Friday, May 31, 2013

Not so fast, you atheists...

OK, so last week in a homily (all of which he gives without notes) Pope Francis (who I really like, much to my surprise and amazement) said that even Atheists who do good works are redeemed by Christ and will meet the Christians "there". Whether 'there' meant heaven or not left the door open for the Vatican to 'clarify' what the pontiff meant.

All people are 'redeemed' the theologians in Rome (who are going to have a lot of work on their hands if Francis continues down the road I hope he will) but to be 'saved' and, like go to  heaven (whatever that means) you have to accept your redemption and accept Jesus as your Savior.

Which reminds me of a wonderful joke:

Q. Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a theologian?

A. You can negotiate with a terrorist....

The Vatican's 'clarification' about the Pope's misstatement about the salvation of atheists made two groups very happy. Conservative, dogmatic Christians and atheists!

The last thing, I imagine, an atheist wants to hear is that the God they don't believe in is going to save them despite their unbelief. Imagine how frustrating that would be: here you are, not even believing in a God, much less a God who is going to 'save' you, and the Pope, the most visible Christian in the world, tells you the God you don't believe in is going to 'save' you whether you want to be 'saved' or not. What a quandary!

Now you have to not believe in a God that, according to the Pope, believes in you! Wasn't that a line from "Hair"? Or am I misremembering (to quote George W. Bush)?

When I was a student at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, the largest Episcopal seminary and the one with the most money, Dr. Richard Reid was interrupted in the midst of a lecture on the theology of the New Testament by a very conservative student who asked, "Dean Reid, what you're saying sounds a lot like 'universalism' to me."

Dick paused for nearly a minute. Then he answered, "I would describe my theology as 'Hopeful Universalism'."

The student got up and left the room in disgust.

I guess I've never gotten the whole thing about Christianity that says if you're not a Christian, you can't be saved. Some of the most Christ-like people I've known  have been Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and non-believers. I have no problem at all imagining sharing the Realm of God with them. Lots of Christians, it seems to me, aren't satisfied that God will save them, they need God to 'not save' all the others.

Was it Mark Twain that said, "it is not enough that I should succeed, my friends must fail...."?

To be flip, that doesn't sound very 'Christian' does it?

Religious people of all ilks, over the endless centuries, have killed each other for not believing as they did. And when that failed, they turned on their own and burned the heretics.

I'm not an atheist. But I am a heretic. Bishop Jim Curry even gave me a lapel button that says "HERETIC".  I wear it with pride.

I just think religious folk should 'get over themselves' and accept the goodness in those unlike them as the goodness of God.

But then, that's just me talkin'.....

Thursday, May 30, 2013


LUSH (though that word feels so rich in my mouth, so wondrous, so full, so complete) doesn't do the plants in our yards justice this year.

We have six or seven rhododendron bushes in our yards--two in front of our front porch, one to the east in the front and 3 around our back deck. Rhododendron is the state flower of West Virginia, by the way, though some minority of folks back home call it mountain laurel. It is wild and profuse along the mountain roads where I come from, deep pink in its glory. And our rhododendron this year are more blossom than leaves, huge blossoms, some as big as my head (and I have a big head--7 and 5/8, thank you very much). I've never seen anything like it. When you sit on our back deck, the blossoms hang down around you from a ten foot high bush. And the bees are busy indeed, but they won't bother you because, they too, realize the abundance of this year's growth.

And our snowball tree (I don't know the real name for it--the blossoms are round and white and usually the size of a tennis ball) but this year they are the size of softballs and are nearly weighing down the branches to the ground.

And our two broom bushes (again, I know no other name) one in the front yard and one in the back, have not simply recovered from the damage of the winter's snow--they are luxuriating in their yellow flowers, tinted with red in the middle.

The ground cover purple flowers and the many ferns are way ahead of where they should be, considering what a cool spring it has been.

The now gone tulips and jonquils were astonishing as well. Even the 80 foot horse chestnut tree in our front yard that I thought was dead ten years ago is full and flowering, dropping worm looking things all over the yard.

Have any of you noticed in your yard, or driving around Connecticut, how lush and abundant this year is turning out?

The deep purple (almost black) irises in the front yard, beside the drive-way, are about to pop. They seem taller and sturdier than I ever remember.

Everything seems full of life and abundant.

I don't know if you'd pondered what all this floral abundance is about. I know Bern and I have, wondering over it, comparing theories.

My theory is this: the odd hot spell two months ago and all the rain lately.

Her's has more to do with the way the winter went.

Who knows?

But, for whatever reason, our yards are chock-a-block full of Abundance.

There is a poem by Anne Sexton that ends like this:

"...Then the well spoke to me.
It said: Abundance is scooped from abundance,
yet abundance remains."

That's how I feel, wherever I go these days, about the lush, abundance all around me.

Maybe it's just more than the plants. Maybe Abundance is just showing up....

Who knows? Something to ponder as the heat sets in this day....

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Back porch ponderings

Out on the back porch tonight,
watching the distant heat lightening,
illuminate the dark clouds,
drinking a glass of wine:
I started wondering
if a hundred years from now
anyone will remember that,
for a brief time, I lived upon
this huge, stormy marble
lost in the infinitude
of mostly empty space?

Will anyone remind another
that I actually was, or,
will I be obliterated from
all human memory?

I sometimes speak of people long dead
who I never really knew.

Like great-uncle Hovie,
a bachelor farmer,
who died in his rocking chair
and wasn't found for two days.
How they tied him down
in my great-grandmothers living room
for his wake and
how at two or three in the morning,
everyone sleepy and some
a little drunk,
the rope slipped and Hovie sat up,
ending forever the practice
of wakes
in the Bradley family.

Like my great grandfather
who came over from Ireland
with two brothers
during bad times.
How they got into such a fight
on the boat that 
when they arrived
at Ellis Island
they gave false names
so they could never find each other
in this broad, new land and
how to add insult to injury,
my great-grandfather
changed his name from O'Connor
to "Jones"--a Welsh name--
to prove forever the DNA deep
resentments of the Irish.

Like my uncle Leon,
my mother's brother,
who died at 12
from what must have been
a brain tumor.
How he suffered so greatly
and with such courage and
how every member of my my mother's
family kept a haunting picture
of him in their living rooms,
his face made old by suffering and
how I studied that picture
over and again
pondering what it must be like
to die young
and to be so loved.

A century from now,
will anyone know any stories
about my life?

Will my grandchildren
tell their grandchildren
something of me--
some memory of theirs
that will pass on through
my blood to theirs?
Some little thing would be enough:
like how I let them brush
and put barrettes
in my hair
or I bought them gelato
from the little store
in Baltimore
or just how much I loved them....

Or will, as I fear,
texting replace family stories
and Face Book
be the length of our memories,
while the lore of those who share your genes,
long dead, dies as well?


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Toasted ham and cheese is a real breakthrough

I haven't blogged since Friday night. There is a reason.

