Saturday, April 10, 2021

Sunday's sermon

(Don't read this if you're coming to Trinity, Milton in the morning!!!)

EASTER II

       Thomas, the disciple, the one they called “the Twin”—though we never know who his twin was—is like the two sides of your hand.

       He is forever known for his refusal to “believe”—he is forever to be called “the Doubter”. And yet, on the other hand—or on the back of the same hand—it is Thomas who, out of the confusion and fear of the Easter event, finally speaks the ringing words of faith and belief: MY LORD AND MY GOD!

       And remember the other disciples were in hiding the first time Jesus came into their room, but Thomas was out in the city, unafraid.

       And remember how in John 11, when Jesus told the disciples that he was going to Lazarus’s grave, it was Thomas who said, “Let us go with him, so we cam die with him.”

 

       So which is he then—“doubting Thomas” or “believing Thomas”?

       Or maybe he was both—and both at the same time. Doubt and faith are often in a torturous dance, spinning and twirling, not sure who is leading.

      

       One of my earliest memories is of green, green grass and a soft warm breeze blowing on my face as I squinted from the sun. I am in a yard somewhere and my mother and father are there too, though I don’t remember what they were doing. I am very young—walking, but not terribly good at it; talking a little, but not much. And my parents are doing whatever they are doing and I am sitting in the grass, feeling it with my hands, smelling its greenness and richness. And the sun is warm against my skin when suddenly, into this ordinary but very pleasant memory, comes fear and danger.

       Another man enters the yard and moves toward my father and my father moves toward him and they practically collide with each other and are struggling with each other and fall onto the ground and I am terrified and crying with that soundless wail of children truly frightened. But my mother picks me up and comforts me and she is laughing and now I see my father and the man, lying in the grass, are laughing too—and what seemed so much like a fight, a wrestling match, something violent had been a too-exuberant embrace between my father and his brother who had been away for a long time….

 

       Struggle and dancing; something violent and an embrace—two sides of the same hand, the palm and the back—just like faith and doubt. And, in our tradition, among our tribe, just like death and life.

 

       We also learn some interesting things about the resurrected Jesus in today’s gospel.

       He can enter a room without coming through a door.

       But he is not a ‘spirit’, he is corporal, in fact he still has the wounds that killed him on his body and invites Thomas to touch them.

       And he breathes. In his first visit he ‘breathed’ on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit.

       Interesting stuff.

       Do you believe it? Or do you doubt?

       Two sides of the same hand.

       But remember this and remember it always, Jesus doesn’t hold Thomas’ doubt against him.

       ‘Doubt’ is not a bad thing to God—it is only the other side of the hand from ‘belief’.

       Carl Sagan was giving a lecture about the solar system when a woman stood up to say, “Dr. Sagan, the earth isn’t floating in space, it’s resting on the back of a giant turtle.”

       Sagan paused a minute and said, “and what is that turtle resting on?”

       “Another Turtle,” the woman said.

       “And what is that turtle resting on?” Sagan asked.

       “Don’t fool with me,” she said, “it’s turtles all the way down.

       Sagan was dealing in facts and the woman was dealing with ‘interpretation’.

In the end, it is interpretation…INTERPRETATION…all the way down.

And “interpretation” isn’t a bad thing.

It is the other side of the hand from Fact.

Remember this and remember it ALWAYS—God loves both sides of our hands. God loves us just as we are.

Doubt and belief.

Hugging and Fighting.

Interpretation and Fact.

God loves us.

God loves us.

We are loved by God….

 

 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Just wondering....

 I spent most of today just 'wondering'.

I wonder if our nation can find unity--it doesn't look like it can--not after January 6 and many Republicans still thinking, somehow, that the election was stolen...as crazy as that is?

I wonder when, if ever, we can all agree that children, fleeing horrible conditions in Central American, deserve to have a new life here, in the Nation of Emigrants?

