Saturday, July 31, 2010

dumb crooks

I've reached the point that most of the news I hear comes for "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me'.

A woman had an job interview at a store and on her way out she shoplifted some items. When they caught her, the store manager who had just talked with her realized the dress she was wearing was one she shoplifted the day before.

When asked, she said, "I needed something nice for my interview."

She didn't get the job.

I just counted 9 butterflies on the butterfly bush in our back yard. It is truly remarkable, our back yard.

I'm going to St. John's, Bristol tomorrow and next Sunday. Their former rector was one of the priests who left the church a few years ago. Maybe this is my supply priest niche--going to churches who used to have ultra-conservative Rectors. Go figure.

I've been writing daily on the ms. called "Farther along" about my experiences as a parish priest. I'd love to share some of it on the blog but I don't know how. Anyone out there know how to do that? (I just the other day realized I could print out stuff from castor oil tree.)Email and tell me if it is possible to put a word document on a blog. Otherwise, send a stamped, self-addressed manila envelope with a note on a $50 bill and I'll send you a hard copy of some of it....

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

stuff I'm doing

I noted I haven't written here for a week. I've been writing other things. I've spent 4-5 hours each day writing about my years as a parish priest. It is part of a manuscript called 'Farther Along'. I also sent a synopsis of my novel to an agent--fascinatingly enough, she is the person who read the very first draft of 'the Igloo Factory' over 30 years ago. I was researching agents and there she was, with her own agency now. I remembered her name but not the agency she worked for back then. So I sent it to her, hoping she'll be willing to read the whole manuscript.

Our back yard is a remarkable menagerie this time of years. I encountered an opossum on the deck a couple of days ago. There are chipmunks and several kinds of squirrels and dozens of kinds of, I killed a Brown Recluse spider today. I saw it and googled it and found out, by the picture, that it was one of the poison kinds of spiders and I killed it with a paper towel. I hate to kill spiders since they do good and wonderful things. But one that could harm me...I didn't feel quite as bad.

Writing has taken over my retirement--but I do try to get out each day and do something. I cook a lot more now than I did. And I'm obviously trying to find something to write about. What I really want to do is go watch the rest of the Yankee game or work on something I've been writing about.

I'll try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

the fourth person of the Trinity

I have never been good with details. Ask anyone you want who knows me a whit and they will say something like "well, Jim triiies to be responsible, but you know how he is."

How I am is that I'm no good with details and the stuff that makes the world go 'round and keeps the wolves from the door. For example: I write about 3 checks a year. Most of the money that goes into the checking account comes from me...but I don't write checks. I don't 'do' money. Bern does that all for me and I do other significant and important things for her, like...oh, for example, ponder the meaning of life....

Bern would be in the poor house and I would be in prison if I tried to 'do money'. Well, you know how Jim is....he means well, but Christ Almighty he's pretty useless in practical ways.

Bern asked me to open a new roll of Saran Wrap and cover something with it this afternoon. I was so excited since I can't be relied upon to achieve practical tasks: I don't do any yard work because I can't mow right and I don't help clean the house because I'm inept at it.

So, I start to open the new box of plastic wrap and really have trouble and cut my thumb on the little teeth that cut the wrap and bleed all over our downstairs bathroom and have to ask Bern to put the band-aid on because I ruined two trying to do it myself...On and on it goes like that. I am not to be trusted to do normal tasks. But if you want someone to ponder something for you, I'm your guy....Really. Call me up about that....

I'm not much trusted with credit cards and I shouldn't be trusted with insurance cards either.

The Diocese changed insurance coverage beginning in Jan of '10. People under the coverage (like 'under the covers'...ponder that...) were supposed to sign up on line. There was a choice between an HMO type coverage and a POS (Point of Service) coverage. I meant to sign up for POS since my urologist (how important a role is that?) who did my cancer surgery and has been following me the five years since, didn't seem to be in the HMO network. But remember, I had to do this 'online' and another thing I am not to be trusted to do is accomplish what is needed to seal the deal of anything on a computer.

So, I get my new Cigna card. Do I examine it and see if there are any problems like the letter that accompanies the card says to do? Well, I meant to, but I just put the card in my wallet and started pulling it out whenever medical issues came up.

About a month ago, I get a bill from Dr. Olsen, my GP. Cigna has denied two visits to his pleasant little offices in Cheshire because he is not my "Primary Care Physician". Yikes! Did I need one of those? So I pull out my card and discover my PCP is a Dr. William Schreiber, who I've never heard of though I'm sure he's a fine doctor and my Cigna card says, clearly only a chipmunk would have missed it: "Network"....Oh my Lord, I'm HMO in spite of my best intentions and Dr. S., my urologist who has had me have exotic blood tests and a bone scan and a cat scan isn't in the 'network'. I'm trying to imagine how much money that would be to pay those bills without insurance....Well, the next day I get a bill from a blood lab for almost $3000, so the adventure is about to begin.

