Friday, June 23, 2017

Saturday Baptism revisited

Once, years ago--a decade if not more--I was at St. John's on a Saturday by myself doing something or another (or perhaps my unruly God wanted me there!) when someone rang the doorbell. I went to see who it was and encountered 20 or so Hispanic folks. One of them who spoke English told me they just wanted a place to pray for a while. So I let them in.

The same person, who was to be the god-father of the baby who was with the crowd...most of whom were weeping quietly...told me they had been across the Green at Immaculate Conception RC church to have the baby baptized. The priest asked who the god parents were and asked them if they were Roman Catholic. The man talking to me said he was an Evangelical and when the priest found that out he refused to baptize little Louisa. So they came to St. John's to mourn and pray for a while.

I let them be for 10 minutes or so and then went back and found my confidant and asked him if the parents would let me baptize Louisa. They readily agreed and I got the oil and water (some water, if I remember correctly, that I'd brought back from the Jordon River on a trip to Israel).

So, I did the baptism, though about half of the group didn't understand exactly what I was saying and offered the group Communion. They all received! Amazing.

I never saw them again, to my knowledge, but I was sure I had done the least that God expected of me. I couldn't take away the pain of their church rejecting them, but I could offer and bring the sacraments into that day of anguish.

Some, I know, would say I didn't 'do my duty' since I hadn't prepared them with pre-baptismal instruction and required them to come to St. John's in the future. But that's just pious bullsh*t as far as I can tell.

The sacraments belong to God--not the church and certainly not the priest.

Little Louisa was 'marked as Christ's own forever'. And she is. She'd be approaching her teen years now--if ever there is a period to be marked as Christ's own!!!

Saturday Baptism

I'm officiating at a baptism tomorrow. It's against my better judgment to do 'private' baptisms. Baptism should be in the full view of the people of God gathered  on the Lord's day. I believe that--I do--but I also know this: any time anyone wants a touch of God in their lives, I'll do whatever I can to let God touch them.

Ceremonially, I'm pretty 'low church'. However, I have a 'high church' view of the sacraments. I truly believe and live as if they are 'real'--just what they claim to be: opportunities for the holy and wild God to dip into our lives for a moment.

So, if another Episcopal priest has some reason not to officiate at your wedding--give me a call!

If you have a god-father who has to fly back to Puerto Rico on Sunday morning, I'll do a Saturday baptism.

I'll bury anyone who wants to be buried. Christian burial should always be available. The morticians in Waterbury still call me from time to time for murdered folks and suicides and people with no discernible religion because they know I'll never deny the sacrament of burial (OK, I 'know' it's not one of the 7 sacraments, but it seems sacramental to me to ask God to take into God's heart this person who is dead....)

Fewer and fewer people these days seem to want to invite God into their lives. One one level, I understand that--given my wild and uncontrollable God who will just stir things up and turn you inside out. However, anyone who is willing to make that risky invitation to a God beyond our understanding...well, I'm willing to assist in the invitation.

I've known lots of Episcopal priests who  have turned away couples, either denied baptism or made it too arduous, who turn away the unbaptized from the Lord's Table.

For goodness (and His!) sake--it's the LORD'S TABLE, not the church's or the priest's....

I once gave communion at St. James in Charleston, West Virginia to a man who wandered in wearing a turban and with a dot on his dark forehead. He left immediately after the bread and wine.

The communion minister with the cup asked me afterwards, "how did you know he was a Christian?"

"I didn't," I explained, "but God could have struck him dead or me dead if what I did was wrong....And God didn't...."

That's my theology and I'm sticking with it. The sacraments belong to God, not to the church or to me. So, my job is to hand them out as often and as generously as I can.

That's what I believe, at any rate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Human knees are remarkable architecture. They were designed to help us stand upright and walk without dragging our hands on the ground. All that happened over 200,000 years ago and knees have been working ever since.

Mine aren't. I had surgery in September of last year to reattach my quad muscle to my knee and let the ligaments and all grow back. I walk OK--except for steps--but there are still some issues with my right knee,

And my left knee 'pops', audibly when I stand up from sitting down.

I went to my orthopedic surgeon this week. He told me to give the reconstructed right knee another three months and that my left knee was full of arthritis. All the cartilage that lubricates my knee has been dried up by the arthritis and the 'pop' I hear is just bone against bone. (Pleasant though, huh?)

He told me that the X ray of that knee would usually mean I had a lot of pain. Which I don't. Just popping.

He told me I was lucky.

I'm glad I don't have pain in that knee, but I don't feel lucky. Not by a long shot.

"Pop", "pop", "pop" doesn't feel lucky....

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Happy Father's Day (to me)

(I wrote this on Sunday and neglected to hit 'post'. Two days late....)

There are almost no other days that make me as humble and proud and blessed as Father's Day.

There are very few parents I feel comfortable talking about kids with because ours turned out so remarkable...and not everyone's did.

Mimi (38) is the Director of Operations and Special Projects at the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, a nationwide non-profit organization housed in New York City. Josh (41) is a lawyer at Rosenberg, Martin and Greenberg in Baltimore and three times voted 'rising star' by the Baltimore Legal Association.

He's married to a prosecutor, Cathy Chen, for the Baltimore City Prosecutor's office. They have given us three wondrous grand-daughters.

Mimi is married to Tim McCarthy, who works for Linked-In (his office is in the Empire State Building!) and they gave us baby Eleanor.

I wish I deserved them, I really do.

But, instead, they have blessed me so.

Happy Father's Day to me....

Saturday, June 17, 2017

So I play on-line games

Lordy, Lordy, I have to admit it--I play Hearts and Solitaire on line.

Here's the thing, I win about 90% of the time in hearts and only 15% of the time in Solitaire.

One reason is the hearts game is badly formed. Throw the Ace of Hearts and you'll get the King and Queen. Real people, as opposed to a computer, would hold on to the King and Queen in case they needed them to stop a run.

But in Solitaire I'm playing against the cards, not three computer driven opponents.

Thing is, which gives me something to ponder, I love both games equally.

I love trying to get above 90% in Hearts (I never have!) or 15% in Solitaire (I never have!) though that's a 75% difference in winning or losing.

Maybe those games, like life, aren't about the winning or losing percentage but about simply 'getting better' at what your doing.

I invite you to sit with that possibility for a bit.

What if--just, what if--the whole game we're playing that we call life, isn't about winning or losing but about simply 'getting better'. What if that's the Truth?

How would that alter the occurring of 'how life shows up' for you?

It's not about 'winning' at all, but simply 'getting better'.

I'm going to have to dwell on that for a good spell.

I hope you will too.

Maybe there's just some wisdom and possibility and creation in there somewhere if we ponder it long enough.

Greatly to be wished for and wondrously to be received.....

Brooklyn and back

8:20 a.m. train down and 3:02 train home. In between, 6 stops on the 4/5 train to within 2 blocks of Mimi and Tim's apartment.

An hour or so adoring Eleanor and then a walk through a worsening rain to have lunch. Ellie fell asleep on Mimi's shoulder about half-way through and then we sat in a little area at the front of the restaurant for an hour or so with some friendly people until the rain slacked. Ellie woke up halfway through that and totally charmed the strangers around her.

A just right visit--a hit of Mimi, Tim and Ellie. And riding Metro North instead of driving made all the difference in the world! I read half a very good book and dozed a little. The train takes 90 minutes. No way to do that in a car because from our house to theirs is exactly 90 miles and driving 60 once you hit the city is something you could (maybe) do at 3 a.m.

