Monday, August 31, 2015


I think I know why I'm so "on it" about belief. Two weeks from Friday I'll start teaching a 10 week session at UConn in Waterbury for the Osher Life-time Learning Institute. The class is about the so called 'Gnostic' Christians that we only know about because of a discovery in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1947 of a treasure trove of early Christian writings.

"Gnosticism" is the word people use about those Christians. Interestingly enough that word, as a description was coined in the 16th century and sent back in time to 'label' these Christians.

Church fathers', like Tertullian, used the Greek word 'gnosis'--meaning 'knowledge' to say things about the heretics he saw around him, heretic magnate that he was, but the term didn't exist as a word until 1598 or so.

The so called Gnostic Christians were 'Christians' first and foremost, who simply didn't believe what other Christians did. When the church went from the catacombs to the cathedrals--when Christianity ceased to be against the law of the Roman Empire and became the only accepted religion of the 'Holy' Roman Empire, Christians who had been Christians for generations were driven out and suppressed because they didn't meet the norm of the Nicene Creed.

That creed was written, by the way, to tell people what they couldn't believe rather than telling us what we should believe.

It begins, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."

Many Christians in the fourth century didn't believe Jesus' "father' was the God of the Old Testament, the creator of heaven and earth. They had no patience with such a fickle, vengeful god and believed the God of Jesus was behind that God.

So they were out and their literature and ways were cast out.

The church is very good at obliterating those who don't toe the line.

And it all had to do with 'belief'. Not with how people lived their lives or what they did in the day to day. "Christians" who couldn't say the Creed simply weren't Christians anymore.

I have many difficulties with 'creeds', but I AM a Christian. Just like the so called Gnostic Christians.

If you met one, they wouldn't have said, "Hi, I'm a Gnostic" since the word wouldn't be in usage for 1200 years or so. They would have said, "Hi, I'm a Christian", and I believe they were, though the Church drove them out and suppressed their thoughts.

That's why I'm 'on it' about belief....

I'm a "Christian", though, for some, I'm no better than a Gnostic because I have trouble with Creeds.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


So many people suffer from depression. A few weeks ago, I said to someone, "I've never been depressed."

Then tonight I realized that isn't true.

When I was at Harvard Divinity School for my second year and in the first year of my marriage (soon, very soon--September 5--to be 44 years ago!) I thought I was dying. I was sure I had a chronic and fatal heart disease.

None of the tests at Harvard's remarkable health center agreed with my self-diagnosis. So they referred me to a psychiatrist. She was a Swedish woman of middle age. We had several sessions at which I told her of my impending death.

My depression showed up as fear. I was afraid of dying, afraid of not knowing how to be a husband, afraid of whatever was coming next in my life.

Finally, on a monsoon day in Cambridge, I walked through torrential rains to see my shrink.

When I arrived, I took off my shoes and socks--soaked--my coat, soaked as well and she gave me paper towels to dry my hair in a fashion. I was soaked to the skin. It's the worst rain I ever walked 6 blocks in.

She looked at me and said: "If you're so afraid of death, why on earth did you walk through this weather to tell me you're afraid of death?"

She paused in that Scandinavian way of pausing, to let me think that through.

"You have the heart of a young horse," she said, "according to all the tests you didn't need....Get out of here and get over it."

I wish I could write that in a Swedish accent, but I can't. But imagine it.

I put on my wet socks, shoes and coat and went home.

She was right.

I can tell you I've had moments since then, but for the most part, I've never been depressed again.

And I thank whatever gods may be for that.....

And I hold in my heart all those I know and don't know for whom depression is a constant companion.


I'm just on it these days about 'belief'...and how unimportant I think 'belief' is.

My last 4 sermons in three different churches have been about how 'belief' isn't the issue--the issue is how we live our lives. Isis has lots of 'belief', they're full of 'belief' and look at them beheading innocent people, enslaving women, destroying ancient places...all because of what they 'believe'. Give me a break--you can 'believe' a lie and be damned.

I'm going to give my friend Andy hell on Tuesday morning because of the sermon he preached at his installation as Rector of St. George's in Middlebury. The whole thing was about how important the creeds are...believing the 'right things'. Give me a kind, compassionate, generous atheist any day to someone who thinks the Nicene Creed is the way to God.

The way to God is in how we live our lives--how we 'be' in this world.

I even admitted today in my sermon that I am a heretic. (We all are, trust me! I teach about the Gnostic Christians at UConn in Waterbury and I start each semester by asking how many people 'believe' in the immortality of the soul. Almost everyone's hand goes up and I say, "You're all heretics. The Christian Church doesn't believe in the immortality of the soul, it believes in 'the resurrection of the dead'. Check the Nicene Creed....So, now that we know we're heretics, let's talk about the Gnostic Christians who the church declared heretical and drove out."

My particular heresy is Pelagianism--named after a Celtic Christian named Pelagios (354-420) who believed that 'original sin did not taint human nature and the mortal will is capable of chooding good or evil without divine aid.'

God bless the Celts!

I actually 'trust' (the word I use for 'belief'--actually the Greek word could be translated that way) that human beings are not inherently evil and tainted. I believe there is a goodness to human beings...a leaning toward the light, if you will.

We were, scripture tells us in Genesis, 'created in the image and likeness of God'. And God, as far as I'm concerned, is good. So we must be chips off that eternal block of Goodness. What mostly makes people crazy and evil is the things they come to believe.

Nazi's 'believed' they were the super-race and all less perfect people should be exterminated. Many Republicans 'believe' illegal immigrants are, by their nature, flawed. Racism rages around the globe. Jews hate Muslims and Muslims return the favor. Many Europeans are horrified about the influx of people fleeing war and craziness and oppression in places like Syria and Africa--the war and craziness and oppression in almost every case being 'belief' based.

I told people recently that the older I get the less I need to believe.

I've got it down to this:
1. God loves you.
2. You're created in God's image.
3. Welcome the stranger.
4. Forgive always.
5. Do unto others as you want to be done to.
6. Include everyone.

I can live with those 6 'beliefs'. If I live out of them, I'll make the world a better place in some small way. And I'll be fine. Just fine. Really. Ponder believing my list and see how it would change your life....

Saturday, August 29, 2015

What pain

Our neighbors' daughter Johanna went to college today.

Bern talked with Naomi about it.

What pain, when your kid goes away and you know they're gone forever.

She's a Freshman at Sacred Heart University. A wonderful school. And she'll be fine.

But dropping off flesh of your flesh at college is a really life altering event.

 We did it twice. Hard, hard, harder than hard to do that.

The world shifts on its axis. Never to rotate the same again.

Zoe, Johanna's much younger sister took it very hard, Naomi told Bern.

I've watched them together for a decade--Zoe is a little off-kilter, brilliant but awkward--and Johanna always made her laugh, made her 'at ease', made her 'at home' in herself. Of course she took it hard.

Passages are hard, hard, harder than hard. And passages are what make life Life.

It's what we do on this odd journey from birth to death. Things change and shift and alter. Just like that.

I got an email from the daughter of a woman who worked with me at St. John's in Waterbury 25 years ago. The email began, "you may not remember my mother..."

Of course I did. I remember most everybody, just not the years I knew them--lost in linear time am I.

My friend's husband died and her children wanted a 'religious person' at the graveside. Death is the biggest passage of them all. And children not raised in a church wanted a 'religious person' at their dad's grave. We had a great conversation, considering the circumstances, and, of course I'll be at that graveside with them.

Passages make us look to our souls.

And the pain is real, each time....Realer than real.

And make life "Life".

Big mistake

I seldom proof read these posts. And the one from Thursday night was terrible. I said having crickets in you head is "a lot worse" than other things. What I meant to say (and have now corrected it to say) is it's 'not's nearly as bad' as other afflictions.

