Sunday, April 30, 2017

The road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35
24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"

24:19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."

24:25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"

24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This is my favorite passage from the Gospels. I love the story and what it tells us. I got to preach about it today at St. Andrew's in Northford.

I preached without notes so I can't recreate the sermon, but I can write about Emmaus.

Nobody knows where first century Emmaus was. Or if the '7 miles' is an accurate measurement. But it was a good hike from Jerusalem at any rate.

And we can't be sure why Cleopas and his companion (whoever that was) are going to Emmaus. Was it their home? Did they have business there? Were they just getting out of Jerusalem?

But here's the thing: a stranger joined them on their journey. Sure, we know it was Jesus, but they didn't. He was just a 'stranger' to them, a stranger who asked them what they were discussing and then, after they told him, the stranger told them about the scriptures.

Seven miles later, the stranger was going on but the two disciples asked him to stay with them. And when he blessed and broke the bread for their dinner, they recognized him and 'poof', he disappeared.

The most important thing about the whole story is how they realized that their 'hearts burned' when he was talking with them. Their hearts burned from the words of a stranger.

Scripture, both Hebrew and Christian, urge us  to 'welcome the stranger' and show hospitality to the one we do not know.

In today's culture, we are taught that the stranger is to be shunned, kept out, avoided, mistrusted.

That is upside down and inside out to what our Faith proclaims. It is the stranger that can warm our hearts and teach us something new, lead us to lean into a new possibility.

As I told you yesterday, God leads us to the edge and asks us to step off, trusting that either our foot will find something solid or God will teach us to fly.

Today, more than ever, we need to tread near that edge into the unknown and step off. That is the faith we are called to show--to embrace the stranger in our midst.

There is a story I've shared before but fits so well here I will share it once more.

A holy rabbi has taught his followers all night on the bank of a river. As dawn is breaking, he asks them, "When is there enough light to see?"

One replies, "when we can tell the palm trees from the date trees on the other side of the river--that is enough light to see."

The rabbi ponders and then says, "no, that is not enough light to see."

Another follower says, "there is enough light to see when we can tell the young sheep from the young goats on the other side of the river."

After a while, the rabbi says, "no that is not enough light to see."

They all fall silent and wait. Finally the rabbi says, "there is enough light to see when we can look into the face of any human being and see the Face of God."

May the light of this Easter season give us new eyes and enough light to see....

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Jeez, I missed the anniversary...

Bern would tell you how 'unfocused' I am. I need lists and a calendar to keep me afloat in what you call 'reality'. Otherwise, I'm in my head, somewhere, wondering or pondering or just relaxing. I had a poster once of a rocking chair and the words said, "Sometimes, I sits and thinks. And sometimes, I just sits...."

So, I missed the anniversary of this blog by over a month. But, as I've done before, I'll go back to the beginning. You decide if I'm still doing what I set out to do.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My first post

Sitting under the Castor Oil Tree (March 7, 2009)

The character in the Bible I have always been drawn to in Jonah. I identify with his story. Like Jonah, I have experienced being taken where I didn't want to go by God and I've been disgruntled with the way things went. The belly of a big old fish isn't a pleasant means of travel either!

The story ends (in case you don't know it) with Jonah upset and complaining on a hillside over the city of Nineva, which God has saved through Jonah. Jonah didn't want to go there to start with--hence the ride in the fish stomach--and predicted that God would save the city though it should have been destroyed for its wickedness. "You dragged me half way around the world," he tells God, "and didn't destroy the city....I knew it would turn out this way. I'm angry, so angry I could die!"

God causes a tree to grow to shade Jonah from the sun (scholars think it might have been a castor oil tree--the impications are astonishing!). Then God sends a worm to kill the tree. Well, that sets Jonah off! "How dare you kill my tree?" he challanges the creator. "I'm so angry I could die...."

God simply reminds him that he is upset at the death of a tree he didn't plant or nurture and yet he doesn't see the value of saving all the people of the great city Ninivah...along with their cattle and beasts.