(Anyone with tender sensibilities should stop reading now--I'll give you some blank lines to go somewhere else online....)

(OK, don't say I didn't warn you....)

Saturday night we when to dinner for Jack's birthday. It was a great time. But I think I got some bad shrimp. I blame it on the shrimp (which was in a fish stew of sorts) because I was the only one who had shrimp in any form and others had calamari and clams--the other two things in my stew--and no one else got sick.

I went on a website that diagnoses your abdominal distress by asking you questions about your symptoms. WHAT ISN'T  ON LINE THESE DAYS? What I had might have been a stomach virus (but I didn't have a fever, which most viruses give you) or food poisoning. Food poisoning was a complete match for my symptoms (which I won't share even though since you're still reading you have claimed to have rock-hard sensibilities. No one needs a description of what food poisoning does to you.

I ate nothing all day Sunday and warned the people at Emmanuel that I might bolt for the bathroom with no warning so they should carry on without me....

I could drink liquids (a sip or so at a time) to keep hydrated.

I ate some grits and a soft-boiled egg and an Italian ice on Monday.

Just to show you what a 'hail fellow, well met' I am--if you don't already know--I grilled tuna, corn on the cob and red and yellow peppers on Memorial day for Bern, Mimi and our friend, John...and did it, they said, to perfection though I couldn't take a bite. Mimi eats tuna as rare as it would be if you ran it over a candle for a while, but even she said I got hers right.

So, the toasted ham and cheese for Tuesday lunch was a real break-through. I ate it before I drove Mimi to Fairfield for a dentist appointment. Since she was coming to CT she came to us on Monday.
What joy to have her around. She's extremely comfortable to be with--very low maintenance--but engaging and charming in spurts.

We got to see her engagement ring up close rather than on the Internet and it is gorgeous. Young Tim has real taste.

It's the first Memorial Day in my memory when I didn't eat and drink too much. I was just glad I lived through it....

(I did have left-over tuna and corn for dinner tonight, so things are definitely on the mend....)

I must say this: food poisoning makes you face your frailty and mortality....even long to discover your mortality, like NOW!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bern is painting, I am going to movies....

Bern is painting our living room. I did look at paint samples and even went to Home Depot--a place that unnerves me more that Dracula's Castle would--to help her buy all the stuff...or at least help her carry it all out to her truck.

I am banned from painting because I don't paint up to Bern's standards. (Just as I'm banned from yard work and house cleaning for the same reason--I just can't do it to satisfy her.)

So she's going to be painting for quite a while now--I have a vague idea of which rooms she is painting but wouldn't trust myself to be accurate about it. A couple of bedrooms for sure and maybe the dining room, though I hope not since it is this funky yellow-orange with a gold ceiling that I really like. But we'll see how extensive this painting will be. All I know for sure is that I am banned from taking part.

(Just a note to the wise and lazy: if you prove yourself incompetent at stuff around the house, you will be banned and can go to movies while the other person in your household does those things. Not a bad deal, I'd say.)

I went to see the new Star Trek movie, which was amazing visually and in making 'what happens next' even more dangerous and exciting that 'what just happened'. I'm a sucker for Star Trek stuff, no matter what generation of the show it is. Problem is, these recent movies are supposed to be Kirk and Spock and Bones and Ohura and Sulu and Scotty as younger versions of the people--Leonard Nemoy and William Schatner (et al)--who were in the original TV series when I was much younger than I am now. And if you'd watch an episode of the original after seeing this you'd think it was when people drove star cruisers that were Model T's to the Lexus models of the new movies. It's jarring to realize that what Spock and Kirk had to work with in the beginning was like light years away from the special effects and computer generated stuff their younger selves had....

One of the amusing things is that the Starship Enterprise crew come upon some folks who were cryoginically frozen several centuries before and they don't understand the technology, as one of the characters says 'it's too ancient' since there was no need for cryogenics any more!

The whole thing gives the lie to 'progress' since Spock and Kirk have such wondrously more advanced technology as young men in the present as they did as older men in the past.

Time, in Star Trek, at any rate, seems remarkably relative.

For all the strum and drang of the newer incarnation of Star Trek, I wouldn't trade it all for "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode of the originals. Since it won't spoil anything if you go see "Into Darkness", there is a dead Tribble in the movie that is the key to a resurrection worthy of the New Testament....

So, if you aren't competent to paint--you might go see it....

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thinking your pets are like humans is always a bad idea....

Often, when I'm sitting at my computer typing (as I am now) Luke, our Maine Coon Cat is laying on the table where all my junk is--folders, calendar, books, papers, note books, Jack Parker's black leather prayer book, files, a tennis ball (for some reason), CD;s, my mother's butter dish (for some reason), one of those dolls with smaller dolls in it of Hedici Matsui, paper clips--you get the idea: junk.

Lukie has a tail that may be longer than his body (I've never measured but will and let you know) and fluffier than a raccoon tail. He has that odd 'm' on his forehead and huge (I mean huge!) yellow eyes. He watches me and rolls over to get my attention and I think, "Luke loves me". That is anthropomorphising a cat--which is never a good idea. What  he is actually thinking, I believe when I'm not attributing human emotions to him, is something like "do you have a pork chop or chicken thigh on you? Or some of those duck treats I like so much?"

I talk to my dog, Bela, a lot. I keep waiting for him to talk back, which, rationally, I know will never in a million years, happen. But I keep waiting anyway. He looks like he would like to answer me, tilting his head to one side and trying to see me through the  hair over his eyes. When I'm honest, I know he's just waiting for me to say one of the English words he recognizes: 'go out', he knows; 'bowl', 'breakfast' and 'dinner' are in the same category, 'treat' he knows for sure; 'upstairs' and 'big bed' he responses to, running upstairs to jump on the big bed for the night.

Does Bela 'love' me? Bern tells me he does. Often when I'm gone, she says he lays on the 'big bed' and watches for me. Or sometimes lays on the floor at one of the 6 foot floor windows in the front of our house and watches for me. (The other day, when she knew I was coming back soon, she laid on the floor with him to see at what point he saw me and ran to the front door. But I'm not sure we should use the word 'love' for what animals feel for us.)

I think he probably thinks of me as one of his 'flock' since he's a Hungarian sheep dog and when I leave he feels he's failed at keeping the flock together and is happy when I come back because now he has me to guard. I don't know, all this seems silly to ponder.

Maybe I should just give you a poem I wrote about Bela.

If I've posted this before, I apologize, but it just occurred to me and if I try to find it I'm afraid I'll lose what I've written so far. So, for the first or second time:

Puli Dreams

So, I'm standing on my porch,
deep in a January night--
19 degrees Fahrenheit, partly cloudy, full moon--
smoking one of the cigarettes almost everyone I know
warns me not to smoke.

