Monday, May 30, 2011
Ms. Levertov said, at a meeting of poets and theologians (what a novel and wondrous concept!!!)
"The Crisis of Faith is the Crisis of the Imagination. If we cannot 'imagine' walking on the waters, how are we to meet Jesus there?"
We drove back from Baltimore today in 5 hours--door to door with a stop in NJ for gas, bathrooms and a Popeye's shrimp Po-boy---fabulous sandwich! Fried popcorn shrimp, mayo, pickles, lettuce and honey-mustard sauce on a soft, extra large hot dog bun. Popeye's is about the most tasty of all fast food, I think. Still, we pulled off Toone Street at 4:30 and into our driveway at 9:30, 281 miles and didn't even slow up at the tolls for the GW Bridge or across the bridge to 9-A and then the Merritt. Amazing, I think.
Being with my granddaughters--Bern and I kept Mogan and Emma, the twins, while Baby Tegan stayed with Cathy's parents. Josh and Cathy on a weekend in New York, all alone, no kids, lunch with our daughter and Tim on Sat and with close friends on Sunday. They had a great time. We had a great time.
Except...Whenever I'm with my granddaughters I realize how bereft of 'imagination' my life is. One example: we set up their pool on the back deck and could hardly keep them out of the water. Morgan and Emma (they'll be 5 in Sept) and I were out there. I'll do a Virginia Woofian 'train of consciousness' description of about 10 minutes, which won't do the 10 minutes any justice at all.
Both girls in the pool.
'Pretend we're Mermaids', Emma.
'We're Mermaids in our Castle in our cave', Morgan.
'Pretend we're asleep in our beds...." E
'And the water is our covers...' M
'Pretend I'm asleep and you wake me up...' E
'Wake up Mermaid, it's time for dinner....' M
They both jump out of the pool and go to the table where Bern has put dozens of things that can hold and pour water. They start pouring water from the pool into two dozen thing....
'Pretend I'm the Mama and you're the baby...' E
'Mama, I'm hungry....' M
'I'm fixing you tea and soup....' E
'Pretend I'm the mommy and you're the daddy....' M
'I'm hungry....' E
'I'm cooking dinner right now...' M
'pretend i'm a mermaid and you're fixing me sea weed....' E
E jumps in pool. M brings seaweed.
'Pretend I can't speak," E, making elaborate signs toward her mouth and throat.
'What happened to your voice, mermaid?' M, 'Can you sing?'
E begins a haunting mermaid song, a siren song at least, luring sailors to their death.
'pretend i'm a sea turtle and you're a mermaid,' M, making a good imitation of a sea turtle in the pool.
'pretend I'm a human being," E, 'look, I have legs....'
'pretend the girl wants a sea turtle for a pet,' M, swimming over.
Ok, that's about 3 minutes of the 10 and I'm frazzled trying to follow it all. Back and forth they go, most sentences beginning, "Pretend that...." and no plot developing because the next "pretend that..." changes the reality all together.
They include me, "Gampy, pretend you're the Mermaid, grandpaw...."
I get involved in trying to convince them that a grandpaw would be a Mer-Man and they loose interest in me, trying to impose reason on imagination, trying to teach when they are playing, trying to talk 'sense' when they are talking 'dreams, dreams, dreams and more dreams...."
I'm going to try real hard this week to recapture the 'pretend that...' that drives me, really drives me, really makes me alive. Like pretending that I am happy always, pretending that I am brave and strong, pretending that I can make a difference in life, pretending that life is so magical that I am a goof-ball for not living with imagination and wonder every moment I am given.
"Pretend That" is being in the ultimate 'present' of life--not the past or future, just right here, right now.
That, all the mystics of my Christian faith, have taught 'is the answer' to life's persistent questions. "Just BE".
Imagine that! 'Pretend that you are living in the moment...each shifting ever changing moment...and that in each of those moments you are fully present, fully engaged, fully alive....
That wouldn't be bad, would it?
In fact that might just begin to teach us something about what Jesus meant by 'life and life in abundance.....'
"Pretend that you have life in abundance every moment, every moment of your life...."
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Our back porch and deck, on the West and South side of our house is 'my wilderness'. I counted 21 trees that impinge on the West and South side of our house. Most are evergreens--long needle and hemlock. But there are two Sugar Maples, a red maple and a 150 foot high horse chestnut tree I thought was dead and was worried about the cost of removing it, but the bitter winter brought her back to life and she is full of leaves and nuts. Most of the trees around us are 100+ feet tall. This afternoon there were at least two dozen birds in those trees, screaming and dashing about--four or more types: I saw cardinals, robins, chickadees and wild canaries, but I think there were some sparrows in there too and the omnipresent crow or so.
Our back yard has chipmunks in abundance and more squirrels than I want and the occasional ground hog beyond the back yard fence, eating the fermenting mulberries from our next door neighbors bush and getting wasted....A drunk ground hog is a thing to behold.
Plus we have the occasional rabbit and hummingbird, since lots of our flowers are red, and Bern once saw a coyote, or what she thought was one, across the back fence. Plus the insect critters--bumble bees and honey bees in the hundreds of rhododendron blossoms in full bloom. The bumble bees like our dog and he hates them. He is so hairy and curly that after a walk he is a echo-system and the bees are interested. He runs to the back door and wants to go in.
Besides bees, we have spiders. We read the kid's book to our kids about how Spiders are good, and then there is Charlotte, so we let them spin their nests wherever they wish and never disturb them. I kill ants and flies without guilt, but most creatures I leave alone.
So I have my wilderness.
But it could not prepare me for the wilderness of Higganum.
