Friday, October 31, 2014


Halloween was a nightmare for me as a small child.

My eyesight was 200/20 back then and my mother always bought me a costume with one of those hard plastic masks so I couldn't wear me glasses.

I went out into the night--face squashed, blind and literally 'in the dark'. There weren't many street lamps where I grew up because there weren't many streets! It can get really dark in rural Appalachia. I couldn't have found my way home if my father didn't keep hold of my hand while I carried whatever I carried to put candy in (a pillowcase maybe?).

So I had no hand free when the mask slipped and started to scar my face.

Besides all that there were the sounds--kids running amok screaming on a sugar high to sound spooky; the firecrackers and cherry bombs going off (any holiday in southern West Virginia needed fire works!) And big kids running by real fast, sometimes bumping into me.

It was terrifying! The candy didn't even taste good after being that scared....

I got to like it a bit more when my kids were small, but I never made them wear a plastic mask and took a flashlight with us. But I'm scarred for life--halloween has never held the fun for me that it does for lots of folks I know....

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pictures from the wedding

Mimi emailed us the connection to the wedding photos. They are amazing. They are as amazing as the wedding itself, which was like three realms beyond 'amazing'.

She is so beautiful in them and she and Tim are so joyful in them. And our granddaughters are so adorable as flower girls and ring bearers.

If you want to see them, go to

(I'm pretty sure the last character is an 'l' rather than a 1.)

The password is rainbow.


p.s. the photographer said it was fine to let anyone look at it. I think he's proud of his work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Job Description

I was talking with a dear friend today and this chapter of whatever it is I'm writing came up. I've probably shared it before in the over 1000 posts I've done. But I thought I'd share it again. Ponder.