Then I notice the dog--less than ten months old,
a Hungarian sheepdog--black as anthracite coal
and at least that stubborn--
lying on the deck in the snow
with his snout and one front paw
through the gate
that used to keep young children (how long gone?)
from falling down the stairs.
Cleverly, I put the gate on the deck
to keep the Puli from running away.

I realize, still smoking, that he would run away
in a heartbeat if the gate weren't there.
To what? I wonder.

To a place where he'd be fed better?
Playing with more?
Adored greater?
There is no place like that.

So maybe he's just dreaming of running away
to the place he dreams of running away to:

that place we'd all run away to,
happy as we are,
if no gates stopped us.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The fox I saw on Cornwall Avenue

A week or so ago, I thought I saw a fox on Cornwall Avenue as I was taking my dog for h is morning walk. It was crossing Cornwall about a block future down than Bela and I were.

But I didn't say anything about it because I thought Bern would think I was slip-sliding away and start calling nursing homes about vacancies. Plus, the dog didn't react, but he was mostly thinking about peeing and pooping and it was a block away.

Then today, in the back yard, Bern and I were talking to Naomi, our next door neighbor about the baby robins in a quince tree in our yard that leans against the fence that divides our yard from Mark and Naomi's yard. And two of Naomi's kids--Phoenix and Eva were there along with a girl from the next house down (Linda and Scott's) whose name I can't think of and she was saying that her mother (Linda) saw a fox in their next door neighbor's yard.

So, at last I could claim to have seen a fox myself on Cornwall Avenue since Linda is probably under 40 and no one would think she had dementia because she saw a fox on our street.

(All this is significant because I did get out of my car while it was still running today and was walking toward our front door until I remembered I had heard WNPR as I was walking away from the car. I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't be in the home. Getting out of your car and walking away while it's still running makes me ponder about my faculties a bit....)

However, I'm glad to know someone besides me had a Fox Sighting on Cornwall Avenue. Yea!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I can't park any more....

Here's something I've noticed and have been pondering: I can't park any more.

Not that I can't do parallel parking, I do that just fine. But when I pull into a parking space, head-on, I don't pull in far enough.

It's a mystery. I've notice over the last few months that when I pull into a parking space in a strip mall or anywhere, when I get out, I'm no where near the line in the front and my car's butt is sticking out too far. Several times I've gotten back in my car and pulled up and then gotten out and noticed I still wasn't far enough up in the parking place.

What does this mean, I ponder.

Why can't I pull fully up into the parking space?

Does it have to do with not being able to 'make a commitment' or 'follow through on a promise'? Am I being overly cautious or have I begun to lose my sense of space?

Is this the beginning of dementia, not being able to locate in space?

Have I become tentative in my aging--not able to go all the way forward, holding back, stopping short?

Who knows?

On the other hand, maybe I've always parked short and, in my dotage, have started to notice this short-coming for the first time.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm gaining insight as I grow older.

Getting more alert, more introspective, noticing more about my life.

Well, yeal, that and over two dollars will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks any where. Even if you don't pull all the way into the parking space outside....

Monday, May 20, 2013

Another unread poem

When I tell my granddaughters about Junkos

Let me tell you about these little birds,”
I'll say, “that I saw in Seattle....”

(There will be lots of questions then:
Where's Seattle?” “Is it far?”
Can we go there?” “How'd you go?”
They move along a story
the way they pump the swings
in the park down from their house--
quickly, rising higher, full of wonder.)

Then I'll tell them how the cook
in the conference center where I was,
saw me watching the little birds.
He was smoking a cigarette,
watching me watch the birds
while I smoked as well.
(I'll leave out the part about cigarettes.
Let their parents deal with that someday....)

They're called Junkos,” he called to me.
The little birds?” I asked.
He nodded and blew smoke.
I jerked my head as one flew by,
almost skimming the grass.

He told me there were two kinds.
The ones with gray heads were just Junkos
and the ones with black heads were called
'hooded Junkos' with their black hoods.

Junkos are small and quick.
Swallow like, with long splashes of white
on their wings when they fly.

Curious birds, a couple hopped
into the meeting room we used,
craning their necks and watching us
for a while, wondering about us,
I suppose, then hopped back out
the door we left open
because of the heat.

I told the cook about Junko visits
and he replied they came in the kitchen
from time to time,
then left.

I imagine Junkos
live in the East, as well,
and my granddaughters
could see them some day
in Baltimore.

I could look it up
before I tell them
in the green bird book
my friend John loaned me,
mostly forever, because
I love birds.

I could show the girls
the color plates of birds--
a multitude of them--
which I sometimes just
look at without reading the names.

But I don't think I'll research Junkos
before I see the girls.
I'd rather just wonder if I'll
ever see one here, in the East,
or if they live only on the Pacific
side of this wide land.

I like to wonder about stuff like that--
even stuff I could Google and know.

So I'll just tell them how much
I loved watching the Junkos
and leave it at that.

Let them wonder about the birds.

It's always good, I believe,
to wonder about things.

I pray those little girls,
will never stop wondering.
That is what I pray.

JGB 7/11/11

Sunday, May 19, 2013

unread poems

Last night was the Middlesex Cluster's talent show. It was great fun and very funny. I read three poems and was supposed to read more but the show ran long and I gave up my second slot. So, I thought I'd post the poems I didn't read here. They're longish so I'll just do one at a time.

The Trouble with Finitude

I try, from time to time,
usually late at night after one too many glasses of wine,
to consider my mortality.
(I have been led to believe
that such consideration is valuable
in a spiritual way.
God knows where I got that....
Well, of course, God knows,
I'm just not sure.)

But try as I might, I'm not adroit at such thoughts.
It seems to me that I have always been alive.
I don't remember not being alive.
Granted, I have no personal recollections
of when most of North America was covered by ic
or of the Bronze Age
or the French Revolution
or of the Black Sox scandal.
But I do know about all that through things I've read
and musicals I've seen
and the History Channel.

I know, intellectually, that I've not always been alive,
but I don't know it, as they say,
in my gut”.
(What a strange phrase that is,
since I am sure my 'gut'
is a totally dark part of my body,
awash with digestive fluids
and whatever remains of the chicken and peas
I had for dinner and strange compounds
moving inexorably—I hope!--through my large
and small intestines.)

My problem is this:
I have no emotional connection to finitude.

All I know and feel is tangled up with being alive.
Dwelling on the certainty of my own death
is beyond my ken, outside my imagination,
much like trying to imagine
the vast expanse of Interstellar Space
while living in Connecticut.

So, whenever someone suggests that
I consider my mortality,
I screw up my face and breathe deeply
pretending I am imagining the world
without me alive in it.

What I'm actually doing is remembering
things I seldom remember--
my father's smell, an old lover's face,
the feel of sand beneath my feet,
the taste of watermelon,
the sound of thunder rolling toward me
from miles away.

