Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Belated birthday poems

Since I couldn't get to my email, I missed two poems sent to me on my birthday and I want to share them with you.

The first is from Louie Crew, founder of Integrity (for GLBT Episcopalians and their friends). I was privileged, for several years to be the chaplain to an Integrity chapter. Louie always sends me a poem on my birthday. Here is this year's....


Imagine the five minutes before your mother
learned that she was pregnant with you.

Imagine the five minutes before your father
 found out.

Let those minutes tick slowy by.
Fill in any blanks with your best guesses.

Connect intimately with their world
before you were.

Imagine the five minutes after they knew,
their readjustments, their expectations.

Then reconnect intimately with your gestation,
when you were becoming,
when you were a presence and a promise.

Celebrate your wholeness.
You are a presence and a promise still.
Gestate anew.
For this is your day.
reJoy it.
reJoice in it.
                                             --Louie Crew

And then, from my dear friend, Ann Overton, who I've known since 1987 and worked with in the Mastery Foundation for much of the time since. She sent this....

When we are alone on a starlit night,
when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn
descending on a graove of junipers to rest and eat,
when we see children in a moment when they are really children,
we we know love in our own hearts;
or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho,
we hear an old frong land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash--
at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values,
the 'newness', the emptiness and the purity of vision
that make themselves evident--
all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.
                                             --Thomas Merton

She added, "happy birthday, Jim. And keep dancing!"

If you ever have a thought that  you'd like to give me joy, send me a poem....

How sweet it is...

I'm back to my email. I obviously called 'tech support' when the woman in India wanted to do unspeakable things to my computer just after I'd had a new hard drive installed.

Yesterday I called the correct number--the one for 'reset my password' and it was all done talking to a voice recognition system without encountering another human being from India or anywhere. How sweet is that?

And tomorrow is May 1--May Day.

I feel better today than I have since New Year's Day. A visit to my doctor tells me that for the first time since then I don't have fluid in my lungs. What could be sweeter than non-fluid lungs? Well, May, perhaps. The cruelest month is over and about time, I'd say....How sweet is that?

Did  you ever hear 'Bird Notes' on NPR? It's these little minute long moments about our winged friends.

Sunday I heard one about the song of Cardinals. Did you know that for most North American songbirds, the females don't sing? But, this time of year, the female Cardinal answers the call of the male Cardinal in a softer tone and they find each other by call and return.

This morning, out on our deck, I saw a male Cardinal--red as can be--singing his "Wet,wet, wet, wet you song". Then I heard a response from a yard or two away. Then the call and response were repeated and the female, much less colorful, flew into the same tree the male was in. One more call and response and they were on the same branch.

I left them then, not wanting to be an aviary voyeur and to give them their privacy.

How sweet is that?

I wore a sweater this morning. Spring has not really sprung. But I shed it by the afternoon. What's the old saw? You know you live in New England when you wear a sweater with shorts....

Well, really, that's rather sweet too....

Sunday, April 28, 2013

250 years is not an inconsiderable amount of time....

Today I was a part of the 250th Anniversary of St. Andrew's Church in Northford. It is one of the churches in the Cluster and we canceled church at the other two and lots of folks from Emmanuel and St. James came to St. Andrew's.

All three of the presbyters--Molly and Bryan and me were there along with 4 former clergy in the Cluster and our Bishop and Tom Ely, the Bishop of Vermont, who  began his ordained ministry as the first clergy-person of the Cluster. Tom preached and Ian celebrated and it was a wondrous liturgy. We processed in to the first 2 verses of 'The Church's One Foundation' and after a prayer by Ian we processed out of the church to the new meditation garden created there to bless that and then back to the new front doors--painted red as they should be!--to bless them and then the whole congregation came back in singing "For all the Saints".

It was truly wondrous. I read the gospel and for the first time ever I took the book up to Ian to have him bless me...I usually shun such liturgical nonsense as having the bishop bless the gospel and its reader. But he made the sign of the cross on the book and then on my forehead and I didn't hear what he said because, for reasons I need to ponder, I was so moved by his action that I couldn't pay attention to his words.

Tom was ordained a priest at St. Andrew's--the only one ever in that quarter of a century ordained there--and his second daughter was born on his first Christmas Eve as an ordained person. So he was an incredible and just right choice to be the preacher. I told him afterwards that he was much too good a preacher to be a bishop.

He and Ann, his wife, met in southern West Virginia working at the Highland Educational Project in Northfork and Keystone and Welch. I actually worked at the same place the summer after my first of two years at Virginia Theological Seminary. I grew up about 12 miles from there. When connections like that get made, I always say, "Big world, small church..." which is true.

All in all a great way to spend a Sunday. How lovely and loving it was.

Friday, April 26, 2013

some stuff you missed...

I didn't have my computer for about two weeks and, not surprisingly, things happened in those two weeks. I'll try to catch you up.

66 is not a prime number. It is divisible by 2, 3, 6, 11, 22 and 33 along with some other numbers that didn't come to me easily. So, turning 66 is not a prime birthday like 5 or 7 or 11 or 13 or 17 or 19 or 23 or 29 or 31 or 37 or 41 or 47 or 51 or 53 or 57 or 59 or 61 (did I get them all?) Next year, though, I'll turn 67, which is a prime number. I'd look forward to that except it would mean looking forward to one year nearer the grave.

How I came to be 66 is a mystery to me. Last I looked I was 37 and had two children aged 9 and 6. Now I have two children who will be 38 and 35 this year. How did that happen? The last 29 years have sort of sped through without passing GO and collecting $100.

On my 66th birthday I did this: had a pedicure for over half-an-hour, went to see "42" at the cinema in Southington (which I recommend highly!).after eating a chili dog for lunch and went to dinner with Bern at Luna in Cheshire where I ate raw oysters, raw clams, sesame  crusted tuna and grilled sea scallops over sea weed and a creme bulea. Any meal that includes 4 things or more from the sea is a meal to remember.

