Sunday, June 29, 2014

Anawalt's Facebook Page

My friend Charles sent me a link to Anawalt, West Virginia's Face book page. Do even dying towns now have Face book pages? I'm not on Face book but I could go back to it from Charles' link, which I might just do when I finish writing this.

I was looking at people I didn't know but then there was a picture of Anawalt's Boy Scout Troop from what must have been 1959 or 1960, cause there I was in the front row between Billy Bridgeman and Kyle Parks, my two best boyhood friends. I stared at the picture for a long time and even made Bern come and look at it.

There were 30 boys in the picture and I could name all but three of them. (People have recently told me I have a remarkable memory--truth is, I often can't remember what I had for dinner the night before but I could remember the names of all those boys and the Scout Leader, Jimmy Newsome.)

Actually I can remember what I had for dinner last night: some flounder I broiled with a sauce of mushrooms, butter, scallions, white wine, dill flakes, fresh parsley and capers that I made, along with steamed green cauliflower and sliced baby cucumbers I splashed with vinegar and oil. It was tasty.

I don't know where Billy Bridgeman is but because of Charles and my old friend Mike Miano, I know that Kyle has been dead for a good decade. I'm sure if I put Billy Bridgeman's name out there someone more adroit with computers than I am will find him for me. Billy is the one I wouldn't have been surprised to discover was dead. Billy was a bit of a rogue while Kyle was the straightest of Straight Arrows. Billy dead from a knife fight or a drug overdose wouldn't have shocked me at all. But Kyle, military pilot and fitness nut dying at 56 from a heart attack--that was devastating to me.

Truth is, I don't know where any of those 30 + people is except Fred Rash, because one of the other pictures was of Fred--white haired and bearded like me--at an Anawalt picnic. He had on a hat proclaiming he was a veteran--Viet Nam surely--and look a bit older than I think I look...but whose to know if the way I look to me is accurate.

OK, I'm going back to that Face book page to find out some more....

I watch her in the garden

I sit on the deck, pretending to read,
but I'm really watching Bern in the yard,
working. Hours each day she bend, kneels, sits,
doing things I scarcely understand at all.
Sometimes I feel a tiny bit guilty:
her working so hard, me reading, watching
her work. But then I remember that I
could never do whatever she's doing.
So I watch--admiring all that she does
without understanding it, yet loving
how intense and focused she always is.
If I call to her it takes two, three calls
to rouse her from her attention to dirt,
plants, flowers, the implements she works with.

There is something almost spiritual
in her attention to the task at hand.

I envy her that: the zen of it all.

Those who are close to the rich fragrant earth
are closest of us all to deep-down Life.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pearl...Rest in Peace...

My cousin, Pearl Rich Perkins died yesterday with her three children around her.

I knew Pearl probably before her husband, Bradley Perkins. did. She lived in Pageton, in the last house before the house of J.D. Poe, my friend, and his family lived in the 'big house'. Her father was Louie Rich (shorted from Ricchelli or something like that because Italians did that back then).

Pearl was bright, funny, full of life. After Bradley died a decade or so ago, she had some health problems and then suffered from early onset Alzheimer's for the last years of her life.

Living in the moment, as I mostly do, is a problem when it comes to keeping up with the past.

We pass close by where Pearl has been for years every September on the way to the beach in North Carolina. We could have stopped some of those years and said 'hello'. And we didn't.

I regret that now. Pearl was dear to me but I've spent years without seeing her. And now she is dead and there is nowhere to stop on the way to the beach.

Ponder this (I will!) who in your past do you want to be in touch with before it's too late?

I love you, Pearl. You deserved better from me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sermon from long ago....

(here's a sermon I preached over a decade ago I wanted to share....)

The “good” shepherd (5/11/03)

When I was a child, my Uncle Russell managed The Union Theatre in Anawalt, West Virginia—the little town where I grew up. So I got to see most every movie that came to town. The Union Theatre got mostly cowboy movies. Lots of cowboy movies, it seemed to me, were about the bad blood between cattle ranchers and sheep ranchers.
In those movies, the cattle ranchers were always noble, upstanding, law-abiding citizens who lived in decent, well-kept ranch houses and did their best to “do the right thing.” Sheep ranchers, on the other hand, were usually disreputable, desperate, land-grabbing rogues whose only purpose seemed to be breaking the law and annoying the cattle ranchers.
The cattle ranchers always had pressed shirts and little string ties and shiny, leather boots. The sheep ranchers were dirty and unshaven and were constantly casting lascivious looks at the cattle ranchers beautiful girlfriends.
So, in Sunday School, I had some problems identifying with Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In the little colored pictures we got of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, he looked more like a cattle rancher than a sheep rancher. His flowing white and crimson robes were spotless and his hair and beard were neat and perfectly groomed. The truth was, if it hadn’t been for the beard, Jesus would have looked more like a cattle rancher’s beautiful girlfriend than anything else.
I just didn’t get it….
Shepherds are romanticized these days. That’s probably because most of us have never met a shepherd. We tend to think of shepherds as humble, gentle, dedicated, somewhat dreamy characters who rescue sheep and commune with nature. More often than not, we think of shepherds as being musical folks—playing little flutes to their sheep—wearing sandals and soft, hand made clothing.
The truth is, shepherds in Jesus’ day were much more like sheep ranchers than cattle ranchers. According to Alan Culpepper, a well-respected New Testament scholar, “shepherding was a despised occupation at the time.” Though we have a rather romantic view of shepherds, Culpepper goes on to say, “…in the first century, shepherds were scorned as shiftless, dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other people’s land.” Another scholar, John Pilch, points out in his book The Cultural World of Jesus that shepherds were considered “unclean” by observant Jews of the day because of their violation of property rights and their neglect of their families by being away from home for long periods of time.

