Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Too much darkness

I just read a story online about Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the US. The sun went down in Barrow on November 18 and won't rise again until January 22.

Over two months of darkness. I don't think I could endure that. That's too much darkness.

I love Connecticut's seasons. I embrace the darkness these days--we're at about 15 hours of darkness and 9 hours of sunlight right now. It will get a little more dark for 3 weeks, each day, then the Solstice and the light returns until that division is reversed in June.

But in Barrow we're talking 1536 hours of darkness.

Lord, that would make me move to the Equator somewhere!

I love the image of  'darkness' theologically and in literature. But 64 days?

Who lives in Barrow? If you do, contact me to let me know how it's going for you....

By the way, I'll only be visiting up there in the late Spring.

My life....

"I've discovered I have a beyond wonderful life," I told Bern a while ago.

She looked at me waiting.

"I went to Physical Therapy with a book and when I opened it I knew I'd read it before," I told her. "And that is the worst thing that's happened in my life for weeks. So I realized how wonderful my life is."

Bern just smiled. "Pretty good life," she finally said.

With Thanksgiving just past and the gift of the Christ Child coming, I need to be constantly aware of how wonderful my life is.

The only danger is 'survivor's guilt'--like someone who walks away from a plane crash and can't figure out why they lived and others didn't.

I wonder, for time to time, if I should feel guilty about being so blessed when others suffer.

Since I don't for a moment believe "I deserve it", my blessings actually give me more compassion than I'd have otherwise.

So, I'll just take it and give abundant thanks and work and pray for those whose lives have more pain and confusion than mine.

I need to 'pay forward' more....for such a life, I have a lot to pay....

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Another November 29

I decided it would be a toot to look back over my posts (over 1700 so far) to find the first one I ever wrote on a November 29th. It was six years ago and about...what else...Advent.

Apparently I wrote it after having written something and messed up trying to publish it. That explains the italics inside the parentheses.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent (one more time...)

{OK, I'm going to try to recreate my earlier blog that I destroyed somehow. You'd think I'd know how to do this, given I've been doing it for several years. But I hit the wrong key sometimes and send stuff into 'the cloud', never to be heard from again. I also hit 'return' instead of 'tab' from time to time which posts blogs with only the title. Forgive....And, by the way, the time of posting on my blog has me in some time zone off the coast of California. I'm beginning this at 9:39 p.m. EST, so ignore what it says about when I wrote it.
Also, I decided to try to do this tonight instead of tomorrow since my short term memory has an expiration of about 15 hours. Ask me what I preached about on Sunday evening and I can reproduce it almost verbatim. But ask me on Monday and I'll say, "Uh, what were the lessons?"}

One thing I love about Advent is that it is about seeking the light in the gathering and deepening darkness. Days are getting shorter and shorter when Advent begins and we are called by the Prophets and the liturgy to 'look for the light'. That seems to me to be a lot like life--always looking for light in the darkness. Advent is quintessentially optimistic, just as I am. So, in loving it, I am affirming my own world view and philosophy.

I don't know how it works in the Southern Hemisphere since all the Church Year seasons would be reversed. Imagine Easter, not in Spring when all is coming to life, but in Autumn as things die. And Advent and Christmas would be in Spring moving toward summer in the Global South. The metaphors don't work south of the equator. Maybe that's one reason that Global South Anglicans and Anglicans in the Northern Hemisphere are always at odds. That's just a thought to ponder. Metaphor is important. Symbols matter. I can't conceive of Advent when it is getting lighter and lighter and warmer and warmer.

Christmas falls, in the Gregorian calendar, three or four days after the Winter Solstice. So, in fact, days are getting shorter and nights longer right up to the week of Christmas. But here's something to ponder: in the Julian Calendar--the one Julius Caesar commanded be observed--the solstice fell always on December 25. So the night of Christmas Eve was the longest night of the year and Christmas began the coming of the light.

It wasn't until Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar of the western world in 1582 that the Solstice was backed up 3 or 4 days to correspond to the actual tilt of the earth. So, for 1581 of the 2010 years of the Common Era, Christians celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus on the solstice. Talk about metaphor and symbol and the lengthening of the Light!