In fact, if I cold choose an affliction if I had to have one. I'd choose crickets in my head.

Go back and read the redacted version. It's what I meant....Sorry....

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The crickets in my head

I have tinnitus. It sounds like crickets in my head. So, it's very pleasant and rather relaxing to listen to the crickets in my head.

But sometimes they go away.

They are away right now. I was just out on the porch and real crickets were making their cricket noise and the crickets in my head went away.

I remember when I was at St. John's in Waterbury, I'd go sit in the church while Bob Havery, the organist was practicing. And the crickets in my head would go away. Maybe it was some note or series of notes that made them leave. I don't know.

It's rather odd to have no sound in my head at all, since I have it most always.

I hope I'm not getting to the point where I miss the crickets in my head when they're not there!

But here's the truth, as I know it, having crickets in you head is not nearly as bad as most afflictions.

In fact, if someone could promise me that after death I'd just hear crickets for all eternity, that would be an afterlife worth longing for.

They still aren't there--the crickets in my head--and it's been half-an-hour.

What I'm pondering is this: do I want them to come back or not.....?

How strange, to be wondering if I'll miss an affliction....!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mr. Robot rules!

Mr. Robot is this TV show we like. It is very weird and nerdy--the main characters are Super Hackers who try to even the playing field by bringing down the rich and powerful via computer magic.

This morning, you all know, two journalists in Virginia were  gunned down on live-TV by a former and disgruntled employee of their station. The woman being interviewed was wounded. The TV interviewer and her cameraman were both killed. Police followed the suspect on the Interstate and after he wrecked his car, found he had turned his gun on himself. He subsequently died.

So, trying not to think of that horrible act of violence, Bern and I were settled down to watch the last episode of this season of 'Mr. Robot' and what came up were yellow words on a black screen. I don't remember them exactly, but some of it said, 'tonight's episode of Mr. Robot contains a graphic scene that resembles what happened this morning in Virginia. Out of respect for the families of the victims in Virginia, the season finale will not be shown tonight.'

Then, last weeks episode began again.

Who knows what the scene was--reporter being shot on camera or something like that--but Mr. Robot is quite popular and millions of people were settling in to watch the end of the season and they pulled it, just like that.

And they'd only had 12 hours or so to decide that and accomplish it.

I don't expect people who make art in order to make money to be that sensitive. And I realize they had to contact all the sponsors and convince them to pay for another episode and to know that the huge 'finale crowd' they expected tonight wouldn't be there to see their commercials.

It was, it seems to me, a very big deal.

And, beyond that, the Absolute Right Thing To Do.

Which doesn't get done much.

Next week we'll see what the producers felt it would be insensitive to show this night. We'll still see it, but I can't remember the last time I've witnessed that kind of integrity from the media.

I applaud the people who pulled off delaying a top rated TV show out of respect for victims. A rare moment, it seems to me, since many TV shows try to exploit current tragedies in fictionalized ways.

Thank you, Mr. Robot, for being decent and respectful.

(The problem is--where are we as a society when 'decency' and 'respect' deserve a thank you? Shouldn't decency and respect be the norm? It shocks me to the core to realize my reaction to what the producers of Mr. Robot did tonight is the exception and not the rule. We all need to ponder how we can be a part of restoring 'decency' and 'respect' to being the default actions of our society....)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Where I come from

Where I come from, the southern most county of West Virginia, when you met someone, your first question to them was "where are you from?"

Where I've lived since 1980, when you meet someone, your first question is "what do you do?"

That tells you most of what you need to know about 'where I come from.

"Location, location, location" was the Appalachian mantra. Where you fit into the geography of life was the beginning of a relationship. "What you did" was secondary...not even secondary, rather beyond importance.

Knowing where your roots sunk into the mountains was remarkably telling. I would then have known who 'your people' were and who lived around you and what your universe looked like. I would begin to 'know' you as soon as I could place you in the landscape.

People, where I come from, were defined by which mountain, which valley, which creek they lived near. It was in our DNA to seek out location as a way to begin to know another person.

"Oh, you're from Filbert," meant the person was most likely a second or third generation immigrant from, most likely Italy. "Oh, you're from Spencer's Curve" meant the person was generations after generations a Scots/Irish resident of Appalachia.

When people asked me where I was from and I answered "Anawalt" they knew I was from a town (if you can call 500 people a 'town') and that I was probably of a merchant background or a teacher was in my family. People in Anawalt, everyone knew, didn't work in the mines because Anawalt wasn't a mining camp. Being from Anawalt meant your family sold stuff or taught school. And it was true.

Amazing what knowing where someone was 'from' could tell you about them. Ethnicity, employment, educational level--all that quickly. My father 'sold stuff' and my mother was a teacher. I was the quintessential resident of Anawalt. Knowing where you were from told people what you "did for a living".

It's much more complicated here in New England. Being from Cheshire doesn't tell you a damn thing about your ethnicity or employment or education. All 'being from Cheshire' says is that you're probably upper Middle Class or you couldn't afford to 'be from Cheshire'.

Appalachian 'location' is much richer and more telling than other places.

(This is my third post about being an Appalachian in the last couple of weeks. I need to ponder why that's so obviously on my mind. Most of the time I don't think of it unless someone catches something in my accent and asks me if I'm southern....)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Appalachians as a minority group

Going through some old stuff I found an old, yellowed article from The Register Herald, a Beckley, West Virginia newspaper from July 5, 1999 titled "Cincinnati designates Appalachians as a minority group."

It seems the Cincinnati Opera has a survey in the program to La Boheme, which included a place to mark your ethnicity. The options were: African American, Native American/Alaska native, Asian American, Latino-Hispanic, White and Appalachian.

(By the way, the second a in the word is a short 'a' for those who live there. It's "Appalatchian" to a native. John Kennedy, running for President came to West Virginia and pronounced it "AppalAchian" which confused even us who lived there and made people pronounce it that way....If JFK said it, it must be true!)

Well, we'd always suspected people saw us as a minority group and that proved it.

Appalachians, when the coal mines were on strike, would go to Cincinnati or Detroit or Toledo for work. Bern's father went to Detroit a time or two, if I remember correctly.

And a joke we told (don't you DARE tell it! since we're a minority group, only 'we' can tell jokes about ourselves...the same as Jews and Blacks) went like this: How can you get 20 West Virginians in a Volkswagon bug? Tell them it's going to Cincinnati....

Cincinnati, according to the article, protected Appalachians from discrimination in employment and housing just like racial and sexual minorities.

There you go. Treat me with some respect from now on and dare not discriminate against me. I'm a minority group! Full protection of the law and all that.

There's a quote in the article from a 1994 LA Times article about Cincinnati that goes like this: "Here in Cincinnati, it is clear that those who retain traces of the hills can be made to feel different."

Well, I have traces of the hills dripping off me. Don't make me have to report you for making me feel different....

At last, civil rights for mountain folks....

Friday, August 21, 2015

requiescat in pace

Jim Johnson was my classmate at Virginia Seminary (class of 1975). We were ordained deacons together at Trinity, Huntington, WV. I was at his ordination to the priesthood and he was at mine. We served together in West Virginia for 5 years, until I went to New England.

I exchanged emails with him on August 6 and 7 of this year about the 40th Anniversary of our graduating from VTS. He's been the class steward all these years, the one who kept the class informed about stuff from 'the Holy Hill' in Alexandria. He was urging me to be at the 40th Anniversary celebration which coincides with the dedication of VTS's new chapel (the other having burned down 4 or 5 years ago). In fact, I told him, I'd be in Washington DC during that time in October, helping to lead a Making a Difference Workshop, but wouldn't be able to cross the Potomac to be in Alexandria.

I told him about my children and grandchildren. He sent me his phone number so we could catch up more.