Job Descriptions

A seminary classmate of mine who was also a priest in West Virginia when I was there was once riding an airplane from Los Angeles to Chicago. My friend, let’s call him Joe, was wearing, as he seemingly always did, a clerical collar and black shirt, black suit and black wing-tips. Joe is a very large man so his priest outfit always made him look like a black-out curtain from the London Blitz. He spent the flight talking amiably with salesman from the mid-west. They developed one of those airplane friendships and exchanged business cards as the descent began toward O’Hare. Just as the 747 was taxiing up to the gate, Joe’s new friend asked, “What do you do?”
Joe glanced down to make sure his uniform was in place—and hadn’t they talked about the church somewhere over Idaho?
“I’m an Episcopal priest,” Joe replied, confused.
The salesman smiled. “Oh, I know what you are,” he said, “I was just wondering what you do.”
It is an interesting observation and question. What on earth does an Episcopal priest do? How can we describe a role that I believe is more ontological than functional? What’s the job description?
Once, at a cocktail party in New Haven, surrounded by Yale ‘people’—the population of New Haven is divided between Yale ‘people’ and the masses of the unwashed—I had a long conversation with a physicist from India with one of those delightful post-Raj English accents that sound like a bird’s song. You hear that accent most every time you call customer services (aka “help!”) for your computer—they all seem to be in India. Since I didn’t have on a clerical uniform—and never once flew in an airplane with a collar on lest I be seated besides some psychologically disturbed stranger who wanted to confess at 40,000 feet—I had told him when we greeted each other what I ‘did’. And he told me what he ‘did’. It’s what people do.
(Here’s a fascinating thing: back in the Appalachian Mountains where I grew up, when people met for the first time, the question that came trippingly off each of their tongues was “where are you from?” not “what do you do?” I haven’t asked enough people who grew up in rural places if that was true back home to know if it is purely an urban/rural distinction. But I know and know fair well that back home you could tell a lot more about a stranger by knowing where they were from and “who their people were” than you could by finding out how they earned their money. I still have the tendency to ask people where they spent their formative years, believing as I do that there is a wealth of instant knowledge and intimacy in discovering someone’s roots. But, in the place I live now and amidst the people I know now, the first question is almost always, “What do you do?”)
So I told the Indian physicist that I was an Episcopal priest and he asked me with the guilelessness of someone who was ‘from’ a place half-a-world away and who was Hindu if he was anything religious at all, what my ‘work’ consisted of.
Even then, I had begun to believe that being a priest is an ontological rather than a functional thing, so I fished around in my brain for some way to describe succinctly what my “being” in the midst of a parish looked like. I came up with a thought that I’d stand by today. “I am a member of a community,” I told him, “and I function as the leader of that community in our ritual life. And I am very aware of what is going on in and around the community so that when I think I see God breaking in to the day-to-day, I can say ‘Stop! Look! There’s God’….”
He considered that in that lovely, calm and timeless way people from the Indian sub-continent have naturally, took a sip of wine and then said, smiling knowingly, “You’re a process observer.”
He, of course, had to explain to an English major that a ‘process observer’ was an indispensable role in the sciences. Much of what science is about is watching experiments and noting what happens. It is, he told me, rather tedious and painstaking work (not unlike the day-to-day ‘duties’ of a parish priest) but finally indispensable to the march of scientists to the day when they will have the String Theory down pat—the theory that explains just about everything.
“A process observer”, I said to myself, giving that little voice in my head a line to speak of my composition instead of just listening to it chatter on of its own volition. I rather liked it, yes I did.
The actuality is this: one of the things parish priests DO, it seems to me, is “point to God in the process.” We do it in the Eucharist—all the sacraments—in a most obvious way. “You may think this is just fish food and bad port, priests say in the Mass, but I’m going to ‘point out’ to you that this is ALSO the very Body and very Blood of Christ. How about them apples?” Or, like this: “You may imagine this is just a little baby and some water and some oil, but I’m going to reveal to you a different way of looking at all this…a way that brings to mind the Creation and the Exodus and John the Baptist and Jesus and the oil of anointing a royal child and the fact that this squirming little creature is actually the most loved Child of God.” Or this, for example: “I know everyone here believes you are simply a man and a woman anxious to get dinner over and shed these clothes and do what men and women do in the dark, wine-soaked night. But I tell you a Mystery—you are beloved of God and God approves, blesses and watches over you. Go after each other with passion and zeal, it is as the Almighty has arranged it!” Stuff like that is what priests “do”. Process observing—seeking to un-conceal the oldest String Theory of them all: that God is in control in some way we cannot recognize or even understand.
Once, a few years ago, the remarkable Organist/Choir Director of St. John’s—the finest musician I’ve ever known who doesn’t have a big, fat attitude—found a Spiritual he thought I would like, knowing I’m partial to Spirituals. It was called I Believe This Is Jesus and went like this: “I believe this is Jesus….Come and see, Come and see….” Bob’s idea was that I would, after the fracture of the host, sing the “I believe this is Jesus” part and the choir would respond, “Come and see. Come and see” and then do the rest of the song while I administered communion to those at the altar. Great idea—real ‘process observer’ stuff…I’d break the bread and then indicate the bread and wine and sing, “I believe this is Jesus.”
So, without telling anyone but the choir, that’s what we did. I broke the bread, took a deep breath since I’m rocky about my singing ability, then broke into song. When the choir responded, “Come and see. Come and see.” I did something like point to the bread and wine and sing along, shifting from foot to foot, remembering why I loved Spirituals—you can’t stand still and sing them. I turned to give communion to the others at the altar—including the assistant Rector and our Parish Administrator—and they were all staring at me as if I were a crazy person just escaped from the sanatorium with sharp, deadly weapons. After I force fed them the bread and wine—fattening up the Christmas goose—they nearly dissolved into that kind of laughter that there is simply no way, no way in heaven and earth, no act of will available to human beings to repress. The “I believe this is Jesus” Mass passed immediately into St. John’s lore. We still laugh about it—others laughing more than me since I was just ‘process observing’ and ‘reporting’—and I can still do it. I’ll do it for you if you ask me nicely.
I have this ongoing conversation with my bishop and others about ontology and function and what a priest “does”. I come down hard on the “being” side of the distinction. I actually think a priest’s job description is to ‘be’ in the midst of the community. The functional stuff is neither rocket science or brain surgery. In fact, most everything a priest does—since we are the last of the ‘generalists’—someone else could do much better. Say Mass, for example—I’d suggest training in theatre would make for a more dramatic Eucharist than studying Theology ever could. Visiting the sick, another example—couldn’t a nurse or social worker pull that off with great aplomb? Teaching adult classes—well, give me someone trained in education every day to someone who can recite the Nicene Creed by heart. Counseling the troubled—a seminary education makes you a ‘counselor’ as much as a class in auto mechanics makes you a jet pilot. Parish priests, if they took my advice, would avoid counseling like the plague and get a rolodex full of references. I can ‘listen’ to someone’s problems but I seldom, if ever, do I know an answer. I actually get ‘hung up’ in the problems, find them fascinating and probably wouldn’t want them to go away. Call a real professional, that’s my advice to a parish priest!
So, here I am, trying to describe “what I do” when the reality I deal with tells me that being a priest is much more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’. I have this argument with my bishop and lots of colleagues that will go on and on. I truly think that priesthood is about ontology, about ‘being’, much more than it is about ‘doing’ or the function we fulfill in the Church of God. This obviously is a result of my remarkably high view of the sacraments. I believe ‘being a priest’ is contained and fully lived out in the ‘being’ part. What I “do”—like talk to the leader of the Narcotics Anonymous group that uses St. John’s on Tuesday mornings about how most of the folks in that group—unlike the other 12 step groups that use the space—are ‘court ordered’ and there to score some dope and don’t give a good god-damn about the fact that there are other people in the building—the soup kitchen, the office staff, the clericus group, a meeting of a diocesan committee, just plain folks coming in and out to ask for help or tell us something or just check in with the staff. And never mind that there are sometimes funerals on Tuesday morning and receptions in the Library after the funeral and that we need some level of quiet and respect in the building. And then I have to deal with the email from the leader promising to ‘fix’ the problems if they can only, only, please, please, continue to use the meeting space. And I have to deal with the countless ‘drop-ins’ looking for a bus ticket or a meal or a motel room or something even beyond all that. I can refer most of them to the social worker in the soup kitchen but I have to talk with them and get enmeshed in their stories along the way, before sending them to someone who might actually be able to help them. And I attend endless meetings—in the parish and without—to deal with endless issues and come up not knowing our elbows from our assholes most of the time. And there are statistics to keep in a big red book about what we’ve done in terms of services. And there are budget matters to be addressed—can we buy this or pay for that…stuff I never got taught in Seminary. And there is the eternal ‘planning’ for things that are going to happen or not in the parish. And there are meetings…oh, I already mentioned that, but there are so many that it seems to require a second mention. And did I tell you about the parking lot and making sure the rented spaces are used by those who rented them and the dozens of people who come through the church each day aren’t in some lawyer’s space? I don’t do all of that, but I fret about it.
Most of the day-to-day stuff I do is fretting about something or another. And, in most cases, there are about three billion people who could fret about those things and be more effective than me. So, what do I DO? I’m not sure, not at all. My “doing” of stuff seems in many ways a bit crazy. And the source of great fretting and anxiety.
Here’s the quintessential Jewish joke, my friend, John, told it to me today. An e-mail arrives. “Start worrying,” it says, “letter to follow.”
I’m always ‘worrying’ about my ‘doing’…but I truly subscribe to the notion that ‘doing’ isn’t what being a priest is all about. What being a priest is all about is exactly that—“being” a priest.
You want to know the thing I hear most from parishioners of St. John’s? Here it is: “I didn’t want to bother you, I know how busy you are….”
My theory is that either we priests have created “busy-ness” out of nothing or else we are so deluded as to think that the nonsense we use to fill our days and make us feel like we’re ‘doing’ something has overcome the glaring reality that we are ordained to ‘be’, not to ‘do’. Back in 2000 when I visited 37 of my Virginia Seminary classmates, one of them—a guy who was only with us for a year and who had been a RC priest before he married a woman with five children—told me that he was pleased to have left VTS and gone to a parish where he had remained for 25 years. “I’ve been here long enough,” he told me, “so that people accept the fact that ‘being a priest’ is the only job in the world that is focused on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.”
What a thought—a whole career path focused on “being” rather than “doing”! And what a pity that people think I’m busy and shouldn’t be bothered by their petty concerns and wonderings and questions and longings. That is, in fact, precisely what my job entails, to be free and available and ready to “be” with people whenever they need that from me. I don’t suggest that my ‘being’ will “save them” or “heal them” or do anything much more than simply ‘being’ with them in their joy or confusion or pain or loss or wonderment. There is a wonderful term in psychology—the “non-anxious presence.” Therapists long to provide that service for their clients—just to ‘be’ with them, whatever is going on, without anxiety. A calming presence is what most of us need when ‘stuff’ is happening in our lives. We just need someone to “be” there—at our death bed, in labor hall, in the ER, when we’re troubled and confused, at the celebrations of the transforming moments of our lives. Just that—a shadow in the background who is simply “there” without attaching themselves to the emotions and feelings of the moment—that is what most of us need, most of the time. And that is, so far as I can see, how a priest can “be” in the midst of the community he/she serves.
I have done what used to be called “EST training”. Almost all ‘religious folks’ think EST was mind-control and a monstrous intrusion into the life of those who submitted themselves to it. I am still involved in a group—The Mastery Foundation—that continues the work EST began. The Mastery Foundation is the religious spin-off of EST and I have been a leader of the Making a Difference Workshop for almost 20 years now. I took that workshop when I was considering renouncing my vows as a priest and what I came out of the three days with was my priesthood all new and shiny. The Workshop is ‘ontological’—it is about ‘being’, not ‘doing’. And back over a quarter of a century ago, when I was in an EST workshop, I called to tell them I couldn’t come to the second weekend because a beloved parishioner of St. Paul’s (the parish I served at that time) was dying and I had to be with him. The workshop leaders gave me much grief—understandable grief but grief none the less—about my ‘commitment’ to the workshop and what if I’d gotten hit by a truck, who would be with Aaron, who would be his priest then? But I rejected all the arguments they threw at me—some of it reasonable b.s., but b.s. all the same—and went to visit Aaron when I should have been in my chair at the EST training.
Aaron was in a coma and I couldn’t “do” much of anything. I couldn’t give him communion or talk with him or reassure him as he was slipping into that good night. So, after 15 minutes or so, I left his room, having anointed him and given him final unction—I could “do” that, after all. I rode the elevator to the lobby and was unlocking my car when I remembered the first weekend of the EST training and the emphasis on “being” that I had learned there. So I went back to the elevator and rode back up to the 5th floor and entered Aaron’s room again. I sat by his bed for over two hours. From time to time I would read a psalm from my Prayer Book aloud, but mostly for me, since he wasn’t in my time/space continuum. And after two hours I kissed his 88 year old face and headed for the door.
At that very moment, he awoke momentarily from the coma of his last sleep and said, with the basso voice I’d known from him before this illness, “Jim, thanks for BEING with me….”
It never occurred to me in that moment to “do” anything. I didn’t rush to his bedside and give him communion. I didn’t open my BCP and say a prayer. I only said, “You’re welcome, Aaron.” And I left. Three days later I was the celebrant and preacher at his funeral. I had done my job. I had “be-ed” with him. That was what he needed and all that I could do.
Actually, I do have a definition of the job description of a priest. I’ve used it in a couple of ordination sermons that did not get me in trouble and I think I would bet the farm on it being—if not RIGHT—at least in the county where RIGHT lives. Here’s how it goes: the ‘job’ of a priest is simply this: to tend the fire, tell the story and pass the wine.
A parish priest has an enormous amount of discretionary time—don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. And that time should be spent being the Shaman of the Tribe. I really believe the metaphor of the Shaman is the once we priests should embrace. We walk backward and sideways, we speak words our mouths are unfit for, we do the holy acts and we dwell in the “being” of our being in the midst of the tribe. We are irrelevant except in moments when we are relevant. We wait with the expectant father, we sit by the sick bed, we pour water on the babies, we whisper nonsense syllables over bread and wine, we light the candles, we tell and re-tell the story of our tribe in old ways and ways made new, we anoint the sick and dying, we rejoice with the joyous, we are there when one of the tribe moves into that Good Night, we pour dirt on the casket, we unite the lovers, we sit and wait and are not anxious whatever is happening. Shamans are the role we can play in the Tribe who loves us and we love to death.
So, we tend the fire. Everyone else is too busy in the tides and times of living to pay attention. The priest must add the green branch to the dying fire and blow on it until it takes and burns. The priest must know the history of the Tribe and breathe it into the fire as the fire turns to embers. We are the fire-tenders, the wood gatherers, the ones who choose between the green wood and the seasoned. That is who we “are” and how we “be” in the midst on the Tribe.
We also “tell the story”. It is a story everyone in the Tribe knows, on some level, in some way. So the way we tell it must annoy and inspire and provoke. It is the story of our particular tribe and of the larger tribe we are a part of. It is the story of a God who created us in the very image of God and of a God who took on our flesh and a God who died, as we shall die, yet rose from death to prove to us that Life is the last word, the ultimate word, the only word that matters. So we tell this story with mouths full of pebbles and in halting, stuttering words and with an eloquence we neither deserve nor can rise to, except the Spirit leads us. We tell the story as the tribe sits by the fire we tend and we watch their eyes…heavy and full of sleep, confused and questioning, brimming with tears. It is always the eyes we much watch—those subtle pathways to the soul—as we tell the story in old ways, often heard, and in new ways to surprise and delight and confound. We have tended the fire and told the story.
What is left is this—to pass the wine.
Whenever I do baptismal classes, I bring out the symbols that will be a part of the service: bread, wine, water, oil, a candle and the scallop shell I use to pour the water. Sometimes I mix people up so they’re not with their baptismal group, and give them one of the symbols to talk about and report back to the whole group about after talking. I’m always interested in the report back about wine. We are a part of a remarkably Puritanical culture where wine is not openly valued. And of course, I know, church basements and parish halls are full each week with AA meetings—there is a downside to wine. But my thought has always been that the ‘value’ of something can be measured most accurately by how much it has been misused and abused. Oh, take Christianity for example: what shit we Christians have left on innocent yards! The Christian faith has been so misused and abused that it must be of great value—the value of pearls and gold and silver.
Most of the groups who report back on wine don’t fully emphasize the joy and gladness and goodness of alcohol. They seldom reflect on why it is we call alcohol “spirits”. They don’t have the courage to be politically incorrect in our day and say wine is a good and gracious thing. Never has any group reported back by saying, “In Vino, Veritas”. So I have to tell them how valued and important the wine is to the tribe and those gathered by the fire, listening to the story. Invaluable, I’d say—that’s what wine is to the life and metaphor and myth of the Tribe. There must be wine to make us mellow and accepting and to “inspire” us and to bring the story to full bloom and to make the dying fire look like a wondrous and warming blaze that enlightens the darkness all around us.
So, the priest passes the wine.
None of those ‘functions’, those ‘tasks’, those ‘acts’ require ordination—that I would tell you before you said it out loud. Just about anyone could tend the fire and tell the story and pass the wine. But in our Tribe, at any rate, we have decided that there must be someone ‘set apart’ for those acts, those rituals, those liturgies. So we ordain priests and entrust them with the work of “being” in our midst to ‘do’ these little, so significant tasks. The Shamans of the Tribe walk backwards, speak in nonsense syllables and touch the holy things.
A dear friend, the wife of a classmate of mine in seminary, told my wife that when her husband was ordained, “his hands changed.”
My wife, God bless her, said she hadn’t noticed that my hands had changed but she did like to feel them on her body.
Here is the conundrum about being a priest: nothing changes. It isn’t the ordination that matters, it is the willingness to simple “be” when all the world is “doing” that makes a priest different, set apart, unique. Her/his hands don’t change, not a chance, that’s just an illusion. What happens, so far as I can tell is simply this: some sap decides to “be” rather than “do”. And the church applauds.
Truth is, it’s a great job—process observing, tending the fire, telling the story over and over again, passing the wine. What’s the down-side of that? Just don’t take yourself too seriously or confuse yourself with Jesus or decide you can save the world or anyone in it—keep to the job description: observe the process, keep the fire burning, tell and retell the story, take a good sip of wine before passing it around, figure out how to “be” rather than “do”.
Well, it’s worked for me….

