Monday, December 30, 2019

Happy New Year!

Good friends in New Haven have a New Year's Eve party we used to go to every year.

We don't any more.

We don't do New Year's Eve.

I don't want to drive with lots of folks with more than enough drink on the road.

Besides, Bern goes to be at 9 most nights and I go before 11.

We never watch the ball drop.

We're in bed--maybe reading instead of being asleep, but in bed none-the-less.

But Happy New Year to you, however you observe it.


Hope for the best....

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Great Day for sports--for me!

West Virginia University, my undergraduate school, was ranked 22nd in the nation (not shabby!) going into Cleveland to play Ohio State #2 to Gonzaga. WVU won 67-59, holding OS to 22 points in the second half after trailing by 9.

Then the Chicago Bears (my favorite NFL team) beat arch-rival, Minnesota Vikings. I've loved the Bears since childhood, greatly admiring their uniforms. Minnesota is going to the playoffs and the Bears aren't, but the Vikings are going on with a black eye from the Bears.

Plus, the Patriots (my most hated NFL team) lost to the lowly Miami Dolphins. New England is going to the play-offs but not before being beaten by a team that ended the season 5-ll!

Why do I hate the Patriots so?

Bill Belichek, their coach, was supposed to coach the New York Giants but broke his contract to go to New England.

Plus, Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback is just too arrogant and successful and good looking and married to a model to like at all....

A very good day for me, football and basketball wise.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Went to Brooklyn and back today

Went down to Brooklyn to see Mimi and Tim and Eleanor and 'give them their presents.

Josh, Cathy and the three Bradley girls were with us in Cheshire for the Eve and Day and Day After.

For the first time ever, I hit 60 mph on the New York Expressways to Brooklyn. The traffic in CT was worse!

It was great to see them--we love them so!

They live in a neighborhood of Brooklyn that boarders on Williamsburg so you see lots of Hasidic Jews with their fur hats and black clothes as you make your way back to the expressways.

On one block we saw several scantily dressed blond women (it wasn't very cold today) jogging past families of Jews all dressed in heavy black clothes. Quite a contrast of cultures.

The drive, back and forth in one day, tightens up my knees.

But it was worth it. Mimi and Tim and Eleanor live on the 13th floor of a lovely high-rise. The building doesn't even try to hide the unlucky 13th floor by calling it 14th.

Eleanor is a little over 3 !/2 and is into Barbie's. A little early, but she is exceptional.

Last year I gave everyone red Make America Great Again hats (JUST KIDDING! I gave them blue WE'RE STILL HERE hats designed by Michael Moore and Bill Mahar.

This year I gave Tee-shirts.



Hope you had a great Christmas with those you love, as we did.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Christmas sermon past

Just a sermon from the past for your Christmas present.


