Sunday, January 14, 2018

baseball and time

The Major League's commissioner's office is making lots of noise about ways to 'speed up the game'.

I for one don't want it to speed up. I love baseball because there is no clock, no ticking down--it takes as long as it takes for a game to be played.

I know I'm a pre-tech Baby Boomer who doesn't mind it internet is slow. My attitude could kill the sport, I know, for people who want things done wham-bam-thank you, M'am.

I don't mind spending 3 hours watching 18 people scuff the dirt and tighten their hitting gloves and shaking off pitches. No better 3 hour past-time for me. I don't like the 24 second or 30 second clock in the NBA and college basketball. It used to be possible for a vastly inferior team to get a 4 point lead and spread the floor and play keep away. I remember Nobody teams beating top 10 teams 32-30. I found that very interesting.

But then I like to just sit and think or sometimes "just sit".

Younger generations want something to happen 'now'. I'm willing to wait for something to happen.

I open my Christmas gifts slower than most people, I think. I like 'not knowing' as much as I like 'knowing'.

I hate to google stuff. I'd rather wonder and ponder than to 'know' immediately.

So, don't speed up baseball.

Besides, it would cut down the number of beer runs you could have.

Fr. Dodge and Hot Stuff reprise

I shared this in 2011 so I think it's time to again. A story that underscores how what a priest should feel most of all is humility.

Fr. Dodge and Hot Stuff

For some reason, I've been thinking about Fr. Jim Ford (I call him Dodge in this piece) so I thought I'd share this with you.