And today I got an email from the seminary that he died suddenly and at home on August 8 and has already been buried.

It was eerie to know I must have been one of the last people he communicated with.

I wrote about Jim once. He always wore a black suit and clerical collar, even on airplanes, which is inviting crazy people to talk to you. He flew from LA to Chicago with a business man and had a long conversation with him. Landing at O'Hare, the man asked Jim, "what do you do?" Jim looked down at his black shirt and collar and said, "I'm an Episcopal Priest."

The man replied, "I know what you are, I just wondered what you do."

Interestingly enough, the Making a Difference Workshop is about 'who you are/be' rather than what you 'do'.

Jim, I'm sorry I didn't call on the 7th or since. Go not gently into that good night. Be well and stay well. Rest in Peace. I will miss you now.....

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Deuteronomy 15.1

"...At the end of every seven years you shall grant a relinquishing of debts...."

Somehow I happened upon a website that was called 'Shemitah 2015 survival data'.

I listened to the droning voice for over 10 minutes telling me how Deuteronomy 15.1 predicted both World Wars, the Great Depression, 9/ll and the recent recession and now is predicting a September 2015 melt down in the US that will see both federal and state governments close, banks close and martial law.

I stopped listening at that point. Deuteronomy deserves better.

I never got to the survival data since it doesn't seem any of us would survive.

I hate when people use the Bible to push their own agenda. I especially hate it when Christians (born again, of course) use the Hebrew scripture for their own agenda.

Maybe I should have listened to the whole thing and sent money and found out how to survive Deuteronomy 15.1 next month.

But I didn't.

God, has everyone gone crazy? Is the Trump Affect overcoming all rationality and logic.

Deuteronomy 15.1 for goodness sake. It was simply good agricultural advice and solid socialism. How did this guy get all he got out of it.....?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How did I forget?

I missed my mother's birthday this year. I never forget my father's since he was born on April Fool's Day in 1907. My mother's birthday is in July. It was July 10, 1909. My Uncle Lee Pugh's birthday was July 9, 1910 and he'd always say, "Cleo and I are the same age for one day a year...."

I don't think I've ever plum forgot her birthday before.Well, she did die a few days after I turned 25, so it's been a long time. Missing it once probably isn't a reason to go to The Home.

And though I know within a day or two the date of my mother's death, I don't remember my father's death date at all. I am normally 'lost in linear time'. I can only place things around events--'that was before Josh was born' is one, and, 'that was after Mimi was born' is another. But putting a date certain on things is beyond me.

Did you ever read Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five ? The main character is Billy Pilgrim and Billy is 'unstuck in time'. For  him it means he may wake up at 25 or 55, depending on the day. I'm not that bad, but I simply don't have a good handle on the sequence of events in linear time besides "before Josh was born" and "after Mimi was born" and, when I'm really sharp I can put an event in the three years between their births--but never the exact year.

Bern thinks it's because I'm never really paying attention--which may be so. One of huge, enormous, gigantic differences between us is that she 'really focused" and I, to be truthful, am seldom so intent on anything that you can't interrupt me and I'll be pleasant and not upset.

When Bern cleans the house or works in the garden, those two especially, I have learned after nearly 45 years of marriage and nearly 50 years of knowing her, not to interrupt (or, if I do...and I sometimes do, after all this time...expect either 'the glare' or a mumbled response.

Her computer got truly taken over the other day and she missed dinner fretting over it. I found the sockeye salmon (the only kind she will eat) I grilled and the grilled vegetables and salad wrapped in saran and in the refrigerator after I ate. I cut a wide path around her during that evening.

But my car could blow up and if you asked me a question I'd be totally yours. I live in a state of constant interruption. And I don't mind. Kind of like it, truth be known.

I can be in the middle of something relatively important (writing a sermon or working on a class I'll be teaching or reading a book I particularly love) and I'm perfectly happy to walk away from it and do something else, less important.

Part of the difference is that I'm an extrovert and Bern is an introvert. I draw energy from interaction and she draws energy from being focused. But, another part is I'm probably on the ADO (is that it: 'attention deficit disorder'?) scale and she isn't. She's the one who gets to be 'normal'. And, truth is, I've never particularly longed for normalcy! And another part is, as a priest, I've always believed 'the interruptions were my ministry.' People always were saying, "I know you're busy..." and I'd say, "not at all. I've been waiting around for this interruption...."

But forgetting my mother's birthday this year and not remembering I forgot it for over a month--that makes me wish I was more focused.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I kissed Diane Sluss

In this very vivid dream I had last night, I kissed Diane Sluss.

As soon as the kiss happened, I drew back and said, 'that wasn't a good thing....'

First of all, who is Diane Sluss (and, yes, that was her name). I went to Junior High and High School with her. She was from the very top of Jenkinjones Mountain. Another few feet and she would have gone to school in Virginia instead of West Virginia. She was very smart, so I was in class with her a lot. She was extremely outgoing and funny, so I liked to be around her. But she lived a long school bus ride from me in Junior High and I wasn't 'into girls' in Junior High--in fact, they scared me silly...except for Diane, who was my friend. And there was this: she was the greatest 'listener' I knew in that 6 years of my life. The workshop I help lead is mostly about 'listening'--and Diane, more than most everyone I've ever known--could get her 'listenings' our of the way and simply be 'present' to whatever I was saying. Rare, indeed.

When we went to high school in Gary, she was the first person to get on the school bus that came from Jenkinjones through Conklintown and O'Toole (yes, where I grew up places were named stuff like that!) and then to Anawalt, where I got on, then on to Spencer's Curve and Pageton, which was, as I remember, the last place Woodrow stopped. (Oh, by the way, the bus driver's name was, God help me, Woodrow Wilson, brother of a Methodist minister in Pageton and an all around good-guy. A couple of his nephews got on the bus in Pageton and he treated them just like the rest of us--fair and consistently. (I can't imagine driving High School Students was the best job in the world, but he did it with grace and even flair.)

{Here's an example of Woodrow's flair. He had to pull over the bus near a monument to 6 white men killed by Indians in Black Wolf--there was no drama to the place he pulled over, it's just that in southern West Virginia, there aren't a lot a places along the roads to pull over a school bus. He pulled over to read us the 'emergency school bus schedule'. It was the day that the Navy was stopping Russian ships taking missiles to Cuba and McDowell County had plans to evacuate us from school sine the largest coal processing plant in the world was 4 miles from Gary High School and thought to be on the Russian ICBM list of targets. He was half-way through reading the paper he'd been given to read when Gwen Roberts freaked out.

She ran down the aisle and tried to get off the bus. She was screaming stuff like: "We're going to die!" and "Let me off this bus!!" and "Oh Lordy, Lordy!"...people in southern West Virginia said that last one a lot.

Woodrow dropped the sheet of paper and wrapped Gwen in his arms. He spoke softly to her and rubbed her back until she calmed down. Masterful, he was, dealing with her.}

I know how masterful he was because I was sitting in the seat right behind his driver's seat with Diane Sluss. For three years Diane and I sat in the front seat behind Woodrow as he drove down to Gary in the morning and back in the afternoon. Everyday for three years. People on the bus knew better than to try to take that seat. The way down was no problem, Diane was first on the bus every morning. On the way back people just knew--that's Diane's and Jimmy's seat (Lord yes, I was Jimmy in high school until I decided to be 'J. Gordon' my senior year.)

I'd have to think long and hard about how many hours Diane and I spent sitting next to each other, talking over those years. She was a large girl, but not fat, and had a beautiful face and wondrous hair. It's not that I wasn't, at some point, attracted to her--she was shapely and attractive--it was that she was my first long time 'friend' who was a girl. We talked about everything--our heartbreaks, our loves, current affairs, movies and tv, political stuff (during our three year conversation I moved from being a Goldwater Republican, like my father, to being a left-wing Democrat and she talked me through that transition).

