might say something about what I mean by it.

The title of this blog "Under the Castor Oil Tree" is an allusion to the end of the OT book of Jonah. The story ends with Jonah on a hill overlooking Nineveh, pondering all that has happened. The tree he sits beneath, withered and dead from a worm at that point, is --some scholars believe--a Castor oil tree. After running away from God only to get thrown in the sea and swallowed by a great fish that regurgitates him right where God wanted him to go...and after proclaiming the destruction of Nineveh only to have God spare the city because the people repent--much to Jonah's disappointment...and after sitting in the blistering sun asking God to kill him only to have God cause a tree to grow and shade him, until God kills the tree---well, I don't know about you, but that seems a lot to ponder about.

You can google ponder and find out how any number of dictionaries define it. But what I mean is an experience that causes you to say "Huh..." to yourself and start to wonder about the deep down meaning of things.

Pondering, as I use the word, isn't directed toward discovering an answer to your quandary or a way out of whatever quagmire you find yourself in. Quite the contrary, what I mean by "ponder" is to muse and wonder and consider the implications and possibilities of things. "Answers" are for fraidy-cats--people unwilling the examine the quandary for its own sake or explore the quagmire rather than struggle to get out. If you keep saying "Huh..." to yourself over an extended period of time, you're doing what I call pondering.

I have a friend who I think either ponders most everything or simply has developed a habit of saying "Huh...." He has raised saying "huh..." to an art form. Others who know him actually try to distinguish between the tones and timbres of his wide assortment of 'huh's...'

That wouldn't be a bad thing for all of us to be habitual about--wondering, considering, reflecting...all of which are a part of pondering. The older I get, the more things there seem to be to ponder upon....

Happy pondering....I hope your tree doesn't die....

Monday, February 8, 2010

The projectionists

So I have this hat--I've always had a hat of some kind since I truly believe if your head is warm, you'll be warmer...but that's just me. This hat I have is, obviously to me, a lion. There is a brown and yellow and white mane from ear to ear in two inch long fringes of yarn and that motif is continued down to two yarn masses on either side of my hat, attached to the ear flaps. There are two brown ears--a little like Mickey Mouse ears but smaller--on the top of the hat and the hat itself is the downy gold/yellow of a lion. My brother-in-law gave me the hat and I love it and wear it everyday and forget sometimes to take it off.

My hat gets giggles and smiles and out-loud laughter. A guy in a convenience store in Baltimore--a guy with lots of piercings and tattoos and jelled hair told me, "Man, I hate to say it, but that is one 'rad' hat...." I'm not sure what 'rad' means--some play on 'radical' I suspect, but, being polite, I thanked him for his observation.

Here's the thing--my hat is so obviously a lion to me that I am amazed at what people tell me they think it is: a Viking, a Mohawk Indian, an Arab, a Hindu, a Peruvian (that one is understandable since it looks like those hats except for the fringe mane and the ears and was, according to the label, made in Peru) and, my favorite, an Ewok. (Of course, some people, I know, think I look like an idiot in my hat, but I don't mind.) H. told me "I can't take you seriously in that hat," and I replied, "that might be the point...."

So, lots of people 'project' things on my hat. "Projection", of course, is a really important concept in psychology that most people have no concept about in day to day life. Most of us always think of ourselves as video cameras--recording what we experience with our senses. I would suggest it is more true to think of ourselves as movie projectors--putting our own thoughts, interpretations, judgments, ideas, opinions on the clean, white screen that is what we think of as 'reality'. If you asked me (I know you didn't but I'm going to tell you anyway) most of what we assume is objective reality is really what we have 'projected' on life as we know it. And the fact that we assume we are 'recording' makes the fact that we're really 'projecting' doubly hard to notice and realize.

Whenever someone says to me, "Are you feeling alright?" I tend to assume that they aren't feeling quite up to par. So I ask them how they feel and almost always they tell me about what's bothering them. Same thing goes for "Are you tired?" or "Are you angry?" or "Are you a little depressed?" Almost always whoever asks me stuff like that is 'projecting'. I'm just the screen, for goodness sake.

And there is all sorts of 'projection' stuff put on me because I'm a priest. People almost swoon when they know I smoke. One wonderful woman left the church because I say things like "bitch" and "shit" and "fuck" from time to time. And when I tell people about my skepticism and doubts about this whole Christianity thing, they cross themselves and break out in hives. "A priest wouldn't...should...always...never...."--things like that are all projections. I am who I am AND I am a priest.