I was there today and walked the labyrinth in the woods behind the parish hall. It was lovingly and spiritually built. It is on a slight slope so you are sometimes walking uphill and sometimes down. plus their are rocks and tree roots on the paths that you must notice and avoid. (One of the things that you need to know about walking a labyrinth is that you need 'focus'. I usually suggest using the Jesus prayer and walking with your breath. But the rocks and roots in this labyrinth insist on 'focus'.....
I was planning for a time in the autumn when I'd offer a Saturday or Sunday workshop in walking the labyrinth and centering prayer--contemplative spirituality. I just need a date certain and we can start letting people know.
So, I'm walking the labyrinth and a huge hawk, wing span four feet or so, flies 8 or 12 or 16 inches over my head. I felt the wind from the hawk's wings on my face. He sat in the nearest tree and stared back at me over his shoulder. Talk about being focused!
I imagine he decided I was either too heavy to snatch away or I wouldn't taste that good. So he eventually flew away, again just over my head.
Have I made a friend or was that a warning?
I suspect the latter.
My back yard has no hawks, not wilderness at all....
(We're leaving tomorrow for Baltimore for a hit of grand-daughters and won't be back until Tuesday. I don't think I'll have time to blog since Josh and Cathy are leaving the twins with us for two days while they go to a wedding in NYC. Tegan, the 18 month old, will be with Cathy's parents, who live in Baltimore. We'll have the twins--4 and 3/4 years old.
Pray for us....)
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
This is a poem that ends a chapter of some reflections I've been writing about regarding parish ministry. The chapter has the same name as the poem--God around the edges.
I believe in the Edges of God.
Truly, that is my limit on the whole question of Creed.
I don't believe in God storming out of the clouds
and smiting me to smithereens if I am bad.
I don't believe in a God who would wake me up,
pin me to my bed and give me bleeding sores
on my palms and the top of my feet,
much less my side.
(Explain that to your general practitioner!)
I don't believe in a God who would instruct me
to slay infidels or displace peaceful people
so I can have a Motherland.
I don't believe in a God that has nothing better to do
besides visit bedrooms around the globe
uncovering (literally) illicit love.
I don't believe in a God who frets
about who wins the next election.
I don't believe in a God who believes in 'abomination'.
I believe in the edges of God--
the soft parts, the tender pieces--
the feathers and the fur of God.
I do believe in the ears of God,
which stick out—cartoon like—on the edges of God's Being.
I, myself, listen and listen
and then listen some more
for the Still, Small Voice.
I believe in God's nose—pronounced and distinctively
Jewish in my belief--
I smell trouble from time to time
and imagine God sniffs it out too.
The toenails and finger nails of God--
there is some protein I can hold onto,
if only tentatively.
Hair, there's something to believe in as well.
God's hair—full, luxurious, without need of jell or conditioner,
filling up the Temple, heaven, the whole universe!
I can believe in God's hair.
God's edges shine and blink and relect color.
God's edges are like the little brook,
flowing out of the woods beyond the tire swing,
in what used to be my grandmother's land.
God's edges are like the voices of old friends,
old lovers, people long gone but not forgotten.
God's edges are not sharp or angled.
The edges of God are well worn by practice
and prayer and forgotten possibilities
about to be remembered.
God's edges are the wrists of someone
you don't quite recall but can't ever remove from your heart.
God's edges are rimmed and circled
with bracelets of paradox and happenstance
and accidents with meaning.
God is edged with sunshine,
over-ripe, fallen apples, crushed beneath your feet
and the bees hovering around them.
God's edges hold storm clouds too--
the Storm of the Century coming fast,
tsunamis and tornadoes, spinning out of control.
Blood from God's hands—now there's an edge of God
to ponder, reach for, then snatch your hand away.
God bleeding is an astonishing thought.
God bleeding can help my unbelief.
And most, most of all,
the edges of God are God's tears.
Tears of frustration, longing, loss, deep pain,
profound joy, wonder and astonishment--
tears that heal and relieve and comfort...
and disturb the Cosmos.
That's what I believe in:
Sunday, May 22, 2011
One day they were featherless little birds with more beak than body and Mama was going crazy bringing them worms. Then, what seemed like the next day, they were little robins standing on the edge of the nest wondering how to fly. Now they are gone.
Some days I wake up and wonder where that little boy and little girl that used to live with us went. They left home like Frank, Lloyd and Wright, my names for the 3 baby robins on our front porch. I know we had them for years and years that seemed like decades and decades at the time, but where are those little toe-heads Josh and Mimi? How did it happen so fast? How did all those years disappear like the fog in the morning? Those wondrous little bodies I used to carry and hold so near...how did they grow up and leave him so soon?
Today I went to church at St. James. I was sitting near the back and saw Scott walk in after communion. His wife and two children had been there from the beginning. After the recessional, I asked him if he'd like communion and he said yes. So we went down to the vesting room where I had a communion kit. Bryan had consecrated some wine and I had some consecrated wafers so I gave him communion while he held his daughter Sophia (which is Greek for 'wisdom', by the way) close to his face. I was reminded of holding my children like that when they were one year old, like Sophia. I almost told Scott to hold fiercely because the years would fly and like baby robins, so would Parker and Sophia....But I didn't. First of all, he would never believe me--having young children seems like the experience of eternity--and secondly, it was about me, not him, and my feeling of loss that Frank, Lloyd and Wright had fled the nest and long before them those little children I used to know.
Then, late this afternoon, I was out on the deck having a cigarette--I know, I know, don't start with me--and I heard unmistakeable robin calls coming from some of the trees around my house. I know Mama and Daddy's calls by heart, so, I thought it must be the babies (F, L and W) saying good-bye. Try as I might I never caught sight of them though they chirped for almost 10 minutes. But I did see a young cardinal, obviously a male because of the deep red of his head and back, but still with his darker baby feathers on his wings. There has been a pair of cardinals in our back yard all spring. I never found their nest, but this was obviously one of their chicks.
