Tuesday, December 31, 2013

from the hand of all that hate us

From the Hand Of All That Hate Us

To my ongoing consternation, the time is gone when Anglicanism could be defined as a sound, a sound of worship and especially the sound of Anglican Chant, which is exquisite four-part harmony in singing canticles. Now I live with Alice in Wonderland where “you are old, Father William, the young man said” and who cares. Truth, even today’s best musicians are incapable of Anglican Chant that is not part of their being.

One of my favorite canticles in the old time was the Benedictus Dominus Deus (Song of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79) which we sang in Morning Prayer on Sunday mornings, often enough that nobody needed a book. The tune and words are in my head this New Years Eve morning for particular reason that is particularly unholy.   

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, *
    for he hath visited and redeemed his people;
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us *
    in the house of his servant David,
As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, *
    which have been since the world began:
That we should be saved from our enemies, *
    and from the hand of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers, *
    and to remember his holy covenant;
To perform the oath which he swore to our forefather Abraham, *
    that he would give us,
That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies *
    might serve him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before him, *
    all the days of our life.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest, *
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people *
    for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God, *
    whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death, *
    and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Here we are at New Years Eve passing into 2014, the year in which I will turn 79, inshallah. Inshallah? Though we are far from innocent, and seriously need self-examination and repentance of which we are incapable, we need to be wary of the hand of all that hate us, and wariness is watchfulness. Yes, anyone who thinks Dystopia is an imaginary place is a fool, and anyone who has read 1984 and Darkness at Noon and Animal Farm is rightfully alarmed, and no one likes a data base being systemically accumulated on his/her every breath; but for all the rhetoric against NSA, they are out to stop those who hate us murderously. 

We learned nothing about war from Vietnam, surely we will not learn nothing about terrorism from 9/11. Americans are in danger that is not diminishing, and I would rather know Big Brother is recording my thoughts than be afraid to go to the grocery store or movie theater or to put my child on the school bus in the anarchy that is on the horizon. 

Although I watched the horrors of the Third Reich and the USSR, and Iraq under Saddam and Iran under Supreme Leader, I also lived through Pearl Harbor and am now living through 9/11, where I am more uneasy about the motives of those who would tear down our surveillance systems so nobody will know what they’re thinking and doing than I am about the satellite that goes over my house twice a day recording every keystroke and download. Yes indeed, as part of an ambitious Executive, NSA bears close Legislative and Judicial oversight so that we do not find ourselves in the cell with Winston and the Rats. But this is nothing new: watchfulness, oversight, is essential anywhere humans are in charge.

With thanks to Missie,

Immortal Lord God, you inhabit eternity, and have brought us your unworthy servants to the close of another year; Pardon, we entreat you, our transgressions of the past, and graciously abide with us all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Pisces or Aquarius?

Ages of Ages

Thus saith the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Isaiah 57:15     

Our time passes from year to year, for me, through ages of trains, cars, wars, planes, electronics. I wouldn’t want to have missed the electronics age, especially the age of weather satellites and the incredible internet, but if I had lived before satellites and WWW I wouldn’t have known to miss them. There is something incredible out there in another age, but I’m content here. A friend recently introduced me to the marvel of a virtual tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on the Mall in Washington, DC. http://www.mnh.si.edu/vtp/1-desktop/. Living in Washington two Navy tours of duty and afterward the first year of Navy retirement, I have been to the NMNH several times for real, and find that walking into the virtual rotunda feels eerily as real as real, it’s that perfect, how do they do that? The link is on my desktop so I can go on the spur of the moment, which I do now and then for escape if nothing else. Reading this morning about the second suicide bombing in Volgograd made me decide to go back to the Smithsonian for a few minutes, where life is peaceful, and was peaceful.