I call the Diocese, frantic and hyperventilating, and Louise gives me the phone # of a certain Ms. L.S. at the Episcopal Medical Trust. I call her and give her a confusing story about how I meant to be POS but I'm HMO and my PCP is wrong and I'm a wreck and hopeless. She says she'll fix the PCP problem and Dr. Olsen will get paid, not to worry.

The next day I get a bill from Dr. Miller, who did a colonostomy for me and had me do blood tests and a cat scan and Cigna had turned him down because he didn't have a proper 'referral'. Well, I know Dr. Olsen sent a referral to Dr. Miller but since Cigna thought William Schreiber should have sent that referral, I am up the creek without a paddle...and the creek's name is S***. (A tad ironic for a colon0stomy Dr...S*** Creek, I mean....)

Now I am thinking in terms of 80 or 100 thousand much do scans and colonostomy and all that stuff--plus lots of pre-butt search blood work....Oh Lordy, I just retired and I'm going to prison and Bern will be in the Poor House....

I kept hovering around the front door for a week or more, waiting to intercept any more medical cost bad news before Bern got it in the mail. I was frantic....I'm almost never 'frantic' or even mildly concerned about money. I don't DO money, so 'what, me worry?'

I couldn't sleep for a week or so and was a crazy person in ways far beyond the ways I'm usually crazy. I finally told Bern about my worries and she started to worry but I told her I would handle it. She looked at me like I had said, "I'm going to levitate for a couple of house and lay some eggs while I'm doing that."

But, here's the thing: Don't mess with the Episcopal Medical Trust! The Episcopal Church may be an irrelevant as shoe horns and rotary phones, but the Church Pension Fund is not to be trafficked with and the Medical Trust is part of that and LS, my contact, is the fourth person of the Trinity.

(The Church Pension Fund claims--and who am I to doubt it--that they have the assets to pay the earned pensions of every Episcopal priest, bishops and lay folks in the Fund if they all stopped working tomorrow! Go figure--the economy is going to hell in a dozen ways and the CPF is beyond reproach. The CPF keeps trying to find ways to give $ away. Like I'm getting a $20,000 'relocation allowance' with my first pension payment on August 1. And I'm not relocating!!! Go figure...After all, J. P. Morgan started the damn thing....)

So, in ways I cannot imagine LS is going to 'tell' Cigna to pay all my bills. Dr. Miller IS in the HMO so that's not the problem...but every test, scan, etc., Dr. S. ordered will be paid because LS and the Medical Trust and the CPF tells them too....Astonishing.

I'm sure I screwed this up, ultimately. I don't even know how, but ignorance is no excuse. And LS, the 4th person of the Trinity, and the vast resources of that irrelevant institution known as the Episcopal Church is going to make it right. I can even see Dr. S for the rest of the year and the Medical Trust will tell Cigna to pay him. "Tell them", mind you...astonishing.

I am such an idiot.

A friend once told me, "it's a good thing you're 'charming' and seemingly clueless or someone would have killed you long before now."

That's true.

Even I don't think I deserve the 'grace'--and I mean that in its full theological meaning--of this experience.

But that's the joke, isn't it? None of us DESERVE the "Grace". We just get it....Astonishing. Amazing.....

for all the pain there is....

Before I left St. John's I let some of the funeral directors know I'd be available for what are called 'trade funerals'. Those are funeral home services for people who have no affiliation with a church. I've done them in the past because it seems right to be present with people in their pain and confusion even if I have no other connection with them.

So, this week I got a call to do a funeral. The funeral director said he 'thought of me immediately' when the need for a clergy presence at this particular funeral came up with the family. I was proud about it and agreed before I realized what it was all about.

The deceased is a 16 year old girl who was raped and murdered by a friend of hers last Friday night. That horrible crime is made even worse because it occurred at the foot of the huge cross above the city of Waterbury in what used to be called Holy Land. It used to be a strange little recreation of the Holy Land, from all I can tell. I did visit it once and it is falling into ruin and is so overgrown it is hard to discern what the original must have looked like. Apparently, except for the illuminated cross, the whole thing is abandoned--though owned by a religious order--and has signs around it telling people not to trespass. Which makes it a magnet for young people to gather....

And there, a 19 year old boy ended the life of this young girl, brutally and, from all I've read in the newspapers at the library, without remorse. It is a chilling story of almost sociopathic violence. The statement of the boy read like something out of a second rate crime book. Even the judge was shocked by the young man's disregard for his victim...who he knew and who had gone to Holy Land willingly. After the rape, the man said he knew he'd have to go to prison so he might as well kill her. Then he defaced her corpse.

And I'm supposed to say something to those who will gather for her wake on Saturday night that will....what? Give them comfort? Provide hope? Ease their pain? Calm their anger? I just don't think that is possible. This is so horrendous a crime that all the pain there is in the universe can't absorb the pain of the girl's friends and family.