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bern and Focus

One thing I've learned in the 50 years we've known each other, is that Bern's ability to 'focus' so far exceeds mine that my focus and her focus aren't in the same universe.

Whatever she's doing, she is doing it exclusively and there is no intervening in her focus on what's in front of her.

Whether it's working in the garden or cooking or being on her computer or running the vacuum cleaner or reading a book, Bern is 'at-one' with whatever task is before her.

I, on the other hand, am always available to be distracted or interrupted.

I told my daughter, Mimi, tonight on the phone, that I am 'the champion of doing things half-assed.'

And it's true. But not Bern. She never does anything half-assed. Her focus is complete.

The problem is, she just got an I-phone. She was convinced that one of us needed one because life will, at some point, hopefully before we die, 'require' a smart phone to buy groceries, get a movie ticket, pay you're oil bill, whatever else. She may just be right though I pray not.

So, she got an I-phone from Consumer Cellular--where I have my dumb phone--and the best deal ever. You have to be a member of AARP to get on that service. Boomers have looked out for themselves and get all the best deals.

I feel a bit like a Smart-Phone widower because Bern is so focused and never does anything in a half-assed way.

She has three books: I-phones for Dummies, I-phones for Elders and another one about I-phone operation, plus all the videos she can access on line because she now has an I-phone.

We watched "The Voice" last night and she seldom looked at the TV, fooling with setting up her I-phone and reading some instructions.

If I were the one with an I-phone, I'd figure out how to make and receive calls and be happy with that. Not Bern. She's downloading aps (or is it apts? I don't know, only having a half-assed interest in technology...or most anything. We'll have GPS for trips--though we seldom go anywhere we don't know the way to. And we'll have access to lots of stuff I really have no interest in having access to. I'm a tad annoyed when I get an e-mail that says "sent from my I-Phone". Go to a damn computer and send me an e-mail, ok?

I'm sure Bern's learning curve is much better than mine and I hope she'll figure out enough about her I-phone to satisfy her within the next week because I know not to interrupt her when she is in 'focus-mood' and I miss interrupting her already.

I often envy Bern's 'focus'. But it also annoys me, since, having none of my own, I'm always accessible.

I'm an I-phone widower for now. I can only hope she gets it down pat, as she always does, sooner rather than later.....

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Pay attention!!!"

Back when our dog Bela was in training with lots of other dogs, the trainer told us that what we should do when we jerk on the choke collar (Bela's has spikes that go into his neck as well as the 'give' to choke him a bit--the trainer stopped the class one night and told these people with huge dogs, "see that Puli there? there's more Dog in him than in any of these other dogs...."

Alas, he was right! Our Puli, Bela is a DOG-DOG.

And what we're supposed to say when we choke and hurt him is this: "Pay Attention!!!"

Not a bad thing for each of us to say to ourselves every day.

My computer is on a desk we've had for, Lord knows, 30 years or more. It has two desk drawers and they are like the place where things go to hide. I go through them and find things I've forgotten--a picture of my father with four of his nephews before I was born...stuff like that.

Today I was 'paying attention' to the stuff in my desk's drawers and came across something I don't remember at all but which must have meant a lot to me at some point in my life.

It was a plastic, white heart about the size of a silver dollar (for anyone whose ever seen a silver dollar). On one side is a picture of my daughter, Mimi, now 36 and newly married, blonde and blue-eyed sucking on a sippy-cup. On the other side is a picture of my son, Josh, 39 now with three daughters, blonde, looking down, probably 4 1/2 with Mimi 1 1/2 in the two pictures.

