Thursday, October 27, 2011

I feel like I'm in Mount Washington, NH

Someone told me today, "I feel like I'm in Seattle...." because of all the rain.

Well, I was in Seattle for a week this year and it didn't rain once. It was in June and it was even hotter than it was in CT.

So, I decided to look up the average rain fall for the US to figure out this image of Seattle as always raining. There is a TV mystery show called "The Killing" that takes place in Seattle and there hasn't been a scene in it yet when it was raining or threatening rain. Very Noir.

So, here's what I found out via the mystery and wonder of the internet:

*Seattle has 38.60 inches of rain a year and it rains, on average, at some time, on 158 days.

*However, Bridgeport, CT has 41.56 annual inches of rain but it only rains on 117 days. All Bridgeport needs is a bunch of coffee shops and a big-ass mountain to become Seattle-East.

*Charleston, West Virginia, where both our children were born, has 42.43 inches--almost 4 more than Seattle and only 7 fewer days at 151. And Charleston already has big-ass mountains, none like Rainer, I grant you, but a bunch of them. And Charleston is at least as hilly as Seattle.

*But, here's the killer: do you know where it rains the most inches and most days in the US? Mount Washington, NH. A whopping 89.92 inches, more than twice Seattle's total, and 209 days a year. And it is a big-ass mountain.

Go figure.

Next time it rains a lot, say, "I feel like I'm in Bridgeport/Charleston/Mount Washington" anything but Seattle.

Seattle has pulled the wet wool over our eyes and convinced us it's always soggy there. They've got a long way to go to beat Mount Washington....

(I do wish it would stop raining. My dog hates the rain and he really needs to poop.....)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Three and out ('so far, so strange')

My daughter is in Oman or Dubai (she's going both places, I just don't remember which is first.)

She sent me a cryptic email: "Arrived. So far, so strange."

I've felt that way over the past year or so. I've done the funerals of three people who were not only my dear friends but my profound mentors. Ginny, Reed and Kay all played a remarkable role in the forming of my ministry and my life over the past 25 years. And now they are dead, each of them, all of them.

Ginny was the head of the Council of Churches in Waterbury when I arrived in Waterbury in 1989. She was an Episcopalian and sometimes came to St. John's though she was a member of a suburban parish. She was tough and nails and funny as hell. Ginny loved to work and she loved to play and she taught me a lot about how to navigate the weird, unpredictable waters of ecumenical relations.

Reed was, at the same time, the director of a non-profit called Green Community Services (not because it was near the Waterbury Green but because the Rector of St. John's, the Pastor of First Congregational and the Minister of First Baptist had a green file box they passed around, taking a month at a time to try to meet the needs of the urban poor and weed out the urban con-men. He was a member of St. John's and one of the most outspoken Liberal voices I've ever heard. He taught me how to treat people who disagreed profoundly with you with the kind of respect and kindness that made them at least 'listen' to what you had to say. And he liked nothing more than to laugh.

Kay was a long-time member of St. John's who was a political activist and mover and shaker. She was no nonsense but compassionate, dedicated but deeply humorous.

(As I write this, I realize that I admired each of them for their ministry and commitment AND because each had a great sense of humor. My wife decides who she likes by 'how smart' they are and that matters to me as well. But my first priority for a dear friend is 'how funny' they are. If we aren't having fun we should find something else to do.)

I only had notes for Ginny's funeral sermon and can't find them. But I have the text for Reed's and Kay's. I thought I'd share them. What I said in those sermons will tell you a bit about why I loved them so much and why I'm declaring a moratorium on the death of mentors. Anyone else 20 years or so older than me who taught me much must remain alive, for my sake. I'm three and out in the past year. I can't lose anymore people like these from my life.

So far, so strange....

Memorial for Reed Smith

“Then the Righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prision and visited you?'

And the King will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least o these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” Mt. 25.37-40

So here is something I saw one day, years ago, looking out the window of my office that was above the Close of St. John's in Waterbury and gave me a view of the whole Green and much of downtown.

I saw Reed crossing the street between St. John's and the little store owned and run by some folks from India where I went, often, to get coffee. School had just let out and the kids from the high school next to St. John's on Church Street were waiting in front of the little Indian store for the next bus.

The high school beside of St. John's was the school of “last resort” for the kids who when there. They'd been kicked out of one of the three high schools in the city for something or another—certainly untowardly—and they were going to school there because no other school could contain them. There were about 20 of those kids standing on the street where Reed was headed. They were goofing around and smoking and being generally unruly. And here comes Reed.