It seems to me the four kinds of death that are hardest to comprehend, much less deal with are the death of a child, a suicide, a murder and some sort of violent, painful death. This is two out of three. "Victim Fought Back" the headline in the newspaper screamed one of the days. Oh God, I can't imagine reading that about one of my children. And if I could 'imagine' it, I wouldn't....

I am a man of many words. I've yet to think of a single one for Saturday.

It is so painful to think about--even from an anonymous distance--that words fail. There is simply nothing to say. Words are like fireflies in a tornado....

If you pray, pray for that family, for the soul of that young girl and, if you can find it in your heart, for the one who brutalized and murdered her. But for me--even at a distance--that last prayer seems a lot to ask of myself....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

old time's sake

I went to a reunion Saturday evening. It wasn't high school or college or even seminary (though this year is my 35th Seminary reunion). It was a reunion of some of the people who worked together 20 years or more ago at the Regional Council on Education for Employment (acronym RCEE).
I worked there as an English Teacher and then Center Manager from late 1985 until I went to St. John's, Waterbury in June 1989.
RCEE was jointly sponsored by Yale, IBM, Aetna and a couple of other corporations. IBM was the prime player--imagine me, an IBMer! We recuited and enrolled people with high school diplomas and some office skills and in 16 weeks they were ready for entry level word processing jobs in major corporations. Our placement rate was higher than anyone. It was a great program, but it only lasted 10 years because the laws about such training changed.
There seven of us there--one I didn't know because she came after I left--plus Bern and one of the employees teenage foster daughter (who must have thought we were all ancient and senile and silly. The oldest was 83 and Suzette, who organized it, was the youngest, in her 50's. It was an odd crew--4 Black, 3 white.
The great thing was how comfortable and fun it was to be with them though I haven't seen most of them since 1989. Something in the vision and mission we shared, something in the difference we made in people's lives, something about how we always liked each other greatly. How wondrous to find you can slip back into the same kind of relationship with people after so many years if only for 3 hours in a steak house in West Haven.
I've never been great at "keeping up" with people. I don't have a single friend from high school--except Bern and her cousin Tony--and only one from college (and we haven't seen each other for 5 years or so). I know where several of my seminary classmates ARE and what they're doing...but 'keeping in touch'...nah....
Sat. night convinced me I need to hone my 'keeping up' skills since it was a shame to lose these dear people for two decades. (One of them does live in Cheshire and I see her in Stop and Shop or Everybodies from time to time.)
Besides, it shouldn't be hard since there is, after all, a finite time I will have to 'keep up' with people now....Memento mori. One of the ones who should have been there was Willie Bradley, but he died back in the 90's. His funeral was one of the last times this group of people were in the same place at the same time....until Saturday.
Ponder getting in touch with someone from 20 years ago you really liked and enjoyed--if only for a meal was a good thing....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

cat s***

I had a friend in West Virginia while I was a priest there who looked, for all the world, like my imagination of Icabod Crane from The Headless Horseman and once said 'cat s***' in a sermon.

It was like this: he was preaching about the raising of Lazarus and he was trying to think of a way to describe how L. might have smelled after being dead for three days in the heat of Palestine. Unfortunately, he'd not prepared his sermon faithfully, having been visiting the sick, comforting the dying and doing the kind of pastoral work that is the bedrock of being a priest. So, on the spur of the moment the best he could do is "Cat S***".

Well, you might imagine that someone called the Bishop and the Bishop called Lowell (not my friend's real name since we must change the name to protect the Cat S*** sermon people) and warned him magisterially never, ever, not ever, never again to say Cat S*** in a sermon.

Can you imagine the pressure that put on Lowell? He was not the brightest globe in the chandelier and really wasn't a great preacher--though he was a marvelous priest. Once the Bishop put in his head that he couldn't say "Cat S***" ever again, every word that was about to come out of his mouth of a Sunday sermon began with Cat and ended with Shit.

We used to have four cats. Catherine, Millie, Chuck (or 'Fatty' as we called him in our good our bad moments it was "Fat F***") and Luke. They all died in the last year and a half or so except Luke. They actually died--the three that did--in adverse order of our love for them: Katherine (Millie's mother), then Millie (pitiful she was) and then Chuck (who in anyone's estimate, even devoted cat lovers, was mean, disgusting and awful.) But he died hard and suffered more than we should have let him.

So, we're left with Luke, who we call Puppy Cat because he comes when you call him and is a dog in cat's fur. He was our favorite always (BY THE WAY, HAVE I BLOGGED THIS BEFORE? I'M HAVING DEJA VU AND AM GROWING OLD AND FORGETFUL....)

But, going from 4 cats to 1 we've gotten lax about the litter box--we used to have two and cleaned them daily. Luke is fastidious and likes a clean box. When he sees me change it he goes right in and forces himself to expel waste, whether he needs to or not.

So, Luke has, several times now, left the waste product poor, benighted Lowell used in his sermon in places it doesn't belong. I believe he's become more fastidious without those other cats around and can't abide a moderately used litter box. So, since I'm retired and looking for stuff to do, I'm going to clean it everyday and pray he doesn't s*** on the couch again.