Whenever I have a strong initial opinion about someone or something, I try to remember to ask myself, "where did THAT come from?" whether the opinion is positive or negative. Somebody somewhere probably taught me something about whatever it is I'm reacting to and I'm projecting my unconscious on to the person I'm encountering. About the worse one for me is when I meet someone I know is wealthy. I have lots of junk floating around in my unconscious about 'rich people' which I immediately project onto the next 'rich person' I meet. And most of it is negative and unkind and terribly unfair and keeps me from really encountering people who have money in an honest way. Just today at a funeral I met a woman who was attractive and charming and very friendly. I took an immediate liking to her until she told me her last name. She is part of one of the wealthy families of Waterbury and my opinion of her turned on a dime (or a trust fund!) but I noticed what was happening and was able to continue our conversation and walked away liking her greatly. I realized if I had known her last name before we started talking I wouldn't have given her a chance. I would have been projecting in technicolor if not 3-D and never realized what a genuine and nice human being she was....That's what I'm talking about.

It would behoove me and all of us (I would suggest) to walk around knowing fair well that we are more like movie projectors than video camera and ponder our opinions about people, issues, stuff by asking, "wonder where that came from?"

It's not a BAD thing, that we 'project' constantly. We're actually pretty much wired up that way in the factory. But it is definitely a GOOD thing to realize that about ourselves and, whenever we are paying attention, to ponder and reflect about what is 'real' and what we have 'projected' on reality.

Just a thought for your castor oil tree time....And mine....

Things not to laugh at....

I saw an ad in the NYTimes about the winners of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. Two of the folks were in wheelchairs--they had won the doubles for quadriplegics. I know it will use up all my Political Correction Points, but, really, should quadriplegics play tennis? There is a reason it's call 'disability'.

I once told a blind member of the parish about the fact that the buttons on the "drive through" at my bank had Braille characters on each of them. I wondered if she'd been tempted to 'drive through' anywhere. She laughed and laughed and told me, quite sensibly that the bank probably didn't want to have two kinds of automatic keypads and put the same one in the drive through as in the walk in. She's probably right.

But, for goodness sake, there are reasons being in a wheelchair or blind is called "disabilities". There are simply some 'abilities' that not everyone has. Which reminded me of a terribly politically incorrect joke.

A rabbi, a Baptist minister and a Roman Catholic priest were playing golf together. (Notice how Episcopal priests seldom show up in jokes--we are that irrelevant....) At the fourth tee they were slowed to a stop by a group in front of them. They were disgusted--all of those Holy folk--by the wait they had to endure and were saying terrible things about the group ahead of them.

An employee of the golf course was riding by on a cart and the three religious folk asked him why the group ahead were holding things up so much.

"This is a new program," the employee said, "we're very excited about it. Those golfers are part of our 'blind golfers' initiative. You'll notice they have guides to help them line up their shots and talk to them about the course...."

The RC priest said, "Well, I'll have to say several rosaries to make up for the terrible things I said about those poor blind people."

The Baptist minister said, "I'll have to be on my knees for hours asking for forgiveness for my comments about them."

The Rabbi said, "Why can't they play at night?"

So much for political correctness....

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Running away from the storm...

We were in Baltimore, visiting Josh and Cathy and our three granddaughters when the storm was getting all the news. We were coming back on Saturday, but as Friday passed and the snow started at 2 p.m. or so, it seemed foolish not to leave early.

We left at 5:30 and ran away from the storm through Maryland and Delaware. The snow was thick and it was very dark, but there was little traffic and we made good time. Somewhere in southern New Jersey, we simply drove out of snow. Snow one moment, no snow and dry roads the next. By the time we got to the GW Bridge the speed limit south of Philadelphia had been lower to 35. So, we were running before the storm.

A big question, it seems to me, is how to know when to run and when to stay put. "Hold 'em or fold 'em" in poker terminology. "Flight or fight" in animal instinct form.

Getting out of Baltimore with the storm of the century bearing down and knowing I had to be here for church and Monday funeral isn't a great example. That was an easy choice.

But when a friend or co-worker tells a homophobic or racist or sexist joke, when is it best to walk away and when does it seem right to challenge them?

