Wednesday, August 31, 2016

1970 in review (one event a month)

JANUARY--Mick Jaggar fined 200 pounds for possession of weed.

FEBRUARY--Chicago 7 not guilty of inciting a riot at 1968 Democratic Convention.

MARCH--1st Earth Day proclaimed by Mayor Alioto of San Francisco

APRIL--US invades Cambodia; huge protests at home.

MAY--Kent State Shootings.

JUNE--"Long and Winding Road" is Beatles 20th and last #1 hit single.

JULY--Chet Huntly (NBC anchor) retires from full time broadcasting.

AUGUST--Women's Strike for Equality on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

SEPTEMBER--Bernadine Pisano and Jim Bradley are married at our Lady of Victory RC church in Gary, West Virginia.

OCTOBER--Garry Trudeau's Donnesbury debuts in 2 dozen newspapers.

NOVEMBER--Hafa al-Assad comes to power in Syria through a military coup.

DECEMBER--The north tower of the World Trade Center is completed--at 1368 feet, it is the tallest building in the world.

(Thanks to Wikipedia for  everything besides September. It was a year 'that was' in many ways.)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Gene Wilder, please rest in peace

He was never 'in your face' as either an actor or a comedian--not like Tom Cruise or Jim Carey. He was just around the edges of your life, in quirky little ways, not causing tsunamis--more like a gentle spring rain or the first snow of winter.

Gene Wilder had a gentle way of getting under your skin.

He was one of my favorite actor/comedians. He always said, "I'm an 'actor' not a 'clown'" and that was so true. He didn't 'tell jokes', he just 'acted' in wonderfully funny ways.

I heard an interview with his nephew--he had no children, much the loss of DNA--who revealed that he had been diagnosed with the Alzheimer's that killed him eventually three years ago, when he was 80. Gene, and his family, decided, before his disease had progressed very far, not to let anyone know.

The reason was this: when Gene Wilder went out in public, even a little 'off', children saw Willy Wonka and smiled at him. He didn't want the parents to tell them he was ill or damaged and take away their joy at seeing him.

Even that is gentle and sweet.

He's one of the few celebrities I wish I had known.

Go gently (as you always went) into that Good Night, my friend.

Be well and stay well in whatever it is that comes next after giving so much joy to so many.

Ready to have it over....

My favorite two months of the year are September and October. I adore autumn--the cooling breezes, our September trip to Oak Island, North Carolina, the riot of leaf color, the mid-day warmth and evening chill. It's everything I love.

So, it is not without great regret that I would wish away those two months this year just to get the election over!

My candidate is not the one I would wish for, but I don't have to hold my nose to vote for her. Hillary has more experience, perhaps, than anyone to ever run for President. And the 'Hillary Hatred' is simply silly and a waste of time.

The other guy is a nightmare. And may just divide the country in a deeper way than the Obama years has divided it. Ugly stuff is around the edges of Donald's campaign--white nationalism, the Alt-Right, fear of the 'other', no matter how they aren't white or Christian....Ugly stuff.

I just want it over and even at my advanced age, I'd give up my two favorite months if (as the pollsters always say) 'the election were today'.....

God save us from the next 70 some days!!!!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

weird dreams

I was in Jungian analysis for 8 years or so. My analyst always wanted a dream. If I didn't have a dream I remembered that week, he had a sand box with a whole wall of shelving of figures and creatures and little models. I'd play in the sandbox for 15 minutes or so, then Victor would take a Polaroid photo of it and we'd talk about what I'd created in the sandbox.

Jung was only interested in the un-conscious--dreams and play.

So, I pay attention to dreams, even all these years later.

Jung thought you only dreamed in order to help yourself deal with some issues not in your consciousness. Stuff below the surface wanting to be made right out in the 'real world'.

I had some weird dreams last night. They had to do with 'losing things' and 'not being able to move'. I lost our dog Bela and couldn't find Bern to tell her. And then when I was trying to find her, walking up some steps of a University or something, it was like walking through amber, unable to really move.

I've had 'losing things' and 'not being able to move' dreams before. They are always important and vital and full of revelation--it's just not obvious what all that is because it is a call, an invitation from the unconscious life I live without knowing I'm living it!

So, I've got some stuff to ponder (the dreams were much longer and vivid than I described!) And I know it will be like wrestling with your Angel, like struggling with the unknown, daunting and so, so important.

I'll let you know what comes out of being Jungian about these weird dreams....

Friday, August 26, 2016

I'll never drive to NYC again

We went down to be with Mimi and Ellie on Thursday. It was Tim's first day of work after 3 weeks of paternity leave. He called and texted about ever hour, asking for a new photo.

Tim is seriously smitten with his baby girl, it's safe to say!

She is so sweet and good. Mimi nurses her on demand as the doctors want. And she holds her and nuzzles her, but mostly Ellie sits in her seat and either dozes or looks around. She didn't cry the entire time we were there! Amazing. Both our children cried 13 hours a day for months!

She was especially interested in her grandmother, watching her intently and making faces at her.

Mimi had on a pair of pre-pregnancy skinny jeans on Ellie's 3 week birthday--it's no understatement that mother and daughter are doing well....

It took 4 1/2 hours to get home (90 miles) and I was late for a wedding rehearsal. Going down took a little over 2 hours and 20 minutes finding a parking place in Brooklyn. I finally parked in a building 3 blocks from their apartment. Only costed me $38 for 3 hours. That would buy a train ticket.

Which is what we'll do next time and every time after that. What a nightmare the drive back was. There was a sign on the Merrit Parkway that said "Route 8--12 miles 49 minutes", which was true. The GPS told us I-95 was even worse.

Ah, living in the Northeast, what a joy....

Something to spend some time on....

I was looking for the information about our dog, Bela, because Bern and I disagree about how old he is. I know we have something from the breeder but haven't found it yet.