But Lowell, God love him, was right, something that's been dead for three days probably does smell as bad as Cat S***.

things I notice

I often view the posts I make and lament the spelling and grammar errors I didn't catch until I clicked on publish.

But, thought I've viewed the masthead dozens and dozens of time, I never noticed my name was "fr. jim bradley" before just now.

I wonder what the 'fr.' means? Is it a shortened form of 'from'?

Of course I know it means "Father"! I'm not that addled yet. I just am non-observant and never noticed it before.

But I'm pretty sure I've never once written my name with 'Father' or even 'Fr.' before my name.

And I don't use the little cross after my name that lots of priests do. In a hand written signature it sometimes looks interesting to make a cross after your name. But I sometimes get emails from priests that are signed "Don Priest +". That, I think (and it's obviously just me talking) looks silly as hell. But what do I know

Bishops get to put the cross in front of their name. +The Rt. Rev. Mostly that.

Bishops, in my memory, though it is a small sampling since very few bishops ever email me...but in my memory bishops invariably put a '+' in front of their email 'signature'. Most priests who email me don't put a '+' after their name.

That's something to ponder, but I don't know where it would lead you....

the things you learn

There have been lots of things I have learned since I stopped working full time and hang around the house more than in the past.

I've learned how very often there are things in the sink that either need washed by hand or rinsed and put in the dishwasher. Of course, there probably weren't as many then and now since I've settled into a pattern of 4 or 5 small meals rather than 3 big ones.

And I've learned how enormous our dishwasher really is. It's pretty new and has a great deal more capacity than our old one--not to mention that the top rack had broken in the old one and we could only load dishes and glasses and cups and bowls in the bottom rack. The current dishwasher holds almost all the dishes we use on a regular basis and even though I use many more than I used to it takes at least two and a half days to have enough packed in it to run it.

I've learned that their is a time-cost to energy saving appliances. Our clothes washer is as big as our dishwasher and both take an enormous amount of time to do dishes using less water. Go figure that. The dishwasher takes 3 hours and 4 minutes to cycle on 'heavy'. And though I always set the clothes washer on the 28 minute--fastest cycle--I timed it the other day and it took over an hour to clean my clothes and spin them to nearly dry using a cup and a half of water or whatever.

I used to wash clothes every other day or so since I usually have only one of two pairs of jeans and like to wear them a lot. The new clothes washer wants to be packed to the gills before it is started--actually, if you can believe the hype--cleans clothes better when fully packed....who knows.

I've learned how few clothes I have. I have two pairs of jeans, two pairs of khakis, two short sleep button up shirts and maybe two dozen or so tee shirts in many colors. I have maybe three long sleeve button up shirts but they aren't much use in this weather. I do have a lot of socks but they are all winter, bulky things and equally useless in July. I have two suits which I hardly ever wear. I used to wear them only for funerals.

Once I had on a suit and socks and real shoes (I only have one pair of those) at a funeral. A guy named Brian was kidding me about being dressed up. I told him, "Mary was suit worthy....You might consider whether in living your life you are being funeral suit worthy...." Not a bad moral standard, I'd say.

Anyhow, I don't have a paucity of clothes through any conscious choice. I simply don't like to buy clothes--the process of trying things on and such makes me anxious--so it is little wonder that the things I have most of (winter socks and tee shirts) are things that can be purchased without trying them on.

Since I like to wear the same things often--jeans and a red tee shirt and a denim short sleeve shirt or khakis and a black or blue tee shirt and a long-sleeve white shirt with the sleeves rolled up--I would wash clothes every other day or so in the old machine that took about 10 minutes to wash clothes in enough water to supply a village for a week. Progress has overtaken me and I usually run out of the clothes I like to wear before I have enough to fill the clothes washer as tightly as it wishes to be filled. I find myself wearing weird things by the time I gather up all the dirty towels to supplement my clothes and fill the washer for an hour wash cycle.

I am strangely unsatisfied by the advances (good for the environment certainly) in washing things.

(Every year or so--though I never kept track--I will wear out one or the other of my jeans and be forced to go buy some. I've been known to gather clothes at a place like Bob's, carry them to the fitting room and then be so overcome with ennui that I simply left them on their hangers and fled the store. One, a few years ago, I wore out both pairs of jeans at the same time--well, they weren't so much 'worn out' as torn in unfixable places. So I found two new pairs exactly alike and bought them. Those twin jeans were one of the minor joys of my life until Bern told me they weren't presentable any more.)

I actually wonder, from time to time, why we need such a variety of clothes choices. Rather than large stores I'd like to shop in a tiny store that carried jeans and khakis in different sizes but all the same design, long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirts in denim, white, blue and blue stripped and a bin load of winter socks. And I wish when a pair of shoes needed replacing you could mail them back to the manufacturer and they would send you a new pair exactly like the old ones. (I've worn the same style of Birkinstock sandals for 10 years or so. They're called "Arizona' for some reason and have all been tan. I kept the last box for about a year and a half now so I can get the exactly same thing when these wear out or start stinking to high heaven.)