When the church stands for something that is intolerable, when is it best to 'just get along' and best to 'take a stand'. And how do you know you're right???

The Tea Party people had a convention in Memphis or Nashville--some Tennessee city--this weekend. I think they are hyper-negative, reactionary and dangerous--but when do I find it necessary to say that or do something about my belief? And, as always, how to I know I'm right....?

When to run and when to stand your ground. A lot there to ponder under our castor oil tree, I'd say....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

linear time confounds me

Back in June I preached a sermon about being here 20 years. I had the seven top reasons I'd stayed so long. OK, I couldn't come up with 10 or ran out of time or something....

But the first reason was this: "I lost track of time...."

Which for me is pretty easy. I often feel like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five". Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut writes, is 'unstuck in time'.

Like me, sometimes. I am hard pressed to get any chronological order in my life beyond "Before/After" I got married, "Before/After" the kids were born, "Before/After" I came to St. John's. That's the extent of my mastery over linear time. It confounds me.

I am totally confounded, amazed, stricken, astonished and flabbergasted that when I leave in, what is it?--80 some days, that I will have been the Rector of this church for over 21 years. (I could take a pencil and paper and figure out exactly how long--but 'over', 'not quite', 'about' and 'somewhere in there' is the best I can do in my head about time.)

Someone asked me today, "doesn't it seem like 'yesterday' that you came to St. John's?" And I had to tell them, 'well, yes, in one way, in another it seems like I've been here forever.' Linear time, like I told you....

So, here I am 80 some days from the end of yesterday and forever. Harriet told me today that the dream I told you about--especially the losing of my dog--had something to do with fearing I would lose my 'center'. There was a lot more about that, but that's the essence of it all. And now that I think about it, that's exactly right--I'm in danger of losing both yesterday and forever when I leave.

I know 'all will be well', but this linear time thing has me really screwed up. 86 days--that's it--I did that with pen and pencil and a calendar.

God I'm going to miss all this....

JD is dead

It's been over a week since JD Salinger died and I'm just now writing about it. Part of that is that it has taken some time for it to sink in. Not that he was always in the front of my mind or a part of my thoughts--my goodness, he hasn't published in 30 years or more! But he is in my long-term memory in a powerful way.

When I was 13 years old, my cousin, Mejol--who was as close to being a sibling as I ever had--locked me in her bed room with a copy of 'Catcher in the Rye' and a Bob Dylan album. Mejol was 5 or so years older than me and often went on vacation with us and spent a lot of time with me. I idolized her and would do whatever she told me to. So I read the book and listened to the album and have never been the same.

Since I am such a sophisticated, worldly wise, cultured person (tongue firmly in cheek!) people find it hard to believe I grew up in one of the most provincial and isolated places in the country--the rural coal fields of southern West Virginia. My cousin Mejol went to college and studied literature...and so did I. While in college, she became an Episcopalian...and so did I. She was my lens into the wider world when I was a kid. So Salinger and Dylan in one sitting...well, I have no idea what she had in mind but it shifted my world-view that day. We even named our son Joshua DYLAN in order of Bob and I spent years trying to 'be' Holden Caufield.

Everyone needs a 'Mejol' in their life--someone to open unopened door, even doors you don't know are there and simply invite you through them. I am who I am as much for the influence of Mejol than anyone in my childhood.

I thank her and I mourn the death of JD. It's a part of my youth dying...'course that started happening years ago....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

a disturbance in the Force

I ran over a squirrel today on the way to church. I was driving on Mountain Road and this squirrel did a squirrel thing of running to the middle of the road and stopping and heading back. I slowed down when I saw him/her and then sped up when he started back and then he/she ran right under the car and I heard a terrible thud that was surely enough to brain a pound and a half rodent. I looked in the rear view mirror and imagined he was still standing up, but I know he was dead. I felt awful.

Remember in STAR WARS when the Death Star blows up Obi Wan Ben Kenobi's home planet? The moment it happens though Obi Wan was light years away, he staggered and was helped into a seat. "There has been a disturbance in the Force."

That's how I felt all the way to Waterbury. There was a disturbance in the Force and I had caused it by killing that squirrel.

