Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Abraham and His Seed Forever

Romans 4:13-25 Good News Translation (GNT)
 13 When God promised Abraham and his descendants that the world would belong to him, he did so, not because Abraham obeyed the Law, but because he believed and was accepted as righteous by God.14 For if what God promises is to be given to those who obey the Law, then faith means nothing and God's promise is worthless.15 The Law brings down God's anger; but where there is no law, there is no disobeying of the law.
 16 And so the promise was based on faith, in order that the promise should be guaranteed as God's free gift to all of Abraham's descendants—not just to those who obey the Law, but also to those who believe as Abraham did. For Abraham is the spiritual father of us all;17 as the scripture says, I have made you father of many nations. So the promise is good in the sight of God, in whom Abraham believed—the God who brings the dead to life and whose command brings into being what did not exist.18 Abraham believed and hoped, even when there was no reason for hoping, and so became the father of many nations. Just as the scripture says, Your descendants will be as many as the stars.19 He was then almost one hundred years old; but his faith did not weaken when he thought of his body, which was already practically dead, or of the fact that Sarah could not have children.20 His faith did not leave him, and he did not doubt God's promise; his faith filled him with power, and he gave praise to God.21 He was absolutely sure that God would be able to do what he had promised.22 That is why Abraham, through faith, was accepted as righteous by God.23 The words he was accepted as righteous were not written for him alone.24 They were written also for us who are to be accepted as righteous, who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from death.25 Because of our sins he was given over to die, and he was raised to life in order to put us right with God.
In the First Reading for this coming Sunday, God renews his covenant with Abraham -- that he will have many descendants, that this land is his, and that he will be a blessing. The Second Reading, above, from Romans, explains that God’s interest in Abraham is not because of Abraham’s righteousness (Abraham wasn’t), but because Abraham faithfully believed God.
However the covenant may be rationalized by Paul and others (Hebrews), it’s still largely about the land. Which brings to mind the Arab Spring. It was an uprising filled with hope and promise, youthful idealism and a burst of energy to overthrow brutal tyranny and have freedom. Arab Spring has failed. It failed because there is no foundation, heritage, or organization of democracy to fall back on, pick up and move forward with. And so the old despotisms simply arise with new faces. This will not change. So in Egypt, so in Libya, it will be so in Syria.
Beyond Arab Spring, no matter how we wish to believe and insist otherwise, we are wasting our time and our idealism in the Middle East; and most tragically, we are sacrificing, wasting, American blood. It is futile to try and help install democracy in the Middle East, because the tradition and concept of government there is rule by power, there is no concept of democracy; when the despot falls, the military fills the vacuum or partisan religious fanaticism seizes control, and will never give it up. More significantly perhaps, the concept of personal freedom does not exist among the grassroots people anyway; witness the outrageous, mindless, murderous response to the unintentional offense of the Quran burning. It is past time to be gone from where we should never have been in the first place. 

Iraq should never have happened to begin with; everybody out. Shielding al Qaeda, Afghanistan should have been taught once for all time on 9/12. Abraham is the father of all of it. Abraham’s seed Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau will fight over it for ever. Let it be so. As for us and ours and those we love, come home. Now. Now. Now.

Disappointed. Distressed. Upset. Disgusted. Angry.
T with no +

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Abram: Be Thou Perfect?

Genesis 17, our Bible story for next Sunday, Lent Two

 1 When Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
Poor Abraham, God help him, he is coming up on a hundred years old now and God is still teasing him. He was seventy-five when God first made these same promises and enticed him to leave his home in Haran and set forth toward Canaan to claim some elusive Promised Land, Abram as he was called then, and Sarai, and his nephew Lot. Abram’s one virtue seems to be his faith, that he trusts in God and does what God says; other than that he certainly does not live up to God's call "be thou perfect." In fact, Abram could be pretty sleazy contemptible; because Abram is just one of us, isn’t he. 
Over the next quarter-century of God's carrot-on-a-stick promise, Abram holds on, he and Sarai hoping for a child; but there is no child, and in time the repeated “covenant” comes to be something of a joke between them. Abram does have a son, Ishmael, the issue of a union with Sarai’s maid Hagar. Abram loves Ishmael dearly, which makes Sarai insanely jealous and abusive.
It sounds like an ordinary family of ordinary humans; but then Abram and company are sinners just like the rest of us. And God loves him anyway. Just like the rest of us.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Talking Beasts?