          Do you know what “Beth-le-hem” means?
          The literal translation of that word from Hebrew into English is House of Bread.  Bethlehem means “HOUSE OF BREAD.”
          So Jesus was born in the house of bread.
          The Child of Bethlehem—the House of Bread—grew into the Man of Jerusalem. And “Je-ru-salem” means, literally, “The City of Peace”. So, the Child of the House of Bread became the Man of the City of Peace.
          That’s the problem with Christmas: we know how the story ends. We cannot linger long by the stable because we know that the story of that little child born in Bethlehem will end, years later on a cross in Jerusalem.
          We are the People who don’t want to know “how the story ends.”
          We want to find out for ourselves about the ending. We want to be surprised. We want the pleasure of hearing or reading or seeing the story without knowing how it ends. “Don’t ruin the ending for me,” I’ve said to people countless times. I don’t want to “be told” how the story ends. I want to discover “the ending” for myself….”spoiler alert!” has become part of our culture's 'familiar sayings'.
          But we know this story all too well. We have all heard the Angel’s song before. We have all known the shepherds’ wonder before. We have all gone to Bethlehem before to see this thing that has happened before. There’s the mother and her newborn babe, and Joseph in the background. And, more importantly, we know the end of the story that began in Bethlehem. The story ends on a bleak and brutal hillside in Jerusalem—that Baby, grown to manhood—hangs from a cross between two thieves, suffering, bleeding, dying.
          We’ve heard it all before. Old news. No better than reruns late at night.
          So where’s the wonder, where’s the magic, where’s the mystery of it all?
          Imagine this—you don’t know what’s going to happen next, you don’t know about Jerusalem and the Cross. Imagine you don’t know the story. Imagine it’s all happening right now, for the first time. Imagine this…and LISTEN.
          It gets cold in the Judean desert. Not like the cold of Connecticut—the cold there is surprising and sharper, more distinct, because the days are so much warmer than here in mid-winter. So, imagine that kind of cold—the cold that suddenly chills you to the bone and leaves you weak, vulnerable, helpless.
          Imagine the desert’s cold. Then imagine this, a baby is being born.
          That is miracle and magic enough. A baby born in the cold on nearly the darkest day of the year. A baby born hungry and chilled, wrapped hurriedly in rough blankets and handed to his mother. The mother is almost a child herself—a young, unsophisticated teenager—and she takes the child and holds it to her breast.
          Miracle and magic.  But not the whole story.
          That child, in most ways, is just like any other baby—vulnerable, helpless, totally dependent—but in one way, that Child is different, unlike any other baby ever born.
          That child, mother’s milk running down his cheek, cold and hungry—that Child is God.
          Here’s where the story of that magic, miraculous baby—as magic and miraculous as every baby—turns weird.  That Baby is God.
          This is the part of the story we miss and don’t hear and don’t fully appreciate because we know it so well: THAT BABY IS GOD.     
          This is the Eve of the Incarnation. What we celebrate this night is not just the magic and miracle of birth and new life and joy—we celebrate something hopelessly profound, utterly mysterious, totally irrational.
          Tonight we celebrate that God—the great God Almighty, the Creator of all that was or is or ever can be, the one who flung the stars into infinite space and formed this earth, our island home and made us from imagination and hopefulness—that God…the Holy Otherness…the “Being-ness” that brought all else into “being”…that God took on flesh, the Divine and Ineffable and Eternal ONE took on Humanity and Carnality and Mortality.
          If we didn’t know how the story ends, we would stop believing the story right here, right now. It’s too much to bear, too fantastic, too unbelievable, too irrational….And yet, in spite of all that, it is TRUE.
          And when God took on human flesh and became one of us, all humanity—each and every human being who ever lived or lives now or will someday live—each human being became a little HOLY. The magic and miracle runs both ways. When the HOLY ONE became HUMAN, all HUMANITY became a little HOLY.
          We tend to say that God is “omnipotent”—all knowing. But there WAS ONE THING God—who is Eternal Spirit—did not know. God did not know what it felt like to be mortal and have flesh. So God became a human child—to know hunger, know cold, know pain, know suffering, know death—just like we human beings know those things.
          But when God took on flesh and became a human being, God learned some other things from us. God learned how humans experience wonder and joy and excitement and hopefulness and love. From the flesh God took on, God learned love. God learned about love from Mary, who held him and nursed him and kept him safe. God learned about love from Joseph, who guarded him and cared for him and taught him. God learned about love from Jesus’ disciples love for him and the love of those Jesus taught and healed.
          Jesus—who is God incarnate—learned Love from human beings like us. The true meaning of the Incarnation is contained in what God learned from being human. And what God learned from taking on flesh was this—God learned how to love.
          I know this all sounds backward from the way we’ve been taught about it. In the breathtaking gospel I read from John tonight, it says “God so loved the world that he gave his only son….”  I know that’s the way we’ve been taught—that it was God’s LOVE that caused God to put on flesh in the first place. But the magic and miracle runs both ways. God DID put on human flesh because God LOVES us; and when he became human, God learned about “human love.”
          God loves in a different way that we love. There’s even a different word for God’s love in Greek. God’s love is always AGAPE in Greek. Agape is a pure, ultimate and unmotivated concern for another’s well being. That’s a kind of love human beings are incapable of feeling—and that’s because it’s not a “feeling” or an emotion at all.  Agape is more like a “philosophical position” than it’s like what we human beings would ever call “love”. Until God became a human being in the person of Jesus, God’s love was distant, detached and rather “passionless”.
          And human love is always full of “passion”. Whether it is a mother’s love for her children or a husband’s love for his wife or the erotic love between two lovers or the noble love of one’s companions and community and nation—whatever kind of “human love” we’re talking about—it is full of PASSION and messiness. Somehow, in becoming human, God learned that “passion” that caused  the Child of Bethlehem to grow into the Man of Jerusalem. Amen.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