Of Volgograd -- and also of Newtown quite frankly the product of no age of contrite and humble spirit -- looking back, present, and ahead, if I were choosing to do it all over I might elect to give the new terrorism age a miss and live in the 19th century next door to my greatgrandfather who died in 1903. What we see today in Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, seems inexorably charted to envelop here all too soon, and I appreciate being old enough for confidence that I may miss living far into an age of hatred and fear. From Pisces into the Age of Aquarius. If we can’t stop it, should we at least look back to see how it could have been prevented? An interesting PhD dissertation, maybe it would save some future age from self-obliteration. How far back should we look? Crusades? Garden of Eden? Holocaust? Age of the Councils? Hiroshima? We would have to consider those things left undone which we ought to have done as well as those things done which we ought not to have done.

Of ages, here we are looking at New Years Eve and New Years Day, leaving and entering ages of Time. Abiding out there inhabiting eternity beyond time contemplating this experiment, what does the high and lofty One think of us?

Of electronic wonders another besides NMNH is watching traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which I have driven across http://www.earthcam.com/world/australia/sydney/ and reading the Sydney Morning Herald, and this morning being on the bridge of the Aurora Australis as the ship breaks through Antarctic ice http://media.smh.com.au/news/national-news/aurora-australis-smashes-sea-ice-5042266.html I’ve been following that rescue operation almost minute to minute,

my father would never have believed it, let alone grandfathers or George Washington. When Pop was a boy it could have been months before anyone knew about the expedition’s predicament. In George Washington’s time, years. In Jesus' day when all the world was taxed, Antarctica didn't exist, else Caesar Augustus would have done.

Come to think of it, WWW and the Weather Channel I might give it a miss, but not to live and die before the age of that 1948 Buick, 

probably my all time favorite.

Or to have missed aging with those I love, including Joe, who just drove away from Christmas 

on his way to 2014. 


Sunday, December 29, 2013

no carry on luggage

No Carry-On

Out&About in Saturday’s PC News-Herald headlined a piece by Michael Lister, “Kindness never out of fashion.” He includes a quote by the Dalai Lama, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Shades of the Savior! Sounds like Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago: Love. Love God, Love Neighbor. This is my commandment, that you love one another.

The luggage of doctrines, dogma, creeds, rubrics, canons, tradition, denominations, customs, organizations, councils and beliefs the church has tossed into its baggage car have little to do with Jesus of Nazareth whose disciple we claim to be. Much to do with authority and control, little to do with everyday life, naught to do with Jesus. 

Christianity should be a jumbo jet with roomy comfortable seats, no baggage compartment, no under-seat storage or overhead compartments. No carry-on luggage. Only the Word, carried in the heart and on the lips, and lived on the journey -- 

chesed agape’ lovingkindness in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.


Saturday, December 28, 2013


It doesn’t really matter to a dummy like me because I watch little TV except the weather. Still, it’s a relief A&E lifted their suspension of Phil Robertson, who is neither more nor less guilty than I, and though what he said was outrageous it was predictable, and anyone who was surprised is naive to the max. Maybe it’s that PhilR and I have different innocences and ignorances. I may even watch a Duck episode to see if it’s funny. 

What’s funny changes though, or we change. Long years ago one of my favorite programs was Red Skelton, but I eagerly watched a re-run sometime in the past five or ten years and couldn’t believe I ever thought such pathetic inanity was funny. Jiminy Christmas.

Jack Benny was funny then too, but PC can be so virulent that Rochester would be banned -- which would be a shame, because Rochester chauffeured the Maxwell. So were Amos and Andy funny.

In no order, my funniest of all time. Sgt Bilko with Phil Silvers. Carol Burnett and company. Fawlty Towers. SNL with John Belushi. Taxi with both humor and pathos. Mary Tyler Moore and her cast of characters. MASH though I was not one of the majority who were insane about MASH. All in the Family. Andy Griffith with Don Knotts. The Honeymooners. Bill Cosby. Laugh In. Dobie Gillis. Smothers Brothers. Leave it to Beaver. Grand Ole Opry, which made me a country music fan for many years starting in college. In time I stopped listening to country music because it always left me melancholy like Snoopy the WWI flying ace crying in his root beer in the French pub. Not comedy but a long favorite, Dolly Parton, more a variety show in the 1970s, and her theme song, “I will always love you.” 

My favorite movies are still The Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Animal House.

Nobody should take anything about me seriously, including my weird sense of humor. My intent this morning was to write something serious, but I forget what it was about, probably something holy.

