Monday, December 31, 2018

have a new year like mine

Today I was thinking about my cousin, Mejol.

What I was thinking is what I would say about her.

And this is how it would go: "I have no brothers and sisters, but I am not an 'only child'--I had Mejol."

Mejol is 6 years older than me and my parents had adopted her as a sort of child of theirs before I was born. Mejol wasn't an orphan--she had a mother (my mother's sister, Georgia) and a brother (Bradley) named for my father. But her father, the other "Jim" on my mother's side (several more "Jim's" on my father's side) had what would now be known as PT SD. from being in the navy in the Pacific in WWII. He wandered away a lot and spent his last years in a VA hospital in Virginia.

But Mom and Dad were childless and growing older (in those days, 38 and 41 were 'older') so they had Mejol be a surrogate

So, when I came along, Mejol was still around and was at our home a lot as we were at hers. She went on vacations with us to the Smokey Mountains for several years. (Why Appalachians went to the mountains for vacations is an unanswered question.)

She corrected my spelling all through school--I still can't spell and thank God for spell-check on the computer except that no matter how many times I tell it to 'ignor' Mejol's name, it won't.

She also, when I was 12 or so, locked me in her room with a copy of Catcher in the Rye and an album by Bob Dylan. That afternoon literally changed my life forever. It drug me out of just being a boy from the coal fields that I had been, to something else. Better or worse, I'll leave to you--but, believe you me, I was never the same after Salinger and Dylan.

I talked with her for almost an hour tonight on the phone. She still keeps me from being 'an only child'.

I love her so. She has molded and formed me in more ways than I can tell you.

For example, she is the only other person on either side of my family that is an Episcopalian!

My journey to the Episcopal Church was made possible because she made the journey first.

Imagine how profound that is to me.

I hope you think about something this New Year that formed and shaped you and made you who you are the way Mejol did for me.

That would be my New Year's gift to you.

Happy, Happy One!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Man ("-impulator") of the people

So, 800,000 federal employees are not getting paid (though many are working without pay) because the President is being pissie about his 'wall' that not only won't be built, CAN'T be built because it would require incredible purchases of private land and destruction of several environmentally endangered places and (besides all that) there are simply areas along the southern boarder where a wall simply couldn't be built.

(That's a long sentence, I know. And probably not correctly punctuated. But I don't think or write straight when I'm thinking about all this.)

And then, yesterday he signed an executive order freezing the salaries of ALL federal workers except the military!

Several trite sayings come to mind: "adding insult to injury"; "pouring salt on the wound" and "flogging a dead horse", among others.

Retired 4 star general McChrrystal said today that the President was "dishonest and immoral".

And I won't argue with that.

Enough is enough.

Come on Robert Mueller, get stuff going.

The new Democratic House is set and ready to help you....

"The time has come," the Walrus said.....There are many things to bring out of the shadows into the light of truth and decency and honor.

Let's get going.

{Oh, as an afterthought, our Commander-in-Chump (er, Chief) flat out lied to the troops he visited in the Middle East over the holidays. He told them he gave them a 10% raise when it was really around 2% and said they hadn't had a raise in years when they've gotten one every year and some higher than his in the Obama years. Isn't lying to Americans in service to their country just damn wrong?}


Friday, December 28, 2018

church bells and jeans

We live in hearing distance of two church bells--First Congregational Church and St. Peter's Episcopal Church. They toll the hours.

There is something comforting and centering about hearing the church bells each hour.

Sort of like the pair of jeans I wear almost every day for some time. I don't wear them when I wash them, every two weeks or so.

There's a split at the knee, in the inside stitching that will need to be sewn sooner or later. But they fit perfectly and are oh, so soft and I feel comfortable and centered wearing them.

Things that both comfort and center are things to be appreciated and thankful for. Things that comfort and center are blessings.

Bern does that for me, most of all. Our years together have not always been perfect--but in great measure they have been comforting and centering.

Our new dog, Bridget, does that better than any dog we've ever had. She is so easy and sweet and good you just feel good around her.

Bacon does it for me too--if not to crisp and not too rare.

Birdsong as well--not much this time of year in Connecticut.

Pinot Grigio does too.

I'll give you a blessing: take ten minutes and think of the things that give you comfort and make you feel centered.