Then we went to Baltimore after church on Sunday and came back Wednesday. 5 hours down and 5:25 back. Josh and Cathy hate to hear these numbers since they are always coming to CT on holidays and it takes 7 or 8 hours....

The girls were amazing. So smart, so beautiful so wondrous. Well, I guess anyone would say that about their grandchildren. But Morgan, Emma and Tegan are all that and moreso.

We had Tegan all day Monday and Tuesday and on Tuesday I went to pick up Emma and Morgan at 3:15 at the Calvert School. On Monday they had ballet which is more important than grandparents so they didn't get home until Cathy picked them up after 5.

Here's something that ties together the Calvert pick-up and being 66: when I got there, following Cathy's directions, I was 15 minutes early and, because I'd been drinking a lot of fluid to keep my allergy mucus loose, I needed to pee. You are the only ones that will know this, but I had an empty water bottle in my car and peed into it and poured it out before going over to gather the girls. What a humbling thing peeing in a water bottle is.

And, since Cathy had emailed a picture of me to the school so they'd know it was okay for me to gather Morgan and Emma, the elegant black man/assistant principal standing in front of the door to the school, said, "you must be Jim Bradley". I agreed and a call over his walkie-talkie brought them tumbling out, wild with excitement to be picked up by their Grampie.

On the way back to their house, following Cathy's precise directions, Morgan kept telling me 'this is right, Grampie". Emma didn't seem to have a clue.

Morgan also found a lighter in the back seat and asked me what it was. "A lighter", I told her. And when she persisted about why I had it in my car I told her I smoked cigarettes from time to time. At that they both started yelling at me in that way that makes an oppositional personality like mine want to light up in front of them.But I didn't.

And all that reminds me of a poem I wrote a few years ago. I think I'll try to reproduce it here.

When I tell my granddaughters about Junkos

Let me tell you about these little birds,”
I'll say, “that I saw in Seattle....”

(There will be lots of questions then:
Where's Seattle?” “Is it far?”
Can we go there?” “How'd you go?”
They move along a story
the way they pump the swings
in the park down from their house--
quickly, rising higher, full of wonder.)

Then I'll tell them how the cook
in the conference center where I was,
saw me watching the little birds.
He was smoking a cigarette,
watching me watch the birds
while I smoked as well.
(I'll leave out the part about cigarettes.
Let their parents deal with that someday....)

They're called Junkos,” he called to me.
The little birds?” I asked.
He nodded and blew smoke.
I jerked my head as one flew by,
almost skimming the grass.

He told me there were two kinds.
The ones with gray heads were just Junkos
and the ones with black heads were called
'hooded Junkos' with their black hoods.

Junkos are small and quick.
Swallow like, with long splashes of white
on their wings when they fly.

Curious birds, a couple hopped
into the meeting room we used,
craning their necks and watching us
for a while, wondering about us,
I suppose, then hopped back out
the door we left open
because of the heat.

I told the cook about Junko visits
and he replied they came in the kitchen
from time to time,
then left.

I imagine Junkos
live in the East, as well,
and my granddaughters
could see them some day
in Baltimore.

I could look it up
before I tell them
in the green bird book
my friend John loaned me,
mostly forever, because
I love birds.

I could show the girls
the color plates of birds--
a multitude of them--
which I sometimes just
look at without reading the names.

But I don't think I'll research Junkos
before I see the girls.
I'd rather just wonder if I'll
ever see one here, in the East,
or if they live only on the Pacific
side of this wide land.

I like to wonder about stuff like that--
even stuff I could Google and know.

So I'll just tell them how much
I loved watching the Junkos
and leave it at that.

Let them wonder about the birds.

It's always good, I believe,
to wonder about things.

I pray those little girls,
will never stop wondering.
That is what I pray.

JGB 7/11/11

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Alas, I'm an addict...

(I wrote this in long hand on April 16 because my computer was compromised and my friend John had taken it away. I just got it back today 4/25)

My computer started doing weird things a few weeks ago. Plug-ins (whatever they are!) were suddenly 'compromised' and not available unless I made them available by clicking on 'activate' which sounded too much like 'activating' a nuclear warhead for me to risk do it.

I did a couple of things my friend John suggested, neither of which made any difference. The 'compromised' plugins--which allow me to watch videos or listen to NPR on line--were still 'compromised'. So John came to fix it and after a while (during which he banned me from my little office) he took my computer home with him to try to fix the problem.

That was Sunday and now it is Tuesday evening and I'm sitting in front of my inert screen writing in long hand.

Th first thing I've noticed is that writing with a pen is awkward and much more difficult (and slower) than typing on a keyboard. And my handwriting, never Zaner-Blosser level, has disintegrated. I have difficulty writing with a pen since I so seldom do.

And I can't 'surf the web' or do email or play hearts or online checkers.

I read in front of the screen and write long hand and drink wine and am almost disabled not having access to my computer's world.

It might as wall have been cocaine. I am a computer junkie.

I need rehab. If I don't get my computer back by Thursday I might have to go to the Cheshire library (or use Bern's laptop) and play hearts all day. I might have to start writing letters and take them to the Post Office to mail. I might have to call people rather than email them....

All hell is breaking loose here at 95 Cornwall Avenue in Cheshire! I'm losing control. I don't even know what time it is since my computer isn't on or even here!

I'm going to spend my birthday tomorrow without a computer. This should give me pause since I'm old enough to have celebrated many more birthdays without a computer than with one....

So, here's my rehab plan having 'hit the pavement' with my computer addiction.

I'll log on once a day when my computer is back. I'll look at emails, write a blog, play some hearts and write whatever else I need to write. I'll spend no more than 2 hours at my computer--no more!

{But, I know the truth. Addicts always think they can 'handle it'. I may need an internet invtervention in the end....)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Joy needs a new word to make it mean what I feel

Tonight Tim and Mimi called.