But, I know, intellectually, that if everyone was like me houses wouldn't need walk in closets and Macy's--all those places--would go out of business throwing many people out of jobs and leaving gaping holes in shopping malls.

Oh, I do have a half-dozen sweaters--five of them some shade of blue or gray and one bright yellow one. Most of them used to belong to a friend of mine's father and she gave them to me when he died.

That's a bizarre thought: I could tell the funeral directors I know to call me when someone my approximate size dies (I actually like clothes larger than necessary) and I could contact their family....No that's too macabre even for me....

Monday, July 12, 2010

the longest four days of the year

We have now entered the twilight zone of days. For today and the next three days, nothing will make sense, feel right, add up, comfort or encourage. It is worse than the fiercest February, the hottest August, the rainiest May, the snowiest January. No four days on the calendar are more dreadful than these. And they come every year!

They suck away excitement and joy and wonder and hopefulness and even diminish pain and anxiety--though that is not a good thing in this case.

It is as if a total eclipse of the sun lasted 4 days. Four days of darkness, despair, loneliness, disconnection, ennui , depression, pointlessness, bitter emptiness--like staring into the abyss.

It is the Baseball All Star break. There is no baseball played, right in the midst of July, for four days. Oh, there is a game--but not a real game. Watching the All Star Game is like watching the Rose Parade on New Year's day. Vaguely interesting but what does it have to do with much of anything vital, alive, real, compelling.

I would like to be put into a 96 hour induced coma and wake up when baseball, for real, resumes.

After week after week of 6 games each week for every team. After that since early April--the All Star break is like going cold turkey off the Drug that is major league baseball. A withdrawal just after half the season. What to do for those four evenings. Does the radio and TV still work when there are no games???

So here I am, longing for the resumption of the season....the renewal of the joy...the rejuvenation of the time of hope, longing, imagination, beauty....

O, where are you, Yankees that I love?
Lots of you are in Anaheim, I know.
But where is the green, green grass of the Bronx?
Where is the crack of the bat that matters?
The inside pitch that makes me draw back along with A-Rod?
O, boys of summer, how can you desert me
for four whole days?
What will I do with myself?
How am I to behave with no yesterday's game
to relive
no today's game to anticipate,
no changes in the standings
or the statistics?
May God isn't dead....
but there is no baseball for four days....Alas....

The first day

Funny, this is the first day I've gotten up in over two months and wished I had somewhere to go and something to do--like work! I don't think it will last long, it's just that I've finished with the several writing projects I took on after leaving St. John's and feel a bit out of sorts.

I've done the last draft of "The Igloo Factory", the novel I've been working on off and on for years. I haven't had the time to go through the whole thing one last time and 'polish the polish', so to speak. But not working gave me the time. I've also up dated two novellas that are quite new, unlike the IF. Plus I've gotten together all the bits and pieces of a manuscript about parish ministry called "Farther Along" and am not quite ready yet, having spent all this time in fiction, to start working on that. Soon though.

In going through several filing cabinets looking at that stuff and sermons and poems and such, I ran across an email I wrote to Malinda Johnson at 8:24 pm on August 24, 2004! I sent myself a copy, I told her in the first line, "to remember and grow from". A lot of the email is about a dream I had--one of the few 'church' dreams that was good and joyful. (Most 'church' dreams begin with the congregation packed into a huge space and then I do something like open my Prayer Book and realize it is full of pictures, not words!!! Unable to remember how to start the service, the people gradually drift away and I'm left in an empty church...or with one acolyte who is looking at me as if I am the biggest fool in the world....)

The dream is weird and strange about an outdoor baptism that is wonderful and crowded and full of lots of excitement. Malinda and Michael Spencer are in the dream helping with the crowds of people.

Then I wrote this--almost 6 years ago:
"Then there was this day--actually as I look back, there were many things that could have been thought of as 'negative'--people lying to me, Pauline falling and going to the hospital, painful stories I heard--but for some reason, it all felt like what I'm supposed to be doing with my days and, as I've said before, if anyone found out I got paid to spend days like this: simply being present to people in a multitude of ways (having a discussion with a soup kitchen volunteer about the relative merits of outdoor vs. indoor cats, for example)--well, they'd pass a law against having this much to be thankful for while getting paid!"

The truth is that for most of the years I was Rector of St. John's I did fear that if anyone figured out what percentage of my time was spent 'being' instead of 'doing' something, they would be astonished. So, since the 'work' (if you can call it that) was so much of my 'being', there is little wonder that I might wake up from time to time and feel a hollow place when all that used to be.

Like I wrote above, it won't last long, but the feeling did remind me of how extraordinarily blessed I was all those years at St. John's. And how thankful I am for them....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

something to ponder

Bern and our friend, John, and I were having a conversation yesterday.

John was telling about how his sister and her Jewish husband and two Jewish kids and two Israeli friends went to visit some cousins of John and his sister, Pam, in Tennessee (of all places).

