Monday, June 30, 2014

Himself the Lamb

Sermon in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida on Sunday, June 29, 2014. Preaching text: Genesis 22:1-14, The Command to Sacrifice Isaac. The Rev. Tom Weller

The Lamb. I shall speak of the Lamb. The Lamb of God. You may be seated.

To every Hebrew scholar, our Bible story this morning is the picture of unspeakable shame: Abraham, by order of God himself, on the way to Moriah with his beloved son Isaac, child of laughter, long awaited son of promise, to slay the child and sacrifice him on a flaming altar as an ascending offering to God. 

For all the dozens or hundreds of times I have heard and read the story at Genesis 22, I cannot handle it. It stirs my horror and grief as no other story ever has or ever could. A child. A little boy. A man’s beloved son. I cannot bear it. Abraham: is faith so blind, Abraham? And, Abraham, are you sure it was God? Surely not, Abraham: looking at the same story in The Holy Quran, Islamic scholars say God would never demand such a thing, that it could not have been God.  

But if unthinkably so, who could ever again worship a deity who would demand such horror, outrage unto blasphemy.

In some small defense of Father Abraham, part of the rabbinical response is this:
  • That when God said “Take your son, your only son,” Abraham interrupted, correcting God, “I have two sons.”
  • That when God went on, “Isaac, whom you love,” Abraham corrected God, “I love them both.”
And Abraham did, did love them both. He loved his firstborn son Ishmael, was deeply grieved when Sarah banished the boy along with his mother Hagar. 

And Abraham loved Isaac: Isaac, child of laughter, child of his ancient age, God’s own gift of love, destiny and heritage. Child of Sarah. Beloved son of eternal promise. 

“Take your son, Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.” So begins the incredible story of stunned horror. One visualizes Abraham’s grim, set countenance. With the Hebrew scholars, one hears the weeping, shrieking screams of the boy’s mother that dawn as his father tears her hands loose from her only son and leaves her curled into a knot on the ground, sobbing as Abraham sets out on a three-day journey of the dead, to execute the will of God.

One understands the legend, the ancient rabbinical wisdom that as from that moment, Sarah never again spoke to Abraham, or to Abraham’s God.

The stuff of nightmares.

How can we face this, how do we deal with it? How, where can we find God’s blessing in a nightmare? Fools and simpletons rationalize God, justify God, to “save God” who does not need to be saved by us. We say foolish things. That it was okay, that after all it was just a test, God testing Abraham, that God never meant for the boy to have his throat slit, never meant for Abraham to sin, to commit murder, the ultimate horror of infanticide, fully intended to stop it at the last moment, what a crock, skybalon, what utter nonsense. There is no excuse, no excusing: how do we escape from this story with Abraham justified and our God intact, unscathed and unscarred?

Mainline Christian scholars don’t know what to say, we are left speechless. Knowing not that they know not, thinking they must justify God, foolish Christian scholars speak rationalizing nonsense. Hebrew scholars blessedly do not know --- do not know how to explain the story, except as an embarrassment, the shame of the ages. The best Islamic scholarship says that Abraham had it wrong, that Abraham misunderstood, that the command came not from God but from the devil. But that’s not what our Bible says. God said, “Abraham!” He said, “Here I am.” God said, “Take your son.” My heart is broken. And yet,

And yet, here’s the Gospel: all Holy Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The story of Abraham and Isaac on the road to Moriah is but an early chapter in our salvation history on the Way to Calvary. For Christians, all Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The only begotten Son of God. Begotten of his Father before all worlds. God from God. Light from Light. True God from True God. Begotten, not made. Who for our sake came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried -- this God of ours, who goes to the Cross for us. God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who calls each of us to our own cross, here’s the Gospel: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son up to death on the cross, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have life everlasting.

On a Sunday in June, we did not expect to end up on Good Friday, but here we are on Calvary’s Hill, at the foot of the Cross, not with the son of Abraham, Isaac who was spared, but with Jesus Christ the Son of God who died in agony for your sins and mine, that you might live forever. And can it be? 

Wesley’s incomparable salvation hymn -- 

And can it be, 
that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love, how can it be,
that thou my God should die for me!

It can be, and it is. Beloved, it is the heart and cornerstone of Christian faith. But I’m afraid you missed it. Listen again, carefully, King James Version this time, in the story, to the pathos of the ages as Abraham in deepest grief makes his way across the wilderness to the altar of his son Isaac.