What I did found, in a squat file cabinet in my office, one that has a door to a space and the file part has to be opened from above.

What I found was about two feet of pages I've written over the years. Some of it is stuff I remember, but most of it is stuff I don't remember at all, some of it on paper with those two little side strips with holes for the printer that you can easily tear off. I haven't had a printer like that for a quarter of a century or so.

So, I have something to spend some time on--going through all that to remind myself of who I was when I wrote it.

Like an exploration of my past lives!

Sounds like fun.

I'll let you know what I find....

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

First post

Thought I'd share the first post I ever wrote since I've done 1700 since.

Sitting under the Castor Oil Tree (March 7, 2009)

The character in the Bible I have always been drawn to in Jonah. I identify with his story. Like Jonah, I have experienced being taken where I didn't want to go by God and I've been disgruntled with the way things went. The belly of a big old fish isn't a pleasant means of travel either!

The story ends (in case you don't know it) with Jonah upset and complaining on a hillside over the city of Nineveh, which God has saved through Jonah. Jonah didn't want to go there to start with--hence the ride in the fish stomach--and predicted that God would save the city though it should have been destroyed for its wickedness. "You dragged me half way around the world," he tells God, "and didn't destroy the city....I knew it would turn out this way. I'm angry, so angry I could die!"

God causes a tree to grow to shade Jonah from the sun (scholars think it might have been a Castor oil tree--the implications are astonishing!). Then God sends a worm to kill the tree. Well, that sets Jonah off! "How dare you kill my tree?" he challenges the creator. "I'm so angry I could die...."

God simply reminds him that he is upset at the death of a tree he didn't plant or nurture and yet he doesn't see the value of saving all the people of the great city Nineveh...along with their cattle and beasts.

And the story ends. No resolution. Jonah simply left to ponder all that. There's no sequel either--no "Jonah II" or "Jonah: the next chapter", nothing like that. It's just Jonah, sitting under the bare branches of the dead tree, pondering.

What I want to do is use this blog to do simply that, ponder about things. I've been an Episcopal priest for over 30 years. I'm approaching a time to retire and I've got a lot of pondering left to do--about God, about the church, about religion, about life and death and everything involved in that. Before the big fish swallowed me up and carried me to my own Nineveh (ordination in the Episcopal Church) I had intended a vastly different life. I was going to write "The Great American Novel" for starters and get a PhD in American Literature and disappear into some small liberal arts college, most likely in the Mid-Atlantic states and teach people like me--rural people, Appalachians and southerners, simple people, deep thinkers though slow talkers...lovely for all that--to love words and write words themselves.

God (I suppose, though I even ponder that...) had other ideas and I ended up spending the lion's share of my priesthood in the wilds of two cities in Connecticut (of all places) among tribes so foreign to me I scarcely understood their language and whose customs confounded me. And I found myself often among people (The Episcopal Cult) who made me anxious by their very being. Which is why I stuck to urban churches, I suppose--being a priest in Greenwich would have sent me into some form of I would have driven them to hypertension at the least.

I am one who 'ponders' quite a bit and hoped this might be a way to 'ponder in print' for anyone else who might be leaning in that direction to read.

Ever so often, someone calls my bluff when I go into my "I'm just a boy from the mountains of West Virginia" persona. And I know they're right. I've lived too long among the heathens of New England to be able to avoid absorbing some of their alien customs and ways of thinking. Plus, I've been involved in too much education to pretend to be a rube from the hills. But I do, from time to time, miss that boy who grew up in a part of the world as foreign as Albania to most people, where the lush and endless mountains pressed down so majestically that there were few places, where I lived, that were flat in an area wider than a football field. That boy knew secrets I am only beginning, having entered my sixth decade of the journey toward the Lover of Souls, to remember and cherish.

My maternal grandmother, who had as much influence on me as anyone I know, used to say--"Jimmy, don't get above your raisin'". I probably have done that, in more ways that I'm able to recognize, but I ponder that part of me--buried deeply below layer after layer of living (as the mountains were layer after layer of long-ago life).

Sometimes I get a fleeting glimpse of him, running madly into the woods that surrounded him on all sides, spending hours seeking paths through the deep tangles of forest, climbing upward, ever upward until he found a place to sit and look down on the little town where he lived--spread out like a toy village to him--so he could ponder, alone and undisturbed, for a while.

When I was in high school, I wrote a regular column for the school newspaper call "The Outsider". As I ponder my life, I realize that has been a constant: I've always felt just beyond the fringe wherever I was. I've watched much more than I've participated. And I've pondered many things.

So, what I've decided to do is sit here on the hillside for a while, beneath the ruins of the Castor oil tree and ponder some more. And, if you wish, share my pondering with you--whoever you are out there in cyber-Land.

Two caveats: I'm pretty much a Luddite when it comes to technology--probably smart enough to learn about it but never very interested, so this blog is an adventure for me. My friend Sandy is helping me so it shouldn't be too much of a mess. Secondly, I've realized writing this that there is no 'spell check' on the blog. Either I can get a dictionary or ask your forgiveness for my spelling. I'm a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa ENGLISH major (WVU '69) who never could conquer spelling all the words I longed to write.

I suppose I'll just ask your tolerance.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

first time in all these years....

My post a few days ago "Rules vs. Healing" was a big part of my sermon Sunday.

Afterwards, a man who's there most weeks and doesn't receive communion said to me, matter of fact like, "if that sermon was for me, it didn't work."

These are small churches, so I notice if someone doesn't receive communion. And my sermon was about the rules about baptism and communion. But I've told him several times he was welcome and he's thanked me and told me he wouldn't.

I've never asked him 'why?' because I think receiving communion is a very public and very private thing, both at the same time. I just want him to know he's welcome.

But what showed up for me in the first time in 41 years of doing this preaching stuff, that he--and how many others?--have thought I was 'preaching to them'?

