Sunday, November 30, 2014

Enough dressing already....

Thanksgiving was three days ago. I ate Thanksgiving dinner with my family and our four dear friends. Then, later, I ate more turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with pecans, green bean casserole, the dressing I made (apples, onions, walnuts, currents, celery, two sticks of butter and bread) and gravy.

Friday, I twice ate turkey, dressing, mashed and sweet potatoes, green beans and gravy.

Saturday, I once ate all that except for the green beans.

Today, I had what I had yesterday for a meal.

Enough, already! I think the reason we seldom have the traditional Thanksgiving meal any other time is that we eat it at least 6 times!

I told Bern that I was through with all the Thanksgiving stuff. It is dead to me. Tomorrow I eat mussels.

You just can't eat that stuff that many times and stay sane....

Except for the gravy. I could eat gravy once a day forever. In fact, where I come from, gravy of all kinds qualifies as a food group. I hope it is always on the menu in some iteration in the Kingdom that is to come.

I can always eat gravy.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Don't eat the jelly from the village...

My 5 year old granddaughter Tegan was playing 'Mail Lady' a while ago, delivering mail to the adults in four different rooms of the house. I was checking email and heard her just down the hall at the room where Mimi and Tim slept.

"Auntie Mimi," Tegan said, "You've got mail."

"Thanks, Mail Lady," Mimi answered, I  hope my New Yorker came.

Tegan moved a couple of steps away, then went back.

"Don't eat the jelly from the village," she warned.

"Why not?" Mimi asked, always wanting to know 'reasons'.

"They fed it to the rats," Tegan almost whispered, delivering bad news along with the mail, "and the rats died."

"What should I do?" Mimi questioned.

"Don't even buy it," Tegan said, continuing her route.

Having the granddaughters here is better than Monty Python...and just as odd sometimes. I told Cathy what Tegan had said and she shook her head, "whatever goes on in my child's head?"

It has been an enchanting few days. Our whole nuclear family here with us (I don't understand why people made fun of George W. Bush's pronunciation of 'nuclear'--it took spell-check for me to spell it!) along with a friend since college (John) and three friends of nearly 30 years (Jack, Sherry and Hanna) for Thanksgiving dinner.

Morgan made place tags to tell people where to sit and helped me set the table--really two identical tables end to end that should seat 10 but we made seat 13. Emma and Morgan made menus, listing the whole meal, along with pictures of the dishes. And we ate and ate and ate and laughed and laughed and laughed and, each in our own way, silently pondered how Thankful and Grateful we should be.

Our Puli, Bela, met Josh and Cathy's Pit bull, Laura, for the first time and they got along! Praise the soon to be center of attention Baby Jesus!!!

Unfortunately, Laura decided to eat our Maine Coon Cat, Lukie. We have a Federalist House, which means there are stairways in the front and back--Laura and Luke made two circuits before Laura cornered Lukie at the back stairs and Cathy grabbed her before true mayhem could ensue. Since then, Luke has been locked in our bedroom with food and a litter box. He has the look about him of a catatonic mental patience (get it cat-atonic? OK, not funny for him.) We visit him from time to time with turkey to coax him out from under our bed. Reentry tomorrow might take awhile. But John works at the West Haven VA with post-tramatic-stress disorder, so we can call him in if needs be.

Really, it has been so full of joy and wonder. And I couldn't possibly put my arms around how much I am full of gratitude for.

But don't eat the jelly from the village, whatever you do....

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Only Tim is missing now

Thanksgiving, more than anything, I think, is about 'family'.

Only Tim is missing now. Josh and Cathy and the three girls and Laura the dog (who Bela seems to like but who tried to eat our cat, Lukie, who is now under our bed behind a closed door refusing to eat or pass food and water) left Baltimore at 6:30 am and had no snow until Connecticut and got here by 1:30 p.m. after stopping at a Japanese bakery in New Jersey that Cathy loves.

So, only Tim is missing. His train gets to Union Station in New Haven at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

He'll be here for a couple of hours before the 'guests'--really, adopted 'family' get here and we will be together and reminisce and tell stories and talk to Morgan and Emma and Tegan and eat and eat and drink and drink for hours on end.

My favorite holiday by far. Almost here. Only Tim is missing now....


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mimi is home!!!

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. And much of what I love is the arrival of people I love.

Mimi came tonight--she was up at her apartment in Stockbridge, working at her job as Development Officer for Jacob's Pillow, and because of the weather outlook, left early and go here about 6. Bern had told the dog, "Mimi is coming" about an hour before and he'd been laying by the front door ever since and when she came in he went (I think it's safe to say) a tad berserk, jumping and barking and fairly moaning in delight. He loves Mimi so, as well he should, as I do.

Tim's in Brooklyn and will come early Thanksgiving morning on the train rather than risk the weather tomorrow,  and we'll all fight about who is going to pick him up, because we all love him so. But Mimi is his wife now--for well over a month--and she'll get dibs on driving to New Haven.

Josh and Cathy and the 3 granddaughters are leaving Baltimore at 7 in the morning. I wish they had come tonight because of tomorrow's snow, but driving after being a lawyer and prosecutor all day might be worse than some snow. With luck (which they'll need on the day before Thanksgiving on I-95!) they'll be here in the early afternoon. At which time the beserkness of our Puli will return--he loves the girls and Cathy and is respectful of Josh. They're bringing their rescue Pit Bull, Laura, who Bela, our dog has never met, so that is a mild anxiety. But we've been telling Bela that Sumi/Laura is coming and Sumi, their last Pit Bull who died this year, was Bela's fast friend. So all should be well....

Then Tim on Thanksgiving morning to complete our family. Bela will be glad to see him, but Emma, Morgan and Tegan will be over the moon! They love, love, love the man they've called "Uncle Tim" their whole lives and who, this time, by law, will be their uncle in fact.

Then, later that day, John and Jack and Sherrie and Hanna will arrive, the heart of our 'New England Family' for 30 years--more excitement for the dog and the children who call John and Jack and Sherry 'aunt' and 'uncle' as well.

God help me, I'm reverting to my amazement at my blessings again. "Our Family" will gather day after tomorrow and eat food Bern and Sherry and Jack and John and I have prepared the same way we have for years. And we will bask in each others' presence and eat and drink and fall even more in love.

I am blessed, beyond imagining. And I KNOW IT. That it seems to me, at my favorite holiday, is what matters.

How Thankful I am. More than I can say. More than even I can know....

May your Thanksgiving be as wondrous as mine. That would make you wondrously blessed as well....

So, maybe I'm not really losing it....

A couple of times I saw this link on line to "11 early signs of dementia" and didn't click on it because I've lately stood before an open refrigerator door, not knowing why and have gone to a room to get something and forgot, when I got there, what I came for....

Finally, I went to the link and maybe I'm not really losing it. I didn't have any of the 11 early signs (among which were forgetting what common objects were for--I've often heard this: 'not being able to find your car keys is normal, not knowing what a car key is for is dementia'--'eating objects'...haven't started doing that yet, though the credit card on my desk looks tasty; 'money troubles'...well, Bern handles our money so how would I know; 'falling a lot'...well, I'm clumsy but don't fall...if  'bumping into things' was a sign, I'd be looking for a home; 'staring' is one and I don't, unless it is Jennifer Lawrence or Minny Driver; I forget what most of the rest of the 11 are, but 'forgetting' isn't one of them, unless it's forgetting what a car key is for or forgetting your credit card isn't food. Oh, I remember two others: "not getting sarcasm" and "not being embarrassed". No problem on either case for this old bird....

My father had dementia his last few years of life and though I found some humor in it, it wasn't ME that had it. So, I am always noticing if I am showing any of his signs.

I think most of us fear 'losing our minds' and memories and 'self' more than we fear dying.

And well we should, I think, at any rate.

So, just so you know, I'm good for now....

Monday, November 24, 2014

My Lucky Day

So, looking through my papers, as I often do, I found a poem I wrote over 8 years ago that I was going to share with you in this post. And I will, real soon. It is an ironic look--isn't everything a bit ironic--at stuff I received as email one day in September of 2006. OK, so here it is:


This morning, I had oatmeal and discovered,
just by turning on my Dell computer,
that I had won three remarkable monetary prizes
while I was sleeping, dreaming about a woman I knew in college
with legs from there to here and back again.

We didn't have sex in my dream--me and long legs--
but we discussed it:
and I have discovered, as I age,
that talking about sex is about as good as sex,
especially in dreams.