And give thanks for each of them.

(You're welcome....)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

I'm surprised how much it hurts....

In the next 24 hours, there is a huge possibility that Sears will be no more.

Lots of big box stores have been going out of business--but Sears? Or, as I remember it, Sears and Roebuck...that's a whole different thing.

Most of my clothes and Christmas presents came from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. It was a staple at my childhood home. And there was a Sears store in Bluefield, across two mountains from where I grew up. We'd go there often.

Sears was Amazon but in a catalog, not on line.

And the out of date catalogs were in my Grandmother Jones' outhouse to use like toilet paper--not pleasant as I remember it, and not very effective.

That outhouse was a two seat outhouse though I never used it with anyone else and couldn't imagine doing that. But it did mean you had twice as much poop and pee to put in the ground before you had to dig a new hole and move the outhouse. And there was, besides the Sears catalog, lye to throw in after you were done to dilute the smell.

But truly, though I visited many Sears stores over my lifetime, it was the Sears and Roebuck catalog that I thought of when I heard the company had one day left before total bankruptcy. The Sears in Meriden closed several years ago and I've never been in a store since. Yet the end of Sears surprises me how much it hurts.

Childhood memories are precious. And one of mine is dying.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Going to Brooklyn

John volunteered to drive, which made my heart leap up! I hate driving to Brooklyn. I'd rather drive to Columbus, Ohio than Brooklyn.

Eleanor was asleep when we got there, after an uneventful two hours.

But she woke up and we gave her our presents--about 40 cut-able pieces of food and all these pans to cook food in.

She spent over an hour tearing the Velcro that holds the pieces together with a toy knife and putting the pieces in pans. She wanted no help. thank you! And very few suggestions, thank you very much.

Then we went to lunch at a bar less than a block away--nothing you need is far away in Brooklyn.

Mimi started feeling bad and retreated to their 13th floor apartment. I had, on a whimsy, a fried oyster sandwich and fries. The sandwich was amazing as were the fries.

Then we drove back to New Haven, where John lives, to pick up our car. The trip back was a typical Brooklyn to CT drive--40 minutes longer than the GPS had initially promised.

Tim and Mimi were great (besides Mimi's feeling bad) and Eleanor was, as always, amazing! So cute, so smart, so fun.

There was a woman on the street where Tim and Mimi live, with her head on the pavement, though her feet were on the ground. She was there when we went to the bar and had moved maybe five feet when we came back. Bern and I had seen her before. She's a local. John hadn't. He's a psychologist for the VA and has worked in several mental hospitals and had never seen anything like her.

He and Bern talked about her in creeping traffic for nearly an hour.

I almost smacked them both.

This is a woman that needs to be in an institution that we, in this country, have chosen not to maintain because of the cost. Nothing short of 24 hour care would help her--but we let poor folks like her, with serious mental health problems, be on the streets of Brooklyn and most any city of any size.

Children can be held, against their will, in detention, away from their parents, from Central America but a clearly disturbed woman can't be housed for her own good.

Make American Great Again! Give me a break....

Make America Sane Again! should be our goal.

God help  us!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A quiet Christmas

For the first time in 43 Christmases, Bern and I were on our own.

Josh and Cathy and the Bradley girls called this morning--9 p.m. Christmas Day in Taiwan--to say Merry Christmas.

Mimi and Tim are in Brooklyn, where we'll go tomorrow along with John Anderson, who, by the way, was our only guest at Christmas dinner. We also went to a Christmas Eve party at John's apartment with 8 close friends. My Christmas Eve service was at 4 so Bern and I could arrive together.

Pretty odd to open presents alone after 4+ decades of having someone around.

I write something for Bern for Christmas and she makes me a piece of art. Her art this year was about our 13 year, empty nest dog, Bela and had three pictures of him along with decoration and words. One was him in the snow--which he loved until his last winter--one on his back on our back deck and one on a couch, looking right into the camera. We both loved him so, so much--as bad as he was, and he WAS bad! We mourned him for six months before getting Bridget from the rescue place called Half-way Home in North Haven.

For Bern I wrote "Bridget's Diary" from the day we got her until December 18 when she finally knew 'there was no "next place",' and she was HOME!

As odd as it was to be alone on Christmas, it was fine.