Both pictures, I'm sure, were taken in our house at 42 Hazelwood Avenue in Charleston, WV, where both Josh and Mimi were born.

I had forgotten it and put it in a desk drawer for probably almost 3 decades and I found it tonight.

I intend to carry it with me now and forever (or until I drop dead from not paying attention!) How could I have neglected and forgotten such a precious thing for so long?

I need to 'pay attention!!!" more.

Maybe I need a choke collar.

Ask me, when you see me, to see that white plastic heart with two of the loves of my life pictured there.

I'm trying to pay attention....

Evolving still

I forgot to put this in my last post.

Celebrating the Eucharist at Emmanuel, Killingworth after preaching a sermon about 'evolving Theology', I came to the part in Prayer C that says: "From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason and skill. You made us the rulers of creation."

When I saw it coming, I made the decision to 'evolve' the theology of the Book of Common Prayer and said: You made us one with creation.

Not bad evolution on the fly....

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Watching Theology evolve

At the Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut yesterday, I got to be present to watch Theology evolve.

Lots of Christians would be at odds with that statement. They would say that Theology is set, immutable and forever--it can't evolve.

But I watched it do just that on Resolution 11. You need to read it and then I'll explain.


Resolved, that the 230th Convention of the Diocese of Connecticut receive with appreciation the good work of the Baptismal Covenant Working Group, extend its gratitude to the parishes that participated in the Baptismal Covenant creation language study, and comment the study report to the Episcopal church in Connecticut.

And be it further resolved, that this Convention submit to the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church the proposed resolution and explanation contained in the study report:

        Resolved, the House of ______________ concurring, that the 78th General Convention
        authorize the trial addition to the Baptismal Covenant of a sixth question concerning
        our responsibility as baptized Christians to care for God's creation,
       And be it further Resolved, that the additional question and response be worded as follows:

                  "Will you cherish the wondrous works of God and protect the beauty and integrity of
                      all creation?"

                  "I will, with God's help.";

And be it further Resolved, that use of this additional question and response be authorized for trial use as part of the Baptismal Covenant for the triennium 2016-2018.


OK, that's a resolution to Diocesan Convention authorizing a resolution to General Convention. This is the way Episcopalians do things--in Byzantine configurations of complications and 'where-as-es' with lots of "be it further Resolved" (in which 'Resolved' is invariably capitalized) that move from one earthly level to another until finally approved by the 'triennial' (every three years) General Convention of all the kit and caboodle of bishops and priests and lay deputies. Amen.

I sat there wondering if anyone who didn't want Theology to evolve would get up to either speak against the motion or propose an amendment--an amendment, I imagined, to the title of the resolution. I didn't have to wait long.

A priest went to the microphone and began, haltingly, because I'm not sure he was clear about what was 'wrong', in his mind, about the resolution, to ask if he could amend the 'title'. Told by the Chancellor he could, he said, "I would like to amend the title to replace "unity with" with "stewardship of".


A passage from the book of Genesis 1.26: "Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.'"

In the Creation story (I call it a 'story' rather than a 'myth' because many people think a 'myth' is simply false while 'stories' can contain profound truth) God gives the Creation to humankind. It 'belongs' to humans. It was 'made for' humans. Humans have 'dominion' over all the world.)

And it the amendment to Resolution #11 had passed, all would be well in Theology-land. Because Judeo-Christian theology has always held that humans were the pinnacle and fulfillment of Creation and 'owned' the world.

But the amendment failed, overwhelmingly. So the title of the Resolution that enabled another Resolution (from Connecticut to the General Convention) remained "in unity with" rather than "stewardship of".

The Diocese of Connecticut passed Resolution #11 overwhelmingly and, in so doing, undid 2000 years of theological belief that humans 'owned' the world rather than being 'in unity with' Creation.

I remember how, in the Regan years, Secretary of the Interior, James Watts, was challenged about government funds going to projects that were highly suspect environmentally. His response was along the lines of: it belongs to us, we can do whatever we want with it....

At Emmanuel Church in Killingworth today, we celebrated the Feast of Francis of Assisi and blessed animals. I talked about Resolution #11 in my sermon and how a wrong has been set right.

We don't 'own' the earth, we are simply a part of it. Creation doesn't 'belong' to human beings, we are merely rather a late addition to it. And our role is to seek to be 'in unity' with creation rather than 'having dominion' over it.

Theology evolves.

I saw it happen on Saturday.

And, if you don't mind me saying--About Time....

What keeps me humble...

I've not written a post for almost a week because I am such an incompetent computer user.

When I tried to go to The Castor Oil Tree on the 21st, I got a message from Google (where the blog is) that there was something wrong with my 'cookies and cache', neither of which I understood what they were. But there was a place to click to straighten it out, so click I did.

After 4 hours over 3 days of ineptitude, I gave up and called my friend John, who knows all sorts of stuff about my computer. He's the one who put it together and comes whenever I call "Help!" about something.

He came today and here I am. I didn't make it easy on him since I'd forgotten passwords and stuff. And then I remembered I didn't start the blog, a friend of mine at St. John's did years ago, so I'd been giving him the wrong user name and the forgotten passwords for the wrong user name!

It took him about an hour because of my stupidity and forgetfulness....

Remember the saying that goes: 'give someone a fish and they'll eat for a day; teach them to fish and they'll eat every day'? Well, I'm incapable of being taught to 'fish' with computers! So John  has to 'give me a fish' every so often!

It's probably good that I am so horribly bad with's the thing that keeps me humble. Every time I start thinking I pretty much have everything handled, I just remind myself what a dope I am with technology and restore myself to a realistic view of  my own abilities.

(A employer ask a potential employee, "What is your greatest weakness?"

The applicant replied, "my honesty."

The surprised boss said, "I don't think of honesty as a weakness."

"I don't give a damn what you think," said the not-to-be employed guy.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sweeping the deck

Our deck is surrounded by 7 evergreen trees. Most are hemlocks though there are a couple of long needle pines.

This time of year those 'evergreens' are not 'ever' by a long shot. They drop brown needles, some of them 3 inches long, and clusters of needles so consistently that we could sweep the deck hourly. Most of the problem with the droppings is our Puli goes out and lays on the deck and brings in a handful or more of needles and clusters. We pick them off as best we can, but he spreads them throughout the house.

What strikes me about all this is how sloughing off the past creates the future.

We do the same, you and I with hair and skin cells. We leave them behind and move on.

Go look at your hair brush and how much you've shed lately.

Nature is always renewing itself by casting off the old and getting ready for the new.

I love Autumn because I know all the fallen leaves and withered plants are simply to make room for what will break forth in the spring.

Things change...we can't stop that...but things renew and come forth again.

Nature teaches us that.

We should ponder it.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

a bird's life

Yesterday I was up here in my little office where I am writing this when I heard a crash downstairs.

I went down and our cat, Luke, had knocked over a huge vine on a trellis just by the back window at the bottom of the back staircase. (We have stairs just inside the front door and another set in the back of the house at the end of our kitchen, sitting room area.)

I went outside to find Bern so we could clean it up (she did most of the cleaning since all the plants--that have come in from the deck for the cold--are her domain). Lukie wouldn't stay away from the window no matter how we shooed him away and when the plant was upright again, Bern realized there was a bird trapped between the window and the storm window/screen contraption.

I went outside and realized the storm window had a three inch gap at the top and that's how the bird got inside. The cat had freaked him/her out so much that she/he couldn't figure out how to find the gap at the top. There was a gap at the bottom where the bird could escape because the screen was down and the storm window up there. But again, the cat had the bird freaked out.

I shut Luke up in our bedroom and Bern put some of our parakeet's seeds on the window bottom and eventually the bird came down and flew away.

In the midst of all the unspeakable horror of war and pestilence and unrest in the world, giving a bird back his/her life is surely not worth mentioning.

But it felt wonderful to know the bird would live on and not die in our window.