Trying to remember her name, I learned I was a millionaire!
I won three lotteries I never entered:
one is British and would pay me 1.5 million pounds sterling.
That, I know, whatever the exchange rate is today,
is quite enough money.
But, besides that, I won a million euros in and Irish drawing
and three more million, America, in a lottery
held in Bermuda. Imagine that!
Just by sleeping dreaming and talking about sex
with a long limbed woman whose name I don't remember
and who is in her late 50's now
(but not in the dream)
I had become rich.

What a lucky day!
And add to that it was one of those profoundly perfect
late September mornings in New England.
Lucky me! What a lucky duck...!

I bought an apartment on the upper east side
with a view of Central Park.

Plus, as you can imagine,
knowing me,
I sent huge checks to Save the Children,
the Democratic Party my parish church.
I endowed a chair in modern poetry at my college,
gave money to most of my friends
and set up a scholarship fund for long-legged women
whose name begins with 'W' ("Wanda", I'm almost sure
that was her name...or "Wilma"....)

All that before a second cup of coffee
and before the email from a lawyer in Rhodesia
asking me to please accept four million dollars
to watch out for the inheritance of his client,
the widow of a Rhodesian politician who needed to get
her fortune in an American bank.

It was such a lucky day that I sat on the deck
with a third cup of coffee and a cigarette,
simply enjoying autumn in Connecticut.


That would have been the post if the verdict of the Grand Jury in the Ferguson case of Michael Brown's shooting by a policeman hadn't come in.

My poem, whimsical as I think it is, simply reveals how sheltered and removed I am from the realities of the nation I live in.

I don't know how a policeman ever would have to shoot and kill an unarmed teenager. I simply don't see how all the training the police have would lead to that. Shoot them in the leg and subdue them. Use a taser and subdue them. Use your club and subdue them. And to have to shoot an unarmed 18 year old multiple times before they were subdued, until the 8th or 9th bullet (still some disagreement on that) killed them...I just can't get my head around that.

Now, add to that that the unarmed teen was Black and the Officer was White and things spin out of orbit.

I don't live in the world where that would happen. I live in a world where I can write a poem about the nonsense that gets emailed to us all and never have to worry about being unarmed and Black and being shot multiple times by a Police Officer that must have several options to subdue me and yet killed me with the 8th or 9th bullet and was exonerated by a Grand Jury.

It makes me want to fly to Missouri and demonstrate with those who live in a world so remarkably different from mine but which is in the world I live in.

It makes me mourn that I am so shielded from the world of Ferguson, MO, that I can be whimsical and have a third cup of coffee on my 'lucky day' when God knows what will happen in Ferguson tonight and in the days to come.

The word I haven't used yet is the 'R' word.

I won't use it, but it is true. Until we deal with the 'R' word, how can any day, for any of us, be a 'lucky day'?


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ah, Puerto Rico....

All the time I've lived in Connecticut--since 1980 now (the first hundred years they tell me, are the hardest!) I've seldom been able, in basketball at any rate, to rub it in about West Virginia University, my alma mater. Oh, we owned UConn in football in the years of the Big East (I miss the Big East so)--I loved playing games with other teams in places I'd actually been (Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers, Louisville, all those places) but in basketball...I never had any braggin' rights.

Well, tonight, after what happened in Puerto Rico, I can say, loud and clear, "How about them 'Eers!"

(Which is West Virginian for 'How about those Mountaineers'?)

78-68. WVU over UConn. Bobby Huggins over Kevin Ollie. Jerome Staten over Boatwright.

Oh, that felt good to write!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Waiting for the woman

When I start sorting through papers of my life, you have to be submitted to them. Here is a poem I wrote in 2006, when our dog was not a year old. Now he's almost 8 and still the same.


Our dog--only ten months old--
a Puli (Bob Marley's hair walking)
climbs on our bed--our futon, actually,
and lays on the pillows, with one leg
and his head up against the window
that looks out on the driveway of our house.

I found him there tonigh,
Gazing out, looking for the woman,
my wife, who is away
at a birthday dinner
(God bless her....)

I asked him if he were
waiting for the woman.
And from his look, I knew he was.

Totally committed and obsessed,
riveted to the window,
watching, waiting, longing,
for the love she will bring to him.

And aren't we all--each in our own way--
leaning our faces against the window
of Life...watching...waiting...longing,
for Love not yet here
or present, still distant and away?

The moon

Tonight, as I stepped out on our chilled deck to smoke a cigarette (I know! I know! Don't chide me about it! The cold does more to curb my smoking than all my friends' warnings....) I looked up, as I always do, to find the moon.

It's too overcast to see her, but I looked anyway.

Today I was sorting through all the 'paper' of my past, and found a poem I wrote a decade ago about the moon. I was sure I must have shared it in the 1100 or more posts on this blog, but when I typed 'moon' into the blog search box, I got several hundred responses (I mention the Moon a lot) but none that was this poem. So here it is, from November 26, 2004--4 days short of 10 years ago.


OK, so I'm out on the deck smoking a cigarette
and drinking red wine.
What I'm really doing is watching the moon
through the trees in this, my now favorite tiime
of the year...when all is bare, stark, dying and thin...
knowing what comes next is new life.

Most people I know would chide me for smoking
and more than a few would deride my for
the red wine--but I no longer care.

What I care about is the moon, the moon, the moon.

I know why countless ancient folks worshipped the moon.
Why wouldn't one worship what brings dime light
to deep darkness and moves the seas.

Like the seas, the moon moves me.
Outward into the great chill of the ionosphere and beyond...
though I will never possess the moon, she draws me near,
though I will never own her, I worship her.

When the waxing ceases and the waning begins,
the moon pushes me back, deep inside myself,
down along a dim passage I seldom have walked,
to a door to a room I don't remember knowing,
and I open the door...and there I find, the moon.

So I stand and stare, wishing to know more,
longing to possess the wondrous brightness of it all.
Waiting on my deck, smoking and drinking, watching this only:
through the bare trees--the moon, the moon, the moon....

Friday, November 21, 2014

Better than I thought...and what a loss....

I actually lasted 9 days since my 11/12 post promising to stay off the media and news.

Good for me, I have more self-restraint than I imagined.

But Lordy, Lordy, what a waste of blog-worthy material.

I could have done several about Kim Kardashian's butt and Obama's decision to fix immigration by himself. Never mind the Lake snow in Buffalo or the apoplexy of Republicans regarding the aforementioned 'fix' of immigration.

The first two options on my spell check to 'Kardashian' were 'cardigan's' and 'Krishna's' either of which would have been preferable to Kim's butt!

My spell check also hates all possessives, of "Obama's" was suggested to be replaced by 'IBM's' and 'Obama'. At least the president's name without the 's is in my spell check.

Plus, people died--Mike Nichols foremost among them, director of The Graduate. which, if it didn't change the life of any baby-boomer, should have....

A lot of stuff happens in 9 days--my Lord, Mockingjay Part One opened today (I saw it and say go see it as soon as you can if you are a Hunger Game freak like I am!)

A lot of stuff happens in 9 days that I might have written better posts about than the ones I wrote. But I did endure without writing about anything in the news or the media. Good for me. Bad for you because I could have had some ironic and humorous things to say about Kim's butt. But (butt) you'll never know them, will you?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Big Check Came!!!

I got my cut of the class action suit today! (Well, never mind that I didn't know I was one of the plaintiff's and had never heard of the suit....)

What matters is the suit existed and I got my cut today!

The lawsuit was 'Citizens of the US vs. Angie's List, Inc.

What happened was, I joined Angie's List so I could write a favorable review of the guys who did our roof last year. They were great and even paid for me to join Angie's List to see if the compelling nature of my prose could get them business. I hope it did.

That was the first and only time I ever went on Angie's List except for going on a month later and cancelling my membership--or that's what I thought I did. Bern pays the bills so I never look at credit card bills unless she asks me about that charge to "Too Foxy for You". She catches false charges from time to time and handles it. But I do the taxes, which is when I start going through bank statements and credit card bills looking for deductions.

And lo and behold, charged to my card every month for the six months since I cancelled was a $7.99 item to Angie's List!

So, I called and complained and finally got off the damn list--which I don't get anyway...when I needed work done I asked friends and neighbors to recommend folks.

Apparently, I was far from the only one who cancelled on line and kept getting charged because a big old Law Firm filed a class action suit against mean old Angie....