Father Dodge and Hot Stuff
When I arrived at St. James, the congregation was being served by Fr. Bill Dodge, a retired school teacher who was a Title Nine priest. Title Nine is a strange little piece of Canon Law also known as “the old man’s canon”—though to be politically correct it should now be known as “the old wo/man’s canon”. (If it’s not “ageism” to call people “old” these days….) Episcopal Church law is more strict about ordination than most any denomination; however, Title Nine is an “out”, a way around the rules for those late in life who feel called to priesthood. If the Church determines the call is legitimate, the candidate is allowed to study privately, usually with a near-by priest or group of priests and be tested after the term of study is met.
That’s what Fr. Dodge had done. He’d become a priest through the back door. When I was newly ordained, after four years of theological study and two (count ‘em—two) Master level degrees, I had little patience with Title Nine priests and even less with Fr. Dodge. He was in his 70’s and, to my exalted standards, not up to snuff. But I was going to be a deacon for a year and needed somebody to help me liturgically. Deacon’s Masses, which are weird both theologically and as liturgy, would serve from time to time, but the congregation deserved a “real “ Mass monthly or so and Fr. Dodge was the best I could find. Plus, for reasons beyond my comprehension, the parishioners seemed to have a deep affection for him and were always happy to see him. It wouldn’t have been astute of me to get rid of the old codger since I needed him and the parish wouldn’t like it.
(It’s embarrassing and humbling to listen to myself talk like that! I thought of myself as such “hot stuff” in those days! I was God’s gift to St. James Church and worldwide Anglicanism as well. At least that’s what I thought. The truth is, looking back, I was brash, arrogant and unkind almost all the time. Hot Stuff, indeed!)
In addition, I considered myself a liturgical genius---the be all and end all when it came to ritual and celebration. In fact, I’d spent four years at Harvard and Virginia Seminary, neither of which has any claim to teaching liturgical practice. Liturgy at Harvard had been mostly of the “feel-good”, lots of balloons and readings from Kahil Gibran. Worship at HDS began with Unitarian politeness and didn’t go much further or deeper. In fact, any resemblance to Christian, much less Anglican worship was totally accidental. A typical chapel service would include—in no particular order—readings from the Koran or Hindu scripture, a little jazz played by my friend Dan Kiger or other musical students, some silent meditation and the singing of some of the hymns of Hildegard of Bingham. The Archbishop of Canterbury would have been horrified! The closest thing to a Eucharist I remember was when Rabbi Katinstein brought some Passover bread and Harvey Cox talked about the religious symbolism of sharing food and we all went up and took a piece for ourselves. I loved it, felt I was in the forefront of liturgical renewal.
Virginia Seminary was, when I was there, a “Low Church” seminary. That meant that worship was restrained, proper and in good order. That (“restrained, proper and in good order”) meant that no Popish nonsense would be allowed to infect the purity of Protestant worship. One of the lame jokes we often told was this: “You know what streaking means at VTS? Running through the chapel in full Eucharistic vestments!” There was a lot of controversy at the seminary when I was there because altar candles had been added to the “communion table”. Candles made some of the faculty nervous. You shouldn’t open the door to “catholic” practice---first come candles and then (gasp!) incense and the adoration of the blessed sacrament!
Once, during my senior year, some of the students from more High Church dioceses organized a “high mass” with chanting, bowing, genuflecting, incense and much crossing of oneself. I was fascinated. I’d never seen such a thing. My old nemesis, Reginald Fuller, was the celebrant. He was “streaking” around the chancel in his vestments, censing the altar, chanting in his Oxbridge accent, genuflecting like one of those little yellow birds that keep dipping into a bowl of water. Several of the faculty walked out in a huff at such going’s-on. There was serious discussion over sherry about suspending the student planned Wednesday services.
That one service was all I knew about Anglo-Catholic worship when I arrived at St. James. Fr. Dodge, I have to admit, seemed to know when to cross himself and genuflect (which I couldn’t do without nearly falling on my face). St. James, like most African American parishes, had been founded in a rich High Church tradition that disappeared when the first white priest came to be their Vicar. So, one good reason for keeping Fr. Dodge around was so I could figure out how to celebrate in a way that was Anglo-Catholic in a mirror dimly. So, those times I’d let him come and celebrate I’d watch him out of the corner of my eye to try to find a pattern to his movements.
However, Fr. Dodge didn’t seem to follow any discernable pattern. I came to believe that if he ever knew what he was doing, he’d forgotten how and was crossing himself at random places in the service. Even though I didn’t know how to celebrate a real mass, I resented him for not knowing! And that wasn’t the end of my complaints about him. His hands shook when he elevated the host and chalice, sometimes spilling wine on the fair linen. He’d lose his place and I’d have to prompt him with a stage whisper several times during the service. He mispronounced words all the time. Several times, rather than “in your infinite love” he said “in your INFANT love”! I mean really, how much could the good folks at St. James and I stand of this sloppiness?
And the one time I let him preach—horrors! He read his sermon haltingly at best, mixing words up and shaking to beat the band. Besides that, if he’d had any kind of decent delivery at all, his theology was more Pilgrim Holiness than Anglican. He talked about Jesus as if he were a good guy from down the street, someone who would teach you a lot and lead you to heaven when you die. Obviously, he’d never studied homiletics—or much of anything else so far as I could tell. I was embarrassed for him, but more than that, I was embarrassed that I needed him.
So the day of my ordination finally came. I invited Fr. Dodge to be in the service out of guilt over what I planned to do. He was so excited about being near the altar with the Bishop and the two dozen other priests. He told me afterwards that it was one of the greatest days of his life and that he was so proud to work with me.
The next week I fired him.
Well, it wasn’t really a “firing”. I drove up to his house high up on a hill about 20 miles from Charleston and talked to him on his front porch. I explained how now that I was a priest I really didn’t need for him to drive all that way twice a month. I told him he needed to take it easier at his age. I reminded him that there were two churches much closer to his home that would probably be overjoyed to have his help. I thanked him for all he’d done and told him that I really didn’t need any coffee and that I’d had lunch already. “No,” I said, “I really don’t have time for a piece of pecan pie.”