And the story ends. No resolution. Jonah simply left to ponder all that. There's no sequel either--no "Jonah II" or "Jonah: the next chapter", nothing like that. It's just Jonah, sitting under the bare branches of the dead tree, pondering.

What I want to do is use this blog to do simply that, ponder about things. I've been an Episcopal priest for over 30 years. I'm approaching a time to retire and I've got a lot of pondering left to do--about God, about the church, about religion, about life and death and everything involved in that. Before the big fish swallowed me up and carried me to my own Nineva (ordination in the Episcopal Church) I had intended a vastly different life. I was going to write "The Great American Novel" for starters and get a Ph.D. in American Literature and disappear into some small liberal arts college, most likely in the Mid-Atlantic states and teach people like me--rural people, Appalachians and southerners, simple people, deep thinkers though slow talkers...lovely for all that--to love words and write words themselves.

God (I suppose, though I even ponder that...) had other ideas and I ended up spending the lion's share of my priesthood in the wilds of two cities in Connecticut (of all places) among tribes so foreign to me I scarcly understood their language and whose customs confounded me. And I found myself often among people (The Episcopal Cult) who made me axious by their very being. Which is why I stuck to urban churches, I suppose--being a priest in Greenwich would have sent me into some form of I would have driven them to hypertension at the least.

I am one who 'ponders' quite a bit and hoped this might be a way to 'ponder in print' for anyone else who might be leaning in that direction to read.

Ever so often, someone calls my bluff when I go into my "I'm just a boy from the mountains of West Virginia" persona. And I know they're right. I've lived too long among the heathens of New England to be able to avoid absorbing some of their alien customs and ways of thinking. Plus, I've been involved in too much education to pretend to be a rube from the hills. But I do, from time to time, miss that boy who grew up in a part of the world as foreign as Albania to most people, where the lush and endless mountains pressed down so majestically that there were few places, where I lived, that were flat in an area wider than a football field. That boy knew secrets I am only beginning, having entered my sixth decade of the journey toward the Lover of Souls, to remember and cherish.

My maternal grandmother, who had as much influence on me as anyone I know, used to say--"Jimmy, don't get above your raisin'". I probably have done that, in more ways that I'm able to recognize, but I ponder that part of me--buried deeply below layer after layer of living (as the mountains were layer after layer of long-ago life).

Sometimes I get a fleeting glimpse of him, running madly into the woods that surrounded him on all sides, spending hours seeking paths through the deep tangles of forest, climbing upward, ever upward until he found a place to sit and look down on the little town where he lived--spread out like a toy village to him--so he could ponder, alone and undisturbed, for a while.

When I was in high school, I wrote a regular colemn for the school newspaper call "The Outsider". As I ponder my life, I realize that has been a constant: I've always felt just beyond the fringe wherever I was. I've watched much more than I've participated. And I've pondered many things.

So, what I've decided to do is sit here on the hillside for a while, beneath the ruins of the castor oil tree and ponder somemore. And, if you wish, share my ponderings with you--whoever you are out there in cyber-Land.

Two caveates: I'm pretty much a Luddite when it comes to technology--probably smart enough to learn about it but never very interested, so this blog is an adventure for me. My friend Sandy is helping me so it shouldn't be too much of a mess. Secondly, I've realized writing this that there is no 'spell check' on the blog. Either I can get a dictionary or ask your forgiveness for my spelling. I'm a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa ENGLISH major (WVU '69) who never could conquer spelling all the words I longed to write.

I supose I'll just ask your tolerance.

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walking on the edge

Every once in a while I come across something I want to share. This is from the monthly  column I wrote for the St. John's, Waterbury newsletter. The newsletter was called "The Outrider" because in it's early history priests from St. John's would 'ride out' to smaller parishes (on horses first, I'm sure) to do Sunday services. My column was "The View from above the Close" because my office windows looked out on the Close ('enclosure'--Episcopal-speak again!) that was the yard of the church. And beyond that the Waterbury Green. I am a dedicated window gazer and would look out those windows a lot....Any way, just came across this and think it stands the test of time--15 years or so....