Truth be known, when we graduated and she disappeared from my life, I missed her not enough.

Diane gave me one of the greatest gifts anyone ever could--the sure and certain knowledge that I could have intimate friends who were female with none of the complications that men and women have between intimate friends and intimacy.

What a gift! And it has served me well over the decades since. Many of the closest friends I've had in my life have been women. And I value them mightily.

So, in my dream, kissing Diane on the bus...It was not a good thing, it was a mistake, it would have robbed both of us of one of the abiding relationships that got us through those awful years from 15 to 18.

Ride on Diane. I won't ruin the gift we gave each other.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

What I want in 2016

Surveying the candidates for 2016, I've come up with what I really want. Here are the scenarios in order of what I really, really want.

1. Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders: there's no one I agree with more than Bernie. If we had a party, as many European nations do, called "Democratic Socialist", I'd be a member. I'm in favor of single payer health care (a.k.a. 'socialized medicine') on the Canadian model; I'm in favor of European like taxes on the rich and European like social programs for the poor. I think we should wave the cap on Social Security contributions. I never made more than $80,000 and my SS payment was almost at the cap. Let's push Trump's (and the rest of the rich) to a flat and equal % of what the middle class pays and no one would ever worry about Social Security going broke. What should be capped is how much you can received, based on need.

But the only way an avowed 'socialist' like Bernie would be elected is if he ran against Trump. In many circles, the 'S-word' is on a par with the 'N-word' and the 'F-word' as unacceptable in polite conversations.

2. Whatever Republican vs. Joe Biden/Elizabeth Warren: It's a shame that Elizabeth isn't running herself--she is Bernie without the S-word. She is the one national politician I agree with as much as I agree with Bernie. And Joe is just so lovable and awkward and 'sweet' (there I said it...'sweet' to describe a politician.) He'd be a one term President because of his age and Elizabeth would run and win and become the first woman President in 2020.

3. And must less, much less exciting than 1 or 2 to me. The inevitable Hillary. I'll vote for her because I couldn't 'not vote' and would never vote for any of the Republicans. But I wouldn't have that feeling in my heart I had when I voted for her husband or Barack Obama. I'll just hold my nose and vote.

I really want a 'real progressive'--Bernie or Elizabeth. I'm not sure it's possible, unless Bernie runs against the Donald.

We'll see--#2 seems, at this point anyway--the best of all possible worlds. We'll see, won't we....?

Friday, August 14, 2015

My glasses

I use my glasses to drive and watch TV and movies. Otherwise, I don't use them. I can't read with them. I can't type this with them. I can't eat with them because I can't really see the plate. Most of the time I'm inside, they hang around my neck like a lanyard.

I put them on to preach, since I don't use notes, but take them off to read the Gospel and celebrate because with them on, I can't see the books.

I got a card from my opthamologist telling me I need a yearly exam.

I once tried trifocals and they made me dizzy and crazy.

I can drive and watch TV with my glasses and do most everything else without them.

I had strange cataracts quite young, probably from the steroids I've taken over the years. The surgeon took me from 200/20 to about 40/20--which means I still need glasses to drive and see birds clearly in the back yard and watch a movie. Had my cataracts been only a few years later, I could be 20/20 and wear sunglasses instead of glasses that turn dark when exposed to sunlight.

It's a tad odd, needing glasses for so little and yet really needing them.

I guess I'll go for the exam but won't change my frames since they are Armani and made of graphite or something like that and weigh almost nothing. Plus, they are black and red and really cool.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Being Appalachian

I am an Appalachian person. I grew in the the southern most county of West Virginia (MACdowell County as we said it). When someone didn't emphasize the first syllable, we knew they weren't one of 'us'.

My wife grew up 10 miles or so from me--but she doesn't define herself as an Appalachian. She defines herself as Italian and Hungarian, which she is. She never had an Appalachian accent, growing up in a household that spoke English as a second language.

I've been in New England for 37 of my years (two in graduate school in Cambridge and 35 in Connecticut) but people sometimes ask me if I'm a 'southerner' because of the way I sound. I'm quick to correct them--"I'm an Appalachian!", I say and then tell them the difference.

Appalachians are from southern West Virginia, south-eastern Virginia, north-eastern North Carolina, much of Kentucky and Tennessee. Some people in southern Ohio might think they are, but they're not, trust me.

All these Scotch-Irish and British folks made it into the mountains and then didn't go further west.

Example: my grandmother used to say, "pon my swanee" when something happened she didn't expect or understand. I was an English major and discovered that there was a Middle-English oath: "upon my Swan Lea". Centuries later, my grandmother was still saying that in an altered form. Those folks just got lost in the mountains and ignored by the rest of the world. Of course, by my time, the coal mines had attracted Europeans of all stripes--like my wife--who still identified with their ethnicity rather than where they lived.

You had to grow up in a place where dawn was an hour late and dusk an hour early because of the mountains to be an Appalachian. You had to wonder the mountains endlessly as a child. You had to see the coal dust on your car every morning. And you have to know you're not a Southerner, not at all, not in any way--your identity is tied to the mountains, deep in their soil.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

(untitled post)

Yesterday I was about to write a post when I realized it was Tuesday, the day I declare sometime ago, I would reject all media. I had forgotten and signed off, leaving an 'untitled post'.

So, it's Wednesday and here is the post--still untitled and not very interesting (except that it points our how forgetful I can be.)

Take a media free Tuesday--but look to see if I posted, just to keep me honest.

Weddings and Baptisms

One thing I miss about not being the Rector of a large urban church is I don't get to do as many Weddings and Baptisms as I did before I retired. I really love weddings and baptisms. In my time in the Cluster, with the three small churches, I've done a handful of Baptisms and only one wedding. I did bless another marriage but a JP did the vows and signed the marriage license since the couple had divorces and didn't want to go through the rig-a-ma role (is that the way to spell it?) that Canon Law required to be re-married by a priest. I don't blame them. I've always resented having to explain to a bishop who didn't know the man and woman from Adam and Eve, why I should be able to be the celebrant at their marriage. I knew them, for goodness sake, why shouldn't I decide? (My problem with Authority showing its head....)

This year I did officiate at the marriage of Fred and Joe--the first same-sex marriage license I've been able to sign with the blessing of my church.

Those are two things I've never refused to do for people--weddings and baptisms. I know priests who put up road-blocks to people wanting to be married in the church or baptizing children of people who weren't active members. Not me. Throughout my priesthood, I've been 'Marrying Sam' and 'Baptizing Bob'.

There are two reasons for this: first, I really, really, truly believe in the 'objective reality' of the Sacraments. I'm Anglo-Catholic in my theology if not my liturgical style. Sacraments ARE 'outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace'--and REALITY, I would add to that. Sacraments are 'real'. Blessing two people wanting to become One as well and marking a child as 'Christ's own forever', means just what the words say. Who could deny that to anyone--the graces of God?

The second reason is a bit more skeptical: I am not only convinced that the church is basically irrelevant in 21st century America...I embrace that truth. I like living in a pre-Nicene era of Christianity where we are one of may possibilities. So, when anybody wants the church involved in their lives, I am over-joyed and set up no roadblocks (unless having a time to meet and talk together is a roadblock--no one in my ministry has ever balked at getting to know me and me getting to know them in a non-judgmental setting.)

I did a dozen or so weddings a year at St. John's and two or three times that many baptisms every year. So I had one class for the weddings in the year (5 sessions) and one morning long session 4 times a year for baptismal families.

Over those 20 years, 3 couples decided it wasn't time to get married because of the classes. I considered those major victories since the classes saved them a world of hurting later. One came back a year later and, I know, are still married. The other two never returned. God love them and bless them--they made the right choice.