He said he understood. He told me how much he’d enjoyed working with me and how much he’d learned from me. “You’re going to be a wonderful priest,” he said.
I thanked him and slinked away to my car. By the time I got back to Charleston, what few qualms I’d had about what I’d done were melted away. I was a priest—a wonderful one at that—and I was finally free of Fr. Dodge. Things would really get rolling now at St. James. It would be like releasing the emergency brake that had held me back while I was a deacon.
A month or so later, Remitha came to see me. Made an appointment and everything instead of just dropping in like usual. We even sat in my office and did small talk—something Remitha never did and wasn’t good at. Finally, she cleared her voice and began….
I wanted to come and find out if anything was wrong with Fr. Dodge,” she said. “I notice he hasn’t been here since your ordination.”
I started explaining how since I was a priest now I didn’t need him as much. “And,” I lied, “at his age, he and his wife felt it was a long way for him to drive….”
She held up her hand and got up. “That’s fine,” she said, “just as long as he isn’t sick again….”
She was half way to the door when I caught my breath and said, “Again?”
She spoke with her back to me. “Well, his first stoke wasn’t too bad….”
First stroke….” Is all I could get out.
But the second one laid him up for months,” she said. Then facing me she continued in a soft voice, “but you know, since we didn’t have a priest, he got his wife to drive him down and he did the service sitting on a stool. He couldn’t give us communion, of course, but Morris and Ben did that for him….And when the service was over two of the younger men would carry him down to his wheelchair and…..”
I didn’t hear much more. I wished she’d stop talking or I’d be struck deaf and dumb or the floor would open up and I could crawl inside.
You know what I admire most about Fr. Dodge?” she was asking when I tuned back in.
I shook my head and tried to speak. I think I was struck dumb.
How he was willing to continue his ministry even though that wonderful reading voice he had and the regal way he held himself at the altar was taken away from him.”
He had a good voice…?” I croaked.
Sometimes he’d sing a solo for us,” she said, killing me with her matter-or-fact tone. “And I wish you could have heard him read the service,” she continued, consigning me with her smile to one of the lowest circles of hell. “Before the strokes he was one of the best speakers I ever heard. He gave up a career in radio to be a schoolteacher. Did he ever tell you that?”
I found that I was sitting back down though I didn’t remember doing it. “No,” I said, softly, “he never did.”
Well,” she said, backing toward the door, “just shows what a humble man he was. Humility makes a man a wonderful priest….”
Then she was gone and I was left alone to consider humility.
(One of the things that happened at VTS on a regular basis was “Bridge before Lunch”. There were half-a-dozen or so card tables and while whoever was assigned to help set up lunch was doing their job, bridge would break out. My partner most of the time was Rodge Wood. I was a novice at bridge but Rodge was a master. He’d played in tournaments before coming to seminary. As inept as I was, Rodge carried me. We were a good team, so good that none of our classmates would play with us but the underclassmen could be duped into a game.
They’d see us at a table and come over and ask if we’d like a game. Usually, since no one wants to be in over their heads, they’d say, “are you any good?” Rodge would answer for us both. “Jim’s bad and I’m OK.” Then we’d embarrass them for a few hands.
Once, over lunch, I asked Rodge why he didn’t tell other people the truth about his playing.
Rodge quoted scripture: “He who humbles himself will be exalted,” he said.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the passage means.)
Humility” has the same root as “humus”, dirt, earth. True humility isn’t about demeaning yourself or pretending to be less than you are. True humility is realizing, beyond any doubt, who you are and where you come from. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
Being humble means being close to the earth from which we all come. A friend of mine often says she “doesn’t trust anyone who hasn’t had their face of the pavement.” What she means, I believe, is that once you’ve hit bottom you realize that whatever you accomplish or however far you rise the earth is patiently waiting for you. The bigger part of humility is perspective and point of view.
Things look rather distorted when you’re a Hot Shot. It’s like flying in a plane and thinking about how everything down on earth looks small and toy-like. Things may look that way from up high, but you best not forget that they aren’t really small—it’s just your perspective and point of view.
While Remitha talked to me about Fr. Dodge, knowing all the while what infamy I had committed, what a rat I had been, my face had descended from “on high” to the grit and grime of the pavement. The ground, the earth, the humus had swallowed me up. It was a blessed gift, one I’d need to receive countless times again.
I called Fr. Dodge and drove out to his house. I told him that I had been wrong. I told him that I wanted him to come back, twice a month, to celebrate and preach once each month. I told him I realized that I didn’t want to do it all by myself. I told him I was sorry and asked him to please consider coming back.
He was as gracious as before, only this time I hadn’t had lunch and we ate tuna-fish sandwiches on homemade bread, washed it down with sweet ice tea and each had two pieces of Mrs. Dodge’s pecan pie.
For a year or so after that, I sat at his figurative liturgical knee. I came to delight in his mispronunciations—“infant love” might work better than “infinite love” when all is said and done. It became a pleasure to prompt him or merely point to the altar book in the right place. I finally started “lining” out the service when he celebrated by pointing to each line as he read. (In fact, I train the seminarians who work with me these day to do that for me!) And, for the first time, I noticed how he was with the parishioners of St. James. He never pretended to remember names when he didn’t. He listened to them intently and didn’t say much in return. He smiled almost constantly and the slight crookedness of his smile from the strokes came to be dear to me. I never bought his simplistic theology, but I did learn that if we can’t talk about heaven we most likely will never be able to imagine it…or go there….
Then he died, suddenly and in his sleep. It was my honor to commit his ashes to the ground. I drove up to his house on the hill and scattered them in the garden he loved to work in, among his flowers and bushes. Mrs. Dodge told me how much “Billy” had enjoyed working with me and being at St. James.
He told me many times that you were a wonderful priest,” she said, brushing away a tear.
Takes one to know one,” I told her and she beamed.
That makes him happy,” she said, “I just know it does.”
We left Fr. Dodge in the garden (and in the heaven he so clearly imagined) while we went inside to tell stories, laugh and cry and eat some pecan pie.