I'm never 'preaching to them'. What my preaching is about is 'preaching to me'--saying stuff outloud and in public that I think I need to hear. It has never occurred to me that I was 'preaching AT' anyone but myself.

Lots of people over the years have told me, "I really needed to hear that" and things like that, but I always assumed they just needed to hear what I needed to hear, along with me.

Now I have to ponder--what if people think I'm 'preaching at them'?

I don't like the thought--but I need to ponder it.

I do.

Going to see Ellie

We haven't seen Ellie, our new granddaughter, since the day she was born. She's been through a lot but is doing great right now. We'll be going on Thursday--Bern, early by train, me, later by car.

Bern wants to be there longer and I need to look after the dog.

But I'll go down about 10 and then back to be at a wedding rehearsal (and look after the dog!)

Ellie did 'face time' with her three first cousins yesterday. I'm sure they can't wait to get their hands on the baby!

Tim's parents are coming up from Florida on Friday--it's their first grand-child and I'm surprised they've waited this long. But Mimi and Tim really wanted to get to know Ellie without a lot of people around.

Good for them!

But I'm already smiling that we'll see her on Thursday.....

Monday, August 22, 2016

Something Bela won't eat...and First Cousins....

Our dog, Bela, loves most everything you can eat. We fix him people food--ground beef and turkey with sweet potatoes and greens and rice to mix with his dog food. He loves bananas and apples and bread (with probably isn't good for him) and peanut butter and garlic and green beans. Most everything.

But tonight I discovered something he won't eat--mussels. Bern and I were 'on our own' for dinner and I had mussels and pasta and french bread. We do this every other week or so because we do have different tastes. And when Bern isn't here for dinner, I often have lamb chops. She can't even be in the room when I eat lamb chops or veal. But when she's gone, I do.

I offered him 4 shell pastas and some mussel juice tonight. He took a lick then ran into our bedroom to drink from his water bowl there. When he came back he looked at me like I'd tried to poison him!

Mussels then, is something Bela won't eat. He loves all kinds of pasta, no matter what the sauce, but not pasta with Mussels.


(rather than another post, I thought I'd just put this here)

Josh and Mimi don't have any first cousins. I'm an only child and neither of Bern's siblings had children so our children had no first cousins.

I had 22--15 on my mother's side and 7 on my father's side--only one of them, Denise, who my Uncle Harvey and Aunt Elise adopted when I was 14 and she was 7--younger than me. So, 21 older first cousins.

I'd have to think more than I'm willing to at this hour to remember how many first cousins Bern has. Less than a dozen I think and many of them near her age.

Josh has made a hobby of collecting 2nd and 3rd cousins--mostly from Bern's family since they are nearer him in age. Mimi hasn't seemed to miss cousins.

I just realized tonight that my 4 granddaughters now have first cousins! Ellie is Morgan, Emma and Tegan's first cousin and they are hers....and Josh's 3 have first cousins from Cathy's brothers' kids.

I was delighted to realize that.

My first cousins meant the world to me growing up. I hope Morgan, Emma and Tegan mean the world to Ellie....And she to them.

First Cousins are something marvelous.....

The best thing about them is, unlike siblings, you don't have to live with them!!!

I don't tweet

I don't 'tweet', never will. First of all I just don't 'get it'--what it's about, how you see them, basic stuff like that.

Second, I don't know the last time I limited what I had to say about something to 144 characters--is that even the number? 12 x 12? How'd they come up with that?

But say I did tweet and I was running for President of the United States--arguably the most powerful and important job in the world--I wouldn't be tweeting at just after 7 a.m. on a Monday about how I couldn't watch Morning Joe and how Joe and Minka are stupid and how I would tell their whole story one day.

Morning Joe, MSNBC's  morning show with former Republican Congressman, Joe Scarborough and Minka (can't spell her last name--her dad was secretary of state once and I couldn't spell his name) as the co-hosts. And they have gotten pretty nasty about Trump lately--Joe called for the Republican Party to 'remove him' (without details on 'how'--which seemed appropriate since he was talking about a man who doesn't have 'any' details about HOW anything).

Donald used to call in most days during the primaries. He 'used' Morning Joe shamelessly for free media coverage and now he's turned on them, viciously. On Twitter....

The Middle East, North Korea, Climate Change, Racial Relations, Infrastructure, Taxes, Health Care, Terrorism, Immigration Reform, NATO, Zika, wage inequality, Opeoid abuse, Crime, Police violence, Social Security, Education....those and about a hundred other things I would gladly hear about and evaluate from a candidate for President of my country.

Even in 144 characters!!!

Nastiness about a talk show duo on a minor network (my favorite, by the way, no surprise there!) is not something I think someone asking to be elected President should be lowering themselves to in any, any circumstance.

Jesus, November 8 can't come soon enough to rid us of all this!!!!

("I'M WITH HER>", if you hadn't figured that out....)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

6 years later

I wrote this somewhat corny poem for Bern on our 40h anniversary. We're 16 days from our 46th. I've got to come up with something soon....


For most of my memory (albeit random now): you were there.
Over rocky times and wondrous times and times in between,
Riding the roller coaster of my life,
Touching miracles and lost in pain, there is this:
You were there, riding with me.

Years following years, decades piling up like train cars,
Even in the darkness,
Always there was a familiar light.
Rounding every turn, in every nook and cranny, every cul de sac,
Some times even when the wheels left the road or jumped the track,

Whenever, wherever in this journey of so long,
I was never alone.
Through thick and thin, the saying goes, in ebb and flow,
High tides and low tides, ups/downs/inside outs....

Year after year, deserve it or not, fair or foul, brilliant or bitter,
Over 73% of all the days I've lived (I did the math!) whatever else
Under heaven occurred, there is this: the one I love best of all was there.

You were there....


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rules vs. Healing

Tomorrow's gospel is about Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath and being called on the carpet by the Jewish authorities.

Well, to me, that's just silly.