I was so happy I came in and fed our parakeets and gave them fresh water.
I've decided that birds are one of the great joys of my life. Even the hawk that flew over our yard about 60 feet up while I was hearing the robins. I pray the hawk won't find the robin babies. That bird was magnificent. I see an even bigger hawk on Rt. 9, coming back from Higganum, almost every time I drive that road. My favorite bird is the brown pelican whose largest nesting area is on Oak Island, NC, where we go in September. Expect lots of Pelican tales then. But I love all birds, even the hateful bluejay that shows up in our yard from time to time. Maybe not turkey buzzards, but I'll think that through.
Don't we all dream of being a bird? To fly, to soar, to know freedom from gravity, to meet the sky?
I feel enormously blessed that that faithful robin couple has chosen our front porch for two years running to have their nest. I hope they're back next year....It would be nice if they didn't pack up and leave so abruptly and never keep in touch....
Friday, May 20, 2011
One thing about those jelly beans--you eat them one at a time to appreciate the flavors and savor them. Those larger jelly beans I just toss in my mouth and chew up together because the flavor is simply 'sweet'.
Some of the other flavors were chocolate pudding, red apple, toasted marshmallow, tangerine, Dr. Pepper, Cream Soda and buttered popcorn. That's only about half of the flavors.
I started thinking, what if they made gourmet jellybeans for people like me who prefer salt or tart to sweet. I've thought some up.
Kale, smoked salmon, deviled egg, green olive, cheddar cheese, spinach, hot pepper, french bread, salsa, dill pickle, blue cheese, yellow mustard, onion, garlic, french fry, chicken gizzard, anchovy, pepperoni, double Gloucester cheese, capers, bacon, soy sauce, pepper, Frank's hot sauce and kraut. Those are some jelly beans I could get addicted to, have to carry in my pocket, hide around the house, keep in the car.
Someone should patent that.
By the way, does your saliva have a taste? This is a serious question. Does the stuff your taste buds make and that is secreted in your mouth have a flavor?
Stop and taste it.
My saliva is smoky, a bit salty and very tasty. It always has been but I've never had the courage to ask other people if their saliva has a taste. I enjoy it. I'm glad it isn't sweet or fruity, though I do like sweet and fruity tastes--like that bag of jelly beans I ate tonight. I prefer smoky and a bit salty. My spit tastes like bacon, mostly.
How about yours?
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
In front of Yankee Stadium on Saturday evening, there were people with these interesting back-packs that had signs rising above them, foretelling 'the end'. They were handing out literature about it all, which, if they are right, won't have much of a shelf life.
Is the guy's name Lamont (or is he the politician?) it starts with an L at any rate, who wrote the 'Left Behind' series that has almost outsold the Bible world wide. The series is about the end of the world--the Rapture and Tribulation and all that--and is a runaway international best seller, translated into a gazillion languages making more money than the budget deficit of CT, NY and CA combined.
My question was to him--I hope you're not going to invest that money if the End is really near....
At our Clericus meeting this morning 6 priests, a deacon, a former Episcopal nun and a candidate for holy orders, joked and had great fun about the end of the world guys.
It proves my contention that 21st century Christians can't possibly imagine the mind set and the expectation of the early church who believed Jesus would be back in the morning if not in the middle of the night. When that urgency of life ended, the institution of the church began. "If Jesus isn't coming back soon," the church told itself, "we better get organized...."
Here's a distinction to help us all understand the urgency with which the early church lived.
Remember your last airplane fight. Remember how as you were being taxied out to get in line for takeoff, the cabin attendants showed you a video or demonstrated for you how to put on your oxygen mask, where the emergency exits were and how to disengage your floatation device.
Remember how much attention you paid to all that between making sure you had your ticket, putting your carry-on where it belonged and reading your book or magazine.
Now imagine the Captain coming on the intercom and saying, "Ladies and Gentlemen, in 10 minutes we are going to have to ditch this plane in the north Atlantic. Please listen to the cabin attendants' instructions...."
Ok, now we're talking 'urgency' and you would be paying attention with all your being. Like your life depended on it, which it would.
That's the distinction between how I (and probably you) listen to the faint buzz about the Rapture on May 1 and the way the early church thought about the end of days....
(We have Rhododendron around our back deck: one bush 11 feet tall, one 9 feet tall and one 7 feet tall, all full as punch and laden with little bulbs that will burst into bloom soon. I counted 130 on those three plants before I lost count. One has begun to burst already. I figure a few more days of rain and a warm day and our deck will be overcome by brilliant deep pink, almost red blossoms. The front porch has three plants as well. The leaves cover the whole of the front of our porch--11 feet or so, but they are only 6 feet tall. Just to the right of our walkway down to Cornwall Avenue there is an 8 foot tall Rhododendron plant. Taken together, we're talking about serious color about to burst forth. Hundreds of flowers.
Rhododendron is the 'state flower' of West Virginia, where I come from. Since they are further south, even though the elevation is higher, I can only imagine the Rhododendron is already in flower there. I remember it being early May when the mountains exploded in pink and red. I'm talking about driving up a mountain for 10 miles and having Rhododendron blooming solid on both sides of the road. What a riot of color that was...and is, I imagine.
Just imagine that kind of remarkable feast for the eyes. You can't look too closely because the roads over the mountains are narrow and very curvy.
But imagine it for a moment--10 miles, 20 minutes of solid Rhododendron on both sides of you as you ascend or descend one of those mountains that I know so well....Just imagine....)