On the other hand, most people I know don’t think very highly of sheep. Sheep are thought of as cowardly, dumb and stubborn all at once. Calling someone “sheepish” usually means they are too timid and fearful to stand up for themselves. “Wool gathering” is a waste of time. Comparing people to “sheep” implies they will mindlessly follow the leader and not think for themselves. And sheep are so uninteresting and boring counting them is almost guaranteed to put you to sleep.
However, in first century Palestine, sheep symbolized something remarkably different than they symbolize for us. The highest virtue in the Mediterranean world of Jesus was honor. “Honor” was so valued that it was vital to maintain it even to the point of death. An honorable person in that culture would face death in silence, without complaint. John Pilch, again, writes that “while being shorn or even prepared for slaughter, the sheep remains silent and does not cry. This is how Isaiah describes the ideal servant of the Lord: ‘like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, the servant of Yahweh does not open his mouth.’’ “
Sheep came to be the animals that most clearly symbolized “honor” in Jesus’ world. In fact, it was the silent, suffering servant of Isaiah—the figure so like a sheep—that came to be identified with Jesus in the early Church. Jesus is, after all, “the lamb of God.”
The 4th Sunday of Easter every year is “Good Shepherd Sunday”. I’ve pretty much run out of things to say about shepherds and sheep. And since I don’t know any shepherds or sheep, I don’t get any new material year to year. The cowboy movie image is new this year—but that was scraping the bottom of the barrel, believe me. I should probably stop now, move on to the Nicene Creed and cut my losses….

But there is something in today’s gospel to wrestle with before we do that. Listen: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
I don’t talk much about “evangelism”. I don’t talk much about inviting those who “do not belong to this fold” to join our community. And since I don’t have anything new to say about sheep and shepherds, this is perhaps the time to talk about “evangelism.”
A few years ago, there was a survey by the Gallop Poll people that revealed that Episcopalians tend to invite someone to church every nine years.
That’s a remarkable statistic. I’ll give you a moment to consider that and see how you fit into the Gallop Poll.

I’m a part of a group called The Mastery Foundation. I went to one of the Mastery Foundation’s workshops for people who minister in 1987. Since then I’ve been active with the Mastery Foundation. I now lead the workshop I attended 16 years ago and I’m one of the 12 members of the Mastery Foundation’s Board of Directors.
For 16 years I’ve heard about what the Mastery Foundation calls “enrollment”. And until last week I didn’t “get” what enrollment means. I thought it meant “asking people to take four days and pay nearly $500 to do the workshop.” And I’ve been hesitant for the most part to do that. I hate to “ask people to do things.” I feel like I’m imposing, like they’ll think I’m some kind of fanatic, like I’ll be implying something’s missing from their life.
But just last week, at a workshop I was helping to lead in Maryland, one of the other leaders said this: Enrollment is an invitation that enables someone to discover the full possibility and vitality and commitment of their life.
All that time—16 years—I’ve thought “enrollment” was about getting people to “enroll” in the workshop. Instead, I now realize, “enrollment” means “enrolling” people in the fullness of their own lives.
What a difference that makes. And it only took me 16 years to understand it! That’s seven more years than it takes the average Episcopalian to invite someone to church!
John Wesley—the Anglican priest whose followers formed the Methodist Church—used to ask people: HOW DOES IT GO WITH YOUR SOUL?
Evangelism isn’t about getting people to come to St. John’s and become Episcopalians. Evangelism is about “enrolling” people in the health of their soul and the fullness of their lives. And we are not only “called” to do that—it is what God intends us to do.
At the first meeting of each of the Discernment Groups we’ve been creating for over a year now, we ask people four questions as their homework. The fourth question is this: “how responsible are you willing to be for the experience and well being of the others?”
That’s the question I want to leave you with—for your home-work and your SOUL-work this week. HOW RESPONSIBLE ARE YOU WILLING TO BE FOR THE FULLNESS OF THE LIVES OF OTHERS? Are you willing to ask someone this week—in whatever way make sense to you—“how goes it with your soul?” Are you willing to be open and concerned and attentive to those who are not of this fold? Whether you invite anyone to church or not, are you willing to invite someone to a deeper relationship with you and with God? Are you willing to let someone know that God loves them in a way that can make their lives more abundant, more wondrous, more real?
I’ll be asking myself all that this week. I’ll be wresting with that along with you. I speak to you of God’s love for us. But do I speak to others, outside this fold?
And will I?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Apologies for long time readers....

As I was typing "Toy Soldiers" I began to think I'd typed this before...and not 43 years ago.

I searched my posts and found "Toy Soldiers" was a post in December 2010. I didn't remember it and that's on 3 and a half years ago. So not remembering it 43 years ago blushes in comparison.

If you read it before and feel cheated, I apologize.

If you read it before and enjoyed it again, I celebrate.

I often read books again and certainly poems.

So, forgive my forgetfulness and enjoy, if you did, reading "Toy Soldiers" a second time.....

Toy Soldiers

(OK, this is nuts. I just came across a stapled together little magazine called "OFFERINGS 71", which was from Harvard Divinity school when I was there. It was part of 'The Festival of Religion and the Arts' and contained some poems and some fiction. And one of the stories was mine. I had totally forgotten it, it having happened some 43 years ago, after all. I read it and decided to share it with you from my 24 year old self.)

Toy Soldiers

I had hundreds--two shoe boxes full. One shoe box said NUN-BRUSH on the end. The other said BOSTONIAN. Both said 9 1/2 C on the end which, though I never thought of it then, must have been my father's shoe size.

Not all my little men were soldiers, though most were. I had a few baseball players on little platforms with names on them--Grany Hamner, I remember, and Billy Pierce and Ray Boon with his glove hand high above his head. And there were bright colored cowboys and brighter colored Indians. A knight or two, with their legs spread wide for either an unnatural sex act or for horses I didn't have. I didn't have horses for my knights, but I had a statue of George Washington that I found in a cereal box I thought was going to have a model racer in it.