How they found out I complained, I simply don't know. Does a business have to report complaints to some agency or something?

Anyway, the check came. It came in the form of a post card with a cover on it. I undid the sticky and there was my post card sized check. I took it to the bank immediately (actually I was on the way to Stop and Shop where I bank is anyway....)

The Teller had never seen a postcard check but it was obviously good. The grandchildren don't need to worry about college costs now that I got my $5 settlement!

Five measly dollars to thousands of people and thousands of dollars (who knows how much?) To my lawyers and Angie's lawyers.

Well, at least justice was done....

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why I love New England

When I tell people who don't live here why I learn New England I always start with the 'we have four seasons' line.

Truth is, I only love three of the seasons we have here. I often imagine I love winter and the snow and the chill and all--but I don't. I love that we have three seasons I love...winter, with just these few cold days...winter, I think I could do without.

Is there anywhere to live that has 3 seasons? I doubt it. Autumn has to have Winter waiting behind it right? Or why else would the leaves fall so the snow doesn't always break the trees?

So, I guess I have to endure the next few months. Lordy, Lordy, I really don't like the really cold weather. The snow is beautiful but it would be great if it would melt between storms so it doesn't pile up and get dirty and turn to ice.

I still love New England, it's just a little harder to remember why as Winter comes.....

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I'm not as dumb as I look...seem...appear to be....

So, in my last post, I took down an earlier post in which I thought I'd been unkind or unfair or cruel.

Then, one of the 3 people who read the offending post (only 3 did) emailed me this:

You wrote:
"This morning, I removed a blog post that I did last night. Only 3 people saw it before I took it down and I hope they keep quiet about it."
Yes, I read it, and thought it a bit out of character for you.
(having copied that, I can't get back to the original font--Lord, I hate computers!)
But I was correct about what I did. Thanks, Charles. Even if I can't find the correct font.... 

Something I've never done before...

This morning, I removed a blog post that I did last night. Only 3 people saw it before I took it down and I hope they keep quiet about it.

I took it down because I went beyond ironic to cruel in it. It was about the Congregational Church here in town and some of my interactions with the staff. I thought I was being humorous, but I was being unkind instead. So I took it down.

One of the problems about writing on a screen is that there aren't the same internal limits that we have we writing a letter by hand. The physical experience of holding a pen, it seems to me, opens up a sub-conscious area where we actually imagine the person we're writing to reading what we wrote a few days later.

Email, Face-book (which I don't do), Twitter (which I don't understand much less 'do') and all the other media things (isn't one called Instagram?) free us from the image of the person reading what we write on a screen--mostly because we  have no idea, really, who all will read it.

I've gotten in trouble trying to be ironic or humorous in emails (mostly one's I've sent to bishops or members of the staff of the Diocese--see my other post from 11/17!) and it's not easy to straighten out. I actually believe we 'read' stuff on a screen differently than we would read a hand-written letter that we hold and touch.

The 'touch' is missing on a screen. And I lost 'touch' last night when I wrote something more cruel than ironic, more unkind than humorous.

I'm glad I removed it. That reminded me of the letters I've torn up and never sent (bet you have some of those if you remember when we used to 'write letters'...) It felt good to remove that post, just as tearing up a letter because you finally realized the person who would read it might be confused or hurt by your words in ink on paper.

I've torn up lots of letters. But this morning was the first time I took down a post. Though I've never done that before, it felt 'good' and 'right' to do it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Taking nothing that seriously...

I had lunch with one of my best friends today and she was bemoaning the nature of the Episcopal Church in her part of the woods. "They're just to 'self-important'," she was saying.

"Do you mean they take themselves too seriously?" I asked.

"They take everything too seriously!" she said.

Then she reminded me of an ordination to the priesthood sermon I gave for Michael Spencer, about how I made him stand up and told him, "always remember, Michael, that you are an almost irrelevant functionary is a mostly irrelevant institution."

"That's what I like about you," she said.

"My clinging to irrelevancy?" I asked.

"In a word," she said, "exactly...."

And it is true. I don't ever 'not' think of myself as mostly irrelevant. Some people I have told that get rather huffy. "Why, for goodness sake, you're an Episcopal Priest," they say.

And I reply, in a word, "exactly...."

You need to hear me out on this. I'm not saying priests don't 'make a difference' and a contribution to the world. We do, quite often. But so do other irrelevant things. Take poetry--poetry brings beauty and truth and wonder and insight to me...but poetry, in our time and culture, is essentially irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. The economy is relevant. War and Peace is relevant. Poverty and discrimination are relevant. Climate change is relevant. Disease is relevant. The vast distance between the rich and poor in this country and even more so in the developed and developing worlds is hugely relevant. The incredible deep divides among people is relevant.

But poetry and the Episcopal Church? Give me a break.

There is nothing wrong with being irrelevant. Actually it's a great way to go 'undercover' and make a difference in people's lives. Poetry and the Episcopal Church do that--behind the scenes of what is Important and Relevant and Serious in the world. It's that poetry and the Episcopal Church simply aren't that big a deal in the day-to-day relevancies of Life. (My spell check didn't like 'relevancies' though it offered 'irrelevancies' as a doable option--but that would make a really awkward sentence structure to say what I said, so I'll go with my, apparently, new word.)

My bishop at the time, who heard me say the 'irrelevant' stuff, tried to tear me a new one in the vesting room after Michael's reception. But Michael had some very good wine at the reception and I'd had enough that I just said, "Bishop, think about it! You are the mostly irrelevant titular head of a mostly irrelevant institution." And left him gaping at my audacity...or,, perhaps, my accuracy. (I don't think I've used the word 'titular' in conversation before or since. But it cut him short and I went back for another glass of Michael's good wine.

So here's an example: our bishops in CT have been very vocal about gun control since the tragedy in Sandy Hook. I appreciate their stand and find it moving, but it is irrelevant. Gun control is fought out on the political front--the NRA vs. 'gun control groups'. Nobody is ever going to say, "oh, my God, the Episcopal bishops of CT are for gun control, obviously we must do what they want!"

Even more irrelevant are Episcopalians who are members of the NRA getting upset with our bishops. I know a member of the Episcopal Church who has, for all intent and purpose, left the church because of what our Bishops have stood for. In the first place, what Episcopal Bishops say is irrelevant to the larger discussion. In the second place, to, in effect, leave a loving, irrelevant community because of what a bishop thinks is cutting yourself off from the love, affirmation and affection 'church' can give and does give for some irrelevant (in the 'big picture') conversation.

It's OK to be irrelevant. That doesn't mean the ministry of the church doesn't matter. It does 'matter' on the individual level, just not globally. The irrelevancy of the church in no way precludes the church 'making a difference' in an individual's life.

We just have to stop taking ourselves so seriously about everything. In the 'forest', the church doesn't matter, but it matters greatly to the 'trees'.

And that's good. That is healing. That is life-giving in many ways.

We just to have to stop thinking we 'matter' on the Big Picture stuff and deal with the day-to-day of ordinary people stuff.


You can be vital and life-giving and important without being relevant.


Ponder that for a bit....Don't take stuff too seriously, just notice how it IS serious on the micro-level. Just that.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

My Dad's day

I know it was in Princeton, because I can see my Mom and Dad around the table in the Dining Room there. They were doing the bills. That's what they did every month, together. Bern does our finances and has for years. If she dies before I do I'll have to get a CPA to do my finances as well as a cleaning service and a yard service. (I don't do anything of importance besides empty the litter box, take out the trash and feed the creatures.)

So, I must have been home for a holiday or summer vacation from college, because I never lived in Princeton until I went to college.

Anyhow, what happened was this: it was the first month ever, in their marriage, that my father made more money than my mother. She was a school teacher and he had lots of jobs--running a bar, working my uncle in a grocery store, picking up dry cleaning and finally, as an insurance agent. I have no idea how insurance agents are paid, but it has something to do, I believe, with a cut of each policy they sold.

And that day, sometimes after 1965, his cut of policies was more than here teacher's salary.

He was delighted, that I remember, as excited as I ever saw him, happy and fulfilled. Given that he was a man born in the first decade of the 20th century, to have gone that long having his wife make more money than him must have stung.

That's all I remember. His unhidden joy to, at last, have been the main wage earner in our family.