Reed was dressed, I swear to you, in navy blue knickers (I never knew anyone besides Reed who wore honest to God knickers), blue and yellow argyle knee socks, dress shoes, a blindingly white dress shirt, a red bow tie, a seersucker jacket and a straw hat.

“This will be good,” I said to myself, watching Reed approach 20 or more high school students who were jacked up on teen-aged hormones and God knows what else, and these where teens who had somehow fallen through the cracks of our society. “Bad kids” in the estimation of most people.

As Reed approached, the kids (who didn't give in to anybody) parted like the Red Sea and let him pass. He tipped his straw hat to them and they watched him, silent and staring, as he walked two blocks, greeting homeless people, a police officer and several people in serious suits on the way. Once he was out of sight, having turned a corner, the kids remained subdued, didn't revert to the nonsense they'd been up to before Reed appeared. They seemed to be pondering something until the buses they were waiting for arrived.

They had been “Reed-ed”. Reed Smith had crossed their paths, shared their journeys for a moment and I believe, I truly believe, some few of them will remember that encounter years from now. I truly believe that.

When Reed crossed your path, something shifted, something changed, life as you knew it was somehow subtlety transformed.

Reed was like that. When you encountered him, something shifted, altered, changed. You were 'Reed-ed' in a way that mattered and made a difference.

No one could possibly challenge his commitment to justice, to empowering the powerless, to serving the poor and marginalized of society. Reed's life was spent, as his daughter Pam called it, “saving the world every day”. And he did it with total integrity and utter authenticity. Every Day.

I remember watching him load a bus with people from Waterbury—people on welfare, the working poor, the neglected and forgotten of the city. The bus was parked in front of First Congregational Church so I crossed the street and asked him where they were going.

“An excursion to Hartford,” Reed said, smiling that little crooked smile he smiled and his eyes twinkling, “to have a little talk with their elected representatives....”

Reed had no compunction about walking into the halls of government to advocate for the poor—but he went beyond that: he empowered the poor to advocate for themselves.

It reminds me of a quote from Mother Teresa (though Reed, I'm sure, would object to his being worthy to be spoke of in her company). A cynical journalist asked Mother Teresa how she could possibly imagine she could save the poor and dying of Calcutta.

“One at a time,” she replied, smiling HER crooked smile, her eyes twinkling.

“One at a time” is how Reed entranced us all. His devotion to 'the least of these' was only equaled by his devotion to his family and friends. “His lady” Marty, his children, his friends. To be in his presence was to feel you had his total attention, his interest, his love.

One of the most conservative members of St. John's, the parish's long time Treasurer, would wax eloquent about Reed. Though they agreed on....well, 'nothing'...Ed always knew he was friends with a man of authenticity and integrity. Just that—being authentic and having integrity and being able to love those who don't agree with you—is devoutly to be wished by any of us.

If welcome to the Kingdom does rely on serving 'the least of these', then Reed has been welcomed with laurels. And I'm sure he accepted his welcome with humility and good humor and walked immediately into the Nearer Presence of God and said, “I've been waiting to meet with you. There are a few things back on earth we need to straighten out....”

I've often heard it said that a successful life would entail leaving the world a better place than you found it. Reed went beyond that. He made every person he encountered a 'better person' than they were before meeting him.

Since you're here today, I know you've been 'Reed-ed' in some significant way. And I'm sure he's glad to see you. His eyes are twinkling, he's smiling that little crooked smile and he's tipping his straw hat to each of us and all of us—most of all to Marti....

Let us thank God that we got to walk a little road with Reed.

And let us thank God—profoundly, joyfully, always and everywhere for him.....Amen.

Sermon for Kay

I saw Sandy at the nursing home the day that Kay started slipping away from life.

“I think she just decided to die and get it over with,” Sandy told me. “Just like Kay, still making up the rules.”

That got me started thinking about “KAY'S RULES”.

Kay's Rules would be demanding and passionate. Kay's Rules would be rigorous and committed. Kay's Rules would be full of dedication to justice, to fairness, to compassion and to action.

There would be a Rule in Kay's Rules that required standing with and advocating for those who were oppressed by our society because of poverty, gender, sexuality or race. Kay's Rules would fight against discrimination in whatever guise it raised it's ugly head. Kay's Rules would not let us rest until Justice was done.

There would be a Rule in Kay's Rules that demanded a passionate commitment to education and learning. Kay's Rules would give everyone access to Knowledge and the Power that knowledge brings.