On the subway there was a family from Brazil speaking Portuguese on one side of us and a family from Germany speaking German on the other side of us. Ah, New York! And in Brooklyn I saw a lot fewer couples who were both straight and both white than otherwise. Ah, Brooklyn!

I could never live in Manhattan--still too much a country boy. I might survive in Fort Green, the part of Brooklyn Mimi and Tim live in--though Brooklyn has nearly 3 million souls in 71 square miles. But I'd have to have a garage and a deck and a yard--which probably would put me in the $3million range, which I'm not in!

A wild trip, but manageable. Much better than driving.

And Eleanor IS the best baby....

Mimi and Tim are two of my top people as well.

Friday, June 16, 2017

going to Brooklyn

We're taking the train tomorrow to Brooklyn to see Mimi and Tim and, of course, baby Ellie.

Ellie is pulling up and crawling like crazy. Mimi said they thought they'd get her a cage--she said 'pen' but I thought 'cage' after seeing them chase her around their apartment on Bern's phone.

I swore I wasn't driving to NYC again after our last trip. It took us 4 hours and 15 minutes from Brooklyn to Cheshire. We've actually driven to Baltimore in that time!

So, a quick trip. Down to visit and have lunch and then come home. Got to get back to the old dog at a decent hour.

But even a few minutes with those 3 is worth the hassle of riding the train and subway and driving to New Haven. Lovely.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

ok, F--- Facebook!

I used to be on Facebook when I was Rector of St. John's in Waterbury. I looked at about a dozen times in a dozen years and got bored. Then, when I retired, I got off Facebook after about a half-an-hour of clicks.

Then, a couple of months ago, I went on to see if I could see a video of a sermon of mine that was supposedly there. It wasn't.

Everyday I get 7 or 8 emails about people who have said something on my...what's it called? My 'frame'? My, uh, 'pallet'? My, is it, "wall"? Well that makes less than no sense. I don't have a wall except in my house and there's nothing there.

I always look if my son put something on whatever it is I have on Facebook. But tonight I decided to explore a bit and it was horrible. People put up nonsense and there are ads and people I never heard of are there saying things I think are deplorable (Yes, Hillary, I think that word applies from time to time!!!)

So, 'begone, Facebook'! I'm not going to try to get 'off' since I know what a pain that is. I'm just not looking anymore. I'll let Josh know in case I'm supposed to reply to anything he puts there--though I don't think I'd know how!!!

Since I'll be wrapping up this blog after 116 more posts, maybe I'll just sign off social media altogether. No email. No texts. Call me or send me a letter, that kind of thing.

I'll have to ponder it, but it seems like something to lean into.....

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Faith as a possibility....

We had a long discussion about faith/believing/knowing at the little group I go to on Tuesday mornings today. For some reason I just couldn't get into it too deeply and didn't know why. On the way home, I remembered why...I wasn't 'letting the workshop be the workshop!'

I help lead this "Making a Difference Workshop" where we spend 4/5 of the time either doing centering prayer or dealing in two domains--the domain of experience and the domain of concept.

So, we spend most of the workshop exposing how wed and trapped we are in the domains of concept and experience, where our concepts, which come from our experiences, begin to color and determine future experiences. We 'work backwards' until we can reach the point where we can un-conceal (different from 'reveal' which is why my spell check doesn't like it) a third domain. Experience and concepts are all about 'getting somewhere'. The third domain--the Domain of Possibility--is a place 'to come from...."

Our conversation today was bogged down (as we almost always are) in the two domains of experience and concept, which actually collapse on each other into a vicious circle. What I needed to say, if I'd only remembered to let the workshop work, was to create the possibility of 'faith' or 'believing' AS A POSSIBILITY.

Everything exists in all three domains. God, for example, exists as an 'experience' of God/Spirit/the Holy and a 'concept' of God. But both the experience and concept are dwarfed and transformed by God 'as a possibility', as a creation, as a limitless declaration. God then become a place to 'come from' and BE, not a place of presence or representation. (That's 'doing and having', or 'experience and concept'.)

Am I going too fast? We use three days to do this workshop and I'm trying to re-create it in a blog post!!!

Faith as a possibility helps us to create a future that wouldn't happen anyway.

That's one of the mantras of the workshop--'there are two futures: the one that will come if you just wait and the one you can create that wouldn't happen anyway.'

Faith as a possibility means we bring the limitless possibility of 'faith' into the moment. We 'be' faith, rather than experiencing faith or having a concept of faith. That's why the second rail of the workshop is centering prayer. Centering prayer is a prayer of 'being' rather than 'doing' or 'having'.

I'm not sure any of this is making sense--but I know our conversation today needed a high octane injection of 'being'. We were talking about 'experiencing God' and having 'concepts/traditions/theologies about God. What we needed was God as a limitless possibility to 'come from' into the next moment.

(Coming from 'being' devolves into experience and concept--we call that, my favorite bit of workshop language: 'the ontological cascade' (cool, huh?)--but we can also return to 'being' again and again and 'come from' being by, guess what?, merely 'SAYING SO....'

Should be familiar as a way of creating: "God SAID 'let there be light....."

You know the rest of that.

Maybe next Tuesday I can come from 'Being' into the conversation....Devoutly to be hoped.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

me too...

Bern and I were talking earlier about getting older. She told me that turning 30, for her, was an opportunity to leave behind some things she no longer had to think about. "I knew I'd never be a model for 17 magazine," she said. "Took pressure off. One less thing to worry about. That's the way we should be now."

How right she is.

I wrote about Bela, our 12 year old Puli getting older. Well, so are we.

Our daughter, Mimi, told Bern a while back, knowing we have always had a dog--"when Bela dies, you and Dad should get an older dog...."

We probably will--though I dread the day Bela dies. I've thought, more than once, that it might be better for Bern if I died before Bela. Our house is paid off. She'll get part of my pension and SS. She'll be fine. And Bela could comfort her more about 'the man' (which is what I am to Bela) than I'll be able to when he dies.

I've backed off that. I want to outlive Bela and get a 7 year old rescue dog after an appropriate mourning.

But I am getting older.

That whole conversation about turning 30 was spurred by my telling Bern I can't jump anymore. With my repaired knee and the other knee that pops audibly whenever I stand up, I just don't think I can--or should--jump.

She told me then about her turning 30 and also told me 'jumping is over-rated'.

Granted, it is. But I used to be a pretty good basketball player and loved to shoot jump shots.

Playing basketball, she told me, is also over-rated.

I'm going to ponder 'the opportunity to leave things behind' as opposed to regretting I can't do things I used to do.

That may be the thing to do as I move toward 80 in a decade.

Yea, I think that's a plan....

Friday, June 9, 2017

He's getting old

Our dog, Bela, is 12 now--what's that, 84 in dog years?

He's on some new pain meds that have helped a lot, but his joints are, like my knees, problematic.

He hesitates to go up steps without help. Jumping on the bed is an issue.

I tend to stay downstairs or upstairs longer than I would normally just so he doesn't have to navigate the steep steps in our 1850 house.

Jumping in the car or Bern's truck is tricky--as is jumping out. He slips on our hardwood floors downstairs.

He eats like a champ and sleeps well, but his body just isn't what it used to be and he is coward-ed by things like he's never been.

He's so much a part of our lives--bad, bad dog that he is--that watching him breaks my heart.

Getting old isn't a bed of roses, that's for sure.

Lordy, lordy, Bela, it's so hard to see you like this....

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Dear Lord, help me be calm....

Well, today James Comey, fired FBI director, testified before a Senate Committee.