Abraham, and God, and the Lamb.

You are there.

... And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 

Abraham said, “God will provide himself -- the lamb -- for the offering, my son.” 

The gift of God for the people of God: God provides Himself. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29, 1957

Engaging my wedding day memories this early morning is like opening a photo album to find a hodgepodge of pictures not neatly arranged but all in the front of the book needing to be sorted through and displayed orderly. These pictures have been here 57 years today, our wedding was June 29, 1957. My mind hasn’t done as good a job with them as a professional photographer would do. 

It is a sunny afternoon. Already dressed in my new blue suit, a college graduation present from my parents, I stand in the front yard of the house where I grew up on Massalina Drive contemplating the choice I have made for my life. My grandparents arrive from Pensacola. Mamie and Walter Gentry and two cousins. My mental picture is of his car slowly rounding the curve and turning into our driveway as my cousin Bill waves to me. As always, the car is a Chrysler, a new 1957 Imperial Crown sedan, medium dark green with a white top. 

Comes to mind, it is a nice car that I have driven, but not at top speed on the dark residential streets of Pensacola as Bill and I enjoyed the 1952 Imperial a few years earlier. Odd things come to mind on your wedding day, and again on your 57th anniversary. A kind, loving and generous man, my grandfather was 50 when I was born. I was 21 on my wedding day. When he died, I was 40 years old and wondered if he could see everything that was going on in my life.

Ours was the first wedding at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida. Whatever happened there that hour is rather a blur. But I know it happened, because in Battin Hall there’s a picture of us, Linda and me, walking down the aisle at the end of the ceremony. See us? And that's me taking our picture of our picture.

So as to keep it from being painted with shoe polish and strings with shoes and cans attached, I have left our “getaway car” elsewhere. Now at Linda’s house for the wedding reception, I hand my brother Walt the keys and ask him to go get it, which he does. It’s a new 1957 Ford Thunderbird, red with white top. The top can be unclipped and lifted off, but it looks really cool with the top on, and those round windows. 

Newlyweds, we drive away as people wave. My friend Philip gawks at the car, and that I got the girl. A couple minutes later we stop at Western Union on Harrison Avenue and send Linda’s parents a telegram, which they read to the guests. “Thank you for the lovely wedding. Hawaii is beautiful.” Everybody gets a chuckle. Not Hawaii, we drive out to PCB.

A week later I am on the plane to Newport, Rhode Island for the start of our Navy life.

Would I do it all again? Every minute, every second. 


Saturday, June 28, 2014


Red Right Returning

Want a lift? What’s the worst thing one can do to oneself? Guarantee: to feel down, discouraged and depressed with life and creation, read an online newspaper first thing of a morning. Taliban mounts major offensive in Afghanistan. ISIS advances in Iraq. Shia and Sunni mutual massacres. Border patrol checkpoint 25 miles inside the border in Arizona town harasses citizens’ daily movements around town, creating police state, well do you want to be tough on illegal immigration, or don’t you, make up your mind. Continued exposure of GM internal culture of self-serving incompetence destroys confidence in my lifelong favorite car company, why promote a lifelong insider to Top Gunness? Sgt Bergdahl who walked away from problem unit in Afghanistan, to face questioning and possible charges: AWOL or desertion? A dancer, dreamer and poet never a soldier, the boy was a misfit: discharge him and send him packing for Chrissake, want to charge somebody, charge whoever enlisted him, want to punish somebody, here am I, punish me, I’ll take his rap for him. Benghazi mastermind arrives in United States. Iraqi and Afghan armies built up by years of American blood, sweat, money, bodybags, tears, and debt burden on untold American generations to come proof out as puffballs: after watching the original Mother of All Battles in the First Gulf War fleeing over the horizon we should have known. Funeral today in Georgia for toddler left in car by father charged with murder, I don’t think I can bear one more time the picture of the little blond angel on TV, especially the one with his daddy holding him; for the love of God, some merciful person hand the boy’s father a pistol and one bullet and walk away.

What’s the matter with us? With me? It pays to be ignorant. I read the news. Television is eternally infernally invading my space, infesting my being. 

Port is left, starboard is right. 