Of course, if you ask people who know me they'll tell you I have little patience for rules to begin with.

But a rule that would stop a healing, well, that's just crazy in my mind.

Rules ARE rules. But Healings ARE healings. Which would you opt for? If you don't choose a 'healing' over a rule, I'd ask you to ponder it a bit longer....

Here's a story about 'rules' and 'healing' that I'll probably use in my sermon tomorrow: Holly and Dot were a couple in Waterbury I knew. Holly is white and Dot is black so add that to the whole same-sex thing. They would show up at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve along with Dot's mom, who lived with them, every year. Then, one year, after Midnight Mass, they were waiting for me in the church library. They told me they were going to become involved in the church and thanked me for the Eucharist that led them to want to be a part of the parish.

Well, people say things like that all the time. But Holly and Dot really meant it. They became super-involved--Dot's mom too. Both Holly and Dot served on the vestry eventually and did lots of other things for St. John's.

Thing is, Dot and her mother had never been baptized.

The 'rule' in the Episcopal church is 'no baptism'/'no communion'. That's the rule. But Dot and her mother didn't know the rule and I never mentioned it when inviting people to communion. When they found out, somehow, they'd been breaking the 'rule', they came and asked me to baptize them. I was delighted to do so. Dot stopped receiving until their joint baptisms on All Saint's Day. Dot's mom told me she was old enough to want all the communion she could get, so she didn't stop receiving!!!

So, I baptized Dot and her mother and they continued, after that, to receive the communion that brought them to the baptismal font.

I am very 'low church' in liturgy--the only 'manual acts' I do in consecrating the bread and wine is to make the sign of the cross over them. But I am beyond 'high church' in my appreciation of the sacraments. The sacraments, for me, are REAL. Once at a Good Friday service, I was sharing the bread and an American Baptist pastor was sharing the wine. I heard him say to someone, "this represents the Blood of Christ. I stopped and pulled him to the side. "In this place," I told him, "you say this IS the blood of Christ. And he did.

If the font leads to the Table, why can't the Table lead to the Font?

I think I  have my sermon for tomorrow in there somewhere. Rules vs. Healing. Not a choice in my mind--obvious as hell.....

Friday, August 19, 2016

dimples, who can resist them?

Baby Ellie has deep, deep dimples, just like Mimi, her mom.

I have some smaller ones--I can let you feel them through my beard if you ask nicely.

If I were smart enough about computers, I'd figure out how to transfer the picture Mimi sent of 'the dimples'. But I'm not. You just have to take my word for it.

When Mimi was a toddler, my second cousin, Kim, who was 8 or so, led me out of the room where Mimi was playing. Then Kim put her hand in front of her mouth and whispered to me, "Mimi has holes in her cheeks...."

I told her I'd already figured that out.

Dimples, just can't get enough of them....

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Just when....

I haven't mentioned politics recently since it's all crazier than I could portray it--but today, just when I didn't think it could get more interesting, it did.

Trump expanded his campaign staff to include, I kid you not Kellyann Conway and Stephan Bannon. A bit about them.

I've seen Kellyann interviewed two dozen times. I've yet to hear her answer the question she was asked.

Stephan Bannon is the head of "Breitbart News"--just go look at it. He has been called 'the most dangerous political operative alive' by a conservative!

So, I think Trump has decided, 'what the hell? why try to pivot and be reasonable? let's bring in two people who will not only let me be 'me' but will applaud me being me!'

Things might get even better now. He might actually shoot someone on 5th Avenue to see what happens to his poll numbers....

Buckle up, beloved, the ride is getting rougher....

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Blessed beyond believing

I was going to go to bed after a cigarette on our back porch. That was my plan.

But sitting there, smoking, knowing baby Ellie was home with Tim and Mimi in Brooklyn, I was overwhelmed, suddenly and unexpectedly by how blessed my life is. And I needed to tell you.

Blessed is the operative word. I've done nothing I can think of to deserve the life I have been given. I didn't 'earn' it by good deeds and faithfulness--though I have some of those deeds to my credit and have been 'faithful' to some extent. But not nearly enough deeds and faith to merit my blessedness.

Blessings come from God, I suppose, from somewhere 'out there' and 'in here', from something, dare we hope 'Someone' parsing the blessings out?

I have a wife of coming up on 46 years, who I love as much as the moment I met her (and it was--blessedly--'love at first sight'). She endures me more than I could hope for or deserve.

I have--we have--two children who have been paragons of wonder for most all their lives (I did worry about Josh in his first year of college, I must admit!)

And each of them have found a life-mate worthy and beyond worthy of their worthiness.

And they have now given us 4 grand-daughters beyond compare.

Sitting there, smoking a Marlboro Red Label (used to be called "Marlboro Light" though no cigarette is 'light', really) I was broadsided by Blessings.

Bern (my high school sweetheart--how corny is that?) my wife of almost 46 years, my 'love' of 51 years; Josh and Mimi, who we could have, should have? screwed up in some way; Cathy and Tim, their mates, who are wondrous in so many ways; Morgan and Emma and precious Tegan and now baby Ellie....Oh, my God, how do I deserve this???

I don't, of course, I am merely 'blessed'.

It makes me look back: to Virgil and Cleo, who birthed me at Tim and Mimi's ages (40 and 38) and Filbert and Annie, who birthed Virgil, and Manona and Eli, who birthed Cleo (some great names in my family, huh?).

It pours over me--how blessed I am and how little I deserve it.

But I'll take it. Believe you me.

I'll take it and be full of gratitude beyond imagining. Thankfulness worthy of blessings. Wonder and astonishment at what life has 'gifted me'.

(Ellie's real name is Eleanor Reed McCarthy. The "Reed" is for Lou Reed. Tim is a remarkable musician and Lou is his idol. Just like our son is "Joshua Dylan" and the 'Dylan' isn't for Dylan Thomas--though that would be fine--but for 'Bob Dylan'. Not a bad way to choose names, I'd contend, being blessed.)