Little things that you can control matter so much in the face of global things you can't control

Ponder that and notice the little things of life a little more. Turn off CNN and never turn on Fox News and be present to life's small gifts and wonders.

That's what I intend to do, more and more.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I just realized

I just realized that Daylight Savings Time begins on November 2 this year.

'Fall back' comes on All Saints' Sunday!

I still have to think a bit more since linear time confounds me to decide if I get an hour more sleep or an hour less. Right now I'm betting it's an hour more.

I also found out, as I researched this a bit on line, that different places in the country and the world, give the hour back at different times by law or something. How crazy is that? Does it matter if we fall back from midnight to 11 p.m. or from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m.? Aren't we all mostly asleep when this happens? Can't I just set my clock back when I go to bed--or even sometime Saturday afternoon? What difference does it make? It's just an hour, after all.

But since Christians are so consumed with worrying about stuff that, in the galactic scheme of things makes no difference: like whether a woman can be a priest or whether a woman can have an abortion or whether a woman and man can practice birth control or whether fetal stem cells can be used to cure horrific diseases or whether two men and two women can love each other enough to be married (all of which I would say a resounding YES! to) shouldn't we be worried instead that the time change always takes place on a Sunday and impacts Christian worship more than anything else?

And changing the clocks on All Saints' Sunday violates the sanctity of one of the most high Holy Days of the church calendar. Come on people, that gives us one more meaningless things to be huffy about.

There is a resolution to our annual Diocesan Convention, signed by people I love, that seeks to keep people from calling their male priests "Father".

The mid-East is involved in a war that might consume it ultimately. Hong Kong is a nightmare. Ebola is killing people faster than we can count. The distance between rich and poor in this, the richest country in the world, grows more disparate every day. Europe is still mired in the recession we have escaped.

What people call their priest seems, how to say it without causing offense?--well, there is no way, stupid and meaningless.

I told someone today that a 'non-gender' title for an Episcopal priest could be "ass-hole".

That could work. "Ass-hole Bradley"...I'd answer to that....

Lord help the Church to take it's eyes away from it's navel for just a moment....just a moment.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hard to tell it's done in the dark

I love to grill. I do all the meat stuff (hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, pork roasts, chicken, lots of kind of fish) but I do vegetables as well (peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, asparagus, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, etc.)

But when fall comes, things get iffy.

Our grill in on the deck (charcoal, thank you, a Weber) and I never use lighter fluid, a chimney with newspaper is my way. But, although there is a light on our back porch, it doesn't quite illuminate the deck and since we eat at 7, telling if something is done in near darkness is hard.

Tonight I did some marinated tuna (lemon and oil and pepper mostly, with some other spices) and it was so dark I couldn't tell if it was done, fully cooked.

Finally I just took it off to take it in the kitchen and check and discovered it was just right. I've taken to buying fish and everything else in two thicknesses since Bern likes everything more done than I do. My thick filet was pink in the middle and her thinner piece was cooked through white all the way.

It was very good, thank the sea and my grill and good luck.

But, unless I grill in the daylight, grilling is probably over for the year. It is plum dark at 7 in mid-October. And we're about to go back on Eastern Standard time so soon it will be too dark to grill before 6.

Too bad. I love to grill.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cabbage core

Back when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother 'up on the hill'--which is how we described where she lived. I had 4 Pugh cousins and 2 Perkins cousins who lived nearer her. The Pugh's (children of my uncle Lee and aunt Juanette) lived across the red-dog road from Mammaw Jones. Bradley and Mejol Perkins lived in a house half-way down the hill.

I lived about 5 miles away.

Mejol was my youngest cousin and she's five years older than me. All the others (Duane, Joel, Marlin and Gayle along with Mejol's brother, Bradley) were even older. I was the baby of the brood and alternatively spoiled rotten and harassed by them--except for Mejol. She was my line of defense from the boys.

Whenever my grandmother fried cabbage on her wood cooking stove (and she fried it a lot: cabbage was a food group on my mother's side of the family...the Bradley's seldom ate it) whichever cousins were there would fight over the core. Cabbage core was one of the treats of my childhood. Usually we'd go to great lengths to divide it up.

It is crisp and sweet and better with salt with a little tang of something earthy.

I thought about it because I fried cabbage (not on a wood cooking stove, by the way) earlier this week, and I carefully saved the core.

As I've been writing this, I've been eating it, with garlic salt, because I can.

You know how lots of foods from the past don't live up to your memory when you eat them in today?

Let me tell you this: cabbage core does!

While I've been writing and eating (cabbage core with white wine--that's not from my childhood!) I've been tasting my grandmother's kitchen, up on the hill, so long ago.

(A week or two ago, I fixed myself a turkey sandwich on white bread with mayo, iceberg lettuce and bread and butter pickles. It's a sandwich that the women of one of the Black churches in Anawalt, WV, when I was a boy, would sell. We didn't socialize with Black folks back then, but we bought their food....I always remembered those as the best sandwiches I ate growing up. The one I made myself almost lived up to the memory. I'll try again after Thanksgiving since I think the key is that the turkey come from a bird, not the Deli.)

But cabbage core....Lordy, Lordy, it was like being with my cousins again! Back at Mammaw's house, with the smell of frying cabbage in the air.

I've realized between this and the cabbage rolls Bern made today, that cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables. An slaw...I love slaw. And sour kraut, how good is that?

I'd probably forget to put cabbage on the list for my final meal...but I hope not.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tim and Mimi's Wedding #3


We slept in and had breakfast at the free breakfast stations of the NU Hotel. I just wanted to hang out in the hotel so we passed on wandering around the city with Josh and Cathy and the girls. Had lunch with John Anderson at a place literally across the street from the hotel--one of the best hamburgers I've ever eaten, by the way.

Mimi and Tim's plan (and, again, I tell you, the reason this was the best wedding ever is that they orchestrated every moment of it and got it to be 'what they wanted') was that Bern would go to Mimi's friends apartment with Tim's mom while Allison 'made her up' and I would go with Tim's dad and brother to Tim and Mimi's apartment to watch him get ready. All this at 4 p.m.. Then we'd all meet at Ici, the restaurant where the service and reception would take place. We took two car services because Tim had to take amplifiers, computers, mixers and other stuff I don't understand (for the reception and the music and all (like I said, these two made it be what they wanted it to be.)

There were photos of families and the girls as flower girls and Tim and Mimi. Then waiting around until 6:30 when the service was scheduled in the little courtyard behind the restaurant. Bern had this great idea to tie the two rings onto ribbons tied to Emma and Morgan's dresses--Tegan was scattering rose petals. About 15 minutes before the service, the bow came undone and Emma lost Tim's ring. Yikes! But we were in an enclosed space, after all, and Tim's brother stepped on the ring and we got it back. So Bern appropriated the rings and didn't give them back until the sort of procession (Bern and Me, Bob and Carol, the girls, Tim and Mimi) and put the rings on Emma and Morgan's fingers and made them make a fist under threat of pain.

Anyway, two things happened: when Tim and Mimi were seen by the crowd, everyone started applauding and cheering and Morgan joined in and Mimi's ring came off her finger. We were all up front and someone found it right away. No superstition from Mimi and Tim, they just laughed.

The 13 minute service was like that--mistakes and laughter and tears.

Mimi had to tell me to let people sit down (I was as nervous as I've ever been at a wedding--partly because I wasn't in 'complete control' and partly because I didn't want to mess it up for Mimi and Tim). Tim got four words into the vows when his voice broke and he had tears on his face. Mimi laughed and then started crying herself. She tried to put Tim's ring on his right hand and everyone laughed. We prayed for them and then cheered like mad as they walked out.

Drinks and toasts upstairs while Ici's staff got ready downstairs (if you're ever in Brooklyn, find this restaurant--it's on DeKalb Street, farm to table and impeccable).