In our Tuesday morning Bible Seminar for the Epiphany Season we learned about the Apocrypha, talked about all of the books, read the complete texts of the shorter ones, synopsized the most interesting stories that were too long to read in our seventy minute sessions, read passages from others. 
For the Season of Lent we shall be having a look at some of the New Testament apocryphal books. There are dozens of them, including gospels, acts, epistles, apocalypses, and others. Our focus will be on noncanonical gospels, learning of their existence, and reading from the more prominent ones. For example, many scholars count the Gospel of Thomas, which predates the canonical gospels, nearly as important for scholarship as the four canonical gospels. And the same with the so-called Q Gospel, which is a modern construct of all the verses that are not in Mark but are common to Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Peter is interesting, and so is a fragment called Secret Mark. And there are many others. We shall explore a bit.
Getting into the New Testament apocrypha is sort of like climbing into a dark cave with a flashlight and beginning to glance round to see what all is there and who may have been there in the past. There’s a treasure trove, and one cannot help stopping to open this book and that jar and look, there's an old scroll, let's see what’s inside. Some of the apocryphal acts are fascinating and some have incredible tales and fables. Here’s one from the apocryphal Acts of Paul, an episode that apparently has been found only in a Coptic fragment.
I [Paul] went out, accompanied by the widow Lemma and her daughter Ammia. I was walking in the night, meaning to go to Jericho in Phoenicia. ... There came a great and terrible lion out of the valley ... But we were praying, so that through the prayer Lemma and Ammia did not come upon the beast. But when I had finished praying, the beast  had cast himself at my feet. I was filled with the Spirit and looked upon him, and said to him, “Lion, what do you want?” But he said, “I wish to be baptized.” I glorified God, who had given speech to the beast and salvation to his servants. Now, there was a great river in that place; I went down into it and he followed me. ... I myself was in fear and wonderment, in that I was on the point of leading the lion like an ox and baptizing him in the water. But I stood on the bank ... and cried out, saying, “You who dwell in the heights ... who with Daniel shut the mouths of the lions, who sent to me our Lord Jesus Christ, grant that we escape the beast, and accomplish the plan which you have appointed. When I had prayed thus, I took the lion by his mane and in the name of Jesus Christ immersed him three times. But when he came up out of the water he shook out his mane and said to me, “Grace be with you!” And I said to him, “And likewise with you.”
The theme of talking animals is not unheard of in scriptural texts, Balaam and the talking donkey at Numbers 22 and mentioned at 2 Peter 2. My favorites are outside the dark cave, the talking animals in the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Aslan the Lion, and most especially Puddleglum, the frog-like marshwiggle.
Not to mention Kermit the Frog.
Speaking of talking frogs, somehow or other, the below story from the internet, a story which I entirely disclaim and renounce, snuck into my blog post this morning without my knowledge. Not recommended, it is in bad taste and totally out of character for my blog, but it would not delete. Please do not read it.
A man takes the day off of work and decides to go out golfing. He is on the second hole when he notices a frog sitting next to the green. He thinks nothing of it and is about to shoot when he hears, "Ribbit. 9 Iron". The man looks round and doesn't see anyone so he tries again. "Ribbit. 9 Iron." He looks at the frog and decides to prove the frog wrong, puts his other club away, and grabs a 9 iron. Boom! he hits a birdie. He is shocked. He says to the frog, "Wow that's amazing. You must be a lucky frog eh?" The frog reply's "Ribbit, Lucky frog. Lucky frog."
The man decided to take the frog with him to the next hole. What do you think frog?", the man asks. "Ribbit 3 wood." was the reply. The guy takes out a 3 wood and Boom! Hole in one. The man is befuddled and doesn't know what to say. By the end of the day, the man golfed the best game of golf in his life and asks the frog, "Ok where to next?" The frog reply, "Ribbit Las Vegas".
They go to Las Vegas and the guy says, "Ok frog, now what?"  The frog says "Ribbit Roulette". Upon approaching the roulette table the man asks," what do you think I should bet?" The frog reply, "Ribbit $3000 black 6." Now, this is a million to one shot that this would win but after the golf game, the man figures what the heck. Boom! Tons of cash comes sliding back across the table. The man takes his winnings and buys the best room in the hotel.
He sits the frog down and says, "Frog, I don't know how to repay you. You won me all this money and I am forever grateful."  The frog replies, "Ribbit, Kiss Me". He figures why not, since after all the frog did for him he deserves it. All of a sudden the frog turns into the most gorgeous 16 year old girl in the world.
"And that, your honor, is how the girl ended up in my room".