Lordy, Lordy, our President lied about the FBI Director. Lordy, Lordy, Trump asked Comey for 'loyality' when Comey's job was to be objective about the President. Lordy, Lordy did he really ask Comey to step back from an active investigation?

Take a big breath, Jim. Calm down. Go to your silent space. Relax.

All this is as bad as it gets.

The only thing worse is to imagine Mike Pence being President!!! He's a 'true believer' in Right Wing stuff. At least Trump (the only good thing I can say about him) really isn't a 'true believer' about anything, anywhere, anytime....

Dear Lord, help me be calm.....

Deep breaths, Jim. Deep breaths....

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How Great Is This?

I went to the Cluster Council Meeting tonight--representatives from all 3 of the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry where I've served for 5 years or so (me and linear time again, who knows how long it's been???)

Two of the 9 were absent but with the Cluster Administrator and me there were still 9 folks.

The meeting was full of joy and wonder and sharing and seriousness and commitment and good humor and stories and hard work and fun.

How great is that?

I don't know when meetings, in my life, were so life-giving.

Remarkable people, ideas and groundedness and a real commitment to who we are and how we serve.

"Better than that," as Yoda would say, "it does not get."

How blessed and privileged I am, here, later in life, to be able to serve and be served by the folks at Emmanuel, Killingworth, St. James, Higganum and St. Andrew's, Northford.

Thank you POWERS THAT BE (and Episcopal priest should probably say 'Thank you God', but I'm not a traditional priest anymore than the Cluster is a 'traditional Episcopal Church'. 'Powers that Be' works for me and I think for that group of people around the table with me eating remarkable desserts and finger food St. Andrew's provided. (By the way, St. Andrew's does food way beyond the other two. They just do.)

I never eat breakfast when I go to celebrate at St. Andrew's--coffee hour will be 'brunch', I know.

I simply can't imagine what I'd rather be doing as a priest at 70 that would be better than this.

Lucky me. Blessed. Full of joy. Wonder. Love.

Monday, June 5, 2017

2017--that's it....

When I decided I needed to decide when to retire as Rector of St. John's in Waterbury, CT, I finally came up with the idea of retiring the month I had 30 years in the Church Pension Fund.

I could have stayed on--I was only 63, after all--but., because I was going to be 63, I could get early Social Security. I know, I know, people tell you to wait to take SS benefits. I think the Social Security Administration is who does that. I did the math and taking SS at 63 vs 70 means that until I'm 82 I'll get more money taking it at 63. Go figure that.

So, anyway, that  story is about my wondering when I'll stop writing my blog.

I've written 1904 posts. I don't post every day, but most days, except when I'm away and since I can only post from my desk top computer--having no other web devices--I don't post when traveling.

I decided I'll stop at 2017 posts. That's 113 more posts and since it's only June 5, I'll get it done before the end of 2017.

I could hang on, just like I could still be at St. John's since I'm two years from mandatory retirement in the Diocese of CT. But I needed a stopping place so I would stop and it would be over.

So, 2017 posts will be the end--the stopping place--for "Under the Castor Oil Tree". I'm sure I'll miss these musings and ponderings, just as I missed being Rector of St. John's. But I got over that and I'll get over this.

I like 'clean breaks', so I'm delighted I've made the decision of what the 'end' of this is.

113 to go. Lots of pondering and musing left. But at least I know now when I can stop.

That feels good for me. It really does.

Stay with me until the end, OK?


I read an article on line about how Harvard had taken back some offers to be in the class of 2021 because of the racist and otherwise unacceptable 'memes' some of those who had been accepted posted on a group created by those accepted to Harvard.

I realized I really didn't have any idea what a 'meme' is.

So, I went on line for an hour or so--read Wikipedia (the article  was more complicated than an article about 'String Theory' or "Black Holes") and got on a site that had a collection of 'memes'.

I looked at that for a long time.

A 'meme', unless I'm really missing something (which is totally possible) is a picture with words on it that make it either ironic or funny or something else.

There was a picture of a man mowing a lawn with a tornado in the background. I found dozens of variations on that picture with different messages on them.

Is that a 'Meme'?

And how do they get offensive? I must have looked at a couple of hundred on that web site and none of them offended me though lots of them made no sense to me.

You know, as the last flip-phone, only a desk-top computer person I know--there are lots of times I feel pleased to be that 'out of it'.

And this is one of them.

I don't need to know what a 'meme' is, which is lucky since after a lot of research, I still don't know what a 'meme' is.....

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Bern's owls

Bern ordered two owls from Amazon. Amazon has everything!

They're not real owls--fake ones that are supposed to scare away creatures.

I must admit, since they came I have seen a squirrel or chipmunk anywhere near our deck, though I didn't believe the hype.

One is sitting up and it's head moves. I'm not sure what the mechanism is but it won't be looking at you when you go out on the deck and when you glace up, it is. Creeps me out a bit.

The other is flying on plastic wings and will be down by the strawberry patch or next to the tomatoes to keep birds and squirrels away.

She moves the head turning one around and it always startles me when its been moved.

I'm not sure, but I may be more weirded-out by the owl than by squirrels and chipmunks....

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Letter to my granddaughters

Dear Morgan, Emma, Tegan and Ellie,

Today your President--well, no one you voted for, thank God--but the guy who is sorta 'running our country' chose fossil fuels over your future.

Not exactly, it's much more complicated than what I just said--but he made us one of three countries (the other two are Syria and Nicaragua) not part of the Paris Climate Control Accord.

It is a sad day for us all and for the world, that the country that contributes almost a third of the greenhouse gases with only 6% of the world's population (do your fractions and percentages girls!) is no longer a part of a world wide effort to save the planet for you.

Oh, the planet will be fine for the rest of my lifetime...but yours, I'm not so sure. Baltimore and Brooklyn, where you live will start having sea rise issues before you're half my age.

I just hope I live long enough to vote for someone for President who will run on fixing all the nightmares He Who Will Not Be Named is creating.

That's my hope for me--but more so, for you.

I love you so much. You are, along with your grandma and Josh and Mimi (your dad, M/E/T and your mom Ellie) my life.

You just all.

Live long enough to have grandchildren to worry about and live more than life.

Love you, Granpa

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wearing a clerical collar....

(I just noticed someone read this 2009 post, so I read it and thought I'd share it again for all the people who notice I never wear a clerical collar but are too polite to ask 'why not?')

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

wearing a collar

Several months ago I bumped into a member of St. John's, the parish I serve, in a grocery store. I gave her a hug and she said, "I don't think I've ever seen you without a clerical collar."

That's one reason for not wearing clerical garb--the black shirt and wide, circular band of white collar--you don't have to...people see you in it anyway. The truth is I haven't worn a collar for five or six years now but there was no way I could convince that devoted member of the parish. "You wear one every Sunday," she said. And I believed that's what she saw every Sunday.

I didn't stop all at once. It was more like attrition. I lost all my collar buttons at some point and being naturally abscent minded, forgot to order more. Collar buttons come in several styles--most of which don't work. I always used the ones that went through the little holes in the black shirt and opened like a toggle switch to hold the collar in place. All the other styles--in my experience--find a way to edge through the hole in the shirt on the front or back or slip out of the "Clericool" collar. That's what the kind of collar I wore was called, believe it or not, since it was made of some material that doesn't exist in nature and probably never decomposes and had little holes in it to circulate air next to your skin. I kept wearing collars after I lost all my buttons by attaching them to my shirt with small paper clips, bobby pins or twist ties I'd take from loaves of bread. The twist ties worked best, but like they do when holding bread wrappers shut, they tended to get twisted the wrong way and I'd have to seek help getting them undone.