I jinxed them

I jinxed WVU's men's basketball team!

A few days ago I wrote about them being ranked #2 and what happened? Texas Tech beat them 72-71 down in the Lone Star State.

My grandmother, wise old Lina Manona Sadler Jones, used to tell me and my 16 first cousins, "don't get above your raisin'". She meant upbringing not a dried grape.

Once my cousin Bradley Perkins (named after my father but not using Virgil!) was in grandmaw's kitchen, looking at his reflection in the toaster and talking about how good looking he was.

Lina Manona said, "Bradley, don't toot your own horn."

Bradley answered back, "Mammaw, he who toots not his own horn that same horn will not be toothed!"

A fine response, if I might say so.

We were always taught that to brag was about as bad a sin as murder.

That was the Jones family way--bragging brings about heartbreak.

The Bradley side of the family didn't hesitate to brag, except my father.

I guess Mammaw was right. Sorry WVU, I should have kept quiet.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The luckiest thing

The luckiest thing that ever happened to me (besides marrying Bern and having two remarkable children and 4 equally remarkable granddaughters) was to begin my career as an Episcopal priest as the Vicar of an African-American church.

St, James in Charleston, West Virginia was only a few miles from Institute, West Virginia, the home of West Virginia State College, a historically Black school. So many of the members of St. James were faculty and staff at WVSC. The rest were from the Black neighborhood in Charleston.

I had grown up in a county that was roughly 50/50 Black and White. However, the schools were segregated until I was a senior in High School. Then Gary District High School sent over 6 Black students (three really smart girls and three really good boy athletes) to begin the process that would happen the next year when the schools were merged.

I heard a nephew of Martin Luther King say today, trying to save his president from being a racist, "the President is not a racist, he's racially ignorant."

That's what I was when I went to St. James: 'racially ignorant', which, where I come from, makes you a 'racist'.

Until St. James I didn't really know any Black people as friends. A friend I made in college who went to Gary District would introduce me as 'the guy I went to different schools together with.'

I did boycott my Senior Prom because the 6 Black students in my class of 99 couldn't come to the segregated country club. But that was liberal guilt, not any commitment on my part.

What I learned from my 5 years at St. James made me a different person--one with commitment, not guilt. And my teachers were so patient and kind and understanding and compassionate with me that I still am in wonder at them.

The two churches I served after St. James had large Black membership. St. James had made me worthy to serve them and minister with them.

A president who is 'racially ignorant' needs some teachers like I had. Until he gets them, I believe 'racially ignorant' = 'racist'.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"house" or "hole", no difference

I heard a man on CNN tonight (ok, I watch CNN and MSNBC, so you know my left wing leanings) who was trying to defend the President (whose name I don't type!) by saying he called Haiti, El Salvador and Africa nations "S*** House" countries instead of "S*** hole" countries.