There would be a Rule in Kay's Rules that would not tolerate 'unfairness' in any part of our society—in access to health care, in economics, in equal pay, in government services.

There would be a Rule in Kay's Rules that would insist that we 'get involved' and 'stay involved' in politics. Kay's Rules would hold us accountable for being a part of the forming and reforming of our political system.

There would be Rules in Kay's Rules that would deal with friendship, with loyalty, with personal integrity, with devotion, with responsibility. All in all, the world would be a much better place if we all played by Kay's Rules—just as the world and our lives have been made richer, fuller, more challenging, more complete, more compassionate by having known and loved Kay Bergin.

We are better off—each of us and all of us—that she lived in our midst and touched our lives. Truly. That is profoundly True.

The only Rule in Kay's Rules that I would object to is that there would probably be a rule about having to play golf.

I once played in a foursome in the Hastings Open that included Kay and Fran. I don't play golf but I'm reasonably good at anything that requires hitting a ball with a stick of some sort. Mostly I was comic relief for the real golfers.

Kay and Fran amazed me. I could hit the ball much farther than they could, but almost always to the left or right of the fairway. Kay and Fran always hit the ball straight down the fairway. Not to far but always on target, always straight ahead.

That is a metaphor for those two remarkable human beings. They always advanced things straight ahead and with consistency and with passion and with commitment.

Often, when I was Rector here, I would notice Kay going back to the Columbarium after the Eucharist and sitting with Fran for a while. Sometimes she brought some flowers in a vase. And she would just be with him for a spell.

And now she is with him again.

“When people die,” a friend of mine wrote in a poem for a mutual friend who died in Viet Nam, “When people die, it's like a bird flying into a window on a chill day.”

With Kay's death, the bird flew into the window again.

And we are here today to remember her, to mourn her death and to proclaim the promise of God in the midst of death and loss.

Memory is one of God's greatest gifts. All of us fear 'losing our memory' more than we fear death. Memory reminds us of 'who we are' and 'whose we are'. Memory is the anchor that keeps our small boat stable and safe in the storms of life.

So, we remember Kay today and thank God for the gift of her to each of us and all of us. And in our memory, our stories, our recollections, Kay lives with us.

So, we mourn Kay today and comfort each other in our loss. Grief shared is easier to bear. A touch, a hug, just 'being together' helps us endure the pain.

And, we gather to proclaim the promise of God that death is not the 'last word'. It is certainly the 'next to last word', but the last word is hope and life and resurrection. A priest wears white for a funeral—not the black of mourning but the white of Easter, of life, of hope.

In today's gospel Thomas says to Jesus as he announces his leaving them, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Amen, Thomas. The land on the other side of the door of Death is not a place we 'know'. But I do know this, St. Francis of Assissi once wrote, “Death is not a door that closes, but a door that opens and we enter in all new....”

I do not 'know the way', but I do know the promise of God. And that promise is this: that in ways we do not imagine and perhaps 'cannot imagine', Death's door opened for Kay and she entered into the nearer presence of the One who loved her best of all, and she was made 'all new'....

We will miss you my dear friend, Kay, and we will mourn you. And we will also remember you and the rules you gave us to live by. And we will celebrate your life and the privilege it was to share some of the road with you as we journey to the Lover of Souls.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

occupy everywhere

OK, I'm on the verge of packing my medicines and heading to Wall Street.

Not since the late 60's have I felt so energized and affirmed. I've lived through Presidents abundant and have favored some more than others. I won't bother naming them (though, for my money, Jimmy Carter was the best of the bunch) and now, as I approach 65, something is happening that makes my heart swell and my mind race.

I'm tired of hearing Media people keep asking, "What does Occupy Wall Street want?"

They want, and I want, that everyone to look around and see how deeply in the mire 'the American Dream" has sunk.

Here's what I want:

*that 'money' not run everything but people run stuff

*that the poor be cared for and enabled to not be poor

*that the rich be taxed and taxed and feel good that being taxed mean they are doing 'good'

*that every alien that enters this country be given a clear path to becoming a citizen of this country whether they entered legally or not

*that everyone who lives within our borders have health care

*that education be based on who is able, not who can pay and that even Harvard and Yale be tuition free (those two could afford it, sitting on billions of endowments)

*that everyone in the United States start thinking of "we" not 'me'

*that Environmental Protection be seen as a glorious necessity and not a 'problem'

*that Muslim-Americans be seen as "Americans", not "Muslims" (same for any hyphenated Americans of whatever prefix)

*that Kindness would replace Authority everywhere

*that the people we elect would 'serve' us rather than be seduced and disempowered by ideology

*that all of us might acknowledge that 'being an American' is a remarkable and privileged thing to be that calls each of us and all of us to be part of the greatest Tribe ever and forget what divides us

*that marriage be seen as something two people who love each other have a right to no matter what their gender

*that all of us agree that "getting there" will mean we ALL get there or none of us do

That's all I want. I may "occupy Cheshire"...."Occupy" wherever you are and lean into a dream and vision that leaves nobody out and makes us all a part of each other....Really.....