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Last night the FSU channel aired a program about Chaco Canyon, New Mexico and the Pueblo culture that lived there from about 900 to 1150 A.D. Like the Mayans, the people of Stonehenge and others, they were an archaeoastronomical civilization with incredible knowledge of the skies and the orderly movements of bodies in the cosmos. The Chaco people constructed buildings oriented to the solar and lunar cycles, apparently with spiritual meaning and used for religious observances. Their structures were the largest buildings in North American up until the nineteenth century. The Pueblo people connect themselves to the Chacos by oral legends and myths. Why the Chaco people left the area is not known, but speculation is they suffered a drought of some half a century beginning about 1130 A.D.
There are archaeoastronomical sites around the world where once resided large civilizations, all of whom have vanished. Considered with the Roman Empire, the ancient Greek cultures, the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the throne of David, ancient Egypt and others, not to mention the British Empire, the Soviet Union and other moderns, the Chaco people show the impermanence of all things human, even the most knowledgeable and sophisticated -- individuals, cultures, civilizations, wisdom, knowledge, religions, governments, structures, principalities and powers. All regarded themselves as eternal in their time. But they were  transient human constructs. And so are we, one and all.
The Bible says the days of our age are threescore years and ten (Psalm 90). An online actuarial table says the life expectancy for an American born this morning is just over seventy-five years. Knowing that seventy-six years is my fair share and more, and already having lived through several challenges to my own mortality, I am mindful of endings and constantly thankful to have lived as a Christian and an American in what seems to have been America’s golden age. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Let Us Pray

Let Us Pray
At 9:15 a.m. tomorrow we begin our Sunday morning discipline that will go the five Sundays in Lent. Sunday School will broaden to become also our Inquirers Seminar for those who want to learn more about Christianity in the Episcopal Church, including those who are interested in being confirmed by the bishop when he visits us on May 13th.
Rather than starting with the scandalous and titillating tale of Henry the Eighth and the wives he courted, married and murdered, we shall learn how to figure out what Episcopalians believe. Not the catechism. Not the creeds. Not the thirty-nine articles of religion. Not the writings of a theologian. But simply by paying attention to what comes after the dialogue:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray.
You can't do Anglican theology from the outside looking in. You have to be there.
See you!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Litany Desk

From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death,
Good Lord, deliver us. *
We had Morning Prayer most Sunday mornings when I was a boy. The minister officiated the service not at the Altar as he did on First Sunday, when we had Holy Communion, but from his chair up front in the chancel, facing to the side; and he spent most of his time on his knees at the prie-dieu, the prayer desk. 
Speaking from personal knowledge and experience as one of the species, boys are impatient with religion that goes on overly long, and the dreaded thing that stirred ultimate impatience for this particular boy usually happened to my surprise upon coming into the church on a Sunday morning in Lent: the prie-dieu was up front in the center of the aisle facing the Altar, and had suddenly become the Litany Desk.
It signified that religion would go on overly long on the knees this morning. Very much overly long. Even longer than the dreaded words of First Sunday: “Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church.”
The exact quote slips my mind this morning, but in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer there is a chapter when Tom is in church, and not a willing victim. He becomes focused on an insect, as I recall, and then on an animal (maybe it’s a cat, memory fails me this morning) and somehow because of something Tom innocently initiates as a diversion from the tedium of the unending worship service, the animal becomes a major disruption to morning worship. 

But what is on my mind is Tom’s impatience with the preacher’s long, endless pastoral prayer. It was the same prayer every Sunday morning, and Tom knew it by heart; and his impatient boredom was driven to distraction when something was added, a name, or an event, or a concern, or some intention or other. Tom Sawyer and TW+ had a great deal in common in those days, those years as boys. The misery of my colleague Tom Sawyer always came to mind upon seeing the prie-dieu in the center aisle, poised to host The Litany.
In later years, The Litany, now restyled “The Great Litany,” became a favorite liturgy. Especially in a large church such as St. Paul’s, K Street in Washington, DC, beautifully chanted in long, winding procession of crucifer, celebrant and choir that wove down the center aisle and round the side aisles of the nave until finally ending in the chancel. The Litany, one of our most ancient services, may be the oldest liturgy in the Prayer Book, dating back perhaps to the fifth century.
The petition of The Litany that always gave me a bit of a start was the one about sudden death, which even as a boy I realized could come upon anyone at any age, even me. It’s all in my mind this morning because it’s Lent, and the Litany was always part of Lent, and because we all need to be mindful that any moment could be our last, and that every day is beautiful, every day a blessing.
MAN, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee. *
  • 1928 BCP

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison

Lord, have mercy.

