Friday, January 31, 2014

My name is Isra


Soon after WW2 this true story was published, it may have been in Reader’s Digest. On a train trip to visit Herr General at his post, the wife and little twin sons of a German army general had by some mistake boarded the wrong train. The destination was a concentration camp debarkation point, where they were stripped naked and shunted off to death with the Jewish women and children. My initial reaction was one of horror that such a tragic mistake could be made, before the divine irony hit me.

Atrocity of horrors, a teenage boy, a college student and his older brother drop package bombs near the end of the Boston Marathon. Moments later they explode the bombs, killing and maiming innocent people. There is no nonsense about “alleged,” the two are recorded in the act, identified publicly, the older brother killed trying to flee, the teen apprehended. Now, months later, it’s not about “guilty” or “not guilty” but about a suitable penalty: death or not-death.

It isn’t about weasel-wording that he should be kept alive suffering in prison for the rest of his life it’s about death or not-death: should we kill him, or not? It isn’t about the cost and unfairness of appeals for the next twenty years while the public pays and the victims’ families wait for “closure” until the teen murderer passes late middle-age, it’s about death or not-death: should we kill him or not? Neither is it about humane and painless execution, it’s pure and simply about death or not-death: should we kill him or not? And it isn’t about Massachusetts has abolished the death penalty, this is not a state prisoner this is our national prisoner up on federal charges: should we kill him, or not? Should we kill him or not? Should we kill the boy, or not? This is our opportunity to decide, not about justice for a merciless murderer, a moot point,

but about America. Not what is he and what does he deserve, but what are we? For me, a conservative Southerner, this is a struggle. It is a struggle because I make it a struggle with myself every time I see contemptible human garbage executed for some heinous crime while bleeding hearts decry his suffering. The issue is not his suffering, but what we are, and my name is Isra.

On the same day America decides to seek the death penalty for that teen murderer, an American college student studying abroad, a girl my child’s age, is convicted for the murder of her housemate, an English girl the same age, in Italy. Italian jurisdiction, Italian law prevails: it is the third trial and there will be a fourth trial before it’s over. Dragging out more than five years with more years to drag, it has come to be not about evidence and facts and justice and reasonable doubt, but an angry international struggle of Italy against America and England against America, and an especially ugly imprint of anti-Americanism. Were it not so horribly, gruesomely tragic and true, it would be material for an Italian fire-drill comedy of errors. Everyone has an opinion: where do I stand? A father of beloved girls, my name is Isra. I would rather have lived in some other age than watch this nightmare. 

My name is Isra. Isratom. My struggle is with myself, and I am losing.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thumbs Up

Cory Remsburg. This is for Cory, and for every American injured or killed in the wars since 9/11, and for every American who has been there fighting against those who hate us unto death, and for every one who has been there protecting Cory and each other and us. 

This is not for those very few who have brought disgrace upon themselves and shame upon us. This is not for them. This is for the good guys and gals, and there are many, many of them.

This is for Cory Remsburg and friends. Our nation's history is filled with them, today and yesterday and yesteryear. We are right to be proud of them, to honor and salute them.  


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Role to Play


So what else is new? Still contemplating the life and death of Pete Seeger and his notion that the world can be changed as well with a song as a gun. Just re-read the transcript of his 1955 appearance before HUAC, where his lack of cooperation brought his being held in contempt of Congress on ten charges and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment on each charge, to be served concurrently (for a kindness I reckon?). I wonder if anyone despises officious politicians as vehemently as I do? Pete’s sentence was dismissed on appeal, but one could scarcely imagine a higher honor for any American than to be held in contempt of Congress, assembly of the sleazeballs of the universe. No kidding, I would insist it be inscribed on my tombstone and a magnificent memorial erected. Maybe a statue of me on a horse. A winged horse. 

Maybe just the horse.

Went back to yesterday’s post to add words for “Where Have All The Flowers Gone.” Did not add “If I Had A Hammer,” maybe a good song, though I preferred PP&M singing it. But have never been able to figure out about that hammer -- that is, whether a sickle stood quietly in the shadow. The song’s history says so to me. 

Didn’t care for Pete's voice, banjo or guitar, and others sang his songs better, but he brought something, and left something.  

It's early but Linda's paper is here. 28F outside, light sleet or freezing rain. Steps and ramp are glazy iced. Hathaway Bridge is closed. Kristen in Atlanta sent pics of herself on campus last night: her first time ever in snow. 

State of the Union Address. This is not a political blog. It was powerful, moving. He's nearly as excellent a speaker as George II before him. Content? The content is not the point, the point is the Constitution requires the address. Why? Because. It's like church: we have a sermon every Sunday. Why? Because. The opposition response? I no longer listen to the opposition response afterward, because whether it's Red or Blue the response is nothing but crafty, crafted political grousing hyped by the media. One must give a speech, Other must whine. Click. ZZZZZZZZ


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Goodnight, Pete

Goodnight, Irene

There’s a headline: Pete Seeger, folk singer and activist, dies at 94, there’s a bit of American history of our own age, what went on, what came down, where we were, what we were doing, and WTF were we thinking. It no longer surprises me that Wikipedia keeps up to the minute of death, so the article on The Weavers just now was like standing at the window and again watching the parade that went by during my own lifetime. Pete Seeger, what a live, living, scrappy character. Looking back with Pete, I can see he was right and I was wrong. Pete’s kind help deter our certainties. 