Ponder that.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Being Luke

The last few days I've been watching our cat, Luke, with more interest than usual. He's a really interesting cat.

He was one of four not that long ago, but the other three died over the last couple of years. Luke has really taken to being an 'only cat'. I may have mentioned this before, but Lukie has always been our 'puppy cat'--he comes when you call him (unlike our Puli dog), he rolls over and shows you his belly when you walk by him, he begs for food along with the dog Bela when we're eating. And whenever one of us comes home, he comes running to greet us.

Yet, there are things about Luke that confound me. He has several sleeping places during the day: on top of the piano, in an upstairs window, in our bed (he's not allowed in the room at night because he walks on your face and wakes you up at 5 a.m. or so....but during the day he is on the bed a lot. And there is some place he sleeps that I don't know and can't find because sometimes I go looking for him and he seems to have evaporated from the house. But at 3 p.m., wherever he is, he comes down to the kitchen to be fed. If all our clocks were suddenly taken away, Luke would tell us when it is 3 p.m. so we'd know that hour, at least, every day.

He often sits on the table that is beside the desk where I sit and type this. He will sometimes lay on the table and put his head on my desk and look at me with those yellow eyes like he's saying 'here I am....I'd let you pet me now.' Luke keeps me neat because if I don't keep that table orderly, he knocks stuff on the floor beside me or down the back steps into the downstairs.

I also have been noticing his different speeds. Sometimes he just moves slowly, languidly, as if he had no where to go but was just going somewhere. Other times he races through the room and away, like something important is happening somewhere else that he needs to get to. And he has different approaches to the dog: carefully, as if stalking or being stalked; thoughtlessly, as if he knows what Bela will do; surreptitiously, not really sneaking up but more like testing the waters. I sometimes find them together in mid-day, sleeping on our bed in perfect peace and contentment. Sometimes, mostly when food is at issue, Bela will jump him and drive him away.

I have no idea what Luke thinks. He seems to have a schedule and routine that has nothing to do with me. He's always sticking his paw under our bedroom door as soon and he hears Bern or me stirring--it's an 1850 house, there are spaces under the doors.

But much of the day he operates on a rhythm incomprehensible to me. Disappearing, re-appearing, always there at 3 p.m., sometimes MIA all day. Bela is easy. He is seldom, except for his mid-day nap with Luke on our bed, more than a few feet from either Bern or me. His schedule is our schedule, whatever that is on a given day. Not Luke--his drummer is not my drummer but a different one.

It would be interesting but not surprising, I imagine, to be in Bela's brain. Dogs are pretty predictable, after all--"love me, love me, feed me, feed me, take me out, take me out"...stuff like that.

I would resist being Luke. It might be a labyrinth of a mind from which I could not extricate myself, a place from which I could not return.

Dogs are comfort and caring and need and consistency. Cats are finally Mystery embodied.

I wouldn't risk being Luke.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

With sincere apologies...

For two quarters today, West Virginia University's football team played nice with U Conn.

10-9 at the half.

Granted UConn won last year's game in overtime--I was regretfully there--after WVU fumbled about 321 times.

In the last 7 and a half minutes of the third quarter, West Virginia scored 23 points--three touchdowns and a safety. Mountain hospitality wore thin and UConn was swept away.

I don't mean to bring this up to rub it in--but to say that I'm sorry the trip to Morgantown was so unpleasant. West Virginian's usually treat guests more kindly.

43-16, was that it?

When Amish folks go bad

So, I read and watched this astonishing report today about some rogue Amish in Ohio.

It seems one 'tribe' of Amish have been invading the homes of other Amish and cutting the women's hair and the men's beards.

Somehow, from the Bible, the Amish people have discerned that women should never cut their hair and men must have a beard. So this terrorist Amish activity takes away all their authenticity and pride along with a lot of hair.