I don't remember what my mother said, though I'm sure she was fine with the reversal. She, after all, was a 'woman' of the early decade of the 20th century. She might even had been uneasy about bringing home more bacon than my dad for all those years.

I'm not sure why I'm thinking of my parents so much these days. They've both been dead over half of my life.

But I remembered that night around the dining room table when my father finally was the 'wage earner' of the two.

I remember that clearly.

Friday, November 14, 2014

I'm always finding stuff in my desk....

Maybe I should just clean out my desk once and for all, make a clean break with the past and the things I find in it when I open it up and root around from time to time.

But I've come to think of my desk as a Keeper of Memory that I should only dip into from time to time and find something wondrous.

Tonight it was a picture of my mother: Marion Cleo Jones Bradley.

Cleo, which is what everyone called her, was a school teacher, so she had her picture taken when the folks came to take school pictures. The one I found tonight must have been taken in the last years she taught, before she grew ill and died. She was teaching in those years in Switchback Elementary School, though all the years I was growing up she taught at Pageton Elementary School. Pageton was closed at some point when I was in college and she moved to Switchback, further away but because my parents moved from Anawalt to Princeton when I was in college, she didn't have to cross any mountains to get there.

Her hair is turning gray in the picture. She has on a blazer with one of the pins she always wore--costume jewelery and a tad tacky for my taste, on the left lapel. She has on a blouse with wide collars and her head is tilted to the left, probably because the photographer told her too. She is smiling slightly. Her glasses are clear, like a pair I had not too long ago. I have her nose and her hair.

She died when I was 25. She never met her grandchildren. She died young, in her 60's. I am five years older than she was when she died.

And here's the awful truth: I don't remember much about her at all. Not at all. Not her voice or her manner or her smile (which looks forced in the picture) or her laugh or her smell. She died 42 years ago and all that detail has faded.

My father lived another 12 years or so. Miserable without her. So I remember lots more about him.

They were older parents--much older in those days. She was 38 and he was 40 when I was born. They were the age of my young friend's grandparents.

And I don't remember her voice.

That haunts me.

Both my children are a decade older than I was when my mother died. I hope they will never forget the sound of my voice. I hope they are never haunted that they don't.

I stare at the picture and don't make any emotional contact with it. It looks kinda like I remember my mother, but not quite. She's too thin--maybe she'd lost weight because this was near the end of her health. She had a series of strokes and died. Once, at our kitchen table, she grabbed and pill bottle and put a pill under her tongue with no comment. Just a deep breath as the pill dissolved. I looked at the bottle later and realized it was nitroglycirin and my mother's heart was in deep trouble. She's never mentioned it to me and I was already married. Two years later, she died.

One thing I realized long ago is that my parents kept me from knowing 'what's wrong?' always.

Even when I was grown, they didn't tell me my mother had a severe heart problem. My father never told me he was having memory problems until the dementia was full blown.

I was an only child of older parents. Their instinct was to shelter and protect me. I know they meant well and thought that was best.

But it wasn't.

And I can't hear her voice. I never dream of her, almost never. I dream of my father often.

Flesh of my flesh and I can't remember her voice....Maybe looking at the photo every day might bring it back. Who knows?

Who knows anything about parents and children? Really....

If I can figure out how to do this, I'll share a post from August of last year about all this.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Another found poem

Looking through these papers is like experiencing deyavu "all over again" as someone wise (I've narrowed it down to William James, Mark Twain and Yogi Berra) once said.

Marion Cleo Jones Bradley was my mother. God bless her for that. She grew up during the depression and had a hard life. She somehow, climbing out of poverty and ignorance, became a teacher and taught 1st or 2nd grade for years, decades.

I found this poem about her. It seems a bit harsh, but I wrote it over seven years ago and who knows (certainly not me!) what I was thinking when I wrote it. But it was like meeting an old friend in Grand Central Station to find it. And I share it with you.

As the Africans say, 'this is my story, receive it with a blessing and send the blessing back to me...."


Well, every day is 'mother's day',
if we are to acknowledge the broad, inclusive
knowledge of our best friend, Dr. Freud.

Who among us can disentangle from the clever, ubiquitous web
of deceit, devotion and dread she wove around us?

"Step on a crack and break your mother's back."
She didn't make that up,
but she would have, given the choice.
Control, control and more control:
that is the currency of Mother Love.

However, this is about my mother 
(write your own poem about yours!)

My mother made a mistake in timing.
She died the week of my 25th birthday.
Elsie, her younger sister, my aunt,
put her hand on my shoulder as I sat
by my mother's death bed, feeding her vanilla ice cream
from a little paper cup with a weird wooden spoon
as if it were exactly what she would want
as she lay dying--which is True as True can be.

"Happy birthday, Jimmy", my aunt Elsie said,
(though she may have said "Jimmie"--the spelling
of my nickname was almost Shakespeareanly varied)--
"did anyone else remember?" she continued,
into more ice cream I was feeding to an almost dead woman.
No one else had--not even my father,
not even me--I'd forgotten my own birthday,
twenty and five: a Big One.

He, at least, could be forgiven.
His wife, after all, was dying.
But why did I forget such an auspicious date?
Because 'mommy' was more important?
Of course she was--she'd made it so
through innocence and guile
and the web she'd woven around me
in all the years before.

She never hit me--not once--I swear it is true;
except with guilt and 'responsibility' and the sticky
lace of Mother Love.

I've lived a life-time since she finally died,
sated on ice cream from my hand.
I only remember her face from photographs
and remember her voice not at all.
She was a good mother--believe you me.
She did all she knew to do and more besides.
And she loved me. She did--she did.
And would love me more if she knew
the man I am today.

Yet, over three decades later, I remember this:
my father and I standing on the loading dock
of Bluefield's hospital, watching the dawn.
Nurses were unhooking all the lines that had held my mom
to this life. I expected some tender moment,
sleep deprived as we both were.

What I got was this: my father looked down at my shoes
and handed me thirty dollars--a twenty and two fives.
"Buy some new shoes for her funeral," he said.
And I said, holding the bills in my hand,
"this isn't enough...."

Although, in those days, it really was.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why I'm an Episcopalian

Here is a sermon I preached well over a decade ago. And I stand by it yet. This messy, confusing, fragmented church is the one I still stand with. Mostly because it is 'messy, confusing and fragmented'. Go figure.

Why I’m an Episcopalian….
July 27, 2003

This little book is called 101 Reasons to be an Episcopalian. Since much of what I want to say today is about the Episcopal Church, I’m going to read several of them to you as we go along.
# 87 by a woman priest from Florida: “We don’t have all the answers and we welcome others who love the questions.”
# 86 by a laywoman in Rochester: “Catholic, without the pope and with women; protestant without the gloom….”
Tomorrow at 9:55 a.m., God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be on an airplane headed to Minneapolis, Minnesota and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as one of our Diocese’s 4 clergy deputies.
I want you to know this: I am both proud and humbled to be one of the four priests representing the Diocese of Connecticut at the General Convention. Proud and humbled—both at the same time…. Both together…. Just like that….
Reason # 52: “this is the only church that is as lovingly loony as your family.” Mary Lyons, Diocese of Olympia
#80—a layman from Atlanta: “We don’t quiz you on your beliefs before worshipping with you.”

What I want to tell you about the General Convention of our church is this (it’s a quote from Dame Julian of Norwich): “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well….”