Anyway, all this is prompted because in October I'll be the celebrate at the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. I met with the couple today.

I always tell people on first meeting: "I'm going to ask you a question and there is really only one wrong answer. The question is: 'why do you want to get married'?"

Over the years about 75% of the couples joined hands, looked into each others' eyes and said--one or both of them--"we're in love!"

And I've said, every time, "that's the one wrong answer.'

Which frees me to talk about 'love' as an 'emotion' that comes and goes and to suggest what 'makes a marriage' is commitment, not love. Commitment is something you 'create' out of nothing--not something you 'feel'. "Feelings", I've come to believe, are highly overrated reasons for actions. Hate is a feeling. Envy is a feeling. Guilt is a feeling. Jealousy is a feeling. I would suggest none of those 'feelings' can lead to any creative action. Neither can 'love'. Actions that are positive and life-giving and creative come, not from feelings (even feelings like compassion or empathy--which create actions that feel like 'pity' to the other person) but from 'commitments'--'saying so and meaning it and standing by it in spite of feelings...."

There were lots of reasons to like the couple I spent an hour with today--they're funny and kind and enjoy each others' company and smile a lot at each other. But the reason I really like them is how they answered the question "why do you want to get married?"

She said: "We want to spend our lives together." He said, "we want to move this relationship to a new level."

Sounds like commitment to me. Writ large. I love these two people. They are very different, but so are Bern and I. Really different. Maybe balance for each other.

And we're coming up on our 45th anniversary.

(The groom said, "you can't be married that long--you aren't that old." I told him we were babies. And we were....)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Peter from Scotland

I get lots of views on my blog. One day last week there were 278. Usually 50 or so. But I seldom get comments.

I did a few days ago about a blog about how I thought Fox News was trying to wound Donald Trump because he couldn't possibly win the Presidency. And that's why I love him, that he's dragging the Republicans over the cliff.

And PeterfromScotland commented that the Conservatives in Britain are rooting for a left-wing person to take over the Labor Party and, thence, kill it.

Just like me rooting for Trump, but in reverse.

This whole Left/Right thing is ridiculous to me. I simply can't understand why everyone isn't a democratic socialist like me!

Truly, when I hear the Republicans talk it's like they're drunk or insane.

Why isn't everyone for a single-payer health plan, free public college, rules against power plants, income redistribution--huge taxes on the rich, generous social programs for the poor, a livable minimum wage, the agreement with Iran...stuff like that.

It just makes so much sense to me--all that and more left-wing stuff--that I can't imagine anyone not wanting all that and more.

Which is my Achilles Heal--I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with me. I am genuinely surprised when someone does.

I believe myself to be the moral and social and political "norm".

Imagine how uprooted and confused that makes me, given reality....

How good can August be?

The last three days the only AC we've had on is the huge one in my office. We keep the door to the rest of the upstairs door closed, and, as anyone knows--cold air sinks and warm air rises, so all the cold from this monster up here goes down to make the downstairs more than comfortable. It hasn't been warmer that 75 in our dining room--the room furthest from my office all summer.

But the last few days, just fans in windows in our TV room and bedroom and blissfully cool.

School is about to start in CT and there hasn't really been a summer at all, not like usual, anyway.

A hot., humid day here and there--but for the most part low 80's in the day and 60's at night. Easy to live with.

I think I've suggested before that Connecticut has such great weather because we're the Bluest State. All democrats in state and federal offices. God loves democrats, I believe.

But then, there are the winters!

Not God-sent by any means....

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Creatures on the altar

There was a tiny creature on the altar today at St. Andrew's, Northford. It was teeny-tiny, I have no idea what it was. Smaller than a gnat it was, crawling slowly across the Paten and then the corporal and then the fair linen. (If you don't know what those words refer to, google it.)

I've often encountered creatures on altars. Mostly spiders, it seem to me, but from time to time a ladybug or a bee.

I never kill them. It just seems too awful an act, to kill a creature of God on the altar of God.

It reminds me of a time years ago at St. John's, Waterbury, when we always had seminarians from Yale. Some seminarian or another had invited his/her classmates from fieldwork to come see where she/he worked. I was asked to celebrate the Eucharist for a dozen or so students and their professor.

I did so, and afterwards a particularly studious seminarian (she'd been taking notes during the tour of the church and even during the Eucharist!) came up to me.

"Father Bradley", she said (that 'Father stuff really annoys me), "I'd like to ask you about some of your manual acts I've never seen before."

Well, I went to Virginia Seminary where "manual acts" were at a minimum and I seldom do anything besides make the sign of the cross over the bread and wine--not much else.

"OK," I said, "ask away."

"Well," she said, looking at her notes, "several times you waved your hand above the chalice at times I've never seen before."

I almost laughed and would have if she hadn't been so serious. "Fruit flies", I told her.

And she wrote it down.

Creatures at the altar. You've got to love them.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The first and last time I'll agree with Donald Trump

Trump was, as usual, thoughtless in his verbage about Megan Kelly--all the 'blood from wherever" stuff--but he was right that he was set up and made to look bad.

The initial question about agreeing to 'support the Republican Party's nominee' would not have been asked if Trump hadn't opened that possibility. No one else had said it. So, obviously, it was asked to make him look like the bad guy out. Obviously.

And the question from Megan about Trump's comments about women--that too was heavy handed. No one on that state hadn't, at some time or another, said something feminists (and male feminists like me) haven't flinched at.

Trump says what he thinks and gives not a crap about political correctness. And that is, to this point, winning the support of more Republicans than any two others (Bush and Walker). Fox News and Megan Kelly know and know fair well that Trump couldn't beat Hillary or Biden or Bernie...or me, for God's sake, in a general election, so they tried to take him out of the mix in that debate.

And Megan, for goodness sake, was visibly and in voice tone, out to get the Donald.

Yes, left-wing, almost socialist Democrat Me watched the whole thing.Something like being present for the 'end' of the Republican Party...I hope.

The Red State something or other took back Trump's invitation to speak today--lots of conservative activists. I think that might just backfire.

Go, Donald, go! Nothing better for left-win, almost socialist Democrats like me that that you do well.

I'm rooting for you, boy.....


Friday, August 7, 2015

Music from a time before

Bern and I were sitting in the Adirondack chairs she helped build, reading, when the music began.

We live about a mile from the High School and the park across the street from Cheshire High, but we can hear a lot of what goes on down there. We know when Cheshire scores a touchdown, for example and can hear the announcer announce it. And we can hear the music from the park during the summer from the concerts there.

Today the band playing (quite good, I think) were singing songs from another time--a time before. They did some Mama's and Papa's and some Crosby, Stills and Nash and Beach Boys a little Stevie that carries Bern and me back in time to a life before being on Medicare and wondering how long we'll live.

"Teach your children well" was the last song I listened to before I came in to write this. And we can't hear them from inside the house because it was built in 1850 to keep the outside, well, outside. Plus I listen to WSHU classical music on my computer at night as I type.

Amazing how some songs can transport you back decades to another time--a time before--a life before that you lived and have almost forgotten until music makes it present.

Anything by the Beatles or Bob Dylan rips me out of 2015 and takes me back to when I was young, smoking a little dope and without pains in my joints.

Music not only soothes the savage beast, it removes the years for a while and makes you younger than you can now imagine being.

We were children without children again for a while on our back deck, the light failing, reading books we would have never read back then, as Bern grilled dinner.

Not a bad way to spend a late afternoon, early evening--being young again.

I wish I knew who the band was. I write them a thank-you note.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What I wish I'd said....

This afternoon, the land phone rang. It doesn't ring much. Mimi and Josh sometimes call it but most people use our cell phone #'s.