Kyrie eleison.
Christ, have mercy.
Christe eleison.
Lord have mercy.

Kyrie eleison.
With the twentieth century liturgical reform, it has become the practice of the Church to shift during Lent from singing a Song of Praise at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word to singing or saying the Kyrie eleison, as though the Kyrie were penitential. It is not, not necessarily so. The Kyrie has a history that predates Christianity’s taking it up in worship. In ancient Roman times people in the streets would cry out “Kyrie eleison” as the emperor, or perhaps some other worthy person, passed by or made his way through the crowd. Not a fawning, crawling, groveling plea, it’s a hail, a salute of honor and respect. Before the liturgical reform, the Kyrie eleison was a required part of the opening liturgy when the Decalogue was not said. Much, most or all of our liturgy comes to us from or through the Roman Catholic Church, which has online websites explaining that the Kyrie is not necessarily penitential. And in the Episcopal Church there are sung Kyrie settings that are powerful and not “Lentish.” In my growing up years, we never sang the three-fold Merbecke (1549) setting plaintively, it was always cheerfully "up" as we welcomed the Lord into our worship.
Shortly after the Book of Common Prayer was revised in the nineteen-seventies, a cartoon appeared that pictured a class of small children who had just been taught with an Instructed Eucharist. The priest asked if there were any questions. One little boy (or maybe it was a little girl, I don’t remember) raised a hand. “Yes, dear?” said the priest. 
“Two questions, Father. First, how can we be certain that the Sacrament is efficacious? And secondly, when will the ablutions be restored to their rightful place in the liturgy?”
Just so -- Whose idea was it that the Kyrie eleison would become a penitential plea? And when will it be restored to its rightful place in the liturgy?!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pancakes & Ashes

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 2:24, KJV)
One will have to give account in the judgment day of every good thing which one might have enjoyed and did not. (The Talmud)
Therefore last night pancakes were served at churches throughout Christendom. 
In our years at Trinity, Apalachicola, Jimmie Nichols always took great pride and joy in making a ticket selling contest of the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. He liked to issue everyone in the parish a stack of tickets to sell to family, friends and neighbors. If you didn’t sell your tickets, Jimmie expected you to buy them yourself. Jimmie always sold dozens of tickets, and promoted the event such that on Shrove Tuesday evening, Benedict Hall, the parish house, was jammed with townsfolk, coming and going, visiting and eating. The kitchen was crowded with cooks and servers. It was the social event of the season, enormous fun in a town that itself was for us a joyful place to live. 
My custom those fourteen years was to enjoy the camaraderie, eat my pancakes, then go outside while the noisy festivities were still going on, and burn leftover and returned palm crosses from last year’s Palm Sunday, to make my ashes for the next day’s Ash Wednesday service. 
During my Cove School and Bay High years, the Catholic kids showed up at school one day a year with a smudge on their foreheads. What?! They explained that it was Ash Wednesday and they had just come from church and had been bidden to wear the ashes all day. It was a form of Christian witness for them. Worked its way into the Episcopal Church, and probably other churches too.
My theology of Ash Wednesday is a little different, comes from the gospel for today.
1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.  2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6. KJV)   
Sure enough, let your forehead be marked with the ashes as the sign that “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But then wash thy face before going out in public lest, in displaying your piety for the world to see, you are found to be in disobedience to Jesus’ teaching.
Is that really in the Talmud? Don't know. It showed up on the internet this morning during my search about pancake suppers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

St. Marys, Georgia

Delightful weekend visiting St. Marys, Georgia to baptize Virginia Carolyn Boyle, daughter of Forbes & Emily Cramer Boyle and granddaughter of Bill & Carolyn Cramer. We had room 300 at the Spencer Inn B&B, third floor in this comfortable 1792 hotel with a modern elevator and scrumptious breakfast. 

Sunday morning dawned threatening stormy, windy and chilly, so the service, which was to have been in a lovely pavilion on the river, was moved inside. Looking out our room window at a cloudy sky over the trees and above the cross atop the Roman Catholic Church across the street.