My point being, you can imagine that drive through the mountains of Appalachia easier than you can imagine the Rapture happening on Saturday. You can probably image a trip to Mars easier than you can imagine the Rapture on May 21st.
I once confided in my friend Brenden McCormick (one branch of my father's family were McCormick's--though we pronounced it Ma-Com-ick, without the 'r') that I sometimes imagined that the Fundamentalists might possibly be 'right'. Brenden told me, "of course you can imagine that because you have an open mind and love questions more than answers. But let me tell you this," he continued, "the Fundamentalists never, ever, not for one moment imagine that you are right...."
I can, in one part of my brain actually imagine that the Rapture might come on Saturday (though I don't even know if I believe the Rapture is a real thing rather than a metaphor). But this I know and know fair well, those folks who are certain that the Rapture is Saturday, don't imagine for a moment, not a nano-second, that I'll be one of the ones Jesus takes....)
So, Rapture or not, I'll be here blogging about 'stuff' or, maybe, about the Tribulation....
Let's wait and see.
I went out later and Mama wasn't on the nest so Papa buzzed me. He did the same thing when I came back. He's a real guardian of the chicks.
Then, on the Canal, I saw Mama Duck teaching her dozen or more babies (they move so fast it's hard to count them) how to hide from predators. They were swimming in the middle of the rain swollen canal when Bela and I approached. Lickidy Split she herded them all to the far side under the brush there. Same thing on the way back...middle of canal...sighing of man and dog...up on the bank on the far side.
Bird mommies are very busy this time of year....
Monday, May 16, 2011
But, remember, I'm retired and not much happens in my life...the little things matter more to me since little things are mostly what I've got.
But today's story is filled with awe and wonder. It's like a myth or a tall tale or science fiction. Ready?
As we walked along, it was raining in the woods on one side of the pathway. You could hear the rain in the underbrush and see it falling. It was raining too on the canal, you could see the drops splashing on the water.
The thing was, it wasn't raining on the pathway....
OK, I thought, the wind is blowing and it is just water falling off the leaves. But then I noticed we were on a part of the pathway where trees lean over where we were walking and no water was falling from them. Plus, there was no wind discernible.
Then I thought it must be my imagination, but I met a guy coming the other way who held out his hands, shrugged and rolled his eyes. There was another witness to this phenomena, this freak of nature--rain to the left of me, rain to the right of me, no rain falling on me.
I've heard of 'scattered showers' but this seemed ridiculous. The next person I met looked at me, then looked up and then looked at me. I nodded and he shook his head. None of us spoke, it was a bit to odd and spooky to talk about, I think.
It went on for at least five minutes. I felt like Bela and I were walking through the Red Sea on dry land. It was sort of the opposite of Joe Btfsplk....You don't know that is? He was a character in the comic strip Lil Abner who walked around with a cloud over his head and rain falling from it. People gave him wide berth--Lil Abner and Daisy Mae and Ma and Paw Yokum and Fearless Fostic and all the other characters in that strip.
You can look it up on Lil-Abner.com if you don't believe me.
So we had our walk and didn't get rained on. But when we got back to the car, it was raining in the parking lot.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
I've thought a bit about 'what if I am wrong' and 'they are right'?
It seems to me that the mark of a 'free thinker' and a 'liberal' and someone with an ego that is as large as Montana it this: you can imagine that what you definitely DON'T BELIEVE might just possibly BE POSSIBLE. So I wonder. What if they're right and on the 21st of May Jesus comes in clouds of Glory and takes those with him who he wishes and leaves the rest to go through the horrible days of the Great Tribulation. What if they are right?
Here's a thought to ponder: what if what you absolutely 'don't BELIEVE' is possible?
I ponder often whether the Tea Party is 'right' or not. I certainly don't 'believe' they are, but then I don't think 'belief' is 'certainty'. So I ponder.
I tried to engage some Tea Party folk who have a little demonstration in front of Cheshire Town hall a day or two a week during drive time so I could ponder further what they 'believe' and wonder if, as much as I don't 'believe' it, they might be right. I talked to four folks. The first three told me to go away when I tried to engage them (in order) about health care, Obama's citizenship and the value of 'government'. The fourth guy called me a 'faggot' and got people around him to chant "faggot, faggot, faggot" until I left.
I'd be proud to be a homosexual, if I was, but those chants caused me to ponder how cruel the words would have been if I was, in fact, gay.
I still ponder, but Tea Party folks want a monologue, not a dialog.
Same with the Christians who are ending the world on May 21--actually, that is the Rapture and the real destruction will come in October. There have been one group or another claiming the end of the world would come on a date certain 220 times in the last 300 years.
I don't know about their Bible, but in mine Jesus and Paul say clearly that no one will know the day or the time, that the End will come like a thief in the night.
All this brings up, again, the question of what 'belief' means, really.
Tea Party folks and the End of the World folks thing "belief" and "faith" mean certainty I prefer another possible translation of the New Testament Greek word "Pistus"....Another way of translating it is "Trust".
I "Trust" in God. Nothing I trust in about God is "certain". Trust isn't 'certain', it's trust.
So, mostly I ponder, Trusting but having no Certainty, none at all. And always wondering if those so different from me--the Tea Party and the End of the World people--ever ponder, as I do about them, "if I am right and they are wrong?
I know they answer--NO, they don't ponder than.
But I do even though I 'trust' that what I 'believe' is true...or at least more possible....