The rest was like a dream. 70 people (counting Tim and Mimi) remarkable food (best ever wedding food) served family style. Mimi and Tim leaving to move from table to table (about the only 'traditional' thing they did). Dancing and desert back upstairs (no 'wedding cake' but an assortment of puddings, pastries and 'cake pops').

I could go on and on but I won't.

It simply was this: 'just like them' and 'perfect'.

My baby girl is married (at long last!) to the man I would myself had picked for her. So much love at that service from friends and family. So much graciousness from Tim and Mimi. Something that came together 'just right'. Perfect.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tim and Mimi's Wedding #2


We found Cathy and Josh and the girls for a late lunch and then went to the hotel to get ready for 'The Meeting of the In-laws". We had never met Tim's parents. There were a couple of holidays over the years the McCarthy's lived in Springfield, MA, when something was planned. But it never happened and then they moved to Florida.

So, Tim and Mimi's plan (and everything about this whole two days went according to Mimi and Tim's plan--which was why it was so wondrous since Tim and Mimi are wondrous) we would take a cab to the corner of Decalb and Morgan (I think it was) to meet up with the McCarthys and Tim and Mimi.

The first cab driver didn't have any idea where Morgan St. (if that was it was) and told us to get out when he turned the first corner. We hailed another cab and took us to Decalb but had no idea where Morgan was and let up out charging only half the fare. I went into a Pizza Place and asked one of the Pizza guys where it was and he said, "go the the corner and take two lefts" and he was right and Mimi was waiting in front of the German place to lead us across the street to another bar because the German place was too loud.

The bar was perfect. So Jim and Bern met Bob and Carol (I can't help finishing that with "Ted and Alice" for those of you who remember). It was a tad awkward but not much and we fell into an easy conversation. I really liked them, which was good. Bob was a bit quiet but Carol is a talker so it all worked out. After having a drink and beginning our relationship, we all walked four blocks to an Italian Restaurant where we met up with Tim's brother and Josh and Cathy and the girls for a family meal that Mr. McCarty insisted on paying for (since it was, I suspect, in his mind the equivalent of the 'rehersal dinner' which in a traditional wedding would be paid for by the groom's parents. But when the two getting married are 39 and 36, all the 'traditions' are off.

(One odd moment, I'd gone to the bathroom at the bar before the restaurant and when I came back I saw a man hugging a woman I thought was Mimi. Since we were expecting Tim's brother, I assumed that's who it was, so I went up and introduced myself. He was polite and said it was good to meet me, but then I saw Mimi still seated and realized the woman only faintly looked like her and the two of them moved past me and on....I wonder what they made of that....)

The meal was great. Tegan fell asleep and Morgan was beginning to fail, but Emma was bright and amazing because she was sitting next to Tim and the girls think of him as a Rock Star of the first degree, so she talked incessantly with him throughout the meal.

Cathy and Bern took the girls to the hotel in a 'car service' (living in NYC means never having to drive and meeting lots of people from other countries in Uber, cabs and car services) while Josh and I went next door to The Mayflower--a bar with no sign that is about the size of our kitchen. We could get 35 people in our kitchen if all the stuff was moved out and that was the limit of the Mayflower. Tim and Mimi had let folks know if they wanted to see them on Marriage Eve they could come there from 8:30 on. And a lot of people did. Bern's cousin Frances and her partner, Cindy, the McCarthys, Jeff, Tim's brother (a real sweetheart), and a lot of what I call 'the Bennington Posse--people in their 30's who went to Bennington College with Tim and Mimi. Tim was a senior when Mimi was a freshman, so most of them knew them both, though some only knew Mimi while in Vermont. But since Mimi and Tim have been together for 13 years (only after meeting up in the Bennington Posse in NYC--all of them knew them both well.) What a great bunch of young people: friendly, smart, successful and in love with both Tim and Mimi.

We had a great time. I got back to the hotel at midnight, in a 'car service' with Josh. Both Bern and I were exhausted and I'd had more white wine than anyone really needs.

We slept. Wedding-Eve was over.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tim and Mimi's Wedding #1

All this happened in under 48 hours, but I may spend much of the week writing about it. It was that rich and wondrous and full of joy and hope!

Few things are, you know.


Bern and I had planned to drop off the dog at the Pet Lodge and go to Brooklyn. But the morning started slow and badly. I had to take the dog, feeding him popcorn (or as we've always called it because of Josh and Mimi's childhood pronunciation, "poppy-corn") to keep him from barking all the way. Fully worn out by the dog and wet from the rain, I came all the way back home before we got on the road to Brooklyn--no food, no coffee. Stopped at Dunkin' Donuts and got a quasaunt with sausage egg and cheese that I usually love that I couldn't near finish. And it was raining so that it was took heavy for the delay and too light for low speed for the wipers. And they were squealing on every wipe. Goodness gracious, what a start.

I know how to get to Brooklyn. Both Josh and Mimi have lived there over more than a decade before Josh moved to Baltimore. And both lived in Fort Green, a delightful, very diverse and up-and-coming part of the borough. But when I map-quested how to get to our hotel (the NU Hotel...I recommend it highly) the directions sent us over the Brooklyn Bridge rather than the Whitestone, which is the way I know. But I just assumed Map Quest knew better than me. After going 5 miles in 50 minutes on the Merritt because one lane was closed, we went 5 car lengths in an hour trying to get off the FDR onto the Bridge. All in all, a trip that rarely takes 2 hours took 4. And we arrived at the hotel with bladders bursting and John, who had his room reserved by Bern, having to wait almost an hour for us since they wouldn't give him a key until we arrived. Not the most auspicious beginning for what was supposed to be a wondrous, joyful two days.

I was a wreck for several hours after that trip. What was supposed to go 'so right' had, at the very beginning, gone 'so wrong'. I was kinda helpless finding Josh and Cathy and the girls for a late, late lunch at a French Bistro on Smith Street. I was shaken and unsure of myself. Why had what I'd looked forward to for months started so badly?


We came back the way I know--Map quest be damned--BQE to Long Island Express Way to Van Wick to Whitestone and up the parkways. We made it in under two hours even after stopping and having coffee sitting down! It ended as good as it started bad--even more so. Home before 1 p.m., two hours before getting the dog and he was as good for the 15 mile ride as he's ever been, with some poppy-corn to be sure, be so glad to see me and happy to be home. A calm and event-less return, just the way I like things...uneventful and without drama.

So the whole thing came to an end better than could have been expected and a dozen time better than the way it began.

Tim and Mimi's wedding just transformed most everything.

Later I'll tell you the rest....It's worth waiting for, I assure you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The journey to joy

Tomorrow morning we drop the Puli off at the Pet Lodge (that's what it's called, I'm sorry) and drive to Brooklyn for two days of celebration of Mimi and Tim's marriage.

I am so excited and full of joy.

Pray for them, however you pray.

Tim and Mimi.

Glory. Glory. Glory.

Back on Monday with lots of details....

The truest poem

I love poetry. I write a little of it. I read a lot of it. Billy Collins is my favorite poet. He once came to St. John's, Waterbury because we invited him. He read his poetry to 300 high school kids who by been studying it because he was coming to Waterbury. He then spent an hour with a dozen or so extraordinary students and that night had dinner with a hundred or so people who had paid real money just to meet him.

Billy's poetry is wondrous and quirky and powerful. But the 'truest poem' I've ever read was written by a woman named Elsie Langstron. It perfectly outlines what each of us must be striving to do and living into and leaning against.

Here it is. Read and ponder.

Song to my other self

Over the years I have caught glimpses of you
in the mirror, wicked,
in a sudden stridency of my own voice, have
heard you mock me,
in the tightening of my muscles, felt the pull
of your anger and the whine
of your greed twist my countenance, felt your
indifference blank my face when pity was called for.
You are there, lurking under every kind act I do,
ready to defeat me.

Lately, rather than drop the lid of my shock
over your intrusion,
I have looked for you with new eyes,
opened to your tricks, but more,
opened to your rootedness if life.
Come, I open my arms to you, once dread stranger.
Come, as a friend I would welcome you to stretch your apartments
within me from the cramped to comforting size.
Thus I would disarm you. For I have recently learned,
learned looking straight into your eyes:
The Holiness of God is everywhere.

