Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday Resumes

Midweek Bible study resumes today, after two sessions recess for Holy Week busyness and Easter Week recovery. Seeing that we have wonderful Scripture for this coming Third Sunday of Easter, especially beautiful in the King James Version, I am thinking to read all four selections as we munch on the scrumptious lunch Linda is preparing for us, perhaps explore each reading a bit, and then focus on one. Maybe two. The one might be the Gospel reading, Luke’s post-resurrection story of two disciples encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus. There seem to be two sorts of post-resurrection appearances, one in which Jesus appears bodily and you can see the nail marks in his hands and touch the mark of the spear in his side, and maybe watch him eat a piece of fish; the other in which he seems to appear out of nowhere and as quickly vanish, perhaps a luminescent presence. We are thinking that the Emmaus Road appearance may be the former, until he vanishes out of their sight. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus on the road? And why doesn’t Mark tell any of these post-resurrection stories? Did anyone notice that Jesus makes their supper that evening a Eucharist? Who spotted a connection to the Baptismal Covenant?

And that startling line in Psalm 116, “How precious to the Lord is the death of his saints?” WTH is that supposed to mean? To anyone who recently lost a loved one to the grave, this is as stunning as being struck with a blunt instrument. Bears thought. The thought will ease the grief, I guarantee.

11:30 Noon Eucharist in the church, completed with Bible study and a light lunch in Battin Hall. Adjourns at 12:45. Everyone is invited, all are welcome! 


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wherefore gird

Seldom but sometimes I come downstairs with a thought to blog. Sometimes, as now, I open the MacBook and start typing, wondering if what generates “publish” will expose the same IQ as the breeze that blew into my right ear and out my left ear as I walked down the driveway to get Linda’s newspaper. The paper wasn’t there, so I must look again shortly. Temperature: 76F, 96% and a delightfully stiff, wet, cool breeze coming in off the Bay notwithstanding that Weather 32401 shows Wind 2 mph. The Wind here isn’t 2 at the moment, it's at least 10+.

Anu Garg quotes Falstaff, “... the brain of this foolish-compounded clay, man.” Yep, there I go, + Garg’s word this a.m. is “gird,” as in gird up your loins. Though I knew men of the Old Testament would gird up their loins, I didn’t get it until September 1949, my first time in the gymnasium dressing room as a freshman at Bay High. White T-shirt, tennis shoes and white socks, gird up the loins, red gym shorts, and go forth.

And in the New Testament we have, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13 KJV). We are reading from First Peter the Sundays of Easter this year, but whoever framed the Lectionary skipped over the one verse that might have encouraged me.

Back out for Linda’s PCNH. Still 76F but the breeze died, and there’s lightning to the west and north. No thunder to be heard yet, but the local weather map on TV looks threatening beyond horrendous. Robert and I may not be walking this morning. 



Monday, April 28, 2014

Moon, Venus, MLP

Moon, Venus, ...

Sunset has no corner on the heart, blackest darkness before Dawn is equally beguiling for one who lives by the sea where sky and flashing lights of navigation buoys team up to evoke Melancholy Mary Maudlin. Truth, I want to blog about other and have done, a wandering, elusive, beyond eccentric, seemingly cryptic post of a madman. One says too much trying to say little enough to stay in the shadows with the hiding newspaper, though conveying as insane. Only two get it: self and a fellow ancient musing about life, death and all that lay on the way. 

See? MLP. So? Scan VOA. MH370: at the bottom of the sea or undercover being outfitted as a weapon? Russia v. Ukraine sparks WWIII? one thinks how absurd until recalling that a royal assassination ignited WWI, we don’t need much excuse to hate and kill each other. Class clown murders girl who declined prom date. Astronauts warn of meteorite danger from outer space, is someone beside ourselves trying to kill us all? Shades of Noah. Egypt court condemns 683 Islamists to death, these are our allies? Chinese foreign ministry strongly objects to Justin Bieber visiting Japanese war shrine: one concludes that all is well in China if The Acts of the Bieb is the major concern. 

Moonday madness. Venus in crescent.

W mucking through 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

What Happened?

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, what shall we do in Adult Sunday School? My goof, one among many as ever, all of which I always blame on being 78 (wait until you get there, you will find that it's the real and perfect reason, not to say excuse), is that I failed to communicate and coordinate with my fellow class leaders so that we are all on the same page for the Sunday School hour. But I think this is the perfect moment to have a look at what Scripture tells us happened on Easter Day and just after. We have four accounts of that, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John -- and the first couple of chapters of Acts from which we shall be reading the next three Sunday mornings. We don’t have time to read everyone’s account, everyone remembers it slightly differently; so let’s stick with Luke’s account, seeing that as well as the Gospel according to Luke, he also wrote the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.