Jack Benny in the Maxwell is shaking hands with Harry Truman, but it's not Rochester at the wheel.


Friday, December 27, 2013

ecotone & Thomas

Damp and chill weather when bluejeans are the only thing to keep legs warm. When cold wind whips through, Levis protect windstoppingly. Outdatedly snobbish, elitist obsession with something provincially called "good taste" are school rules forbidding bluejeans. Freedom is wearing what you DWP. And jeans do not have to be washed frequently, they can be worn like a skin until they smell like the animal that's wearing them.

An Op-Ed in the New York Times online this morning helps me realize something about myself, why my being was never at peace those years of living away from the sea or at least water of some sort, even creekside in Pennsylvania. The best: where I grew up on Massalina Bayou in the Cove, Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, Mayport a block from the Atlantic, but most especially where I live now and foreverafter, where this very moment I hear light surf because of either the tide or some silent craft passing offshore in the dark. Akiko Busch calls it ecotone, for me it's the edge of where I can live and where I cannot live. Here's the link to the NYT piece, and if the connection seems tenuous that's not my problem, that I get it is what touched me.


Nor is it my problem if the rest of this rambling Friday sunrise blog makes no sense to anyone else. I get it.

Still in the news this morning, the ongoing "Duck" fiasco reminds of freedoms, including freedom of speech and its underlying freedom of thought or freedom from thought -- not to mention relative freedoms of action. My father’s favorite shibboleths included “We don’t go to church because we have to, we go because we want to.” Usually in response to "Why do we have to go to church?" asked never by me but by my sister the rebel. As I've mentioned here before, in my growing up years it was clear that if you weren't going because you wanted to, you were going anyway because you had to. Yet there is even freedom in that. You can go pouting or smiling. And there is freedom when you get there: in all my growing up years I never heard a sermon, I was memorizing the Articles of Religion, the tune names for hymns, various liturgies, and other distractions. 

More news, what prompts me exactly and stirs memory very personally is Pope Francis reaching out to atheists and people of other religions, more papal words that seem to herald a church growing out of narrow medieval mindset of fear and judgment into maturity. The pope speaks of where I have been and where, as an Episcopalian, I am comfortable. In life, especially as a parish priest watching and welcoming people into my parishes, I found that undecided, questioning, doubting, uncertain people make good Episcopalians. Which is to say, Unitarians. Agnostics. Struggling atheists. The ecotone that Akiko loves doesn't have to be environmental, it can be mental too, or spiritual, religious, the wavering doubt of Thomas where faith meets unfaith.

Of freedoms of speech, thought and action, I remember giving up going to church, first mentally and then totally, in my long sophomoric adolescence when the realization came to me as a self-assessed intellectual and mental rebel (God help us, every sophomore is both intellectual and rebel and I italicize "intellectual" because in my case it's ludicrous), that surely my thoughts were thoughts that no one in human history had ever had before, when truly they were the thoughts of every sophomore who ever broke free. And certainly I could see better than the collective wisdom of the old men of the ages. That was my agnostic unto atheist period. Any college kid or teenager hasn’t truly lived who has swallowed whole the faith of our fathers living still without rebelling to claim the heady freedom of rejecting organized religion and moving beyond to the pseudo-sophistication, not to say arrogance, of agnosticism and even atheism, an organized religion in its own right, with their own mega-church style services. You pays your money and takes your choice because neither not-God nor God can be proved except with the absurd illogic that even St. Augustine played, and Thomas too; for me, only Schleiermacher makes sense with his notion about an implanted sense of the infinite. In the end, belief or unbelief is, partly cultural, a faith choice and perhaps social choice and even peer choice. But like every other sophomore, my venture into the wisdom of a fool was an essential part of breaking free on my way to maturity and independence, and I wouldn’t change a thing. This is one reason it's better to go away to college instead of staying home in the shelter: to ignite thinking on one's own and for oneself, and not only religiously but politically, socially.