Tim has been a part of our family for years and years--holidays and vacations together more than I can recall....but my memory isn't that good these days.

Tim and Mimi went to Bennington College at the same time. They were friends. Then when both of them were living in NYC they became more than friends. What do you call it these days--I've lost the lingo--lovers? partners? companions?

They've lived together for (well if I had any concept of linear time I could tell you) long enough, I believe, to be 'common law' married.

But tonight they called and Mimi has a ring (beautiful black diamond--we got a picture on email) and Tim apologized for not asking my permission to ask my daughter to marry him.

Ever since Tim has been with Mimi, from the first time we met him, he's been 'family'. God, we love him. A Techie and a Musician--what could be better in this brave new world?

And it has always been obvious that he loves, loves, loves our daughter. We've spent three or four vacations (my linear time thing again) with Tim and Mimi on Long Beach, North Carolina and dozens of visits to Cheshire and our visits to Brooklyn. And he loves her. And anyone who loves Mimi is, in my book, one of the best people in the world because Mimi is so terribly lovable.

I asked him months ago if he minded if I referred to him as my 'son-in-law' and he told me he has long referred to Bern and me as his 'in laws'. New rules for a new world.

And now they are going, at some point, to get married.

There is no 'down side' to this night. Tim and Mimi are going to get married. God is in his heaven and all's right with the world....

Joy. Joy and tears of joy are with me this night..."Joy" doesn't quiet do it. I need a different word to express what I feel...."enchantment"...that just might do.

I love both of them so, so much. And I am enchanted by their news....

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Wedding Album

Our wedding album--Bern's and mine--was out on the counter where I keep red wine. I normally only drink white wine, but I like to feel sophisticated from time to time and was getting a glass of red when I noticed the wedding album.

It's out, I know, because the granddaughters were here at Easter and love to see Bern and I as younger visages of ourselves. And, Jesus Christ, we were young! I was 23 and Bern (then 'Bernadine') was 20. God help us, what were we thinking?

September 5 we'll have been married 43 years. Lots of poets and rock stars never lived 43 years and we've shared a life that long. There have been very high 'ups' in all those years and several very low 'downs'. I sometimes tell people I've been married five or six times but always to the same woman.

How those children that we were managed to stay together this long, I'll never know. Dumb luck would be my first guess. Or maybe 'love' though that got severely tested quite a few times.

I really wish I had a smart phone and could download some of the pictures from that wedding album for you to see how young and fresh and eager for lust we were in those pictures. And see family and friends that were there with us.

Bern had cousins and friends and her sister as bridesmaids. I had only friends, though my second cousin--now nearing 50--was the ring bearer. My dad was my 'best man'. I think it was the best gift I ever gave him.

Bern's parents and mine are in lots of the photos--all dead now and for years, decades.

We have Bern's wedding photo over our kitchen fire place. It's a bit of a joke. We refer to it as the "Wedding Princess" and she is stunning, beautiful, a bit mysterious, lovely. We tell the granddaughters that Bern is a Queen in the photo. Sitting in front of the fireplace is a 3 foot by 2 foot photo of me with my lion hat on taken by Fred Jenks in St. John's library over four years ago. We tell the girls that's a picture of a fool

The Queen and the fool. That's us.

I didn't have a beard when we got married, only a long moustache and a Beatles hair cut. My  hair and moustache were dark brown, nearing black. That's how young I was. Today every hair on my face and head is gray or silver or yellow/white.

I initially ask myself, "who were those people?" so young and fresh and eager for life to come. Then I ponder it all and see Bern and myself in those photos at the beginning of what has been--for all the ups and downs--a remarkable 43 years. And I remind myself that I still love and live with that incredibly young, wondrously fresh woman.

We had been a couple, on and off, since she was 14 and I was 17--now we're talking a year short of half-a-century we've been together. High school sweethearts, we were. And there we are in that album, feeding each other wedding cake, kissing, my gazing at her while she looks out into the horizon, probably wondering what she's gotten into.

I remember those incredibly young people. They did ok for a marriage. OK indeed.

Way past 'average', I'd say.

And I still gaze at her when she doesn't know I'm looking, and I see that fresh young girl and the woman she's become.

We grow old together. But deep down I'm that dark brown haired boy and she's that ethereal young Queen. They're here with us as we roll into the 60's at too fast a speed. She actually looks more like  her 43 year ago self than I do.

I don't hold that against her...I rejoice in it.

Bern is not 'the love of my life'. She is, in a real way, 'my life'. It's just 'who I AM'. I am married to Bern. Like that. And joyfully.

I'm so joyful I spent that 20 minutes with the Wedding Album. It made me realize more clearly who I am...and why....

Observing the passage of time....

I'm coming up on the anniversary of my retirement from full-time ministry three years ago. My. how time does fly when you're  having fun!

I love being retired. I have my time with the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry and my teaching at Olli at UConn's Waterbury branch and my participation in leading Making a Difference Workshops for the Mastery Foundation a few times a year. Other than that, my time is my own. What a joy. I read five books a week. I dabble in writing. I do this blog. I sleep until I wake up. I eat when I'm hungry. I hang around and bother Bern. I go to movies. I am very fortunate that the Church Pension Fund and Social Security and MACM pay me more money than I deserve. In 2012, for example, my income was greater than I ever made working full time as a priest....Imagine that and ponder how wondrous my retirement is.

But as I approach the anniversary of my retirement, I feel a twinge of nostalgia for the 20+ years I spent as Rector of St. John's, Waterbury. Until the last 3 years, those were the best years of my life.

In celebration, I want to share with you my Sermon Last. The final sermon out of well over a thousand sermons and homilies and reflections at St. John's. I'd estimate somewhere around 2500 on Sundays and Wednesdays and Holy Days. And this is the one I feel best about, feel most completed with, honor most.

Sometimes 'the last' is the best.

So I share it with you, two weeks or so before the third anniversary of its preaching.