But most were soldiers in various positions of war--throwing grenades, crawling under non-existent bob wire, shooting from prone positions, marching...things like that. They were mostly hard plastic which felt good to bite, so some of my men had a hand or arm missing, long chewed up and spit out, or else swallowed to keep peas and carrots company in my stomach.

My soldiers were an all-alone-time toy. I shared them with no one except my mother. I guess I didn't trust anyone else to know about them but I would talk about them often with my mother. She even remembered their names--I had named them from a box of books I found in the attic. Their names were Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Will Durant, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, Percy Shelly. Names like that.

But my soldiers never played soldier. I didn't play war with them because somebody had to die and then, when they died, I'd have to go to the attic and find a new name and that was a lot of trouble and sometimes I'd forget the names and wouldn't know who I was playing with--so, anyway, war was out.

Most of the time I'd get a piece of clay and shape it like a tiny football. Clay, if touched with the tip of tongue, will stick to plastic toy soldiers, just as if they were carrying it and running for a touchdown. Those who were throwing grenades were quarterbacks since they looked like they could have easily been throwing a football.  And those who were marching were ends because they looked like they were about to break into a z-out pattern. And those who were crawling under imaginary bobbed-wire could just as easily be trying to crawl under guards and tackles and trying to get to half-backs.

After every game, played out on my bed, that was roughly the shape of a football field, I'd talk to my mother--sort of a post game wrap-up--and tell her what had happened. Slashing Sam Jonson was the leading rusher and Bullet Lord Byron was close behind. She seemed interested in their rivalry, but her favorite was Spinoza. Benedict Spinoza, as they say in the game, did it all. He was a quarterback, fullback and middle linebacker. He was the most charismatic of all my men since he stood nearly a sixteenth of an inch taller than any and was in a pose that reminded one of strength, character and leadership. He was red instead of olive green as most were. He just stood out. After a long game on a rainy afternoon, my mother would ask me, "How did Benny do?"

I'd tell her about her hero. Sometimes I even exaggerated, told her he caught a pass when it was really Thomas Mann, or made a tackle that belonged, instead, to George Elliot. But it made her smile to hear of Benny Spinoza's feats so I didn't think it mattered to lie a little.

And because she liked him, I liked Benny too. I would carry him around in my pocket and more than once he went through the washing machine. Once, I remember, I thought he was gone forever. He wasn't in my pocket when I came home from playing tag with Herbie Lowman and Billy Michaels and Arnold Butler. I finally got up the nerve to tell my mother and then burst into tears, thinking she would be angry that I had lost her favorite.

But the next day, he was on my dresser and she claimed no knowledge of how he got there though I heard my father ask her why Mrs. Lowman had seen her in the vacant lot on her hands and knees.

My mother said, "Shhhh!", which is what she said a lot when she wanted to wait until they were whispering in bed. I could hear the whisperings through the wall, but not the words, and may was the night that their soft music put me to sleep.

But the whole point to all this is that when I came home 20 years later, after my father and Aunt Lizzy had called me and told me what had happened in this: I just had to be alone and before I knew it I was up in the attic sitting in the dark. I moved to lay down on the floor and my hand touched a shoe box. I sat for almost an hour, taking each man out and looking at him, trying to remember his name, trying to remember something we had done together.  Suddenly, red and strong, Benny was in my hand.

I don't remember too well what happened then, but I remember when Lizzy embraced me after my mother's funeral, she felt something in  my shirt pocket and it was Spinoza. I guess I thought  he would want to say 'goodbye' too. And I guess he did, in his own way. I wondered if my mother ever thought of him after I quit playing with the soldiers...if she ever explained why she was in the vacant lot on all fours...if my father understood...if they shared that in their whispers?

Monday, June 23, 2014

The little things

OK, I know I've been really focused on what 'is good' about life lately. I haven't ranted and raved about a Republican in a while. I've waxed loopy about the weather. I know all that. But the truth is, I'm in a time when the little things in life have a special meaning. Maybe it's the long days and the extra light that makes me a 'sunnier' (excuse the pun) guy. But given that or any other explanation, I've just been struck with how much little things matter to me these days...getting soft in my old age....

The last two evenings, I've sat in one of the Adirondack chairs our friend Hank helped Bern build and read until it was too dark to read any more. And I've had a string of wonderful books in the last couple of weeks so reading until the light leaves is a real joy. I've not been alone out there as darkness fell--our dog, Bela has been at my feet--and I've had a glass of wine and a cigarette or two to make it all so pleasant. No bugs, no humidity, no heat as such. What could be better than a wonderful book as night comes on to embrace me?

I'm sure I'll get back to ranting and railing or to pondering perplexing and confusing questions or to writing a poem or two...but for now, I'm just, for some reason, reveling in the wonder of the ordinary.

The question to ponder would be 'why don't we appreciate the gifts of the ordinary all the time' rather than being mildly apologetic about appreciating them?

There's a pondering for you to ponder as the light fails and the print on the page is not longer readable.

Take what life gives you and love it. That's what I'm doing these wondrous June days....I recommend it....

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What is so rare???

Why would anyone want to live anywhere besides New England. Sure, we get lots of snow in the winter--but that's what 'winter' is about. And there is nowhere where the leaves in Autumn involve people coming from all over just to see it.

I'll admit, the humidity of August is hard to put a positive spin on....But this day in June, how wondrous, how precious, how perfect can it be?

Temperature in the low 70's, a 10-15 mile an hour breeze, almost no humidity--how rare is that?

I read on our deck until the light was gone--almost 8 p.m. this time of year.

No fans on. Nothing feeling sticky. Just the rareness of a day in June. Several in a row now. Oh, I know August is just around a corner or two, and the snows of February will make me crazy--but for now, loving living in a four season place, give me Connecticut as the place to live.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Feeling punk, sleeping late

I woke up at 9:07 this morning, which is about average for me. I sleep well and long. I keep waiting for this old person sleeplessness to click in but it hasn't yet, not by a long shot.