Sunday afternoon was beautiful and we toured the town, basically from one end to the other, one side to the other, visited the open 24/7 chapel of Christ Episcopal Church and chatted with a parishioner who was there practicing her Ash Wednesday reading. From there we wandered round the town’s old cemetery, old graves including a sea captain born in London in the 1700s, Civil War grave markers, and flags and VFW medals. Some graves marking death from yellow fever.

Many fascinating old tombstones, snapped a couple of sad ones for young people who died in 1835, a hundred years before my birth.

Exhausted from a busy day and walking, we had a late Sunday afternoon nap, woke six o’clock Sunday evening and on the spur of the moment had supper at St. Marys Seafood, a cafe on the outskirts of town.

It was like our Hunt’s Oyster Bar but larger and tidier. Packed with diners, excellent seafood to our Southern tastes. 
St. Marys with no Apostrophe, Georgia is reminiscent of Apalachicola to us who lived there fourteen years, 1984-1998. Small riverfront town with what appeared to be working boats docked, seems it could have been a fishing village at some time in its history. Saw a shrimp boat, but no oyster boats, and we were told that the large oysters served to us at St. Marys Seafood were from Pensacola.
We saw older homes with raised construction. Marsh and mudflats, the town is low and a major hurricane, such as September 1813 that landed with a 19 foot storm surge, and others of record* could pose significant flood threat and force mandatory evacuation; so what else is new, and unlike earlier generations we live in an age of weather satellites and advance notice.

Some pics are proofs, copyright Plantation Photography, St Simons Island, GA and Amelia Island, GA, who took wonderful photos. Used with apologies, will be deleted if requested.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sanctify a Fast
Joel 2
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
   sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
   for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
   a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
   a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
   nor will be again after them
   in ages to come. 

3 Fire devours in front of them,
   and behind them a flame burns.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
   but after them a desolate wilderness,
   and nothing escapes them. 

4 They have the appearance of horses,
   and like warhorses they charge.
5 As with the rumbling of chariots,
   they leap on the tops of the mountains,
like the crackling of a flame of fire
   devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army
   drawn up for battle. 

6 Before them peoples are in anguish,
   all faces grow pale.
7 Like warriors they charge,
   like soldiers they scale the wall.
Each keeps to its own course,
   they do not swerve from
* their paths.
8 They do not jostle one another,
   each keeps to its own track;
they burst through the weapons
   and are not halted.
9 They leap upon the city,
   they run upon the walls;
they climb up into the houses,
   they enter through the windows like a thief. 

10 The earth quakes before them,
   the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
   and the stars withdraw their shining.
11 The Lord utters his voice
   at the head of his army;
how vast is his host!
   Numberless are those who obey his command.
Truly the day of the Lord is great;
   terrible indeed—who can endure it?]

12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
   return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13   rend your heart and not your garments.
Return to the Lord, your God,
   for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
   and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
   and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
   for the Lord, your God? 

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
   sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16   gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
   assemble the aged;
gather the children,
   even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
   and the bride her canopy. 

17 Between the vestibule and the altar
   let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord,
   and do not make your heritage a mockery,
   a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
   “Where is their God?” ’ 
Joel, the prophet’s name, is two parts of the Divinity’s name. JO for Jahweh, Yahweh, Jehovah; EL for Elohim. So the name Joel means “Jahweh is God.” Jahweh (YHWH) is usually rendered “The Lord,” so The Lord is God. Adonai is God.
In the portion appointed for Ash Wednesday, (2:1-2, 12-17) Joel prophesies such a devastating visitation of ravenous, destroying locusts as has never been seen. Together with famine, land and people will be brought down to bitter misery. Joel is not clear whether these will be biological locusts or apocalyptic locusts, but the calamity may yet be prevented if the people turn from selfish sins and return to the Lord. Sanctify a fast.
The Lenten fast means “giving up” something. Chocolate? Cigarettes? Sugar in the coffee? Ice cream? Soda pop? Lose five pounds? Walk a mile a day? Movies? Nonessential TV? If whatever is “given up” is unhealthy anyway (e.g., not walking), the Lenten discipline should be to cultivate a new practice that permanently rids oneself of a bad habit. Giving up not walking, by Easter one could be walking a mile a day. 
The idea is self-discipline. In my childhood it meant daily putting a coin in a “mite box” to be turned in Easter Day for a worthy cause. A penny, nickel or dime a day yielded a heavy mite box on Easter morning. But Lent is a time for confession: my shamefully rattling mite box with three coins told of starting with good intentions of a holy Lent, concluded Easter morning by stuffing in a dollar bill on the way to church.
At my age, give up something especially valuable: time. Clean out the attic and take usable items to the Salvation Army. A Lenten reading discipline. Ten extra minutes a day on the treadmill. 
One slice of breakfast toast instead of two: 40 calories. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Theophany of God the Beloved Son