In one of Robertson Davies’ novels, someone asks an aging priest how, professing to be a holy man, he could devour a whole chicken and a bottle of wine at dinner. The priest answers:
“I am quite a wise old bird, but I am no desert hermit who can only prophesy when his guts are knotted in hunger. I am deep in the Old Man’s Puzzle, trying to link the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one.

In my two decades in your midst, I have feasted on Joy and Sorrow, on the Wondrous and the Mundane, trying always to link the wisdom of the body to the wisdom of the Spirit…Deep in the Old Man’s Puzzle….

A few years ago, for our anniversary I gave Bern a drawing by an artist named Heather Handler. It has a weird looking tree on it and these words:
“Sit with me on hilltops, under trees and beneath the skies.
Then speak softly and tell me the story, once again,
About why we met, and how someday we’ll fly….”
That sentiment was about our relationship—Bern’s and mine—and it also speaks to me and you and our shared ministry and our relationship in this place for over twenty years.

Today—this day—is our ‘last dance’. Friday we will part. I will go my way and you will go your way. And both ways are full of hope and joy and not a little anxiety and unknown wonders. Both ways lead to this: they lead us deeper into the Old Man’s Puzzle and they lead us to flying….

There is no doubt in my mind that “why we met” was because of the will and the heart of God. But when I came here, I could not have ever imagined staying so long. And now that I am leaving, I cannot imagine leaving so soon.
Yet I know this—we, you and I, will soon learn how to fly.

Today we sit on the hilltop, beneath the sky and speak softly.
And then we part, you and I. The last dance always ends. And the future lies ahead, beckoning, inviting, always to be created….

I cannot thank you enough. I cannot thank you completely. There are not enough words—though I am a man of many words—to give that thanks in a way that matters.
Instead, I will bless you.
And these are my words of blessing: VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS, DEUS ADERIT….That means this: “Bidden or unbidden, God is present….”

Whether we call upon God or not—God is always there…profoundly there…totally there…here…and now….

I leave you, as I found you, with God in your midst and deep in the Old Man’s Puzzle.
You have let me be a part of that for these years. God was here when I arrived and God guided us—you and me—on our journey together…and God waits, ready and glorious, to lead you on as I leave and to lead me on as you stay here.
And there is this: God will teach us how to fly….And puzzle us more and more.

I love you. I adore you. I will miss you more than you imagine…more than you CAN imagine. And I bless you and thank you.
Keep trying, in every way possible, to link the wisdom of the body—WHAT YOU DO—to the wisdom of the Spirit—WHO YOU ARE.
And start trying out your wings……
April 25, 2010

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The sermon I never preached...

I was checking out the documents in my computer and came across the sermon I never preached. I don't know what year it's from, though it must be recent since it mentions this blog. And I don't remember writing this and I thought I'd share it with you because it is so odd. I like odd, in case you haven't noticed...

Sermon not preached on July 8

I used a quote in my sermon last week from Saul Alinski. It is a quote that turns upside down and inside out our normal assumptions. What we say is: “seeing is believing”. What Saul Alinski said was, “When we believe it, we will see it....”

I write this blog where I ponder things that confound me. Last week I pondered things like this:
*how does the cat know I just cleaned his litter box?
*why do people wear headphones when walking on the canal that shut out the sounds of birds and bullfrogs and the wind in the trees and the sweet whisper of the water?
*how many words does my dog know?
*if Jesus were here, would he go to church?

That's the one that's really got me wondering. If Jesus were here, would he go to church?

So a call comes to the Pope's office. Some Cardinal answers it and says, “you're kidding! Oh goodness! Amazing!

The Pope asks who's calling and the Cardinal says, “your Holiness, there is good news and bad news.”

“Tell me the 'good news' first,” the Pope says.

“Jesus has come back!” the Cardinal tells him.

The Pope crosses himself and gives a prayer of great thanks. “So what could be the 'bad news'?” he asked.

The Cardinal held his hand over the phone: “He's calling collect from Salt Lake City....”

It would be weird to have Jesus in Church: If he were a reader he'd say, “The Word of Me” at the end of the lesson.

If he were receiving communion—we'd have to say, “Ah, your Body...This is, Ah, your blood.”

If Jesus came back, He wouldn't come to church to worship himself—that would give new meaning to “Narcissism”!

But if Jesus came back, I think he would come to church. Not for the worship, not for the Sacraments, not for the scriptures....but for two things....THE HYMNS and The COMMUNITY.
Today we heard about Paul's Beatific Vision. He claims it is a man he knew, but it is surely him. He was lifted (in his body or not; God knows) to the realm of heaven. And in that vision of paradise, he realizes “Power is made perfect in Weakness”. And he decides to 'boast' of his 'weakness' so God's Power can be made perfect.

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus can't find community in his home town. They 'don't see it, because they don't believe it'. He is too familiar to them. They know his family. How dare he claim to be something they know he isn't.

Community doesn't “happen”. We create it. And we create it out of our weakness...out of our failure to be a community. We will only 'see' it when 'we believe it'.

There is a story of a people who lived on the edge of the sea but never sailed it. But it came to them that there was 'A Beautiful Land' just across the sea, so they build an enormous ship and set sail from all they knew to find that “Beautiful Land”.

The problem was, they were a landed people and were terrible sailors. People kept falling overboard so the wondrous ship had to endlessly circle to pick up those who had fallen in the sea. Over and over they circled, over and over, to save those who had fallen into the sea.

And the miraculous thing was, that by circling endlessly to rescue their friends, they suddenly arrived at the 'Beautiful Land'.

That is what 'community' is all about. Endlessly circling to bring those who had fallen into the sea on board. Our weakness and our compassion are what bring us, unexpectedly, to the place we sat out to find.

That is why Jesus would come to church (besides the hymns!). To be a part of both our weakness and our compassion. To set sail with us. To share our journey. To come, at last, with us at the destination by merely circling and circling and circling to make sure we all get there together.....