So, a second reason not to wear a collar is how hard it is to keep up with the buttons. When dropped on the floor they were designed to be invisible until you stepped on them with your bare feet, bruising the soles of your feet and making you walk funny for a day or two. I once was holding the button I was going to attach to the back--you have to attach the front one first unless you wear a collar 4 or 5 inches too large...which some priests do, I've noticed--and swallowed it by accident. Well, it was like an accident--certainly not on purpose--I laughed at something when I had it in my mouth and down it went. Since collar buttons are not cheap, I watched for it for a few days but decided that was sick. I hope it came out and isn't discovered in my next colonoscopy. That would be really embarrassing, it seems to me.

Finally, one of the twist ties I was using broke the hole in the collar because I had worn all the paper off it and the twist tie was like a scalpel at that point. That was my last collar and since I hadn't gotten around to ordering buttons I was equally negligent in ordering collars. After that I wore black shirts without collars for a while, pretending I had on a collar, but people would say, "did you forget your collar?" a lot and I got tired of making up humorous responses.

I could, I suppose, have worn those clergy shirts that have what's called a "Roman collar" or a "tab collar"--a little piece of plastic that looks like a tongue depressor--but I've noticed most priests who wear those carry the tab in their chest pocket, like a fountain pen, rather than wearing it. The collars I always wore are called "Anglican collars" and I really didn't want to be mistaken for a Roman Catholic priest. It was bad enough being mistaken for an Episcopal priest.

Another reason for not wearing a collar is that it is a 'fun stopper'. You can walk into a really great bar at Friday happy hour in a collar and practically close the place down. Everyone is suddenly siezed by childhood infused guilt, stops cursing, takes their hands off people they aren't married to and decides they've had enough to drink. I was once at a picnic on a hot August day and an acquaintence of mine who is also an Episcopal priest, showed up in a summer weight black suit and a collar. I said to him, "did you have a funeral this morning?" He seemed confused and went on to tell me he and his family were going horseback riding after the picnic. I'd never ride a horse with someone in a collar and I really didn't enjoy the picnic with him slinking around looking clerical.

I only rode an airplane once in a collar. Airplanes and collars do not mix since whoever you are sitting with either wants to confess sins you don't want to hear or turns out to be a religious nut. A friend of mine who I suspects has PJ's with a collar on them told me that he flew from LA to Chicago in his collar and had a sensible conversation with the stranger beside him until they were landing at O'Hare. Then the man said, "what do you Do?" My friend looked down at his black shirt and felt to make sure he still had on his collar (the buttons could have slipped out over Idaho and disappeared on the floor of the plane, after all). "I'm a priest," my friend said. The man replied, "oh, I know what you Are. I want to know what you Do...."

I've used that story in several sermons at ordination services. I use it to tell the person being ordained that 'being a priest' is more about 'being' than 'doing' and you don't need a uniform.

Just last week I told the wife of a priest that I didn't own any clericals. She was somewhere between shocked and outraged. "But don't you ever want to 'be in uniform'?" she asked. I probably said I preferred being a 'plain clothes' priest, sort of an ecclesiastical detective. And the truth is, I've never much liked uniforms of any kind. People in uniform are proclaiming that they 'do' something--direct traffic, drive buses, conduct trains, fight wars, put out fires, etc. Uniforms are designed to separate out the people wearing them from everybody else. They announce for all the world to know, "I am DOING something here--give me room to do it". A priest, unless a religious service is going on--and we have these really hot 'uniforms' for those--isn't 'doing' much of anything that needs space and room to perform. So, no, I don't want to be in uniform.

Back when I was 'in uniform' I noticed that I could wander around hospitals with great impunity. I once found myself one door away from an operating theatre in what was surely a sterile area because I was lost and not one of the dozen hospital employees I'd passed since breaking through into a place I shouldn't have been had called me to account about why I didn't have on a mask and gloves and those neat little booties people wear in such places. That's really nuts, to have a guy soaked in germs wandering free in a supposedly germ free space because he had on a collar. I don't like the deference people give me when I'm 'in uniform'. I AM, after all, a priest and can inform anyone of that if they ask. But wearing the uniform forms a shield of invulnerability and provides a cloak of invisibility to a priest that I'm not sure is a good idea, especially not a step away from open heart surgery, or most anything.

(This next paragraph contains graphic language that most people thing people who wear...or could wear...collars should never write. I didn't say them, but I will write them. The faint of heart should scroll down quickly lest they be offended....)

I was coming back from lunch at a downtown restaurant a few years ago with a priest friend. He was in clericals and I had on jeans and a second-hand sports coat. I noticed how people separated to let us pass--good people, bad people, people of all shapes and sizes and colors...all except the little old Italian ladies who wanted to kiss his hand. (Not having strangers kiss my hand is another reason I don't wear a collar!) Then we met up with this crazy guy who I knew who always asked me for money. He knew I was a priest in my tee-shirt and said, drugged half-out of his mind, "Fa-der, give me two dol-lers." I said 'no', quietly and firmly and kept walking. Then he started yelling at me: "Fa-der, ya are a muther-fucker! Fad-er, Ya don't care if I go ta hell...." And kept yelling it louder and louder. I stepped a step or two away from my friend and all the people on the street looked at him like he was spitting on the cross for not helping that poor man. One of the little old Italian ladies screwed up her courage and said to my friend, "you're shameful..." I just walked along, smiling, out of uniform.

Finally, I am so liberated by not wearing a collar because of my neck. Or, more accurately, my 'no neck'. I am a man whose head rests on his shoulders. If I look up, you can see my neck, but it is really a 'no neck'. Clerical collars were designed for people with long, gazelle-like necks. They look fabulous on people with real necks. Angelina Jolee would look great in a collar. In fact she would look very seductive in clericals....Well, let's don't go there. Suffice it to say, collars were made for men and women with necks. They look like a kind of necklace on some people. On me, a collar looks like a hangman's noose and is about that comfortable.

A dear priest friend of mine had spent all morning laboriously boning the Thanksgiving turkey and was planning to come home after he did a noon Eucharist and stuff it in an elaborate way. As luck would have it, he was distracted and didn't get home until 3, after his wife had returned from work. He looked in the refrigerator and found his fully boned turkey (a feat of no mean merit!) gone. When he asked his wife where it was she told him something terrible had happened and the turkey had collapsed so she threw it out. My friend was so distraught (being naturally prone to histrionics) he began, in the good old Old Testament way, to 'rend his clothing'. He tore most all his clothes into shreds, his wife told me later, but his collar wouldn't come undone. He must have had toggle switch buttons or twist ties holding it on. So she left him writhing on the kitchen floor, choking himself with his Anglican collar.

That's a final reason not to wear one--it ruins such dramatics....

There really is no moral to this story. I wore collars faithfully for over 25 years, in spite of the discomfort and how no one really 'looks' at you on the street and how collars make some people nervous and brings out the neurosis in normal folks on airplanes. It was simply fortunate for me that I swallowed that collar button (this is the first time I've revealed that event, by the way) and cut my last collar with a twist tie. I just never got around to ordering new ones and everyone who knows me knows I'm a priest and I am perfectly happy that those who don't know me don't know that about me. And I'm lots more comfortable. Besides, I don't think the woman in the super market is the only one who sees it when it's not there!

