Saturday, December 28, 2013


We're going to Baltimore tomorrow to have a second Christmas with Josh and Cathy and their three daughters--our granddaughter.

We have to take the dog at 3 to the puppy motel and we'll leave from there. We'll be in Baltimore, with any luck, by a little after 8.

We're taking Auntie Mimi's gifts as well as ours and the trunk of my small car is nearly full. I'd be humiliated by the extravagance of it all if it wasn't for Morgan and Emma and Tegan....

My friend John gave me a laptop when we were in North Carolina last September. I believe I can blog from it and if so, since I'll take it with me, I'll be in touch here. But I can't do email on it because I'm a media idiot and can't figure out how to do that.

I hope Christmas was as mellow and sweet for you and it was for me.

And I hope the year bearing down on us--2014, who could imagine living this long?--brings you joys you didn't expect and wonders you don't deserve and surprises you'll never live up to.

That would be a good year indeed.

Be well and stay well.


Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. You can read about it in Matthew's Gospel. The Magi/Wise Men/Three Kings went home 'by another road' rather than returning to Herod to tell him they had found the Child the star foretold. And Herod gave the order to kill all the boy children under 2 in Judea.

Joseph, warned by a dream, took Mary and Jesus to Egypt and Jesus was saved. But others were not.

Innocents is an odd word. Who, after all is innocent? Children, that's who.

We are two weeks removed from the slaughter of the Innocents in Sandy Hook a year ago.

Twenty children--innocent as they could be--died 379 days ago in an elementary school not 40 miles from where I sit typing.

But the horrific thing about the Feast of the Holy Innocents is that every day children die in war and in abuse and by hunger.

Every day should be the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

Children die every day in ways too horrible to imagine and because the world does not care or make a difference or protect them.

I'm going tomorrow to Baltimore to be with my three granddaughters. They are 'innocent'--though sometimes naughty and stubborn. But 'innocent', none the less.

My greatest fear is that something horrible and painful might happen to them.

You have children you love as well as I love Morgan and Emma and Tegan.

Your greatest fear is that something horrible and painful might happen to them.

This feast day is Our Day. We must pray for the innocent ones we know and love...and for all the Holy Innocents around this cruel and dark world who die from violence or want or neglect each day.

This is a solemn day. A day of reflection and pondering. A day dedicated to those least able to defend themselves.

Today is a Holy Day to remember all the innocence in life. Even the innocence we still have, somehow held onto in spite of all we have experienced.

It is a day to hold innocence fiercely near and to ponder how a world would look that took innocence seriously and held it up as the highest value....

Ponder that....

Friday, December 27, 2013

Feeling guity about being blessed

I let more water run until it was hot today than much of the world's people had water today.

I have three functioning indoor toilets when many in the world don't have any.

I waste enough food to feed several hungry families well.

I took my daughter to catch the train today and she is wondrous, shining, glorious--so good. And my son and his wife and three daughters are flying back from California on Saturday at a cost that would be the annual income of a significant majority of people in the developing world.

I've spent my life's work doing something I would have done for free it was so much fun.

And whenever I pee, I give a little prayer of thanks because the radiation I got after the removal of my prostate scarred my bladder and from time to time I pee blood and blood clots which are hell to clean up because they go off in odd directions.

I give thanks when my pee is clear--which it is 99.9% of the time. I give thanks all the time for having water and sewer pipes and food and two incredible children and a wife I couldn't have 'made up' any better than she is.

I have all the money I need and everything I want (except that Lexus 12 series) and, good health and a clear mind.

And all that makes me feel a little guilty.

My grandmother used to say, "be sure to count your blessings because they might run out...."

Folk wisdom at its best--but my blessings never seem to run out.

And I'm properly thankful for all that. Most of my prayers are prayers of thanksgiving.

So, why do I feel guilty about being so blessed?

Some accident of time and space and DNA and my own skills and gifts have made me a blessed man. And so, so many had less fortunate 'accidents'. 

Perhaps my guilt is a gift as well--one of the multitude of gifts I've been given (great friends, hard work, an above average intelligence, all that I need and all that I want, a wondrous family, a love of reading...God, the list is endless).

Perhaps my guilt at being so blessed keeps me human and humble and thankful. I did nothing to deserve how well my life turned out and yet turn out well it did.

Maybe it's a bit like 'survivor guilt'--when you walk off a crashed plane and most didn't--mine is 'blessed life guilt'. Don't get me wrong, the life I have is the life I love. But sometimes I don't feel like I deserve it.

Maybe that too is a gift. Maybe that keeps me humble and thankful and never able to believe for a moment that I deserve all this joy.

I'll ponder that for a while. (The pondering too, as always, will be a gift I rejoice in and scarcely deserve.)

Maybe it's just that around Christmas I'm a little embarrassed at how fortunate I am when others aren't. Maybe we all should, always but especially at this time of year, ponder how 'well off' we are compared to others....

I invite you to join me in that pondering as we approach a new year and new blessings....

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mellow Christmas

Very quiet here--not a bad thing at all. A good balance to the Christmases when our 3 granddaughters are her. Just Bern and Mimi and John and me. We had an nontraditional dinner--olives, pate and blueberry goat's cheese as appetizers, beef tenderloin with a herb, butter, crushed bread stick topping, Swiss char cooked in lemon, oil and garlic and twice baked potatoes (John kept calling them "potato boats" which none of the rest of us had heard to our knowledge) with sour cream, yogurt, butter, chives and goat cheese. For dessert we had little pastries--an assortment--from the bakery at Everybody's.

We talked about how when Bern, John and I were children, family visited after Christmas and you'd lay your opened gifts under the tree to show them. Mimi thought that weird. But I remember it vividly--aunts, uncles and cousins dropping by and looking at our stuff and us going to their houses and looking at their stuff.

Today Bern and Mimi and I went to see American Hustle which may be the best ensemble acting I've ever seen in a movie. Jennifer Lawrence proved she could do comedy with the best of them (in a movie that was not really a comedy), Amy Adams and Christian Bale deserve Oscar nominations along with screen writers, costumes, sound track and cinematography. No kidding a must see (aside to MC, you know who you are--don't go see this on my recommendation....)

Having Mimi around is a gift in itself. She fits right into our rather laid back lifestyle perfectly, taking care of herself and reading a lot under a quilt in the living room since she thinks we keep the house much too cool. She's mellow in herself and matches us so very well.

But Mimi and Tim (who I missed having around this Christmas) sponsored a black Lab named Bradley, of all things, who needed surgery at an Animal Hospital before he could be placed with an adoptive family, in our names for our Christmas gift. That's what we've asked our children to do for us for several years now--make donations to animal shelters and pet adoption centers in our names. It was wonderful to have a dog with our name this year!

(OK, I realize this whole post  has been pedestrian and not a little boring! I'm still in 'mellow Christmas' mode. I'll get back to provocative and philosophical ponderings soon. I'm just enjoying how relaxing and joyous and quiet this Christmas has been.....)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

So forget yesterdays blog....

I was feeling so bad about the memory of the TV set that wasn't as big as Mrs. Martin's and the guilt of all that that I told Bern and Mimi and John Anderson our friend and fourth at Christmas dinner about it all and they told me several things:

1) That's what any 12 year old would have was just a statement of fact and my father's actions were just to make me happy.

2) I could have said "Oh, God, I hate it because it's too small" and my father's actions would have been out of his guilt of not satisfying me.

3) Perhaps my father's never mentioning the trouble he went to, getting Adrian Vance to open his store on Christmas to exchange a TV was designed to make me feel bad, in which case, it worked.

I've been carrying this memory for, Lord God, 54 years and now I can let it go.

What a Christmas Miracle!!!

And to all a good night.....

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas memory I would rather forget....