Pete jarred me four years ago when the nation celebrated his birthday, and then again more recently, maybe it was when he turned 92 and was on television. And he did it again this morning when I opened the news online. It was jarring, is jarring, I didn’t like it, don’t like it, don’t like what it does to me, where it takes me, I don't like going there. Pete puts me back at sea, in WestPac, during the Vietnam War. ... the Flower Children, they were -- peaceniks. When my ship went into Hong Kong for that week or ten days in early 1970 and ship's company hit the beach, all the Flower Children returned to the ship decked out in their new liberty duds, fabricated quickly for them at local tailor shops in HK. 

Sometime during that cruise I went into one of my ship spaces, a computer room -- it was the day and age of the mainframe -- to find bulkheads covered with those little flowers the Flower Children stuck everywhere. It was good statement, from them even subtle protest. I let the flowers stay up. The next time the ship’s captain went through that space on inspection he told me red-faced and in clear terms, “those flowers have to come down.” 
Pete Seeger did it to me again this morning, I had hoped it was gone and wouldn’t come back, because it was very dark. Like Joan Baez and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, when it dawned that regardless of the patriotic songs I had sung and loved growing up, we were no better than the rest of humanity. My Lai? Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? The hideous war injuries on tiny little terrified children who were flown out to our ship for plastic surgery. It was a terrible time to live through on the wrong side. 

But it showed that when everything is wrong, an American president can be brought down by song --

Goodnight, Pete.


-- does anybody remember the tune?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Monday, January 27, 2014

What A Load Of It

Names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent, because they weren’t 

1857, American English, a Midwestern word for "to talk aimlessly and boastingly; to indulge in 'high falutin'," according to Farmer (1890), who seems to have been the only British lexicographer to notice it. He says it was based on blow (v.) on the model of deviate, etc. 

It seems to have been felt as outdated slang already by late 19c. ("It was a leasure for him to hear the Doctor talk, or, as it was inelegantly expressed in the phrase of the period, 'bloviate' ...." ["Overland Monthly," San Francisco, 1872, describing a scene from 1860]), but it enjoyed a revival early 1920s during the presidency of Warren G. Harding, who wrote a notoriously ornate and incomprehensible prose (e.e. cummings eulogized him as "The only man, woman or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors") at which time the word took on its connection with political speech; it faded again thereafter, but, with its derivative, bloviation, it enjoyed a revival in the 2000 U.S. election season that continued through the era of blogging. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Anu Garg’s daily word is far more than simply educational, informative, it’s totally entertaining. And it -- calls to mind. This morning’s word is bloviate which it turns out has a pseudo etymology tied falsely to Latin. It’s just a made up word, a verb that essentially says what a blowhard does, shoots off his mouth meaninglessly. Well, his/her.

In my Navy years I met two people who were gifted beyond measure in bloviation, both of whom our higher command called upon to write the commendations for the military medals that we were awarded upon leaving our dangerous desk jobs. One was a GS-15 named Roy, who reported to me in my last duty station in Washington, DC, but whom the admiral always assigned to write the really fancy HS. When Roy wasn’t working on some officer’s medal, he was busy writing the gibberish for his own annual performance rating. The other was a USAF lieutenant colonel named Gene, whose only gift so far as I knew then and still recall today forty years later, was bragadocious BS passed off as reality. Gene had played football somewhere but even in our thirties couldn’t let it go, and epitomized the stupid one who proceeded successfully through life with scar tissue instead of brain tissue. For lieutenant colonel Gene, I should spell BS out, because its full degree of contemptibleness doesn’t register without the vulgarity, but I won’t, because preachers never cuss.

Come to think of it, we had a couple of other bloviators at that same command, both high rankers, GS-14s. One named Natalie, of which I shall say no more, not only for social reasons, but because in three years of working near her I never understood one sentence she said; but to her credit, the colonel was snowed. The other was Wayne, on the job a good and competent man, whom our colonel also assigned to write the gobbledygook for our medals. No, by God, come to think of it, at that command we also had a pompous self-afflicted AH named Henry who, God help us, bloated himself all the way up to general officer rank in the Army Reserve. Which confirmed various convictions from observations compiled over my twenty-year career. About the senior service, and about reserve officers, and about bloviation. You can’t fool your subordinates or peers, but you sure as hell can fool your superiors. That duty station was in the midwest, and that’s all I’m saying by way of ID, leaving full disclosure to Edward Snowden. 

And hell is a place, not a cuss word.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

This Is My Stop

No adult Sunday school this morning, our combined Sunday school and Confirmation class is attending the annual parish meeting. Battin Hall, between services, with a nice continental breakfast.

We’ll resume our wonderful class next Sunday morning.