Something to ponder, I think....

School is starting for me

Friday is the first class of my course on The Gospel of Mary Magdalen at UConn in Waterbury.

I teach in the Osher Life-long Learning Institute. Which is for people over 50, people who want to be there studying what they want to know. Amazing....

All I wanted to be in life was a college professor then this God stuff got in the way. Instead of going to the University of Virginia to get a Ph.D. in American Liturgy when I graduated from college, I went to Harvard Divinity School on a Rockefeller Fellow grant and got hooked on Theology. Now, in my retirement, I'm getting to teach.

I've taught The Gospel of MM, twice before and a course on the so-called Christian Gnostic writing and a course, twice, on reading the Gospels side by side. And I love it! I was born to teach. My mother was a teacher. Two of her sisters were teachers. I have about half-a-dozen first cousins who were teachers. It's in the DNA, in the blood.

I'm so happy to be in a classroom. It just feels right somehow. I can't wait.....

The puppy cut

Bern has been cutting on Bela, our Puli, for three days. She cut enough hair off him to create a couple of small dogs. He looks so little now, which is a problem since he's a terrible, bad, awful dog.If we haven't invited you over in the past six years it's because Bela would most likely bite you. He goes crazy when the postal worker comes, jumping against the front door, snarling and foaming at the mouth. With his puppy cut he looks even cuter than he does normally, and harmless.

Not true. He bit our friend, Hank, who, thank the baby Jesus, didn't turn him in or he wouldn't be here now. We know how aggressive he can be so when we walk him we warn people off who want to come and touch him.

He's an awful dog. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him, which, since he weighs 50 pounds, wouldn't be far.

But we love him to death--probably because we realize no one else would and it's our job to love him. He's great with us, though he tries to stop us from leaving the house--he's a Hungarian Sheep dog so our leaving is letting the flock get away. But he adores our granddaughter and guards them so well when they are here. He loves our daughter, tolerates our son, loves our-daughter-in-law and Mimi's partner Tim. And he loves John, Sherry and Jack and will tolerate Hanne who always comes for Thanksgiving. Beyond that group, he'd probably bite you. Alas.

But he does look so cute in his puppy cut for warm weather. You might think, if you saw him, that he'd be fun to pet.

Looks are deceiving.....

Monday, April 8, 2013

The best thing I ever tasted....

I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I take sugar in my coffee but mostly I prefer the sweet taste of fruit. I'm a sucker for any kind of fruit pie--strawberry, blueberry, cherry, blackberry, peach, apple Once and only once, I had grape pie. I don't remember where, but I remember that pie as if it were this afternoon! I don't like cake at all--dry sweet doesn't appeal to me the way the wet sweet of fruit does. Ditto for cookies and brownies and all that stuff--though I will vote for a chocolate quassant once in a while.

I prefer vegetables and greens and meat to sweet most of the time. And I've never met a kind of sea food I didn't love. My idea of a 'treat' would be nuts and raisins and seeds instead of a candy bar.

But, a few months ago I went to a Cold Stone Creamery (is that the right name? Is it Stone Cold or something else?) near my son's house in Baltimore to get ice cream for the granddaughters. Morgan likes gummy fish in chocolate ice cream (yuck!) Emma wants lots of sprinkles in vanilla and Tegan will eat anything cold and sweet. And I noticed they had salty caramel frozen yogurt. Two things I love salt an caramel. So I got a small cup for myself. I wish I had gotten a gallon! I loved it. And ate it before starting my car's motor because I made the mistake of taking a bite.

Sweet and salt is something I love. I put salt on watermelon and cantaloupe and any other melon. I also salt apples (learned from my grandmother's knee) and even pears. Sweet and salt is much better to me than sweet alone.

Today in Stop and Shop I saw a salt/caramel pie (450 calories a 1/8 slice) so I didn't get it. But then I found Talenti Gelato in the flavor of Sea Salt Caramel. So I bought it. I didn't open it in the parking lot since I didn't have a spoon. But when I got home I did and it is the best thing I've ever tasted....

The first four ingredients  are caramel, milk, eggs and sugar (they're only a couple more) and blended in are pieces of chocolate covered caramel truffles. Holy Cow, is that sweet AND salty. The best thing I've ever tasted.

Bern is out with her women's group for her birthday dinner--I'm thinking I'll so down and finish off the pint of gelato.

(My spell check rejects 'gelato', which I know is how it's spelled, and the options it gives go from gelatin to cleat to glad--go figure. What self respecting spell check wouldn't have 'gelato' in it's computer brain? Gelato is better than Ice Cream, I think--not quite as sweet....)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Learning to speak French....

Well, I never learned to speak French, but some things recently have caused me to ponder how my personality has changed over the years, like learning a new emotional language.

At Easter, my son Josh told a couple of stories about how erratic and touchy I was when he was small--like pulling the whole family out of a restaurant at some perceived slight by the wait-staff and yelling at people for reasons he could not understand.

My bishop, Robert Atkinson, when I was a priest in West Virginia, called me 'my young Turk' because I was so contrary and argumentative and would take offense at the slightest provocation. I started considering all that and began to wonder when I changed.

I was telling someone today about what a rabble-rouser and malcontent I was in my younger years and she was astonished. "But you seem so laid back," she told me, "how could you have changed that much?"

I really don't know when it happened, but it happened. At some point, probably gradually or maybe at some pivotal moment, I simply stopped taking Everything personally. It's about impossible to get a rise out of me these days. There's even a member of one of the three churches in the Cluster I serve who has an 'impeach Obama' sticker on his car. I joked with him about it rather than attacking him with all my previous high-test self-righteousness. So he wants to impeach the president I love...he's still a nice guy and I like him. Lord, how far I've evolved!

I can tell you this, being detached while still engaged and involved is a lot less stressful than the tension convention I was when I was younger.

I met up with one of the Wardens of St. John's, Waterbury about a year after I retired. It was in a store somewhere. He asked me how I was liking retirement. "I'm a lot more relaxed," I told him.