I was the only child of Virgil (41) and Cleo (40) when I was born. What a surprise for them!

Everyone in our families was afraid I'd be horribly spoiled. I wasn't really, but I do have a Christmas memory that is cringe-worthy.

We didn't have a TV when I was growing up. I used to go to Mrs. Martin's house, which was behind 'Martin's Hardware Store' that her husband owned and ran to watch TV. It was only a vacant lot away and Mrs. Martin was pretty much wheelchair bound and enjoyed my company. (This was a really small town--400 people tops--so everyone knew who had a TV and who didn't.)

Then one Christmas when I was 12 or so, my father (who was a frugal man with a capital F--like this, he bought a new black Ford every 3 years with money he'd saved over the three years...for cash. My father was so 'frugal' that when he tried to get a credit card in his 60's, it was difficult because he always paid cash and had no credit record. I was a college student by then and got a credit card in the mail every few weeks. My parents also bought the only house they ever owned--I grew up in a rented apartment in a part of the world where everyone either lived in a house they owned or a house the coal company owned--they bought that house in Princeton with cash.)

Ok, that was the longest and most wandering aside I've probably ever written and I lost the gist of what I wanted to say, so let me start over.

Then one Christmas when I was 12 or so, my father decided to buy a TV for me for Christmas. For him to part with that much money for something he considered frivolous was an incredible gift and commitment to me. When I got up on Christmas morning and went into the living room and saw it, the first words out of my mouth were, "It's not as big as Mrs. Martin's TV."

So my father drove to Adrian Vance's house, the man who owned the appliance store in Anawalt and got him to come out on Christmas morning to exchange the TV my father had bought for one that was as big as Mrs. Martin's. On Christmas day he did that because his 12 year old son was an ingrate of an asshole.

And he never once said something snarky like, "is this big enough, asshole?"

He just did it, for me.

If I could speak to my father, dead over 30 years now, I would tell him I was an awful and ungrateful son on that Christmas morning and everyone in our families had been right--they had spoiled me horribly and I was an asshole back then, 52 years ago now.

And the second thing I would tell him is that I hope and pray I turned out better than I might have, given the 12 year old I was. I would tell him that why I turned out better than I was at 12 and complained about a gift of love that wasn't big enough was because he and my mother taught me about gratefulness and wonder and joy in ways they never imagined. In ways they never knew.

I'd want to tell him that his asshole son of 12 became a person of compassion and understanding and love--because he showed me all those things even when I didn't deserve them.

That's what I'd like to say to my Dad this Christmas Eve.

Thank you for understanding what an asshole a 12 year old can be and never holding it against him. I think that made me who I am and have been.

And the memory of that Christmas makes me cringe and regret and almost weep.

Unconditional love is so difficult, so hard. and such a gift to 12 year old's when they look back on it and cringe.

I love you, Daddy, wherever you are. Merry Christmas.....

Monday, December 23, 2013

Eve of the Eve

I picked Mimi up at the train station in New Haven today--Christmas cheer can begin....

I was in Stop and Shop today and they kept making an announcement to 'make sure you have your own shopping carriage'. Apparently someone's cart was highjacked by someone else. When I got to checkout, all the clerks were in hysterics because the guy whose cart went missing was making a huge fuss.

I really don't seem to have much to write about right now if I'm reduced to absconded shopping carts--still waterlogged from the rain. Will write tomorrow for sure.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

OK, what's going on...?

I just checked The Castor Oil Tree stats (which I can do and do sometimes) and saw that I'd had 151 pages views already today--which is a record for a day and it's only 6:16 p.m.!

So, what's going on? Advent IV is the day people just view random blogs? I said something worth reading (doubt that...)? Everyone I know thought today was a good day to look at my blog? Some problem with the stats do hickey? One person was drunk and signed onto my blog 151 times trying to get to UTube?

Well, whatever happened, thanks. I've said before I'd write this even if no one read it because it is therapy for me to write. (Lots cheaper than a real therapist too!) But thank you, whoever you are, for reading this junk I write.

Today I went to Rowena's first Eucharist. I did the 9 a.m. at St. James in Higganum and then drove to Northford and got there at the end of the Prayers of the People so I got absolved by Rowena, received the first bread and wine she ever consecrated and got her blessing at the end of the service. A trifecta (a word I'm pretty sure is a when betting on horse races...but my spell-check neither acknowledges or gives me a reasonable option to) much to be desired.

I got all this advice about how to get from Higganum to Northford from people in both places. One involved Little City Road (though I assure you, there is not even a Tiny City anywhere near that road) and the other involved several roads whose names I don't remember, all of which, supposedly inexplicably end up in Durham from which Northford is about 7 miles on Rt 17. I even tried one of them once and got agoraphobic driving through such emptiness. So today I just got on RT 9 and drove 85 mph and got off at the 155/17 exit. Got there in just under 25 minutes, just at the end of the Prayers of the People when Rowena read the Proper Preface for Advent, which is lovely but not what you're supposed to read.

Hey, it was her first Eucharist, cut her a break! Besides which the Eucharist at St. James will be loosely referred to as "how many ways can Jim mess this up? Sunday". I even announced after the offering had come up and I'd somehow set the table, that if 'you give me a week off, I forget how to do this stuff...." All three Cluster churches cancelled last week because of weather, which was wise, so Rowena had to wait a week to celebrate her first Eucharist. And she was flawless except for the Advent Proper Preface thing and actually knows how to do the 'manual acts', which, in Episco-speak,
means the gestures and movements that go into celebrating the Eucharist.

I, on the other hand do only two manual acts--I cross myself at one point in the service and make the sign of the cross over the bread and wine...oh, and elevate them at the end of the Prayer of Consecration. I went to Virginia Seminary, the ultimate "low church" seminary where any 'fussiness' at all way discouraged. There was a professor at VTS that could celebrate Eucharist without moving  his hands at all. So, for Virginia Graduates I'm almost Anglo-Catholic.

I thought Rowena's manual acts were restrained, respectful and right on! Some priests I know turn the 'manual acts' into a form or calisthenics or pseudo-yoga. I close my eyes when they start wildly gesticulating and pounding their chests. Rowena has it right. If you have to involve yourself in such things, the way she does it is the way it should be done. God bless her. (I would say I'll start holding my arms out to the side humbly during much of the Eucharistic Prayer the way she does...but I probably won't.) But I liked the way she did it.

I need to hear her preach if she's going to get any value from me as a supervisor (I'll blog about how I supervise like a 'crabbing buddy' some day). She has a phone that can do anything short of delivering a baby or bringing world peace, so maybe I'll ask her to record sermons so we can listen to them together. But I'm pretty sure her sermons are just like everything else about her--restrained, respectful and right on.....

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Just wanted to make sure...

...that I could get back to my blog. I'm now a tad anxious every time I click on the Do-Hickey that gets me here.

I really am a babe in the woods when it comes to on-line stuff. So much I don't understand.

But I got back, no problem.

Christmas, for us, is going to be quiet and sweet. Mimi is coming Monday and John Anderson will eat dinner with Bern and Mimi and me on Christmas. But Josh and Cathy and the girls are going to California to be with her brothers so minus three girls 7,7 and 4 it will be quiet here. Which I don't mind. We'll go down to Baltimore on Dec. 29 after church for 'second Christmas' with them. Not bad, two Christmases.

Bern's even going to let me cook Christmas dinner. Pretty cool for me.

More later.

Walking backward through my mind...

The last two days I haven't been able to get on my blog. It was terrifying! It was especially terrifying considering that the only things I know about computers is how to turn them on and off....

For some reason, is run by Google. The reason I know that is that I've spent several hours trying to convince Google that I have a blog and should be allowed to use it through the back door--the door you go in to I'm doing now.