We are very at home just being here alone.

Bern and I have been 'a couple' since I was 17 and she was 14--54 years! So we know how to be alone together.

I hope your Christmas was as peaceful and quiet and lovely as ours was.

Be well and stay well in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

I need to write about it

I am not a private person much of the time. My Meyers/Briggs always puts me in the middle between extrovert and introvert. I love my time alone but my professional life as an Episcopal priest has made vast demands on extroversion.

So, here's the thing. I had my prostrate removed 12 years ago and had a month of radiation after the surgery.

So, for all that time, my PSA in blood tests has been, understandably, 0.01 or so.

But this winter my PSA was 4.5.

So I went to my urologist, Dr. Wong (who looks a lot like my daughter in law, Cathy Chen, which makes her examining my private parts and putting her finger up my butt rather disconcerting).

Anyway. I gave blood for a more detailed test before I left the hospital where Dr. Wong practices and I will have several scans in the new year and she will look in my bladder--if you've never had that done, I won't explain it because it would freak you out--on January 18.

She can't explain the PSA, she tells me, until she has the tests.

But she did ask if I had any kidney problems or bone pain (no and no) and told me that one possibility is after all this time the prostrate cancer spread, and where it usually goes is to the bones or the kidneys.

I had a parishioner in Charleston, West Virginia who died from bone cancer and I can tell you that is a horrible way to go.

But Dr. Wong told me not to worry until all the tests are back and that there could be a much more mundane reason my PSA was high--like the blood test wasn't accurate. So the blood today will answer that.

I must say, I'm not ready to worry about the bad possibilities because I'm dreading her looking into my bladder on the 18th of January.

If you're a man and never had that done, I'm not going to tell you about it. It involves a light and a camera that has to go into your bladder via.....Oh, I'll spare you that.

You don't want to know....

Sermon last

I can't believe I haven't shared this, but I searched the over 2200 posts as best I could and couldn't find it. It is my last sermon after 21 years at St. John's in Waterbury, CT. I love it.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

I warned you....

I told you I would break my silence about President He Who Not Be Named and it wouldn't be pretty.

My friend, Charles, handed me this post when he told me someone had told him there is a Psalm for every moment and he had found the Psalm for our President.

It's Psalm 52 and it goes like this, in part....

You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness*
 against the godly all day long?

You plot ruin; your tongue is like a sharpened razor*
 O worker of decedption.

You love evil more than good*
 and lying more than speaking the truth.

You love all words that hurt,*
 O you deceitful tongue.

Oh, that God would demolish you utterly,*
 topple you and snatch you from your dwelling,
 and root you out of the land of the living!

The righteous shall see and tremble,*
 and they shall laugh at him, saying,

"This is the one who did not take God for a refuge,*
 but trusted in great wealth
 and relied upon wickedness."

Good job, Charles, you and the Psalmist nailed it.

Every word rings true about this President....


Monday, December 17, 2018

not a bad law

One of the Scandinavian countries (where most of the wisdom in the world--it seems to me--resides) has passed a law requiring me to 'sit' to pee in public toilets.

As one who uses public restrooms (which is what we mild-mannered Americans call a place to leave bodily waste) I applaud Norway (I think it was) for this law.

How they will enforce it is a reasonable question, but I just think people up there in those cold, dark countries (these days by any rate) understand that 'obeying the law' is what good people do. So, I bet there is next to no pee on the floor of those bathrooms.

I may even start doing it at home. My aim isn't what it used to be and it might be better to never have to wipe stray urine up....

(I've given you about two weeks of Trump-free posts. So. I'm working up to coming back about the President by talking about "obeying the law" and human waste.

The President will be back under the castor oil tree next post. Get ready for it! There will be stuff to wipe  up when I'm through....)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Funny thing about the cold

I took Brigit out the other night after 3 or 4 glasses of wine. It was 18 degrees and by the time we walked and she did her business and we came back, I felt pretty drunk.

It reminded me of our time in college at the Red Cellar, drinking beer in the winter and then walking home to Boreman Hall or 69 Richwood Avenue (what an address). It would be one of the Mike;s--Lawless or Miano--and Malcolm Alt and sometimes someone else.

We'd feel fine until we stepped out in the freezing temperature.

How we made it home at all is a wonder to me!