Mine was part rationalization. My sophomore year at UFlorida, all my freshman-year friends from Bay High had dropped out, moved out of the dorms, or transferred to other colleges, and I was not about to go to church alone. All that sophomore year I went to church only one time, to the Christian Science Reading Room in Gainesville with my new roommate Gene Smith of Panama City. Dozing in a dorm room, any wise fool can concoct an excuse for not getting up Sunday mornings to go to church, and mine was "if God is so smart, then He can read: leave Him a note in church telling Him what prayerbook page to turn to and what hymns to hum." When the Sunday morning choice is either get up and get moving or sleep in, any dream will do.

The sophomore’s is the foolish wisdom of still a child but growing. The new thinker is proudly thinking but isn’t yet to the maturity of standing outside himself and with amusement or anguish watching himself think, which may come with aging. Growing up I enjoyed exercising my independent thought and developing my certainties. Grown up, I can smile or grimace at how certain I felt it necessary to be then; whereas in ancient age my greatest contentment is in being certain of nothing and not pressing myself to decide anything. I live in a perpetual Advent where my role is to watch and wait.

From his perch as the wise fool, the sophomore contemns the wisdom of older generations -- especially of know-nothing parents, for all sophomores’ parents know nothing. I have been there in spades. Most of us grow out of it into appreciation. If it’s us, or our child, we watch, enjoy, love, and suffer as we/they grow into whatever they/we will be. How will it turn out? Look in the mirror.   


Thursday, December 26, 2013

an Oldsmobile man

One of my season enjoyments is with Joe, watching at least one screening of the annual The Christmas Story set in the early 1940s in a snowy Indiana town

with Ralphie longing for a Red Ryder BB gun. I know the longing and had at least one just like it.

Some may, like me, be more focused on the Olds sedan parked there beside the house and Ralphie’s remark that his father was “an Oldsmobile man” -- as was I also for a decade of the century long Olds run that ended with the death of the venerable American brand in 2004. 

Our first Olds was a 1973 Custom Cruiser station wagon that I ordered from Key Olds in Columbus, Ohio just after Tass was born. By today’s standards it was a large car, cream yellow with the wood applique like a Ford Country Squire (a classy car and probably the most popular station wagon on the road at the time), cream-tan leather or vinyl seats, seated nine. The clam-shell tailgate that GM offered several years. 

The car’s wood applique began to fade after several years in the sun, and eventually to peel. In loyal service until we donated it to charity in 1984 before moving from Harrisburg to Apalachicola, in its last days with us the Olds was having problems that caused it to burn nearly a half-tank of gasoline as I drove it for the final time the ten miles from our house to the Goodwill store for donation. 

Our other Oldsmobile was a 1970 Cutlass Supreme hardtop coupe, great car that replaced our 1967 Thunderbird. Yellow with the black fabric top that was popular then, the Cutlass was a favorite car. 

When I bought it used, low mileage from Wayne Haughey in Columbus for $1700, it was metallic green; but after Malinda’s skidding accident on snowy Route 50 just outside the Beltway in Northern Virginia, I had the fender straightened and the car repainted yellow at the Earl Scheibb paint and body shop near Crystal City. 

But Ralphie’s dad’s Oldsmobile --

is a 1937 six cylinder touring sedan. A bit longer than the six, the eight cylinder Olds for that year was easily distinguished from the six with its heavy horizontal bars, by the eight's fancier mesh-type front grill.

The Oldsmobile that Ralphie’s dad drove might seem enormous today, but was classic for the era, with comfortable leg room to stretch out in the back seat. 

The ’37 Oldsmobiles had flat head engines, straight-eight or straight-six, three speed manual transmission with gear shift on the floor,

no power steering or power brakes, no air conditioning, no back-up lights. Side mount spare tires optional, 

and the spare often needed. Ralphie’s father had the “touring sedan” with built in trunk:

whereas the standard model was the slant back:

Oldsmobile. What a great car! Shame, GM! Instead of coming out with the very good but ill-fated Saturn, GM should have built either Olds or Pontiac back up. Maybe it's just me.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

MX: Going There

MX! which is to say, “Merry Christmas!”