I answered and a cheerful voice said, "Hi, Jim!"

I went through my phone voice recognition index without success.

It was a 'professional fundraiser' calling about children with some heinous disease.

I said, "I don't give money over the phone, ever. Send me something in the mail that includes how much actually gets to the charity."

"Should I send you something for $25 or more?"

"I just want information." I said.

"Jim, I can't send you an empty envelope. You need to make a pledge," she said.

"No," I said.

"It's not the amount, Jim," she said, "it's the compassion."

I hung up.

I wish I had said, "don't call me 'Jim' until you've known me for several years. Mr. Bradley or Dr. Bradley or Fr. Bradley will do until then. And don't lecture me on 'compassion', my life's work has been about compassion. I just don't to give money to 'professional fund raisers', like you, but to people in need of 'compassion', and let me speak to your supervisor."

But I said none of that.

I hung up. The coward's way out.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Another warm day

July was so kind to New England--lots of nights cool enough to do without A/C and temperature in the high 70's. August, so far, is not being so forgiving. Near 90 today, but bearable. I'm not going to complain when wild fires are scorching the West Coast and temps are ultra-high in the Midwest and south. I imagine it's because God is looking after the Blue states....But maybe not.

Which brings us to coal.

The President (God love him) shocked the opposition by coming out with much deeper cuts in carbon emissions--that means 'not burning coal'--than anyone expected.

We are electricity junkies (don't take my AC away in August!) but that's what's causing climate change along with internal combustion engines. Coal.

I have coal dust in my blood. My father was a coal miner as well as my father in law. John Lewis and the United Mine Workers Union are the fourth and fifth members of the Trinity to me. Coal=West Virginia. King Coal, we called it.

And it must stop. It really must. I know it will plunge some of the most depressed parts of the country--Southern West Virginia, Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia--into even more grievous economic decline. But, burning coal is poisoning the planet and it must stop.

I have grand-children who, God willing, will have my great-grandchildren. I want them to have a planet to live on in peace and comfort.

Not burning coal for electricity will be part of what makes that possible.

(The coal dust in my blood is trying to blind me for writing that...but it is true....)

And people shouldn't have coal dust in their blood, by the way.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Doctor visit

So, I went for the first time today to a rheumatologist. I've lived that long!

I wish my doctor had sent me years ago, which I first had gout. Yes, beloved, I have 'the white man's punishment'.

Dr. Abeles explained gout to me for the first time that made sense. All about uric acid and how it's like sugar you try to dissolve in cold tea and it just won't. So it settles in your extremities--fingers and toes and ankles and wrists--these deposits of uric acid crystals. I have 17 deposits in my fingers alone and two in toes and one in my right elbow that makes my elbow look like the wicked witch of the West's elbow--that awful.

So, I'm going to have x-rays of my hands and feet--to see if there is bone damage--and having a uric acid blood test and he's starting me on a medication that will keep me from having an inflammation while reducing the uric acid in me and dissolving the bumps on my body. In two years, he assured me, I would be bump and gout free.

Why didn't I know this years ago?

Gout is a pain...truly, a big time pain.

I asked him why the deposits didn't hurt and he said, honestly, no one really understands why some deposits hurt and others don't and I should just be thankful.

He's the only Doctor I've ever been to who cursed twice in our conversation. Once about the fact that he has to go to computerized records or loose some of his insurance and Medicare payments ("God-damn it, it's coming", he said). And when he told me that reducing the uric acid in my body would actually make me more susceptible to inflamation  was often called 'paradoxical', he said, "that's bull-shit", it only makes sense since uric acid will be running around in you more. He talked to me more than any doctor ever has. And we talked about me being from WV (he caught my accent that I don't think I have) and how he loves cheesy grits (having gone to med school at Emory, in Atlanta). I gave him my line about grits being nothing more than a salt and butter delivery system and he loved that.

I liked him a lot. I looked him up on line and he had 47 comments and all of them rated him 5 out of 5. I know why now.

When he makes my bumps of uric acid crystals to away, which he assured me he could, I'll like him even more.

Ever had a gout attack?

Awful, awful, awful.

This guy is the fourth member of the Trinity for me right now.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I couldn't find the 'blue scissors' so I have to wash my alb...

We have these 'blue scissors', (which I misspelled when I first wrote it--just as I left out the second s in 'misspelled' when I first wrote it) that are small but very sharp. Bern uses them to cut my hair and I use them them trim my beard.

But I couldn't find them and my moustache (which I misspelled the first time I wrote it--thank God for spell check...and before you think it, let me write it, I can't spell for shit. It's the bane of my existence a Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, second in my class in seminary, who can't spell for shit. Surprised I can spell 'shit'.....)

I can spell 'alb'. It's the robe an Episcopal priest wears for celebrating the Eucharist, in case you don't know.

So, I have to wash my alb because I couldn't find the 'blue scissors' to cut my moustache and the wine from communion got in my moustache (which spell check keeps underlining in red though it is the way it is spelled in the same way as in the first line of the second paragraph...maybe spell check is having a bad day...) and dripped on the front of my alb.

Wine comes out and how do I know--I've spilled it on myself dozens and dozens of time. Besides not being a good speller, the other bane of my existence is how clumsy I am...really, really clumsy, I tell you.

Ask anyone who knows me well: 'tell me two things negative about Jim.'

And they'll tell you, without a pause to think: "he's a clumsy s.o.b. and can't spell for shit."

That's me.

I'll wash the alb tomorrow.

The danger of 'believing"...

I got into this distinction during my sermon today about "faith" and "believing". I have no problem with "faith", because I use the word "trust" instead. But 'believing' is problematic to me. And in today's gospel from John (where else!) Jesus says the 'work of God' is to "believe" in him.

So, I found this thing I wrote a long time ago and am attaching it here.

The truth (as best I know it…)