Perhaps when I come to die
(Perish the thought!)
there will be a moment, an instant,
some flash of knowledge
or a stunning realization.
Ah,” I will say to myself,
just before Oblivion sets in,
this is finitude....”


Friday, May 17, 2013


Tomorrow is the Cluster Talent Show. I'm reading some poems. I've been sifting through poems to find the ones I want to read. Here's one that didn't make the cut but I like.


I read it on the internet just tonight:
"There may be a world beyond Pluto."

Poor Pluto, disgraced and diminished,
labeled less than a planet.
So small, so cold and so, so far away.
Pluto gets forgotten in the mix
of the solar system--demoted and damned
to the outer reaches of the sun.

Pitiful Pluto, so dark and chill--
but then there is the news, spread wide and far:
another world,
three times farther than Pluto from the sun--
we're talking 200 'AU's' from the sun,
based on earth being one AU
since we are still, Galileo not withstanding,
still the center of the universe.

'Planet X', in its leisurely 12,000 year journey around the sun,
would explain mysteries:
like the Kuiper Belt (whatever that is)
and confounding questions of people smarter
than you and me.

And it would give me--maybe you--
another metaphor for lonlinesss.

I no longer need to feel,
from time to tome,
like I'm on Pluto,
so unthinkably far away from comfort and love.
There is another world out there--
even darker, even colder, even more distant
that I can imagine myself
a citizen of....


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Happy Anniversary to me....

Yesterday was the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. As of today, I 've been a priest for 37 years and one day. Astonishing....

I wouldn't even remember May 15 except that this remarkable man, Louie Crew, always sends me an email on my ordination anniversary. He also sends an email for my birthday. I would remember my birthday without Louie's email, but it warms my heart anyway.

Louie is a reasonably big deal in the Episcopal Church. He founded Integrity--a group for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered Episcopalians 'and their friends'. The 'and their friends' piece is wondrous and vital. I was, for quite a few years when I served St. Paul's in New Haven and St. John's in Waterbury, the chaplain to an Integrity chapter. It was an honor and humbling as a straight priest to serve the LGBT community.

I once blessed a home of Ted and Lou, who met in high school and had been faithful to each other for over 40 years after that. They wanted me to bless them and their relationship as well. This was long before same sex marriages or even civil unions in Connecticut. My bishop at the time knew I was committed to same sex relationships and told me, after I visited him and told him I would bless a lesbian/gay couple if I asked to 'let him know' before the fact so he wouldn't 'read about it'. I called him about Ted and Lou and he 'inhibited' me (what a Medieval term!) from doing it. There was a retired priest who was a member of the parish I served who agreed to do the blessing of the union. "What are they going to do to me?" he said, "cancel my pension?" So we did it that way. I blessed the rooms of that home and Jack blessed Ted and Lou. One of the few things I regret in my 37 years as a priest is that I didn't bless the love and relationship of Ted and Lou.

My bishop now has allowed me to do gay/lesbian marriages since they are legal in Connecticut. The bishop before him allowed me to bless the marriage but not sign the marriage licence. So the same sex marriages I have done have all had a Justice of the Peace presence to sign the license. How humiliated I felt in those situations, not being able to say "you are married" to those couples. Now, at least in Connecticut. I can fully participate in the marriage of same-sex couples.

It has been a journey. And things are looking up and positive. More and more states are legalising marriage equality. Things might be just becoming right at last.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What you fall into...

Tonight we had the Cluster Council (if you're new to this blog, I am currently the Interim-Missioner-in-Charge of the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry--the IMIC of MACM for short. It's three churches in places like Higganum, Killingworth and Northford) and I realized my role for those three wondrous and lovely communities.

I am their Cheerleader.

I'm actually the perfect match for this ministry because I've more or less given up on the traditional model of doing church (a congregation led by a priest to minister to the needs of the congregation). And MACM, God love them, isn't that. They practice, more or less, for better and for worse, what is called Total Common Ministry. That means the Priest isn't 'the Boss' and doesn't have the final authority in the community--the laos (the 'People of God') play that role and the priest is around to do certain rites and rituals that our brand of Christianity has assigned to an ordained person.

So MACM is a different paradigm for being church. The laity is in charge and I hang around waiting until they need a priest. I really, really like that. It's what I've always wanted "church" to be. And, I have, in my own way, as much as I could, tried to live that out in the three remarkable churches I served before I retired: St. James in Charleston, West Virginia for five years; St. Paul's in New Haven, CT for 5 years and St. John's in Waterbury, CT for 21 years. The problem was, no matter how much I shared MY 'authority' I dared to share and delegate to the laity, it was still my authority....

It is often difficult for those locked into the Traditional Paradigm of  'doing church' to recognize or acknowledge the radical distinction between that paradigm and Total Common Ministry. And what I've realized in my two years of  'doing church' in the Cluster is that most of them are either so used to doing it this way that they don't realize how remarkably distinct it is OR they are unconsciously locked into the old paradigm and don't realize that what they do, day to day, is anything special.

But they do it--whether they take it as routine or don't even realize it. THEY DO IT!

And what I decided tonight is that my role in their midst is to be their Cheerleader and point out, in all times and all places, that what Total Common Ministry 'is' and 'means' is remarkably and distinctively different from what 'the old Church' does and looks like that they need to understand how they have an understanding of 'church' that is more 'community' than 'institution', more 'egalitarian' than a "hierarchy", more 'all for one' than 'one for all'.

I am so honored, humbled and gifted to have fallen into this mission and ministry it takes my breath away. So what I will do, from this day forward, is always and everywhere let St. James and St. Andrew's and Emmanuel know that their 'communities' are functioning much more like the 'early church' functioned than the 'dying church' is functioning.

They need to know that they are special and unique and living out what being 'followers of Christ' really means. Not to make them, not at all, but to make them humble and vulnerable so that they might lean into being the humble and vulnerable People of God in Higganum and Northford and Killingworth.

For that is what they are.

I see it and know it.

My role is to make sure they see it and know it as well.

Monday, May 13, 2013

not so suave as I imagined...

As worldly-wise, street-smart and with-it as I think I am, sometimes I can be an absolute dolt. As naive as the day is long. A babe in the woods. All that and more. A rear Rube....

In the last week I had received three letters from three different Hyundai dealers offering to buy my 2007 Elantra for up to $7850! All the letters told me, in one way or another, that they had a need for a larger inventory of 2007 and 2008 Hyundai's. So I spent a bit of the week pondering what on earth could cause a sudden demand for 2007/08 Elantra's. Had they come into fashion? Was Beyonce seen driving one? Did Kate Middleton tell a reporter she admired them?

Or was there a flaw in them so horrendous that Hyundai couldn't survive a public recall so dealers were asked to buy them up for enormous losses to avoid public humiliation for the company?

Or was a new action movie coming out with Tom Cruise and Matt Damon driving 2007 Hyundai's down the canals of Venice and Corporate knows there will be a big demand for them when the movie premiers?