Our Sunday School plan for this morning, then, will be to read Luke chapter 24, Acts chapter 1, and Acts chapter 2. This will give us Luke’s report of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, Luke’s two slightly differing accounts of Jesus’ ascension, and his report of the Day of Pentecost, including Peter’s famous speech. It should be interesting to read and discuss.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Time for a Haircut

Time for a Haircut

69F and 97% says Weather 32401 at my sitting down for coffee moment, 3:38 digital time. Upstairs the porch door by my side of the bed is wide open, downstairs the doors between the front and the back of the house are open, and now the kitchen door is open to the downstairs back screen porch where I am; but Wind is 0 mph, not the slightest stirring, meaning no cross-breeze through the house. Are we close to turning on the air conditioning? I was hoping we’d have more lovely springtime to work outside. The neighbors’ a/c compressor is running, but the only sound here is right behind me, the noisy motor of the well pump bringing water up from deep down to fill the tank, thence out to the sprinkler system, which just began its cycle with the front yard.

What's down there, is that the Florida aquifer? Darned if I know.

For comfort, we have overhead fans running in the family room, but with no breeze and 97% humidity the alternative to running the a/c will quickly be mildew. I remember with fondness because of the loved ones we had then but not with longing for the smothering heat, how dry it was in Cave Creek, Carefree and out on the desert when Linda’s parents lived in Scottsdale years ago. You got out of the pool dripping wet and were dry before you got to your towel. Would I go back? By train, yes, but not in time.   

Still dark, all the cars are out back except one, without which Papa cannot be happy. They go off to college, don’t they, which is just the start of the emotional, mental, physical distancing that is a natural part of their growing up and away, and my growing old, older, to where I am now: oldest. “Next” the barber used to say as he brushed the hair off his chair onto the floor and I stood up for my turn.

To make sure you got your proper turn, you had to keep track of those who were there before you, not those who came in after you. Next?  

As well as itching, the tiny spot on my left wrist now has a tiny blister, which means it was a flea or spider bite from working in the yard, not a mosquito. Pulling weeds in her part of the yard just after dark the other evening, Malinda was bitten by a snake, evidently one of the garden snakes that are around here. Not poisonous, but sore and caused bruising on the finger.

Self-corrective, that physical, mental, emotional distancing actually starts at age 13, doesn't it. Twelve or thirteen. Only one of my children so blessed my life that she didn't seem to mind being smooched by me every time she walked past me all her growing up years. 

No frogs or crickets, all quiet except the pump and my tinnitus. 


Friday, April 25, 2014


“You know those lonely nights and weekends when you're left to your own devices and forced to entertain yourself? Maybe you ponder the meaning of life, maybe you tackle a creative project or maybe you -- wait, let's face it: You probably turn on Netflix. Well your dog faces the same lonely existential crisis and his solution is, naturally, solo fetch.” (from HuffPost 2014/04.23)

Alone and lonely are not the same, at least, not yet, though one of these days only one of us will come home from the hospital. But “existential crisis,” dogs too? So, how to speak from there at two o’clock in the morning without saying too much? Is this itchy spot on my left wrist a mosquito bite so early in the season, or is it a flea bite from yesterday out working in the yard? What woke me up so early this day? Well, the usual plus a glass of icy cold chardonnay on the back porch before supper of watermelon and three grapes, a composite that would rouse anyone; so relatively speaking, it isn’t all that early. But the open door letting in the salty cool also admits persistent buzzing from the shrimp boat out on the bay, preventing re-sleep, stirring wakefulness and memories. Door ajar, time to close it. WTH, get up. 

Wakefulness and memories: some go very far back, again relative to whether it’s the news of Hubble spotting planets forming, or my own life. Brought on by the buzzing, an intermediate memory is a parishioner’s son who was a shrimper parking his pickup out front and knocking on the rectory door just after dawn: he had been out all night, had a good catch, did I want some shrimp? Large ones, their feet moving like centipedes on a treadmill, mindlessly still scooting along the bottom of Apalachicola Bay. Nevermind what they feed on. I’ve written about him before, him and his truck and his shrimp. But some predawn early memories are not written, now nor never. Remember but not record. Is this existential crisis or just existentialism? To apply the word again, it’s composite, a mix. My Australian clients said comp-o-zit not com-pozit, but that was a thousand lifetimes ago in my between-times, and we were talking about aerospace, not life.