That’s not the message you will hear in the news media about the goings-on at General Convention. What you will hear—unless you log on the St. John’s web site and get my “reports” from the Convention—is this: the church is in a mess it can’t get out of…everything is falling apart…the Episcopal Church is about to split asunder and blow up like a cheap balloon.
My advice is this: don’t listen to that negative stuff.
My mantra is this: “all will be well….”
In today’s gospel, Jesus walks on water.
Twenty years ago or more now, one of my favorite poets, the late Denise Levertov, said this: “The crisis of faith is the crisis of imagination. If we cannot imagine walking on the waters, how can we meet Jesus there?”
Denise Levertov said that at a conference of poets and theologians. For my money, you couldn’t beat that combination—poets and theologians…people who anguish over “language” and people who fret about “God”. Poets and theologians—now you’re talking….
Let’s cut to the chase—the real issue facing the General Convention, in one way or another, is the issue of homosexuality.
There is a remarkable amount of disagreement within the Episcopal Church about homosexuality. And that disagreement will come to the General Convention in several ways. It will come up over the confirmation of the election of Gene Robinson as the next bishop of New Hampshire. Gene Robinson has been a priest for 30 years. He is currently the assistant to the Bishop of New Hampshire. He heads committees for the national church. He happens to be a gay man in a committed relationship with another man.
There are 10 other elections of Bishops that will come to the General Convention. Not since the 1870’s has the larger church overruled the choice of a Diocese as their bishop. And the 10 other bishops elected in the last 3 months will be approved by General Convention without debate and unanimously. But not Gene Robinson….
If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds of Gene Robinson being approved by General Convention are 4 to 1 in favor. And when that happens you will read and hear how the Episcopal Church is about to fly apart and self-destruct.
I would urge you not to believe that.
I would urge you to believe this instead: “all will be well….”
One thing the Episcopal Church is blessed with in abundance is “imagination.” We will walk on the waters…. And all will be well….
#32 by Elizabeth Geitz, a Canon at the Cathedral of the Diocese of New Jersey: “The Episcopal Church taught me that Jesus came to challenge, not just comfort; to overturn, not maintain; to love, not judge; to include, not cast aside.
Most likely the Convention will also vote on whether or not to ask the Standing Liturgical Commission to prepare a ritual for the blessing of committed relationships outside of marriage. No matter what you hear in the media—General Convention is not voting to approve “gay marriages”.
“Marriage” is a function of the state, not the church, so General Convention has no say in “marriage law”. Because of Connecticut state law, an Episcopal priest can legally sign a marriage license as an “agent of the state”. What I do, as a priest, in a marriage, is ask God’s blessing on the commitment and fidelity of the man and woman. What General Convention will most likely consider is whether there should be a service to bless the monogamous, faithful, life-long relationship of two people that is not marriage. The resolution is, in one way, separating what the “church does” from what the “state does.” If that resolution passes—and I’d put the odds at 2 to 1 in favor of it passing—the church will develop, over the next three years, a ritual to bless “relationships” other than marriage.
If that resolution passes, you will hear that Liberals and Conservatives are about to tear our church apart. I’d urge you to suspend your judgment and remember this: “all will be well, all manner of things will be well….”
# 11, Barbara Ross, Diocese of Oregon: “At our best, Episcopalians can respectfully disagree about a great many things—and still break bread together.”
#13, by Carter Heyward of Massachusetts, one of the first 7 women ordained a priest…before the General Convention approved women’s ordination: “We believe that love without justice is sentimentality.”
There is a sense of daja vu about all the media hype about this year’s General Convention. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, critics said, were about to implode and fragment a quarter of a century ago over revision of the Prayer Book and the ordination of women.
And it is true that a small number of Episcopalians chose to leave the church after those changes. But the great schism nay-sayers predicted did not happen. We had the patience and imagination to walk on stormy waters. And, if we in the Episcopal Church can find—in the midst of great conflict and disagreement—if we can find “our better selves” we can walk on waters again.
The secret to our “imagination” as a church is that we Episcopalians—deep-down, value “each other” more than we cling to our divisions. And we are, as a church, dominated by a commitment to Justice.
Reason #62 of the 101 reasons to be an Episcopalian comes from Nancy Vogel of the Diocese of Vermont: “Despite or perhaps because of our present disagreements in the Episcopal Church I am reminded that God calls us all together because we aren’t WHOLE without each other.”
Reason #68, a lay person from New York: “I love our church because we don’t think UNITY means UNIFORMITY.”
“All will be well” with us, if we can cling to our passionate commitment to “be together” in the midst of deep differences. We Episcopalians are the only denomination that is practiced at that. Somehow, over our history, we have found the imagination necessary to “belong to each other” even though we disagree. This is a “lovingly loony” church. You don’t have to leave your questions or your intellect or your deeply-held opinions outside the door to be here and share in the sacrament with each other.
We Episcopalians define our “identity” by our worship instead of our dogma. When Queen Elizabeth the First was asked, centuries ago, if members of her church should cross themselves during the Eucharist, she said, wise beyond words: “none must, all may, some should….”
That is the openness and inclusiveness that is one-half of the genius and glory of our church. The other half of that genius and glory is this: we are the most “democratic” church in Christendom. We make our decisions on small matters and great matters by “voting”.
I was “elected” nearly 15 years ago to be your Rector. We “elect” our bishops. The Presiding Bishop of the Church is “elected” by the other bishops. The deputies to General Convention are “elected” to vote for their Dioceses by their Diocesan Conventions. You “elect” the vestry members that make the decisions about St. John’s. And the Vestry makes decisions by “voting”.
The Episcopal Church is a unique American institution, formed at the very same time as our nation by some of the same people. And the founders of our Church understood the wisdom of the founders of our nation—the way to make decisions is by voting…majority rules…. Here in the United States and here in the Episcopal Church, we don’t believe “unity” means “uniformity”. We vote on difficult issues. Then we move on, unified but not uniform. And we deeply, profoundly value the “loyal opposition”.
An “inclusive democracy” is what the Episcopal Church is. The “loyal opposition” is greatly valued by the majority. That was true for those who opposed women’s ordination and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It will be true two weeks from now toward those who are disappointed, broken and angry about whatever happens at General Convention. They will be loved. They will be comforted. They will be included. Without them, the church will not be whole.
“All will be well…” It will take a while and some few may choose to leave the church if I’m correct about how the votes will go. But those who are happy about the “votes” won’t want anyone who is unhappy about the “votes” to leave. If they leave it will be their choice and their leaving will be mourned greatly.
And this church will go on. We will welcome all to taste and see how sweet the Lord’s Body and Blood truly is. We will value everyone, no matter what they think or believe. We will never require “uniformity” to have “unity”. And we will stand for love and justice—love and justice and the wonder of God.
That will not change. Not one iota, not one jot.
And all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well….

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Swearing off the news

I'm swearing off the news today for a week. I've read on-line today how President Obama's disposing of his chewing gum had international repercussions, how a man was electrocuted because he had on a copper ring while fixing a garbage disposal, how a woman thinks her son is possessed by the ghost of a Marine killed in Beirut 20 years ago, how Ted Cruz things 'internet neutrality' is like Obama care, how a Texas lawmaker wants to change the Constitution to make it OK to fire GLBT employees,how Mama June of Honey Boo-Boo wants to explain her relationship with a man who abused her as a child, how bread may cause cancer and how the Kardashians are doing most anything--none of it interesting.

So, I'm off the news for a week. I'll probably have withdrawal signs--eating newsprint, sobbing at my computer, having nothing to add to the conversation.

But I'm media-morose. I'm signing off for a week to get back my mojo and my balance.

Join me if you'd like. Don't look at any 'news' in print or on line for a week. Let's see how much purer and nobler it will make us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What you don't know (part II)

Tonight, a week after my musings about the Cluster Council officers meeting, I was at the Cluster Council meeting. Only one member was not there--it's usually only one or a full house--what you get working with deeply committed people.

We're under-budget for the year--rare enough anywhere, much less in Episcopal Churches. And we passed a balanced budget for next year with no increase in the amount each congregation contributes. (If you're around churches at all, you'll know how remarkable that is.)

The meeting lasted less than an hour even though we were saying good-bye to Rowena Kemp, who has been one of the Presbyters for a year and is moving on to a full-time job at Trinity on the Green in New Haven as Assistant Rector. (Trinity, thank you're lucky stars and God--you got the real deal as a priest in Row....)

And there was some serious sharing about problems. And there was even more sharing about successes. And there was a lot of laughter and good humor. Rare to be able to touch pain and joy and humor in a meeting. Rare indeed in a church meeting!

These are good people, very good people who are committed to their congregations. And they are the tip of the iceberg of good, committed people I get to work with in the Middlesex Cluster Ministry.

I've been feeling so blessed and grateful lately I'm probably wearing you out with my joy and gratitude--but here to, to be with these people, these three little churches, these astonishing congregations is yet another blessing of my life for which I am profoundly thankful.


Maybe I should pinch myself just to make sure I'm not dreaming about how blessed I am....

(Just did. Didn't wake up....)

Monday, November 10, 2014

My five favorite writers

I'm an English major, for God's sake, and should have more refined taste in writing. But I'm also someone who reads five books a week and I know what I like.

My favorite writer of all time is Kurt Vonnegut. I even drove to Pittsburgh at some point to hear him speak. He was wonderful and at some point, right in the middle of something, he looked at his watch and said, "they paid me for an hour and the hour is up" and left the stage. Wonderful. My two favorites are Slaughterhouse Five and The Sirens of Titan but I've read them all. I haven't re-read them, though I should, because I don't want to know if the years have made his writing less wonderful.