I've only been doing this 37 years...

At the Christmas Eve service, we paused half-way through the opening hymn so I could go down by the creche and say the Collect of the Day. Then we finished the hymn.

During the Eucharist, the Collect of the Day precedes the first reading. "So I said, 'please be seated for the first reading.'"

The reader came up and read from Isaiah. During her reading, the organist came over and conferred with the choir. After the reading a member of the choir told me, "now the Gloria, Jim", not unkindly but with force.

I'd left out the Collect for Purity, the Gloria, a two verse hymn and 'the Collect of the Day', according to the program.

We'd already done the Collect of the Day, but I did leave out that other stuff.

And I've been doing this for 37 years. I apologized for messing up before I read the Gospel.

Am I losing it?

But then after singing "Silent Night" at the end of the service in a very dark church, I invited people to a time of silence to give thanks for all God's gifts, especially for the gift of the Christ Child.

"Let us give thanks," I said, expecting silence but instead the organist broke into the Recessional hymn! Walking in a dark church with a couple of steps, holding a candle is not fun, let me tell you.

Afterwards, the organist and I agreed we'd both messed up. And we forgave each other.

Christmas only comes once a year. How can you be expected to 'get it right'?

At least, that's my excuse....

Monday, December 23, 2019

Busy times

It always astonishes me that Advent, which should be a time of reflection and quiet, comes in the midst of the Christmas rush and hurry. Advent should be two or three weeks longer because the music is so wondrous for Advent! So, here's an Advent sermon for you.

Advent IV

I have a friend who is an art historian. She's especially interested in the depictions of Bible scenes by the Old Masters. She told me that the Annunciation—the story we heard today at least Joseph’s side of it—has more art than most any New Testament scene. She showed my dozens of reproductions and in most of them Gabriel is nothing short of terrifying, with huge wings hovering over Mary.
Advent 4

Little wonder he tells her, “don't be afraid” (which is in Luke). The Holy is more than we can take in when we encounter it. In the Old Testament, when 'the Holy' shows up, all the people 'fall on their faces'. I used to think, as a child, they were bowing down to worship—but now I know humans simply can't stay on the feet in the presence of an Angel—the Holy knocks them over! In the Pilgrim Holiness church where I grew up there was a hymn that said: “Come on Holy Spirit, but don't stay long!”

Those were people with a proper respect for 'the Holy'....

Let me tell you a story about my mother. She was a good and kind woman and this time each year she would buy some generic gifts—towel sets, salt and pepper shakers, things like that—and wrap them up with a gift tag and put them in her closet. So, if anyone showed up with an unexpected gift, she'd go to her closet, write their name on a gift and present it to them.

She couldn't accept a gift without returning one. On one level, that seems generous, but what it also spoke to was the fact that she didn't feel 'worthy' to receive without giving in return.

All of us, I suspect, have a little voice inside us that—in the face of an unexpected gift—whispers to us, 'you don't deserve this....”

At the ordination of a priest, the bishop asks the congregation: “Is he/she worthy?”

The people reply: “He is worthy! She is worthy!” And I assure you, that person knelling there hears the little voice whisper, “no you're not....”