Home at last...

Five days and 12 hours after her birth at NYU, Ellie arrived home in Brooklyn.

Slept most of the journey, Mimi said. Slept as Tim carried her up to the apartment. Slept in his arms.. Did baby things. Ate, cried, the rest you know.

Funny how much detail comes in the telling of bringing a baby home for the first time....

Settling in. Rested. A little freaked out not to have the dozens of NYU doctors/nurses/whatevers hovering around.

Just Tim and Mimi and Ellie, for the first time, truly on their own.

All will be well, I pray. And a new way of living began for them about 12:30 p.m. today.

No kidding....

Monday, August 15, 2016

Home tomorrow, maybe

Little Ellie has been in Newborn Intensive Care since Thursday afternoon. It was a hard birth and she swallowed and inhaled a lot of fluid. She also decided, since she was there, to develop jaundice--so she's had incubation, feeding tubes, IV's, heart monitors, x-rays, cat-scans, and blue lights...until today.

She's finally unhooked and nursing and might come home tomorrow. Mimi and Tim have been, understandably, wrecks since Ellie went to NICU and Mimi left the hospital Saturday morning. They've been with her a lot of the time, but have also gotten some rest, which will serve them well if Ellie comes home tomorrow.

Mimi and Tim are remarkable people. It's been awful but they have held each other up and tasted each others' tears and kept each other sane.

They'll be wonderful, remarkable, magic parents--as soon as they get that baby home!

Tomorrow, hopefully.....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

My boy's birthday

August 14

My son, Josh, is 41 today!

How can my little boy--that I rocked to sleep, changed his diapers, took him to daycare, drove to school, moved from Charleston to New Haven to Cheshire with, saw off the college, saw off to England for a year after college, lived with when he worked for Yale, saw off to law school, married to Cathy Chen, baptized three babies of Josh and's all this happened and I wasn't aware of the time passing.

I remember that day 41 years ago like it was yesterday. After all the birthing classes, his fetal heartbeat went off and they did a C-section, wheeling Bern away from me and pushing me to a waiting room. I saw him through a window, still caked with blood and goop. And he was perfect, just perfect.

That little child, our first born, is 41.

Give me a break, that can't be true....

But it is. I know it is.

Happy, Happy birthday Joshua Dylan (Bob, not Thomas).

I love you so, so, even after all these years. Perfect still.....

Saturday, August 13, 2016

400th post one more time

Sometimes I just check on which posts have been most viewed. This blog out of 1700 is the 3rd most viewed and one, in my opinion, of the worst I wrote.


Go figure.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

400th Post

I just realized this is my 400th post on Under the Castor Oil Tree. I'm too intimidated to go back and read the first one. Jeter got hit 3000 and Mo got save 600 a few days ago. Now I've got blog 400. Who knew?

Since I waxed semi-eloquent on the weather in West Virginia, I decided I'd do the 400th blog with my favorite West Virginia joke.

A Washington lobbyist grew tired of the fast lane and retired to a cabin in the mountains of West Virginia. He couldn't see another house from where he lived and he was delighted with his new life. He read and wrote and ate simply. He couldn't have been happier.

But on the very day he began to feel lonely for the first time, about three months into his wilderness retreat, there was a knock at his door.

When he opened the door he was confronted by a huge, hairy mountain man.

"Hey there," the man said, "I'm your nearest neighbor. I live over the ridge of that second mountain out there to the west and I've come to invite you to a party."

The city man thought that might just be the best thing to cure his newly arrived loneliness--a party in the mountains.

"I'd love to come," he said to the Mountaineer.

"I hav' to warn you," the native said, "there'll be some drinkin'."

"I like a drink from time to time," the city guy replied.

"And there'll prob'ly be some fightin'," his guest told him.

"Well alcohol will do that," said the man from Washington.

"And, last but not least," the West Virginian told him, "there will most likely be some sex."

The city guy wasn't ready for that but he knew he was a stranger in a strange land, so he agreed and said, "well, I understand that might happen."

The mountain man gave him directions to his house, just a mountain or two over.

"Well," the DC guy said, trying to fit in to the culture, "what should I wear?"

"Dudn't matter much," the huge Hill-Billy told him, "it'll jist be you and me...."

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Heat, cold and the social order of Cheshire

Cheshire, Connecticut is a very civilized place.

Neighbors wave and talk to each other across fences.

People let you out in traffic (traffic and garden supplies are two constants in Cheshire).

Even total strangers smile and say hello in the stores.

A very civilized place.

But extreme heat and cold break down the social contract in entirely different ways.

When it's cold and snowy everyone keeps sidewalks clear but (and a big 'but') people don't pick up their dogs' poop! Along the snowy canal where many walk pets, there's poop everywhere....

Heat and Humidity, like the last few days, seems to keep people from putting grocery carts in the spots reserved for them. On normal days it's what people in Cheshire do--roll their carts to the place designated and even keep the small carts and large carts separated!

But when it's 92 with 80% humidity. the normally civilized people of Cheshire dump their groceries in the car and leave the carts right there, making the job of those who collect them and take them back in Big Y or Stop and Shop a nightmare.

Extremes are hard on the social contract we've come to expect here in 'the Shire'....

Thursday, August 11, 2016

8/11/16--Happy Natal Day, Ellie

At 12:36 a.m. on  8/11/16 Ellie McCarthy was born.

Tim and Mimi are her parents.

Bern and I are one set of her grandparents. Tim's parents live in Florida.

We met her today.

She is, obviously, the most beautiful baby in the world.

And she has Mimi's dimples.

And Mimi is going to be as great a mom as Tim is going to be a Dad.

(I'd forgotten how little newborns are. I wouldn't dare pick her up! At 6 pounds 7 ounces she is almost a pound lighter than the doctors thought. So, tiny. Not as small as our twin granddaughters Morgan and Emma were--both under 6 pounds--but tiny enough.)