I wonder how Biden can get the things done we need done--infrastructure, racial equality, changing the tax code, restoring the economy when the Senate is so divided?

I wonder how long I will live? I'll be 74 a week from tomorrow--an age I never dreamed making. 

I wonder why, when I woke up yesterday, I thought for sure it was Friday and it wasn't until several hours later that I realized it was Thursday?

I wonder if I was thankful enough for being given an extra day of life by my mistake?

I wonder if Bern and my children and grand-children truly know how much I love them?

I wonder if God realizes that my 'doubt' is just the other side of my hand that is 'belief'?

I wonder if I have done enough with my life and ministry?

Sometimes I just 'wonder' and 'wonder' some more.

Wondering, I believe, is a good thing to spend time doing.

 


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Color is back!

Color is back!

Our yards are alive with it--yellow in many hues, green, some red in there and white.

Things are blooming.

Plants are amazing, no matter what happens, they come back.

They'll be here after we're all gone--making out planet full of color in the Spring.

The last year has been like a not-to-good black and white movie.

Covid and isolation and masks and social distance--black and white.

All that is not nearly over.

But Bern and I are vaccinated and spring has sprung.

I've missed the color.

And it's back!!!

 

I can't wait...

Probably not during my lifetime, but surely during my two children's, white people won't be in the majority in this country.

Blacks, Hispanics and Asians continue to come more than Europeans and have larger families than white folks.

The recent attacks on Asian-Americans, the hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation, the constant abuse of Hispanics crossing our southern boarder--all that will, someday, become a thing of the past because white people will not be the majority of Americans.

My three grand-daughters in Baltimore are half-Asian, their mother is a first generation of American born from Taiwanese immigrants. I fear for their other grand-parents and my daughter-in-law and them.

The first church I served was African-American and the next two had large Black membership. I grieve for them and all who have suffered from racial prejudice.

St. John's in Waterbury had such a large Hispanic membership we had a Hispanic priest to assist me.

I grew up in segregated southern West Virginia, but the rest of my life has given me insight into the results of prejudice.

The Senior Warden of my first church--who was a Colonel in the Army--traveled with a turban in his car when he visited the southern states, so he could be sure to get a room in a motel.

Our history is full of bigotry and prejudice and hate crimes and worse.

It must stop.

It must stop.

If only a change in the population will do that, I can't wait....

 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

hosta

 I noticed today that the Hosta plants are beginning to come up in our back yard.

I really don't like them--I find them spooky, how all these shoots come up in different places and eventually look like one plant.

But we have them and I'm not willing to fight to remove them.

They just spook me.

The Infra-structure bill must spook Mitch McConnell like hosta spooks me. 

A huge majority of Americans favor the bill---including nearly 50% of Republicans--but McConnell is having none of it.

It looks like Biden and the Democrats will pass it by 'reconciliation', which only requires 51 votes and avoids a filibuster. 

How can you be against roads, bridges, internet, schools, veteran's hospitals and other things being improved and the jobs the plan will create? Especially since they are long overdue for improvement.

Republicans just seem to want to say "no" to whatever Biden wants.

Even if a vast majority of Americans say "yes".

Go figure.

Must be like me and hosta--which is a plant many love....



Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Spring

 It was Spring today!

63 degrees is wonderful after this winter's chill.

Baseball season has started--what's more 'spring' than that?

The trash is out by the curb, like every Tuesday. But I didn't have to dig away snow to put it there.

I did a Eucharist at Trinity, Milton on Easter--indoors with 26 people. It has been a year since they knew open worship so everyone was full of joy.

We had Easter with Mimi (our daughter) and 4 year old Eleanor plus three old friends from New Haven. Everyone except Mimi was fully vaccinated and she's had her first shot.

Safe with a small number of friends--how we've all longed for that!

It's not over. Mask up. Keep distance from people you don't know. Wash your hands. Get your vaccines as soon as you can.

But--though the pandemic is not over--Spring is here and things are moving again.