(Just so you don't believe I am ultimately frivolous about this, two stories.
Years ago I was at a meeting with a bishop from Africa who came from a nation where Christians were being horribly persecuted. When some asked, "Bishop, what can we give you to help?" he thought a moment and said, "clerical collars so that when the people are being dragged away to prison and torture they can see their priests are being dragged away as well...."
Back after 9/11, I went several times with a group from St. John's to Ground Zero to work at St. Paul's church, serving food, praying with rescue workers, just listening to people. We clergy were asked to wear collars so people could recognize that we were there for more than giving them lunch and a bottle of water. In that case I was humbled to wear a collar.
Should such needs arise, I would put a collar on even if I had to use duct tape to hold it on....)

Memorial Day, long ago

When I was a kid, we used to go to Waiteville, West Virginia, my father's birthplace, every memorial day. There was a huge dinner served to support the town cemetery's upkeep. More food than you could imagine. So much food you'd be sick if you could imagine it. Wondrous country cooking and a time, after eating, to walk around the graveyard.

One year my crazy great-aunt Arbana put confederate flags on on the Bradley graves and my Uncle Russel chased them all down and took them off, cursing as he did.

My father's name was Virgil Hoyt and his father's name was Filbert. And I still remember, as a kid of 8 or so, wandering around the graveyard and coming upon two stones to James Gordon Bradley and James Gordon Bradley, Jr.

That is my full name and I was freaked out and went running, breathless, to my mother who told me she thought I knew I was named after my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. But I sure didn't remember being told.

That was a memorial day I remember clearly  over 60 years later.

At least my name isn't Virgil Filbert Bradley--sounds like an ancient poet and a nut.

Well, putting it that way, it wouldn't be so bad....

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Third time: lightening bugs, fireflies, all that

This is the third time I've posted most of what is below. It's no longer the 4th most viewed post, but the 9th.

And the bugs aren't here yet--it's 48 degrees on our back porch--much too cool. But I've been thinking of them. Waiting for them. Anxious to welcome them.  


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there are lightening bugs in Connecticut

I've just been watching Lightening Bugs--fire flies--in our neighbor's yard. So I decided to reprise the fourth most viewed post of mine ever.

They are blinking, blinking, blinking.

They're out there tonight--the fireflies--in the mulberry tree just beyond our fence where the groundhogs come in the late summer to eat mulberries that have fermented and make them drunk. A drunk groundhog is a wonder to behold!

And the lightening bugs are in our yard as well. I sat and watched them blink for 20 minutes tonight.

My dear friend, Harriet, wrote me an email about lightening bugs after my blog about them. If I'm more adroit at technology than I think I am, I'm going to put that email here.
Jim, I just read your blog and have my own firefly story. Before we   went to Maine,
before 6/20, one of those nights of powerful   thunderstorms, I was awakened at 10PM
and then again at 2AM by flashes   of lightning followed by cracks of thunder - the
 kind that make me   shoot out of bed - and pounding rain. And then at 4:30AM there
was   just lightning, silent. The silence and light was profound. I kept   waiting
for sound. I couldn't quite believe in heat lightning in June,   so I got out of bed
and looked out the window. There I could see the   sky, filled with silent lightning
 bursts. And under it, our meadow,   filled with lightning bugs (as we call them) or
 fireflies, flashing in   response. I've never seen anything like it. I can't remember
 the last   time I saw a lightning bug. And then your blog. Is this, too, part of
 global warming? Are you and   I being transported back to the warmer climes of
 our youth, West   Virginia and Texas? Well, if it means lightning bugs, the future
 won't   be all bad.
I did do it, by gum....

So the lightening bugs are blinking, as we are, you and I.

Blinking and flashing and living. You and I.

Here's the thing, I've been thinking about a poem I wrote 4 years
ago or so. I used to leave St. John's and go visit folks in the hospital or nursing home or their own home
on my way to my home. Somehow the blinking of the fireflies has reminded me of that. So, I'll try, once more
to be more media savvy than I think I am and share it with you.
I drive home through pain, through suffering,
through death itself.
I drive home through Cat-scans and blood tests
and X-rays and Pet-scans (whatever they are)
and through consultations of surgeons and oncologists
and even more exotic flora with medical degrees.
I drive home through hospitals and houses
and the wondrous work of hospice nurses
and the confusion of dozens more educated than me.
Dressed in green scrubs and Transfiguration white coats,
they discuss the life or death of people I love.
And they hate, more than anything, to lose the hand
to the greatest Poker Player ever, the one with all the chips.
And, here’s the joke, they always lose in the end—
the River Card turns it all bad and Death wins.
So, while they consult and add artificial poison
to the Poison of Death—shots and pills and IV’s
of poison—I drive home and stop in vacant rooms
and wondrous houses full of memories
and dispense my meager, medieval medicine
of bread and wine and oil.
Sometimes I think…sometimes I think…
I should not drive home at all
since I stop in hospitals and houses to bring my pitiful offering
to those one step, one banana peel beneath their foot,
from meeting the Lover of Souls.
I do not hate Death. I hate dying, but not Death.
But it is often too much for me, stopping on the way home
to press the wafer into their quaking hands;
to lift the tiny, pewter cup of bad port wine to their trembling lips;
and to smear their foreheads with fragrant oil
while mumbling much rehearsed words and wishing them
whole and well and eternal.
I believe in God only around the edges.
But when I drive home, visiting the dying,
I’m the best they’ll get of all that.
And when they hold my hand with tears in their eyes
and thank me so profoundly, so solemnly, with such sweet terror
in their voices, then I know.
Driving home and stopping there is what I’m meant to do.
A little bread, a little wine and some sweet smelling oil
may be—if not enough—just what was missing.
I’m driving home, driving home, stopping to touch the hand of Death.
Perhaps that is all I can do.
I tell myself that, driving home, blinded by pain and tears,
having been with Holy Ones.
8/2007 jgb
Someone once told me, "We're all dying, you know. It's just a matter of timing...."
Fireflies, more the pity, live only a fraction of a second to the time that we humans live. They will be gone from the mulberry tree and my back yard in a few weeks, never to be seen again. But the years and years we live are, in a profound way, only a few blinks, a few flares, a few flashes in the economy of the universe. We should live them well and appreciate each moment. Really.

One of the unexpected blessings of having been a priest for so long is the moments, the flashes, I've gotten to spend with 'the holy ones', those about to pass on from this life.

Hey, if you woke up this morning you're ahead of a lot of folks. Don't waste the moment.

(I told Harriet and she agreed, that we would have been blessed beyond measure to have walked down in that meadow while the silent lightening lit the sky to be with the fire-flies, to have them hover around us, light on our arms, in our hair, on our clothes, be one with them....flashing, blinking, sharing their flares of light. Magic.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017


It took 90 minutes or so to get to Holy Cross on Tuesday morning.

It took about 3 hours to get back on Friday of Memorial Day weekend! Bumper to bumper from New York state through Danbury to the Cheshire exit from I 84.

A great workshop up beside the Hudson. Lots of transformation going on.

But 'home' is where my heart is.

My wife. My dog. My house.

So good to be embraced by them all.

I really am a home-body. I love to be among what is familiar and day to day. Travel no longer engages me. I want my bed, my love, my books, my deck, my back yard, my town of Cheshire.

There was some engaging conversation with folks at the Making a Difference workshop about extrovert/introvert stuff.

My career and role as a priest has called out my extrovert side. On the Meyers/Briggs scale my E and my I are close together. As I grow older, only child that I am, the introvert in me is winning out. I love to be home, knowing Bern and Bela are in the same house, but not having to be with them all the time!

I slept so well last night. Not bad at the monastery, but oh so well in my own bed.