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Father Dodge and Hot Stuff
When I arrived at St. James, the congregation was being served by Fr. Bill Dodge, a retired school teacher who was a Title Nine priest. Title Nine is a strange little piece of Canon Law also known as “the old man’s canon”—though to be politically correct it should now be known as “the old wo/man’s canon”. (If it’s not “ageism” to call people “old” these days….) Episcopal Church law is more strict about ordination than most any denomination; however, Title Nine is an “out”, a way around the rules for those late in life who feel called to priesthood. If the Church determines the call is legitimate, the candidate is allowed to study privately, usually with a near-by priest or group of priests and be tested after the term of study is met.
That’s what Fr. Dodge had done. He’d become a priest through the back door. When I was newly ordained, after four years of theological study and two (count ‘em—two) Master level degrees, I had little patience with Title Nine priests and even less with Fr. Dodge. He was in his 70’s and, to my exalted standards, not up to snuff. But I was going to be a deacon for a year and needed somebody to help me liturgically. Deacon’s Masses, which are weird both theologically and as liturgy, would serve from time to time, but the congregation deserved a “real “ Mass monthly or so and Fr. Dodge was the best I could find. Plus, for reasons beyond my comprehension, the parishioners seemed to have a deep affection for him and were always happy to see him. It wouldn’t have been astute of me to get rid of the old codger since I needed him and the parish wouldn’t like it.
(It’s embarrassing and humbling to listen to myself talk like that! I thought of myself as such “hot stuff” in those days! I was God’s gift to St. James Church and worldwide Anglicanism as well. At least that’s what I thought. The truth is, looking back, I was brash, arrogant and unkind almost all the time. Hot Stuff, indeed!)
In addition, I considered myself a liturgical genius---the be all and end all when it came to ritual and celebration. In fact, I’d spent four years at Harvard and Virginia Seminary, neither of which has any claim to teaching liturgical practice. Liturgy at Harvard had been mostly of the “feel-good”, lots of balloons and readings from Kahil Gibran. Worship at HDS began with Unitarian politeness and didn’t go much further or deeper. In fact, any resemblance to Christian, much less Anglican worship was totally accidental. A typical chapel service would include—in no particular order—readings from the Koran or Hindu scripture, a little jazz played by my friend Dan Kiger or other musical students, some silent meditation and the singing of some of the hymns of Hildegard of Bingham. The Archbishop of Canterbury would have been horrified! The closest thing to a Eucharist I remember was when Rabbi Katinstein brought some Passover bread and Harvey Cox talked about the religious symbolism of sharing food and we all went up and took a piece for ourselves. I loved it, felt I was in the forefront of liturgical renewal.
Virginia Seminary was, when I was there, a “Low Church” seminary. That meant that worship was restrained, proper and in good order. That (“restrained, proper and in good order”) meant that no Popish nonsense would be allowed to infect the purity of Protestant worship. One of the lame jokes we often told was this: “You know what streaking means at VTS? Running through the chapel in full Eucharistic vestments!” There was a lot of controversy at the seminary when I was there because altar candles had been added to the “communion table”. Candles made some of the faculty nervous. You shouldn’t open the door to “catholic” practice---first come candles and then (gasp!) incense and the adoration of the blessed sacrament!
Once, during my senior year, some of the students from more High Church dioceses organized a “high mass” with chanting, bowing, genuflecting, incense and much crossing of oneself. I was fascinated. I’d never seen such a thing. My old nemesis, Reginald Fuller, was the celebrant. He was “streaking” around the chancel in his vestments, censing the altar, chanting in his Oxbridge accent, genuflecting like one of those little yellow birds that keep dipping into a bowl of water. Several of the faculty walked out in a huff at such going’s-on. There was serious discussion over sherry about suspending the student planned Wednesday services.
That one service was all I knew about Anglo-Catholic worship when I arrived at St. James. Fr. Dodge, I have to admit, seemed to know when to cross himself and genuflect (which I couldn’t do without nearly falling on my face). St. James, like most African American parishes, had been founded in a rich High Church tradition that disappeared when the first white priest came to be their Vicar. So, one good reason for keeping Fr. Dodge around was so I could figure out how to celebrate in a way that was Anglo-Catholic in a mirror dimly. So, those times I’d let him come and celebrate I’d watch him out of the corner of my eye to try to find a pattern to his movements.
However, Fr. Dodge didn’t seem to follow any discernable pattern. I came to believe that if he ever knew what he was doing, he’d forgotten how and was crossing himself at random places in the service. Even though I didn’t know how to celebrate a real mass, I resented him for not knowing! And that wasn’t the end of my complaints about him. His hands shook when he elevated the host and chalice, sometimes spilling wine on the fair linen. He’d lose his place and I’d have to prompt him with a stage whisper several times during the service. He mispronounced words all the time. Several times, rather than “in your infinite love” he said “in your INFANT love”! I mean really, how much could the good folks at St. James and I stand of this sloppiness?
And the one time I let him preach—horrors! He read his sermon haltingly at best, mixing words up and shaking to beat the band. Besides that, if he’d had any kind of decent delivery at all, his theology was more Pilgrim Holiness than Anglican. He talked about Jesus as if he were a good guy from down the street, someone who would teach you a lot and lead you to heaven when you die. Obviously, he’d never studied homiletics—or much of anything else so far as I could tell. I was embarrassed for him, but more than that, I was embarrassed that I needed him.
So the day of my ordination finally came. I invited Fr. Dodge to be in the service out of guilt over what I planned to do. He was so excited about being near the altar with the Bishop and the two dozen other priests. He told me afterwards that it was one of the greatest days of his life and that he was so proud to work with me.
The next week I fired him.