                                    Walking to the edge, then walking off…

            In my sermon on September 9, I used a quote Jennifer Hornbeck, St. John’s seminarian in 2000-2001 wrote to me.  Jen neglected to tell me who said or wrote the quote—though I intend to ask her the next time she calls—but so many people asked me about it I felt I should include it in this month’s VIEW.

                                    “When we walk on the edge
                                        of all the light we have
                                     and step off into the unknown,
                                      we must believe that one
                                        of two things will happen:
                                    There will be something solid
                                         for us to stand on
                                      we will be taught to fly.”

            Walking on the edge is an apt metaphor for the life of faith.  We are called by God out to the margins both to touch and be touched by those ‘on the margins’  of life and to risk walking off into what is unknown.
             I used to have a poster on the wall of my office in my first parish. The poster was a beautiful picture of sailboats at anchor in a harbor surrounded by beautiful hillsides. The water was glassy still. The sailboats were new, well built, shining in the sun.  The words on the poster said: SHIPS IN A HARBOR ARE SAFE, BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT SHIPS ARE FOR….
            The Life of Faith calls us to the open seas, to unknown waters, to encounter storms and risk the wrath of the winds.  But what we want—deep down—is to rest at anchor. What we want is to “be safe….”  Stepping off the edge requires courage and trust and faith.

            I have come more and more lately to believe that God is calling each of us as Christians to "walk on the edge…then walking off” in our lives. To be Jesus People we must live with risk and commitment and adventure. The tricky part of it all is that we aren’t all called to the same edge.  You may be called to a vastly different “edge” of your life than the person sitting beside you on Sunday morning. You may be called to take your moral stand into the political realm—fighting for some noble cause.  Or you may be called to endure with patience and courage some illness in your life or the life of someone you love.  Or you may be called to stand up against racism or discrimination in your workplace. Or you may be called to sacrifice higher pay and a more prestigious job in order to spend enough time with your children. Or you may be called to befriend someone who needs your support even though it is costly to you in terms of time and energy. Or you may be called to make a change in your personal habits in order to enhance the lives of those who love you.  Or you may be called to resist gain that you could achieve by “bending the rules”.  Or you may be called to give more generously—even sacrificially—to help those in need.

            I could go on and on. Each of us must discover the edge God is calling us as a person to walk off of into the unknown. But I know this in a powerful and profound way—each of us is being called, in some important way, to ‘take a risk’ for God.  It is simply the nature of the Christian life.
            Every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. and Wednesday at noon, the Eucharist is celebrated in the Chapel of St. James next to the north wall of the church.  The readings we use come from a remarkable little book called Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Week after week, year after year, we recall those who are on the Calendar of Saints of the Episcopal Church.  All those folks walked to the edge and then off into the unknown. Many of them gave up their freedom, their security, even their lives for their faith.  Not all of us are called to be martyrs—in fact, only a scant few of all Christians are called to that ultimate risk.  But we are all called to the ‘edge’.  And we must all believe that when we finally accept that call, one of two things will happen. Either there will be “something solid” to stand on or “we will be taught to fly….”

            Listen for God’s call. Seek out the ‘edge’ of life God is calling you to. And have faith—your foot will hit something solid or God will teach you to fly….



Friday, April 28, 2017

This post is X rated (read at you're own risk!!!!)

I was talking to someone the other day about being 70 (which unfortunately, I am).

Well, not 'unfortunately' as I ponder it. Better being 70 than dying before then....

Anyway, he said there are three unbreakable rules about being this age for a male.

1) Never waste an erection.

2) Never get in a car without peeing first.

3) Never imagine it's just a fart you feel.

Stuff below the waist takes on new meaning for a man of a certain age.

The brain functioning may still be fine at 70, but stuff "down there" is getting iffy....

How true. How true.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

some people read this

I get stats on what people are reading on my blog and inexplicably four people looked at this yesterday from four years ago.