Meantime, my PreLent Retreat that is more mental than physical. That is to say, I’m not walking down front to sit by the Bay and read and contemplate, and swat mosquitos, wave gnats away and brush ants off, or wandering around monastery grounds and cemeteries to note old grave dates as I did last summer. natus. ingressus. obiit. Yet, like those Retreats, most of this Retreat is inside, within me, not the physical part, though last summer I made a point of heavy exertion at the first and third retreats. 

But here I am. Have to keep the mind working. Doing nothing mental leads down, down, way, way down. What brings that on? Maybe the season: with Longfellow, The day is cold and dark and dreary. But more than the sky is gray. Eight or nine years ago I visited Miss Virginia Parker, our beloved eighth grade teacher from Cove School, in hospital. For years in the Old Time she was pianist at St. Thomas by the Sea Episcopal Church, Laguna Beach; so where she had been my teacher, I had become her priest. When I walked into her hospital room and told her who I was she stared at me and exclaimed, “Carroll Weller! You had the most beautiful black hair.” Yep, more than the sky is gray. Gray? The clouds are white. A couple years later I scattered her ashes upon the sea. VP no longer exists except in memories of those who adored her. CW no longer exists and FrT is old and retired, and the day is cold and ... who's next? What’s wrong? First a Ford drives away. Then a Volvo. And -- "she's all grown up" -- another Volvo. My children are grown and gone and the hands on my grandfather clock tick only clockwise. See, this is what my PreLent Retreat is meant to counter, but here I posture, typing my way down into the cellar.

Need a change. I do not like the part of life where my children are grown and gone, I loved it noisy, “Daddy, pick-a-me-up, Daddy, read us a bedtime story. Daddy, tell us about when you were a boy. Granddaddy, I love you just like you were my own daddy. Granddaddy, tomorrow's Sunday, we forgot to change the hymn board. Papa, pick-a-me-up. Papa, can we go to the park? Papa, can I stay at your house tonight? Papa, come get me.” A child is a person who grows through your life on their way to becoming an adult, but I’m not getting used to this, the fog is getting thicker, what's out there? Five short blasts. And I didn’t know the Bay could be so flat or the sky so white. Or the trees so still. Five short, rapid blasts.

Remembering. Long years ago, it must have been during WWII or just after, a Superman Comic, probably read while crouched in Coopers' dumpster. This was Superman. Not Captain Marvel or Don Winslow, U.S. Coast Guard. Superman. In the Superman story there was a time problem that could not be solved. But dashing into the nearest phone booth to change and bursting out as Superman, our hero fashioned a long, heavy chain, wrapped it around the earth, flew faster than a speeding bullet out into space where, more powerful than a locomotive, he pulled on the chain, pulled and pulled and tugged and tugged and tugged until the earth ground to a stop, and then slowly began to turn in the opposite direction, and time along with it. Would you go there? How far back would you go before you told Superman to start time and life and the world turning clockwise again?

... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. It doesn’t say Happiness is a right, it says the pursuit of it. Whoever said you are responsible for your own happiness had it right, I think I'll go back and get mine, I know right where I left it. Nobody can do it for you, not even children except while they are passing through, and even then it's not the children making you happy; rather, it's your excruciatingly intense doting love for them. If Superman were turning life, time, world and clock back for me right now, where would I tell him “stop”? I’m thinking. Like Emily Webb Gibbs in Our Town, I'm thinking of an ordinary day. It's May 1990 and I’m just finishing my baccalaureate address for Tassy’s AHS graduating class. I'm just finishing, and these graduating seniors whom I love so dearly are still laughing at my kidding them about the aspirations expressed in their class prophecy. It's May 1990.  

Stop, Superman. I’m getting off here. 

This is my stop. This is where I change.



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Steam, Electric, Gasoline

From The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism* a friend sent me a paragraph describing the first cars in the White House stable of Roosevelt turned garage for Taft. “... Taft converted the stable which had held Roosevelts jumpers, pacers, and calipers into an oversized garage for his Model M steam touring convertible, a Pierce Arrow Limousine and a Baker Queen electric which Nellie learned to drive.” I have long known about the large White steam car that President Taft (1909-1913) purchased, 

but the others surprised me into searching for pictures. Taft's Baker electric apparently is still in existence, privately owned. 

The Pierce limousine dates before the streamline-design headlamps later built into the front fenders, which became a signature for recognizing Pierce Arrow cars. 

About 1903 to 1913 was the “brass era” of American cars, and there were some real beauties. That's a White steamer:

It was before bumpers, before electric headlamps, before left-hand drive was standardized for American automobiles. Before many things. Would I go back? 


* Doris Kearns Goodwin, November 5, 2013, Simon and Schuster 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Today In History (mine)

January 24th is my sister’s birthday. I remember when she was very, very tiny, a head full of tight, thick blond curls, adorable in a pink dress that mama made and embroidered. Happy birthday, Gina! May the Good Lord bless you!