Purposefully to divert, existential crisis is whether to continue staring at the spinning beachball or step outside on the concrete and smash the MacBook to smithereens. Yesterday it might have been step and smash, predawn it’s press restart until it happens. Press and hold, and no flowers.

As for existentialism, one may define it to suit oneself. I like what Soren K. supposedly said, each individual is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely, which is authenticity, the degree to which one is true to one’s own self -- to one’s personality, character, values, loves, and being instead of catering to others. If that sounds like gibberish or USG gobbledygook, it isn’t. It means I’m on my own, I can’t delegate responsibility for my happiness to others. Anyone who studied management in college remembers that you cannot delegate responsibility anyway, you can delegate authority, but responsibility remains. As in “the buck stops here.”

This was a good one, except in this case the pointy-haired boss was right, Dilbert is wrong. Wally is Wally with the punchline.

Where is this going? Down a road that’s clear to me even if the rest of the world is fogged in. Existentialism applied to existential crisis. In time, doors ajar close themselves, slammed shut by the wind, or fate, or death and the grave.

Today then: sermonize, meeting, MLP, Greenwood, check my gas. Maybe swing by 205: I said love, Robert said reverence.


Dilbert comicstrip 20140419

CoveSchool/HNES from Linda Avenue, 20140424

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Ignorant Medics
Did They Forget the Double Privative Prefix?

Aging, one (that’s me) pays more attention to these things, doesn’t one. Cognitive impairment, for example, which is in the news this morning. MCI, the “m” is for mild, which is the early stage that starts the downhill slide into mental oblivion: men are 1.6 times more likely to have it than women. No fair, we are supposed to be equal. 

It worsens. There are two kinds of MCI, amnestic MCI and non-amnestic MCI. But to digress, my slight knowledge and remembrance of Greek is starting to annoy. What comes to mind is a feature of our Eucharistic prayer, the anamnesis, which means “not forgetting” or literally, “not having amnesis” or more literally, “not not remembering.” In Prayer B we say “We remember his death, We proclaim his resurrection, We await his coming in glory,” where the “We remember his death” is the anamesis, our proclamation that we don’t forget what happened on Good Friday, his sacrifice for us.

Etymologically, the medical term “amnestic” is obviously from two Greek meanings, the “a” means “not” and the “mneme” means “memory,” the verb form means “to remember.” If one is amnestic, one does not remember, one forgets. If one is non-amnestic, one does not not remember, one does not forget. Where does this digression go? The digression goes to the obvious: whoever coined the medical term “non-amnestic” was stupid. Properly, the word is “anamnestic.” What a schlemiel.

But before digressing, I said, “it worsens.” What worsens is the statistic, the finding that those of us who are amnestic have a much higher early death rate than those of us who are anamnestic. Which am I? I’m not going to join the schlemiel who coined “non-amnestic” by quipping something about what I can’t remember; I’m just going to say that at my age there are no early deaths, it’s just that Harry Golden’s Evil Eye finally notices us. You can only ward off the Evil Eye by having someone say to you "may you live to a hundred and ten" or “wishing you long years.” And that only for so long.

Non-amnestic? Jeez.


From the Online Etymology Dictionary, amnesia (n.) "loss of memory," 1786 (as a Greek word in English from 1670s), Modern Latin, coined from Greek amnesia "forgetfulness," from a-, privative prefix, "not" (see a- (3)) + mimneskesthai "to recall, cause to remember," a reduplicated form related to Greek mnemnon "mindful," mneme "memory," mnasthai "to remember;" from PIE root *men- "to think, remember" (see mind (n.)).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Early to Rise

The mind does funny things, doesn’t it. Seizes on a memory, wanders with it, goes somewhere long past. This one often starts when I swing out of bed, place my feet on the floor, and stare out into the darkness.

What, twenty-five years ago? a parishioner who was a friend at the time came to me almost in despair to moan that he was waking up at four o’clock in the morning and could not get back to sleep. It had been happening for weeks now, becoming a habit Gordon could not shake. He did not appreciate my response, that my body clock had started rousing me by four a.m. years ago, that I had decided to enjoy it as a pleasant time for solitude, thinking, prayer, reading, watching the day open. I suggested that Gordon change his attitude: if he could not break the early waking habit, decide to enjoy it instead of letting it make him angry, upset, unhappy. It had worked for me, still does, but Gordon did not like my idea at all.  