He looked at me like I was a crazy person. "A lot more relaxed!" he exclaimed, "you were so relaxed when you were the Rector of St. John's that I thought we needed to check your vital signs! You must be unconscious most of the time now...."

Well, there you go: from 'young Turk looking to pick a fight at the drop of a hat' to comatose. I ponder the transformation, the learning of a new language of being. I haven't walked out of a restaurant because of the service since Josh was a pup. Nothing much bothers me. I have learned not to say "I don't care" when I'm asked something that I really don't care one way or another about because people tend to hear that as 'I'm not involved or interested'. Now, I've learned to say, 'why don't you decide?" I am involved and interested in my life--every moment of it--but I have a kind of detachment I never practiced or worked on that has simple evolved from my annoying younger self that makes me happier and, I believe, makes people around me happier since they don't have to worry about what's going to set me off next....

I used to, as I look back, sort of careen through life from one fight to the next. Now I glide or sidle (which most people don't know what it means) or drift through life from one moment to the next, enjoying each moment enormously but not expending a lot of wasted psychic negative energy.

When people ask me about my spirituality--an annoying question I've learned to simply lean into and answer--I tell them I'm a contemplative left-wing nut. Which, perhaps I am, given that in my aging I've learned to speak French without knowing a word of the language....

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring, at last...?

Easter is over, now maybe spring can come.

Our granddaughters from Baltimore were fascinated that there were clumps of dirty, multi-times frozen snow still dotting our yards when they were here for Easter. But now Bern is outside raking the front yard and their are flowers poking their heads out of the long dormant earth.

Lucky for me, I don't rake up to Bern's standards so I never have to rake, or cut the grass with our push mower or do anything in the yard. That's her exclusive realm and she's welcomed to it!

She had a birthday this week and it would be improper to reveal her age though she is 3 years younger than me and I turn 66 next week. Plus she's been getting SS checks for a year so you might be able to figure it all out. If you saw her you might think she was in her early 50's or late 40's. If you saw me you might wonder if I could drive myself to the crematorium.

But, I'm healthier than I look. I saw my urologist today. I think it's been seven or eight years since my prostate cancer surgery and radiation. And it's been a year since I stopped taking Lupron to drive my PSA down and my PSA is, as Dr. Kurz said, 'undetectable'. He told me I was the first man in 5 years to go off Lupron and still have no PSA a year later. So I don't have to go back for a whole year. I've never quite said it, but I think it's safe to say now that--at this moment--I'm a cancer survivor. That feels good though the truth is I'm so good at denial that if  you asked me if I'd ever had cancer and I didn't think about it for a moment, I might say "No"!

There's something to be said positively about denial--at least you don't dwell on things and worry yourself into a tizzy....

I wrote a poem once about watching Bern work in the yard. I tried to find it in the two 2 foot piles of stuff on the second shelf of the bookshelf beside the table where my computer is. To no avail. I have to be at St. James, Higganum tomorrow all day 9-4 because they are hosting a safe-church training for folks around the diocese who deal with children or old people. And, for reasons beyond my comprehension, they want a priest 'on site' for the training. I've tried to imagine why. Would someone freak out remembering how they sexually abused a child or beat up an old person and took their Social Security check? In either case a police officer and social worker would make more sense than a priest. Am I supposed to hear confessions? It all seems suspect to me but I'll be there in the little library some of the members created in what would have been my office if I ever had need of an office. I didn't have an 'office' the last decade of my full time ministry. It just seemed silly to me. I had the 'office' where I'm typing this so what did I need with one in a church 12 miles away? I preferred to walk around and talk to people.

Anyway, what this is about is that I'm going to load my 4 feet of stuff I've written into bags from supermarkets and take it with me tomorrow and try to find that poem and see what all that stuff is....

Tomorrow promises to be warm again and sunny.

Spring is struggling to get to Connecticut.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tom Cruise and Aliens

So, my friend, Mike Miano, sent me an email about my blog about 'what friends are for' saying he hadn't meant to "disturd" with the picture of me on the toilet. I've always thought Mikey was the craziest person I knew personally. But then, I don't know Tom Cruise 'personally'.

I read on line that Tom Cruise had been interviewed by a UK journalist about the movie he's working on, the plot of which is that he's part of a crew that's come back to earth to extract needed minerals after aliens had driven the humans from the planet. And Tom admitted he believed in aliens. This news is so expected that I can't see why it is news at all. I think Tom was deflecting attention to himself by saying that. If there are aliens among us, Tom Cruise, in my mind, would be a prime suspect.

I don't go see Tom Cruise movies or John Travolta movies anymore. Bern doesn't see Woody Allen movies because he married his step daughter and for some reason that offended her sensibility. I don't go to Tom Cruise/John Travolta movies because I don't want to give $9 (actually $5 since I'm a senior) because I won't give money to any Scientologist. Scientologists are lower on the theological food chain to me than Mormons and that Baptist Church in Kansas who believe God is killing American soldiers because of homosexuality.

Scientology--which is neither 'science' or 'religion'--are only higher on the theological food chain than Pedophile priests. Compared to Scientologists. Pat Robertson is my best friend. I have what I know to be a totally 'irrational' dislike for Scientology, though there are lots of 'rational' reasons to dislike them--like the labor camps they put some of their members in, like their having IRS recognition as a 'church' when what they are is 'pseudo-science' masquerading as a 'pseudo-religion', but let me stop there.

I usually have a strong tolerance for cults. When people were talking about cults a decade or more ago, I told them about my friend who joined a cult that took all her possessions, cut her hair, changed her name and controlled where she lived, what she did and who she associated with, all without paying her much of anything. My friend Jeremy is a Sister of Mercy in the Roman Catholic Church.

Cults, like beauty, are often in the eye of the beholder--or 'the beholding of the eye', which is much the same thing.