Three years ago at this very moment I was lying on a gurney in a corridor outside my operating room at Cleveland Clinic, watching my team of doctors and nurses and aides enter and move around busily as huge machines are rolled into the room being made ready for me. Up well before dawn, I was first in line for the day. A physician came and introduced himself as my anesthesiologist, and started a drip of some sort while I waited there in the hall. My only possession was a bottle of nitroglycerin tablets, which I was clutching in case the chest pains started, but they never did, and when I woke hours later they were gone. Two hours earlier I had awakened in our hotel room and taken a head to toe shower using some kind of strong medicine that I had been cautioned not to get in my eyes, ears or mouth. A little while later, beloved family and friends got on the trolley with me for the ride to the heart institute. Now my name had been called, and the hugs were history, and the anointing with oil and prayer -- a memory of the morning and moment is of a nurse coming in and asking me if I would like to see one of the hospital chaplains and the look on her face when I said, "No, thank you, my priest is here." There was a split second of silence and open mouth doubt before she said, "Aren't you from Florida?" And I said, "Yes." She said, "And your priest is here?" And I said, "Yes, he's here." -- anyway, now it was my alone time, just me out here in the hall in total peace. 

Was that you, Lord?

Waiting in the corridor was the alone part, but honest to God I was not the least nervous, having heard the chief surgeon’s confidence at my Friday conference with him. He had asked me whether I wanted to go ahead with the surgery. I asked him his success rate. He said over 97%. I asked him what was my alternative. He said “cardiac arrest.” A song comes to mind, What's the use of worryin', it never was worthwhile, so pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.

Outside on that predawn just blocks from frozen over Lake Erie, the weather was down in the twenties or so, snow on the ground. In the corridor outside my OR, someone kept bringing me hot blankets, and I relaxed. After my wait of an hour or so on the gurney in the corridor, the OR door rolled open, someone came out and wheeled my gurney in, helped me over onto the operating table -- which I expected to be freezing cold, but it was warm. And told me they were starting another drip.

Several dreams were all ready for the Grand Nap. I was going on the sleigh ride with Robert Frost in snowy woods. I would spend the day alone at St. Andrews State Park at the jetties, walking on the beach and in the surf. I would ride the ferry from Newport across Narragansett Bay over to Jamestown, where Linda would be waiting for me. There she'll be, standing by that green 1948 Dodge. Nothing happened. Not one single dream, zip, zilch, nada, nil, goose egg, total black darkness of oblivion. My next feeling was a panic of drowning as a tube was pulled up my throat, completely closing off my air passage for a few seconds as I gasped to breathe and couldn't, then opened my eyes, saw smiling loved ones staring down at me, and said, “I’m alive!”

Of the next couple of days, my memory is what someone called “ICU psychosis,” vivid dreams of incredible reality and intensity. Repetitive. Two dreams kept repeating over and over again. I’d wake up, thankful the dream was over, only to go back to sleep and have it return. 

In one dream “Deutschland über alles” was playing at deafening volume constantly, unendingly and would not stop or let up. A very loud German brass band with especially loud euphonium and tooting tuba. Over and over and over returning and continuing furiously. Even now the dream shades my love of the hymn "Glorious things of thee are spoken" to the tune Austria. But don't even think of playing that other, the wrong tune, it's even more annoying than the wrong tune for "O little town of Bethlehem."

My other dream was really strange. The two-masted schooner Annie & Jennie was caught in a storm at sea in the Gulf of Mexico just off shore. I am here in my house. Alfred and I are emailing and texting each other back and forth about the vessel’s plight, and me warning him to return to port. The situation and communication was as real as anything that has ever happened to me in life. The repetitive dream was my life. The Annie & Jennie was shipwrecked there, in that storm, in January 1918 and Alfred, my father’s brother, was lost. The death of their son so permanently devastated and broke my grandparents that within a couple of years, by 1920 they picked up and moved away from this house and the sea. More than forty years later my parents reaquired this old Weller homestead, but my grandfather refused ever again to come in, as he told me, "I can't go there, because of Alfred." Had Alfred not died the Weller family would never have left St Andrews, to move to Georgia, then to South Florida, then to Niceville/Valparaiso, then to Pensacola where my father and mother met, then back to St. Andrews/Panama City. At the very center of my being is my awareness that I have my life because of Alfred’s death. We have a praise song with the phrase, "in his death is my life." For everyone else it's about them and Jesus, but it's about Alfred and me, just that one line. Even during that time of frantic ICU psychotic dreaming, I could not save him. It was one of the most real things I have ever experienced.

Grateful. Gratitude. On a jet plane, one hour and forty five minutes from Panama City to Cleveland -- and home again.

Cleveland Clinic. January 24, 2011.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fr. Toad's Wild Keyboard

PreLenten Retreat

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

+++   +++   +++

This is my year to start Lent early, to Retreat, read and meditate, reflect, and practice -- practice writing. To practice writing concisely. Retreat like the three personal spiritual retreats I took last summer, of self-examination and repentance. Repent as the children show us in the center aisle on Sunday mornings, abruptly turning around and going in the opposite direction. Repent! Turn. Repent! Turn. Repent! Turn. My PreLent Retreat will go as long as seems helpful and may end before anyone else even starts Lent. I'll break Retreat only for agape -- which is to say, for lovingkindness: Sundays, Monday staff meetings, Wednesday Noons & Evenings at Holy Nativity, occasional consultations, and blog posts. Not strictly silent but humbly introspective and corrective.