That for me speaks to the heart of Yungian Psychology and Christian theology as I understand it.

Not much better than that....

Thursday, October 9, 2014

night prayer

There is a prayer that we use to end Cluster Council Meeting called "night prayer" that is the most theologically and psychologically healthy prayers I've ever prayed.

It starts out in stillness in the presence of God--which is the very nature of the Centering Prayer I do and teach.

It calls us to let go of what 'has been done' and what 'has not been done', which is what we need to do spiritually and psychologically. Just 'let go' and move on.

It is fully Jungian when it talks of letting go of our fears of the darkness within us--embracing the dark, shadow side of who we are.

It asks for peace for all, even those who 'have no peace'.

It calls us to look for 'possibility' in the midst of the brokenness of life.

I've been told it comes from the New Zealand Prayer Book of that Anglican island.

I'm not sure. But I am sure it is one of the most holistic and inclusive prayers I've ever prayed.

So I share it with you here.


Lord, it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done.
What has not been done has not been done.
Let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of our world and
of our own lives
rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let t he quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and those who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys, new possibilities.

In your name we pray. Amen.

I invite you to ponder the complexities of 'Night Prayer'. And to pray it....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The days grow short

In many ways, the days draw short--up until the Winter solstice, each day is shorter than the next.

I love how the days change--shorter each day until they are longer each day. I know it's a silly thing to think, but I'm thankful about living in the Northern Hemisphere where Easter comes in the Spring and Christmas in the winter. The symbolism is just right.

But the shortening of days I'm talking about here is that by 10:30 pm, which is what it is in the room where I'm writing, no matter what it says on my blog about when I'm writing (my blog, for reasons I don't understand haven't been able to fix, is on Pacific Standard Time) Mimi and Tim will be married when it's this time Sunday, 4 days from today.

She called tonight to lay our the plan for the day before and the day of the wedding. Bob and Carol, Tim's parents (so sad our names aren't Ted and Alice!) and Bern and I will meet for the first time in Mimi and Tim's apartment at 5 p.m. on Saturday. That could be awkward, meeting your daughter's in laws for the first time only a day before they become your daughter's in laws. And so it shall be. Bob and Carol, from all I know, are much different from Bern and I on the political scale. But we won't talk politics this weekend, I know. And, if they gave birth to and raised Tim, the fact that they are Right Wing Nuts won't bother us any more than the fact that Bern and I are Left Wing Nuts won't bother them because one of the people we each love most of all is getting married to one of the people the other 'we' of us.

Dinner for immediate family--Bob and Carol, Bern and me, Josh and Cathy and their three girls, Tim's brother and girl-friend and Tim and Mimi in an Italian place in Brooklyn.

Then Tim and Mimi go next door to a bar to greet out of town guests.

On Sunday, Bob and I will show up at Tim and Mimi's apartment with Tim and Carol and Bern will go to Mimi's friend's apartment where Mimi is getting dressed. Then we all meet at the 'venue' at 6:30 or so and the wedding will be at 7 and then drinks and dinner.

On Monday, anyone who wants to can join Tim and Mimi for Brunch at yet a third Brooklyn restaurant (I can never spell 'restaurant' without the help of spell-check. It's probably because of my irrational prejudice against everything French). I told Bern tonight that I hate, despise and abhor French accents. I don't know why. Every other accent I find charming. It has something to do with how friging FRENCH the French are. So I have DNA deep resentment toward the French. Go figure....

So, that's the plan. And tomorrow it will be one day closer. And day after tomorrow, it will be one day closer. And the day after that, it begins....

I am so happy about what comes next. Mimi and Tim and all that.

I feel like a kid on December 22 waiting for Christmas.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cluster Council

Tonight was Cluster Council's almost always the 2nd Tuesday, except when it isn't, like tonight.

I usually hate meetings...any meeting for any purpose.

But I like Cluster Council Meetings. I've been pondering why since I got home.

I think it is the remarkable diversity of the people who represent three remarkably diverse congregations that I serve as interim Missioner. And they are, to a person, gentle, kind, humorous, committed people.

I'm not sure there are four adjectives available in English, which is a language with many adjectives, that I value more than gentle, kind, humorous and committed. Well, there is 'compassionate' and 'loving' and 'dedicated' and 'open-minded' and 'inclusive'...but the folks on the Council are to one degree or another, each of those as well.

I just like them--each and every one for different reasons for each and every one. So, is it little wonder I like our hour or so meetings each month.

And we laugh a lot and eat together--pizza and cookies tonight. Not much left out in the area of 'liking'--good folks, laughter, food, commitment.

Yea, that works just fine.

Fine, indeed.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sometimes, doing nothing, does something...

I've been a priest for 39 years now, and one of the things I've learned--sometimes the 'hard way'--is that often the best thing to do is nothing.

People always want priests to 'do something' about things in the parish--relationships, opinions, ideas, lots of stuff. And I've learned (often the 'hard way') that sometimes 'doing nothing' does something.

Like today, the Supreme Court chose, quietly and without comment, to refuse to hear a whole group of appeals against lower court orders to overrule several states' bans against same sex marriage.

In 'doing nothing' the Supreme Court mad same sex marriage legal in a bunch of states. In fact, because they did nothing, same sex marriage is now legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia. By doing nothing, the Court made it almost certain that eventually all 50 states will allow marriage between both heterosexual and homosexual couple, as, so far as I'm concerned, is the way it should be.

I was talking to the 20-something clerk in the package store I frequent about the silence of the Court that did so, so much.

She shook her blond head at me and said, "if you don't believe in gay marriage, don't have a gay marriage...who cares?"

We reached the almost in grasp equality of GLBTQ folks so much faster and with so much less drama that the Civil Rights for Blacks movement took hold. In the Civil Rights movement, the Supreme Court had to act or nothing would have happened. In the right for same sex marriage, the Court's doing nothing has worked....

I once had two psychologists, both ordained, on my staff. We had lots of disagreements about what was going on in the parish. They were both, by temperament and training, 'interventionists'. I, on the other hand, was someone who ignored anything until it was brought up to me by someone involved in it.

My theory was, most problems, if you leave them be, will resolve themselves by themselves.

I still believe that. Sometimes, doing nothing, does something....

Part of me wishes the Supreme Court would have heard the cases and upheld the lower courts decisions so this would all be over once and for all.

But another part of me, the part that has guided my ministry and life all along, things 'doing nothing' might have been the best thing to do. The whole marriage equality issue has a momentum of it's own. Just stepping back and letting that momentum continue might be the best way to react.

The non-interventionist strategy has worked almost all the time for me. I might see a problem, but until someone involved in the problem asks me to step in, I don't. And most of the time, it works itself out without me involved.

The Universe, it seems to me, longs to find balance. Intervening in the moment of imbalance might just throw the Universe off kilter.

I never want to be responsible for something so important.

So, I'll 'do nothing' most of the time because 'doing nothing' most of the time 'does something'.

Like let the Universe right itself and get in balance.

Something like that. Not bad stuff....

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Since I've been writing about eternity....

My most recent posts have been about eternity in some way or shape. So I thought I'd share my poem about 'finitude' since that's one part of the conversation about eternity. I know I've printed it here before, but just in case some new folks are looking in, here it is again.

The Trouble with Finitude

I try, from time to time,
usually late at night or 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.
I have no personal recollections
of when most of North America was covered by ice
or of the Bronze Age
or the French Revolution
or 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
when I live 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....


Dick Reid and Eternity (revisited)

The Rev. Dr. Richard Reid has died. (And I was thinking of 'eternity' just the other day!) My mentor, professor and friend has found out what is on the other side of "this" one way or another.

He taught New Testament at Virginia Seminary when I was there. He was so good that I took a couple of classes from him even though I had fulfilled my required NT studies in my two years at Harvard Divinity School.