Even though there were 2 Tennessee cousins who Pam and Shuli and daughters really liked, the "liked" cousins invited some of the Fundamentalist Christian cousins to come and be with the Jews and the Israelis.

John and Bern started laughing about the whole set up. They both said they knew already what a disaster it would be and how crazy it would turn out. (I was actually thinking it might be an weird and wondrous transformational moment--and very interesting to be around.)

Well, from John's telling of Pam's story, it couldn't have been more of a oil spill/Three Mile Island/Hurricane Katrina afternoon. It was funny how John told it but the whole thing seemed a tad tragic and sad.

Then Bern said, "Pam should have taken Jim along!"

She laughed at the brilliance of her suggestion.

John joined in laughing. "That would have been perfect. If only Pam and Shuli had had Jim...."

"Jim knows how to be in the midst of those kind of situations," Bern said.

John was delighted. "I'll tell Pam never to go to Tennessee without Jim again."

I supposed they were talking about me--Me, Jim--though it was a conversation that was two way and though I was right there it never got directed at me. But it was interesting....

That Robert Burns thing about 'seeing yourself as others see you" I guess.

At the Making a Difference Workshop I led in Washington a week or so ago, one of the participants asked if we could eat lunch together. He told me that he admired the calm and peace that seemed to surround me and wanted to know how I achieved it. I don't particularly think of myself as calm and peaceful, though I am relaxed and laid back much of the time. I didn't know what to tell him. Then he asked, "I sense you have not always been this way...."

I realized I hadn't. I've, in my past, been anxious, aggressive, wound up and anything but calm and peaceful. I used to walk in a room looking for a fight. So he was right. What did I attribute my 'calm, peaceful, relaxed' persona to?

I told a member of St. John's that I was 'relaxed' when he asked me how I was doing in retirement. "Relaxed?" he said. "You've always been relaxed...."

Now that I think of it, as many people comment on my calmness, etc. these days as used to worry to me that I was too hyped up, too manic, too assertive. So what did happen?

I've grown older, obviously. But I really think the demeanor has been a 'choice' and a 'stand'. I simply realized my up-tempo, confrontational way didn't work and chose to simply be calm. Peaceful even. Works for me. I actually like being the non-anxious one in the room much better than I liked being the center of potential conflict. Who knew?

Ponder that: maybe we can decide our persona instead of letting our persona decide us.....Imagine.....

How I'm doing

Gosh, it has been 2 months and 5 days since I retired.

People ask me how it is going. So far so good.

Ten reasons I'm glad to be retired:

1. I'm saving money on Hall's throat lozenges since I don't talk very much.

2. I actually don't mind not talking as much.

3. I eat more sensibly.

4. I don't have to put gas in my car nearly as much.

5. I don't have to plunge out toilets nearly every day.

6. People don't ask me questions all day that they should ask Harriet.

7. I read a great, great deal.

8. Bern and I haven't killed each other, yet.

9. I have read reams of stuff I have written and want to put in some good shape and actually send it to somebody. I have a novel, a murder mystery, a fantasy, another far from completed novel, a half-dozen short stories, 50 or so poems and page after page of what I've been writing about the church and my ministry tentatively titled "Farther Along"--from the gospel hymn that goes, "Farther along we'll know all about it/ farther along we'll understand why/ cheer up my good friend/ we'll understand it all by and by." Actually the 'it' in two places much be pronounced "hit" to be authentic.

10. I've actually started writing after going over a lot of that.

Ten Reasons I've sad I've retired:

1) I miss celebrating and preaching (though July 4 I had a supply job and have all but one sunday of July and August set up for Supply.

2) I miss the excitement and constant possibility of hilarity, drama, mystery of every moment at St. John's.

3) I don't feel nearly as 'needed' or 'relied on' as I did. And I thrived on that.

4) I miss seeing and being with the remarkable staff of St. John's.

5) I miss that remarkable building and the time I spent alone, just sitting in the sanctuary.

6-10) I miss those remarkable, wondrous, life-giving people of the Parish....

All in all though, it is going well. Plus Norman, the interim, is a great guy and a good friend of mine....So I know the parish is in good hands....

The Devil in the details....

I was reading a library book--I almost never buy books since I am a firm believer in libraries (even though they've taken out the card catalogs and replaced them with computers in Cheshire--I'm a sucker for a card catalog. If you know any libraries that still have them let me know and I'll go visit them). Anyway, as I was writing before I so rudely interrupted myself with that pointless aside about how much I love flipping through card catalogs--the feel of the stiff cards, the smell of the wood, the sight of so much writing I didn't know I didn't know about. I used to spend an hour or so at card catalogs, just browsing SUBJECT--Maori culture (just an example) or Titles beginning with Z or what people named Smyth had written...well, you get the idea...

But as I was trying to say about this library book: "Noah's Compass" by Anne Tyler (a typical Anne Tyler Baltimore, quirky characters, musings on the meaning of it all, etc.). On page 219 right in the middle of a conversation between Ian and Jonah about the Noah's Ark story, it said "......," NOAH ASKED.