Retreat starts today, later. This morning I am having breakfast with a classmate, an oldest friend of seventy-one years. We grew up neighbors around Massalina Bayou. He is president of our Cove School class of 1949. Although a 'Nole, he is a godly and talented man who from time to time draws our class together for reunions, feeds us grandly, and makes us feel as one again. So, breakfast first, Retreat later

What prompts this Retreat is a personal malady of which I am long aware but only sometimes mindful to keep in check. Crudely, it might be called dysentery of the keyboard.

These things motivate my Retreat. My blogposts often become a mindless run-on. Or I write a friend an email that goes on and on and on and on and on. Or a colleague invites me to converse on a subject of mutual interest; and, accepting, I leap enthusiastically into it, typing page after page of nonstop stream of consciousness and pressing "send" to release what looks like a rant of thickheaded obtuseness from a mind of demented confusion. Looking back at what I write, I feel like Mr. Toad's wild ride but driving a typewriter instead of a car. My PreLenten undertaking is to get my madcap typing under control. 

This very blog post is an e.g. of mindless run-on: I've said too much already. Full stop.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It’s, brief, ... about death

It’s, brief, to some extent about death this morning because at 6:46 last night diocesan clergy had an email from our bishop telling us the Reverend Norman Bray died of a massive heart attack while working in his office, “we believe around 4:00 pm.” The time uncertainty tells me Norman died after staff left the office for the day and was found there when someone went to check on him. It also tells me that we were informed within, perhaps minutes of the bishop finding out. In fact, the rattled nature of the bishop's email tells me that for sure. Norman was rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Marianna, Florida. The bishop said the funeral will be in Marianna, perhaps Friday.

If it’s not time to wax maudlin, it’s time to pause. Maybe think. Three o’clock in the morning is good for a moment of silence and to enjoy being alive, as in “Hey! I showed up again today: thank you, God!” And to appreciate being inside and warm when the red line on the back porch thermometer sits at 32F/0C as now. We have no choice of death, but it comes one way or another, this day or a tomorrow. We can be “OMG” or we can be “thank God.” If its thanks it can be for all the blessings of this life. They are too numerous to list without leaving half of them out, so when I get to the end of my list, instead of period, full stop, I’ll put a comma, 

What happens after that last breath? I don’t know, we don’t know. We may believe, but believing doesn’t make so, doesn’t create truth. I thought this was really good. This blog post of an Episcopal bishop is interesting, he’s articulate, intelligent and well spoken. I love his thesis as a kick-off for thought and discussion. And about heaven and especially hell, I’m with his ending that it’s a subject “... in which I will probably never be sufficiently interested to explore ...” Why? It hasn’t been given to me to decide. I have more than I can deal with right here. My faith is “whatever you say, Lord.” And I’m not afraid of the dark.

Father Norman Bray. May his soul, with the souls of all faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Andrew and the Ringwraiths

Andrew and the Ringwraiths

Some are real, some less so. Some favorite scenes, that is. Life scenes and not life. The pursued hobbits arrive on a rainy night, dark and stormy. To their banging, the gatekeeper opens the latch hole, peers out, swings the gate wide and they enter in the driving rain. The town has a frightening feel, medieval, scary, people darting about huddled against the cold rain. Frodo and company make their way to the pub, not knowing the Black Riders, Ringwraiths who are neither living nor dead, are not far behind. Gothic and terrifying, the arrival in Bree is my favorite scene in the entire series. 

But it’s the invention of the scriptwriters, not the work of Tolkien whose arrival scene in Bree is very different: not raining, an evening walk in the town. Which is real and which is less so? I’ve watched the movie scene many times and prefer it to the book, is it life or not life?

In the red Gospel book on our Altar, the gospel for last Sunday, John 1:29-42, begins, “On the day after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, ...”. But it’s a false gospel, that’s not what gospel John says, he specifically as part of his agenda refrains from saying Jesus was baptized by John. As I read it aloud in the early service I was startled to notice the editor’s liberty with John’s text, and substantial error, and so omitted it when I read it in 10:30 worship. But unlike John, the synoptic gospels do have John the Baptist baptizing Jesus: which is real and which is less so? And did John the Baptist really say Ἴδε ὁ Ἀμνὸς τοῦ  Θεοῦ or not? Why does John the Baptist say, “Behold the Lamb of God” only in the Gospel according to John but not in Mark, Matthew and Luke, and baptize Jesus in the synoptics but not in John? Which is real life and which is the scriptwriters’ -- I hesitate to say -- invention? And what of the -- “scholar” -- who took such a glaring liberty as he edited the red Gospel book on our Altar? Which do I trust, what I read or what I see or the pictures in my mind, which is real and which is less so? Which is life, which not life?