Notwithstanding the world, this should be a good day here on Cedar Hill. My brother is in town with his family. They and all other kin who want to come will be here this evening for a gathering and supper. Also a good start to July: this time next week my son Joe will be here from W-S, NC and TJCC will be here from Tallahassee. My house will be a circus: it’s the only way I love life, full of beloveds.

Mind the lights.

I bind this day to me forever
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

Green Right Departing.

Friday, June 27, 2014


99. He said: "I will go to my Lord! He will surely guide me! 100. "O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!" 101. So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son. 102. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I have seen in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills, one of the steadfast!" 103. So when they had both submitted (to Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), 104. We called out to him "O Abraham! ... 105. "Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" - thus indeed do We reward those who do right.  106. For this was a clear trial- 107. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: 108. And We left for him among generations (to come) in later times: 109. "Peace and salutation to Abraham!" 110. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. 111. For he was one of Our believing Servants. (Quran, Surah 37)*
+++   +++   +++
 Our Bible story for Sunday is from Genesis 22, Abraham and the Sacrifice of isaac. I enjoy comparing the Genesis account to the account in the Quran, and our respective views. Although the son is not named in the Quran passage, Islamic tradition generally holds that Abraham brought his son Ishmael, an ancestor of The Prophet, for sacrifice. Instantly available online, there is vigorous discussion among Muslim scholars for both Ishmael and Isaac, to support both conclusions, but the tradition is for Ishmael. The conversation being within Islam, the rebuttals of Christian and Jewish scholars are exterior, eisegetical and not helpful. More, the Muslim scholarship that I read was said to engage Islamic exegesis that outsiders do not grasp, effectively dismissing us; and so I accept their viewpoint. However, of the presentations that I read, some of the argument for Ishmael seems circular, beginning with Ishmael and then laying out rationale to that conclusion, recognizing the story in the Quran as the sole foundation for argument and conclusion. Perhaps not unlike a Roman Catholic scholar proving the cause of Blessed Mary Ever Virgin, tradition more to be upheld than examined.
What difference does it make? asked at least one scholar. His answer was that it does not matter, because the point of the story is not about which son it was, but about the saving mercy of Abraham’s God. 
As I contemplate this, the mind keeps returning to “stop writing, it’s nap time.” So if my quality of thought is challenged, I will not defend.


A friend (hi, Kalynn!) asks “Same story, from Genesis and the Quran. Would it be easier to sacrifice one son rather than the other????” which warrants response. Though this is Friday morning, I would rather contemplate a reply than work on my nonexistent sermon for Sunday morning. 

The first thing is to give the next verse of the Quran. “112. And We gave him the good news of Isaac - a prophet,- one of the Righteous. 113. We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to themselves.” (Surah 37).

Clearly, the Prophet Muhammed knew the Bible and all its stories, both from the Hebrew Bible and from the Christian New Testament. In fact, he knew it so well that for the most part he just mentions a story without going into detail, as is in fact the case with 37:99-111 about the near-sacrifice of the son of Abraham. This indicates, at least to me, that The Prophet felt that everyone else who would be reading his writings would know the stories too. The Islamic scholars who comment also seem to know the Bible stories, better in fact than most Christians or Jews who comment on the Quran.

So, anyway, to face K’s question with a haphazard list of points, observations and statements not arranged logically for argument or to lead to a point. (One can do that by reading Islamic scholars’ online writings about this, of which there are many, readily accessible and in English).

  • What the Quran passage says or does not say is the basis for the reasoning (not anything in the Bible story, and one’s foreknowledge of the Bible story is not relevant in this reasoning process). 
  • The tradition is that Ishmael was an ancestor of The Prophet. (There is thus impetus to honor Ishmael as the son who faithfully, bravely and voluntarily offers himself for sacrifice instead of Isaac ancestor of the Jews). 
  • The passage does not name the son, therefore it is questionable and arguable who the son was. 
  • The naming of Isaac in Genesis was added later by editors, and wasn’t even edited well, because Isaac was never Abraham’s only son. If the command was given as only son, it would have been before Isaac was even born. Obviously, then, the name Isaac was added by a later editor.
  • The passage does not say Abraham’s dream came from God. Some Islamic scholars say God would never order such a sin as to murder an innocent, therefore the dream, which Abraham followed, was from the devil.
  • The son, a believer, faithfully consents and submits to be sacrificed if that is God’s will as Abraham says. 
  • The exemplary character traits of Ishmael that are mentioned here and there in the Quran, patient and faithful, match that son’s character in the passage. 
  • Logically, God would not have ordered the sacrifice of Isaac, through whom God promised Abraham grandchildren, that makes no sense and God does not do stupid things.
  • Ishmael was the son at the time of the story. As we see in the story itself (37:99-111), Isaac does not arrive until after the story (37:112-113). The story and order shows that Isaac was not yet present.
  • The sacrifice of the son clearly was never God’s will in the first place, else it would have been carried out.  
  • Abraham was saved in more than one sense. He was saved by proceeding to carry out what he thought was God’s will regardless of the cost to himself. He was saved at the last minute from the terrible sin of sacrificing an innocent child.
  • The passage does not say what the momentous sacrifice was, thus the notion that it was a ram, sheep, lamb, is speculation. Perhaps the momentous sacrifice was Abraham’s innocent ignorance about what God would require -- surely not a human sacrifice.