The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly. --Wallace Stevens

Now we come, at long last, to the part that could get me defrocked, even a humble retired priest like myself. I actually don't “believe” much of anything besides what Wallace Stevens, of all people, wrote. The whole Christian enterprise, as it were, is a 'fiction' to me, albeit a 'fiction' I believe in willingly, passionately and profoundly.
A joke would be in order. This is the best theological joke I ever heard besides the one about the Pope and the Jewish tailor back in the distant past which I will tell you presently. This joke is about Pope John XXIII--”the last good Pope”, I call him, and the seminal Protestant theologian of the 20th century, Paul Tillich.
One day a Cardinal answers the phone in the Pope's residence. John XXIII is writing a letter but overhears the troubled, almost hysterical one side of the call.
No, that can't be true! ...It is impossible!...I can't believe it!...Of course I will tell his Holiness immediately....”
The Pope looks up and asks the Cardinal, who is ashen and shaking,”bad news I suppose....”
Your Holiness,” the Cardinal begins, “that was our archeologist in the Holy Land. He called to tell me they have discovered Jesus' body.”
The Pope finishes his letter and gathers his thoughts.
There can be no mistake, I take it?” he asked.
No, you Holiness, it is the body of our Lord.”
John XXIII takes a deep breath. Then he speaks, “We must make this information public. We cannot cover up the most disturbing discovery of this or any other time. But before I make an announcement, I must call Paul Tillich....”
{Tillich, just by way of information, was the theologian who referred to God as “the Ground of Being”. A rather ontological and obscure way of referring to the Deity. Tillich's wittier students used to joke that Jesus must be 'a Chip off the ol' Block of Being.'}
The phone rings in Chicago. Paul Tillich is understandably surprised to be called by the Pope, but they greet each other with respect and the Pope says, “Dr. Tillich, I needed to tell you, the most respected Protestant theologian, that our archeologists in the Holy Land have found our Savior's body. There is no mistake and I will announce it to the faithful of the world. I just wanted you to know beforehand.”
There is an inordinate pause. The Pope thinks the connection has been lost.
Professor Tillich...?” he says.
Tillich finally responds, “My God, he really lived....”
I do some teaching about Mary Magdalene, because after The Da Vinci Code was published people had interest in the whole history and I did some serious research into the era and the legends of Mary Magdalene. I tell that joke before introducing the Gospel of Mary of Magdala because anyone in the room who has only a church-taught concept of the early church risks being shocked and having their 'belief' knocked off its moorings by what we are going to discuss.
I tell the people, “if you are not shocked and offended by that joke, we can continue....But if it seems too irreverent, you still have time to leave.”
The Gospel of Mary of Magdala and all the other gospels that didn't make the cut by the boys at Nicaea, throw a monkey wrench into the narrow and dogmatic way the 'church' teaches us about the earliest church. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John aren't the only stories around and certainly aren't 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth' by a long shot. This whole Christianity thing is a little suspect given the alternative options to what is doctrine and dogma for the modern church we have made 'orthodox'. Had the 'heresies'--Gnostic and otherwise—prevailed instead of the Nicene model of Christianity, how different the church would have been! I think it is problematic for a lot of Christians to reflect on and ponder that possibility.
My basic problem with all this is that I'm not sure what people mean when they say 'do you believe' this or that. As I understand it, the Greek word translated “believe”--pistevo, from the noun pistis—means something like 'to trust in', 'to rely on', 'to cling to'--or as I once heard it described: 'to live as if'.
That doesn't seem to be in the same hemisphere as what most Christians mean when they ask: “do you BELIEVE Jesus is your Lord and Savior?” (Well, of course, a lot of Christians never say anything like that—but whatever 'believe' means in that context is had more to do with 'knowing it is True' than trusting in, relying on, clinging to and 'living as if' it were true.) And most of what gets paraded out as “Christian Belief” asks us to, in a real sense, 'intellectually assent' to the Virgin Birth, for example. That 'assent', it seems to me, means thinking that if only there had been a camcorder around, we be able to actually see the Red Sea parting, Lazarus coming forth and Jesus walking on the waters.
Trusting, relying and clinging don't come from the intellect. The realities 'trust' refers to can't be proven or seen. 'Relying on' and 'clinging to” are, ironically enough, given this discussion, the 'art' to belief's 'science'. Take the Creationist debate (as Heni Youngman would say...”Please...”). There is a lot more artfulness in a God who works through the Laws of Nature than one who worked six days and was finished. The people who object most strenuously to the Theory of Evolution want to replace evolution, which is and always has always been 'theoretical', with something writ in stone, hard, factual...well, what I'd call 'scientific'. When someone says they believe in the story of Creation 'in the Bible', I always ask, “which one?” A lot of people who 'believe in' Creationism, don't seem to realize the story in Genesis 1 is a lot different from the story in Genesis 2. I can't get my mind around why it matters so much 'which is True'--Evolution or Creationism. What gets thrown around as capital T Truth causes a lot of mischief. Like Aryans being being a superior race—that, many people saw as True, true enough to try to exterminate whole ethnic groups.
Truth will get you in a world of hurting. Fiction, on the other hand, isn't anything to either kill or die for.
There's a story about the Pope and the Jewish tailor that comes in handy here. It's a story usually told with signs and hand movements, but I'll try my best to describe those in words.
A new Pope had been elected to replace the dead one, and the Cardinals who were the Pope's advisers, told him, “Your Holiness, your first act as Pontiff must be to expel the Jews from Rome.”
The new Pope was startled by the suggestion. “Why should I do that?” he asked.
Because,” he was told, “a new Pope always expels the Jews from Rome.”
But he was not convinced. “I must have a conversation with one of the Jewish leaders,” he said, “before I exile a whole community.”
The Cardinals objected, but the Pope was firm...and what the Pope is firm about happens....
The message was sent to the Jewish Community that the Pope wanted to interview one of the leaders before determining whether to rid Rome of the Jews. None of the rabbis wanted to go—what good could come of it? But there was a tailor named Jacob who volunteered and was taken to the Pope's rooms in the Vatican.
Since they shared no common language, the Pope conducted his interview in sign language.
The Pope held up one finger and Jacob held up two.
The Pope made a large rotating motion with his arms and hands. Jacob pointed to the floor.
The Pope took an apple from a table and showed it to Jacob. The tailor took a piece of matzo from his pocket and showed it to the Pope.
The Pope dismissed the tailor with a message, translated by one of the Cardinals, that the Jews could stay in Rome.
The astonished Cardinals asked the Pope why he gave the Jews permission to stay.
The Tailor is an orthodox Christian,” he told them.
They all cried out, asking how the Pope could make such a outlandish statement.
Well,” the Pope said, holding up one finger, “I said, 'there is One God', but the Tailor replied by holding up two fingers: 'but there is the Son and the Holy Spirit as well.”
The Pope made his broad motion for the Cardinals. “I told him God was 'omnipotent', everywhere and he correctly replied, by pointing at the floor, 'God is also imminent, present in our midst'....
Finally,” the Pope told them, “I asked, 'is the earth round like an apple as the heretics claim?' And the Jew replied, demonstrating with their unleavened bread, 'No, the earth is flat as the Church teaches.'”
The Cardinals were all stunned.
Back in the Jewish ghetto, Jacob told his people to stop packing, that they were staying. “But how,” they all asked, “did such a thing happen?”
Jacob shook his head. “I'm not sure,” he said.
But what happened between you?” they clambered to know.
It was very odd,” the Tailor told them.
First the Pope said, 'I'm going to poke you in the eye' and I told him, 'I'll poke you in both eyes'.
Then he motioned that all the Jews should get out of Rome and I told him, 'we're staying right here'.”
And that was it?” they asked, incredulous.
No,” Jacob said, “then we showed each other our lunches....”

This brings me to an important distinction I want to make which has a profound bearing on “believing”.
Here's the distinction: Something Happens AND then, We Say Something About What Happened. That's the distinction.

(I'll pause a moment while you think about that and say, either out loud or to yourself: “Well, duh, of course there is a difference between What Happens and What We Say About It....So...?”)
Here's the “So”: What Happened in that story about the Pope and the Tailor is that two men stood in the room, made gestures to each other and then showed each other a piece of fruit and a piece of bread. That's all the Cardinals saw. That's What Happened. But then the Pope interpreted “What Happened” as the Tailor passing a complicated theological test and the Tailor interpreted “What Happened” as cowering the leader of world-wide Christianity into allowing the Jews to remain in Rome.
See what I mean yet?
For the Pope and the Tailor both, What Happened became “what they said about it.” There was NO distinction between the pantomime they carried out and their interpretations. For both of them “What Happened” became “what they said about it.” The event and the interpretations collapsed into each other so completely that each walked away from the moment of their encounter 'believing' it WAS what they “said about it”.
As far as I can tell, “belief”--at least the 'final belief' Wallace Stevens suggested exists purely only through of the distinction between the event and whatever it is we say about the event. Lose the distinction and what we call 'belief' is hopelessly muddled in the collapse of the events into the interpretations.
Another story: The popular cosmologist, Carl Sagan was giving a lecture in an auditorium about the nature of the Universe. During the question and answer period, a little old lady stood up, fairly shaking with anger and said, “Dr. Sagan, you might believe what you said about the Universe, but I know different. The earth isn't floating out in some vast, endless space. The earth is resting on the back of an enormous tortoise.”
Sagan, used to nay-sayers, courteously asked the woman, “well, Madam, what does the tortoise rest on?”
She harrumphed and responded, “an even more enormous tortoise!”
Sagan paused a moment and then asked, “and what does that one rest on?”
The woman snorted at his ignorance. “Dr. Sagan,” she said with pride, “don't traffic with me. It's tortoises all the way down!”
Here's what I think, so far as 'belief' goes, it is 'interpretation' all the way down.
Something happens—a child born in a city named Bethlehem under less than optimum circumstances over 2000 years ago. That certainly happened. In spite of the joke about Paul Tillich, there seems to be ample evidence from all that is know and agreed on, that a child named Jesus was born. That is the event. That is What Happened. The rest, all the rest, beloved, is what people have over 20 centuries Said About that birth. The miraculous insemination, the understanding of poor Joseph, the difficulty of the journey, the angels and the shepherds, the star and the Magi, the scientifically difficult assertion that Jesus' mother was 'ever Virgin', the barn and the creatures therein, even the little kid with his drum. Let's make a distinction between What Happened and What Was Said About It, painful as that distinction may be. Let's begin, at least, with this: the miracle and wonder of a birth—any birth. That, in and of itself, is worthy of pondering and acknowledging. A child was born. A son was given.
Birth is an event, a 'what happened' that should, standing alone, be cause for celebration and gratitude and not a few tears of joy. However, people have literally lost their lives over their disagreement with or even questioning “What Has Been Said” about that particular birth on that particular night in that particular year in that particular place to those particular parents. C. H. Dodd, a great New Testament scholar from the early to mid-part of the 20th Century, called the whole thing “the scandal of particularity”.
Dodd, it seems to me, understood the distinction between What Happened and What Was Said About It. He thought that “Universal Salvation” wrapped in the particularity of a moment, an event so odd, would be thought of as a 'fiction' by a multitude of people. He was correct. Ogden Nash went further back into the fiction when he wrote:
How odd of God,
To choose the Jews.