Well, it wasn’t really a “firing”. I drove up to his house high up on a hill about 20 miles from Charleston and talked to him on his front porch. I explained how now that I was a priest I really didn’t need for him to drive all that way twice a month. I told him he needed to take it easier at his age. I reminded him that there were two churches much closer to his home that would probably be overjoyed to have his help. I thanked him for all he’d done and told him that I really didn’t need any coffee and that I’d had lunch already. “No,” I said, “I really don’t have time for a piece of pecan pie.”
He said he understood. He told me how much he’d enjoyed working with me and how much he’d learned from me. “You’re going to be a wonderful priest,” he said.
I thanked him and slinked away to my car. By the time I got back to Charleston, what few qualms I’d had about what I’d done were melted away. I was a priest—a wonderful one at that—and I was finally free of Fr. Dodge. Things would really get rolling now at St. James. It would be like releasing the emergency brake that had held me back while I was a deacon.
A month or so later, Remitha came to see me. Made an appointment and everything instead of just dropping in like usual. We even sat in my office and did small talk—something Remitha never did and wasn’t good at. Finally, she cleared her voice and began….
“I wanted to come and find out if anything was wrong with Fr. Dodge,” she said. “I notice he hasn’t been here since your ordination.”
I started explaining how since I was a priest now I didn’t need him as much. “And,” I lied, “at his age, he and his wife felt it was a long way for him to drive….”
She held up her hand and got up. “That’s fine,” she said, “just as long as he isn’t sick again….”
She was half way to the door when I caught my breath and said, “Again?”
She spoke with her back to me. “Well, his first stoke wasn’t too bad….”
“First stroke….” Is all I could get out.
“But the second one laid him up for months,” she said. Then facing me she continued in a soft voice, “but you know, since we didn’t have a priest, he got his wife to drive him down and he did the service sitting on a stool. He couldn’t give us communion, of course, but Morris and Ben did that for him….And when the service was over two of the younger men would carry him down to his wheelchair and…..”
I didn’t hear much more. I wished she’d stop talking or I’d be struck deaf and dumb or the floor would open up and I could crawl inside.
“You know what I admire most about Fr. Dodge?” she was asking when I tuned back in.
I shook my head and tried to speak. I think I was struck dumb.
“How he was willing to continue his ministry even though that wonderful reading voice he had and the regal way he held himself at the altar was taken away from him.”
“He had a good voice…?” I croaked.
“Sometimes he’d sing a solo for us,” she said, killing me with her matter-or-fact tone. “And I wish you could have heard him read the service,” she continued, consigning me with her smile to one of the lowest circles of hell. “Before the strokes he was one of the best speakers I ever heard. He gave up a career in radio to be a schoolteacher. Did he ever tell you that?”
I found that I was sitting back down though I didn’t remember doing it. “No,” I said, softly, “he never did.”
“Well,” she said, backing toward the door, “just shows what a humble man he was. Humility makes a man a wonderful priest….”
Then she was gone and I was left alone to consider humility.
(One of the things that happened at VTS on a regular basis was “Bridge before Lunch”. There were half-a-dozen or so card tables and while whoever was assigned to help set up lunch was doing their job, bridge would break out. My partner most of the time was Rodge Wood. I was a novice at bridge but Rodge was a master. He’d played in tournaments before coming to seminary. As inept as I was, Rodge carried me. We were a good team, so good that none of our classmates would play with us but the underclassmen could be duped into a game.
They’d see us at a table and come over and ask if we’d like a game. Usually, since no one wants to be in over their heads, they’d say, “are you any good?” Rodge would answer for us both. “Jim’s bad and I’m OK.” Then we’d embarrass them for a few hands.
Once, over lunch, I asked Rodge why he didn’t tell other people the truth about his playing.
Rodge quoted scripture: “He who humbles himself will be exalted,” he said.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the passage means.)
“Humility” has the same root as “humus”, dirt, earth. True humility isn’t about demeaning yourself or pretending to be less than you are. True humility is realizing, beyond any doubt, who you are and where you come from. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
Being humble means being close to the earth from which we all come. A friend of mine often says she “doesn’t trust anyone who hasn’t had their face of the pavement.” What she means, I believe, is that once you’ve hit bottom you realize that whatever you accomplish or however far you rise the earth is patiently waiting for you. The bigger part of humility is perspective and point of view.
Things look rather distorted when you’re a Hot Shot. It’s like flying in a plane and thinking about how everything down on earth looks small and toy-like. Things may look that way from up high, but you best not forget that they aren’t really small—it’s just your perspective and point of view.
While Remitha talked to me about Fr. Dodge, knowing all the while what infamy I had committed, what a rat I had been, my face had descended from “on high” to the grit and grime of the pavement. The ground, the earth, the humus had swallowed me up. It was a blessed gift, one I’d need to receive countless times again.
I called Fr. Dodge and drove out to his house. I told him that I had been wrong. I told him that I wanted him to come back, twice a month, to celebrate and preach once each month. I told him I realized that I didn’t want to do it all by myself. I told him I was sorry and asked him to please consider coming back.
He was as gracious as before, only this time I hadn’t had lunch and we ate tuna-fish sandwiches on homemade bread, washed it down with sweet ice tea and each had two pieces of Mrs. Dodge’s pecan pie.
For a year or so after that, I sat at his figurative liturgical knee. I came to delight in his mispronunciations—“infant love” might work better than “infinite love” when all is said and done. It became a pleasure to prompt him or merely point to the altar book in the right place. I finally started “lining” out the service when he celebrated by pointing to each line as he read. (In fact, I train the seminarians who work with me these day to do that for me!) And, for the first time, I noticed how he was with the parishioners of St. James. He never pretended to remember names when he didn’t. He listened to them intently and didn’t say much in return. He smiled almost constantly and the slight crookedness of his smile from the strokes came to be dear to me. I never bought his simplistic theology, but I did learn that if we can’t talk about heaven we most likely will never be able to imagine it…or go there….