A little drunk became staggering, almost falling over drunk.

When I graduated from High School I'd never tasted alcohol. Hard to believe, I know, but I was a 'good boy' and my mother's family were tee-totalers and so, I never drank.

The summer between high school and college I visited my favorite cousin, Mejol, in New Orleans, of all places and she took me to Al Hirt's club and got me throwing up drunk.

I thank her for that. I needed to learn.

I drink only white wine now and sometimes red wine if there is no white.

I drink beer only when either Tim or Josh, beer drinkers both. But I'm a wineo, not a beer drinker or anything 'hard'.

But beware of drinking much of anything and going out into the cold.

Take it from me.

I know a thing or two about that.

Monday, December 10, 2018

An 'old' Advent II sermon

I preached this, as you can see, 17 years ago. The Gospel was Matthew 3.1-12. I preached Sunday without notes and forgot to try to capture it that evening and it is now in the ether....

Advent II—December 9, 2001

          Suddenly, without warning, the Baptist appears from the wilderness.
          Out of the desert, out of the smoldering embers of the Hope of the people of Israel, out of the fading memory of prophets long dead…suddenly, without warning—there is John….
          There was nothing new or unusual about baptism in Jewish practice. In fact, “ritual washing” was a part of every Jew’s daily life. Each time a devout Jew came in contact with any unclean thing, ritual washing was necessary. And since first century Israel was occupied by the foreign, Gentile Roman army the Jews could not avoid “unclean things”.  “Baptism” was necessary to wash away that uncleanness—that  external and ritual stain of the Gentile world.
          BAM! John turned the washing inside out. His washing—his baptism—was for the forgiveness of sin. His water wasn’t to wash away the outer contamination—John came to wash away  the inner darkness and death from the mind and heart and soul.
          And he came just as people were losing hope. It had been 400 years since a prophet had been heard in Israel. For four centuries there had been no VOICE heard in the land and none to answer the Prophet’s call.
          BAM!  After generations of emptiness, a Prophet came to Israel. After centuries of silence, a Prophet’s Voice was heard in the Land. He was Isaiah. He was Ezekiel. He was Elijah.
          Suddenly, without warning, John Baptist appears.
          The common people streamed out to meet him. All those in Jerusalem and Judea who had longed for the Voice of a Prophet rushed to him to be baptized in the River Jordan. He was irresistible to them. He spoke powerfully into their listening. He called them to bare their souls and unburden their hearts. He called them to Forgiveness, to Grace, to the Love and Healing of God. The holy river’s waters flowed over them—restoring them, renewing them, giving them vitality and Life.
          So far, so good. But then some Pharisees and Sadducees showed up and things got ugly.
          “You brood of Vipers!” John raged at the Pharisees and Sadducees. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

          This is what we must remember about the Pharisees and Sadducees—they weren’t bad people. In fact, the conventional wisdom of the Jewish world in the first century considered the Pharisees and Sadducees to be “good people.” The Pharisees and Sadducees devoutly studied the Torah, scrupulously obeyed the Laws of Moses and faithfully performed the rituals of their faith. The Pharisees and Sadducees talked the talk and walked the walk of Judaism. In ways too uncomfortable to reflect on deeply, the Pharisees and Sadducees were “the good Episcopalians”  of their day and time.
          They said their prayers, kept their pledge up to date, helped with parish functions and came regularly to services. Good “church folks”, as my Grandmother would have said—that’s what the Pharisees and Sadducees were. So what was it about them that so profoundly angered John the Baptist?
          This is what he said to them: Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 
          Here’s what I think John’s anger is all about….The Pharisees and Sadducees had decided that the “outward” and “visible” aspects of being faithful and following God were enough.  So, they said their prayers, kept their pledge up to date, helped with parish functions and came regularly to services—and they believed that was ENOUGH.
          John Baptist had other ideas.
          John came out of the wilderness to talk about the hearts and souls and minds of God’s people. John appeared, suddenly and without warning, to call us to more than “outward show”.  John came to suggest something audacious and astonishing.  John came to tell us WE NEED TO FALL IN LOVE WITH GOD.
          Advent, it seems to me, is the season of romance between our souls and the Heart of God.  In the Christian year, it is Advent and not Spring that is the season of “falling in love”.

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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.