A friend of mine calls squirrels 'furry tailed, cute rats', which they probably are. But I like them, though they show no sign of intelligence except to run up a tree when danger appears--or, run under a car at any moment, just when you think they know better. Squirrels don't seem to ever 'know better' so they are pretty stupid. Rats are probably, in the long run, smarter than squirrels though without the great tails and the cuteness.

But I felt badly all day, really bummed, for killing that stupid squirrel.

Today is February 2--26 days left in this month, 31 in March and 30 in April. 87 days left before I retire. I'm already feeling a disturbance in the Force. What was I thinking to do this? I'm much like a squirrel that thought it was a good idea at the time to run across the road and then, though it stopped seeming like a good idea at some point, paused and kept running anyway. I thought for a moment that 87 was a prime number but then I realized it could be divided by 3 and 29. Having it be a prime number would have made it more bearable.

I know that 'all will be well' for me and St. John's, but right now I'm in the middle of the road hoping to get across without being brained by the undercarriage of a Hyundai. Or something....

Monday, February 1, 2010


I just took my dog for a walk. The temperature on our back porch is 18 degrees, but it seemed so much warmer than it has for many nights. Temperature, like many things is relative.

A dear friend of mine keeps sending me forwarded emails that are very critical of President Obama. I'm not critical at all of the president--I think he's done a worthy job against the almost unspeakable road-block negativity of the Republicans. My friend, I believe, is a registered Democrat. But, like the temperature, 'democrats' are relative.

I've begun to believe relativity can tell us a lot about most everything--take Christians, for example. I am a Christian and it seems to me that my credentials as a Christian (having been an Episcopal priest for over 30 years) should be unassailable. Not true, beloved. Since I am pro-gay marriage, anti-death penalty, a student of evolution, a defender of Roe vs. Wade and a Christian who believes the Kingdom of God will welcome those of other faiths, I am suspect among other Christians.

The conversation that begins, "How can you be a Christian and believe that?" isn't a conversation at all. It is a conversation stopper.

There is a relativity to being a Christian, I think. And that thought is made difficult since there are Christians who think 'relativity' is anti-Christian. For many Christians of many stripes (not a few of which are in the Anglican Communion!) it is a up or down, right or wrong, true or false world. The world where I live and move and have my being (the same world I think God, in some obscure way 'created') is floating, maybe this/maybe that, gray and paradoxical and, in many ways, inscrutable.

My friend Maner, who is a Southern Baptist, keeps talking about how I'll probably become a Southern Baptist when I retire. Fat chance of that! My theology is so relative and complex and confounding--even to me--that I thank God I found the Episcopal Church before I left Christianity all together for something Eastern or primitive or Druid-like. I AM a Christian, but I'm a Christian with many more questions than answers, many more obscurities than absolutes, many more ponderings than doctrines.

Thirty plus years ago, I truly believed I'd be safe to ask questions, question authority and wrestle with my angels in the Episcopal Church. I still believe that--just not as 'truly'. A lot of my conservative friends think the church left them behind at some point by being too liberal. I think, from time to time, that I have outrun the church because it isn't nearly as liberal or progressive as I believed.

I often hear people suggest that as we get older, we get more conservative, set in our way, all that. What I think is that as people age, they 'become MORE like they always were...."

It's interesting to me that my clergy friends are always looking for and finding ways in which I am much more 'moderate' than they think I am. There is stuff I believe in, like the 'objective reality of the sacraments' (we aren't just 'playing' church--we ARE church--is the way I'd put it). And folks to the right of me theologically and politically and just ontologically, always are delighted to point out how open I am to people who disagree. Well, that is true, even my friend who sends me bull-shit emails about Obama--I'm open to being his friend though his politics are bull-shit! But I would suggest that is a factor of my becoming more liberal and progressive than I was as a younger man. When I was in my 30's I wanted nothing to do with people who didn't agree with me--but that's not a very liberal point of view. Besides, I love a good argument and can talk louder than most people who disagree with me....

I'm a liberal, for example, who thinks we've lost our minds about smoking rules ('course I smoke...) and that everyone in the US should learn English (but only because they don't teach classes in Harvard Law School or John Hopkins Med School in any language but English and every child should have a shot at that rather than being part of an underclass). Conservatives say I'm contradictory in those two stands since I'm willing to let people smoke but not willing to let people speak the language of their choice. Like Walt Whitman (talk about your liberal!) I say: "do I contradict myself? very well, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes...."