Then he died, suddenly and in his sleep. It was my honor to commit his ashes to the ground. I drove up to his house on the hill and scattered them in the garden he loved to work in, among his flowers and bushes. Mrs. Dodge told me how much “Billy” had enjoyed working with me and being at St. James.
“He told me many times that you were a wonderful priest,” she said, brushing away a tear.
“Takes one to know one,” I told her and she beamed.
“That makes him happy,” she said, “I just know it does.”
We left Fr. Dodge in the garden (and in the heaven he so clearly imagined) while we went inside to tell stories, laugh and cry and eat some pecan pie.
Monday, May 9, 2011
What I think has happened, though I dare not try to see, is that the eggs have hatched and she is away from the nest finding worms for those babies, who if I know birds, which I do, having two parakeets in my kitchen, the buggers eat almost constantly.
Papa drove off a Cardinal, who is also nesting somewhere in our yard or in our neighbor's yard. Papa Robin drives off birds all day. He is formidable. I wouldn't want to cross him.
There is something almost painfully lovely about Mama and Papa. And if they are the same Robins as last year--which I believe is true--it makes it even more wondrous. Avian monogamy, what a trip.
I can't tell you what joy it is to share our porch and our lives with these birds. I said, "Goodnight, Mama" when I came in from walking the dog tonight. I can't tell you she returned the greeting, but I'd like to imagine it.
Last year I saw the fledglings fly away. I hope I have that honor and that privilege again this year.
"The red, red robin, goes bob, bob, bobin' along...."
How joyous I am that they are here. I realize they don't feel the same about me...but indulge me...
We normally walk about 1.75 miles along the water and the swamp. We talk about our experiences a lot because the canal is full of experience.
Bern had told me several times about the Blue Heron she's seen on the canal. I never saw it until last week. People were pointing and making noises, moving their pointing fingers up the canal. And there it was, this great bird, flying beneath the trees, it's legs and feet straight back, skimming near the surface of the water. It must be four or five feet tall and blue/gray and graceful and lovely.
One thing we talk about from time to time are the people who let their dogs off lead as they walk the Canal. I can't be sure this is true, but almost all of the people who let their dogs off leash have Yellow Labs. Some of my best friends have Yellow Labs, but the truth is, no dog, not even one so benign and goofy as a Yellow Lab should be off lead on a crowded strip of pavement about six feet wide. There are lots of little kids, really little--2 or 3--toddling along the canal. A hundred pound dog might mean just to lick them but know them down on to asphalt. Plus there are a multitude of people on bikes and a lesser multitude on roller blades and a few people in wheel chairs and a number of people who are frail and elderly that a 100 pound dog could mess up pretty royally. Especially since the small children surrounded by bikes and roller bladers, are usually accompanied my a parent on a cell phone. Cell phones and ear plugs are two more things Bern and I commiserate about. And, there is our dog, who doesn't much like other dogs, Yellow Labs in particular, who, when the Lab's companion (not an owner or in charge) says, "can they say hello?" and I'm choking the hell out of Bela and screaming "he's not friendly with other dogs!" the Lab keeps coming, going "Du-de-du, i'm a friendly dog" and Bela is about to bite their snouts off and the dog's human has no way to stop the dog from a near death experience (Puli's can give you a hurtin') because the dog doesn't have on a leash!!! Bern yells at them that CT has a leash law. I just shake my head in wonderment that such cluelessness exists....
TURN ON YOUR CELL PHONE ON THE CANAL. I have no need to hear about how your nephew is on drugs or your hairdresser cancelled your appointment or how you are looking at new cars or what happened on "Jersey Shore" last night (actual conversations I've heard recently). Plus, if you have in your care a child--a toddler or 5 year old or a kid on a bike with training wheels--FOR GOD'S SAKE, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE! There are people riding bikes at 20 miles an hour and people on roller blades going almost that fast and the occasional kid on a skateboard with ear plugs and an attitude who may or may not see your child. Plus, there are 100 pound Yellow Labs off lead wandering around. Watch your child, for heaven's sake, and listen to the birds and see the blue heron and the baby ducks....
Ah, the baby ducks....
I've noticed over the past week or two that all I saw swimming on the Canal were Male ducks. I saw a fight between two of them that rivaled Muhammad Ali's "rumble in the jungle". This was the "conflict in the canal". But no females for a week or more.
Today I saw why. Three females swimming with what looked like thirty baby ducks, all seeing how fast they could swim, bumping into each other and the bank of the canal, splashing up a storm, careening down the narrow bit of water. All the papa's were near the parking lot, doubtless smoking duck cigars and congratulating themselves while the Mama ducks were directing traffic in vain.
I watched them for ten minutes, tried to urge several people on cell phones or ear plugs to join me and they didn't, lost in some world or another other than the one than contained the baby ducks.....
Baby ducks, one reason I'm not giving up on the Universe quite yet.
Baby ducks, what a joy and privilege to share a planet and 10 minutes with them. Such clowns and full to bursting of new life and new hope and spring.
Baby ducks make up for the people on cell phones and with ear phones and letting their dogs off lead.
Baby ducks--not much better....
Friday, May 6, 2011
How do pebbles get in your shoes?
One of the major questions about the Meaning of the Universe in my book.
I always get pebbles in my shoes when I walk the dog on the Canal. Now, you need to know this, I wear sneakers that are a half size too big (I like loose shoes) and I tie them so I can take them off and put them on without untying them (I really, really like loose shoes).
There is a cinder path beside the paved part of the Canal--on the right, across from the water itself. So, I've always thought I got pebbles in my shoes from the cinder path.