I succeeded in getting a g-mail account, which I'll never use...and in filling out countless evaluations of the Google 'help' pages--which did not get sterling grades since nothing they said helped me find the back door to my blog in the least.

I figured out why it kept asking me for the blog's name and a password. The problem was, when I gave them the blogs name and the password it didn't recognize either. And there is no-one to talk to at Google. I searched high and low (sideways and upside) down for a PHONE #! Google apparently either doesn't want you calling them or doesn't use phones at all and is just one big main-frame with no real people anywhere.

But I know that's not true because Tim, Mimi's fiancee (how writing that 8 letter word thrills me!) used to work for Google and Tim's a real person. Now he works for LinkedIn which he has tried to explain to me several times to no avail.

Anyhow, how I got in this blog-less state was I was fooling with my 'history' on the line above the line that tells you what programs are open and succeeded in erasing it. I have a "Under the Caster Oil Tree' hickey on my whatever it's called that lets me go to things like Moviefone and MapQuest and the Huffington Post by clicking on them. (I can never remember the names of things you have on computers). And yes, my Under the Caster Oil Tree hickey IS misspelled but it did get me to the blog with one click. But it must have been searching my 'history' to do that, so by accidentially erasing my "history" hickey I confused my Under the Caster (sp) Do-hickey. Or something like that.

But then I walked backward in my mind to the day that Tracy Simmons (bless her soul) set up my blog at least four years ago because I was still Rector of St. John's. And I remember her telling me slowly and in words of one syllable how to 'sign on' to my blog. But then I remembered the name of the blog wasn't "Under the Castor Oil Tree" like I'm been typing for two days whenever Google asked me but "Castor Oil Tree" because Tracy wasn't sure I could remember more than three words. And then, still walking backwards in my mind, I remembered the password she chose for me because it was the name of something I'd never forget (though I had for the last two days).

Though we used to tell our kids to "walk backward through your mind" whenever they forgot something, I never really believed it worked. I just thought it was something you told kids to give them an experience of the futility and meaninglessness and randomness of life--a dose of Sartre before they could even read...and experience of the dark side of existentialism (though existentialism doesn't seem to have much of a 'bright side' when you think about it).

But "By God, It worked!" And here I am, back typing, which is something I do much better than deal with Google or remember the real names of the Hickeys and Do-Hickeys and Thing-a-ma-bob's on a computer.

You're not rid of me yet, Beloved. I'll be typing more stuff than you'll want to read! Depend on it!

(Merry Eve of the last Sunday of Advent....)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The sweetness of Advent

I'm sure our neighbors wonder why we don't have Christmas decorations up yet. I mean, I'm the professional Christian on the block, so where are the lights and creche and other stuff at our house?

One of the many reasons I'm glad to be an Episcopalian is that we take Advent seriously. Sure, there's lots to do these days and many plans to make and buying and selling...and we will decorate our trees this weekend rather than waiting until Christmas Eve, but I love Advent--the counter-cultureness of it, the silence and the darkness, the waiting and the anticipation.

And Advent, for us Episcopalians, isn't a 'little Lent'. It isn't about penitence in any way. It is a sweet season in the darkest time of the year when snow brings an eerie silence over the land.

The horrendous weather cancelled all the three Cluster services last Sunday. We missed Advent III and I mean 'really missed it'. There's an incompleteness not to have 'Rose Sunday'. I wrote a sermon I'll never preach for the Sunday that wasn't...and it made sense, roads don't get plowed as early on Sunday as they would be on a Tuesday and since these or rural churches many people live down gravel roads that have to wait to be cleared. But I missed it.

And I missed preaching this sermon. I already sent it to the Cluster email list, but I'll share it with you as well.

Advent iii, 2013

John Baptist was out of control.
He lived in the desert for years—eating only what he found in the wilderness. He did not participate in society—instead he railed out dire warnings to the sand and the rocks. He wore strange clothing he had fashioned from animal skins and never cut his hair. Little wonder then that when he appeared from the wilderness, proclaiming that the Kingdom was near, people were both frightened of him and yet almost irresistibly drawn to his strangeness.
And one thing John never forgot—he was a ‘prophet’ of the One Who Was To Come. His whole life and everything he did pointed, not to himself, but to another. He was to make the Way straight—to clear the ground for the Coming One of God. He was not ‘the One’—he was the forerunner, the harbinger, the messenger of One greater than him.
Little wonder then, when John found himself in prison, soon to lose his head for daring to condemn the royal family, that he suddenly wondered if his life-work had been in vain. Had he made the rough ground smooth or had he wasted his time and energy…had he failed to fulfill his only mission in life?
John sent disciples to Jesus. “Are you the One?” they asked him.
“Are you the One, or are we to wait for another?”
In all the gospels, Jesus almost never gives a direct response to a question. He either asks a question in return or tells a story or gives what seems like a non sequitor in reply.
His response to John’s disciples is no different. Instead of answering their question—instead of claiming to be The One all Israel was awaiting—he tells them to go back and tell John what they see and hear.
“…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them…..” Jesus tells the disciples of John that what he “does” should answer the question of who he “is”.
Jesus’ words echoed the description of the “holy one” from the prophecy of Isaiah. His identity is found, not in who he ‘says’ he is, but in the works he does.
When John heard the message he must have realized that he had fulfilled his mission. John must have known that Jesus was “the one”.

It is really no different for any of us. The proof is in the pudding. By the fruits we will know who someone truly IS.
The Kingdom is near—the Kingdom is always near, always ‘at hand’, always just out of the sight of our periphery vision. Close, but ‘not yet’.
So the question is not, ‘who do we say that we are?” The question that matters is how do we live into the coming Kingdom? How do we lean into the reign of God? How are we part of the in-breaking of Light into the Darkness?
We are the children of the Kingdom that was and is and is to come. We are God-bearers, Light bringers, the vehicles of healing in this tragic and suffering world.
It is not who we ‘say’ we are that draws the Kingdom nearer. The Kingdom is unveiled in our midst by what we ‘do’.
Advent is not simply a time of ‘waiting’ for the Coming One. It is a time to ‘prepare’ to welcome the Kingdom just at hand.
Make straight the road of Kindness.
Smooth out the way of Compassion and Generosity.
Tear down the mountains on Indifference and Judgment and build highways of Love and Inclusion and Acceptance.
Through the Wilderness make a path for Forgiveness and Mercy to walk on.
We too must ‘prepare’ the way of the Lord.
We are the ones for whom the Kingdom waits.
We are the ones God is expecting to welcome the Child.
(Wisdom from the Hopi Elders)
There is a River flowing now, very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know this: the River has its destination. The Elders say we must let go of the shore, push out into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water.
At this time of history, we are to take nothing 'personally'. Least of all, outselves. The moment that we do that, our spritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for! Amen and amen.

Jim Bradley

Monday, December 16, 2013

I feel like Alice

OK, I saw this 90 second clip of a speech Rick Santorum made the other day where he told 4 lies I caught. Chris Matthews caught a fifth (yes, I watch MSNBC and am proudly on the left!) but my granddaughters told me I can't call someone a 'liar' or 'fat' or 'stupid' or 'ugly'. So, in honor of the code of Morgan/Emma/Tegan, Rick Santorum was 'short of the truth' five times in 90 seconds. Which makes him (sorry girls) a 'liar' in my book.

Each of the 'short of the truth' statements were met with wild applause.

I feel like, at some point, I fell through the Looking Glass and am in a Wonderland of sorts.

The Republicans I grew up with--Sen. Dirkson, Sen. Brooke, Sen. Goldwater, Gov. Rockefeller, even President Reagan, argued principles and policy. Even when I didn't agree with them I didn't think they were engaging in 'short of the truth' stuff.