Five years or so earlier, Gordon had been the very first person to greet me the spring Sunday morning in 1984 when, at the bishop’s invitation and arranging, I had visited Trinity Church to meet the folks and talk about possibly coming to be their priest. I had liked him instantly, taken with his gracious welcome and his soft, slow drawl that while Southern was even more uniquely Apalachicola, “Fawtha Wellah, we coit’nly are glad to see you today!” We were living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and meeting Gordon sparked a refreshing change from the fast life in the frantic zone that I had lived for the prior twenty-seven years, twenty in the Navy, seven more years in my business travelling, going to seminary, and teaching as adjunct professor at the University of West Florida, which was why I happened to be in Florida that weekend. But this was about early rising, not about Gordon, who some years later came to hate me, my bewildered first experience of what often happens when clergy are asked to counsel marital issues; and it ends up that one or both parties come out hating the counselor -- why? the priest never understands, I never understood. Still don’t.

That’s where the mind goes: to an exclamation point and question mark. I need to find another end to that story. 

The story actually ended happily for the other party, who is alive and well, long ago remarried and moved far away. Less so for Gordon, whose name I’ve changed this morning. As I didn’t find out for years, he was a lifelong alcoholic who never got it under control, lived out life mostly alone, raging angry, threatening and frightening, a man to stay away from. Gordon is long dead. My sadness was that we never recaptured the friendship that began as a warm welcome into happiness, thirty years ago.

TW+ mucking along in +Time

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Somewhere ...

Banal, whether to begin unremarkably with So or with Well or neither: that is the question. Problem solved. So, that was interesting. Three essays of sorts to start Tuesday before driving over to Linda Ave behind Cove School near the bike rack where we parked our bikes under the scrub oaks 70 years ago, and walk with Robert. Walk about an hour, one direction or other and back, remember who lived where, have breakfast.

First was an NYT article reporting life in Russian Crimea is hectic these days, chaotic. None of the social systems is working. Banking, government, courts, businesses. Will it be that way in Texas when they revert to Lone Star or return to Mexico? Do the rest of us get to vote in their referendum? Putin will vow to protect the Texans from the Americans, will he be their first president, or governor?  

The selection is about the origins of agriculture. We began thousands of years ago as hunter-gatherers, but agriculture evolved even though hunter-gatherers had a better life: more leisure, less stress, even better nutrition. As people settled, we started clearing and plowing, planting, weeding, watering, tending and harvesting. Baking bread, eating oats, domesticating animals that once had been our prey. Shifting from gathering to farming wasn’t natural, it was forced by population growth and running out of space to wander freely. Judging by earth after as known in the book Earth Abides, we’ll be going back to that, hunter gatherers. Frankly tired of the hassle, squabbling, hatred and warring, I’m rather looking forward to it. A basket for berries and a spear. I’ll use my old Easter basket. Basket, spear and a rock. After a couple generations there’ll be no firearms for hunting, because nobody will remember how to make ammo or how to repair a dynamo to provide electricity, besides, the hydroelectric dams will have crumbled. Spears, rocks, a stick. And a hammer. Hammer as a scepter of authority and mystical symbol of The Old Time. 

Oddly independently furthering the theme, in his thought for the day after defining bombastic, Anu Garg quoted someone who said aptly that nature does not need us protecting it, nature has survived millions of years and doesn’t give a hoot whether humans are around or not, this too will pass, we too will pass, they too will pass. Who or what will record what a relief it was to see us disappear with all our fighting and killing? Who or what will succeed us? I have a bad feeling that roaches are next. Wandering, mind, there are no roaches in my house, as Randy from pest control keeps them at bay, but they are out there, big ones. Kept At Bay. Bay is down front. Bay is also the name of the neighbor’s dog, maybe it was short for Baby, now it’s Bay. Bay loves to sneak out of their house and escape, roam our porch and garden, and gorge from the feral cats’ supper dishes at our daughter’s house next door. We don't mind, Bay is friendly. 

History Channel’s miniseries Life After People made the world seem horrible at first, grim, desolate. Weeds and grass spreading over streets and highways, vines beginning to cover buildings, slowly crumbling cities, bridges tumbling into the sea below, a wasteland. Vines, everything slowly returning to nature, green. Looked pretty good, eh, neither fire nor flood next time, just nature. Mother Nature.