Dimples. How great is that?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

my favorite button

At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio in (don't ask me what year, as you should know by now, I'm lost in linear time!) Bishop Jim Curry saw me across a room and came hurrying to me, a look of delight and mischief on his face.

Since Jim was easily jerked around and I am unable to resist jerking around the easily jerked around ('jerked around', in this case, means 'embarrassed' or 'confused' or 'confounded') I could never resist.
I once licked his Episcopal ring rather than kiss it (and Episcopalians don't, most often, kiss bishops' rings, much less lick them!) I loved to annoy him and, far beyond that, I loved and still love him. He is a good and decent man, a tad more naive than any bishop I ever knew, and a better bishop for that.

So, we had a light and joking relationship for years. And I loved him.

Earlier that week, when Gene Robinson was approved as the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, I walked from the Convention center to the hotel with Jim. At some point, he stopped dead in his tracks. I turned back to see a look of utter transformation on his face. "What is it, bishop?" I asked.

He smiled and laughed. "We've created a totally new church," he said, "I only hope we can nurture it."

What a wonderful and wondrous thing for a bishop to say.

Anyway, back to this story: when he got to me he said, "I found something that's perfect for you in the Exhibit Hall. General Conventions are ever 3 years and one of the biggest draws about them is a huge Exhibit Hall where you can learn about all the church does and buy anything your little heart could desire.

He held out a button in his hand and I took it.

It is bright pink with what may be a halo and what may be a crown of thorns in black and in the middle, in a nice font, it says "Heretic".

He was so delighted I couldn't help but be delighted too.

And I knew he meant it as a compliment, not a criticism. He is a devout man. And every devout man needs a heretic in his life, just to keep his bearings.

I was proud to be his.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Good times

Spent almost three hours tonight with the Cluster Council members, one of the other priests and some of their spouces.

Food was good, company even better.

What remains with me about these three little churches is what 'good folks' they are.

What a joy for these 'good times' here in my so-called 'retirement'.

Everyone there is, in their own way, decent and good and dear.

Can't ask for much more than that anytime.

Good times, for me. I pray these are good time for them as well.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Waiting still...

Mimi is 4 days past her due date. Ellie is still unborn.

Mimi is doing great. She really had an almost uneventful 9 months--no morning sickness, only gained 19 pounds, no swelling feet. Remarkable if you think about it, for a 38 year old woman.

But she is ready...and so are we!

She's doing acupuncture to induce labor. (Her doctor, who she adores, another good thing, said she didn't think acupuncture would work but if it made Mimi feel better to go ahead....)

Bern was sure it would be today.

Only 3 hours left for that to happen.

I have no idea.

Both our children were late, late and C sections. Mimi isn't near that yet. Her doctor says another week, which might mean Ellie would be born on her uncle Josh's birthday (8/14)!

That would be odd, huh?

I used to have a poster of a rocking chair and the words, "sometimes I sits and thinks...and sometimes I just sits...."

Sometimes you just wait....

Speaking of priesthood....

Since I talked about my reluctant priesthood in yesterday's post, I looked back for one of the chapters of my manuscript about being a priest called: "Tend the Fire, Tell the Story, Pass the Wine".

The one I wanted is called "Job description". I posted it in June of 2015. Here it is again.

2nd chapter of "Tend the Fire...."

2 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 a black shirt, black suit and black wing-tips. Joe is quite a 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 a salesman from the Mid-West. They developed one of those airplane friendships and exchanged business cards and 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 you describe a role that I believe is more ontological than functional? What's the job description? Doesn't every professional DO something?
Once, at a cocktail party in New Haven, surrounded by Yale 'people' (the population of New Haven is divided into '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. All those folks seem to be in India. Since I didn't have on a clerical uniform—and never once flew on an airplane with a collar lest I be seated beside some psychologically disturbed stranger who wants 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 aside: back in the Appalachian Mountains where I grew up, when people meet for the first time the question comes trippingly off each of their tongues is “where are you from?” not “what do you do?” I haven't asked enough people who grew up in really rural places if that was true back home for them. So I don't know if it is purely and urban/rural distinction or has something to do with the culture and ethos of Appalachia. 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 in invariably, “What do you do?”)
So I told this Indian physicist that I was and 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 beyond the obvious worship and meetings.
“I'm 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 see God breaking into the day-to-day, I can say “Stop! Look! There's God...right there!”
He considered that in that lovely, calm and timeless way people from the Indian sub-continent seem to 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 crucial to the march of scientists to the day when they have the String Theory down pat,
“A process observer,” I said to myself, giving the 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 the term, 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 'dem 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: “I know everyone here assumes you are simply a man and a woman anxious to get the reception over and shed these fancy 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 ordained.” Stuff like that is what priests “do”. Process observing—seeking to unconceal the oldest String Theory of them all: that God is in control in some way we seldom recognize and can only faintly understand.
Once, several years ago, the remarkable Organist/Choir Director of St. John's—the finest musician I've ever known who doesn't have a big, honking attitude—found a Spiritual he thought I might 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...”, then sing the rest of the song while I administered communion to those serving at the altar. Great idea—real 'process observer' stuff....I'd break the bread and then hold the paten and chalice up and sing, “I believe this is Jesus.” Which I do believe, by the way.
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, and broke into song. When the choir responded with the 'Come and See' part, I made 'come here' gestures to the congregation, shifting from foot to foot, remembering why I love 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 the Parish Administrator—and they were all staring at me as if I were a crazy person just escaped from the looney bin with sharp weapons. After I force fed them the bread and wine—fattening up the Christmas goose—they dissolved into that kind of laughter that there is simply no way, no way in heaven or on 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. When I talk to people who were there, it still comes up occasionally—them laughing more than me since I am 'process observing—and I can still sing it. I'll sing it for you if you ask me nicely.