Thought I'd share it again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jimmy Bradley--FBI agent

OK, so I found my ID card from first grade from the Anawalt City Schools. About 480 people lived in Anawalt, so it was hardly a 'city'. But students were drawn from other areas so there were about 20 kids in each of the classes.

I have a crew cut in the picture (imagine me with a crew cut!) and a tee shirt that is so busy and silly my parents should have been ashamed to dress me in it for a school picture. And my eyes look weirdly out of focus because, the truth be known, I couldn't see worth a damn. I had 250/20 vision in one eye and 270/20 vision in the other. I don't remember which was which, but it didn't matter, in some way I was almost legally blind and no one knew until I went to school and couldn't see the black board (and they were 'black' back then) and I thought I wasn't cut out for school and my parents took me to an optometrist who was amazed I hadn't walked in front of a car or something--though there weren't that many cars in Anawalt back then. (The same thing happened to our son, Josh, though Bern {who was blind as me as a child} and I figured out he couldn't see shit and had him tested by the time he was five.)

It's from 1953-54, those wondrous Eisenhower years when not much happened to threaten us and the Interstates were beginning to be built. God bless Ike, wherever he is. He's part of that small cadre of Republicans, mostly from his era, that I have warm feelings about. Everitt Dirkson, Margaret Chase Smith, Ed Brooke, folks like that. Good folks. God bless them all.

I wrote my name on the name line in first grade cursive as 'Jimmy Bradley' though the 'l-e-y' ran over onto my picture. On the 'Issued by" line (about as mysterious a term as calling Anawalt a 'city') I wrote in capital letters ".F.B.I." with that odd period before the F.

I stare at that picture and that torturous cursive writing (though it is at least as good as my handwriting today thought I never write in cursive--Zaner/Blosser you were never kind to me!) and wonder how I was ever that young. And how I got so old.

I'm 66 years old. I've outlived my mother by 3 years though I still have 17 to go to catch my father. I have a son who is 38 and a daughter who is 35. I have three granddaughters 7, 7 and 4: what the hell happened between that budding FBI agent and me today.

Maybe I should get a crew cut--which would be solid white--and some gel and try to get in touch with my FBI inner child.

Who knew I'd live this long. Oh, I'm glad I have and look forward to catching and passing my father. Seeing those girls graduate from college or get married or even have me a great-grand-child. I feel about 37, I think. But when I look in the mirror I simply am astonished.

"Who is this old guy in my body?" I wonder.

Yet I love who I am right now. I wouldn't trade it for any of the years before.

But I sit and ponder all the 'me's' I've been and know I love the 'me' I am right now better than any of the previous 'me's'.

That's good, right?

I think so. And I rejoice every day I wake up into the 'me' I am right now.....

Hope you do as well.....

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sleeping in

I slept in this morning, Wednesday, until 11 a.m. I often sleep until 9 or 9:30 since I retired. I heard a discussion of sleep on NPR the other day and I am a champ--9 hours or more.

But last night our Puli, Bela, was having problems. He hadn't had an afternoon poop, for one thing. because he hates the rain. Another thing is Bern found some shredded aluminum wraps from chocolates on the floor of the kitchen. We have no idea how he got to them unless some fell off the table.

He was endlessly restless and anxious all night. Bern even went about midnight to sleep in another room. I stayed up until 3 am or so because he wouldn't go to sleep. Then at 6:30 Bern fed him and took him out and he came back to bed until 11.

God, we love this awful dog! He is awful. He only trusts about 20 people on the face of the earth. He would bite you if you came to our front door. Our hospitality had been limited for 12 years by his protectiveness.

And we love him so, so, so much.

Bern, I think, loves him because he's bad. I love him because I know few people could. That may be, under scrutiny, the same love.

He's been fine today, so no Vet intervention. He's 12, upper edge of life span for a Puli. But deeply, deeply loved ( I think I told you that already).

The day seemed sort of short. Bela's afternoon walk came quickly after lunch with a dear friend. And his evening pee just happened and it's bed time and I've only been awake 11 and a half hours!