But when I got up, I felt punkish--which is what I say when there is no discernible 'bad feeling' but just an overall malaise beyond definition. I took the dog out and had some oatmeal and a cranberry, banana, blueberry, raspberry smoothy that I have most morning...either with cold cereal or oatmeal or eggs and bacon or panchetia.

Bern took the dog to the Canal for the 'big walk' and I went back to bed to read the book I'm reading. When they got back, Bela found me, as he always does and we spent a couple of hours in 'the big bed' (a term he know and runs upstairs when we say it!) I honestly think he would stay in the 'big bed' all day, holding his bladder and alimentary canal for hours if one of us would stay there with him.

Anyway, we stayed there, dozing and reading (actually, Bela doesn't read and only dozes) with our cat Lukie with us for a while...well actually until 12:23, according to Bern's clock, so I got up and had a salad for lunch, still reading my book.

My punkishness had worn off by then.

So, for the rest of the day, I worked on my sermon for tomorrow, went to Big Y to get chicken wings, made potato salad, read some more, ate dinner with Bern and read some more and am now typing this.

Not the most exciting of lives, but it works for me.

I am a retired man who isn't anxious about being retired. I feel nothing but freedom and liberty and the ability to spend an extra two hours or so in bed reading with my Puli when I feel punkish in the morning.

What a life!

Friday, June 20, 2014


I never met her but I helped bury Lillian today. That's not unusual, I've helped bury over a thousand people and I think I only met a third of them. Occupational hazard. Lots of people die that I've never met but who I help bury.

Lillian was 101 years old. I once buried a woman who was 103 who I knew well, but Lillian was the second oldest person I helped bury.

She was married for 70 years. Imagine that! She and her husband had no children but people at the funeral told me she loved kids.

She drove her car until she was 95 and some relative with good sense took away her keys.

She was an organist and pianist and loved to dance.

She's someone I wish I had met.

The two people who made the arrangements were a great niece and a great nephew. Good people.

When you live to 101 and only spend a couple of years in a home, along with the niece with special needs who you cared for for decades until you both went into a home, life has been good.

Ponder for a moment what changes someone born in 1913 saw happen. Mind blowing.

She and her 10 siblings rode into town on a horse drawn wagon.

Lordy, Lordy. Bless; you Lil, who I never met. Observer of a century of remarkable change.

Tell it all to Jesus when you meet up with him in the life to come.

(I'm not sure I believe in that particular scenario, but for Lil I'll keep an open mind....)

Creatures behind our house

A few weeks ago, Bern swears that a deer ran though our yard. Jumped the very short fence and vast foliage in the back and then, after running through our back yard, jumped the waddle she's built to keep the dog in and ran out toward Cornwall Avenue. Going where? There's no woods anywhere in that direction. Maybe going to the Congregational Church or to St. Peter's. A Congregational deer or an Episcopalian deer, who knows?

And such distinctions don't much matter any more. Thomas Moore, who was a Roman Catholic priest (I always say 'Roman Catholic" since I am a "Catholic Christian" and don't want to be left out of the catholicity of it all) is offering a workshop at Wisdom House in Litchfield (run by the Sisters of Wisdom) about how to design your own spirituality, either inside or outside of an existing structure.

Which sort of makes distinctions like a Congregational deer or an Episcopal deer seem rather antiquated.

Then today, I came out on the deck while our pork roast was roasting, and Bern told me she'd seen the biggest yellow cat ever run through the open field behind our back yard. It was so big she thought it might be a bobcat.

She was still there when it ran into view again. I thought it might be a fox with a withered tale.

But our neighbor, Mark, who is a forester and can be trusted on all things wild and wondrous, told us it was a coyote, God help us all.

I said to Mark, "we're going back to nature in Cheshire".

And he replied, "not the worst thing I can think of...."

Me neither.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Something Evil this way comes....

I haven't been rabidly political for a while, so why not now?

There are so many issues I could address to address the insanity of the far right that it's hard to choose.

Immigration reform, work to mitigate climate change, taxes on the super-rich, the rebirth of unions, legal abortion, gay rights, health care, what to do about Iraq, student loan reform, closing Gitmo, on and on it goes.

But today I want to go off the scale left-wing about the very fact that nothing progressive will ever happen as long as the Republicans are in charge of the House of Representatives. Having the Presidency and, nominally, the Senate, makes no difference.

Nothing besides restoring the 19th century can happen with a Republican majority in the House.

My father was a staunch Republican. His heroes were folks like Everett Dirkson and Nelson Rockefeller. If my father could come back from the dead (and I'd like that--we have lots of unfinished business to deal with) he wouldn't recognize the current Republican Party at all. It would be a totally alien thing to him. He might even consider being a moderate Democrat (which is where he was on the scale back then as compared to now....)

I'm so sick of it I could scream.

But what would I scream?

What Country People know...

I was getting out of my car at St. Peter's, Cheshire for my Tuesday morning clergy group meeting when I honked up some mucus from my bronchial tubes and saw a friend of mine across the parking lot.

"I know what you're going to do," he said, delighted, "I grew up on a farm and you're about to spit...."

So, I spat.

Country people know about spitting and know how to blow their noses without anything to blow them in.

You put your thumb on the opposite hand from which nostril you're going to blow, bend over and blow, whipping away the last of the snot with the thumb you used to close the other nostril. Pretty impressive skill, I think.

Bern thinks it's disgusting. Apparently people from Hungary and Italy don't do that (though I bet they do, at least the men!)

Country people also know, wherever their 'country place' is, which direction is where. I'm not as good about it as most country folks, but if you ask me which was is South (or North or the other two) most of the time I can tell you even though I grew up in the mountains which made directions harder than for someone from Nebraska or Kansas.