But, Scientology, give me a break! Really, how does that fit into the religious spectrum in any meaningful way? A guy who wrote science fiction novels invented a science fiction religion. I'd rather be a member of Kurt Vonnegut's invented religion Bokononism that be a Scientologist.

Vonnegut dreamed up Bokononism in his book Cat's Cradle. Here, briefly, is the Creation Story of Bokononism: One day God decided to let some of the mud sit up and live. And the mud that sat up and lived asked God, 'What does this mean?" And God replied, 'does it have to mean something?' And the mud that sat up said, 'of course'. And God said, 'well, I'll leave that to you.' And God went away.

One of the hymns of Bokononism goes like this: "Fish got to swim/Bird got to fly/Man has to ask, 'Why? Why? Why?'"

All that, it seems to me, makes a lot more sense than L. Ron Hubburd's invented religion.

Scientology even makes less sense than Mormonism. But don't get me started on Mormonism, please!

(The religion Mike Miano would invent would make more sense than either of those. It could have to do with sitting on the toilet. Maybe he should get busy on that while we're still able to think....We're getting old, Mikey. Invent a religion that makes sense of that....)


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What friends are for...

One of my college roommates sent me an email on April 1st. The message line was "Brad tries out for the WVU bowl team". When I opened it the email said: "Go Brad..." and then "April Fool".

There was a picture attached. I opened it and it was a picture of me as a college sophomore, sitting on the toilet in the apartment three of us shared....

People who knew me in that era of my life call me "Brad". Once, as an affectation in high school, I wanted to be called "J. Gordon" like "F. Scott". Anyone in my family calls me "Jimmie", except for one branch that called me "Jimmie Gordon". Most of my grown up life I've been "Jim". No one has ever called me "James" except the people who call me on the phone trying to sell me something or have me give money to some cause.

My freshman roommate in Arthur I. Boreman Hall was Mike Lawless, who graduated high school with me. Sophomore year we moved to an apartment with the greatly to be desired address of "69 Richwood Avenue". Mike was a student in mining engineering as was Mike Miano (who sent me the picture). Both Mikes' were in school a semester and working somewhere in mining the other semester. It was just lucky that they alternated semesters, so one was there when the other wasn't. Our third room mate was a kid named Doc Likens (I think his name was Henry). I have no memory of how we found him to share the three bedroom apartment over a laundromat, but, like me, he was there both semesters. We didn't call Doc "Doc" for his brilliance. I'm not sure why we did. He brought the name with him. He was the messiest person I've ever lived with. Mike Miano was the neatest.

My junior year I lived in an apartment further up Richwood Avenue with a kid two years younger than me named Jo-Jo Tagnesi. Jo-Jo and I grew up together in Anawalt. The woman who owned the apartment lived downstairs and we lived upstairs. I can't remember her name but I do remember we had to pass through part of her living space to get upstairs. So, besides Doc, I only roomed with people I already knew.

My senior year, I was a Resident Assistant in a freshman dorm that was the living place of young men and women who had received 'late admission'. That meant they applied after the deadline or were admitted after people with better grades had been. You can imagine the general atmosphere of that dorm, I suspect.  Being an RA, I didn't have a roommate.

Sitting on the toilet, I had on a yellow button-down collar shirt. I think I had five of them, all alike. Yellow was my favorite color back then. Now, most of the things I own are some shade (mostly dark) of blue.

I have big horned rimmed glasses on. The most startling thing about the picture (besides how young I was!) is that I didn't have a beard. I had a modest moustache , but no beard. I didn't grow a beard until after Bern and I got married in 1970. I've had it ever since except for two times. The first time I cut it off was during a vacation when Josh and Mimi were quite small. Funny thing was, I cut off the beard part when we stopped to stay in a motel on the way to Long Beach, NC. The kids didn't seem to notice, but the second day we were at the beach I went into the bathroom and shaved off the beard. When I came out Josh and Mimi reacted with panic and confusion, running to Bern crying. They didn't appear to recognize me! It took me several days to get back enough beard for them accept me as their father.

The second time was once when I was on Block Island. The kids were mostly grown. I was subbing at St. Ann's Church on a Sabbatical for three weeks and then Bern and some friends were coming up for another couple weeks. I just got it in my head to cut off my beard. I did and looked in a mirror and thought I looked like a slightly smaller John Goodman. I had it mostly grown back by the time Bern arrived.

I searched my memory after Mike's email and picture of me trying out for the 'bowl' team to see if there could be any more damaging photos to worry about....I'm just glad I grew up before smart phones and tablets and the Internet and U-Tube. God knows what nonsense Miano could have gotten into these days....

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monday in Easter Week

So, I didn't post on Holy Saturday or Easter...I was busy. "The girls" were here--our three most beautiful, cutest, Supreme Court Justice/Nobel Prize Winner/ Oscar winner granddaughters. Finding a spare moment, much less 20 minutes to write something on my blog is an impossibility!

Plus their parents and Mimi and Tim, and our friends John, Jack and Sherry, never mind Sumi, Josh and Cathy's 14 something pit bull (sweetest dog ever) who has trouble going down steps and needs to go out more than your average dog....Just no time to sit and type....

One way I differ from most Episcopal priests is that I am not exhausted after Holy Week and Easter. Almost all Episcopal priests take Easter Week off...just like they take the week after Christmas off...because the drama and liturgies and spectacle has worn them out. This goes to my theory that more Episcopal priests than you would have guessed are introverts. Introverts, since they feed off 'what's inside them' get drained by the Big Honkin' Holy Days. I'm always amazed at how many Episcopal priests are introverts and therefore folded and mutilated after Holy Week and Easter. I'm doubly amazed at how many introverts choose parish ministry as a career tract. What's up with that? An introvert needs a nap after the service and coffee hour on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost--never mind the Super Bowl of Easter....