On a spring morning in 1995, after nearly two weeks in England, Linda and I arrive in Atlanta on an overnight flight from London. Instead of driving home to Apalachicola, I drive almost as fast as the car will go, straight from Atlanta Airport to St. Andrew Baptist Church to pick up Kristen at the Childcare Center. We arrive at nap time and she is asleep. I wait just inside the door of the dark room. The teacher goes to her, wakes her gently saying, “Kristen, Papa’s here.” She jumps up, looks round and sees me, and comes running frantically, flying into my arms for one of those never-let-you-go clinging hugs. Two years old, she who did it has long forgotten, but for me it’s one of my favorite scenes, recorded in my mind. Is it life, or not life? I can see it, experience it again right now, it’s as clear in my mind as that night of Frodo’s arrival in Bree, is it real, or less than, life or not life? But then, that scene in The Fellowship of the Ring movie wasn’t real, wasn’t how it really was, was not how Tolkien wrote it. And some gospel writers wrote this, some wrote that, which is real? 

“As of old, Saint Andrew heard it ...” which scene was real, did Jesus encounter Andrew with Simon Peter at the boat by the Sea of Galilee as Mark wrote it and I have it clear in my mind? Or did Andrew meet Jesus at Bethany, the other side of the Jordan where John was baptizing, follow Jesus to where he was staying, and later tell his brother “we have found the Christ” and bring Simon to Jesus, as John’s gospel tells it? They are all my favorite scenes, but which is real and which less so? Or is it the scriptwriter?

And what about this, these blog posts? My last child is all grown up and gone and what I have left are scenes, favorite scenes of all four of them. The same hug from Malinda when I arrived home in Panama City from Ann Arbor. The same leaping, clinging hug from Joe when my ship arrived home in San Diego from WestPac. Meeting Tass at Atlanta Airport as she walked off the plane from Gatwick. Late evening, in my pajamas running down the hospital corridor in Apalachicola to grab her after that car accident, blood on her face, holding her as she said, "I'm OK, Daddy," but I was not. St. Andrew: apostle or child care center? both are gone but real as ever right here in my mind scenes. London. Atlanta airport. Clinging hugs that won’t let go. A fishing boat by the Galilean Sea and someone taking leave of their father, to follow Jesus and never to return. Taking leave of the father? tell me about it. St. Andrew mixed up in all of it. Annie & Jennie, St. Andrew, Florida. Behold the Lamb of God. Imagination or life? My scenes: real, or the ravings of a madman? It’s no longer clear to me.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Apology to a Word

Apology to a Word

This is an apology. Not an apologetic that is a reasoned defense of a view over against an opposing view, but an apology. I have a bad thing with words and with rambling overflowing with far too many words, as my correspondents find when we exchange communications. It seems to be getting worse as more and more I observe myself becoming a scratchy old man. This apology is about one of my slogan words, the word “certitude.” I have contemned certitude, which I have erroneously fenced for my use to mean something sinfully beyond the sure and certain confidence that Hebrews 11:1 calls “faith.” In lighting on “certitude” I was wanting a word to convey the sense of stubborn certainty that one is right and others are wrong to such an extent that one would require others to live by one’s certainties, in social matters, matters of religion, politics. I’ve used “certitude” to mean negatively a certainty that is set in in concrete. 

It isn’t. I’m rethinking my use and definition of this decent word. Certitude is just a synonym for certainty, but I have made certitude into a four-letter word. It isn’t. This is my apology. Unconditional. No ifs, ands or buts. I apologize to the word and to friends who have watched me abuse it.


Monday Whatever, Whenever, Wherever

Monday Whatever, Whenever, Wherever

One of the colorful local joys is "Coming Home," Sheila Leto’s column in the PCNH every Sunday morning. It’s always especially good because Sheila and I are the same age (well, she’s my brother Walt’s age) and we remember all the same things. We both grew up in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church with our beloved Father Tom Byrne, the only real Father Tom who ever lived, and like me, Sheila’s husband John Scott is a retired Episcopal priest. Her memories of St. Andrews are better than mine because, although I live here now and grew up around my father’s fishhouse in St. Andrews, and she and John live right across W. Beach Drive down on the Bay, she grew up right here, across 9th Street from this house that my grandparents built here a hundred years ago; while I grew up on Massalina Drive in the Cove. So our memories are a little different. I like hers better because in those days St. Andrews to me was a magical place of bare feet and rough kids in blue overalls heading for the Bay with a fishing pole or a castnet or a crabnet or a pair of oars or a red can of gasoline. 

Yesterday she was remembering Mattie’s Tavern. It was a block from our fishhouse on 12th Street at Beck Avenue where Hunt’s Oyster Bar is today. I remember it well, the most colorful thing in downtown St. Andrews on Beck Avenue -- well maybe second to the ice plant that was where Captain’s Table parking lot is today. But I was never inside Mattie’s Tavern because my parents, at least when they were raising us, were teetotalers and we were never taken inside a place that served beer or spirits. After reading Sheila’s column yesterday, I wish I had been there for the hushpuppies and the fried seafood. But if we were eating downtown St. Andrews it was for lunch during the workweek and we would walk two doors down the block to the corner, to Mom’s Cafe, which was directly across from Mattie’s Tavern. I always especially liked Mom of Mom’s Cafe because we called her Mom and she reminded me of my Mom, my beloved grandmother who died on January 23, 1947, when I was eleven, 67 years ago this week. My first, sharpest, most painful and longlasting experience of death and grief. I drop by to visit Mom when I’m near St. Johns Cemetery in Pensacola. Did last week in fact. Mom and Pop and Alfred ...