Theophany of God the Beloved Son
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
O God who, before the passion of your only-begotten Son,
revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that
we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be
strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his
likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
2 ... Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,* one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Beloved Son; listen to him!’ 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. ... (Mark 9:2-9 NRSV)
Today is the last Sunday of the Epiphany Season, and this is our gospel reading. Both in our gospel for the First Sunday of Epiphany, Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11), and now this Last Sunday, a voice speaks from the heavens proclaiming Jesus as the Beloved Son. Over and above simply an epiphany, each of these two events seems a theophany, God showing Himself. This One Jesus is not just the Son of God, but God the Son, the incarnation of the Creator. Specifically, He is the very Word of the Creating God, He is the Logos, He is the Creating Word. This may be a bit beyond what Mark realized and meant to say, but the theology of it is perfected by John in the prologue to his gospel
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
and the Nicene Creed sets the Church’s belief for all time:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
        he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
        he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
        and was made man.
Listen to Him, for He is the Word.

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:9-11 NRSV)

It's thundering at the moment on this Last Sunday of Epiphany as the gospel speaks of a voice from the heavens. What a wonderful day for a baptism. Virginia Carolyn, we welcome you into the household of God. 


Saturday, February 18, 2012

My first car: a 1947 Buick Special with a Fender Skirt

When Better Automobiles Are Built
Buick Will Build Them
A Navy friend forwarded me an email circular about old times, that remembered fender skirts on cars. Fender skirts were a PITA when a flat tire had to be changed on the rear of the car, but they streamlined and beautified a car and were a prestigious sign that you had moved out of the low price field. You had to move up to an Olds or Buick, Hudson or Mercury to boast fender skirts.

Juniors at the University of Florida the Spring 1956, Jerry and I decided to buy a car. Being 20, not yet 21, I was not eligible for automobile ownership in Florida, but Jerry was a Navy veteran 23 years old. 
We shopped used car lots in Gainesville, both new and used car dealers. That was the week my car shopping hobby became a life long obsession.
The most appealing car we found was a 1941 Packard 110 or 120, a dark green sedan, good condition with add-on air conditioning installed in the trunk and vented into the interior through the shelf space at the back window. 

We lusted for it, but at $350 the car was way out of our price range. With that classic style it would be priceless today.

The Dodge-Plymouth or maybe it was the DeSoto-Plymouth dealer, don’t remember, had a 1941 Plymouth sedan, black, used and abused, but cranked up and idled well. Worn and ripped cloth seats, rusted out floorboards and you could see the street -- but a minor problem easily fixed with asbestos composition roof shingles, eh? At $50 the price was right, and -- more than half century later in today's culture I relate this with sincere and deepest apologies but that long ago mid-1950s springtime it was part of the dealer’s sales pitch -- the salesman whispered confidentially, “Best thing about that car, it was owned by white people.” Offensive then and offensive now, but SHMG, that’s a verbatim quote.

Anyway, we took the ’41 Plymouth Special Deluxe out for a spin. Street dust and exhaust poured up through the floor. What exhaust smoke didn’t come inside the car through the leaky exhaust pipe laid a dense, oily fog in the street behind us as we roared west on University Avenue. As we sped passed the KA house, Jerry said, “You know, Weller, the salesman was right: that is the best thing about this car.” 
A used car lot, I won’t lay it on the Buick dealer, had a 1947 Buick Special, a white sedan, the model with what is sometimes called a “roach back.” Several pics on today’s page to refresh memory. The Buick Eight OHV engine hummed like a sewing machine. 

Oh, heck, the car wasn’t perfect. For one thing, as we found out later, the transmission would not shift into reverse without loud, obnoxious grinding and protesting, and double clutching. And, driving down the street, when you let up on the accelerator, it jumped out of third gear and was impossible to get it back into any gear, the transmission would scream and grind and clash loud and furious, and you had to bring the car to a complete halt and start over in first gear; but WTH, we would mainly be driving it in town, right, and it didn’t jump out of second gear, did it; easy, innit, just use first and second gears, innit. Yes, a few minor problems, but what the hey, Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick? The price was $75. And icing on the cake, it had that ultimate sign of luxury, class and good taste, a fender skirt.