Monday, May 22, 2017

away again....

I'm leaving in the morning for Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York (above the Hudson...a beautiful place!) for another Making a Difference Workshop. I'm really looking forward to it for many reasons, but mostly because Jamie and Rowena--two people I care deeply about--are going to be in it.

Rowena worked with me for a year in the Cluster ministry and Jamie is a member of one of the churches. I did the ceremony for her marriage to Jeri and they're now expecting.

For different reasons, I think the workshop could transform their lives.

Which is what it is designed to do. Truly remarkable. This workshop.

There will be one in DC in the autumn. Think about asking me about it....

See  you Friday on this spot.

Go read old posts while I'm gone. Over 1800 of them to choose from. Go back a few years....

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Come on Holy Spirit....

I'm still on this "God is not big enough" riff.

In today's gospel from John, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit--an Advocate--to his disciples.

It's like angels...people have so domesticated angels that we should give them an angel litter box and an angel dog bone. Household pets is what angels are these days. People scatter them around their homes, wear them as jewelry, send them on cards, all sorts of stuff we do to angels.

Yet search the scriptures and see what angels were depicted as.

I remember, as a child, thinking that whenever an angel showed up people bowed down to worship.

It wasn't that at all. Human beings simply got knocked off their feet when 'the Holy Ones' appeared. Angles were bad hombres (as our President has said about Mexicans!) and you got your face on the pavement when they showed up!

Back in my Pilgrim Holiness days as a child, I still remember the chorus to a hymn that went like this: "Come on, Holy Spirit...Come on, Holy Spirit...But don't stay long!!!"

Pilgrim Holiness folk were not folks who got 'slain in the Spirit' or spoke in tongues. They were out of the Methodist Church and out of the more theologically conservative Wesleyan Church that broke with the Methodists. But they hadn't gotten into glossolalia or any of that stuff.

Probably because they knew full well the power of the Holy Spirit and asked it to 'not stay long'.

I get really turned off when Christians say, "do you have The Spirit?"

YOU don't 'have the Spirit'--the Spirit would HAVE YOU and turn you upside down and inside out if it hung around too long....

We've put God and The Spirit into easily handled, conceptualized and explained boxes. Just like Angels.

(I remember the burial of a still born baby on a brutally cold day when the parents realized the florist has spelled 'angel' in 'our little angel' as 'angle'. Since they had know for several months their baby was dead, it was the first time they'd giggled in a long, long time.)

Angle indeed. God is too small. The Holy Spirit will fry you right up if you get too small.

We need to abandon our concepts about God and the Spirit and Angels and Holiness and realize that we need all that in ways we do not and can not understand!

We need Holiness that is truly HOLY and beyond our comprehension and wild beyond our ability to believe in 'wildness'.

Pentecost is in two weeks. The Spirit blew like a hurricane and burned like a volcano.

We need to simply acknowledge the incomprehensibility that is God....

That's what I need to ponder in these dark days. I invite you to as well....

Friday, May 19, 2017

Kitchen Maid

Diego Velazquez painted a black maid with the Emmaus dinner over her right shoulder. A remarkable painting. If I had the web where-with-all I would put a copy of it here. But go look it up. A remarkable work of art.

It's at the National Gallery of Ireland when I was in Ireland I bought a card that has the painting at the bottom and a wondrous poem by Denise Levertov above it. Denise's words to a gathering of poets and theologians years ago (what an idea--poets and theologians) have always inspired me. "The crisis of faith," she told the gathering, "is the crisis of the imagination. If we cannot 'imagine' walking on the water to Jesus, how can we meet him there?"

Here's this poem.

Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus

She breathes, listens,
       holding her breath.
Surely that voice is his--
       the one who had looked at  her, across the crowd
       as no one had ever looked? Had seen her?
       Had spoken as if to her?
Surely those hands were his.
Taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he's laid on the dying and made them well?
Surely that face - ?
The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from the tomb.
The man it was rumoured now some women
Had seen this morning, alive?
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
Didn't recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she is in the kitchen, absently touching
The winejug she is to take in.
A young black servant intently listening
Swings around and sees
The light around him
And is sure.

Beautiful words to ponder deeply.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

wonderful evening

Today's temperature was in the 80/s, though it never got past 70 on our back porch, surrounded by trees. I sat out in the dark for quite a while just enjoying the clear sky and pleasant breeze.

I was afraid we were having a "go straight to summer, do not pass Go, do not collect $200" spring in Connecticut, that happens more often than I like.

But I looked at the Weather Channel (God bless them!) and see that after tomorrow in the 80's again, the next 10 days have highs in the low 70's and high 60's and night lows in 60's and 50's. Just right.

Our house stays cooler than you would think just from the tree cover and fans will usually do us through June before Bern puts in the AC's. (She tells me I don't know how--which may be true....)

We put a giant one in my upstairs office off the kitchen and sitting room and close the upstairs door to the hallway and it keeps downstairs really comfortable all summer. TV room and bedrooms get their own AC.

I could live with low 70's to low 50's year 'round. Which means I wouldn't live in CT.

But I like the seasons.

When I was younger people would say 'hot enough for you?" And I'd reply, "no way! And more humidity too!!!"

When I was younger, I hated the cold--a result I imagine of having grown up in Southern West Virginia in a home with no central heat.

Now, I long for moderation and like the heat less and can bear the cold better.

Go figure.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

people to be 'mad' with....

I hate conference calls more than most other stuff. Truth is, besides our President, I don't hate a lot of things!

But I had two today that filled me up to overflowing.

The first was about the Making a Difference workshop next week at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York.

The second was a completion call for the Making a Difference workshop last week in Ireland. I was the only person on both calls since I'm the only one helping lead both workshops.

Making A Difference changed my life completely. I was on the verge of renouncing my priestly vows. I was so burned out and messed up after 10 years of ministry I wanted to do something else. What the workshop gave me was my priesthood all new, transformed, full of possibility and wonder and mystery. And that's what the next 20 years and the years since then have been for me: a priesthood that gave me life and possibility and wonder and mystery and joy and commitment.

So, any time I'm around folks from that work, I'm inspired.

Paddy, a Roman priest who is a member of an Irish religious order for African missionaries was one of the assistants who support the leaders and participants, said in the second call, when we were asked what we needed to say to be 'complete' with the workshop: "you are great people to be 'MAD' with!"

(We insiders refer to the workshop as "MAD" but never say that to participants. And Paddy didn't mean 'angry', he meant 'crazy'! Which we all are, a bit, believing as we do in coming from  'being' rather than 'doing' or 'having' and knowing 'transformation' is far more powerful than 'change'.)

Good folks to be a tad 'mad' with....Even on conference calls....

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A God too small

Jack Parker was one of the most important mentors of my life. He was a dear, dear man, full of wisdom and humor.

Jack would tell horrible jokes that he never got to the punchline with because he'd start laughing so hard he couldn't speak. Luckily he told them over and over so the listener could finish the punch line for him! Gentle as a librarian (which he was!) and wide as a Sage (that too).

Once, after I invited Integrity (the Episcopal GLBTQ group and their friends--though the Q has been added more recently) to use St. John's as it's home there were a half-dozen older white men who threw a fit and made my life miserable for several months. Jack, who had been ministering to the gay community for years, became Integrity's chaplain and my soft-spoken defender. I noticed that the 6 men would lie about what I said if I met with them in private so Jack would sit in whenever I met with any of them. He even had a tee-shirt made for me that read: "I'm the Rector, that's why!" to remind me I had control of the use of the buildings of St. John's. The furor dissipated after I called a open parish meeting (as Jack suggested) where the gay members of St. John's and their numerous supporters made the argument for me. That wasn't the only time Jack pulled my feet out of the fire!