My thought was Where Shall I Go? during the Prayers of the People at our late Christmas Eve service last evening, opening memories --

waking up from the nap my mother made me take so I could stay awake through my first Midnight Mass as mama handed me a cup of hot chocolate. December 24, 1948

driving to church with extra caution on icy, snowy roads after a near-blizzard in Pennsylvania. 1976. I had dropped Linda and family at Mount Calvary, Camp Hill and was on my way to St. Luke’s, Mechanicsburg for smells and bells

going to sleep in my stateroom, USS TRIPOLI somewhere in the miserable Pacific Ocean, December 24, 1969, missing the three people I loved most in the world back home in San Diego. Naval officers don’t cry and one day at sea is like the day before and the next.

baking a large mackerel for our first XMAS Dinner in Yokohama because we’d always been home for Christmas before and had never cooked a turkey. 1963.

train home from Ann Arbor, bitter snowy cold as we changed trains in Cincinnati for overnight to Pensacola in the warm, comfortable Pullman bedroom arranged for us by Linda’s cousin Joe Farley. 1962.

Christmas vacation that same year in this house where we live now --

-- helping my father take down partitions that were installed during WWII to make four rental apartments. XMAS 1962

standing on the front porch of Trinity, Apalachicola and lighting incense as Wesley Chesnut in the balcony finished singing “O Holy Night” and the choir broke into “Adeste Fideles” 1984 - 1997 -- Trinity Choir singing the Gounod Sanctus and Benedictus Qui Venit in Latin OMG the beauty

AMTRAK porter who’d forgot to wake me in my bedroom, apologetically pushing me and my luggage onto the freezing platform as the train slowed but did not seem to stop in Lynchburg, Virginia. December 1990. In a chill breeze, finishing dressing on the platform as the sun rose. Next day, driving home to Apalachicola with Tass in her MB 300SD. Life’s blessing: all times with Tass.

in our new 1948 Dodge with my father, leaving St. Andrews Episcopal Church after my first Midnight Mass as John Pennel called to him, “Merry Christmas, Carroll.”

jingling bells softly outside their bedroom window in Annandale, Virginia to hear Malinda 8 and Jody 6 screaming, “Santa! I hear Santa Claus!” 1966.

Our years in Yokohama, the Navy Exchange received their Christmas toys along in late summer or early fall and had a grand opening of the toystore. The first year, 1963, about October, Linda and I bought a Christmas morning load of toys for two beloved, indulged, doted on children ages five and three. We took Malinda and Jody to the baby sitter service at the base, loaded the car with toys and took them home, decorated the house for Christmas, with an enormous collection of toys where the Christmas tree would be months later. We then picked up the children and as we drove home I kept saying stuff like, “Did you see that in the sky? A sleigh and reindeer and a man in a red suit. I know I saw it. It can’t be Santa this time of year, can it?” The children kept rushing from one side of the car to the other to look out the window into the sky. We parked at the house and went in the back door. As the children went into the living room, Malinda shrieked, “Santa Claus was here!!!” Especially being so far from home, an October day as exciting and happy as any Christmas morning in my memory. 

The mind can go many places while prayers are said.

Table is set and we are waiting for beloveds to arrive --


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Read Me A Story

Read Me A Story, Papa

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. Luke 2:1-20 KJV

There’s the story, Luke’s nativity scene. It’s available in any number of English translations from Luke’s NT Greek. My  preference is the timeless King James Version, and not just as an old fuddy-duddy. Like divine liturgy, a story has a sound, a proper sound. Anyone who has ever read a favorite bedtime story to a little child knows better than to change even one word. The medium is the message, and it’s Papa sitting there on the bed reading aloud, a favorite story just as always, with all the right words and sounds and inflections. Or a family gathered for Christmas dinner and listening as one of the elders tells again an old family story that everyone has heard innumerable times, that’s part of the scene and in years to come may be part of cherished memory.     

Far more and deeper and real than conveying facts, a real story is not like a report. A real story moves, is moving, with character and color and identity and individuality and beloved people and personality and eccentricity all of which encourage the audience to hear in pictures, mental images, as the story is told, like a dream. If a story is beautiful enough and real enough, it doesn’t matter whether it’s meant to be taken literally or owned as part of one’s being or just on the shelf as part of one’s heritage. Luke’s nativity scene. 