What has happened to 'civil discourse' in this country? When did Truth become irrelevant to political argument?

I'll tell you when: when a black man was elected president, that's when.

We may--we just may--pass through this 'disturbance in the Force' and come out somewhere where 'compromise' and civility is again the economy of politics. But though calling out 'racism' is considered, by most, rude and too confrontational, if you look back at the opposition President Obama has encountered, it is strident and irrational in the way racism is.

And, in spite of the mean spiritedness of all prejudice, I think the majority of the country has sniffed it out and are not pleased with it. Besides, thank God, we are no longer a 'majority nation'. The Black and Hispanic vote is growing leaps and bounds. I welcome 'minority' status. That means you can't blame me for the choices America makes.

I pray I am right--that most people would like to return to a civil discourse about policy and principles rather than the chaotic 'short of the truth' rhetoric of the far right.

When I heard the complaints that Obama shook hands with Raoul Castro I was flabbergasted! What did Right-Wing nuts want him to do? Slap him on the face? They objected to his taking a 'selfie' with the leader of Denmark and Great Britain. And also shaking hand with Castro. So he shouldn't be friendly with close allies OR friendly with a perceived enemy?

Maybe he shouldn't be friendly with any body. Well, that seems to the the extreme Rights's res son Dedra.

I'm waiting for a hookah smoking caterpillar to show up on Fox News. Or a woman who looks like a playing card. Nothing will surprise me ever again.

More when I've calmed down....

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Ordination Accomplished"

Well, leave it to Rowena to get herself ordained on the day of the first big snowfall of the year! And on the day of the burial of Nelson Mandela, the feast day of St. John of the Cross and the anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ian, our bishop, talked to and prayed with the congregation about Sandy Hook just before the processional. What I could hear from halfway down the steps to the narthex was lovely. And the time of silence was haunting, in a profound way.

But, as I knew it would, things went swimmingly. There were so many people who have loved Row for years there that I felt like a newcomer to the club. Her father, mother and aunt from the Bahamas were there. Row's mother told me she'd never seen snow before yesterday! Well, there was a bit of it to see.

Dean was still plowing the lot an hour before the ceremony. Lots of Cluster folks parked across Rt. 17 in the open lot there to give the visitors a shot at the church parking lot.

My plan--I was the Master of Ceremonies...the Boss of Details...which takes me about as far out of my comfort zone as I can get. I am a 'forest' guy, not a 'tree' guy. But I have done it before and actually enjoyed getting people where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. (One of Jung's theories is that as we age we move toward our less dominant functions. Extroverts become more introverted, feeling types become more thinking--like that. I certainly find that happening to me. I am a big old honking Intuitive type. I mean, I don't score on the S...Sensate--logical, step two after step one scale. So being MC forces me to be more organized. And to tell the truth, I kinda like it....)

My plan (as I was saying) was to take the processional from the parish house outside to the front door. But it was snowing to beat the band and low and behold I realized I had scoped out going through the under croft (Episcopal-speak for basement) and come up the stairs into the narthex (Episcopal-speak for front door hallway). I'd actually planned for the eventuality of inclement weather! I was startled that I had actually thought that through. (When, a half-million years ago, I was the Center Manager for RCEE in New Haven, which took women on welfare to good jobs in 16 weeks, I was also trying to get my father, in a nursing home in Hamden, on Title 9 because his money was running out. I couldn't get anywhere with the Welfare Department and asked RCEE's secretary, who was a graduate of the program, how she negotiated the madness of the Welfare Department when she was on welfare. She told me this: "When you're poor you function best in chaos....")

I actually told Rowena one of the first times we spoke that "I'm good in chaos...." With RCEE's secretary's help, I learned to go to the Welfare Department and start yelling as soon as I came in. I got my father on Title Nine the next time I went by creating chaos and dealing with it.

So the snow was a tad chaotic. Lots of people in the Cluster who would have wanted to be there were either snowed in or too unsure on bad roads. And lots of people from far away, I'm sure, checked the forecasts and stayed home.

In a perverse way, I was thankful for the weather. Had all those folks come there wouldn't have been room in the church for them, even standing room and our dream of closed-circuit TV for the parish house had been dashed. Those who came--150 or so--filled St. Andrew's to the lees and had a good show.

Ray, St. Andrew's musician, is, at heart, a jazz musician, used the piano for the processional--"There's a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place...." It was great even though I was half-way down the steps and dealing with 6 kids from the cluster with banners and a dove. They too were graceful though they were all, I believe 9 or under.

There were about 35 to 40 people in the processional. In a large urban church, that isn't much. But in a small, rural church it was impressive. I can't wait to see the video tape of it. It must have gone on a long time in that short center aisle.

Row had more presenters than anyone I've ever know. She said it was because her journey had been so 'long'--her process to ordination would have ore'whelmed a lesser person--and she wanted all the pieces to be represented. Three priests a RC nun and three or four lay folk presented her to the bishop. It was impressive to see the variety of people whose lives she had touched in some important way and who had touched her life as well.

There were over a dozen visiting priests. Considering that there were Advent Quite Days for priests at 4 or 5 locations that day and it was snowing like crazy, I found that impressive as well.

(Usually I believe Will Rodger's comment about Methodist ministers applies to Episcopal priests as well. Will said, "Methodist ministers are like manure. Spread out, they do a lot of good. But all in one place, they tend to stink a bit....") But the clergy who showed up for Rowena were not smelly at all. I knew most of them and one of them served as a seminarian when I was at St. John's in Waterbury. Another of them was a parishioner 3 decades ago and is a priest now. The Bishop, Ian Douglas, as well was a parishioner of the church I served almost 3 decades ago. Also, the priest whose place Rowena is taking was there. She works at Diocesan House. I love her and love Harlan and love Nancy and love Ian. They are part of my past as well as Rowena's. What a joy that our two river's through life have run through some of the same places and people.

Linda preached. I'm a deft critic of preaching since I think I do it very well. I used to introduce people to Malinda, who worked with me for years, as "the second best preacher in Connecticut". I think she is. And it leaves no doubt as to who 'the best' is. Linda's sermon was very good. And the blessing she shared with Row was amazing.

And Row...well, she was the prize of the day by design. She is a humble and sweet person (not 'sweet' like saccharin, but sweet like honey from the comb, like syrup from the maple tree--a 'sweet' that endures and brings joy) who is so full of integrity I'm a little threatened by her. And she has this smile that lights up, not just a room, but everyone's heart. And she smiled through the whole thing--the sermon, the songs, the interrigation by the bishop, the laying on of hands and everything before that and after. It was 'her day' and she shined. She even had ruby shoes. I kid you not--ruby shoes to die for. And she didn't click her heels once. She wasn't in Kansas anymore and she had no intention of ever going back there...

On a scale of 1-10, Row's ordination, for me, was an 11.8!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ordination--next to last

The ordination is tomorrow--Rowena will become a priest! I delivered the programs this afternoon--and the wine! Ordinations must have wine....

Lots of people have done lots of work getting ready for it. I won't even start listing names except to single out Bea, the Cluster Administrator for her work on the program, Howie for getting and setting up the video equipment, Toni for the beautiful flowers and Dean for all his hours getting the church ready.

Row said to someone last Sunday, "If getting married is this stressful, I'm glad I've never done it!"

The Time of Stress has ended. What will be will be. It will snow a lot or it won't. People will brave the weather or they won't. Any thing that goes wrong won't matter. Tomorrow will be a glorious day for Rowena, the Cluster and all her family and friends. I've never been to a bad ordination--a few long ones, granted, but even that is part of the wonder....When you finish an ordination, you know something has happened!