Extroverts, like me, on the other hand, 'draw' energy from what's going on 'out there'--from what surrounds them. So Christmas and Easter 'energize' people like me. I could do a dozen Easter services and then drive to New York for dinner and a show. You'd be surprised at how few extroverts are Episcopal priests. Extroverts don't collapse after the Holy Days, they go to the gym or a party. Extroverts like me feed on High Holy Days and need to work off the emotional calories we consume.

My wife is an introvert. So when I come home on a normal Sunday ready to have a chat and dance the tango, she doesn't know what to do with me. But Christmas and Easter rev me up so much that it is a blessing that there will be lots of people around eating more food than they should and consuming inordinate amounts of wine so Bern doesn't have to talk me down from my Liturgy/Sugar 'high'.

Introvert priests should be sent to Sensory Deprivation Therapy after Easter. Extroverted priests should be sent to do a Triathlon. Problem solved.

My granddaughters and their parents were at the Easter Service at St. Andrew's, Northford, which was glorious. Emma, who is six, sat on the aisle and waved at me throughout the liturgy. And when I was preaching from the aisle, she laughed at the funny stories I told in the beginning. The thing was, when I got to serious stuff (I'll send my sermon at the end of this if I can remember how to copy and paste) she kept laughing. It would have distracted an introvert, but for someone like me, it just kept me going.

If you're not familiar with Carl Jung's psychology, here's a short course: INTROVERTS come from the inside out, using internal energy to be present to the external world. EXTROVERTS  come from the outside in, using the energy in the external world to fuel what is internal.

I preached at the funeral of a lovely man who sat behind my family for years at St. John's. Andrew looked like Cab Calloway and was a dear and always talked to my children as they grew. I was retired when he died and his family (all of whom were Baptists) had his funeral at Grace Baptist Church (an African American Congregation). When I started talking I thought I had five minutes worth of things to say, but I kept getting "Amen's" and "Speak it, Preacher's" and I went on for I don't know how long. Afterwards, Larry Green, the Pastor of Grace Baptist, told me I not only sounded Baptist, I sounded Black!

If Emma came to all my sermons I'd preach until she stopped laughing. (Another Jungian insight, Extroverts know when they've 'lost the audience', introverts don't have a clue because what they're saying comes from their heart, not from the reaction of the listeners....Neither is good or bad--thank God for Jung--they are just what they are.

My Easter sermon, I hope...

Easter 2013

People sometimes assume that preachers enjoy preaching on Easter. Like the Super Bowl or the World Series.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Preaching on Easter is a nightmare.
First of all, anything that could be said about Easter has already been said hundreds of times, thousands of times, tens of thousands of times.
Secondly, what has to be proclaimed on Easter is something so foreign to our human experience that it defies expression. We human beings know that 'dead things stay dead.' Dead is dead. It is an absolute, something we all agree on. Dead as a doornail. Dead and gone. Dead things stay dead....
So, over the years of being expected to say something on Easter, I have resorted, more often than not, to tricks and jokes and slight of hand.
One Easter, long ago, before I began my sermon, I broke off one of the lillies and ate it. My point was that when people told their neighbor that their priest ate an Easter Lily, their neighbor would say, “I don't believe it!” Which is exactly what the disciples said when Mary Magdelean ran to tell them Jesus had risen from the dead.
When I ate the lily, there were a few audible gasps from the congregation. “Great,” I told myself, “I've got them now!” The truth was they knew (as I obviously didn't) that a lily could be a little toxic so they weren't hanging on my every word...they were waiting to see if I keeled over....
I never ate another Lily, but I did, on Easter, get phone calls from God, Jesus, even the Easter Bunny.
One Easter I'll never forget, I had our verger dress as the Easter Bunny, a full body suit and bring in a basket full of the symbols of Easter. Then I had the children join me on the altar steps—50 or more children—and began to ask them questions about the symbols the 6 foot 4 inch Bunny had brought.
When I got to an Easter Egg, I held it up and said, “can anyone tell me something about this?”
Courtney White, who is now a Medical student at George Washington University, piped up and said, “after a while, they smell like poop.”
Which was true, as days old, boiled eggs go, but hardly the “stuff” of a Resurrection sermon.
But maybe not. Maybe Courtney had some insight into the whole thing about the Body and the Soul, the Physical and the Spiritual.
Who knows? Really, Who knows?
So I have fudged and cheated and used smoke and mirrors for Easter sermons for most of my Easter sermon life.
And when all else failed, there were always bunny ears....

But just this week—this Holy Week—my best friend John, who is psychotherpist in New Haven, called me and told me what he's started telling some of his patients.

Here's what John tells them: “You can either 'be happy' or have all the Reasons you can't be happy.”
I found that remarkable and helpful and, most likely, True.

You can either 'be happy' or HAVE all the Reasons you can't 'be happy'.

I'd prefer the word “joyful” in place of “happy”. Happiness is fleeting, Joyful is down to the bone.


Now we're getting close to what Easter is really about.
Jesus died. Died on the cross. Died a horrible death you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
And he was dead. Dead as a doornail. Dead dead. Dead and gone.
And God simply loved Jesus back to life. Loved him that much, that powerfully, that profuoundly. God simply went into that tomb and loved Jesus back to life.
And, I believe, God is willing to do that for us—for you and me—as well.

God wants to love us—you and me—back to life.
That's God's intention on this Easter day.
The rest is up to us.

You can either 'be alive', truly alive, having abundant life, right now, and always, OR, you can have all the reasons you can't be truly and abundantly alive.

God loves you 'best of all'. No kidding, honestly, believe me, God loves you more than you imagine, more that you can imagine. God loves you enough to bring you 'back to life', back to something truly alive and abudant, now and always.

That's what the empty tomb means. That is what Mary Magdelene's message is about.

Choose Life.

Because of Easter, it truly is your choice.
You can either “have life” or have all the reasons you can't 'have life'.

The tomb is empty. God loves you 'best of all'.

It's your choice.

Choose LIFE.
Alleulia, he is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
And so are we....

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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.