Or did they suddenly realize that these Hyundai's are the best cars ever made (which I wouldn't disagree with giving that I love mine) and that they can sell them used for even more than they sold them new and do a double-dip  profit off 2007/08 Elantras?

Those are just some of the thoughts that went through my head this week while pondering why on earth three different dealerships would want to buy my little black Hyundai (which really loved the few days of rain because it washed off all the bird poop that had accumulated on the front hood and windshield and part of the roof because I park beneath the tree on the west end of our front porch.)

So my good friend, Fred, was coming to pick me up to go to Alice's wake (the wonderful woman I wrote about a few days ago in 'Spring is not a good time to die') who did, sadly die. Fred was an intern with me at St. John's in Waterbury the last two years or so before I retired and knew Alice from there.

I had one of the three letters in my pocket, having opened in on my porch while waiting for Fred, and since Fred is one of the people that knows more stuff than I can imagine, I thought I'd ask him about why these various Hyundai dealers were interested in buying my car.

So I told him about the letters and he looked at me with the combination of reasonableness and sadness that a person might look at a child who is about to know there is not Santa Claus.

Then he told me, kindly as he could, because Fred is kind as well as all knowing, "they don't want to buy your car. They want to sell you a new one so they've offered you outrageous prices so you'll come in and take a test drive and not feel cheated when they give you less than the letter said."

I must admit, from a few words into that explanation I suddenly realized the real reason for the letters and the fake checks. Fred, as usual, was right on correct. Of course they wanted me to come see them (even leaving a phone # and a name to set a time convenient for me to drop by) and surely the $7850 they were willing to give me for my car would go down when they saw the dents and dings and the 67.000 miles on the odometer, but when they told me they could put me in a 2013 Hyundai for only a tad more than I'm now paying a month--and let me drive the obviously superior machine...well, we might just make a deal....

My car is almost paid off, a month or two. So their computers must spit out that information to various Connecticut dealers who then make me offers to buy my car.

And for most of a week I was pondering "why would they want to buy my car?"

Here's the moral to this sad tale of naivete, Beloved: "Pondering" is one of the most important thing we thinking mammals can do. However, 'pondering' something that should have been as baldly obvious to me as it was to Fred (and later Bern when I told her this story--she even snickered a bit while I was telling it and snickering is a common and normal reaction to blind naivete) is not only a waste of good pondering-time, it makes you look like a Rube.

So, when you turn to pondering, make sure you aren't wasting valuable pondering-time on what, to someone with half a brain should have been as plain as the look on your face.....

Just fair warning and just me talkin'...or more correctly, 'typin'....

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day 2013

Shouldn't it be Mothers' Day? Probably.

If my mother were alive today she would be 102 years old. She was born on July 9, 1910. It's a little sobering to realize my mother would be over a century old if she had lived until now. Most likely because it reminds me that I am older than she was when she died. She died the day after my birthday when I was 25, that would be in 1972. She never met her grandchildren. Josh was born in 1975 and Mimi in 1978.

She had a hard life. Marion Cleo Jones Bradley was one of four girls and three boys born to Lina Manona Sadler Jones and Eli Jones. Two of the boys, Leon and Ernest, died in childhood. The Jones family were dirt poor during the Depression. My mother and her sisters would go to the slate dumps, where the trash from the coal mines was put and pick the slate for stuff that might burn. Elsie, her youngest sister, who is the only one still alive, wore boots to school for a while since she had no shoes. My grandmother ran a boarding house for a while, cooking and cleaning for single coal miners who needed some place to live. My Grandfather--mother's father--was sick from working in the mines and unable to work for much of his life.

Three of the Jones girls somehow went to college and became teachers. My mother was a teacher just after high school and took summer classes at Concord College in Concord, West Virginia and Bluefield State College in Bluefield until she had a Master's Degree. Aunt Georgia did much the same thing. Aunt Elise, the younger one, helped by her family had a proper college education. All of them taught all of their lives. My mother most often taught First Grade, imagine that. Mostly, during my growing up, at Pageton Elementary School. I went to school in Anawalt, where we lived. Pageton was about 8 miles away so my mother never taught me.

I'm not sure I remember the sound of my mother's voice since she's been dead 41 years. I have pictures that can remind me of  her face. She was a consummately pleasant and gentle woman. I don't believe she ever raised her voice to me in all my life. At least I don't remember it. We were common people with common interests: family, church, education, mostly that.

The thing I admire most about my mother and remember most fondly happened when I was quite young. She and I  went to the Pilgrim Holiness Church in Conklintown with my grandmother. My father waited out in the car because the Pilgrim Holiness people were too extreme for his Baptist tastes. And one Sunday, when I was 5 or 6, Preacher Peck asked for prayers for the sinner out in the parking lot smoking cigarettes and reading the Bluefiled Daily Telegraph.

My mother came to find me in the middle of the prayers since I was sitting with some small kid friends, took my hand and led me out of the church to the car where my father was, indeed, smoking and reading the paper. We drove away together and never went back.

I've defied authority a bit in my life and I like to think I got that from my mother. But I don't know.

This Mothers' Day I'm wondering what she would have made of my life after she died. I'm wondering if she would have loved our children and approved of my becoming an Episcopal priest. (We became Methodists after Preacher Peck's discretion  and she knew I became an Episcopalian, but she never knew I became a priest.) She expected me, logically, to become a teacher--but on the college level, not first grade. My parents were of the generation that believed each succeeding generation would 'move up' from them. And I truly wanted to fulfill her dream for me. I wanted to get a Ph.D. in American Literature and teach in some small liberal arts college and write the Great American Novel. But somewhere in there God got in the scrum and I got side-tracked.

One vendetta I will share. When Bern and I got married, I started growing a beard. I have it still. The first Christmas we came home from Cambridge, late into the night, and my father opened the door, embraced Bern and then me and saw may beard and wandered off, in his bedroom slippers, into the snow in tears, my mother welcomed us into the house and said, "Nevermind, Virgil will get over's an interesting beard."

He came back, and, as Mother predicted, got over my beard and we had Christmas.

Happy Mothers' Day, Cleo. Wherever you are....

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Turn about is fair play...

So, I told you about Bern losing last Wednesday. On the other hand there is my trip to Stop and Shop this afternoon.

I found a really close space, though the store was full of folks, and entered the left hand entrance. I got my food--though they were apparently out of Carmel Sea Salt Gelato, which is my all time favorite. And the Gelato was on sale two for one. So I got Pistachio and Coffee chocolate chip. Which are wondrous while falling short of Carmel Sea Salt.

I checked out and paid with Bern's Discover card, which we use to buy most everything since she pays it in full each month and gets money back a few times a year.

Then I went to the Customer Service counter to get a pack of cigarettes. Smoking I know is bad/bad/bad. But I like it and like the way my mouth tastes after a Marlboro Medium. So it goes.