8 And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, 9 And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. 11 And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. 12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: 15 and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. 17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth. (Genesis 9:8-17, KJV).

Touch of Insanity is good for the heart.


Monday, April 21, 2014

The New Ensign: Not Barnacle Bill the Sailor

Wandering on the Maui tarmac and picked up by security, a 16 year old boy is questioned by the FBI. He had climbed down from the wheel well of a jetliner from California, surviving a five hour flight at 38,000 feet. One source says the temperature there is 50 degrees below zero F, another says 75 below. Some will praise God that the boy is alive and unharmed. Some will praise God for the survival of several high school children on a South Korean ferry that capsized drowning hundreds of other children, what about them? Some who prayed for William will nevertheless pray without ceasing for an eight year old boy with a malignant brain tumor. In anguish, some will contemplate God, and wonder. 

In anguish, some will contemplate God, and wonder.

Monday in Easter Week
Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Is that what it’s all about -- to attain to everlasting joys?

Some will wonder. Some will wander. Wondering, some have wandered and will never return. Some will keep at wondering, knowing they will never know; which is faith. I’m on the edge of that, not newly but constantly. Who's that knocking at my door? "Who or what is God?" my seminary theology professor kept asking us, and it was a question on the final exam. Who or what is it within me that wants or needs to keep on wondering, hopefully without wandering too far and not being able to find my way back? "Seek the Truth, come whence it may, cost what it will." Cost what it will? Am I sure about that? Am I certain that the seeking will prove worth the cost, if/once I find the Truth will I be glad of the journey? Maybe the Cost is the Truth. Or maybe the Truth is the Cost. Only fools or idiots are so certain they have found the Truth that they stop seeking. My only certainty is that the Truth is hiding under the cloak of invisibility, perhaps with Harry Potter in that pub at Hogsmeade, and I likely will never find it. But I'm not sure, I'm not Dumbledore, I'm Snape. No, in the end Severus proved to have been almost Christlike, I'm more that pompous ass Gilderoy Lockhart handing out portraits of himself.

Maybe I'll bring my portrait "The New Ensign" as a young naval officer downstairs and hang it in the dining room where I can admire it as I dine. 

Or, Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray, what would happen if I hide my portrait in the attic and hang a mirror in the dining room? I'm not sure.

I am certain of nothing except that I would trade my share of everlasting joys for the life of one child on the Korean ferry. Or for Brannon. Or for William. Or for Alfred, but then I would have had no life to trade. No matter, it doesn’t work like that, does it. How does it work? Who's that knocking at my door? Is that you, Sir Isaac?  

A terrible worrier about children, my children, everyone’s children, I’m not in control. At times, the anguish is almost unbearable. Who is in control? What about my prayer? 

Big, isn’t it. Not the moon, the Immensity, how does it work? Or, does it “work,” or is it chaos? It doesn’t seem to work like your clock, Newton. OK, maybe the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home, do go like clockwork; but the children, what about the children, what about the hundreds of children who drowned? What about Brannon? "Are we ants?" says the fair young maiden. I'm not into the "leap of faith," which is an escape to nowhere even if it's the only exit. And no answer at all, “Free Will” is nothing but apologetic, a self-satisfying rationalization of our piety. Or if FW is the answer, we need to wonder, wander and keep seeking. If the answer is FW, what can we believe? If God is in control, is Job atoned? Now on Easter Monday does God now understand where we’re coming from, and how it is?

Who am I? The boy's father at Mark 9:24. 

Who’s that knocking at my door?


Pic: online, Hubble

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

The toughest week of all on clergy (far more on the senior pastor/rector than on retired priest associates like me, but nevertheless), Holy Week is over for another year. 

Easter Week, which begins now, is customarily a week for short hours and days off for clergy and for church staffs. Enjoy your Easter morning and eating candy and chocolate eggs from the basket the Easter bunny brought. Come to church, 8:00 or 10:30, but we have no Sunday School class today, Easter Day. There is brunch between services though, so come enjoy. Linda is bringing an egg and ham casserole that looks beyond scrumptious.

Far my part, a friend sent me a piece about a historic Rolls Royce, which set the Easter bunny to cackling and laying colored eggs in my mind for several days while I participated in Holy Week agony; but pop here it bursts to the surface this morning like a breaching whale.