It’s Christmas Eve. We have a story of Jesus‘ birth, a nativity story that will be read at innumerable churches this evening. For me, it doesn’t want emasculating into a report of facts that move it from holy to banal and rob it of its joy and may even destroy that part of my faith that the story makes real. Luke’s nativity story in the King James Version is my Velveteen Rabbit, my Little Town of Bethlehem. Don’t ask me whether it really happened exactly this way. And don’t change the words. Or the tune. 


Monday, December 23, 2013

Love Came Down at Christmas

Love Came Down
20131222 Advent 4A Sunday, Dec 22, 2013. Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, FL. The Rev. Tom Weller

“Love came down at Christmas” and Christmas is different in every family, with different memories every year. You may want to remember some of yours while I share some of mine. Please be seated.
As a boy, the happiest two days of my year at Cove School were the first day of summer vacation, and the first day of Christmas vacation, long days of freedom spreading out before me. The two worst days were the last day of summer vacation, and Christmas Eve.

The last day of summer vacation, obviously. But Christmas Eve -- I’ll come back to that! 

When I was a boy the first sign of Christmas was around Thanksgiving when the Sears Roebuck Catalog arrived and I’d pour through it endlessly, lusting over the toy section and picking out what I’d include in my letter to Santa.

As Christmas came near, our home filled with the aroma of candy. My mother made fudge, and pecan roll, and date roll, and divinity, and what we called English toffee, buttery, crunchy toffee, slightly salty, with chocolate on top. I was the “mixer,” stirred candy for hours and got to “lick the spoon” and “lick the bowl.” And with a sweet tooth I was always the main candy consumer.

And fruitcake. We made fruitcake. The last Sunday before Advent was called “stir up Sunday” for stirring up fruit cake batter because of the Collect for the Day -- Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded -- and an old custom was to go home after church that day to stir up the batter and put fruit cakes in the oven.
We never heard of buying a Christmas tree, that would have been shameful. Sunday afternoon before Christmas we put a hatchet, axe and saw in the car trunk and headed off on our annual Christmas tree hunt in the woods of Bay County, wandering trails and circling pine trees until we finally settled on a tree my sister liked. By the time we’d been looking a couple of hours, we were less picky and it didn’t matter that it was flat and skimpy on one side, because that side would go against the wall. We cut it down, stuffed it in the car trunk and tied the trunk lid down, brought it home, built a stand, wired the tree to the stand to keep it from toppling over, took it inside, brought out the decorations and spotted beloved old favorites from years past; sorted through strings of lights trying to get some that would work. In those days, if one bulb went out, the whole string went out and you had to test every bulb to find the bad ones. Bits of tinsel that my sister liked to hang on the branches one by one, I preferred to stand back and throw a clump of tinsel at the tree and be done with it. Wrap presents in private, put them under the tree, and wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

Came Christmas Eve, “worst day of the year” because it stretched out for an eternity of second after second, minute after minute, me actually glancing up to see if the sun was standing still to torment me. Christmas Eve: a day I thought would never end, hours and hours of suffering until I could go to bed and to sleep to put myself out of my misery until predawn waking on Christmas morning.

When I was thirteen my father started taking me to the midnight Christmas Eve service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, which added new dimension, meaning and memories to Christmas, such that from that night on, the Christmas Eve service has been everything that Christmas is to me..

Christmas morning, my brother, sister and I gathered at the bottom of the stairs, forbidden even to peek into the living room where the Christmas tree was, we waited and waited and waited, once my father muttered loud enough to make sure we overheard him say, “I wonder why Santa Claus didn’t come,” us looking horrified at each other, apprehension building until mama said “OK, you can come in.” Anxiety was high. Would Santa have come? What would be there, if anything? And would there be anything for me, nevermind anything I had asked for, usually a cap gun or BB gun or some kind of gun, and a chemistry set.
I don’t remember putting out cookies and milk on the fireplace hearth for Santa until my sister came up with the idea because one of her friends did that, but once we started, the next morning the cookies were gone and the milk glass empty: for any doubters, this was absolute irrefutable proof that Santa had come. Milk drunk, cookies gone.