Out of my wallet came the $75 cash for the car, and we headed for an insurance office to buy our mandatory liability insurance. This morning at age 76, my memory could be off, but in 1956, a male had to be 25 to buy an auto insurance policy; however, Jerry was 23, so we could get an assigned-risk policy. Jerry paid the first year’s insurance premium, $78.80, assigned to Allstate. So, $75.00 for the Buick, no sales tax in those days, $78.80 for insurance, and we were drivers. And not just of any car. A Buick Eight. It don’t get no better’n that.

As Flannery O’Connor wrote in one of her dark, Southern Gothic short stories, “Anybody with a good car don’t need salvation, and this is a good car.” 

My room was in Fletcher Hall, a dorm, and there was no parking available, so we always parked the Buick at the curb out in front of the house where Jerry rented a room; and it was perfect that we had to park it with the right side to the curb, facing the house where we could look out and admire it, because that was the side the fender skirt was on. A Buick with a fender skirt.

Even in 1956 a $75 car had bald tires, but we soon saved up for a complete set of four brand new recaps, six or ten bucks each, to make it safe for the drive home, to Panama City for me and on to Pensacola for Jerry. The first trip home taught us to carry a case of cheapest 30W oil in the trunk, 15 or 25 cents a quart, and a bucket so that when the engine overheated it was easy enough to stop by a ditch, wait for it to cool down a bit, and refill the radiator. 

We quickly acquired skill in hanging back in highway traffic on the open road, and of never letting up on the accelerator after overtaking and passing another car, because there was that transmission issue, not to say problem, that it would jump out of third gear and had to be pulled over to the side of the road and brought to a complete halt and started over in first gear. 
Summer vacation 1956 the car stayed at my house. The second day the Buick was in our carport at home, I came out and my father was lying on his back, crawled up underneath it. When he crawled out he said, “The front brakes are not hooked up, the brakes lines have been cut and blocked off, you only have rear brakes.” He spent that afternoon under my car fixing brakes, me handing him tools and copper tube. My father’s great concern for my safety was something I did not fully appreciate until my own children came along.
Meanwhile, my parents had acquired a Buick Century coupe for my mother (this model but blue with a black top)

and gave me the green 1948 Dodge Custom that in May 1948 my mother and I had selected from two new Dodge sedans while they were still in the boxcar at the old railroad station (ours did not have the sun visor, very popular in those days of no air conditioning, nor did ours have the eyelids, but just this color green). Jerry didn’t want a car by himself, so when the fall semester started we agreed to sell the Buick, which was still in Panama City. 

Coming home one weekend to sell the car, Saturday morning I took it to a used car lot on East 6th Street. Directly across from where the Rescue Mission is today, there’s a wide vacant lot there now, Massalina Bayou visible behind it to the south. 
The used car dealer offered me $75. I told him we wanted $100 because of the new tires, but he stood firm. I decided to try other lots, and left. Nobody else would even look at it, so I took it back and parked it so that when I walked away I would be able to get one last look at the side with the fender skirt.
When I told the used car man I would take the $75, he said the offer is now $50. Having to get back to Gainesville the next day, I took the $50, handed him the title, and hurried away down the street and out of sight before he could get to the car to move it. Out of sight but not out of hearing.
My last memory of that first Buick is a loud noise, half a block behind me, a very loud noise, a very loud noise indeed, the screaming, grinding, wrenching sound of transmission gears clashing as the used car dealer tried and tried and tried in vain to shift it into reverse gear. I walked another block, and the gears were still screaming and grinding as my mother picked me up in her Buick V8 and we rolled silently away. Would you buy a used car from this priest?

We were not done with Buicks. Some years later my parents replaced the 1954 Century with an enormous 'nother Buick, a 1960 Electra 225 Riviera four door hardtop sedan (no center pillars), their first car with power windows.

Buick is still and all a lifelong favorite. Linda and I had a 1976 Regal coupe, a few years later a 1981 Skylark sedan. Out in the carpark this morning rest a cherry red Buick Enclave and a silver gray Buick Regal. Neither one has a fender skirt though.

Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick?


Thanks for stirring the memories, Norm!!!