Country people can also smell a coming rain and feel, on their faces, that snow will happen soon.

Country people don't mind the smell of dung or urine, it is actually comforting to them.

Country people don't get enough credit for all that and more besides.

Monday, June 16, 2014


I was looking at some old, old writing, typed on a typewriter of all things, a story about Richard Lucas and his cousin, Lizzy. Pretty bad stuff, all in all, but it meant something to me then, back when I wrote it.

The story is called "All Our World" and begins with a quote from Issa, who, I'll look up on the internet because I have no idea who he/she is but I must have known when I wrote this long ago story.

Anyhow, here's the quote: "Dew evaporates/and all our world/is dear, so fresh, so fleeting."

Whoever Issa  was, he/she nailed that one in a big way.

Life seems endless from time to time, in the moment, but, like our world, life is dear, so fresh, so fleeting.

Whatever happened to typewriters? The story is typed on several different kinds of paper--some typing paper, other lined paper torn from a notebook, and, finally, some on a thin, yellow paper I remember using once but I couldn't tell you when.

It seems like I've been alive a long time sometimes. But, at other times, it seems but a heartbeat.

Dew. It's all like dear, so fresh, so fleeting.

I love the dew, though, as a retired guy, I'm seldom up early enough to feel it on my ankles as I walk through the grass. But there's something almost holy about dew--how it welcomes the day so sweetly.

I'm going now to look up Issa and see what else he/she had to say that worth pondering....

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

I've never given much weight to Father's Day or Mother's Day--Hallmark Card Holidays as far as I can tell. But in my childhood, people wore carnations on both days to church, red if your Mother/Father was alive, white if they were dead.

Big deal in the mountains. But I've always objected to them insinuating themselves onto a Sunday.

Today is father's day. I was still at Emmanuel, Killingworth, drinking coffee and eating a bagel with cream cheese, when my son called me on my cell phone. We talked and I talked to the three granddaughters he and Cathy have given me. Morgan told me she'd drawn me a dragon for Father's Day. Emma said they'd been playing and having a good time. Tegan, the 4 year old, said, unexpectedly, "Gampaw, it's good to hear your voice". Who knows where she got that.

Josh and I talked about The Goldfinch, a novel by Donna Tartt that everyone in my nuclear family has now read and loved.

Then, as I was getting ready to cook dinner (Sea Scallops, brochilinni and wild rice--it was Father's Day but I was cooking (Bern tells me every year, 'you're not MY father') but I was cooking what I wanted, Mimi called. (If I was on death row and had to choose a final meal, it would include Sea Scallops.)

She's up in the Berkshires because it's the 'season'  for Jacob's Pillow, where she is the Development Officer. She also lives in Brooklyn with Tim, her fiancee and boyfriend for 12 years or so. But during the season, she's in the Berkshires, shaking hands and raising money. Tim works for LinkedIn, whatever that is..., and can spend a lot of time up with Mimi during June-August, when's she tied down in Massachusetts. 

Josh asked me 'what I was doing today' and I told him, "waiting for you and Mimi to call".

That's really all that matters to me on Father's Day, to hear from the two people in the Universe that qualify me to be called a 'father'.

They are both so great. A lawyer and a development officer, both making much more money than I ever did, both solid citizens and extremely sane and loveable.

So, my day was made, talking to each of them and talking to 'the girls' (which is what we call our granddaughters).

Just right. Nothing left out. Wondrous.

I love them so much. They are both so great. Bern and I did something right, whether we knew it or not....

Happy father's day to everyone who 'is' a father or has one--which means everyone....

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sometimes, a long way away

I've been having major problems with my computer for almost a week.

I lost Firefox, my highway to the Internet.

I had to call AOL three times to get back my email. Which allowed me to get to this blog.

I couldn't read any of my documents--stuff I've written and stored, a thousand documents at least, tens of thousands of pages.

What is amazing is how anxious and panicked I've been about all that.

And here's the truth: sometimes, a long way away from here, either in the past or future, none of that matters much at all.

*If I didn't answer email, people would eventually start calling me on the phone, which is one step closer to personal.

*If I couldn't get on the Internet, I could go buy a New York Times and know what's going on.

*If I couldn't get on this blog, I would miss it and, hopefully, others would as well. But nobody would die. (That's Bern's ultimate reaction to anything upsetting: "did anyone die?" she'll ask. And since nobody did...what's the upset about? It'll be alright...eventually.)

*If I couldn't read any of my documents ever again, well, I could write new ones over time.

I rail about people who are wedded to their smart phones. And yet, here I was, fretting extensively about my computer problems. I can't carry it around with me in my hand, but I am more wedded to it than I imagined.

So, my friend John came today and everything is back in order. But I've decided I spend too much time with my computer. I'm going to cut back. Check e-mails ever day or so rather than four times a day. Buy the New York Times and get my news in print. Not worry if I don't blog for a day or so. Compose sermons from scratch instead of reading old ones in my documents for ideas.

Sometimes, a long way away from my computer seems to be a good thing. A good thing indeed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Eschatological Laundry List

Sheldon B. Kopp wrote a book that has influenced me more than anything besides the Mastery Foundation's work, my theological studies and, most of all, my family.

The book is called If You Meet The Buddha On the Road, Kill Him! It is subtitled, "The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients" and is called, below Dr. Kopp's name, "A fresh, realistic approach to altering one's destiny and accepting the responsibility that grows with freedom".

I gave away most of my books a few years ago. Many went to the library at St. James, Higganum. Others went to friends. What I kept was some volumes of The New Interpreter's Bible, all my books of poetry, including How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi, which I've had since my Junior year of college, A Canticle for Leibowitz. a novel by Walter Miller, a handful of Biblical commentaries and The Elements of Style (third edition) by Strunk and White, which I've had since 1980. A few other random things, but not much else. I use the Cheshire Library these days, almost never buying books (except for the 'Hunger Games' trilogy and how many ever volumes there are in the 'Game of Thrones' series.)