Back where I come from, in a place more rural and mountainous than most people can imagine, railroad tracks were like kudzu, they were omnipresent, every where. Wherever there was a coal mine, their were railroad tracks for the coal trains to take it to Pittsburgh for steel or to Roanoke and Cincinnati for Electricity. And it is hard for even me to remember how narrow and twisted the valleys were between the mountains.

Where Bern, my wife, grew up, for example, this is what it looked like:

Try to picture that--two rows of houses, a pitifully narrow two lane road, two alleys and a stream pinched between two mountains. From one mountain to the other in Gary #9 (Filbert was the post office) was about 50 yards. Imagine living in a valley that narrow and deep.

So, because the valleys also curved around to accommodate the mountains, the railroad tracks crossed the road over and over. At every railroad crossing there was a sign in the shape of an X. On the four arms was written

               ST0P     LOOK
             AND        LISTEN

That was because the trains were going rather fast (to get the coal somewhere else asap) and the roads were so twisty and the mountains so intrusive that you really needed to stop, look as far as you could, and listen to hear the train whistle that was blown each time the tracks crossed a road.

You'd be amazed, I think, at how many cars got hit by trains, even with those warning signs.

Advent is like that X shaped sign for us.

STOP in the busiest time of the year to seek the Light.

LOOK for God in the hustle and bustle of the holiday time around you.

LISTEN for the Angel wings and Angel songs over the chaos and chatter and babble of the malls and the TV and the radio.

Advent is meant to 'slow us down' just when the culture is hurrying us up.

Advent is meant to have us more attentive just when the culture is most distracting.

Advent is meant to attune our senses to the presence of God in places unexpected, surprising, thought impossible.

That's what I like about Advent--it is so terribly counter-cultural. It's like standing on tip-toe, anticipating light in the deepest darkness of all.

Monday, November 28, 2016

5th Open Letter to my Granddaughters

Dear Morgan, Emma, Tegan and Ellie,

I just spent Thanksgiving weekend with you, Ellie (though, at 3 months, 2 weeks of age, I don't expect you  to remember it--though you are VERY, VERY all my granddaughters!) and Christmas, less than a month away, I'll be with you all and your parents and Lara dog. What a joy that will be. And less than 30 sleeps away....

(Less than 30 sleeps away...that's how your Grandma and I told our children to wait for things. "Your birthday is 5 sleeps away," we'd say. Or, "two sleeps and we'll go on vacation". Stuff like that. Your Grandma and I still say things like that to each other...("28 sleeps and our granddaughters will all be here....")

So true. So, what could be wrong in the world?

Plus, my loves, Grandpa walked without a brace today! It was at PT (which means 'physical therapy', something I pray you don't have to know about for years and years...) and I rode a bike with the seat way back because I can only bend my right knee 110 degrees--but it was only 88 degrees just a week ago!) The brace from my ankle to my thigh (another thing I hope you never experience) has been on since September 28 and it's only been 10 days or so I could walk without crutches and drive my car. It'll be on for another 20 sleeps or so, but at PT I take it off and do things I long to do with my leg.

So, if after two months of being braced I can, twice a week, walk without it, what could be wrong in the world?

Well, dear hearts, I'm still in mourning about Donald Trump being our President-Elect. I would have rather it been Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders but I would have been delighted for it to be Hillary Clinton. And it isn't. It's Trump and I'm a mess some of the time.

Donald tweets. I'm sure the three older girls have heard the word--but DON'T DO IT, PLEASE! And I hope it is made illegal by the United Nations before Ellie possibly could. Your Grandpa doesn't tweet and never will. Ever. Not ever.

Donald tweets terrible things at ridiculous hours.

The latest is this: since there is going to be a recount of the votes in Wisconsin because Jill Stein, the Green Party Candidate is paying for it, Donald tweeted that he would have won the popular vote if three million illegal votes had not been cast for Hillary.

OK, by dears, 'voter fraud' simply doesn't exist in any appreciable way in the US. Just doesn't. And more than two million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for the Donald. That makes Democrats winning 6 of the last 7 Presidential Elections in the 'popular vote' but losing two of those in the Electoral College. (I won't explain what "the Electoral College" is since I hope it is not in existence when any of you can vote). Twice in the last 7 Presidential Elections, more Americans have voted for the Democrat than the Republican and the Republican has won.