Well, of course "Noah" didn't ask anything. Noah was who Ian and Jonah were discussing. Such a weird typographical error to sneak by how many editors. But some one who read the book before I did obviously couldn't stand it and drew a dark J through the N of "Noah". Some people don't have my patience with typos.

Whoever it was must have felt a) elated to have found a typo in such a well know writer's novel; b) astonished that the editors had missed it; c) delighted to correct it and, most probably, d) not a little smug and self-righteous about the whole thing.

Lots of people love, absolutely L O V E to find typos. Over a career of church bulletins and church newsletter I really know about the zeal of the TYPO POLICE.

But here's my question: why didn't the oh-so- elated-astonished-delighted-smug Typo detector finish his/her job?

The correction read: "........" JOAH asked.

If you're going to get so hot and bothered about the N, why not move it over a letter or so and correct the whole thing: making Noah into JoNah, for goodness sake.

Well, I guess you've figured out by now that this is all the revenge of the King of typos and misspelling , a veritable nightmare for those who read bulletins and newsletters with a red pen out. This is my revenge against the Typo Police.

And boy, do I feel elated, astonished, delighted, smug and self-righteous about the whole thing.

Upon pondering, I guess it's that rush of emotions that makes otherwise kind and polite people into the Typo Police in the first place.....

Monday, July 5, 2010

failing the 'clicker' test....

This morning, when I tried to use the remote control for the air conditioner in my little office, I couldn't get it to work. I'd failed the 'clicker' test again. And I had a memory....

(This isn't the memory, this is why I have an air conditioner in my little office: the one I have now was in the TV room but it made so much noise you couldn't hear the TV without having the volume so loud you couldn't have a conversation without yelling. So Bern decided to take it out and replace it with a quieter one she had. She, by the way, does all the stuff like that since I've proved myself so incompetent in such undertakings that I'm no longer asked to participate. Poor me! And since the weather has turned horribly hot she decided to put the noisy air-conditioner in my little office, believing it would take the hot air coming up the back stairs from the kitchen and make the downstairs a little cooler as well. So far, it has worked quite well. I called her a 'heat manipulator' since, through a complicated ritual of opening and closing windows are certain times and putting fans on and off at other certain times, she has managed to keep our un-air-conditioned areas 74 or below in the hottest weather.)

What I remembered when I flunked the clicker test was the electronic voting at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I've been a Deputy during the last two conventions--Minneapolis in 2006 and Anaheim in 2009. Luckily the EC only meets every three years. Annual meetings would open untold possibilities for theological and programmatic mischief. Plus there are 4 lay folks and 4 clergy in each dioceses' deputation and the expense of gathering 800+ Deputies, never mind the cost of the House of Bishops, makes annual meetings untenable.

Since the House of Deputies has so many deputies, voting practice is an issue. At the last two GC's we've used electronic voting which requires using a little hand held clicker about the size of a cell phone. Needless to say--even though there are 800+ people of above average intellect involved--it has been a minor disaster, taking up more time than you can adequately imagine during the 9 days of meetings.

The only thing that has made it bearable, if not a tad pleasant, is that the Chief Teller, who gives the instruction each time is a gorgeous priest from New York or Mass or somewhere. She is also very patient and extremely humorous. Gorgeous, patient and funny--how much better could it be? She also has an accent I really can't place (she may be at least part Hispanic) that makes it a treat to listen to her explain in words of one or two syllables, how easy this process that confounds 800+ people really is....

(About accents, by the way: I love them and practice placing them. I can even tell the difference between a Peurto Rican accent and the a accent of someone from Cuba or Mexico. Anyhow, once I met a new member of the church I served in New Haven and after talking with her for a few minutes, I asked her, "Where's your accent from?"

She replied, cooly, "Actually, it's a speech defect. People seldom mention it."

She stayed at the church anyway...)

So what is it about the voting clickers that confound even those who have conquered remote controls of all kinds? The voting clicker has numbers 0 to 9 and three buttons, not really a complicated thing. (My friend John and my son Josh have multiple remote control clickers for their assortment of electronic mysteries. I can't figure out the one for the TV, much less cope with the others. Even when alone in places like John's and Josh's, I tend to watch whatever was on when I arrived though I know that have in excess of 600 channels cleverly concealed from my meager skills at clicking.)

I actually think the General Convention's voting clickers are a metaphor for how the EC and probably most mainline churches (though I'm sure Unitarians are more adept than most) are rendered incapable and laughingly distracted by anything that is new, different, out of the ordinary, edgy, etc.

I remember visiting St. Mark's in Raleigh, NC over twenty years ago. The parish was considering me to be their next Rector. In fact, they called me to that job and I turned it down after a weekend of anguished struggle for what would be best for me and Bern and the kids. A month later I was invited to interview for the position of Rector of St. John's. Things do happen for a reason.