If I'd read this on April 1, I would have known it was an April Fool's joke--I mean, really, Amish amok, give me a break. It's like a Baptist bar or a Jewish pork chop. Stuff like this doesn't happen, does it?

I guess it does. God help us when the Amish start being violent. What's next--Hindu's killing cows, Muslims drunk and disorderly, Episcopalians eating salad with their shrimp fork?

Where does it all end, I ask you--Michelle Bachman supporting pro-choice and gay marriage....vegans opening a steak house...

When the Amish get out of control what chance do we have to be rational?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I must be becoming a contemplative

OK, Ted told me today I hadn't blogged lately. So I will.

It started last night. While I was studying a website about the square mileage and population density of the states--don't ask, it's too long a story--I got this sudden message on my computer about a 'critical error'. The message stacked up message after message like a deck of cards. In just a moment I lost the internet. Then I noted that lots of my little icons had taken leave as well. I still had Solitaire and Hearts so I played awhile, imagining that somehow the Lord or Bill Gates would miraculously heal my computer.

Then I turned it off and turned it back on to realize all that was left was solitaire and hearts and the 'start' icon. So I played solitaire and went to watch the Yankee game, imagining that by some good fortune, all would be well with my computer in the morning.

When I turned it on today, my rotating screen saver of remarkable vistas of beautiful places was gone and my 'sticky notes' with a rough 'to do' list was all that was left besides hearts and solitaire and the 'start' icon.

So I played hearts--it pains me to admit that my addictive personality is focused on playing hearts these days.

Bern was going to talk with our friend John, who is my personal IT guy, the one who built my computer for me, so I told her to tell him I was down to games and 'start' and sticky notes.

He came up at 6 and started fooling with things that are as far from my ken as brain surgery and the string theory of physics and speaking Bulgarian. He allowed that it seemed pretty simple and he did computer magic for a ten minutes or so and then we had dinner while the computer (I guess) talked to itself and did things I neither understand or want to understand.

Then I went up to my office to watch the computer talk to itself and tell me in terse terms what it was talking to itself about while John and Bern stayed downstairs and talked. John is very smart and very funny. Bern prefers the company of smart people and I prefer the company of funny people so it is little wonder John is our good friend.

Finally, the computer finished its internal conversation and started windows. I got on line, I checked out the other things I use and John was about to leave when I clicked on my "libraries" icon and found it empty.

So he came back up and worked for 45 minutes or so restoring all the stuff in my libraries--photos, music, documents.

I watched him for a while and then did some other stuff and came back and watched him some more. He told me several times that he'd 'never seen anything like this before' and that he wasn't sure how, or if, he could fix it.

Here's what was MIA:

*family photos I'd stored...not a lot but some I love.

*a little music--I listen to NPR instead of music, so there wasn't much there either.

*My novel "The Igloo Factory", my fantasy novel "The Princess and the Sailor", my murder mystery "Murder on the Block".

*about 400 sermons and sermon outlines.

*notes for my novel "The Bananaman" which once was written but then lost and I've been trying to reconstruct.

*all my poetry

*all the stuff I've written for Bern for Christmas (She gives me some graphic art each year--collages, paintings, etc, she creates and I write her poems and stories...that's what we give each other for Christmas.

*all the letters I've written that I've saved.

*my folder about the Middlesex Cluster and my hours and mileage log

*my folder and class outlines for the courses I teach at U.Conn in Waterbury

Granted, lots of that stuff is in hard copy and wouldn't have been lost. But a significant amount of it--all the sermons and poems and Middlesex stuff and U.Conn stuff and the letters would be lost forever.

The good news is, John recovered all of it through clicks and key strokes I'll never understand.

The better news is, in the midst of all that stuff being lost, I was, as best as I can describe it, 'eerily calm', like I was watching something happening that had nothing to do with me, like I was detached and safe when a whole bunch of stuff that means a great deal to me was gone from this universe.

I even remember thinking, during the Lost time, "I should be upset and anxious and distracted". Instead, what I really felt was, "all will be well". Maybe it was my faith in John to recover all that stuff, maybe.

But maybe, after all this time, I am becoming a contemplative---fiercely 'involved' with the world and simultaneously 'detached' emotionally.

Something to ponder. Recently I have found myself able to be 'present' in important ways to what was going on around me, but to, at the same time, be able to have 'distance' from it all emotionally.

It's what I've always sought to be in my ministry and my life--"a non-anxious presence".

It seems to be coming naturally these days.

Ponder, I will. Reflect, I must. (As Yoda would say....)

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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.