I turned to leave the store and remembered, just before going out the door, that I should go out the door in the other direction and when almost there I realized I didn't have my glasses on. I thought I might have taken them off looking for Carmel Sea Salt Gelato, which took a while, so I parked my cart and went back to the frozen food place. Not there.

So I go to the aisle I checked out in. Not there.

Finally, I thought of the Customer Service counter and there they were.

So, I went to the car--out the right door this time.

(The problem with my glasses is that I see perfectly fine inside without them. I need them to drive, mostly. I lose them a couple of dozen times each day in our house, taking them off to read and cook and wash clothes and other inside stuff like that.  I used to ALWAYS need my glasses but I had two cataract operations 2 months apart about 12 years ago and they corrected my vision so I don't need glasses to, for example, be typing this. I tried graduated invisible bi-focals but they were more trouble than they were worth, so my glasses correct my distant vision and I mostly don't wear them inside.)

Problem was, I got to my car, put my groceries (including two delicious but NOT Carmel-Sea Salt Gelato) and searched my pockets in vain for my car keys. Back I go to the aisle I checked out from and no keys. "Ah-ha!" I think, laid them down to put my card through the gizmo where I paid for my Marlboro Mediums (calling cigarettes "Light" or "Medium" is just a way smokers have of justifying their addiction....) But there was a line of 7 people. I waited while people bought Lotto tickets and returned out of date stuff and finally walked to the front and said to the woman behind the counter--'car keys?' Without missing a beat she reached down and handed them to me.

Maybe I should drive myself to THE HOME, but I wouldn't know where my glasses or car keys were....

It is a privilege to grow old...but I'm reminded of an encounter with an old mountain woman in Fairmont, West Virginia when I was a social worker. "It's not a sin to be poor," she told me, "but it's a damned inconvenience..."

It is a privilege to age, but it is a damned inconvenience to always be looking for stuff....

Friday, May 10, 2013

If you're going to lose a day, pick Wednesday....

Late Thursday afternoon Bern asked me to go get her some cigarettes, which was only fair since I smoked some of them. But I really needed to go to Higganum for the book group so I said, innocently enough, "could you get some when you go out?"

Thursday is the night her women's group, called 'Group', meets.

"Where would I be going?" she asked, thinking I was just weaseling out of doing her a favor.

"Group," I said, pure as the driven slush (as Mae West used to say) since I was, in fact, involved in weaseling.

"It's Wednesday," she said.

"No, it's Thursday," I replied, instantly trying to figure out if I knew that for a fact since Bern is so often right about most anything that I tend to doubt myself instead of her when she says something like "it's Wednesday" when I was mostly sure it was Thursday.

Then I remembered talking to Bea on the phone and her saying, "see  you tonight" and if Bea expected to see me that night I must almost certainly be Thursday.

When I said, "No, it's Thursday", Bern gave me the look that says, "Oh Lordy, Lordy, is it time already for THE HOME?" I think she has a list of things somewhere that indicate it might just be time to put me in THE HOME. I've occasionally eyed the drawer of her little desk and thought I should look for the list in there, but have, unfortunately too much respect for her privacy to look in her drawer.

"It's Wednesday," she said again, with the kind of certainty that demolishes my certainty. Instead of arguing the point I went up to my computer which has a calendar on it with the day it is in orange. Low and behold, it was Thursday May 9 after all.

Bern was very distressed that somehow she had lost a day. There was no Group that night so maybe knowing that made her think it was Wednesday. That doesn't make sense, but losing a day doesn't make sense either.

It was all I could do to keep from going up to my desk upstairs and starting a READY FOR THE HOME list for Bern. The only entry would be "Lost a Day altogether" since she seems never to do things that indicate she might sometime require confinement, supervision and drugs.

But I didn't. I'll give her that one slip, though if you think about it, losing a day is a rather odd thing to do.

I did my best to make it alright and went to get her cigarettes before I left. This is what I told her, 'if you're going to lose a day, Wednesday would be the one to lose.'

Of all the days, it seems to me, Wednesday is the least vital and necessary. Not only is it the one that looks most likely  misspelled (I mean, a 'silent D', what's up with that?) but coming where it does, right in the middle of the week, if you lose it you still have two days to get things sorted out before Saturday. If you know what I mean.

So, my advise (and my advise and $2.15 will get you a coffee at Starbucks) is this: if you're into misplacing days of the week, Wednesday would be the easiest to let go.....

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Talent Shows

I am a big fan of talent shows, going way back to my childhood. I was a big fan of American Idol until 'The Voice' came along. I love 'The Voice' a lot and seldom watch 'Idol' any more.

The Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry is having a talent show on May 18th at St. James, Higganum and I'm going to read some of my poetry.

I've been going through poems to decide what to read. I lost a lot when I retired from St. John's in Waterbury. There was a folder there that had poems in it that I no longer have access to. Oh my, so it goes. They just aren't stored anywhere on my computer. Alas and alack.

But I have some poems available. Quite a few, in fact. I wanted to share two with you that I won't be reading at the talent show because I decided to read others. So here they are:

Walking out of Shadows

This poem is about three things
(four really....)
a back porch, badly lit;
a deck in shadows;
and a Puli dog.
(The fourth thing comes at the end.)

My back porch is small,
4 feet by 6 feet or so,
and the light bulb,
surrounded by opaque plates,
is 40 watts at best.

The deck is larger--12 by 20, maybe,
and gets little illumination from the porch lifht.

The Puli dog is black as black can be.
So black that there are highlights
 of navy blue and even brown in his coat
in direct sunlight.

But at night, when the dog walks on the deck,
I cannot see him for the shadows
and he emerges suddenly 
from darkness into light.

Now, the fourth things--the crux of the matter--
how much is that like you and me, all of us,
in the most profound and deepest wasy,
wandering mostly in places we cannot be seen,
emerging, surprisingly,
into some dim light?
Only some of our hearts and souls
even viable at all?

Winter dreams of mine 

I dream more than most people I talk with about dreams.
My Dream-Maker seems to go full tilt all night,
especially in winter when the wind wails
and whispers of sleet slide against the windows.

My dreams are not earth shattering, not prophecies
from a poet-god, nor are they full of advice.
Mostly, they are mundane--ordinary thing:
often I am building something, a gizmo I understand not,
other times I am walking through strange lands,
seeing things I do not comprehend...but never afraid.
I have no nightmares these days.

Sometimes I dream of sleeping in the bed with you.
I dream of waking and watching you sleep
and then dozing off again to dream of sleeping.
I dream of extremely hairy black dogs sitting on my head
and golden cats--like tiny lions--opening the door
to the room and falling asleep on my feet.

Just the other night, I dreamed I woke to  your saying
"can I have a drink of water?" and getting up to run
the water cold before filling the glass. Then I dreamed--
amazing as it is, that you brought me water and said,
'you won't remember this when you wake up....'