Go figure!!!

That's what's wrong in the world where elections are held.

And now, get this my precious girls, the man who won is questioning the vote in the election he won....

Give me a break. I need a vineyard for the next four years....

Love you girls, you almost make Donald bearable....


Saturday, November 26, 2016


It was just Mimi and Tim and Ellie and John and Bern and me for Thanksgiving.

We kept saying "Well, it's just us," when anything came up, like: is the turkey OK? How's the pie? The green bean casserole is runny...."

"Well, it's JUST us..." we would say, since 5 adults and a baby is a small number for a major holiday at our house.

It was 'just right' with 'just us'.

And Ellie is a marvel--the happiest, calmest, sweetest baby ever. Just over 3 months and a complete joy.

Jack and Sherry came back Friday with John and we did some "just us" jokes again, because, honestly, Jack, Sherry and John are the closest friends Bern and I, it is 'just us'.

An example of Ellie: Mimi brought her down this morning and put her in her little seat that rocks and has Dino and other things to distract or entertain her. I was fixing my breakfast and Tim was napping and Bern was doing something in the basement so I'd walk over and say "Hi" to Ellie while I cooked and then ate. After 15 minutes or so, Bern came in and I said, "I've got you a present". And she said, "what?" And I answered, pointing to Ellie on her seat on the floor on the room that's part of the kitchen, "the best baby...."

For another 15 minutes, Bern talked with her and played with her without picking her up and Ellie was satisfied with that.

Mimi came down and talked with Bern and I for another 15 minutes at least and Ellie hung out by the fireplace in her seat.

Really, almost an hour of being engaged and interested and sweet without being picked up.

I'm not sure either of our children were engaged, interested and sweet without being carried around for an hour total before they were four months!!!

What a baby.

What a great "just us" holiday--quiet, full of food and laughter and a bit of alcohol, sweet, engaging, interesting and lovely beyond words.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Advent 1 sermon


          Welcome to Advent!
          Welcome to the ‘waiting room’ of the church year!
          Today is New Year’s Day for the Church. Unlike the secular calendar we follow in the world, the Church Year begins today: the first Sunday of Advent.
          Happy New Year!
          Welcome to the waiting room….
          But the ‘waiting’ of Advent is not the tedious ‘waiting’ we all hate. This ‘waiting room’ isn’t like the one at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the dentist’s office or waiting in line at the grocery store or at the inbound George Washington Bridge.
          The ‘waiting’ of Advent is a time to wait for the fulfilling of the Promise of God. We are called to ‘wait’ for the Lord and for the gift God is sending us. It is a ‘waiting’ done on tip-toes, with joyful anticipation and excited yearning. It is a ‘waiting’ to lean into like we lean into a strong wind and to reach out—hands and arms open—to receive the Gift, the Child of Bethlehem, the One who loves us best of all….
          Advent is the place where we wait for the Gift to come with the bright-eyed, amazed and wondrous longing of Children. This space of time is where we wait…and, as we wait, we should reflect on the Gift…and on our ‘gifts’…the gifts we have been given and the gifts we have to give.
          Next Sunday is St. John’s ‘celebration of giving’—when we offer to God some of the gifts God has given us and celebrate both how many gifts we have received and how many we have to give.

          To put us in the mood, let me tell you a story. It’s a story about ‘giving’ and a story about the wonder and magic of giving….