A few more months and all will be well again.

That's what I believe and long for.

Spring gives me hope and joy and warmth.

What else could I wish for?



Monday, April 5, 2021

A Murder of crows

 One of those strange collective names for creatures--a Murder of crows.

But this year we have so many crows over our Cheshire neighborhood, I can't figure it out.

I saw 17 sky-born at one time the other day.

They don't land in our yard, but sit in the trees and caw from dawn to dusk everyday.

We've lived here almost 30 years and I've never seen anything like it.

A Murder of crows.

What are they up to?

Murder?


Saturday, April 3, 2021

Something lovely for Easter

(I may have posted this before, but it deserves being re-read and is, in it's way, an Easter story of 'new life' and 'possibility".)

Maggie

        Most people call her Margaret but, over the years, I came to shorten it first to Maggie and then to 'Mags'. She is one of the true Wonders of the World—a lovely and dear woman with, as Tennessee Ernie Ford said of 'Big John', “one first or iron and the other of steel. If the right one don't get you then the left one will.” Energetic, overly scrupulous, bright and sometimes verging on 'perky', Mags can charm people out of remarkable donations to the Soup Kitchen she runs, make each volunteer feel like the most important person in Margaret's world or any other and stare down a 250 pound, drunk rowdy in two seconds flat. I've seen her do all that and more—much more. She is a marvel. If she didn't exist, the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministry would have to invent her—she's that vital to the serving of 300 people lunch each day and handing out shopping bags of food to another 200 a week.

        When Mags came, the whole thing was in doubt. The previous Soup Kitchen Coordinator was in jail. He had been arrested in Danbury—40 miles away or so—for beating up his girlfriend on the street. Then the Danbury police discovered he was selling whole chickens out of the back of the Soup Kitchen Van. He was a bad dude—came in, when he was out on parole—and confronted the Verger and me in the sanctuary of St. John's with his finger (I pray it was his finger!) in the pocket of his jacket and told me he knew where I lived. I never figured out why he thought it was me that had caused him to lose his job. Mostly it was assault and robbery that did that. I did go tell the police in the town where I lived and in Waterbury that I had been threatened. It's the only time I'd ever done that, though I had been threatened before. I just believed Amos more than I believed anyone else.

        (An aside: after Amos was sent to jail, two detectives from the Waterbury Police Department visited me. They told me that Amos, during the questioning, had told them I had tried to sexually proposition him.

        “What did he say I did?” I asked.

        The Italian detective, very embarrassed to be talking to a priest—even an Episcopal priest—about such a thing said, “he said he was in his van in the parking lot and you asked him for oral sex for money.”

        I thought for a moment about that. Then I asked, “did he say I wanted him to perform oral sex on me or that I wanted to pay him to let me perform oral sex on him?”

        The Irish detective—most all police detectives in Waterbury are Irish or Italian—turned a bright red and replied: “He said you wanted to perform oral sex on him....”

        I smiled. “Then it isn't true,” I said.

        One of them, Italian or Irish, said, “Father, this isn't a joking matter....” And I suddenly realized it wasn't, not at all. My problem is, most everything is initially a 'joking matter' until it isn't.)

        I helped interview the applicants for the Soup Kitchen job—someone who would rid us of the stench of Amos and put us on the right track of feeding people. Since the Soup Kitchen was at St. John's, I was obviously involved. We needed someone I could get along with.

        Certainly, I could get along with Mags. She was charming and witty and self-effacing and smart...most of the things I like in another person. But I knew something none of the others on the committee—smitten with her charm, wit and intellegence—I knew she could not be...not ever...supervised. This was a woman who was so at home in her own skin and so clever and charming that there would be no way to rein her in. She would do whatever the hell she wanted to do and either charm you into thinking it was your idea or back you down with force of will to agree.

        “Margret,” I told her in the interview, “I don't believe you can be supervised.”

        She objected with all her charm, with, self-effacement and guile.