Rolls Royce had an American plant and built cars in Springfield, Massachusetts from 1920 to 1931, turning out 2,944 cars in that decade. One, the 1928 roadster above and below

(a roadster is/was a convertible with only the front seat like a bottom of the line business coupe, no back seat, and generally even after power tops were put on regular convertibles, the roadster still had a manually operated top for up and down. The only regular roadster that I recall being introduced and sold in my later life was the 1949 Dodge Wayfarer roadster, which I’ll see if I can come up with a pic to put on here -- yep, the red one below is a roadster, the car below it is a 1949 Dodge Coronet convertible, front and back seats like a club coupe, roll-down back window for the back seat passengers, and power-operated convertible top, top of the line model 

1949 Dodge Coronet convertible:

but I stray from my chosen path) -- was given to a young man by his father in 1928, and he drove and maintained it all his life, for 78 years, until he died at age 102 in 2005. 

He bequeathed his Rolls Royce and a million dollars to the Springfield museum so they could fix up space to display his car and keep it spiffy. 

The article Norm sent me was about that car and that man. Where did it take me? All the RR cars pictured here were made in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Online to Springfield, wup, that's a Stevens-Duryea:

and the museum, 

and a little exploration to discover that the Stevens-Duryea automobile, which I had almost forgotten, also has Springfield history; 

and that in fact, according to the report, the first gasoline car in America was a Stevens-Duryea that the inventors drove on the streets of Springfield in 1893. 

Several friends have told me that they read my blog every day except when it’s about cars. This one isn't about cars, it's about me.

No theologian or Bible scholar, my favorite +Time posts are the car posts, to write, and look at the pictures, and think back on. So this is my own Easter basket of multicolored Rolls Royce cars that were made in Springfield, and of several Stevens-Duryea automobiles, which were manufactured from 1901 to 1915 and then from 1919 to 1927.

Best you remember Stevens-Duryea, because St. Peter has two or three pics of them that you must identify in the test you have to pass to get beyond the lever that drops you straight to Hell. And you sure as Heaven better be able to recognize a Rolls-Royce. 

The red 1903 Stevens-Duryea above only appears to be a 2-seater; but the front opened up to accommodate two more passengers. The car had brakes, but no seat belts, so the front seat might be considered more of a launch pad:

Happy Easter.


Saturday, April 19, 2014


Death of God

With apology to self (to self because I meander this for myself as part of contemplating where the hell I am in life, not for any reader) for the typical wandering that ensues, I press “PUBLISH” anyway. 

Today is “Holy Saturday” of the so-named “Holy Triduum” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Day, the Day of the Resurrection. To me, HS is an interesting day to contemplate that theologians in their [our] smoky mist of lofty haze actually know nothing. What they [we, because “theology” means “discussion about God, a word about God, study of God” and we become theologians ourselves when we -- deign or dare -- to enter the discussion whether it’s with a spouse, as Linda and I sometimes do, or in Sunday School class or Tuesday morning Bible study] do (sorry about the lost antecedent, but that’s why I added the bold brackets) is speculate, argue, debate, agree, and mostly disagree. I say “disagree” because those who “do theology” with me generally disagree with me altogether. And I say “do theology” because theology is not a shiny product like a new Buick, it’s a process more like what goes on in the Buick assembly plant. Thank God theology is not a product, because if it were, it would be the Deacon's Masterpiece, that one horse open shay.

A theologian from my seminary tradition would assert that, given the promise “where two or three gather in my Name, there am I in the midst of them,” (Matthew 18:20) God comes present in and as the theological discussion itself. (Rather intimidating, eh?, and you don’t even have to invoke the Trinity or open with prayer, God simply comes present, so mind your language)*. In my observation and experience and reading, professional theologians, those who write the books and textbooks and argue back and forth with each other in lofty language and various tongues, most notably German and English, and whose essays printed in journals nobody reads but themselves and whose books are bought only by seminarians who can be compelled to buy them, speculate boldly, with much confidence, even arrogant bluster. It may also be with wisdom, but (Hebrews 11:1) it’s still speculation, and it’s faith not knowledge. So don’t feel blown out of the water by any pompous theologian. 

Why do we do this, why do we do theology, why do we like to talk about God? I don’t know. One of my favorites, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), 
who wrote that within each of us is “a sense of the infinite,” might say that our penchant for doing theology is the spark of the divine. 