          We had dinner with our friends Andrew and Jane in New Haven just over a week ago. They attended the Roast in September and were very impressed with the people they met from St. John’s. They found you friendly and kind and funny…they loved the ‘good humor’ of the evening.
          Andrew wanted to know about our ministry and I told him a lot about what we do around here—the Outreach and Worship and Education and Pastoral Caring—then I told him about what happens on Saturday morning…about the Saturday Program. I told him about the tutoring by volunteers of mostly Hispanic children and I told him about the games Mike Carroll teaching them—games about community and co-operation and personal growth—and about the worship they do together. Then I happened to mention that Victor Matthews had started teaching guitar to some of the kids on Saturday morning. Andrew was intently interested in that. And I told him I wasn’t sure enough kids had guitars…that there were probably some kids who’d like to study guitar but didn’t have one.
          At the end of the evening, when we were leaving, he brought me a guitar case and said, simply, “This is for one of the kids….”
          I thanked him profusely for his gift and told him it was deeply appreciated and would do good things….
          The next morning I showed the guitar to Wayne Levendoski after the 8 a.m. Eucharist. He played it for a while and told me it was a classical Spanish guitar—very finely made with wonderful tone. Then I showed it to Mike Carroll and he took it home and called me later and told me it was not only finely made with wonderful tone but was quite valuable. He wasn’t sure how much--$1500…maybe $2000.
          After talking to several people I thought maybe we didn’t want to simply hand that instrument to a young person who wasn’t really going to realize its value. And I also thought that if we sold it we could buy several more appropriate ‘starter’ guitars for kids.
          So I emailed Andrew and asked him if we could sell it and buy several guitars of lesser value and lesser linage. I asked him if that was OK with him.
          He emailed back and said two things:
                   *he wanted to send us $500 to buy some ‘starter’ guitars, AND
                   *he wanted the “Ramirez”, (the name of the maker of the guitar) to go to a young person (I’m quoting Andrew now) “whose life it could change…”
          He said he knew it was important to worry about the ‘many’ as well as the ‘one’—but he knew the Ramirez in the right hands could be a life altering experience and he really wanted that to happen if it could….

          Andrew wanted to help ‘many’ AND he wanted his gift to change someone’s life….
          And here is the Truth—as clearly as I can tell it—“each of us, in our hearts, are like Andrew”. We each want to help whoever we can with our gifts. And we each want our gift to change someone’s life for the better.
          Another Truth: we can. We can do that.
          This is the season to reflect on ‘gifts’—the gifts we have received and the ‘gifts’ we have to give. And you’ve come to the right place—the gifts you have to give to St. John’s will help many. The gifts you have to give to St. John’s can change lives.
          We all have a Ramirez of some kind in our hearts—in our talents, in our time, in our treasure. And Advent is the place and time to reflect on ‘how to give them’.
          Welcome to Advent—to the ‘waiting room’ of the heart.
          Prepare your heart to receive God’s Gift and prepare your heart as well to give….

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

On their way...

It's the day before Thanksgiving--my favorite holiday--and Mimi, Tim and Ellie are on their way.

It's 12:43 pm and they left Brooklyn around 11 am. But, since it is the day before Thanksgiving and the only two ways from Brooklyn to Cheshire are I-95 and the Merritt Parkway, we don't expect them for a while. Roads are packed with Thanksgiving traffic.

The dog is already waiting since we told him "Mimi" was coming. He loves Mimi more than treats! We told him about Tim and baby Ellie too, but it's Mimi he's waiting for....

Josh and Cathy and our other three granddaughters are in California, with Cathy's brothers. But they'll all be here for Christmas.

Our friend John is coming to dinner tomorrow. Bern's getting ahead with a sweet potato dish right now. I'll make the dressing later this afternoon. Apples, raisins, walnuts all go in it. It's a recipe I learned in the early 70's when I was in seminary and working at Christ Church, Capitol Hill. Christ Church was made up, mainly, of people who worked in the government and couldn't leave to go to all the places they were from for Thanksgiving. So about 100 people ate together at the church. It was wondrous.

I love Thanksgiving.

I think if the most common human emotion were gratitude, the world would be about as wonderful as Thanksgiving itself.

I sometimes say the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ" on your inhale and "Have mercy on me" on your exhale). But I've altered it to "Lord Jesus Christ"/"Thank you so much."

Gratitude could transform the universe....

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

something about parting....

Something silent, something sweet

When souls meet, something silent passes by.

Not like when 'people' meet.
People ask questions,
seek to find connections,
fall in love,
battle with each other,
reunite or part in anger and regret.

When souls meet, none of that matters.

When souls meet, something silent passes by
and they travel together—side by side--
or one behind the other, or the other way around--
until they part.

And when souls part, something sweet passes by.
Gratitude, people might call it,
or even Joy.
But it is sweet to travel on

Silence and sweetness:
what could be better?

What could be more right?


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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.