And I kept "If you meet.....", well worn and brown on all the edges.

I don't read the whole thing anymore, but every few weeks I read what comes at the very end, which Kopp calls: 'An Eschatological Laundry List: A partial register of the 927 (or is it 928?) Eternal Truths'.

I'd like to share that list with you now.

1.     This is it!
2.     There are no hidden meanings.
3.     You can't get there from here, and besides there's no place else to go.
4.     We are already dying, and we will be dead a long time.
5.     Nothing lasts.
6.     There is no way of getting all you want.
7.     You can't have anything unless you let go of it.
8.     Your only get to keep what you give away.
9.     There is no particular reason why you lost out on some things.
10.    The world is not necessarily just. Being good often does not pay off and there is no
         compensation for misfortune.
11.    You have a responsibility to do your best nonetheless.
12.    It is a random universe to which we bring meaning.
13.    You don't really control anything.
14.    You can't make anyone love you.
15.    No one is any stronger or any weaker than anyone else.
16.    Everyone is, in his/her own way, vulnerable.
17.    There are no great persons.
18.    If you have a hero, look again: you have diminished yourself in some way.
19.    Everyone lies, cheats, pretends (yes, you too, and most certainly I myself).
20.    All evil is potential vitality in need of transformation.
21.   All of you is worth something, if you will only own it.
22.   Progress is an illusion.
23.   Evil can be displaced but never eradicated, as all solutions breed new problems.
24.   Yet it is necessary to keep on struggling toward solutions.
25.   Childhood is a nightmare.
26.   But it is so very hard to be an on-your-own, take-care-of-yourself-cause-there-is-no one else
        to-do-it-for-you grown-up.
27.   Each of us is ultimately alone.
28.   The most important things, each person must do for themselves.
29.   Love is not enough, but it sure helps.
30.   We have only ourselves, and one another. That may not be much, but that's all there is.
31.   How strange, that so often, it all seems worth it.
32.   We must live within the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge.
33.   All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.
34.   Yet we are responsible for everything we do.
35.    No excuses will be accepted.
36.    You can run, but you can't hide.
37.    It is most important to run out of scapegoats.
38.    We must learn the power of living with our helplessness.
39.    The only victory lies in surrender to oneself.
40.    All of the significant battles are wages within the self.
41.    You are free to do whatever you like. You need only face the consequences.
42.    What do you know...for sure...anyway?
43.    Learn to forgive yourself, again and again and again and again....

If that's not enough to ponder under your own Castor Oil Tree for like forever, what is?

Wisdom from 1972 to ponder.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pentecost Sermon I fogot to take with me

(Pentecost is a big deal, but you probably know that already. Usually, though I do prepare sermons and often have a text, I prefer to preach without the text. But when I want to say things exactly the way they are, I use a text. I intended to use a text on Pentecost at Emmanuel Church in Killingworth. Unfortunately, as I was diving through Durham, I realized I had left the text on my desk in Cheshire! So, I didn't give this sermon on Pentecost. I used parts of it and it was, I think, between OK and quite good, but it wasn't this. So I'll share it with you here.)

PENTECOST 2014/Emmanuel, Killingworth

Fear always says 'no'.

If you're going to remember anything I say this Pentecost morning, remember this: FEAR ALWAYS SAYS 'NO'.

And remember this as well: GOD ALWAYS SAYS 'YES' TO US....


Jesus' friends were gathered in the same room they'd been using to hide. How many there were isn't clear. The book of Acts says 120--though that number may be high. They huddled together, still frightened that the Temple authorities might be after them, still grieving in some way--though they had seen the Risen Lord time and again, felt his breath upon they faces--and most, most of all, they were terribly, wrenching lonely.

Jesus had promised them they would be clothed in power. Jesus had promised them he would send and Advocate to be with them. Jesus had promised them they would be baptized in fire. Jesus had promised them he was already preparing a place for them.

But the promises seemed like so much pie crust to the disciples. They were still waiting for the promises to be fulfilled. They were frightened. And they were so lonely--so profoundly lonely.


That image...that metaphor...that paradigm of being crowed into a lonely, frightening room rings true for us today.

Fear haunts us these days. And though we huddle together in our fear, we are so profoundly lonely. Fear speaks but one word and that word is "NO".

Our faith teaches us to be hospitable to strangers--but our Fear says 'no' and we distrust those who are different from us.

Our faith teaches us to be compassionate--but our Fear says 'no' and we ignore the 'least of these' in our midst.

Our faith teaches us that God is Love--but our Fear says 'no' and most states still do not recognize marriage for loving same-sex couples who wish to marry.

Our faith teaches us to share our gifts with those in need--but our Fear says 'no' and we live in the richest nation in the history of human kind where the gap between the rich and the poor widens every day.

Our faith teaches us  that 'a little child shall lead us' and that we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of God--but our Fear says 'no' as millions of children go underfed, undereducated and neglected around the world and in our country.

Remember this if you remember nothing else: Fear always says 'NO'.


There is no easy or simple way to explain it, what happened in that closed and fearful room on the first Pentecost--it happened like this: one moment the room was full of fear and the next moment the room was full of fire and a mighty wind fanning the flames until the fear was burned away and all that was left was hope and joy and those formerly frightened people 'found their voices' and left their hiding place and spoke words that transformed the world.

We need the Fires of Pentecost to burn away our fears and the Winds of Pentecost to blow away our loneliness. We need the Spirit to give us our voices so we may proclaim the 'YES' of God to the world.

Fear always says "NO"--but God always says "YES"....

We need a Pentecost. We know that God says "yes" to us. That God calls us to wonder and joy and love and compassion and hospitality. And not just in the 'big things'--God's "Yes" to us is about little things too.

This is a poem by Kaylin Haught titled "God says Yes to Me". It is a Pentecost poem, whether she knew it or not.