So then, Holy Saturday and the Death of God, eh? Theologically, on this day, God is dead. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, died yesterday on the Cross and today lies dead in the tomb. Were you there, had you been there, to roll back the stone on Holy Saturday, you would find a dead body lying in cold darkness. For Christians, that dead body was/is God. I’m trying to avoid being trite or simplistic, God is dead. Not so much in the Altizer & Hamilton sense, but in the stone cold dead body sense. Anyone who has, as I have many times, gone into the viewing room at a funeral home and gazed on the embalmed corpse of one once known and loved laid out in a casket knows the horrific realization that “that isn’t him.” I still visit Greenwood Cemetery about once a week, still drawn there by old feelings of loving friendship even though I know that wasn’t them that I buried, because I had that sickening realization before the lid was closed and we followed the hearse to the grave where I said the words. It’s the same with the theology of Holy Saturday: God is dead. God -- isn’t. Then the dawning: who’s in charge? Why are those stars still twinkling? Who will hear my prayer? Abandoned. No, not abandoned, we did this to ourselves; it’s more like having killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Yes, Sunday is coming, and Sunday solves it theologically, but that doesn’t answer the total stillness of Holy Saturday. We are forbidden to say Mass on this day, why? I reckon because the Mass takes us to Calvary, which is over and done, but it’s more than “respect for the Holy,” it’s that today there’s nobody to hear, come present, bless and consecrate. 

Is this nonsense? Everything I write and say I castigate as “my nonsense” because I realize that it‘s all speculation, contemplation, that I have chosen to be, as Steve Jobs said, “trapped by dogma, living with the results of other people’s thinking” ... letting “the noise of others‘ opinions drown out (my) own inner voice.” So, Holy Saturday: God is dead? Or, was dead that sabbath day and right through until that early dawn of the First Day of the Week when the women came to the tomb?

What does this mean for me, to me? For spiritual observance, this is a day when, until the sun goes down this evening, there is no one to hear my daily devotions or answer my fervent prayers. What about Brannon today? Well, closet transubstantiationist that I may suspect myself to be (the Body of Christ; the Blood of Christ), still and all I do know that we are not really there, Christ is Risen and God is Alive. I am neither Marcellus Gallio nor Demetrius, nor the Beloved Disciple. I may be more like Malchus. But this is not Jerusalem that Passover Sabbath of AD 33, I am not there, and God is not dead, I am simply remembering and commemorating and trying to live into it. Was God dead that day? I wasn’t there, I don’t know. I’m contemplating, speculating. My mind may say no but my heart says yes. It’s not knowledge, it’s faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) It’s part of the Mystery of Faith, which I find untenable, but I can preach it.


* Invariably, this takes me to a 1970 Spring morning at sea off Vietnam when I stood on the flight deck and watched as our Marine helicopters landed and tough Marines carried terrified little Vietnamese children to our ship’s hospital below decks, where our wonderful Navy doctors, plastic surgeons, would work to repair some of their horrific war wounds. A missing cheek, half a nose, ear gone, a stump for a hand, a mangled foot, and my heart prayed that no one would say “Oh my God,” or “Holy Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” and bring God present to see what our war did to his little folk. It was my first living sense of the Good Friday trembling rage of God the Father as he beheld what we had done. That line in one of Martin Bell’s stories about The Great Silver Wolf when Nenshu the messenger comes to report and the Wolf takes in the reality: “The boy had been crucified.” What I learned over the next several weeks, beside witnessing the skill of our Navy doctors, was that Marines aren’t as tough as I had thought, coming up with teddy bears and such for the little children. I guess you had to be there. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Break in Jerusalem

Spring Break in Jerusalem

Today is Good Friday. The Christian world celebrates -- or rather honors, observes -- the trial, condemnation, crucifixion and death of a man called Jesus of Nazareth during the days of the Roman Empire. A Galilean Jew who had come down to Jerusalem in Judea for the Passover festival, he apparently had crossed both the Judean authorities in the Temple and the higher Roman authorities by having attention drawn to himself as too visible, too outspoken during the festival season. It was dangerous, not a safe time to stand out in the crowd.

Thousands of outsider visitors were in town for the annual celebration, and all the authorities, civil and religious, were on edge because there was always trouble of some sort from the crowds. Not from residents. Jerusalem itself, the year-rounders, were generally comfortably settled into life as usual under calm Roman rule. But passions of nationalistic fervor ran high among the crowd “returned home to the Jewish fatherland,” and there was always trouble of some sort. Special tension with stirrings of rebellion to overthrow Roman rule and reestablish the ancient throne of David and glory days of Solomon. It was tradition, part of annual revelry: reliving the old dream. 