It was disconcerting to the other people on the show, to say the least.

It's OK to call black and brown countries "S*** House" countries or that is somehow better than calling them "S*** Hole" countries?

Where I grew up, lots of people had outdoor toilets, including my grandma Jones, which I used many, many times. We sometimes called them "Shit houses" (I'm tired of hitting *!) but there was nothing pleasant, believe you me, about that. Grandma Jones' was a two-seater and the holes were called, honest to God, "shit holes".

So, when I heard someone who's never even seen an outhouse, much less use one, try to say "House" is somehow less damning than "Hole", I just have to laugh.

So which ever term our President (who I will not name) used, the only thing more amazing than how insulting either term was to those black and brown nations, is that he ever had any idea what either term meant.

I don't think he ever used an outhouse or a shit-hole.

How painful it all is.

But we must take deep breaths, meditate daily and stay able to speak up and push back.

We must do that, for the sake of this country which he is trying to dismember.

Please ponder that and do that.


Monday, January 8, 2018

#2m, by God!

The newest rankings of men's Division One basketball are out.

And West (by God!) Virginia is #2!!!

People from the Mountain State usually say "West (by God!) Virginia" when asked by folks outside Appalachia where they are from. I remember several people during my time at Harvard asking, "near Richmond or on the coast?" when I told them where I born and raised. No doubt they were all smart people (being at Harvard and all...) but had some strange geography deficit.

I didn't see the ocean until I was 12 since West (bG!) Virginia doesn't have any coast line.

Incidentally, that was the last time WVU was ranked as high as #2! It was Jerry West's senior year and WVU lost in the NCAA final game by one point to California (71-70).

That's a long time between being #2. But they are now.

In fact they are undefeated in the US (lost their first game to Texas A&M in Germany for goodness sake) but have come back to win 14 in a row. Saturday night they beat Oklahoma who was #7 and WVU was #6. Enough upsets above them and up they jumped this week.

Let's Go, Mountaineers!

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. It commemorates, in Christian lore, the arrival of the Magi from Persia at Jesus' home in  or near Bethlehem. He is usually thought to be two years old since, after the Wise men depart, a worried Herod orders the execution of all the male children in that area two years old or younger. (Which event is observed on the Feast of the Holy Innocents--December 28.)

So, just to be clear to all you creche owners and directors of Church School Christmas pageants, those three world traveler's shouldn't be there. They left Persia when they saw the star--it was a long way on camel back! But, never mind me, take center stage from the shepherds and throw Wise Men into the mix if you must....

But what fascinates me and causes me to ponder is the meaning of the word 'epiphany'--which comes from the Greek epi-phainein, which means 'to show'.

A definition I memorized years ago is this: "a sudden, intuitive insight into the deep-down meaning of things, usually caused by something simple, ordinary and day to day".

I don't know which part of the definition gives me more wonder and joy--the sudden and intuitive insight part, the deep-down mean of things part, or the simple, ordinary part.

Perhaps the best known 'epiphany' was when Archimedies (281-212 BC) watched the water rise in his bath when he got in and realized he could determine an object's density by putting it in water and see how much water it displaced. Legendarily, Archimedies ran through the streets naked, shouting, "Eureka, I have found it!"

That meets the test for sudden/intuitive and deep-down meaning and simple and ordinary.

Taking a bath might not have been a daily thing in 200 BC, but it was simple and ordinary.

My urging is for us all to keep our eyes open and our hearts and minds open and 'be with' what is ordinary and commonplace and simple. Be available for some insight you didn't expect or ask for. Long for 'the deep-down meaning of things'.

Epiphany for Christians is a season--from today until Ash Wednesday (which is Valentine's day this year--and, get this, Easter is April fools day). But I wish you epiphanies, not just for a season, but always.

Look around: the simple and ordinary have much to teach us and inspire us with....

"Insightful Epiphany!" to you....

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Snow Daze

Much of the time I think weather forecasters are like an half-wit old man somewhere in the mountains of Appalachia flipping the dollar coin he's had since his 12th birthday in 1948. Sometimes heads, sometimes tails--one or the other about half the time.