I'm actually a 'realist' and 'relativist' as well as a liberal and progressive. People have a right to kill themselves how ever they choose to. But society owes it to everyone to have a shot at being a Harvard lawyer or a John's Hopkins physcian. And people have a right to make all the money they can, but they have a responsibility to share it in a big way. I'd tax the rich back into the middle class because if they were just doing it for the money, they should let someone do it for the joy of a job well done.

Everytime I hear someone say "Obama is a socialist", I say, in response, "Don't I wish!!!"

Truth is, just like me, I think, our president is a liberal and progressive who is washed well in the waters of realism and relativism. For me, that seems about right.

For my email friend, it is apparently a nightmare.

Well, everything is relative, after all....

nightmares of reality....

I seldom have 'bad dreams'. Most of my dreams are really ordinary, if obscure, things.

Often I am working real hard on some problem I don't completely understand or am building something though I don't know what it is. I work and work in my dreams, totally at peace, just concerned with putting the next piece in place, not even concerned about the 'final product' but intent of my work. Once, lately, I dreamed about going shopping in some unknown place with Hank and Harriet Fotter for objects de-art for some house they were building. I had no idea what the house was like but I enjoyed the shopping trip (and in real life I hate to go shopping if it isn't for food....)

But last night I had what I'd call a nightmare. It would take me hours to write the whole dream down so I'll give you some details.

I'm out walking my dog in a city that I think I know and somehow, I lose him and I know I can't go home to Bern without Bela--my ass would be grass, so to speak. So, I'm looking for the dog during the dream and I have this big leather folder with lots of stuff in it I need--though I have no idea in the dream what is in it or why I need it...and I keep losing the folder and having to double back, still worried about finding the dog, before I can journey on.

The city I'm in was so familiar in the beginning of the dream but it becomes more and more unfamiliar as the dream goes on. Sometimes it is like the 'old campus' at Yale and sometimes like Cambridge MA and sometimes like a medieval city in some European place I've never been and sometimes like the sound stage for the movie with Robin Williams as Popeye. The territory keeps shifting as does the place I have to find. I need to find my house and then St. John's Church and then other places that I've never been and though the urban landscape is always interesting and could have been fun in another dream of another time, I'm lost...I mean, really lost and keep losing my dog and my folder.

I leave the folder in the apartment of a wonderful family--mother, crippled husband, two kids, the parents of the father--several times and have to wind back through the back streets and thoroughfares of my dream to re-arrive at the apartment and find my folder. Then I leave my folder somewhere because I am looking for the dog and come to a dog park with lots of dogs, a few of which look a lot like Bela but aren't and then go back into an official building and the head of security tells me they found my folder but it is just the stuff in it and the folder and my cell phone is gone, so I can't call Bern or anyone and it's like the 9th cell phone I've lost and I feel guilty and there is still no word of the dog though I keep asking people about him and for directions to wherever it is I'm going (nothing is clear any more) and everyone is friendly and tries to be helpful but nothing I tell them makes sense and some of them begin to ask me if I am crazy and I wish, more than anything besides finding the dog and getting wherever I'm going--that someone would take me to a hospital...somewhere white and quiet and calm, where I could just be for a while.

About that time I realize, even in my dream, that it IS a dream, that none of this is happening but I still can't stop wandering the wondrous streets of places I don't recognize at all and I have on a trench coat and I'm yelling "Wake up!" and "Why can't I find my way?" when I finally do wake up, pulling in and out of the dream for another few blocks of unfamiliar buildings.

Then I feel Bela against my leg in bed and can hear Bern breathing and I know none of it was real and I look at my clock, thinking it will be morning and it is only 1:07. I get up, go to the bathroom and read John Sanford's new novel for 30 minutes or so before I risk going back to sleep and finding myself in those strange, unknown streets that would be interesting if I weren't terrified.

I've thought about it for hours--being the Jungian I am--and realize the dream was about my retirement and how frightened I am about 'what happens next'. In reality, I have some ideas and thoughts about what I will do, but in my unconscious, I am terrified of finding myself somewhere totally unfamiliar where I can't find my way though people are helpful and where I lose the things I love and need.

Jung thought that once you 'got' the Dream-makers point, the dream would not return. I hope so because this was so frightening.