I wonder what an alien from out of space would make of the whole thing? The endless procession. The solemn words. The bishop's funny hat and his shepherd's crook. Rowena's cross examination. The chanting of the litany. All the priests gathering around her to lay on hands. The raucous applause.
The singing and the gifts. The eating and the drinking. What would E.T. think of the whole thing?

Maybe he'll land outside and we'll find out....That would make a wondrous, blessed day even more special....

I'll write tomorrow about the whole thing.

Say a prayer for Rowena--a traveling blessing, perhaps. She will be moving into unknown territory tomorrow....

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Churches I never served...

People were surprised around the Middlesex Cluster Ministry when Rowena Kemp, who'll be ordained this Saturday, chose to come be a part of our ministry and mission. She had other options and she chose us. People were overjoyed, having met her.

That got me thinking about the choices I made and the churches I never served because of those choices. Since I'm retired from full time ministry and plan to stay ever so part time at the Cluster until I really stop practicing my ministry, it's an interesting trip down through my life to consider where I didn't go.

Coming out of Seminary, I was offered a job at St. Chrysostom's in Chicago. I would have been the assistant to the Rector and been the missionary to the yuppies who lived in the high rises that lined the Lake. St. Chrysostom's was (and probably still is) a thriving urban church with great outreach. Meals on Wheels, the national program, was founded by the parish. It seemed a dream to me. But when the Rector called the Diocese of West Virginia to get me 'released'--you 'belong' to your diocese and to go to another you must be given permission by the bishop. The Rector, unfortunately (or 'fortunately' as I now think of it) got Bishop Campbell on the phone instead of Bishop Atkinson (who I told him to call) and Wilburn Camrock Campbell told him that under no circumstances was he 'releasing' me to the fleshpots of Chicago. When the Rector (I don't remember his name) told me this after he hung up with Bishop Campbell, I immediately called Bishop Atkinson and gave him holy hell. He finally agreed that if I would come to one interview in West Virginia and turned the job down, he would fight tooth and nail with the Diocesan (Atkinson was the Bishop Co-Adjutor, meaning he was the Diocesan Bishop in waiting, waiting for Wilburn to retire....)

So I went to be interviewed at St. James in Charleston, an African American congregation whose building was in North Charleston about a mile from where Charlie Manson grew up. This Black congregation had been moved to a redneck part of Charleston from down-town in the Black community where it started instead of Institute, a wondrous college town of a historically Black College 7 miles from Charleston. I think, when that move was made in the 60's, the thought was to kill the church off but don't get me started on that.

I fell in love with the people. And they loved me with more compassion and understanding than any white church would give a Black priest (but don't get me started on that either...) On the plane back to DC Bern, great with child (our son Josh) said to me, "we're moving to Charleston aren't we?" And I had to say, "If you will..." And she would.

No fancy Chicago parish for me. A humble little, misplaced African American mission was where I went and learned more about myself and race and grace and possibility than I ever would have dealing with Yuppies in Chicago.

The road not taken turned out to be the road that would have made me a different person than I am. And at this point in my life, I love 'who I am' and I love 'my life'. So as crazy as the decision seemed at the time, it made me who I am today and, in case you didn't get it, I am who I always hoped I would be.....

The second church I never served was in suburban Baltimore, when I was thinking about leaving St. James after five years of joy, I 'put my name in' (which is the Episcopal-speak for 'applying for the job' and at St. John's in New Haven. When St. John's expressed interest, though I was farther along with the church off the Beltway in Baltimore, I took my name out. (I've never been a suburban priest. I don't think I'm up to it. I love cities, and since I've been in the Cluster I've learned that I love 'rural', which is where I came from in the first place. Being in the Cluster is like 'going home' in lots of ways.) I have lived in Cheshire, a suburb of New Haven/Waterbury/Middletown/even Hartford--at one point when I was still working and Bern was working, we'd leave for Waterbury and New Haven and the couple next door would leave for Hartford and Middletown. Go figure. Cheshire is a poly-suburb. I love living here, but I wouldn't be much good as a priest here--too political and too left wing theological I, I don't like wearing suits. Suburban churches expect 'suits'--inner city and rural churches don't....

The third church I never served was St. Mark's in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was actually 'called' to be their rector. I adored the building and the community and the liveliness of the Search Committee. I actually believed I was 'called' to be the Rector of that progressive, rapidly growing parish. Bern wasn't enamored of living in the south and our kids were still in grade school, so it would be a stretch. But we'd visited and they'd visited and low and behold I got the 'call' on the Friday before Labor Day! The Senior Warden was going to be on an island without a phone until Tuesday so I couldn't give her my answer (which is always 'yes!' since such time and energy goes into search processes) until the Tuesday after Labor Day. So our family did 'votes', everyone with 5 slips to either put into 'Yes' or 'no' and every vote was so close as to be moot. Finally, Bern and I decided to play Backgammon, a game we played every night to decide. This was on Labor Day itself, knowing I had to call the next day. Best of five was the deal. I won the first two games and said to Bern, "it's OK, we'll stay in New Haven". But she said, "let's play it out" and won the last three games! Then she said, "I know you want to go, so, let's go." We hugged and went upstairs to tell Josh and Mimi who had known their crazy parents were downstairs playing a board game for their futures. I walked in the room and opened my mouth to say, "We're going to North Carolina!" and what came out was, "We're staying in Connecticut!" Then I burst into tears.

I didn't sleep at all, wondering how to phrase my 'no' to the Senior Warden. And when I got her on the phone I told her "it's not time to leave Connecticut"  and she said, "You're kidding, aren't you?"

I told her I kidded about most everything but not this. After a long, minute long silence, she said, "You son-of-a bitch!" I got worse after that and suddenly I realized I'd made the best decision of my life without knowing it. I hung up on her and the Search Committee sent me flowers and called several times, but the road less traveled (saying 'no' to a call to a wonderful parish) was taken. Really, as I felt sorry for myself, on Thursday the head of the Search Committee at St. John's in Waterbury called me. (The irony was I wasn't in full time ministry at the time and the folks from North Carolina came to hear me preach at St. John's where I was doing supply as they looked for an interim Rector.)
"Did you take that job in North Carolina?" Judy asked me.

"No," I told her, wondering why she called to ask.

I heard her take a big breath and then she said, "would you be willing to have your name put in for Rector of St. John's? Please say yes...."

I shook my head at how mischievous the Spirit can be. "I'm probably not eligible because I was with you for three months before Jeff came to be interim," I said, meaning it, wishing it weren't so.

"No," Judy said, breaking into laughter, "the bishop has already said you can...."

So, that's how things go in the strange and mysterious ways of the Spirit.

The last church I never served came when I was 51 or so and realized if I didn't move from St. John's then, I wouldn't until I retired. So I 'put my name in' at the Cathedral in Minneapolis. I didn't think much would come of it, being Dean of a Cathedral, but there were phone interviews and I flew to Minneapolis to talk to the Search Committee and Vestry and was told I was one of 7 they'd brought up to talk. Then a three member group of the Search Committee came to see me in Waterbury. The came for a weekend and came to church on a Sunday in Advent when there was a mess of snow (though they probably thought that was normal, being from Minnesota) and on the day before wanted to interview four members of the parish. So, I picked four folks I knew wouldn't gossip about it all and they came to be interviewed. What I realized on that day, I was there all day as the folks came in to talk to the Minneapolis folks, that the folks I chose to talk to the MN folks were much more interesting than the MN folks they were being interviewed by.

So, a week later when I was called to be told I was one of three being flow, with my family, to Minneapolis for a final interview, I, without forethought, turned it down. I probably wouldn't have ever been the Dean of the Cathedral in Minneapolis, but I wasn't willing to take that chance, knowing I was where that mischievous Holy Spirit meant me to be until I was either thrown out or retired.