        I held up my hand and stopped her. I knew she would do a remarkable job but simply would not, could not be supervised.

        “You know I'm right about that,” I said.

        She wrinkled her nose and smiled her remarkable smile and said, softly, “yes, you're right....”

        She was unanimously hired—I didn't vote, thinking that supervising her was the Director's problem, not mine. Little did I know that for most of the next decade I would mostly be the one who couldn't supervise her, that little wrinkled nose and smile would convince me a hundred times that she was right and I was wrong and she should do whatever she wanted to do.

        Unsupervisable. That for sure. And a marvel, a wonder, someone to write home about, the best—very best and more—person to do that job and do it just the way she wanted.

        Over the years, full of more drama than I need to tell you or you need to know, Mags went from being the Soup Kitchen Coordinator to being the Director of the whole agency and its over a quarter of a million dollar budget. She battled directors, refused to be supervised, did the right thing over and over until, having exhausted the Board and everyone around her—did I mention her 'energy', charm, commitment?--we finally just did the right thing, the thing she knew was right all along, and put her in charge of everything. Good for us, we did the right thing. (It was all Mag's idea all along....)

        It was with the guests that she shined most brightly. It was her idea to call them 'guests' rather than 'clients'--the social worker vernacular for people who came for services and food. Over the years, Mags developed a treasure trove of 'connections'--medical personnel, social workers, housing specialists, businesses and groups who brought in food and services just to see Mags smile at them and tell them they were the best, the very best. Most often she would tell them they were 'Awesome, simply awesome!' And through the alchemy of her enthusiasm they were turned from flesh and blood, full of uncertainties and self-doubt into, that's right, 'simply awesome' heroes. So people went out of their way and beyond what was expected to make sure Mags' 'guests' had flu shots, health tests, alcohol and drug counseling, job training, help with housing issues, legal advice, guest chefs (everyone from church youth groups to political figures) and respect from the larger society than they expected or perhaps deserved. Mags' people were loved by all, sometimes against their better judgment, because she loved them.

        An urban soup kitchen, open to everyone and anyone, is not always a calm and peaceful place. Sometimes, under other coordinators, it was not a safe place to be. Street people and the urban poor are just like every other group of people, which means some of them are rough and angry and violent. Before Mags, there were a couple of 911 calls a week for drunk and drugged up folks and for fights. Once she arrived it took only a while before the only 911 calls were when she was genuinely concerned about the health and welfare of a guest. It didn't hurt that she was married to a policeman and the beat cop for the Green area was her cousin. Nothing calms things down so quickly as having someone with a huge gun and a stick you could destroy a skull with hanging around. Behavior and temperaments improve greatly when cops are around. But mostly it was Mags. She is short and petite and has long blond hair and dresses very well. She is usually soft spoken and a bit shy. But more than once I've seen her step between to brutes about the throttle each other and, waving her arms, say something like, “Beautiful people, this can't happen at our lovely Soup Kitchen....”

        It's not just 'music' that soothes the savage beast—Mags could do that too.

        She also had just the right touch with volunteers. I heard someone describe the volunteers as 'do-gooders and criminals'. Which was accurate since roughly half the people who worked for her were doing court ordered community service. They never wanted to be there but she would somehow cajole and persuade and baffle them into working hard and halfway enjoying it. Something about her appealed to everyone's better angel. And in all that, she didn't suffer fools lightly.

        Over time I came to refer more and more of the people who 'dropped in' to ask for help from the church to Mags. First of all, she was usually better able to actually 'help' them than I was. Secondly, she had an unerring bull-sh*t detector and could ferret out those who were pulling a con in a few sentences. She actually would take me to task when I gave people money without asking her. She would shake her blond head and 'tisk' and tell me I just threw that money into the Naugatuck River.

       

 

 

convincing people to contribute

the Christmas parties and care for children

how calm it became—cops involved

her commitment, her 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.