But my point is simple. It is not only alright, it is most likely a piece of 'salvation' to believe in a fiction, so long as you can acknowledge, without losing faith, that it is a fiction and you believe in it willingly.
After all, what is there to 'believe' in but fiction. The danger comes when people forget it is a 'fiction' and construe it as a Fact. That is the stuff of “separate but equal”, gender bias, religious persecution, drowning of witches, lynchings, inquisitions, Red Baiting, ethnic cleansing, Holy Wars, Holocausts.
Don't forget, I'm an English major. I've read all the literary criticism anyone should ever read and I know there is “no agreement” on Interpretation of Fiction. Ask a dozen so-called experts about Joyce or Hemingway or Dickens or Shakespeare or Chaucer or Beowulf and you'll get a remarkably wide variety of interpretations. It truly is 'interpretation all the way down'. Imagine poor St. Paul, how he has been 'interpreted' over the centuries to defend slavery, suppression of women, hatred of homosexuals.... Paul, I believe, would be both astonished and horrified to know that his writing (what happened with his words) was so twisted and perverted and used for more than one evil. He was just 'making stuff up' to tell these troublesome churches he had founded and left behind. He was creating a body of 'fiction' for them to 'believe' in willingly. And for all the centuries “what happened” in Corinth became what the interpreters of Paul SAID it was. The 'distinction' was lost. 'What happened' BECAME 'what we said about it.”
People who believe in a fiction willingly don't have an issue with the fictions other people believe in. And here's where the 'distinction' I suggested comes in powerfully--'believers' of whatever ilk, believe in the collapse of What Happened with What We Said About it. That's what they believe in and they also believe 'what they believe in' is capital-T-True, to the exclusion of what everyone else believes in. So we have a planet full of people believing 'their fiction' is True while everyone else's fiction is, well...a fiction.
How much better off would the planet be if everyone who 'believed' distinguished between What Happened and the conversation their particular community has been having over the centuries about What Happened. Sometimes, when I'm talking with someone, I'll make an aside and say, “well, that's a different conversation.” What if, people of faith, 'religious' people of all brands, when confronted with the Truth other people believed in, said, “well, that's a different conversation,” rather than saying, “They are Wrong and I am Right!” Can you begin to see the betterment of the planet from that kind of distinction? What each of us believes in isn't THE TRUTH. What each of us believe in is a conversation about What Happened. And our conversation about What Happened isn't any more True or False than the conversations people of other persuasions are having about What Happened for them.

I'm belaboring this because I know fair well that most 'believers' believe they believe in The Truth rather than a fiction.
It's all fiction. It's all 'made up'. It's all a conversation about What Happened.
This isn't just a Christian problem, although Christians have done most of the damage along the way be believing that what they believe is TRUE. We've seen in recent years the same failure to distinguish between the event and the conversation by Muslims. But since I am a Christian—since I believe willingly and passionately in the Christian Fiction—let me not go pointing fingers at anyone who is having a conversation different than the one I'm having about Jesus. It seems to me that the conversation about Jesus is simply about a different conversation than the conversation about Buddha or the one about Mohammad or the one about Moses or the one about the Earth Goddess or the one about the remarkably varied gods of Hindus or about the tribal gods of people in Africa or the gods of Native Americans, the Aborigines people of Australia or the odd gods of the Norse or the Greeks or the Irish or the British, for that matter, from the distant past.
I would hazard to say that all those conversations are about the same Force, the same Being, the same Event: but that would be imposing my 'fictional believe' on the beliefs and conversations of others, so I shouldn't hazard that opinion.
There's been a lot of hatefulness and mischief because of the various 'conversations' of the different Christian denominations. And within each denomination, there is invariably more than one conversation. In my particular 'tribe'--the Anglicans—there are a whole host of competing conversations and each conversation-group believes their conversation is the True one. The two major conversations across the spectrum of the Christian Church are 'the Orthodox conversation' and 'the Progressive conversation'. We used to call them Conservative and Liberal before those words became so politicized. And before that, in the Episcopal Church, we had the “High Church” and “Low Church” and “Broad Church” conversations—though, the truth be known, none of the 'conversations' were civil enough to deserve being called 'conversation' at all. Mostly it is about who can talk the loudest and the longest. In the church, just as in personal relationships, most of what we call 'listening to each other' is really just letting the other talk while you plan what to say next.
Here's a final story to illustrate a creative way of dealing with the reality that competing conversations are just talking about different fictions.
Centuries ago a new Bishop came to northern Scotland. He was told of a group of monks who lived on a distant island who hadn't been visited by a bishop for several decades. So the Bishop decided he should pay them a visit.
When his ship arrived, he was greeted with great joy by the little community. The Bishop said to the monks, after the introductions, “Let's say the Our Father together....” He started praying but the monks were simply looking at each other in confusion.
We don't know that prayer,” the monks told him.
The Bishop was horrified and decided to test them further.
What are the four gospels?” he asked.
Mark, I think,” said one monk.
Another answered, “isn't John one, your grace?”
But beyond that they could not go.
Exasperated that they knew the Creed no better than the Lord's Prayer, the Bishop ordered them to get the Mass book and he would preside at the Eucharist for them.
After much searching of the chapel, the Missal could not be found.
The Bishop spent the day trying to teach them the Creed and Lord's Prayer, rehearsing them on the books of the Bible and, after sending back to the ship for his personal Missal, sharing the sacrament with the little group.
He told them he would be back in three months and during that time they needed to learn all he had told them to study. When he returned he would decide whether they could continue to be a monestary or not.
The Bishop's ship was several hundred yards off the coast when one of the sailors called to him and pointed toward land. The Bishop and all the crew were astonished to see the whole group of monks running across the waves toward them.
When they arrived, the Bishop stood on the deck of the ship and the monks stood on the water.
Your Grace,” one of them said. “We've already mixed up the words of that lovely prayer. Can you tell it to us one more time?”
The Bishop stared at them for a long time. “Never-mind about anything I told you,” he said, “just go back and keeping doing whatever it is you've been doing.”

Would that the Church were so wise as that long-ago bishop....

Blog Archive

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.