I had this ongoing conversation about ontology and function and what a priest 'does' with bishops, priests and lay people if it just doesn't seem to precious and tedious to them. I come down heavy 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 of the things 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 theater would make for a more dramatic Eucharist than studying theology ever could. Visiting the sick, another example—couldn't a nurse or a 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 (oops, dated myself) a 'smart phone' full of professionals to refer people to. I can listen to someone's problems but seldom, if ever, do I know or suggest an answer.
(Aside to parish clergy: you know the old saw, “misery loves company”? My belief is that “misery loves misery” and if you start fooling with someone's misery and aren't fully trained to handle the consequences—oh, like they'll blame you if they have to face life without their misery and blame you if you leave them miserable—it's what we call, these days, a No Win/No Win situation. Besides, when people tell me their problems, instead of having the necessary psychological training to bring them to see that only they can solve their problems, I get 'hung up' in their problems, find them fascinating and probably wouldn't want them to go away because they interest me! Call a real professional, that's my advice to a parish priest. Run, don't walk, away from anyone who comes to you for 'counseling'. End of aside.)
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 people all the time and it goes on and on. Most clergy are so embarrassed that they don't have a 'real job' that they make themselves incredibly busy and overworked to somehow justify what I think is a fact: like Woody Allen said (and this goes squared for priests) “90% of life is just showing up.” Priesthood is about ontology, about 'being' much more than it is about 'doing' or the functions we necessarily fulfill in the Church of God. People, over the years, before I retired, often said to me, “I know you're busy,” as prelude to sharing some joy or sadness. And I would always say, “I'm not busy at all. I sit around waiting to hear from you.”
Perhaps my ontological view of priesthood is the result of my remarkably high view of the sacraments. I believe 'being a priest' is contained and fully lived out in the 'being' of 'being a priest'. The busyness we create is smoke and mirrors and vanity. I've done it too, but I think the most egregious example of putting 'function' over 'being' is exemplified by something that happened here in Connecticut a decade or more ago.
Connecticut always has, for nearly 30 years, three bishops. Count 'em, three bishops for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Amazing. I am reminded of Will Rodgers' observation about Methodist ministers. What he said was: “Methodist ministers are like manure. Spread out, they tend to do a lot of good. All in one place they begin to smell.” Well, well, three bishops for Connecticut. (Sniff, sniff....)
But anyway, fifteen years or so ago, someone had the bright idea to have Connecticut's three bishops do a time study of what they 'did' as bishops. This, in its inception was a miscarriage of an idea. First of all, who cares? Secondly, why on earth would they agree to do it? These are Bishops for goodness sake! In our polity they are the cream of the crop, the tops, the Eiffel Towers, the Pacific Oceans of the world of the Episcopal Church. Why would they spend time writing down how they spent their time? And record how much time they spent writing down how they spent their time? Astonishing that someone convinced three more than reasonably intelligent “princes of the Church” to go along with such a hair-brained idea. Time studies for Bishops qualifies as an abomination in my book.
Anyway, they did it. And what is even more outrageous than their agreeing to do it, they allowed it to be published. I remember it vividly. Changing the names to protect the guilty, it went like this: the Diocesan Bishop, Bishop Wall, could claim to spend 80+ hours a week trying to bring in the Kingdom of God. Bishop Cool, one of the two (count them) Suffragan bishops, clocked in at 79 hours a week toiling in the vineyard of the Lord. But the second Suffragan, Bishop Rowdy, tallied up his hours and only worked, on average, 50 hours a week.
I was astonished and horrified by the spectacle of three Bishops lowering themselves to record how long they were on the phone to some troublesome person in St. Something or Other with a ridiculous and totally fabricated complaint about incense or the lack of incense in their parish. Embarrassing is what it was. But I was so proud of Bishop Rowdy. Bishops, like priests and deacons, take a vow at ordination to be a 'godly example'. Since a bishop has been ordained three times, they have agreed to be a 'godly example' thrice. I called Bishop Rowdy and said, “you are the only 'godly example' I have as a bishop. I don't much like you and don't agree with your theology or politics, but by the breath of the Baby Jesus, you are MY BISHOP from here on out. Only you give me the example of not being busy by design and letting your ministry consist of 'being' for me and the whole diocese. Thank you. Bless you. I love you.”
Actually I didn't say it all that way, this is poetic license at work. But that is what I meant.
There was a long, awkward silence on the phone line.
“Bishop?” I said.
He sighed. I heard him sigh. “Jim,” he said, slowly, deliberately, I pray regretfully, “after I saw the other two bishops' time sheets I went back and found 25 hours I neglected to record.”
Holy God, how can a bishop (or anybody) misplace 25 hours a week? And how can priests seek to 'BE' when their bishops are competing to see how functional and 'busy' they can be? How vain and weirdly arrogant for those of us in ministry to imagine our 'doing' is what will bring in or impede the coming Kingdom. Why would we spend so much time worrying and fretting about 'doing' enough rather than seek to explore the nature and purpose of the 'beingness' of being ordained.
My friend John told me this joke once. “An email arrives that says, 'Start worrying, letter to follow'.”
It seems to me that we priests are always worrying about whether we are doing enough to justify our existence. The busyness we create out of nothing is designed so that people will think we are busy about the Lord's work. Being comfortable about 'being' would be more clearly a 'godly example' to the people than running ourselves ragged with make-work.
Back in 2000 I visited 37 of my seminary classmates as a project for a sabbatical. (By the way, in this Diocese, three month sabbaticals are required for each five years of active ministry. I know people who never took one in three decades. They either felt they were indispensable to the parish, which is simply wrong, or they were too nervous about their 'authority' that they couldn't see a value in being away for three months! And, also by the way, the bishop wants to ascertain that priests in this diocese have something they plan to 'do' while on sabbatical. Heaven forbid someone would simply take the time off for themselves and for well-being!) One of my classmates—a guy who was only with us for the last year of seminary and who had been a Roman Catholic priest before he married a woman with five children—told me how gratifying it was to have left VTS
“I've been here long enough,” he told me, “that the 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 of ministry in one community focused on 'being'! What a pity we don't trust parishioners enough to share that example for life with them. What a pity that we need to make people think we are so terribly busy that we shouldn't be bothered by their petty concerns and wonderings and questions and longings. That, in fact, is precisely what being a priest entails—to be free and available and ready to 'be' with people whenever they need that presence.
I'm not suggesting that 'being with people' will “save them” or “heal them” or do anything more than simply being present with them in their joy or confusion or pain or loss or wonderment. There is a wonderful psychological term: the non-anxious presence. Therapists seek to provide that 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. Just that—a shadow in the background that 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, it seems to me, is how a priest can 'be' in the midst of the community he/she serves.
I have done what used to be called “EST Training”. Most religious folks I knew at the time thought EST was mind-control and a monstrous intrusion into the lives of those who submitted themselves to it. I am still involved, 20+ years later, with the Mastery Foundation, that uses the 'technology' of EST combined with the practice of centering prayer. I took the Making A Difference 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 shiny and new. The workshop is 'ontological'--it is about 'being' not 'doing'.
Back over a quarter of a century ago, when I was at 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 was serving at the time) was dying and I had to be with him. The EST Training leaders gave me much grief about my 'commitment' to the training and what if I'd been hit by a truck, who would be with Aaron, who would be his priest then? It seemed a far go to compare missing two days of the training to being a victim of a hit and run, but I listened. I finally rejected all the b.s. arguments they threw at me—some of it reasnable 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 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 EST and the emphasis on 'being' I had learned there. So I went back up the elevator to the 5th floor and went back to Aaron's room. 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. 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 know from him before his illness: “Jim, thanks for being with me....”
It never occurred to me in that moment to 'do' anything. I didn't rush to him bedside and give him communion. I didn't open my BCP and say a prayer. I only answered, “you're welcome Aaron,” and 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 I was given the privilege of sitting in his presence for a while.