My second favorite writer is William Shakespeare, just because I'm an English major and should have him in my top five. I love his sonnets and plays though I must admit I've not read any of them for decades, though I think I should, being an English major and all.

Tied for third are J.J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who knew each other and talked about their writing for hours. I read the Narnia books every year again. Nothing else Lewis wrote interests me. He was too Christian for my sensibilities. But the Narnia books stay fresh and wondrous every time I read them. We once owned a house on Oak Island, North Carolina and it was called 'Aslan'. Also, lots of people gave me lions over the years. I've not re-read the Tolkien books recently, but I have The Hobbit on my bedside table and will read it at some point.

John Sanford is my fourth favorite writer. He's written lots of books with 'prey' in the title about a Minneapolis  Detective, named Lucas Davenport, who  is also rich because he created computer games. He also writes about a detective named Virgil Trucks who knows Lucas and is in rural Minnesota. Priceless, all of them, and they are many.

A newcomer to my top five is Laura Lippman, who writes amazingly crafted novels that end up being mysteries that all take place in Baltimore, where my son and daughter-in-law and three grand-daughters live. She is a remarkable writer you should read.

There are lots of others straining for the top five: P.D. James, for example. But I'm sticking with these five for now.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Luke, the dog

Since I mentioned the funeral for a dog in my last post, I'll include that story here, though I know I've told it deserves re-telling.

Luke, a dog
Luke was a beautiful Golden Retriever with the deepest, loveliest brown eyes ever. He was Michael's dog before he was Jo-Ann's dog. Michael was Jo-Ann's son and had lost both legs while still a young man. Luke was a trained companion dog who was Mike's legs. But he was more than that. Once, while asleep, an IV in Mike's arm slipped out and he began to bleed. When the blood was pooling on the floor, Luke started barking and pulling at him and woke him up. I don't know how long it would take to bleed to death from an open IV vein, but Mike was not healthy and I think he could have. After Mike stopped the bleeding, he must have washed the blood off Luke's fur and thanked God for such a brown-eyed angel of mercy.
Luke came to church with Mike and when Mike had his final illness, someone with enough sense to break rules that need to be broken let Luke be in Intensive Care with Mike. Mike's missing legs made room for Luke to lay where Mike's leg's should have been had life been kinder to him. And he laid there until Mike died. The medical personnel who initially had been horrified by a dog's presence in ICU melted when they looked into Luke's eyes. “I'm just laying here where I'm supposed to be,” he eyes said, “next to my human.”Anyone would have melted. So the nurses and orderlies took turns taking Luke out when he needed to go out. Luke could go to the bathroom on command. Would that we could train young children to do that....
After Mike died, the companion dog people were about to take him back when Jo-Ann, who was most of the time in a wheel-chair herself, convinced them to let her keep him and be a therapy dog. She took him to the hospital where Mike died and to nursing homes around the area. I saw him do it. It came naturally to him. He was never assertive, always patient, always waiting for the human to make the first move. And he was as gentle as a spring breeze, as sweet as the smell of honeysuckle, as healing as magic chicken soup. I can't imagine how many people Luke touched in those years with Jo-Ann. But I know he touched me profoundly.
Jo-Ann always came to the adult forum on Sundays. When she and Luke got to the church library, she let him come and greet me, putting his short leash in his mouth so he could guide himself. He'd come and give me a nuzzle and a lick (though he was also interested in rolling on his back on the rug in the library!) That greeting and lick was always one of the highlights of my week.
When I was in seminary, I had a course in 'creating liturgy'. Since I came into the church via a 'house church', I wanted to replicate that experience for my class. We met in our apartment in Alexandria and Robert Estill, the professor, was the celebrant. My dog Finney was standing next to Bob as we stood around the table. Bob broke the bread I'd baked and passed it around. But before he passed it, he broke a piece off and gave it to our Puli. Finney didn't leave Bob's side until he left for the evening.
I asked him about giving communion to a dog and he told me a story from his first parish church. They used home-baked bread, like we did that night, and since the loaf was always more than the little congregation could consume, Bob would take it to the back door and throw it on the grass for the birds. After a while, the birds would start gathering half way through the Eucharist and sing as they waited to be fed. Bob told me it was a wonderful addition to the music of the little church.
However, one day the bishop visited and was horrified when he saw Bob feed the consecrated loaf to the birds. The bishop forbade him from ever doing it. As someone once described me, Bob was 'reluctantly obedient' and stopped feeding the birds.
“They kept coming for weeks, months,” he told me. “Long after the bread was withheld from them, they kept singing for us. But finally, half-a-year later, they stopped showing up to sing the communion hymn.”
I think that's a metaphor for how the church misses the point of 'being the church'. We let rules and regulations and canon law and dogma come between the sacraments and those who long for them. I've known people that happened to—they were turned away, rejected, shut out by the church and the church lost them, finally.
So, when Luke came to the communion rail with Jo-Ann, I always gave him a wafer or a hunk of bread if we were using home-baked that Sunday. Since I was seldom the only one administering the bread, I kept an eye out if someone else was giving communion on Luke's side of the rail. If they passed him by, I'd rush over with several wafers or an especially big hunk of bread for him. I didn't want him to feel left out. (I always gave him communion with my left hand in case anyone objected to dog mouth. But I drew the line at the cup!)
One seminarian who worked with me was horrified at first. She even took it to her field work support group but most everyone thought it was decent and in good order. I'm sure there were people who found fault with it, but I never asked permission. It was simply right.
After all, Luke was as good a Christian as any dog could be—bringing joy and healing and comfort to so many. He actually was a better 'Christian' in his works of charity than most people. He'd earned his place at the Table.
The kids of the parish adored Luke. They would flock around him at the peace in ways that most dogs would have reacted negatively to. But not Luke—ever humble, ever hospitable, he took whatever the kids dished out with equanimity and generosity and doggy Love. One of the kids was moderately autistic but the parish had made a deal with her parents to treat her like any other kid. I don't think Luke did 'treat her like any other kid'. I think Luke, so used to being around the frail and helpless and confused, treated Twyla with special gentleness and love. Twyla grew better and better, more interactive, more social. I'd give Luke a lot of the credit.
At the General Convention in 2009, a resolution was passed authorizing the Liturgical Committee to prepare services for the death of an animal companion. Several people at St. John's were really excited about that. It spurred the creation of a Book of Animal Remembrances along with a statue of St. Francis that was placed in the collumbarium are in the back of the sanctuary. Dave, one of the guys who helps out around the parish, installed the statue. “Stations of the Cross and now a statue,” he said, “are we going back to Rome?”
“Wait 'til you see the racks of votive candles I've ordered,” I told him.
He laughed and shook his head. “Least we could make some money on that....If people didn't steal it.”
My Grandmother Jones, God bless her soul, used to divide the world into “church people” and those who weren't. She'd always say things like, “those boys I saw you with yesterday, they aren't 'church people' are they?” And she referred to a family down the mountain from where she lived by saying, “they're poor and not too clean, but at least they're 'church people'.”
I tend to divide the world into 'dog people'--those who love dogs—and those who don't. I like to be around 'dog people'. And besides, there is that oddity that 'Dog' is 'God' spelled backward. Luke could make a dog person out of almost anyone. He'd look at them, lower his head and wag his tail a bit. Those eyes, I've told you, make anyone besides a dogmatic hater of dogs just melt.
I heard part of a local PBS radio show the other day that was wrestling with the question: 'do dogs have souls?' The whole concept of eternity is a little vague to me—but if there are no dogs in the Kingdom it won't nearly be as blessed and happy as it's been cracked up to be. I personally am holding out for a heaven where every dog I've ever had as a companion will come frolicking across the streets of gold to greet me at the Pearly Gates. “Where've you been?” they'll be barking.
Just before I retired, someone said in the Adult Forum, “What's Luke going to do without Jim?”
Jo-Ann shook her head and frowned. “He'll be looking for him everywhere....”
Good Lord, I thought, I feel bad enough about leaving all the people, how am I supposed to cope with leaving Lukie?
But he didn't have long to look after me. Luke, who'd had trouble standing and moving around for a month of so, was diagnosed as having untreatable cancer. So, a week or so after I left, Luke died in Jo-Ann's arms, as was only right.
(In the past year or so I've known ten or so people, in and out of the parish, who have lost dogs. Somehow, it seems to me, the initial pain we feel when a pet dies is deeper and sharper than when a person we love dies. But it is a cleaner cut because when a beloved animal dies, their aren't mixed emotions on our part. There is no 'unfinished business' with a dog. There is no lingering resentment or words that needed to be said that are left unspoken. The relationship with a dog is so clear, so uncomplicated, so immediate and in the moment that our pain is 'in the moment' as well. But it is so acute. With a person, we almost always the question of how much they really loved us. With a dog such wondering is vain and pointless. Dogs love us as much as they possibly can...and then a little more.)
When Jo-Ann called about Luke, I told her—after we cried together—that she had to ask the Senior Warden if I could come do the service since retired priests are supposed to make themselves scarce from their former parish.
Of course he agreed. He called me to let me know it was alright. “Besides,” he said, “Luke wouldn't want it any other way....” All Senior Wardens should be 'dog people'.
We interred Luke's ashes out in the Close, as near to Mike's resting place as we could estimate. We did that first and then went in the church for hymns, a power point slide show a talented woman had put together about Luke. Then Jo-Ann spoke and made everyone cry. There were about 200 people there, a good number of them brought their dogs and the dogs didn't make a sound during the whole thing.
At the reception people in the parish provided, a man came up to me and introduced himself as the Intensive Care Physician that had made it possible for Luke to be in the room with Michael. I told him I considered him a medical saint. He told me there was no way around it--”I looked into those sweet brown eyes and just melted,” he said.
I told him I knew...I knew....