But last night was so full of drama, I'm ready for bed. And he is too, I'm sure.

Lordy, Lordy, we love this dog....

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Gray daze

I know there's been some sun in there recently, but the last couple of weeks in Connecticut have been a haze of gray and mist and fog and drizzle and rain (and if the weather reports are right, maybe even thunder storms tonight.....)

The average annual rainfall in cities around Connecticut is between 47 and 54 inches, less inland and more on the coast. I just looked up the average rainfall in Seattle, Washington--known far and wide for rain--and it is 37.9 inches. It just rains on more days out there than back here. And this year they are already above the average annual amount.

But the truth is this: on average more rain falls on me than on the home of Coffee.

I don't resent the rain. Bern's yard is beyond belief with more flowers than I ever remember in 28 years here! But I do long for the sun. I long for it greatly.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Easter II

The second Sunday of Easter sometimes (every 3 years) brings the reading of Thomas both doubting and believing. I love that lesson from John.

Today I preached about Thomas, how he is so much like us--doubting and believing at the same time--and how he, of all the people Jesus encountered, acknowledged who he was when he said, "My Lord and my GOD!"

I was going to try to recreate that sermon here but instead found one I did 8 years ago to share instead. Today I did talk about how intimate and lovely it was that 'Jesus breathed on them'.

Here it is.


          OK, let’s get this straight—the doors were locked and Jesus just showed up. That’s weird enough, nevermind that he had been dead and wasn’t dead anymore. Already we have two confounding facts that have to make us re-think what we are convinced ‘reality’ is about.
          That’s what the season of Easter is for, afterall—to make us reconsider the nature of ‘reality’.

          But let’s leave the ‘reality’ bending and altering events for another time. Let’s concentrate on what Jesus ‘did’ in that far-away, long-ago upper room.
          He breathed on them.
          That’s what John tells us and what we are left to wrestle with—after showing up unexpectedly in a locked room, this man who everyone knew was dead, “breathed on them”.

          Let’s do an experiment. Let’s notice, for a few moments, that we are breathing……
          Try counting your breaths—up to four and then count up to four again….

          Astonishing, isn’t it? We just breathe—or, perhaps more accurately, breath breathes us….We don’t have to think about it most of the time, it just happens—when you’re not paying attention, when you sleep, always—your breath breathes you.
          And Jesus ‘breathed’ on them….Just like that….He must have leaned in close and let them feel his breath. What an intimate moment.  How often do we get to ‘feel’ the breath of another on our skin? We feel it with babies and small children, certainly, holding them near; with lovers and partners from time to time; with people in hospital beds, straining for breath when we lean in close to kiss them and say good-bye, that we’re going home for the night or that we know their last breath is near.

          My God…I mean that literally, “My God, what a gift to have that polite distance between us at all times violated so we might feel the breath, the very ‘life’ of another on our faces.
          I toyed with the idea of having you ‘breathe on’ the person beside you or near you…but that would be so uncomfortable, so awkward, so embarrassing to us because we value the space between us and other people. That’s really ok. I pull back when people get in my personal space.

And, there is this: there is no “personal” space with God. God is right against us, all around us, ever close to us. Breathing on us….Breathing on us….Breathing on us….

There is a hymn that invites that holy and astonishing intimacy with God.
      Hymn 508….”Breathe on me breath of God,/fill me with Life anew/
          That I might love what thou dost love,/and do what thou wouldst do.
          Breathe on me breath of God/until my heart is pure,
          Until with thee I will one will, to do or to endure.
          Breathe on my breath of God/until I am wholly thine/
          Until this earthly part of me/breathes with thy fire divine.
          Breathe on me breath of God,/so shall I never die,’
          But live with thee the perfect life/of thy eternity.”        

That is our legacy, our inheritance, our indescribable intimacy with God. That is what we give to these children today. Marked as Christ’s own forever.

When you breathe, remember this, God is breathing on you as well…..  

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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.