But I did remember and when I woke, I wore a Puli like a hat
and the cat by my feet stirred and leaped from the bed.
I heard you downstairs making coffee.

"Let the day begin!" I said, anxious to see you,
just as I slipped back under the winter covers
and slept, hoping to dream of getting up and joining you.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spring is not the time to die

I was watching the bird bath in our back yard today. A Cowbird was taking a long bath while a Cardinal waited patiently. But after it became obvious the Cowbird was not going to surrender the bird bath, the Cardinal flew off. The Cowbird finally seemed to finish, but when a Sparrow flew down to take him place he jumped back in and drove away the Sparrow. The he bathed some more. When he finally got out he was so wet it seemed difficult for him to fly.

Little dramas like that happen every day in our back yard in Spring.

Spring, when Life is surging back in profusion and abundance, is not the time to die.

But my friend Alice is dying, perhaps even dead now since I saw her early this afternoon and the hospice nurse told me she was only breathing every thirty seconds or so. St. John's Priest-in-charge, Amy was there with the family. They were in good hands. I just wanted to sit with Alice for a spell and tell her good-bye and how much I appreciated how gracious and generous and hospitable and kind and supportive she'd been to me in the 21 years I was her priest.

Her family called me this morning to tell me the end was near and they wanted me to see her. I am so aware of trying to be an ex-Rector that I called Amy to ask if I could go see Alice. She told me it was fine and she was on her way there as we spoke. (I didn't even tell Amy she shouldn't be driving and talking on a cell phone because I was so glad I'd get to see Alice before she died.)

So I sat with her and told her what I needed to thank her for and told her I'd miss her and kissed her forehead (normally I would have made the sign of the cross there, but I'm not her priest any more, Amy is, so I kissed her as my friend.)

Driving home I marveled at the number of deathbeds I've sat by. The first was my mother a few days after I turned 25. My father and I were with her when she died. But, besides hospice nurses, priests probably sit by more deathbeds than anyone. How many, I wondered, knowing fair well I could never remember them all.

This blog is called "Under the Castor Oil Tree" because most biblical scholars think the tree God causes to grow for Jonah at the end of that book was a Castor Oil tree. Then God sends a worm to kill the tree and Jonah sits under the dead tree pondering the meaning of it all.

Sitting by deathbeds is a good place to ponder the meaning of it all.

I certainly have no answers to all the questions the deathbed Castor Oil Tree raises. No answers at all. In fact, I think the reason I am good to have around at the time of death is that I don't have anything to tell you about that awful and holy mystery. I certainly won't say anything stupid or silly or falsely pious. In fact, I normally say nothing at all. I'm just there as what psychologists call a "non-anxious presence", just part of the decor of whatever room the deathbed is in. I'm sad and pained and not a little angry, but I'm just there like a blank piece of paper for people to write on.

I don't fear Death, but I hate the thought of people dying...especially in Spring when Cowbirds and Cardinals and Robins galore and Swifts and Sparrows are entertaining me in the back yard. And especially Alice--such a dear, wondrous, loving woman--on this oh-so-perfect Spring day.

Lots to ponder there....

Monday, May 6, 2013

Steamboat, rest in peace...

My friend, Mike Miano, sent me Stanley's obit. He died in Princeton, West Virginia, where my parents moved after I went to college. When I came home, I came home to a place I'd never been before. Princeton is a small city (25,000 when my parents lived there, probably much less than that now) near the boarder to southwestern Virginia. It was a pleasant place, but not a place I'd choose to die.

Stanley Evans went to Junior High and High School with me. He was the smartest kid in our graduating class of 99. But he wasn't the Valedictorian or even the Salutatorian of our class because he honestly didn't give a shit about grades. He cared about learning stuff, which is quite different. He was in the Honor Society since he couldn't help but do well on tests and stuff. But none of that mattered to him. He was like the mad scientist of our class. He wasn't voted 'most likely to succeed', that was me, I think. But he was simply smarter than us all.

He had three younger brothers, one of whom died before he did according to his obituary. Who knows what that was about? But one thing I do remember is that one of his younger brothers got picked up hitch-hiking by someone who then had a wreck and Stanley's father sued the driver. Well, that just didn't happen where I came from. You don't sue people who were doing your kid a favor. So Stanley's family were ostracized and no body within 25 miles would let an Evans ride in their car ever again.

I kinda remember what he looked like, gawky and lean with sharp features. I really liked him because smart kids tend to like smart kids, especially in a place like Gary, West Virginia. We had lots of fun in chemistry class and are fortunate we didn't blow up that part of Gary High School.

The only other person in our class of 99 who died already (to my knowledge) was Bobby Joe Ratliff. Bobby Joe was a star fullback/linebacker on our state champion football team. He dropped out of Notre Dame, which gave him a full scholarship to play football and got killed on what was supposed to be his last day in Viet Nam when he stepped on a land mine outside a bar in Saigon. He survived his service and died during his celebration of heading home. At least that's the legend of Bobby Joe. He's the material for a country song.

Not so Steamboat. He was the odd, weird kid in the bunch. Everyone back then knew about the 'Stanley Steamer', so his nickname came out of that. Stanley "Steamboat" Evans. A hale fellow well met.

And dead.

My son Josh, still in his 30's, has had, by my count, 5 close friends die already. How must that be on your psyche?

I heard an actress, who's name I can't come up with right now ('names' are the first to go from an aging brain) on radio today who talked about friend's dying too soon and said one of the most remarkable things I've ever heard said.

She said, "It is a real privilege  to age."

And so it is. Bobby Joe never got to. Lots of us Baby Boomer's died in rice patties half a world away. 80,000 or so have died in Syria in the last few years and I'm betting most of them were younger than me. Never mind Iraq and Afghanistan and the numberless who died in Africa from malaria and wars and those who died in events of Nature and Cancer and car and other accidents.

Lots of people die before they should

So, really, it is a privilege to age. No Kidding.

Ponder that for a while. Who that you knew or knew about died much too soon and you're still mud that got to sit up and look around.

What a privilege it is to grow older.

That is an astonishing revelation.

I'm 66 and still alive. I promise you to honor every minute I will live until I die because it is a privilege to kidding. Getting older is not pleasant in many ways, but it is a lot better than the alternative.

Age well, ok?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What I realize

What I realize from time to time (not nearly as often as I should) is that I am joyful, happy, satisfied, content, fulfilled.

The reason I avoid realizing how complete I am with my life is that my life brings me into daily contact with people who are not. And I feel the brush of guilt whenever I recognize how different it is from most people to be truly at home with your life.

I know I 'shouldn't' feel guilty about being joyful most all the time, but brought face to face with the suffering and oppression and dissatisfaction of so many, I tend to think, "well, why am I one of the few lucky ones? Why should I be satisfied when many aren't? What gives me this right?"

And, never the less, I am extremely happy with life.