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
Who knows where she picked that up
What I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

What Pentecost is about is God saying "Yes" to you and you and you and you and all of us. What Pentecost is about is the Spirit coming so we are never, ever, not ever lonely again.

What Pentecost is about is Fire burning away Fear.

What Pentecost is about--and listen carefully, this is important--Pentecost is about God saying to you and you and you and you and you and all of us:

Sweetcakes, what I'm telling you is Yes, Yes, Yes!

Amen and Amen.

I'm Baaaack!!!

(I've been off line Since Sunday. Here's something I wrote on Monday)


It's amazing, writing with a pen. I've typed so much in the past 30 years or so that my handwriting has degenerated to a bizarre degree. I'm writing my hand because my Internet connection--Foxfire--has suddenly decided I did something to it Sunday night to make it impossible to open. I even know the time: 6/8/14 at 9:30 pm.

All I can remember doing is a Control/Alt/Delete when my screen froze trying to see how Tracy Morgan was after a Walmart Truck hit his limousine and killed his friend and writer. (Since I couldn't view the story, I don't even remember his friend's name, alas....)

To say I'm 'writing' with a pen is a misnomer. I never conquered the Zaner/Blosser cursive script I was suppose to learn in 3rd grade. I mostly print, though some of the printing--like the 'some' and 'of' and 'the' in that line are loosely connected.

And I most often make 'e' like a backward '3'.

John, my friend and computer guru, will know how to get Foxfire back but he hasn't returned my call or email (the 'e' in 'email' is a backward 3, by the way).

So, who knows when this will get worked out and you'll read this....

(by the way. John hasn't gotten here and it's Thursday but I figured out how to get my email and blog back all by myself!!! Yea, Me, the computer dope....It's easier with Foxfire but I can't believe I figured it out....A cause for a glass of wine, I'd say....)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Gag reflex

This is not a pleasant thing to read. There is more information in it than I would share face-to-face. It is gross. So, stop reading now, if you're wise.

OK, I've warned you.

I have a very sensitive gag reflex. Lots of things make me gag. Drives my dental hygienist and my dentist crazy, though they are kind about it.

It all comes down to swallowing pills. I can swallow anything that is in a capsule. I don't know why but I cam. But pills are an issue. A pill the size of a capsule I can easily swallow makes me gag.

What I do is chew pills up. Even something the size of an un-coated aspirin is impossible for me to swallow.

I know this and know it well and from long experience.

And yet today I was about to take a Claritin-D 24 hour pill and thought to myself, "if this is time release and I chew it up the whole time release thing might be screwed up.

I'm looking at one of them now. It's not as large as capsules I swallow with ease. But I should have know better--it's a pill twice the size of an aspirin--but I tried to swallow it anyway.

It got stuck in my esophagus somewhere, just below my breast bone is where it seemed to be. I could breathe fine but anything I tried to eat or drink wouldn't go down. (Here's the unpleasant part I tried to warn you about--a piece of white bread with butter came back up in the sink. Nothing I tried to drink would go down. I even had to spit out my saliva from noon until almost 4:30.

I was just about to go to Urgent Care down on South Main Street when I took a sip of water and it went into my stomach. Since then I've eaten a crab cake and a hamburger and a salad. It's fine.

Bern was reasonable and kind to me for those 4 and 1/2 hours. But she finally said, "You know you can't swallow something like that. You've known it for years. Why would you try today?"

A reasonable question.

I started to try to explain about my concern about time release but I knew it was futile.

I do know I can't swallow that and yet I tried to anyway.

It's sort of like the difference between rats and human beings. Rats will go down the maze to where the cheese used to be once or twice but then not again. Human beings keep thinking there will be 'cheese' down that path when they should know better.

Rats are smarter than me, that's for sure.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Happiness is what you say it is

OK, time for existentialism post grad level.

I heard a report in the last few days about how 3/4 of Americans don't like their jobs, even though they have a job and almost 7% of folks don't--much higher in rural areas and among minorities.

Gone, I suspect, are the days that were what they were for my parents' generation: having a job = happiness.

I was a full-time priest for over 30 years. For the first decade of that, I can't say that I 'loved' my job that much. I felt beset upon by the things that happened and the meaning those things drug after them. Then, in 1987 I think (though my linear time stuff is halting, as you probably already know) I went to The Making A Difference Workshop and learned that meaning is 'what we say it is' and that it is possible to 'be' in the face of what happens and what we say about it.

I know the first time I heard that kind of language I was perplexed and confused. But believe me on this (going back to a recent post about how life is 'empty and meaningless') stuff that happens doesn't 'mean' anything. It just happens and the happening of it is empty and meaningless. The "meaning" comes from WHAT WE SAY about WHAT HAPPENED, not from 'what happened' itself.

"Stuff happens": a baby is born, a war begins, someone visits the moon, a child dies in an accident, the stock market crashes, a war ends, an election is held, a marriage breaks up, someone gets AIDS, two people fall in love, the stock market rebounds, Congress passes a bill, you get cancer, your daughter gets married, you father becomes senile, you get a raise, a hurricane sweeps in off the south Atlantic, on and on.

Believe me on this: nothing about "what happened" had 'meaning' attached. It's just 'what happened'.

Then you and I talk about 'what happened' and weigh it down with 'meaningfulness' and then imagine the 'meaning' came from what happened and not what we said about it.

People hate their jobs and believe, totally believe, their jobs bring the hatefulness with them.

Instead, the jobs are just what they are--no meaning attached--and the transforming, liberating reality is that you and I get to 'say what they mean'.

Stuff happens and we talk about it and we believe what we have to say about what happened came from 'what happened'. NO! We made up the meaning.

Ponder, if you can, what a wondrous thing it is that we can 'name' the meaning of 'what happens' to us.

I'll leave you there. And, I'll be back.

Made my day....