But they got today right, by all that is sacred.

The dog got up quite early but Bern has already swept the porch and deck and dug out some space in the back yard for him. Still, after doing his business, his black hair was practically all white and Bern was covered as well.

The thing about this snow is that it is easy to sweep or shovel away. But I think between us we have swept the back porch and deck 10 times and it is always back in a matter of minutes.

Don't even mention the front porch or the walkway to the parking area or the parking area or the car and truck. Even Mark, our next door neighbor who is usually a snow shoveling fool hasn't touche the parking area or their two trucks.

It's going to keep snowing and blowing until 11 or so tonight. I have no idea how many inches it's been but sweeping an inch or more 10 times gives you some ball park idea.

Cornwall Avenue has been plowed several times but it looks like three inches of new snow right now at just past 5 p.m.

They did pick up the trash and Bern retrieved our trash can before it blew down to Route 10 (a.k.a. South Main Street) but the top to it is under a snow drift somewhere in our front yard.

Bela dog has slept most of the day, hoping to sleep until May, I think.

Which wouldn't be a bad idea.

The President, He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named, tweeted that this gives the lie to 'global warming'--not near the dumbest thing he's tweeted today. "It's climate change," Mr. fake leader of the Free World. This is simply 'weather', though the conditions for the weather have changed. 14 inches in parts of North Carolina. Almost freezing in Tampa. Hardly normal.

Yet, this is New England and this is New England weather.

Lord, help us!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Year's hopes

For people like me--far-Left Democrats-almost-Socialist-globalists--2017 hasn't been much fun.

Well, that tepid statement doesn't give 2017 the credit it deserves. It was a vivid nightmare of epic proportions!

And it's hard to feel hopeful for this New Year when so much I've believed in--open boarders, tight regulations, environmental measures, reducing the military, being 'one' with Western Europe, NAFTA, progress in racial relations, welcoming the stranger into our midst, Gender equality, full inclusion of GLBT folks, Green Energy, taxing the rich to pay for social programs and social programs themselves--have been threatened if not eroded.

I could say, I suppose, that I hope the Mueller investigation would lead to President He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named's impeachment.

But what would that get me? Mike Pence, for God's sake!!!

I could hope the Democrats make incredible gains in 2018--but gerrymandering and voter suppression weigh against that, at least in a way the changes things.

I suppose I hope that people will continue to organize and be moved to push back against the current waves of un-doing, not just Obama's legacy but the American Ethic and Dream.

For me, ethics and dreams are attached at the hip, con-joined twins. Any 'dream' that doesn't put both ethics and compassion front and center isn't, for me, worth having. And any 'ethical' thought that doesn't include a 'dream' of it being made true isn't worth thinking.

That's been the disconnect for me in the past year. "The American Dream" has been reduced to "Make America Great Again"--which seems to move to the past, not the future, to an "America" that, truth be known, either never existed or, if it did, shouldn't have.

Dreams and Hopes are for what should be true. They are not a retreat into a 'simpler, more basic time' where the lines were clear and what 'was' was more important that 'what needs to be'.

I know, I know, I'm just raving my left-wing, let's all be equal and free and fulfilled jingoism now.

I know that.

And, I know that is my hope for this new year--a possibility that we could all be equal and free and fulfilled. My motto would be "LET'S MAKE AMERICA GREAT AT LAST" since we've never, ever had a time when all of us were equal and free and fulfilled.

It's gotten better over decades of struggle, but there was no point in the past when equality and freedom and fulfillment included us ALL. So, there is no "again" to America's greatness. There's nothing to go back to that was better than the present.

But there is a place to go forward to that would be better: more inclusive, more equal, more free, more compassionate, more ethical, more hopeful, more just, more "more" for all.

That's my hope for 2018, that we as a nation, somehow and against all odds, come to realize that we must form a more perfect future for our grandchildren and those yet unborn, not seek some sentimental reliving of a past that never was.

We must create the Present out of the Future...not the Past.

That 'creation' should be our hope and dream and longing....

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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.