The old dream. The outsiders always brought it in. And there can be no sensible doubt that it was fortified by wine. Nothing is as mighty to a drunken mob as itself empowered by alcohol, or as noble as its cause empassioned by inebriation, or as obnoxious to the year-rounders. And so, every year at Passover, Roman military presence was beefed up in Jerusalem, including the Roman governor himself arrived from his seaside palace in Caesarea, to make sure the crowd did not get out of hand. 

Every year there would be major trouble of some sort, and usually several crucifixions. Very popular, crucifixions served both the Roman purpose of cowing any uprising, and the local authorities' objective of keeping order. And, not coincidentally, crucifixions were attractions of bloody excitement, the crowd of spectators jeering as soldiers whipped the condemned through the streets, not unlike bloody gladiator fights and feeding enemies to wild animals in the Roman coliseum. Anyone who has been to American ice hockey will understand that the game is boring and the crowd is not happy unless and until there is blood on the ice. 

This is the usual perverse human scene. Any resident of my own hometown, Panama City, Florida, knows not to go to the beach during spring break. The police are beefed up, they are everywhere, ubiquitous, and not amused. The crowds are obnoxious drunken young fools. There are wet t-shirt contests, bloody fights, beer guzzlings; and of the young showoff males leaping like Tarzan from one high-rise hotel balcony to the next, someone usually plunges to his death on the pavement below.

One of my daily email arrivals is with an extract from some book or other. This one, copy and paste from yesterday, is apt and good. Scroll down!


Today's selection -- from Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. At the time of Christ, Passover was a religious observance that brought Jews from throughout the world back to Jerusalem and turned the city into a colorful, teeming and dangerous spectacle:

"At Passover, Jerusalem was at its most crowded and dangerous. ... In the Upper City, across the valley from the Temple, the grandees lived in Grecian-Roman mansions with Jewish features: the so-called Palatial Residence excavated there has spacious receiving-rooms and mikvahs. Here stood the palaces of Antipas and the high priest Joseph Caiaphas. But the real authority in Jerusalem was the prefect, Pontius Pilate, who usually ruled his province from Caesarea on the coast but always came to supervise Passover, staying at Herod's Citadel. ...

"Josephus guessed that two and a half million Jews came for Passover. This is an exaggeration but there were Jews 'out of every nation,' from Parthia and Babylonia to Crete and Libya. The only way to imagine this throng is to see Mecca during the haj. At Passover, every family had to sacrifice a lamb, so the city was jammed with bleating sheep -- 255,600 lambs were sacrificed. There was much to do: pilgrims had to take a dip in a mikvah every time they approached the Temple as well as buy their sacrificial lambs in the Royal Portico. Not everyone could stay in the city. Thousands lodged in the surrounding villages, like Jesus, or camped around the walls. As the smell of burning meat and heady incense wafted -- and the trumpet blasts, announcing prayers and sacrifices, ricocheted -- across the city, everything was focused on the Temple, nervously watched by the Roman soldiers from the Antonia Fortress. ...

"The towering, colonnaded Royal Portico [was] the bustling, colourful, crowded centre of all life, where pilgrims gathered to organize their accommodation, to meet friends, and to change money for the Tyrian silver used to buy sacrificial lambs, doves, or, for the rich, oxen. ...

"Crucifixion, [the favored form of public execution in the region], said Josephus, was 'the most miserable death,' designed to demean the victim publicly. Hence Pilate ordered Jesus' placard to be attached to his cross --KING OF THE JEWS. Victims could be tied or nailed. The skill was to ensure victims did not bleed to death. The nails were usually driven through the forearms -- not the palms -- and ankles: the bones of a crucified Jew have been found in a tomb in north Jerusalem with a 4.5-inch iron nail still sticking through a skeletal ankle. Nails from crucifixion victims were popularly worn as charms, around the neck, by both Jews and gentiles to ward off illness, so the later Christian fetish for crucificial relics was actually part of a long tradition. Victims were usually crucified naked -- with men facing outwards, women inwards.

"The executioners were experts at either prolonging the agony or end­ing it quickly. The aim was to not kill Jesus too quickly but to demon­strate the futility of defying Roman power. He was most probably nailed to the cross with his arms outstretched as shown in Christian art, sup­ported by a small wedge, sedile, under the buttocks and a suppedaneum ledge under the feet. This arrangement meant he could survive for hours, even days. The quickest way to expedite death was to break the legs. The body weight was then borne by the arms and the victim would asphyxiate within ten minutes."

Jerusalem: The Biography (Vintage)
Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Date: 2011 by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Pages: 105,6, 112