But Mom's Cafe -- where some strip joint is now. When it was dinner time ("lunch time" would have been putting on airs), you put a slip in the cash drawer, took out 75 cents, and walked down to Mom's Cafe where sitting on the barstool at the counter you got fried chicken, two pieces, new potatoes and a green vegetable, and sweet ice tea. God help you if you took a dollar and a quarter out of the cash drawer and got the steak dinner -- after explaining that little extravagance to my father, I only did it once. Actually there was no "explaning" you just listened. However, I made up for any scolding with the raw oysters I pinched out of the ice case. It wasn't getting even, it was just -- you're leaving raw oysters near Bubba? 

But spirits. The only bottle of spirits I remember ever seeing in our house when we were growing up was a bottle of Seagrams 7 that sat high on the top shelf of the built in buffet in the dining room, tucked behind the center board. Once, when I was in high school, I got an idea of making myself some eggnog while I was home alone. I did that with a raw egg, and milk, and sugar, stirred up with the hand mixer, and a hefty splash of that Seagrams 7. It was fine except that I failed to pick out the chalazae, that repulsive slimy white thing in the egg, which drooled disgustingly down my lip and chin, and I never did that again.  

It was about football. I am no pro-football fan, not by any stretch of anybody’s imagination. Nor pro-basketball. I don’t really care about any professional sport. Not even soccer, though I’ll watch pro soccer on TV anytime, and enjoy going out to watch the PCB Pirates. The closest I could come would be baseball, only major league baseball is real baseball in my mind, and it can’t be on TV it has to be on the radio, played very loud so it could be heard all over St. Andrews, as was the case when my grandfather listened to baseball when he was the age I am now. But as for football, I couldn’t care less who won the Bronco - Patriots game that Linda watched so intently yesterday during my Sunday afternoon nap, my view of both teams is shaded by my total prejudice as a Florida Gator football fan. My view of the Patriots is colored by the shameful horror of what former Gator player Aaron Hernandez turned out to be. And my view of the Broncos is colored by their treatment of Tim Tebow. My total pro-Tebow prejudice as a Gator gets in the way of my realization that pro-football is even more serious a business than CFB, and if you throw away a Tebow but get a Peyton Manning, it’s good business. My head knows that even if my heart doesn’t. So if I’m choosing, I’m NE.

The Pretender, the faux Fr. Tom

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Next Day

John 1:29-42 NRSV (mod)

29 The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Kephas” (which is translated Peter).

+++   +++   +++

Yes, I make a lot of noise about Mark being my favorite gospel, and Mark is my favorite of the synoptics, being in my mind the first and most legit and independent, and unadorned, with the most intriguing agenda, and the oldest -- although if we consider Q for Matthew and Luke, the Q Gospel may date more than a generation earlier than Mark. But for splendiferousness the Gospel according to John is insuperable. From John’s glorious opening prologue, to John the Baptist’s acclamation of Jesus as The Lamb of God at the very beginning of the gospel, 

to the fulfillment of that acclamation in Jesus’ crucifixion and death the day the lambs were slaughtered for the Passover feast at the end of the story. And then “feed my lambs” at the very end. So this is our gospel reading for today, and it’s all Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Unapologetically ...

Unapologetically long. Unapologetically American.


That’s uncial early New Testament style ALLCAPSNOSPACES

Friday morning I worked in the front yard pulling up dead plants instead of easily cutting them, because Linda got ugly about my brand new heavy-duty string trimmer that does a great job but weighs 25 pounds and I nearly collapsed into the ER the first time I used it. Problem was not the marvelous machine, it was that I used it a couple hours instead of fifteen minutes at a time. Anyone who loves machinery as I do knows that when you have a wonderful new machine you run it until you drop, and that’s what happened. So now I’m forbidden ever to use it again at all. I’m waiting for Linda to go to BlueLake or to Tallahassee to babysit for a week. The best trimmer on Lowe’s shelves, it’s so heavy that even the yard crew told Linda, “No, ma’m, we had one of those and it was too heavy for us, we got rid of it.” Sissies. I can do it.

This gets worse. After an hour of pulling up dead plants, roots and all, at noon I came inside exhausted, filled a mug with ice, covered the ice with madeira instead of water, and enjoyed sipping it onto an empty stomach until it was gone. A good Portuguese madeira is as delicious as the best Spanish sherry. 

However, I didn’t realize how potent the wine was, and won’t ever do that again because it knocked me on my whatever it is you get knocked on. Socks off or something.