What good luck

I emailed my friend, Jay Anthony, who was Senior Warden of St. John's for some years when I was there, asking him to listen to the download of my son-in-law, Tim Mccarthy's songs (that 'son-in-law' part is still new, Mimi and Tim have only been married a month). Jay, always the 'deal maker' emailed back that he would if I would come to a fund-raiser he was involved with. The information he sent me was that it was a wind tasting and would be held at a Greek Orthodox Church in Waterbury today.

So, I agreed, not having any idea what the fund-raiser was for, assuming it was for the Orthodox Church.

So, I went.

At the door I met Monica and Karyn and Stacy, three members of St. John's in Waterbury.

From then all, it was all a haze of old friends. Jay hadn't told me the fund raiser was for Church Street Ministries--all associated with St. John's...a community children's choir, a Saturday tutoring program, a computer club, an after-school program.

I saw people I hadn't seen since April of 2010, when I retired.

In the Episcopal Church there is an annoying expectation that retired priests 'stay away' from the parish they served (in my case for 21 years!) after they leave. This expectation is only one more way that the church underestimates lay folks. The 'church' assumes lay folks can't distinguish between their 'priest' and their 'friend'. That is frankly, bull-poop!

None of the folks I saw today thought I was their 'priest' anymore. They know better. But they greeted me with hugs and kisses as their 'friend' of a couple of decades.

I did better than most people thought I would about 'being absent' from St. John's after I retired.

I went back to do a couple of funerals, (one for a dog!) invited by the interim rectors. But, for the most part, I stayed away and didn't even go to any of the Waterbury haunts that had been a part of my life for 21 years.

I regret how good I was at obeying expectations after today. All those dozens of people I haven't seen for years could have been friends of mine for those years and never mistaken me as their 'priest'.

Then, there is the conversation in the Episcopal Church about whether a priest should even be 'friends' with the members of the parish he/she serves....Don't get me started on how stupid that all is, okay?

What a joy Jay gave me. All those hugs and kisses and conversations kept me from tasting any wine at all! But that's alright. I drank deep from the glass of friendship. That was more than enough.

Friday, November 7, 2014


So, I've been looking at some of the photos I ordered from Mimi and Tim's photographer and they are even better than I thought when I bought them.

It may be unlucky to say this out loud (or write it in a blog) but I am one of the most blessed men alive.

I look at these pictures of my family (Bern, Mimi, Josh, Cathy, Tim, the grand-girls Emma, Morgan and Tegan) and I realize I've done nothing whatsoever in my life to deserve this family. I've not been smart enough or clever enough or inventive enough...and certainly, not ever 'good' deserve two kids who turned out better than I could have ever hoped and married two people I love and gave me three of the smartest, most beautiful, funniest grand-daughters in the world. And to have spent now over 44 years with my high school sweetheart Bern.

Nothing in my life would deserve any of that.

I'm really not as sweet and wonderful and compassionate as I appear to be. Not by a long shot....

And I've been in a job as an Episcopal priest that has brought me into contact with families gone amok more than I like to remember.

(I only wish Virgil and Cleo, my parents, were here to see how blessed I am, how well it all turned out. I wish that fervently. Looking at the pictures of my joy, I wish I could share that joy with them. Some folks I love and respect would tell me that Virgil and Cleo 'know' in some supernatural way. And I appreciate that sentiment and am thankful for it. But I'm not sure it's true. I guess I should hope.)

But what I am as sure of as any human could be 'sure of' is this: I am blessed beyond reason.

And I want everyone and the cosmos and God (whoever He/She/It/ really is) to know this: I am more thankful and full of gratitude and appreciative and wonder-struck at my blessedness that anyone (except perhaps God) could ever imagine.

I'm a guy who didn't even get lemons to make lemonade with. I got 'glory' to rejoice in.

And I do rejoice as I look at those photos. Rejoice, more than I can tell you. A man of many words, I have no words to tell you my thankfulness and joy.

The only thing that holds me back is the sure knowledge of those who are not blessed--so many who I will never know, who will never know how I feel.

I lament that. Greatly. Profoundly.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

what I'm doing here....

OK, I've been writing this blog for several years now. I have well over 1000 posts. And yesterday, for reasons I don't understand, 145 people viewed it. I've never had a day like that. I am mystified as to why. And yet it happened.

I've admitted here, over and again, that I write for myself. It's like 'talking to yourself'. It's a form of internal therapy. It makes me happy. I'd do it if nobody read it. It's what I've been doing for several years and I like it.

But to know that in one day 145 people dropped in on my internal conversation is humbling and wondrous.

I thought, because that many people came by to read something yesterday (the stats don't tell me if they read more than one post, only that they signed in) I thought it might be helpful to say something about what I'm trying to do in this space, what I'm up to, what it means to me.

There's a Sufi saying that guides me in my life. It goes like this: "when you hear hoof beats...look for Zebras...."

Who, in their right mind, would imagine approaching hoof beats were Zebras?

You see, I'm not aiming for 'profundity' here. What is 'profound' doesn't much interest me. It's over my head and my pay grade. Let the philosophers worry about what is profound.

What I'm interested in is 'epiphanies'.

It's a Christian Holy Day in January that celebrates the arrival of the Magi to visit the Christ Child. But more important to me is the secular definition of 'epiphany'.

Here's a definition I memorized decades ago from an old breadbox sized, tan Merriam Webster Dictionary I used to have. An epiphany is the sudden, intuitive knowledge of the deep down meaning of things, usually manifested in what is ordinary, everyday and common place.

Like looking for zebras when cattle or horses would make much more logical sense.

All I'm trying to write about here is the ordinary, everyday and common place, longing for a Zebra to show up in all that.

'Epiphanies', not profundity or deep wisdom, is what drives me.

So, if you'd like to be on that journey and involved in the pondering of  the ordinary, the everyday and the common place, hoping for a zebra, well, welcome to the game.

And I'd do this over and over and over again even if no one was reading it.

But since I hit a record 145 views yesterday, I would invite you, if you like looking for epiphanies and pondering the 'ordinary' with me, to tell your friends about this blog.

I suddenly like knowing that many people in one day want to check in about what I'm pondering, even if it is ordinary.

Just sayin', I liked knowing that many people cared in one day. I've suddenly decided that it would be nice to share these ponderings with more and more.

Help me out with that, if you choose to.

(I'll let you know when that record is broken.)

Good luck with your persona zebras....

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My blue 'red' Wednesday

I didn't watch any election returns last night. Deep in my heart, I knew better. If I wanted to sleep well, I shouldn't go to bed 'knowing' what was going on in Iowa, Maryland, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina...even Connecticut.

The only one that turned out ok in the end was Connecticut, though it was too close by far.

My logical mind has come to grips with the huge Republican gains from yesterday's mid-term elections. My heart and soul never will.