It was the latter that made me leave. I retired at 63 and 13 days of age because I had 30 years in the pension fund and was eligible for early Social Security and knew if I didn't leave then I might never leave because of the three churches I DID serve in all those years, I loved them all to death and St. John's was the ice cream on the pie of my 30 years of ministry.

I need to thank Rowena, because she chose to come to the Cluster rather than any of her other offers, for the joy of pondering the 'roads not taken' in my ministry. And I will thank her and be full of humility and joy to work with her until she comes to another fork in the road and has to choose....

As for me, I am convinced I always took the path I was meant to take, as painful as the choices were, and that is a Gift to ponder as I grow older. Always being where you were meant to be--what a wondrous Gift...what a joyous life....

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ordination (what is it? 3 or 4?)

The programs are at the printer, the close circuit is set, the lunch is catered, the music is set, we'll do seating Friday afternoon, what could go wrong?

Oh...did someone say snow on Saturday?

(Rowena, if you read this, ignore that last sentence. OK?)

I was ordained to the priesthood in May (you stayed a Deacon in West Virginia for almost a year) so there was no snow. I remember it clearly because I was calm as all get out, ready to remember it always.

I was ordained by the Right Reverend Robert Atkinson and the preacher was Bill Pregnell, a professor of mine from Virginia Seminary. I had prepared a tape of my favorite music that was 20 minutes long or so that served as the Prelude.

The last song on the tape was "Heavy Church" by Three Dog Night.

In case you're not listening to it regularly, here are the lyrics.

"Light my was with incensed candles ooh,
Rug so soft beneath my sandals, ooh.
I've never been in here before
Like to feel the glory.

Mercy, mercy on love defenders
Have pity on the pretenders
A little help from all life's losers
A little truth from the mind abusers
Ooh, I need them praying in the Heavy Church.

If you judge the way they're living ooh,
Try to see the truth they're giving you
They only want to touch your hand with understanding.

Mercy, mercy on the love defenders
Have pity on the pretenders
A little help from all life's losers
A little truth from the mind abusers
Ooh I need them praying in the Heavy Church.

Hear them, hear them, hear them, hear them
Run and see the truth they're giving you
Hear them, hear them
Run and see the truth they're giving you
Hear them, hear them

I crept down the hallway just before the processional to hear that song. Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Simon and Garfunkel and others were on the tape that provided the soundtrack for who I was on that day so long ago. I wish I still had the tape--but could I find something that would play it now???

Anyway, that tape summed up my theology in popular music, none more than "Heavy Church" which was why it was last. It all seems a bit silly now, but then it mattered--like MATTERED to me.

I still would stand up for the theology of Three Dog Night. I've always said, my whole priesthood, that 'the church exists for those who aren't here yet'. I've always thought it was the outsiders, the marginal, the unclean, the lame and halt and blind that Jesus reached out to. The 'Establishment' already 'had theirs'. Jesus came to those who 'had not'. "A little help from all life's losers" isn't bad advice to a priest. We, inside the church, need to listen to the 'truth they're giving you' from those outside the church.

And the 'have pity on the pretenders' would apply, as far as I can see, to all of us. We all--especially those on the inside, those who 'have theirs' are living in a pretense that is as wide as it is broad--that our 'having ours' is okay when others don't 'have theirs'.

That's why it's a Heavy Church.

The questions the church and the ordained should be dealing with are Heavy Questions: about equality and fairness and inclusion and hearing the voices of the marginal and the dispossessed  and the outcasts and the despised and the rejected.

Those who aren't here yet are the ones I mean.

Those are the ones we must " to see they truth they're giving you...."

Whenever I've done that in my ministry, I give God all the credit.

Whenever I haven't (and I can't even count the times) it is my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault....

God help me find the Heavy Church where I belong.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A shocking concept hard to engage meaningfully

Ali McGraw, for all those Baby-Boomers out there--the girl we idolized and mourned from one of the worst movies ever: Love Story based on one of the worst novels ever, of the same name--Ali McGraw is74 years old.

It wasn't just us growing old. For God's sake, Ali McGraw aged? Heaven fore fend.....

It is true, beloved. Take heart....

The Ordination--Part Two

Ordinations are weird stuff. A big dose of pomp and circumstance, not a little formality, an eye of newt, some magic stuff and mystery aplenty.

(A young boy, watching an ordination of a bishop, turned to his father when all the assembled bishops gathered round the kneeling ordinand to lay hands on him, and asked, "What are they doing to him, Daddy?" The father answered--with as much truth as irony--"They're taking out his back bone....")

I once told an ordinand in my sermon for his ordination, "Michael, always remember you are an almost irrelevant functionary of an irrelevant institution." And I meant it. The bishop who was there was not amused and yelled at me in the vesting room afterwards.

You see, I think the church takes itself entirely too seriously. The minutia and flotsam and jetsam of the church is of no interest to the vast majority of the human race. It is just 'sound and fury signifying nothing' much.

The new Pope is putting a little intrigue and pizazz back into organized religion, I'll give him that. But, for the most part, most Roman Catholics might feel proud to have Francis, but the doctrine and dogma of the church has next to nothing to do with their day to day lives.

But given how irrelevant it all is, ordinations are high fun!

Lots of marching. Lots of singing. Quite a bit of chanting. Clerics all gussied up in their liturgical finery. A bishop with an odd looking hat and what looks all the world like a cane for someone 9 feet tall.

One of the ugliest moments I've ever encountered was after one of my classmates was ordained and his wife wrote a letter to Bern saying, "his hands changed". Bern was bouncing off furniture for some time, tearing up the letter and saying things a priest's wife (though I was technically still a deacon then) has never been known to say.

"If your hands change" I remember her telling me, "don't ever touch me again!!!"

My hands didn't 'change' and neither will Rowena's on Saturday. Ordination doesn't deal with the 'essence' of the priest, only with the 'accidents'.

Which makes the whole thing an accident.

I'll deal with that tomorrow.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Ordination--Part One

So, on Saturday Rowena Kemp will be ordained to the priesthood, God willing and the Creek don't rise--by Bishop Ian Douglas and become the third presbyter in the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry along with me and Bryan Spinks. Rowena is wonderful! Just what we need--young, upbeat, charismatic and charming. Plus, she's really smart. I like smart.

Some of us in the Cluster have started referring to this event as The Ordination since it is such a wonderful opportunity for these three small, rural churches to host Rowena's Beginning as a priest. Lots of people are very excited about it. It's being held at St. Andrew's in Northford, the largest of the three churches--though not 'that large'. I figure by having standing room in the two side aisles we can get 130 people in the church. However, Rowena has served so many places in her journey to this coming Saturday, I know we'll have more, many more than that.

So, these three small churches have prepared for overflow. Howie, from St. James, has arranged to borrow closed circuit TV from Higganum-Killingworth High School where he works and we'll hook it into the parish hall. The folks at St. Andrew's, Leslie and Dean, have arranged for the catered lunch after the service. 6 kids from Emmanuel Killingworth and one from St. James will be part of the procession. The three readers are one from each church. The two Eucharistic Ministers are from Emmanuel and St. James. The crucifer and bishop's chaplain are from Northford. People bringing up the gifts are from St. James and St. Andrew's. There will be a joint choir. People from the churches are bringing water and soda for lunch. I, myself, will be bringing wine--a celebration deserves wine I think.

Bea, the Cluster Administrator has worked with Rowena on the program. Brian, one of the folks at St. Andrew's will be in the parking lot to direct folks to overflow--which will be most of the parking! The lot only holds 20 some cars.

On and on it goes--this is the picture, lots of folks from these churches are invested in Rowena's celebration being special and something she's remember always.

So, I'll be writing about the Ordination the rest of this week--memos from the front line, as it were.