While sipping madeira I sat at the kitchen table and read an essay a friend sent which not only made me contemplate my DWYLLWYD of being a semi-retired Episcopal priest in old age, but reminded me of a man who was ordained deacon and priest the same time as I over thirty years ago, and also opened a long-expired can of cheap sardines. So to speak.

Upon ordination the bishop sent him to an inner-city parish in Harrisburg as priest in charge. He loved it, absolutely loved it. In fact, the first time the bishop went calling to visit and see how he was doing, he told the bishop, “I love this work so much that I can’t justify being paid to do it.” Counter to what my friend expected, the bishop responded somewhat less than pleased with his statement and “certainly hoped” he would not share such sentiment with the congregation that was paying him. As the bishop said, “If you’ll give them a free minister, they’ll take one and many of them think they’re entitled to that and that you should work for free anyway.” Parish ministry is work that doesn’t always include a lot of gratitude, especially in the long run, such that you have to find satisfaction and joy in it for itself alone. Any minister who has been cut to the quick later by the same parishioners he/she helped so lovingly through a terrible crisis years earlier knows that gratitude has wings.

This which I’m writing because it’s my blog and I’ll write whatever I DWP, is somewhat because Miya Tokumitsu’s piece stirred my resentment, mainly at her, or maybe at the truth of it, or perhaps most pointedly because her constant use of the word workers and then the alarm word proletariat rings very sour in an American ear. At least the ear of an American who lived through the USSR years.

Starting with seminary, for the first time since my Navy destroyer days, I was doing what I loved and loving what I was doing. But after ordination I experienced the truth of what the bishop had told my friend. Notwithstanding a tumultuous welcome, before long I perceived just beneath the surface an underlayment of subtle resentment about my salary, and tension about it every year at stewardship and budget time. This does not enhance a sense of what Miya calls DWIL and LWID. And even with my joy in parish ministry and the people and the place, the monthly tension about whether there was enough money in the bank to pay me often brought me close to throwing in the towel. It wasn't the money, it was a strange subtle tension and attitude of resistance almost unto resentment that the minister had to be paid.

Probably I need to work more through what Miya says. 

A minister is like anybody else: has to be paid or else must find something else to do. Even if ministry is enormous fun, as mine was and my Harrisburg priest friend’s was, and tremendously satisfying work, plus no alphabet admiral looking over my shoulder and the bishop far away in the day before internet and cellphones, parish ministry is consumingly intense work, with largely no “time off” and living with the ever present half-joking mentality of “he only works on Sunday morning.” Cuts into LWYD of which Miya is so scornful.   

In my mind, the best minister, better said the most enjoyable ministering, is one who has done other things in life and then relaxed enthusiastically into seminary and ministry as a second or third vocation. Beyond that second or third, I’ve enjoyed ministry more in semi-retirement than three decades ago when I started doing it for half a living and supplementing my Navy pension.

Miya's essay do what you love love what you do rang less than true for my life, because she tied it to the wealthy who can afford to do what you love while those who must do the dirty work suffer. Of course the dirty work must be done and those who are doing it are likely suffering and not DWYL and LWYD. But this is America where one can force choices in life and life is based on vision and sticktuitivity. Miya’s thesis is that “the Do What You Love mantra is for the Elite and devalues work and hurts workers” but her slip shows when she uses the word “proletariat” and the alarm clock goes off and I wake up in 1917. Or 1952. 

Still wandering, it doesn’t bother me that there is repetition above, and furthermore I’m not done here. What a great happiness of DWYL and LWYD the second half of my life was and still is. And not only the ministry part, but DWYL years of enjoying my youngest child still at home, then my grandchildren; and years of working everyday to turn my beloved Cove School from a shambles into Holy Nativity Episcopal School while working alongside the most brilliant man I’ve ever known and still to this day sneaking off quietly to his grave before shaking my fist at the sky and driving away with tear-filled eyes in a teeth-clinched rage at our God of Theodicy; and the years as chaplain and religion & ethics teacher with the kids at HNES as the greatest time of life far more fun than any parish ministry. DWYLLWYD. And now helping out at the parish that my parents helped found sixty years ago. It’s still such fun that I may try to do it another couple of years even to eighty. DWYLLWYD. I’m still living through it without the self-conscious guilt or shame that Miya Tokumitsu lays down in the essay. If she means for me to feel guilty about doing what I love when so many are doing and living in misery, sorry. If I have to feel guilty about my DWYL, that guilt is no heavier than loving life being an American when most people throughout the world are other. For some reason, reading Miya makes me want to run outside and make sure that jet flying over my house doesn’t have a red star on the tail. DWYL.

Of DWYL, standing at attention for the Star Spangled Banner is at the top of my list, and the president has said that I don't have to put my hand over my heart, I can salute as any military man. "O say can you see." And I don’t want somebody singing it. I want to hear the Bay High Million Dollar Band playing it, with brass and woodwinds and drums rolling and cymbals crashing. As Orin Whitley waves his baton. And the flag goes up. And football players in red and white uniforms run out onto Tommy Oliver Stadium. DWYLLWYD.