I thought of him this morning since the gospel lesson was from John--chapter 14 I think that begins, "In my father's house are many dwelling places" and includes Jesus' words: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me."

That lesson is one suggested by the Prayer Book as the Gospel at a Burial Eucharist. Jack, when he retired from full time priesthood, he became a member of St. John's and would help me out with funerals from time to time. I noticed when he read that lesson from John, he would stop after "I am the way and the truth and the life." He never included the line about 'no one comes to the Father but by me.'

When I asked him why, he gave me a chuckle and said, "My God is too big to just have one door."

I've never forgotten that so every three years when this Gospel comes up, I use the opportunity to tell folks that our God is too small, to exclusive, too narrow.

I talked about Jack's God today--about a God so big and loving and expansive and inclusive that their are many 'doors' to God.

When scripture tells us we are created 'in the image and likeness of God' and 'just a little lower than the angels', it doesn't mean just 'some' of us--it means all of us.

Ironic isn't it that more wars and more violence may have been fought and perpetrated in all of human history over religion than anything other than territory. I think more people might have died over religion than over anything else, when you get right down to it.

In the Making a Difference Workshop I  help lead, we contend that everything exists in each of three different domains: the domain of Being, the domain of Doing/Experiencing and the domain of Having/Concepts/Stories we tell.

Even if we have an 'experience' of God, we have to use words to describe it and God then becomes a story we tell or a concept we have. And our 'concept' of God...even our 'experience' of God...doesn't exhaust or tell the reality of God's Being.

Our God is often much too small.

We need a God as 'being' and 'possibility' and 'limitlessness': a God that cannot be put into one experience or conceptualized in any way. In fact, God is so vast that there a myriad of doors opening into the reality of the Holy.

We need a really BIG GOD these days. A REALLY BIG GOD.....

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Something you should never do....

At the gate in Hartford, waiting for the Aer Lingus flight to Dublin on Friday, the gate crew made several appeals for people to check their carry-on luggage so boarding would be better and people wouldn't be fussing over the overhead bins.

Being basically a co-operative person, I checked it. I've done it before. But never again.

In my experience, carry-ons checked at the gate are waiting for you in the walkway to the airport. But when I got off the plane in Dublin, no bags were there. And then, later, after customs in Ireland, it wasn't on the carousel either. So I had to spend time reporting it hadn't arrived. Never mind it was 5 a.m. in Ireland (midnight here in the states) and I was a tad groggy. A lot groggy really.

I don't have a smart phone so I didn't have a number where they could reach me when it came and bring it to me. But when I got to Trish's she called them and gave them her number and address. But when it didn't come before we went to Larne on Sunday, Mary, who was the workshop production manager took over and went on line and called to give her cell number and the number of the retreat center and the center's address. Mary checked a couple of times a day and no bag.

Finally, on Wednesday, they called her that the lost was found and gave her instructions for me for when I got to the airport. Numbers and stuff like that and how to contact baggage control from inside the airport.

Never mind I had some medication in the bag--I simply declared "I am Healthy" and didn't need it. The problem was, my car keys were in that bag!

When I got to Dublin Airport this morning I followed instructions and was told they had no record of it having been found! But they let me come back--going through security (which I did for Ireland and again for US Customs in Ireland before I got on my return flight!!!)--to the room where found/lost luggage was.

You know the phrase: "we are separated by a common language"? I had told them the bag was tan with 'black straps' but the woman this morning heard the American word 'straps' as the Irish word "stripes"--that's why she couldn't find it.

I found it right away, thank the baby Lord Jesus! And had my car keys to drive home from Hartford.

All's well than ends well, I suppose.

But something you should never do is check your carry-on at the gate.


Birds as a theme

I got back from Ireland today. Wonderful time and great workshop in a beautiful place called Larne, about 20 miles north of Belfast on the North Sea.

I'll have lots to write in the coming days about my time in Ireland, but what I want to ponder is how birds were a theme of it all.

Waiting to take off from my airport in Hartford (BRADLEY airport, get it?) a pigeon got it's foot caught on the outside of the walkway down to the plane. You could see it from the waiting area, laying backwards and upside down and struggling. And it's mate never left it alone. I was impressed with how many people were concerned. Dozens of us told the gate attendants and they promised to alert the ground crew to try to release the bird after we boarded. I only pray they did. I am haunted by the sight and the constant presence of the mate, fretting above the bird.

Then at Trish's house, a Presbyterian Minister and co-leader of Making a Difference, her cat Duffy killed two birds in the short time I was there in Trish's manse's extensive 'garden'--'back yard' to us.

I went to church with Trish Sunday morning--the first time I've even been in a Presbyterian church in my life, but low and behold, the preacher on a special ecumenical day for an Irish charity, was the former Archbishop (Church of Ireland, Anglican) of the Diocese of Armaugh. So my only time in a Presbyterian church I heard an Anglican preach!

But in the narthex (we Episcopalians would call it) the entry hall of the church, two swallows had gotten in and couldn't figure out how to get out! Large and beautiful birds, they were frantic before the service began but sitting on the rafters when it ended. Trish told me they left the doors open in hope that the birds would follow the outside lights when it became dark and find their way out.

At Larne there were hundreds of Magpies. I love Ireland for the Magpies. Remember Heckle and Jeckle, the cartoon magpies and their British accents? Almost as large as crows here but with brilliant patches of white on their chests and wings. Lovely and energetic birds. The resident cat at the retreat center had a magpie down when I came out a back door and the cat ran. The bird was gravely injured and I tried to catch it to end its suffering, but I couldn't catch it (though it couldn't fly) and am not sure I could have done what needed to be done had I caught it.

Then driving home from the airport today I saw two golden eagles (I'm almost sure they were) soaring over I-91 South. Imagine that.

(I told some of the Irish folk that we don't have magpies here, at least on the East Coast and they offered to send some home with me...familiarity does breed contempt, I guess. But I told them the gift of Starlings hadn't worked out too well, so I'd pass on bringing magpies home....)

God, I love birds. And God does too. God knows if even a sparrow falls to the ground, I'm told....

Thursday, May 4, 2017

See you in a week

I leave tomorrow for Ireland, so this will be my last post until next Thursday or Friday when I'll tell you about my time in the Emerald Isle.

I'm one of the last people on the planet that only has a desk-top computer. No tablet or lap-top or smart phone. So I'll be out of touch with the Castor Oil Tree for that time. My phone won't work in Ireland so I'm dependent on  what I hope are flawless plans for pick up and everything else.

Be well while I'm away. And stay well, my friends.

There are just short of 1900 posts here, so if you want, go back and sample a few....

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Going to Ireland

Day after tomorrow I'm flying to Dublin and then going to Belfast for a Making A Difference Workshop.

I hate to fly, but joyfully Are Lingus now flies out of Hartford so I don't have to go to a NYC airport.

But I'm such a homebody, being away from my blog, my dog and the love of my life, Bern, for nearly a week is making me crazy already.

I'll be fine when I get there at 5:15 a.m. Ireland time (just past midnight for me). A six hour flight (seven back because of the Gulf Stream eastward air current) where I lose a bunch of hours--five I guess. Coming back I get those hours back.

And Ireland is beauty to behold. Makes me gasp from time to time. The place in Belfast, I remember, has Heckle and Jeckle birds we don't have here--magpies.