It would have been a lot easier to borrow a larger church--but not nearly so much fun.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Give it a rest, ok?

Could everyone stop finding snarky things to say about Carrie Underwood and the live broadcast of The Sound of Music on Thursday night. Critics went overboard. Carrie Underwood is not Julie Andrews, I get it. But neither is a movie that takes months to make like a three hour live show on TV.

Even members of the Von Trapp family weighed in today saying who would have been a better cast than Carrie.

I was entranced the whole way--because one of the kids in the show is the daughter of friend's of mine--but also because I loved the whole idea of a live TV production and I really like Carrie Underwood.

I will give you this: she is not Julie Andrews. Now will you shut up and realize this was a huge deal with a huge audience and TV was, for those 3 hours, what it used to be--big deal, big production, LIVE--and not what it has become...1300 channels on cable or through a dish. (1270 of which are not worth the effort.)

Bern and I were totally captivated, didn't compare Carrie to Julie once since it was apples and oranges--two totally different experiences--and Marta, our friends' daughter was such a joy.

Do we live in an age where being critical and cynical has become the new normal--not just for TSOM but everything?

If so, why?

Why's a little magic for three hours so dangerous? Why are people so thrown to being 'snarky'. For God's sake, it was a riveting three hours for me.

I'd have preferred it commercial free--but I'm just taking on negativity in reviewers, I'm not ready, yet, to suggest socialized media......

But I'll ponder that suggestion....

two words that make me sad

Lots of times when I'm talking to friends, they'll say something about the niece playing field hockey or the nephew's piano lessons. Little conversation bits about the children of your siblings or your mate's siblings. Every time nieces and nephews come up, I feel sad and a bit cheated. I don't have any.

I'm an only child and neither of Bern's older siblings have children, so she and I are neice-less and nephew-deprived.

Don't get me wrong, I seldom feel sorry for myself about being an only child. After all this time I've become comfortable and content with it. And I'm never bored--which is a blessing of an only child. And whenever I think it might be nice to have a sibling or two, all I have to do is have a short conversation with someone who does...and I'm back to contented with my situation!

But I would like some nieces and nephews. I grew up with scads of uncles and aunts. Eight on my mother's side and 6 on my father's side. (Truth is, I used to think everyone on my father's side was an aunt or uncle because I grew up calling all my father's 1st cousins "Aunt somebody" or "Uncle somebody.' When I was in my teens I finally began to figure out that Uncle Pat and Uncle Ralph and Uncle 'Shortie'--and yes he was--Uncle Opel and Aunt Denee and Aunt Ursa and Uncle Buford and Aunt Arbana and Uncle Hovie--my father's family had some names, I'll tell you--were, in point of fact, my second cousins. By then it was too late since they 'were' aunts and uncles in my mind and heart.)

I was the youngest of all the multitude of first cousins (18 in all) until My Uncle Harvey and my mother's sister, Aunt Elsie adopted Denise who was 6 years younger than me. I was in my teens by then and she was 10. I guess not having nieces and nephews pales beside the fact that my son and daughter have no first cousins and I had so many. But nieces and nephews would be nice.

The thing is, I think Bern and I would be great at being Aunt and Uncle. I'd be considered a little eccentric but a good listener and Bern would be seen as a font of wisdom and advice. We'd have them come and stay a few days every once in a while. I used to go visit Aunt Elsie and Uncle Harvey for a week every year and was always around my Dad's brothers and my mother's sisters. I liked having so many adults that were like my parents except NOT!

Bern would make them cabbage rolls with sour cream and I'd ask them about what they've been reading and take them to movies. Bern would tell the nieces all they need to know about boys but their parents won't tell them and I'd take the nephews on walks around Cheshire and listen to their angst and confusion about girls (none of which I could clear up in any way!)

We could email with them and call them on their birthdays and they'd all tell us we were their favorite Aunt and Uncle even if we weren't just to please us.

Nieces and Nephews--you have any spare ones we could have? We'd take good care of them and send them back when you wanted. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Winter is coming

Monday, they tell us, winter will arrive with sleet and freezing rain and some sprinkling of snow. That's what the National Weather Service says. And it may be so. The first snow of winter on December 8. Not bad, all things considered in New England.

Winter is also coming to me, I believe. Last night I had a great idea for a post that would have brought pondering to all who read it. It was such a good idea that I knew it would keep for a day and I could write it tonight since I really wanted to go to bed last night when the idea came.

All day I've tried to remember the wondrous thing I wanted to write about last night. To no avail....

An idea so wondrous and profound that I thought I'd never forget it is gone, gone, gone.....

Besides that, my ankles  have ached for two days because when I go to the Y to walk on the treadmill, I always read a book. And on Thursday I was finishing Scott Turow's new novel called Identical. It was so good that I walked for about an hour and 15 minutes when my usual walk is 40 minutes or two miles, whichever comes first. I walked almost 4 miles without moving an inch and my ankles ached for two days.

A decade ago I could have done that and my ankles would have only ached and made me walk funny for a single day. Before that, they wouldn't have ached at all.

"I grow old, I grow old, should I wear my trousers rolled or eat a peach?" I've become Prufrock, wondering how to 'be' at an age I never imagined reaching.

(And, when I was 40 or even 50, I wouldn't have forgotten completely that great idea for a post. I could have brought it back, detail by detail. But now, at 66, it is gone and I know it is gone forever.)

I don't mind getting older--it's a lot better than the only other option. And I forgive my memory since I still have enough memory to forgive such things. But, this I know and know fair well...Winter is coming.....

It gives me real empathy for those older than me. I used to get annoyed with old folks for moving so slow and forgetting things and dropping into the cracks in their brains.

I don't any more. I see it coming the way the National Weather Service sees winter coming day after tomorrow.

It's not frightening, just sobering. Perhaps it is a good thing to notice that things you could do 20 years ago aren't possible now.

Growing old is like closing doors that you know you'll never need to enter. I'll never deep-sea dive or sky dive or take up archery. I'll never drive a racing car or learn to do brain surgery. I'll never milk a yak or clime Everest. But most of the doors still open to me--loving my family and my friends, being a good priest, eating well, enjoying wine, walking a treadmill for less than an hour at a time, cooking, reading good novels, writing on this blog, pondering life--those things I still do and since they are part of a finite number of doors still open, I enjoy them more than I ever have.

Growing old is not for the faint of heart. But every day is more precious to me since I got this old. More precious and more rare. Every day....What a gift aging is, in the end....

Thursday, December 5, 2013

With great humility and graditude

I don't deserve to write about Nelson Mandela.

Lots of folks who will write of him in the coming days, don't deserve to either.

Quite frankly, in the time I've been alive--over 6 decades now--no one...and I mean that, NO ONE has done more to promote the dignity of being human and the righteousness of being equal than Nelson Mandela.

I'm sure, in the decades ahead, people will dissect his life and find his clay feet. I'd be disappointed if they didn't--it is the clay feet of heroes that make them really special and truly human--showing that 'truly human' people can make a difference that changes the world in a way that is good.

All that I can say, from the depths of my heart and soul, is that I am both humbled and proud to live out my life in some of the same years that Nelson Mandela lived.

It was a rare and special privilege. Thank you, Nelson, for that.

And may your soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

You gave the journey grace and love and forgiveness and nobility.....Thank you again.

The Sound...the very Sound...

In spite of the fact that I often write skeptical things about right wing assholes--ok, I didn't mean that, I meant 'right wing well meaning but misguided folks'--in this space, I am, deep down, believe me, a sentimentalist.

I just finished watching Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music on live TV and I'm a little misty. Plus, a daughter of some friends of ours and granddaughter of someone I love dearly was Marta, the second youngest girl in the cast. Grace did great.