I am a Democrat--and have always been from when I was in high school and Barry Goldwater (who I liked for his brashness and honesty) said he would privatize the Tennessee Valley Association that provided some of the hydro-electric power for southern West Virginia. Odd, now that I think of it, that privatizing something rather than letting the government run it was what convinced me that I was a Democrat! I'm a tax and spend Democrat. I believe in government programs and government run stuff. I believe in regulations and agencies and Big Government. I do, I really do. Whenever I hear someone say they want to 'shrink government' I almost pull my hair out and scream. If anything, I want more government in my life. I really do, in case you think I'm being ironic. I've read the Constitution and believe in it and part of that belief is in a 'government of and by and for' the people.

I'm not just a Democrat. I'm a Yellow-Dog Democrat. If you're not familiar with that tern, let me explain.

If Mother Teresa were a Republican running for something and her Democratic opponent was a yellow dog...I'd vote for the yellow dog....

The only time I ever voted for someone who wasn't a Democrat was when I voted for John Anderson, the quirky third party candidate for President. And I now lament that.

(A funny story: Bern and the kids and I had just arrived in New Haven in our VW bus with an Anderson for President bumper sticker. And one of the members of St. Paul's in New Haven in 1980 was Mary Bush House--the Aunt of the first President Bush. She was generous and good and arrived with some wonderfully eclectic groceries to welcome us to New Haven. I was taking something out of the bus when she showed up. She looked at the Anderson sticker and said, very politely, "well, we just won't talk politics." And I agreed and accepted her welcoming gifts.

Interestingly enough, one of the three churches I now serve is attended by Jonathon Bush, another nephew of Mary Bush House and the brother of G.H.W. Bush. As we were leaving church one day, my car was parked next to his. My big old Obama '12 sticker was very prominent. "Jon," I said to him, "I should have backed in so you didn't have to see that." He laughed, patted me on the back and said, "Jim, I'd be disappointed if you weren't a Democrat."

I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat, but I have a soft spot for the Bush family....)

The only thing I have to cling to as the country turns Red is this: I live in perhaps the only state that is totally Blue. Both our Senators and all Five of our members of the House and all the elected leaders of Connecticut are Democrats. And both the houses of the Connecticut legislature have sizable Democratic majorities.

For Goodness sake, even our neighbor to the the north, Massachusetts, elected a Republican Governor yesterday!!! Horrors! The state with the iconic bumper sticker after the Regan/McGovern election that said: DON'T BLAME ME. I'M FROM MASSACHUSETTS, has turned a tad Red.

I may get a bumper sticker made that says: DON'T BLAME ME, I'M FROM CONNECTICUT. 

I personally think that there are two possibilities of what will get done in the next two years on all the issues--the environment, immigration, tax reform, infrastructure repair, education reform, making college more affordable, raising the minimum wage : are 'very little' and 'nothing'. If you're a fan of gridlock, welcome to the next Congress....

Maybe by 2016 people will begin to realize the problem is that Republicans have no agenda except to oppose everything the President supports. No plan, no strategy,  no over-arching dream.

I've got two years to hope for that.

Today I'm blue (literally and emotionally) because yesterday was so 'red'.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What you don't know

I was at the monthly meeting of the Middlesex Area Cluster Council Officers tonight. We always meet and eat and ostensibly plan for the Cluster Council meeting the next week.

We do that--but it doesn't take much time--mostly what we do is eat and talk.

We either meet at Perk on Main or Cozy Corner, next to each other in Durham, CT, the site of the biggest fair in the state.

Tonight it was Cozy Corner, an kinda Italian place. We hadn't been there for several months--going to Perk on Main instead, a trendy, kinda 'with-it' place with up-scale food and a great breakfast. And the waitress...the only one we've ever had at Cozy Corner, remembered I liked Pinot Grigio and we always order an antipasto. Amazing, she is.

But that's not the thing you need to know. What you need to know is that the Episcopal Church is healthy and glowing in those three churches. Really!

Each has their own sets of problems. But each has their own particular strengths. And each is a joy and wonder to me as a priest.

When 'main-line' religion seems in a precipitous  decline, St. James and Emmanuel and St. Andrew's virtually glow. (Not 'grow', 'glow'--different but equally important, I think.

I give thanks for the grace and opportunity to be in this ministry. The officers are just the beginning. These churches 'glow' all the way down. Really.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Puli's and time changes

I knew the time turned back to EST from DST in the early hours of Sunday morning, so I stayed up a little later knowing that the hour gain would be canceled out in a day or so.

But Puli dogs don't understand time changes. Bela is still on Daylight Savings Time. He was ready to go out an hour sooner than normal--because his biological clock is truly 'biological' and can't be fooled by the whims of government decisions. He also rushed to his dinner Sunday afternoon though usually he lays around until Bern and I tell him to 'look in his bowl'. But he was hungry, we were feeding him an hour later than usual!

Even today, he made the complaining noises to be taken for the 'little walk' at 3:30, though we always go at 4:30...but the time changed and not for him!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Feast of All Souls

November 2 is All Souls Day, following on the heels of All Saints' Day.

Among Celtic Christians in the centuries that had one number, much was done to 'baptize' the pagan religion that came before the Christian era. One of those things was to claim the last days of October and the first days of November as Christian Holy Days.

Other things happened--churches built on pagan holy places, painting pagan feasts with a Christian brush, putting monuments to Christian Saints on top of holy streams--stuff like that.

You see, to the Celts of the first centuries A.D. (or, as is more politically correct, 'the Common Era') these rare autumn days were some of the 'thin times' to the tribes of the British Isle.

A 'thin time' was when the veil between the living and the dead became sheer indeed and people from one side or the other might pass through. Trick or Treat came from this Celtic belief that the dead could walk among the living in this 'thin time' asking to be fed in exchange for messages from the other side.

So, it made perfect sense to put All Saints and All Souls right here.

I have a lot of Celtic blood (not nearly enough as I imagined since my DNA test told me I had 75% Scandinavian blood--but that was where my DNA was in the 5th Century and lots of those Norse guys came south to inhabit and impregnate the Celts!) So I'm aware, in odd ways, of 'thin times' and 'thin places'.

I often almost see my father moving out of sight in this house he never knew. I sometimes think if I turned real fast and looked in the back seat my uncle Russel or Aunt Georgie would be there. I'm quite sure that the dead sometimes walk among us, just out of our periphery vision. And that's comforting instead of eerie to me. I like thin places and thin times.

If, in this very thin time, I could have my druthers, I'd want to talk to my father about his father, who I never met. And I'd just like to hear my mother's voice, because I've forgotten it's tone and sound since she died 42 years ago when I was 25.

And I'd like to just sit in a room with  my mother's mom, my Granma Jones--who made me laugh and ponder and weep with the wonder of her presence.

Wouldn't it be nice, around this time of year each year, just to check in with those on the other side?

I think that would be a profoundly wondrous thing.

Thin Times are some of the best....

Happy All Souls Day, hang out with someone you love but see no more for a while.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

heartbreak and Holy Days

It's All Saints' day and West Virginia University's football team lost to TCU on a field goal as time expired, 31-30.

My favorite Holy Day and heartbreak all in one.

One reason I love being an Episcopalian is that we celebrate Holy Days. I like the idea that days are 'holy' somehow and that we mark them by celebrating the lives of saints and martyrs and people who have made great contributions to the quality of life on the planet.

And All Saints' Day is my favorite Holy Day by far--more than Easter and Christmas even--because it is my day, your day, 'our' day. On All Saints' we celebrate our contributions to the quality of life on the planet. All Saints' Day is about you and me as well as people who lived exemplary lives we should seek to emulate and mostly don't.

All Saints' Day (or as it was called centuries ago, "All Hallows"--thus, "Halloween", the eve of "All Hallows") celebrates all the 'saints' of God--dead, living and not yet born. All of us who call ourselves after Jesus...Christ-ians.

The great image I almost always invoke in my All Saints' Day or All Saints' Sunday, is the image of an altar rail that stretches out to eternity in both directions. I remind people what as we come to the rail for communion, we can look to our left and imagine all the Christians who came before us and to our right and imagine all the Christians who are not yet born and realize the 'communion of saints' is exactly that: the dead, the living, the unborn who gather in Christ's name.

WVU is ranked 20th in the country. TCU is ranked 7th. That will change after today's game--but imagine this: WVU led the whole game until that last kick as time ran out. Talk about heartbreak....

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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.