Actually, I do have a definition of the job description of a priest. I've used in in a couple of ordination sermons that did not get me in trouble with a bishop. I think the form of it is—if not RIGHT—at least in the country 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 one we priests should embrace. We should walk backwards and sideways. We should speak words our mouths are unfit for. We should do the holy acts and dwell in the 'being' of our being in the midst of the Tribe. 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 to 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 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 proper 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 flame turns to embers. We are the fire-tenders, the wood gatherers, the ones who choose between the green wood and the seasons as is appropriate. That is who we 'are' and how we 'be' in the midst of 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's self 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, really 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 and gives up speech. We tell this story as the tribe sits by the fire we tend and we watch their eyes...heavy, full of sleep, confused and questioning, brimming with tears. It is always the eyes we must watch—those subtle pathways to the soul—as we tell t he story in old ways, ofter 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.
When I used to do baptismal classes , I'd bring out the symbols that are part of the service: bread, wine, water, holy oil, a candle and the scallop shell that's used to pour the water. If there were several candidates, I'd mix the parents and god parents so they would be with people they didn't know, and give each group one of the symbols to talk about. The distinction I'd make between symbol and sign is simple: a sign 'points to something' while a symbol not only 'points to something' but participates in the deeper reality of what it points to. Then, after conversation, the groups report back on their particular symbol.
I'm always interested in the report back about wine. We are still part of a remarkably Puritanical culture where wine is not openly praised. Of course I know church basements and parish halls are full each week with AA meetings—there is a downside to alcohol. But my thought has always been that the deep-down value of something can be measured most accurately by how much it has been misused and abused. Oh, take Christianity for example. We Christians have a lot to account for when it comes to oppressing and persecuting people with our faith. The Christian faith has been so misused and abused that it must be of great value—silver and gold and pearls.
Most of the time, the group reporting back on wine will make a joking reference to the intoxicating quality of wine. They are seldom comfortable to reflect on the joy and goodness of wine. The seldom mention that we refer to alcohol as 'spirits', a telling figure of speech. Most people don't feel confident in being counter-cultural enough to say wine is a good and gracious substance. Never has any group reported back by saying In Vino, Veritas, So I tell them how valued and important wine is to the tribe gathered by the fire, listening to the story. Invaluable, I 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 congenial and to “inspire” us and bring the story to full bloom and to make the dying fire look like a wondrous and warming blaze to keep us safe from the Darkness all around us.
So, the priest passes the wine.
None of the functions or tasks or acts of my priestly job description actually 'require' ordination. Just about anyone could tend the fire and tell the story and pass the wine. But in our Tribe—the Episcopal Church—we have long ago determined to set someone 'apart' for those acts, those liturgies, those rituals. So we ordain priests and entrust them with the work of “being” in our midst to “do” these small but oh, 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 seminary classmate, told my wife that when her husband was ordained, “his hands changed”.
My wife, God bless her, said she hadn't noticed any change in mine.
Here is the conundrum about being a priest: nothing changes really. It isn't the ordination that matters so much as the willingness to “be” when all the world around is so obsessed with “doing”. That is the difference, the set apartness, the uniqueness of the calling. His/her 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 agrees to 'be' rather than 'do'. (A one time assistant of mine told me, “Jim, you can do nothing better than anyone I've ever met....” As I remember she was frustrated by my inactivity when she thought I should be doing something or another. But I took it as a confirmation and a compliment.)
The Truth is, it's a great job—process observing, tending the fire, telling the story over and over again, passing the wine. The down side is if we take ourselves too serious or confuse yourself with Jesus or decide you can save the world or anyone in it. That is the road to ruin. Keep the job description simple—observe the process, keep the fire buring, tell and retell the story, take a good sip of wine before passing it on, have the courage to not feel guilty about simply 'being', don't 'make up' stuff to do and keep you busy. And it's a great job, actually....

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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.