Plus, just to prove I have some gentle bones in my body in spite of what I have to say about Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz--those well meaning but horrible misguided as..., folks--I watched a video online tonight about a designer in Germany who brought in 6 disable people--two in wheel chairs, one missing a leg and one an arm, a woman with extreme curvature of the spine and a dwarf and created mannequins exactly like them. The disabled folks were weepy about seeing their 'disabilities' portrayed. Then they put clothes on the mannequins and put them in display windows in Berlin. Then there was video of people looking at them--some shocked, some dismayed, some horrified, some sympathetic and some who even tried to put their bodies in the same poses....

I went downstairs weeping a bit and told Bern about it .

Maybe, since I'm getting older, I'm even more sentimental than I've always been.

I'm a lot closer to tears in moving moments than I've ever been.

But Michelle Bachman and Glen Beck don't make me sentimental. They just make me furious....

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The awful-est person in the world...

OK, to be the AWFUL-EST person in the world is a real challenge. There is President Assad of Syria, President Putin of Russia, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Senator Cruz of Texas, Rush Limbaugh of Hell, Mylie Cyrus, all the Kardashians, that idiot country singer who hates Obama and everyone who likes or is neutral about Obama, the whole congregation of the Baptist church in Kansas who think American soldiers who die, die because of Gay People...oh, the list is endless.

But the AWFUL-EST person in the world, hands down, is Michele Bachman. She said the other day that not only will the Affordable Health Care Law destroy Life as We Know it and not only has the President re-written the Constitution, for God's sake, to implement it but something even worse and more despicable.

She said the horrible and embarrassing, absolutely terrible roll out of the web site, the most distressing and damaging event of Obama's entire presidency, was, (get this) ON PURPOSE AND INTENTIONAL by the Administration so that the Civilization Ending results of t he Affordable Care Act won't become obvious and undeniable before the 2014 mid-term elections.

Sit back and take that in for a moment....

Rep. Bachman says that the absolutely worst thing that has happened in the President's term was not only INTENTIONAL but PLANNED by the administration. So, President Obama on purpose made his signature legislation screw up in the worst possible way, making him plunge in the polls and threatening the Democrats majority in the Senate because he wanted to keep America from knowing about the Death Panels and forced abortions and socialism of health care until the mid-term elections that have become a lot more difficult for Democrats because of the INTENTIONAL and PLANNED failure of the web site.....Duh....Double Duh....

There have been horrible and awful persons who have lived in the past. People who destroyed whole populations. Hitler and Attila the Hun come to mind. Make your own list after that. But I've never doubted that folks like that were smart. Smart and Awful.

But Michele Bachman is not only Awful, she's Stupid.

A dangerous combination--Stupidity and Awfulness....about the worst.

Granted, she hasn't done as much damage as Hitler and Attila, not by a long shot. But if Stupid was terminal, she'd be long dead.

I'm just sayin'.....

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hats and Scarves

Scarves and Hats are appropriate in this season. It is getting colder, which is something I like about living in New England. It gets cold here. I like having four seasons. I did like the seasons better in the upper elevations of southern West Virginia when I was a boy. Four months of Spring, two months of Summer (because we were in the mountains), four months of Autumn and two months of Winter--bitter and cold and lots of snow (because we were in the mountains)--that 4/2 and 4/2 ratio seemed perfect to me.

But I do like Winter because you get to wear hats and scarves.

I have two hats I wear in winter. One is a lion cub hat my brother in law, Father Dan (a late vocation Roman Catholic priest) gave me years ago. It is lion tawny with two brown ears and a mane. I like it a lot. My friend Fred gave me a picture that is about a yard wide and two feet tall of me in that hat. The picture is in front of our kitchen fire place. How cool is it to have a kitchen fire place?

The other hat is an Afghan hat of wool that looks like a round room. It belonged, originally, to Brian Vaugh, who was my lay-assistant for several years at St. John's in Waterbury, CT until he became a Buddhist priest, which I was fine with since Buddhists aren't deists and Christians can be Buddhist too. The greatest line about being a Christian I've ever heard was when Brian, who'd just gotten back from a month long Buddhist retreat was telling Larry Brown, a rather conservative member of the parish about his month at coffee hour. Larry is long dead (God bless him) but that Sunday he was taken off guard and said to Brian, "Brian, are you a Christian?"

And Brian said, without a heart-beat between the question and his response: "at least".

Being 'at least' a Christian seems to me to be about right.

When I was wearing Brian's hat, which I picked up off the clothing table in St. John's Soup Kitchen because Brian had put it there and I wanted it, a big--I mean BIG Black man at the bus stop in downtown Waterbury (I often rode the bus to work and back to Cheshire because I liked the people who rode the bus a lot--'real people', if you know what I mean...Real People who worked like dogs and couldn't afford a car and were very friendly on the bus) said to me, when I was wearing Brian's Afghan hat: "Are you a Muslim, man?" And I said, because he was really BIG, I mean seriously BIG and ripping with muscles under his coat, "if you want me to be...."

And people in 7/11's often told me, "That's from my country, your hat." Some even named it for me but I can't remember, being old, what name they told me.

I also have two scarves. One of them if from Brian as well. It is a rainbow scarf made by little old ladies in Appalachia, where I come from. He gave me two and I gave one away to a friend--the husband of a gay priest I know--because he admired it. That's why Brian gave it to me in the first place, because I admired it. Brian often gave me things of his I admired. I always wished he had a Mercedes so I could admire it. But he didn't. An Episcopal Buddhist would never own an expensive German Car, not ever.

That scarf played a big roll in my retirement from full time ministry. Jay, one of the members of the church, used it to wrap around the neck of my effigy and then had it dry cleaned and gave it to me as a gift.

My other scarf is one I bought for Bern, but since I usually by people things because I like them, I would wear it from time to time. It's a huge scarf, in muted colors, about a foot wide and 5 feet long. It wraps around my neck a couple of times with lots to hang down. She recently told me it was 'mine' because it was too big for her. I love it a lot.

Noone can be mean to you when you wear a lion cub hat.

Noone can be aggressive towards you when you wear an Afghan hat with a tiny polar bear pin that people keep trying to wipe off until they recognize it's a polar bear pin and not rubbish.

And most people, I've discovered, love people who wear scarves made by Appalachian women or scarves that are a foot wide and five feet long.

Hats and scarves....they make me lot winter.... 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanks to Thanksgiving

Mimi came first (my 'princess', my love, the one who calls me 'Baba') on Monday.

Josh and the girls came on Tuesday from Baltimore. Morgan, Emma and Tegan flowed out of the car and flowed over us again and again until they left with Cathy on Saturday (she came on the train on Friday since her father was sick and she wanted to help her mother).

Tim came on Wednesday, giving joy to Mimi and us all (the 'girls' most of all since they are 'uncle Tim groupies').

On Thursday John came first with the deep fryer for tiny onions (for Tim since he's allergic to shell fish) and oysters for the rest of us.

Then came Jack and Sherry and Robbie from New Haven (Robbie from the left coast home for Thanksgiving) We've known them all since 1980, Robbie growing up with Josh and Mimi.

And we ate and ate, as you should on Thanksgiving. And we toasted Sumi (Josh and Cathy's dog--Cathy's before Josh--who had been with us so many Thanksgivings and died in August at 15 or so) and I toasted them all because they are the people I love most in the world. Truly.

How many times do you get to sit at a table with 12 of the people you love most in the world and eat a meal with them. I was sorry Cathy wasn't there to make it 13.

How rare is that? How wondrous? How wild and truly blessed?

I was deeply Thankful this Thanksgiving and I thank Thanksgiving for that opportunity.

(Bela did nip at Robbie as an outsider, but we won't let that detract from the magic....)

Blog Archive

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.