But today, as an experiment, I only walked on the pavement or on the grass near the water and I had to stop 3 times to shake pebbles out of my shoes.
What is the physics about that? How does it happen? Is it just me or do other people have that same experience? Am I cursed? Do my feet expel pebbles from inside my soles somehow? What the hell is going on about getting pebbles in my shoes?
Any explanations anyone out there has?
I think if I stayed indoors I would eventually get a pebble in my shoe.
Am I being paranoid and crazy?
Where do those pebbles come from and how do they get in my shoes?
And should I call the pebbles "Dare". (An allusion for Godspell fans....)
We are growing old together. And with age comes problems, mostly with memory.
Bern had been looking at houses on the internet, not that we're considering buying by any means, but because she wanted to look at a house near us and see the price and such as that.
She saw a house that she said was where one of Mimi's friends lived--neither of us could remember her name though both of us could remember lots of things about her. The house was on Jinny Hill Road, which is a left going south on Rt 10 just past the McDonald's and what was the last fabric store in Cheshire and is now a Dollar Store. But that's not where what's her name--who did Mimi wrong and it is just as well that she is nameless--lived. She lived on a left off of Wallingford Road, that I know. Bern even remembered it was a left after the retirement condos, which is Wallingford Road. But Bern was insisting it was Jinny Hill Road and I was about to let her be right--which is what keeps you together for over 4 decades--when she realized she was wrong.
Then she said that one of Josh's friends lived on that same road--and I couldn't remember--but she said, "that's where he wrecked that time" and I didn't remember him wrecking there.
So, we're even. Which is another thing that keeps you together for over 40 years...always being even....
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Here's why I am a Patriot: every morning I wake up, I am grateful I wake up in the US.
I love this land--literally, 'this land', every place I put my foot, the ground beneath me and the privilege to walk on it as a free person.
I love my house, my family, my neighborhood.
And that love keeps me from being a pacifist.
I would engage and try to kill anyone who sought to take any of that away from me.
In the summer of 1969, I went on a bus from Welch, WV with 23 other young men to have a physical to see if I was eligible to serve in the armed forces of the United States. I took lots of medical records that showed that my eye-sight, my allergies, my asthma would disqualify me from being a soldier.
The Army doctor told me, "they told us we need bodies, even bodies like yours" and ignored my medical files.
That fall, on my second day at Harvard Divinity School, I received my draft notice. It did, really, begin with 'Greetings'. I called the Chaplain at WVU, Snork Roberts, to ask him what to do. He told me he'd call the Bishop of West Virginia. Snork called me back and gave me The Rt. Rev. Wilburn Camrock Campbell's phone number. I called him--all this from the hall phone in Divinity Hall (no cell phones back then).
Bishop Campbell asked me about my father--my father served in the WWII. He was in the Engineer Corps. He built bridges for Patten's tanks and after the tanks crossed the bridges, my father blew them up. "We weren't coming back that way," he once told me. About the only thing he ever told me about 'the war'. Most people, I've come to know, who were 'really' in a war don't say much about it.
Bishop Campbell asked me what I was going to do.
I wasn't sure. But I told him I was a lot closer to Canada than I was to West Virginia.
"Are you a conscientious objector?" he asked.
I told him I wasn't, that I wouldn't bat an eye about killing someone coming up my street to do harm to me or those I loved or the ground beneath my feet. Then I told him I hated and abhored the war in Viet Nam. I didn't believe it was just or right or defending my street and my family and the ground beneath my feet. So I wouldn't go.
"What would your father think if you went to Canada?" he asked me.
"It would break his heart," I told the bishop, who had confirmed me at Trinity Church in Morgantown, WV, but who I really didn't know beyond his hands on my head.
"I'll call you back," the bishop told me.
A half-an-hour later, he did. And he told me my draft order had been 'rescinded' and I was a 'Postulate for Holy Orders'. I didn't know what that meant, but it was good enough for me. I didn't have to go to Canada and I wasn't going to break my father's heart.
I was, what?, 21 or 22 when all this happened.
I would have enlisted in WWII, but I didn't believe in Viet Nam. Seemed simple to me.
I am not happy with our wars--the longest in our history--in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wish we'd never started them. I wish we had sought out the 9/11 monsters in covert ways and not killed so many people (our own, enemies and the innocent). I would have gone to Canada rather than gone to those wars.
And, I am a patriot--red, white and blue through and through.
I love this land, this dirt, this remarkably naive experiment in democracy, with all it's flaws and madness and craziness.
But I am not a compliant 'citizen'. I object to much that my government (which I support and would die for) does.
And I am proud that it is 'my government', my nation, my neighborhood, my house, the dirt beneath my feet.
That much is truer than true.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Like most sane people, I figure the world is better off without him in it.
And I do understand the joy and relief people feel who lost loved ones in 9/11 and other terrorist attacks.
And I am proud to be defended by such warriors as Navy Seals. God bless them.
And, I must say, I am proud and glad that President Obama is showing up so decisive and thoughtful and masterful in the whole thing. I love the President and am thankful for anything that shows him off as the remarkable man and leader he is.
And, in spite of all that, I harbor deep reservations about a policy that can only be seen as state sponsored assassination (a more politically correct word for 'murder').
What I hear, listening most of the day, is that the mission was not to apprehend or capture...but to kill Osama.
I well know Osama alive would be more trouble, much more trouble than him dead. I well know he couldn't ever be prosecuted in a court in the US with anywhere near a 'fair trial' much less a jury of his 'peers'.
Yet, it troubles me. It just does.
I'm just a purist about the limits on the government. I know, believe me, I know, most people consider him a enemy combatant.
But it gives me pause that we simply went to kill him. It just does.
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