And the people of Ireland are wondrous too.

But I hate to fly and hate to be away from home.

What a crotchety old man I'm becoming.....

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I'm an English major for God's sake...

But I'm not a good typist.

However, a post a few days ago about an risque content, I put in the title "at you're own risk".

Shame on me. Naughty, naughty English major.

Of course and always it should be "your own risk".

My apologies to you all and to every English teacher I ever had and to the English language itself.

I try not to be the grammar police except for myself.

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

And sorry on top of all that Latin....

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35
24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"

24:19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."

24:25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"

24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This is my favorite passage from the Gospels. I love the story and what it tells us. I got to preach about it today at St. Andrew's in Northford.

I preached without notes so I can't recreate the sermon, but I can write about Emmaus.

Nobody knows where first century Emmaus was. Or if the '7 miles' is an accurate measurement. But it was a good hike from Jerusalem at any rate.

And we can't be sure why Cleopas and his companion (whoever that was) are going to Emmaus. Was it their home? Did they have business there? Were they just getting out of Jerusalem?

But here's the thing: a stranger joined them on their journey. Sure, we know it was Jesus, but they didn't. He was just a 'stranger' to them, a stranger who asked them what they were discussing and then, after they told him, the stranger told them about the scriptures.

Seven miles later, the stranger was going on but the two disciples asked him to stay with them. And when he blessed and broke the bread for their dinner, they recognized him and 'poof', he disappeared.

The most important thing about the whole story is how they realized that their 'hearts burned' when he was talking with them. Their hearts burned from the words of a stranger.

Scripture, both Hebrew and Christian, urge us  to 'welcome the stranger' and show hospitality to the one we do not know.

In today's culture, we are taught that the stranger is to be shunned, kept out, avoided, mistrusted.

That is upside down and inside out to what our Faith proclaims. It is the stranger that can warm our hearts and teach us something new, lead us to lean into a new possibility.

As I told you yesterday, God leads us to the edge and asks us to step off, trusting that either our foot will find something solid or God will teach us to fly.

Today, more than ever, we need to tread near that edge into the unknown and step off. That is the faith we are called to show--to embrace the stranger in our midst.

There is a story I've shared before but fits so well here I will share it once more.

A holy rabbi has taught his followers all night on the bank of a river. As dawn is breaking, he asks them, "When is there enough light to see?"

One replies, "when we can tell the palm trees from the date trees on the other side of the river--that is enough light to see."

The rabbi ponders and then says, "no, that is not enough light to see."

Another follower says, "there is enough light to see when we can tell the young sheep from the young goats on the other side of the river."

After a while, the rabbi says, "no that is not enough light to see."

They all fall silent and wait. Finally the rabbi says, "there is enough light to see when we can look into the face of any human being and see the Face of God."

May the light of this Easter season give us new eyes and enough light to see....

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Jeez, I missed the anniversary...

Bern would tell you how 'unfocused' I am. I need lists and a calendar to keep me afloat in what you call 'reality'. Otherwise, I'm in my head, somewhere, wondering or pondering or just relaxing. I had a poster once of a rocking chair and the words said, "Sometimes, I sits and thinks. And sometimes, I just sits...."

So, I missed the anniversary of this blog by over a month. But, as I've done before, I'll go back to the beginning. You decide if I'm still doing what I set out to do.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My first post

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 Nineva, 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 impications are astonishing!). Then God sends a worm to kill the tree. Well, that sets Jonah off! "How dare you kill my tree?" he challanges 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 Ninivah...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 Nineva (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 Ph.D. 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 scarcly understood their language and whose customs confounded me. And I found myself often among people (The Episcopal Cult) who made me axious 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 colemn 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 somemore. And, if you wish, share my ponderings with you--whoever you are out there in cyber-Land.

Two caveates: 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 supose I'll just ask your tolerance.

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walking on the edge

Every once in a while I come across something I want to share. This is from the monthly  column I wrote for the St. John's, Waterbury newsletter. The newsletter was called "The Outrider" because in it's early history priests from St. John's would 'ride out' to smaller parishes (on horses first, I'm sure) to do Sunday services. My column was "The View from above the Close" because my office windows looked out on the Close ('enclosure'--Episcopal-speak again!) that was the yard of the church. And beyond that the Waterbury Green. I am a dedicated window gazer and would look out those windows a lot....Any way, just came across this and think it stands the test of time--15 years or so....


                                    Walking to the edge, then walking off…

            In my sermon on September 9, I used a quote Jennifer Hornbeck, St. John’s seminarian in 2000-2001 wrote to me.  Jen neglected to tell me who said or wrote the quote—though I intend to ask her the next time she calls—but so many people asked me about it I felt I should include it in this month’s VIEW.

                                    “When we walk on the edge
                                        of all the light we have
                                     and step off into the unknown,
                                      we must believe that one
                                        of two things will happen:
                                    There will be something solid
                                         for us to stand on
                                      we will be taught to fly.”

            Walking on the edge is an apt metaphor for the life of faith.  We are called by God out to the margins both to touch and be touched by those ‘on the margins’  of life and to risk walking off into what is unknown.
             I used to have a poster on the wall of my office in my first parish. The poster was a beautiful picture of sailboats at anchor in a harbor surrounded by beautiful hillsides. The water was glassy still. The sailboats were new, well built, shining in the sun.  The words on the poster said: SHIPS IN A HARBOR ARE SAFE, BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT SHIPS ARE FOR….
            The Life of Faith calls us to the open seas, to unknown waters, to encounter storms and risk the wrath of the winds.  But what we want—deep down—is to rest at anchor. What we want is to “be safe….”  Stepping off the edge requires courage and trust and faith.

            I have come more and more lately to believe that God is calling each of us as Christians to "walk on the edge…then walking off” in our lives. To be Jesus People we must live with risk and commitment and adventure. The tricky part of it all is that we aren’t all called to the same edge.  You may be called to a vastly different “edge” of your life than the person sitting beside you on Sunday morning. You may be called to take your moral stand into the political realm—fighting for some noble cause.  Or you may be called to endure with patience and courage some illness in your life or the life of someone you love.  Or you may be called to stand up against racism or discrimination in your workplace. Or you may be called to sacrifice higher pay and a more prestigious job in order to spend enough time with your children. Or you may be called to befriend someone who needs your support even though it is costly to you in terms of time and energy. Or you may be called to make a change in your personal habits in order to enhance the lives of those who love you.  Or you may be called to resist gain that you could achieve by “bending the rules”.  Or you may be called to give more generously—even sacrificially—to help those in need.

            I could go on and on. Each of us must discover the edge God is calling us as a person to walk off of into the unknown. But I know this in a powerful and profound way—each of us is being called, in some important way, to ‘take a risk’ for God.  It is simply the nature of the Christian life.
            Every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. and Wednesday at noon, the Eucharist is celebrated in the Chapel of St. James next to the north wall of the church.  The readings we use come from a remarkable little book called Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Week after week, year after year, we recall those who are on the Calendar of Saints of the Episcopal Church.  All those folks walked to the edge and then off into the unknown. Many of them gave up their freedom, their security, even their lives for their faith.  Not all of us are called to be martyrs—in fact, only a scant few of all Christians are called to that ultimate risk.  But we are all called to the ‘edge’.  And we must all believe that when we finally accept that call, one of two things will happen. Either there will be “something solid” to stand on or “we will be taught to fly….”

            Listen for God’s call. Seek out the ‘edge’ of life God is calling you to. And have faith—your foot will hit something solid or God will teach you to fly….



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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.