The least little thing brings me joy. My friend, John, fixed my computer and put a new rotating page saver on it. I've spent time just watching the views change every three minutes. There's pictures of wondrous libraries, full of light and decorations and world globes and books--so many books. And a couple of the half-dozen or so pictures are simply pictures of books. The ornate leaves of books the spines of books. Books and always books....Libraries from dreams with decorative tile floors and dark wood and paintings on the ceiling. High windows and several stories of shelves, all full of books.

Those pictures give me great joy and make me glad I am alive.

Another joy of my life is Public Radio. How mundane that looks, but it it true. At home, our radio is always on to WSHU from Sacred Heart University. It is a classical music station. Our bird, Maggie, loves WSHU so we leave it on all day, watching her dance and hearing her sing to the classics. On our car and truck radio, it's always WNPR, the talk radio station. I love WNPR and all the shows when I'm driving. But I've noticed that since we have music instead of news all day in our house, I'm calmer than I was when it was news all day. Maggie deserves credit for that. When I called in our yearly pledge to WSHU I told them in was in honor of our bird, Maggie. They said they'd say that on the air, but I must have been out of the room or in my car and didn't hear it. I hope someone did and it made them smile.

I'm going to quit apologizing for loving my life and simply love it, love it to death. Which, I hope, is what I'll do. Love my life all the way to death....

Friday, May 3, 2013

What I'm pondering this week

1. How many words does my dog recognize? Or, more precisely, 'how many commands does he obey?' I don't have to ponder long...almost none....

2. Why (according to a recent poll) do 44% of  Republicans surveyed believe a time may come when Americans may have to have an armed rebellion against the government of the US?

3. How could any of those people think they would win an armed rebellion against the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force? Don't they know, ever how many guns they have, the military has about a billion more?

 4. What do people who believe 'climate change' is a myth think about the remarkable floods in the Midwest and brush fires 5 months early in southern California?

5. Have there always been dried cranberries and I just wasn't paying attention?

6. Why is the psychic and palm reader down Rt 10, almost across from Stop and Shop running specials? Today there was a sign in front of her house that said, "Special Readings today $10". Are things had for psychic's these days or what?

7. What would it be like to have siblings? I'm an only child who never 'got' the interactions between our 2 children and certainly don't get the interactions between my three granddaughter or any of the interactions between people who actually have siblings. Every time I think I wish I had siblings all I have to do it to talk to someone who does!

8. How does Twitter work? (Actually, I don't ponder that too much since I have no earthly desire to do it. But I do, occasionally wonder how it works, just out of normal curiosity.)

9. Why on earth would people 'tweet'?

10. Will hard copy newspapers and books really disappear some day?

11. Can I die before that day?

12. What in the hell was "Bird Notes" on NPR thinking when they had a Bird Note today about sea lions who eat fish tainted by DDT off the coast of southern California who die migrating north to Canada and wash up on Washing State beaches where scavenger birds eat them?

13. Whatever happened to the Old Testament God that would 'smite' and destroy Westbrook Baptist Church in Kansas?

14. What is my cat thinking about when he jumps up on the table beside my desk and stares at me while I'm typing this?

15. And since I don't want you to think all I ponder about are my animals, psychics, politics and social media, there is this: 'what did I do to deserve such a perfectly wondrous May day as today was? Or any of us, for that matter?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Stuff that happens

Here's what 'life' is--it's stuff that happens.

Today I went to the Social Security Office in Meriden, thinking it would be awful because the SSA claimed in a letter to me on April 5, that they'd overpaid me by $6850 dollars and asking me for it. It came down to my Self Employment bottom line on my tax return for 2011. Well, I wasn't 'self employed' in 2011, I was retired but Jane, who I love and who has done my taxes for years, just followed the computer program for 2010 and ended up making me 'self-employed' which is what clergy are, as dumb as that is, even though I always got a W-2 form like I worked for someone and had tax withheld though most 'self-employed' people make quarterly payments. Never mind.

The key was this, my W-2 forms--one from my pension for a lot more than I ever imagined a pension would be, a form from SS themselves and my form from the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry which said I made $4,300 since the rest was housing--this amazing tax gimmick that clergy have that means you don't pay taxes on your housing costs. Amazing! Plus, I can still deduct the interest on my mortgage even though I don't pay taxes on the cost of my mortgage. Go figure....

Anyway, Jane submitted an amended IRS deal that means we'll get $3500 back since I was retired instead of self-employed when they get around to it. And I expected SS in Meriden to be a nightmare since I don't trust bureaucracy to ever work being an aging white man who was a week-end hippie in college--Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude if you will, though I smoked a bit of dope on week-ends and had long hair. Nobody who came of age in the 60's trusts the government--especially not Social Security.

To my surprise and delight, the folks at Social Security were wondrous--so kind and helpful and understanding. They kind of  understood what I was saying and finally looked at my W-2 forms and went into the computer and removed the $27,800 or so SS thought I made and entered the $4300 I really earned from work. All t he rest was from my pension which can't be counted an 'earned income' since I earned it long ago.

They also cancelled the ticking clock on the $6800 SS said I owned them back from 2011. Lord help us, all this is so convoluted and complex.

They were wonderful and called me 'James' until I told them to call me 'Jim' and when we were through both of them--it took two to understand it all--said 'Goodbye, Jim and have a nice day". Maybe it's in the SSA handbook for what to say to those who come in about something.

But I loved it nevertheless...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My fear of hostas

Well, to be honest, I'm not really afraid of hostas--mostly they just weird me out. Not the full grown ones, that's not what I mean, I can take or leave those. What weirds me out is when the hostas start to come up in the spring.

Hostas (aka 'plantain lillies' in Great Britain and 'giboshi' in Japan) don't seem to be single plants. When they start to come up it's like a colony of plants, several inches apart that, when grown, look like a great big leafy plant with long flowers growing a foot or two higher than the leafs.

But the dozens of little shoots that start in the spring look like body parts of some alien creatures. And I imagine, though I'm sure I'm wrong, their is a huge 'host' under ground giving birth to these weird and disturbing shoots. I'm sure I can't adequately explain what bothers me about the shoots, but I walk around the plants with great suspicion.

We even have some hostas in our back yard but I don't go near them until the leaves are big enough to make it look like a single plant.

And on the walk I take with our dog each morning, we pass a yard that has a dozen or more hostas. I won't let Bela smell them until they're grown since I have imagined that the shoots would open up and swallow him or else pull him underground to feed the mother plant.

I told Bern about my fear of new hostas and the look she gave me was not understanding or sympathetic. The look was one of those "don't ever say anything that crazy again or I'll send you to 'the home' looks". I get them more often than you might imagine though always for comments I find harmless and benign.

But the value of a comment is up for interpretation, I suppose.

I'd just warn you to steer clear of the early hosta sprouts. That's my advice and I'm sticking with it.

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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.