I didn't take his "Introduction to New Testament' but I heard legends about it. It seemed every year, after Dick's first lecture, one or two students withdrew from Seminary. They were people who read the Bible like a believer. Dick read it like a scholar. The scholarly study of the New Testament is a challenge to people whose beliefs are rather literal about what the New Testament says.

Once in a class on Mark, I think, someone asked Dick this question: "Professor Reid, how many of the words of Jesus in Mark do you have confidence are verbatim, words he actually said."

Dick thought for a few moments. "At least a couple of dozen," he finally replied. I watched the student thinking, 'how can I get out of this class and into a one taught by a believer?'

But Dick WAS a believer. That's the whole point. He 'believed' the gospels would stand up to intense and scientifically based scrutiny. He believed God was big enough to be probed and examined and put under the microscope of scholarly commitment and survive.

Once another student asked him, "Dr. Reid, where do you stand on 'who will be saved'?"

That, to me was an odd question because I avoid 'standing' anywhere on that. I'll leave that to God, thank you very much.

But Dean Reid (he was the Associate Dean of the Seminary as well as a professor) gave one of the best two answers to a theological question I ever heard. He said, "I am a hopeful Universalist.  There is nothing in the sacred writings of the Jews or Christians or Muslims that indicates that all will be saved. But the God I worship wouldn't leave anyone out of the party...."

Pretty wonderful, I thought. I'm not sure the student that asked the question felt the same!

One of my pet peeves about the Episcopal church is that the clergy get superb "theological education" and the laity receive what is called "Christian education". Seminaries of our church are rigorous and devoted to scholarship, with taking the gloves off and going at holy things with bare fists. Most of the stuff that happens in parishes masquerading as 'adult education' is really warmed over Middle School level. Most of us priests wouldn't dare answer a lay persons questions as honestly and probingly as Dick Reid and all my mentors from both Harvard and Virginia (and Manfred Meitzen who taught religion at West Virginia University, where I first caught the God-bug) did.

I honestly don't want to worship a God who doesn't stand up to the best nit-picking examination my mind can do. Really, what kind of God would that be?

I mourn Dick Reid and thank him and thank God for him.

(By the way, the other of the two best answers to a theological question I ever heard came from my friend and one-time Lay Assistant, Bryan.

Bryan was telling some folks at a coffee hour about the three week, silent Buddhist retreat. After about 10 minutes of Bryan telling them how much he got out of it, one of the rather literal minded folks in the group said, "Bryan, tell me, are you a Christian?"

And Bryan answered without a pause, "at least!"

Not bad. Something for all the 'at least Christians' out there to lean into and embrace and ponder.)

Friday, October 3, 2014


I was part of a 6 way conversation on Tuesday about Eternity. Heaven and Hell and all that.

I wasn't sure what exactly we were discussing so I asked: "are we talking metaphorically here?"

And the answer was clear that we weren't.

My eyes glaze over, my mind goes blank and I lose control of my bladder when people start talking about heaven and hell.

Back where I come from, there's a joke that goes like this: "What's 'eternity'?" "Two people and a ham."

That's about as deep as my thinking goes about eternity and heaven and hell and what happens when we die.

I told my dear friends on Tuesday that from time to time, because I am a priest and people tend to think I know about such things, someone will ask me what I think about what happens when we die?

I tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: I don't know.

I tell them, if they're still listening after the truth about what I believe, that I do 'believe' something happens after we die, as long as nothing is part of something.

That usually gets me blank looks if not disappointed looks.

But that's the truth: I just don't know and have no idea.

Sometimes people take my response as meaning I don't truly believe in God. But I do. I trust that there is a God. But what happens when we die is something I leave completely up to Him/Her/It. I have no opinion on the matter.

So, why do I think we should be 'good' as we can be if it isn't a way to get to Heaven?

Simply because being as good as we can be is what we ought to do and what the God I find so mysterious wants us to be.

Simply that.

Not a quid pro quo of any kind--not to spend eternity in fulfillment and joy rather than punishment and pain. 'Doing what is right to do' is reason enough to do that. Being honest and good and fair and compassionate and loving and generous is reason in itself. And the God I love and who loves me (though I don't know Him/Her/It very well) wants all that from me. So, it seems to me that's reason enough to strive and lean into all that.

What comes next--I have no idea. I hope there is some way I'll still be 'me' after I die. Or, simply being a part of the cosmos without a clear "Jim Bradley" identity would be fine. Or, nothing would be OK, given that being alive was such a privilege and a joy and a wonder.

I stand by my stand: I leave all that after death stuff to the God I love and who loves me.

Life has been a gift enough. Let God determine the rest and what comes next. I'm OK with that....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

So, I bought a suit

So, I have a suit--Ralph Loren, for goodness sake. Deep blue with lighter blue highlights. Bern picked it out, I must confess. I also have a white dress shirt, some black loafers with a silver strap, two ties and socks with gold toes.

I've not ever felt so on top of fashion.

I even bought some boxer shorts in the same blues as my suit, though I sincerely hope my boxer shorts are never seen by anyone (besides Bern) who comes to Mimi and Tim's wedding.

I even bought a new belt. Who knows the last time I bought a belt since my reversible belt fell apart after taking it off for security at Bradley Airport five years or more ago, when I was taking a flight to Ireland, via London.

I went to the only Men's Store inside Bradley, something fancier than I normally enter and bought a belt that costs almost $60! I had to have my pants stay up crossing the Atlantic. That belt is now in shambles and I have a new one for Mimi and Tim's wedding.

It was less painful than I had imagined heading in. But I don't want to ever learn that 'shopping' is a pleasure since I'm a commitment 'not to shop'--to sneak into Marshall's and the Consignment shop in Cheshire and find whatever I need or not. Whether I do or not doesn't much matter since I don't care about what I wear. Clothes cover nakedness, nothing more, so far as I can see.

It's just like this: a car gets you from point A to point B and nothing more. So what car it is doesn't matter and whether it is dirty or clean, if it gets you from A to B, that's all that matters.

I'm very basic about 'stuff' when I reflect on it.

'Stuff's' purpose is to do what it is needed for and nothing more.

I'm not interested, most always, about 'stuff'. But I do like my clothes for Mimi and Tim's wedding--quite a lot, surprisingly enough.

Maybe it's because that 'stuff' is to celebrate them and doesn't say much at all about me. And I love them so.

Maybe that's it....This odd feeling about 'stuff'....

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bela and moisture

Our dog, Bela, hates the rain. He can tell when it is raining and almost has to be dragged outside to go to the bathroom.

This morning we crossed the road in a very light drizzle and he peed in our neighbor Claire's driveway, walked five feet and pooped on the grass between the sidewalk and the road. Then he looked at me to say, "that's it! Business finished! Home now! Dry now!"

Bern took him a couple of hours later to the canal for what is his 'big walk' and he did the same thing--pee and poop and that look that says, "home now! Now!!"

Being retired makes it lots easier to have a dog. We do the wake-up walk, the canal walk, he pees in the back yard at 2:30 or so, then the 'little walk' at 5 and the night pee at 11. Plus, when we're outside on the deck, he can go anytime. Lot's different than having jobs and not being home on any schedule. Maybe only retired people should have dogs--except that would keep dogs and kids segregated and that would be a shame.

Funny thing--Bela is a Hungarian Sheep dog, one would think his DNA would make him amenable to all weather, but he hates rain. What would the sheep do on rainy days? Wander free while he huddled under a tree?

Snow is different. He loves snow. In the winter he'll eat a gallon of snow and then go in the back yard and lay down, sometimes requiring me to come and force him inside. He doesn't seem to realize that he gets just as wet in snow as in rain. Of course, he's a dog and thinks 'dog' not human. Rain and snow are different to him though the results are the same since he gets covered in snow and it melts and he gets as wet as rain can get him.

Go figure. Trying to ponder the mind of a dog is a pretty pointless and hopeless thing to do, afterall.

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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.