So, Dream-Maker mine, I've got it. I'm terrified of what is going to happen to me after the next (can you believe it? 89 days). And I'll dwell on that and ponder it over and over. Just don't send me that dream again, OK?

I really am moving into a city-scape that will be at once strange, unknown and a bit frightening. I know that...really know it after that dream....I know, OK?

I hope my Dream-Maker believes me....I don't want another night like last night....

holy ground

I told this story as the end of my sermon on Sunday. The sermon was on the gospel lesson from Luke when Jesus goes back to Nazareth, his home town, and reads from Isaiah in the Torah and proclaims that the scripture of healing and restoring and bringing the blessing of God is fulfilled.

Then things get dicey. The folks in the synagogue remember Jesus is a hometown boy and what right does he have to speak like God and lecture them on their disbelief? "Isn't he Joseph's son?" the ask each other--where does he come off doing this....? Then they try to throw him off a cliff but he passes through them like fog through the trees and goes on about his work and life.

Then I recalled how Dr. Milchin, who was my doctor as a child, had a son, John Jr., who always went away to school but came back one summer from college and became the laughing stock of the whole community because--before 'running' was seen as something people did for recreation or health--he ran up and down the valleys for hours on end. Everyone laughed at him. "Dr. Milchin's son has a screw loose", they said. "Why doesn't he get a summer job?" they asked. "Who does he think he is?" they wondered while mocking him.

Later I learned John Jr. had been the captain of the Princeton University Cross Country team and was simply training. He went on to be a surgeon and made his GP father proud. But we didn't accept him because we knew him too well...he was too commonplace.

So, as Thomas Wolfe knew, it is hard to 'go home again'.

I went on to observe that we often don't honor those things which are familiar, ordinary and commonplace. We usually look for God in the unusual, the amazing, the exotic and strange. In fact, I believe, God's Glory is present in precisely what is ordinary and familiar, we simply need ears to hear and eyes to see,,,,

As I've often said, the definition I know of 'epiphany' is this: 'the sudden, intuitive insight into the deep down meaning of things, usually prompted by what is ordinary, common-place and day to day...'

Then came this story, that I realized I hadn't blogged about on Sat since it was meant to be the end of my sermon:

C was a member of the church I served in New Haven. She is gracious, loving, competent and committed. Her son was the same age of my son and they played together for five of the years of their lives...from 5 until 10. Eric came to an Easter service a few years ago and he and Josh got to connect for a short while. About three years ago, C, who lives in 'the Valley' started coming to St. John's. I hadn't seen her for months, I realized, and was about to call here when she called me.

Her mother has cancer and Alzheimer's and after months of going down to Brooklyn to visit each weekend, C had moved them to CT--her mother to a nursing home and her father to live with her. She called to ask me to come and pray for her mother and anoint her since her life was slipping away.

I got to the parking lot of the nursing home and C was just getting out of her car. We embraced and moved inside, walking behind an elderly black man with a cane who was walking very slowly. I assumed he was a patient, but when we caught up with him, C introduced me to her father. I thought we'd walk with him but C said we should go on, 'he never wants to slow other people down'.

So we were in C's mother's room for a few minutes before C's father made it. Her mother was very non-responsive, in one of those chairs that look comfortable and adjust but roll as well. I talked to her the way I always talk to people who I don't know can hear me 'cause, what do I know about what they hear?

C's sister was there and when the father got in the room, the sister tried to help him off with his coat, but he slipped past her and moved much faster than before to the chair beside his wife's chair. He flopped down, took her thin, veined hand in his own and lifted her fingers to his lips. I was right across from him and saw the moisture in his large brown eyes.

I should have taken my shoes off, being as I was on Holy Ground. I had enough sense not to say anything for a long time. Finally, softly, I said, "a long time...."

"Seventy years," he said, still holding his wife's unresponsive hand to his cheek.

Then we sat in silence for a long time--eyes open to the holiness and glory of the ordinary moment, the familiarity of two people, the love that was there....

So, don't tell me the Glory of God isn't in the ordinary and familiar. Don't dare tell me that!

I was privileged to sit in the profound silence of the Heart of God and of Love.

This is all I know and all I need to know about the presence of God in the familiar and ordinary and so well-known moments of life:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.... (I Corinthians 13.4-8a)

Just that moment is enough....

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About Me

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.