N. is a dear lady who attends St. Peter's Episcopal Church here in Cheshire. She sometimes volunteers in the office and since I hang out there on Tuesdays I met her a couple of years ago.

Today I was in Stop and Shop--as I am most days, Bern and I are European in dinner, usually getting the ingredients on the day we intend to eat them--and N. tapped me on the shoulder.

She wanted to tell me that one of the last things she does each night is look to see if there's something new on "Under the Castor Oil Tree". She told me how much it meant to me and that she felt she knew Bern and our dog and when I miss a few days she worries if something is wrong in my life.

It made my day in a big way.

I've said before I'd probably write this blog is no one read it. And I would. It is a discipline I need as an 'almost retired' Episcopal priest. I am capable of whiling away vast quantities of time with no regrets. I average reading two books every three days--some 250 books a year. I'm perfectly happy to spend whole days reading.

I used to have a poster on my office wall when I was Rector of St. Paul's in New Haven that had a drawing of a comfortable looking chair on it and said, "Sometimes I sits and thinks...and sometimes, I just sits..." I'm capable of that with no guilt.

So writing the blog I would do just to give a modicum of order to my rather disorderly days. I've always been good at doing not much of anything--something I have brought to an art form since 2010!

So N.'s words spoke deeply to my heart. Even if I'm seemingly 'do-less' most of the time, what I create in this space makes a difference for N. That makes writing this more than just a way to put a little order into a rather disorderly way of living.

From time to time I take a look at the statistics on "Under the Castor Oil Tree". There are well over a thousand page views a month. Daily average is between 30 and 90. And Lord knows how many pages they read each time.

So, I promise to ponder the possibility that my musings here actually matter and make a difference to a lot more people than N. That ups the ante of these otherwise rather self-centered and random ponderings.

Thank you, N., you not only made my day but altered the occurring of this blog for me. Thanks so much....

headed for 'the home'

I had my annual physical yesterday. I've been with my primary care physician for 25 years, so he knows me very well. I'd lost six pounds in the month since I last saw him and that was cause for celebration and high fives! He knows I don't take well to nagging about my weight (or anything for that matter) so he resorts to gentle nudges and outlandish praise when I do something that actually contributes to my health and well-being.

It's my opinion that doctors giving physicals should have to wear one of those little gowns that tie in the back why doing the examination. That way it would be a level playing field with two people looking silly.

We did all the stuff you do in a physical except I talked him out of sticking his finger up my butt since I'd just seen my urologist less than a month ago. He doesn't like to stick his finger up my butt anymore than I like him to, so he was glad to pass on that. It's a good thing, too....

I went into one of the bathrooms to pee when I was leaving and couldn't for the life of me find the opening in my boxer shorts. I took off my pants again and discovered I had the boxers on backward! By avoiding butt probing, he didn't get to see that every day or so I do something that indicates 'the home' is in my future.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

empty and meaningless

OK, just take a moment and ponder this: what if life is, in its essence, empty and meaningless.

Had enough time? Take a moment more.

So, what if, just like a possibility, life is, deep down, empty and meaningless?

If you haven't run screaming from your computer at this point, let me point out what a liberating thing that would be. What if one of my favorite bumper stickers--"SHIT HAPPENS"--is on target and correct?

Know what that means? It means that the 'meaning' of life doesn't exist in any way in the stuff that happens. Meaning--such as it is--doesn't come from the world or from the passage of time or from the events of life...'meaning' is what we say it is.

Can you begin to see how liberating that could be?

I used to be terrified of flying. One night, before I was to fly the next day, I was telling my friend, Tom, how scared I was already, knowing that in 15 hours I'd be getting on an airplane.

Tom asked, "what does it feel like?"

And I said, "I'm terrified, scared to death, horrified!!!"

And Tom said, calmly, "no, that's not what I mean. I mean, tell me about the actual feelings in your body, not what you call time."

So I went through the litany: tight butt, racing heart, dizziness, muscle tension. The whole thing.

And Tom said, calmly (as Tom said all things), "ok, why don't we call those feelings excitement?"

It was one of the biggest breakthroughs of my life. From that moment on, my feelings were transformed. They didn't 'change'--oh, no, whenever I get on a plane my butt is tight, my heart is racing and I'm a tad dizzy with tension in my muscles. All that has happened is that I came to understand that the 'meaning' about those feelings is mine to assign and name.

So, I name it "excitement" and I love to fly.

It is really liberating and transforming to realize that the 'meaning' of what happens comes, not from 'what happens' but from what we say about it.

"Meaning" comes from us and we are free to re-name it and embrace it differently in a way that makes a difference for the better.

So, you could either call it 'anger' or 'whimsy'. You could either call it 'envy' or 'appreciation'. You could either call it 'fear' or 'astonishment'. It IS what you name it.

Just something to ponder. That's all....

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

OK, enough about "Frozen"....

It's enough that every little girl in America knows all the words to "Let it Go". My granddaughters even have the arm and hand movements down!

First it was the Christian Fundamentalist Pastors who claimed it encouraged lesbianism in little girls!

After thinking long and hard about that accusation, it occurred to me that one of the last songs celebrates the love between two girls--but they're sisters, pastors! God, you guys spend to long looking for LGBT 'recruitment'. Lesbians and Gay Men have enough lesbians and gay men to choose from...they aren't 'recruiting' anybody!

Now a woman in Japan is divorcing her husband because (she says) "there is something not right about you as a human being"...because he didn't like Frozen. She saw it half-a-dozen times before nagging him into going with her and his comment was "it's an OK film, it just doesn't appeal to me." She moved back into her parents' house and started divorce proceedings....

Look, everybody calm down...deep breaths.

Let me let you in on something: It's a MOVIE, for God's sake.

And a kids movie at that....(though I did enjoy it a lot....)

Quit trying to make it more than that....Just enjoy the little girls singing "Let it Go" and let everything else go. OK?

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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.