As we ponder and reflect, waiting for the Child of Bethlehem, we would do well to reflect on the fact that the message of Christmas is this: we are worthy...We are worthy of the child. We are worthy of God's love. We are worthy of the Gift we cannot return.

We are worthy of God's 'agape'. 'Agape' is a Greek word that we translate 'love'. There are two other Greek words we translate as 'love'. They are 'Eros'...well, you can figure that out...and 'philos'--as in Philadelphia, the city of 'brotherly love'.

I'm going astray here for a moment to remind you of the Resurrection appearance in John's Gospel when Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me?”

He asks him three times and we don't know,  unless we're reading in Greek is that Jesus' question the first two times is this: “Peter, do you Agape  me?” And Peter answers both times, “Yes, Lord, you know I Philios you.” The third time Jesus asks, he too uses “philios” in his question.

It may just be that we humans are incapable of the Agape love that 'gives itself away' and asks nothing in return. God Agape's us and we can only Philios God. We are worthy of God's love, but our little voice of unworthiness won't allow us to return it in kind.

As the Darkness gathers, expecting the Light to come; as we wait for the child to be born, remember this: “you are worthy” to take his gift. Let him be born in your heart and simply give thanks..Amen.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Yea for Evangelicals!

The President took on Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine I've read but not agreed with, for an editorial by editor Mark Galli, which agreed with the House's impeachment and called for Evangelicals to agree on moral grounds.

I've been hard on the Evangelical movement lately. I've never agreed with them theologically, but I've respected them until over 90% of them voted for the current President who's private life has been the antithesis of Evangelical morals.

But the President accused Christianity Today of being left-wing and atheistic.

It was founded by Billy Graham! And though the Graham family is no longer directly involved with it, it is still very Evangelical. Believe me. I've read it.

The President in a tweet (how else?) said Christianity Today "wants to take your religion and your guns."

So, maybe some Evangelicals are waking up.

If they are it would make a big difference in the 2020 election.

I pray they are....if that doesn't sound to evangelical....

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A sad historic moment

This evening, for just the third time in American history, the House of Representatives impeached a president.

I think it need to happen--it was vital that it happen--but that doesn't mean it's not a somber, sad day in our history.

For eight hours or so, some of which I watched, some of which I listened to on NPR, Democrats made the case over and over and over again and Republicans said the same sad things they've been saying all along--not refuting the evidence, but saying the 'evidence' wasn't evidence.

The day is sad and somber because we are such a divided nation. "Unity" should be our goal, not division.

No President has ever been removed from office by impeachment. And this one won't be either--not because he shouldn't be, but because Republicans will cover their ears, hold their noses and vote to leave him be.


But I hope that enough people will listen to the facts and vote against him next November.

Then he will be out of office and doubtless open to several legal actions.

I am sad and somber at where we are as a country, and so disappointed at where that man has brought us.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

What a mess!

What a nasty mess!

And I don't mean what's going on in Washington (surprise! surprise!).

I'm talking about the weather in Connecticut in the last 24 hours.

We had ice, not snow. Ice that fell and rain that froze.

My car and Bern's truck were wrapped in a quarter inch of ice today. It took us almost a hour to clean them off so I could go to the store. And then we had all these pieces of ice around our car and truck,

Never mind the walkways and driveway and our deck and steps down to the back yard. And our porches,. Brigit fell down on the porch when she went out this morning. And she has, as you surely know, four feet.

At Stop and Shop I saw one of the guys gathering grocery carts in the parking lot fall on his ass.

There were several people around him and he was saying he was 'fine'., but, a young man falling on ice is not a good thing.

And something is still falling--ice? rain? snow? at 9 p.m. and tomorrow will be an icy, nasty, mess too.

Two guys even older than me in the Stop and Shop line behind me were talking about the weather.

One guy was complaining and the other said, "you live in Connecticut, not Florida! Get used to it. I've been here 77 years. This is how it is!"

Wisdom, I admit, but it was still a nasty, icy mess.

No kidding.

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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.