Gift opening was a frenzy for Gina and Walt, but I opened mine slowly to stretch it out, much to their annoyance when they were done and I was still opening presents, but it was never to annoy them, only to make it last.

One scary Christmas morning we came into the living room to find Santa’s hat lying in the edge of the fireplace. Our father said, “I almost got him this time, grabbed his hat as he escaped up the chimney,” which caused me enormous consternation and we were sure Santa would never come again, until mama admitted she had made the Santa hat for our father’s prank, a dirty Irish trick, worse than throwing the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder.

After opening presents we had breakfast and you could smell turkey roasting and the oyster dressing. When Christmas dinner was over, we loaded up the car, dropped by Mom and Pop’s house in St. Andrews to exchange hugs and gifts with those grandparents, then headed off to Pensacola.

Arriving at the house in East Hill where my mother grew up, our grandparents and my mother’s brothers and sisters, their wives and husbands and all our cousins were there waiting for us full of excitement and love. In the living room of Mamoo and Daddy Walt’s house another Christmas tree was loaded with gifts for us. Two different Christmases over the years a bicycle for me. New roller skates, underwear, shirts and socks, every kid has underwear and socks in his letter to Santa. My grandfather owned a pawnshop, so you might get fishing gear or something electric like a portable radio.

We had dirt roads and no sidewalks in Panama City, but they had sidewalks in Pensacola, and the day after Christmas would be skating around the block with cousins who taught me to skate, stopping often to tighten with a skate key the clamp holding the skates to the shoes. And hours on end riding bicycles around the block if for no other reason than my grandmother would shout “Get out of the house.”

About sunset we’d load up the 1942 Chevrolet that was our car during World War II and head home for Panama City. Sometimes I slept in the back seat, but usually I rode in the front seat and listened to my parents talk about the visit and about how it was when they were teenagers together in Pensacola only a few year earlier. I’d watch the cars on the road, for Pierce Arrows and Packards with side-mount spare tires and a trunk rack on the back.

During World War Two, the top half of car headlights had to be painted over to keep beams low so as not throw up light that could be seen from German submarines offshore. I recall once seeing the glow of fire over the horizon, and later hearing that a U-boat had torpedoed a ship off the coast. The night ride home from Pensacola to Panama City along the Gulf of Mexico was scary at night because of rumors about Germans from U-boats coming ashore. 

Arriving home late night, the three of us were sound asleep and our father carried us in. It was always a surprise to wake in my own bed the next morning.

Over the next few days the living room floor would become covered with pine needles, and it was time to start taking down the Christmas tree and packing things away, the final sign Christmas was over.

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In all of that, my memories are of love in our family at Christmas. Anticipation, excitement, delicious things to eat, memories of Christmas with loved ones who are gone. It’s all different now, changes with every generation, but stays the same, a season to tuck memories away for years later when you’ll need them. As need them you will.

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My prayer this morning is at Christmas may the Holy Spirit fill you with peace in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only in ancient time to Bethlehem, but especially in his promise of coming again. Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

My aunt Evalyn, whom we called E.G., used to give talks for the folks at the retirement home where she lived about what she called our "Treasure Chest of Memories." My blog post this morning is my chat-not-sermon from the pulpit yesterday, printed because so many people afterward, and at the delightful vestry and staff party at Lori and Steve Bates' home last evening, shared childhood Christmas memories with me and said they'd remembered things they hadn't thought of in years. My idea of the chat was exactly that: regardless of what might be going on in life this year, to remember wonderful things. 

Tom Weller

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mr. Safety

Merry Advent Four. Walking out on to the upstairs screen porch I meet a beautiful day, perfect Florida predawn -- warm, humid, 76F and the wind blowing in across the Bay from the Gulf. Four o’clock and still dark as pitch. Lights of the upstairs Christmas tree are glowing, making it light enough to sit out here on the porch to think and write; however, it is windy, so back inside where the air conditioning is on to calm the humidity. But the blinds in the door are open so I can watch for the day.