At any rate, St. Mark's was growing so rapidly they were in their 3rd new building in the 25 years of the parish's existent. It was an ultra modern building with nothing nailed down--everything could be moved around within an area the size of a basketball court. The building was three years old and I asked them to tell me about the different configurations they'd used for worship. I was thinking about designing the space for different seasons, high holy days, all sorts of ways to place the furniture in that vast space.

They looked at me sheepishly. They had set up the space like a traditional church--font in the back, altar in the front, chairs in rigid lines--and never changed it in three years. The stuff might as well have been nailed down!

And there are always the complaints on Christmas and Easter and when we have multiple baptisms that "someone was in my pew". Lordy, lordy, a full church and everyone is a bit miffed! But then one day, a visiting Bishop sat in my chair and I almost made him move.....

Little stuff like that--like voting devices--throws the church off kilter. We really don't want to 'change' or 'transform' either. One thing CHURCH inspires in people is a longing for 'the way things have always been'.

It goes all the way to the top, in fact, as I think about it, the whole ''changelessness" probably starts at the top....

feeling my pain...

I realized this morning when I got up, that no one (in spite of Bill Clinton's testimony to the contrary) can "feel my pain". My pains--the nagging twinges from my left wrist where the tendon never healed properly from breaking my arm a few years ago, the ache in the top of my foot from where I wore sandals to walk the dog and bruised my foot, the occasional weakness in my lower back, the burning from where the poison ivy on my forearm is almost gone--nobody can feel that but me. We can sympathize when someone has a pain or hurt that we imagine is like one we had at some point, but we really can't feel another's pain. Pain can only be felt from the inside out.

Which got me to pondering the fact that the physical metaphor applies to ideas, thoughts, convictions, opinions, beliefs and confusions as well. Just as we can't get inside another person's body, we can't be inside their brains or hearts either.

All of which has caused me to wonder if I don't need to transform the way I listen to and am present with people I disagree with. After all, it seems clear to me right now, I can't adequately imagine what is going on in their minds. So, Tea Party members and Right Wing Republicans and atheists and radical Muslims and fundamentalist Christians have stuff sloshing around in their gray cells and their emotions that I cannot ever understand fully. Perhaps I have to lighten up with them and practice listening for clues about how their minds work differently from mine.

To batter the metaphor into unconsciousness: I seldom have headaches. So when someone tells me they have one, the best I can usually do is remember eating homemade ice cream at my Grandmother's house on hot summer days until my head hurt. As debilitating as the is to my memory of it, there is no way that memory even begins to touch the reality of another's headache.

In the same way, I've been pondering this hot morning that virtually cries out for homemade ice cream (peach was my favorite) that the mind and feelings of the priest who left St. James' in New Haven--and the Episcopal Church while he was leaving things--is far beyond my ken. I can't even imagine, not for the briefest moment, the thought process and obvious pain that led him to that decision and action.

So (just to let you know this is going 'somewhere'...anywhere!) it might just be I have no right to judge him in any way. All I can do is be present to the fall-out of his actions for the two Sundays I will celebrate and be with that broken and wounded congregation. Besides, most of my reactions and thoughts about him are without any standing in fact since I can't 'feel his pain' or 'think his thoughts'.

Gosh, I hate giving up judging other people with whom I disagree!

I've started calling the TEA PARTY the ME PARTY since it seems, in my mind, all they supposedly advocate and stand for comes back to a remarkably self-centered view of the world. I saw a picture of one of the TP folks who had a homemade sign on his trifold hat--one of those hats like they wore in the Revolutionary War...the kind we all imagine Paul Revere wearing. The sign said: LISTEN TO ME! My initial reaction was to think, "why in the hell should we?" Democracy, after all, can't function is everyone is ego-centered. Democracy, when it works well, 'listens to All of us' but no one more carefully than anyone else.

And the man I saw during rush hour last week, standing in front of the Cheshire Town Hall with a sign that said, "FACE IT, OBAMA IS A SOCIALIST!!!" I wanted to pull my car over and yell at him, "No he's not, you idiot! He is at best a moderate Democrat...."

But I realize I have no idea what that man feels or thinks and why he's come down in a place I find so far-fetched it would be laughable if it wasn't terrifying. Perhaps I need to listen to him for a while and "willingly suspend my beliefs" (sorry for mangling your words S. T. Coleridge...) long enough to simply be present to his thoughts rather than rejecting them and considering him a lunatic.

That won't be nearly as much fun, but maybe...just maybe...the beginning step of finding ways to live together in the world without insulting, rejecting or killing each other is to be willing to 'be present' in as full a way as possible, to 'the Other', whatever that means in the moment.

I have to ponder so more, but I know the Mastery Foundation I work with has this as an almost creedal statement, "Connection before Content". That has something to do with being able to 'bracket' our opinions, feelings, etc. long enough to find a relationship with the Other in the room.

This is going to take a lot of time in the sun beside my withered up Castor Oil Tree--but it might be time well spent.

We'll see....

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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.