Yesterday while we were at St. Thomas by the Sea for a funeral, Joe arrived. I love for him to bring me things from his company store, sometimes a shirt. This time he brought me a travel mug with his company’s name on it, which I filled with coffee when I went downstairs for the MacBook a couple hours ago to rewrite my pulpit nonsense. Now enjoying a second coffee made in the upstairs Keurig, typing while sipping from the travel mug, and trying to be quiet because Linda is still asleep in the far corner of the house in what she calls her snore room. 

There’s the a/c kicking in, doesn’t seem right for a couple days before Christmas, does it.

Joe drove down from NC in his new Volvo S-60, which has the highest safety ratings for any sedan. It’s about the same size as our Buick Regal and has the same profile such that from the side they could be twins. 
IIHS, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the S-60 top ratings for their new small overlap crash test, which has not been awarded to many cars. When car shopping my top consideration is safety and I always rely on ratings by the IIHS at http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ratings at http://www.safercar.gov/. Sadly, I have noticed that when a local high school student has been killed in a car crash, the car almost inevitably was not one with a top safety rating. It’s the best investment and the cheapest insurance a parent can buy to protect a beloved son or daughter. 

Today: my sermon which is neither a sermon nor a homily but a chat. Well, a chat can be a sermon, but it can’t be a homily which is about Scripture that was just read aloud. But I won’t dignify it with “sermon,” it's a chat. And something colorful for the children to munch. Adult Sunday school? Come enjoy.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Soapbox on Bathurst

Soapbox on Bathurst

Thirty-five years ago after my Navy retirement I spent some weeks in Australia conducting seminars for their Department of Defence and defense industry executives, visiting five of their major cities during my first visit. There was time for walking around and getting to know places, and one city I especially enjoyed and grew to love was Sydney. There several times over the next few years, I found three or four Anglican parish churches I liked so much that on a Sunday morning I would go to the early service at one church, then dash (I was on foot) to another church for the next service. Two churches I remember in Sydney were St. Andrew’s Cathedral on Bathurst Street, astonishingly low-church unto dour Puritanism,

and Christ Church, St. Lawrence, as they say, Anglo-Catholic higher than the Pope.

Across Bathurst Street from St. Andrew’s Cathedral was the widest sidewalk I had ever seen, and on the sidewalk about every block or two was some preacher standing on a box, proclaiming his gospel in true soapbox fashion, Bible spread open in one hand, the other hand wildly stabbing the sky. One or two people might be standing there staring at him, then move on, most hurried on by. It is a picture that comes to mind any time I suspect myself of taking on some “cause.”  

Like now.

Something that disgusts me with American media is the extreme overuse of the word “alleged” for people who commit crimes and are apprehended at the scene. Major Nidal Hasan, shot down while murdering 13 soldiers at Fort Hood and described in the press as “alleged shooter," how asinine. James Holmes, self-admitted killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, "alleged shooter." On my blog I can’t/don’t use my magnificently colorful Navy sea language to describe my view on such; and if I did my bishop would likely come collect my collar. But this morning I found a hero reporter and newspaper with the guts to tell the truth, say it like it is, with outrage. “Heinous and wanton” Joseph Stepansky wrote and his paper printed it. “Cold-blooded thugs, goons, creeps,” he writes. “Greedy attackers,” arrested. The word “alleged” does not once show its repulsive face in this article. I don’t know or care what else they may have printed or what their political tone, God prosper the NY Daily News.

Still on Bathurst Street, watching Phil Robertson being fashioned into some kind of ludicrous folk-hero. Never seen a black person mistreated, hoed cotton with them, “They’re singing and happy,” Phil says. One visualizes Little Black Sambo on the front porch of his slave shack strummin’ his banjo and tappin' his foot. Phil’s rights? Every American has the right to be staggeringly ignorant and to speak up with blind, insensitive stupidity. And not only to mouth absurd inanities to a reporter who’s going to make you out the simpleton that you are, every American has the right to act out hatred as a manifestation of free speech, as the Supreme Court found for Westboro Baptist Church. Every American has the right to show his axx. This is an American hero in whom we can see ourselves? Shame. God help us.