Above are some of the points put forward as Muslim scholars argue for Ishmael. Because it is a closed Muslim conversation to persuade other Muslims, it does not matter, and is irrelevant, if a Christian or Jew can dispute points or argue on the other side for Isaac as the son offered for sacrifice; in fact, even Muslim scholars have so argued. Again, though the Quran does not name the son in the passage, Islamic tradition is that it was Ishmael, and the above are some of the statements and observations given in proof/evidence.

In direct response to K’s question, Islamic tradition does not concern which son would be easier to sacrifice, but specifically honors Abraham’s son Ishmael, The Prophet’s ancestor, who was so noble and faithful a believer as to offer himself willingly to be sacrificed if that was God’s will. 

This is the first and only time I have responded to a reader comment, as I avoid having my blog become a forum or, especially, let it be open to the sort of vicious, meanspirited anonymous comments that one sees widely online. But K's worthwhile question intrigued me!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Soccer & Basketball

For going ahead to the next round, the World Cup group of death discussion this morning makes even less sense than Australian Rules football, which 30-odd years ago I watched endless evenings on television. My Oz associates seemed to take satisfaction in my never, ever “getting it.” So with World Cup soccer. 

As for Suarez, whom along with the rest of the world I watched bite another child and was astonished not to immediately see a red card, I am reminded of two key rules in our HNES kindergarten classes: no biting, and don’t throw sand. How can Liverpool abide the boy? After the second incident you send him to the office and call his mom to come get him.

If he's to continue playing, he needs to go to the dentist and have all his teeth extracted. Is there a rule against gumming your opponent? How about sucking your thumb and pouting?

Thinking to dodge machine gun fire from the sprinkler nests, instead of walking down the front steps, I went out the back door and walked down Calhoun Avenue to W. Beach Drive to get the PCNH this morning. Lovely, peaceful though for the rest of my life I will be watching for bears anymore. Flashing navigation lights on the Bay, green stirring it all up and messing with me, pick up the paper, turn to return only to be blinded by a sudden flash of lightning. What? More lightning, claps of thunder, and pouring rain just as I walk inside and close the door. I haven’t checked the weather map to discover whether it’s a monstrosity or a small, angry cloud moving through.

Tuesday morning, Robert and I heard the thunder to the east and south of us, watched the cloud moving west, so instead of strolling through some part of our childhood, we walked around Cove School three times. Seems to me that Amy once told me three laps is a mile, so brisk thirty minutes walk followed by breakfast that overrides the benefits of the walk. We’ll see how the skies fare for today’s walk. Two late-septuagenarians trying to stay alive by remembering how it was. It all starts from the Center of the Universe at 205 Hamilton Avenue. 

One of these mornings I’ll bring my keys so we can get in the P.E. office to borrow a basketball, and I’ll get some pics of Robert shooting baskets where he was our class athlete seventy years ago. Only Robert loved basketball so much that the teacher had to yell at him to leave the court and come in out of the rain. He was a star. I was a klutz. It’s still so. A tall, lanky kid, light on his feet, Robert played varsity basketball our years at Bay High. If I choose one mental picture of Robert in the 2014 - 1942 = 72 years we’ve been classmates, he’s leaping, a basketball just leaving his hands on the way to the hoop.

In our eighth grade class picture that now hangs in the entry hall of the Bill Lloyd Building, near the post over on the right, I’m the kid with the thick black hair. That’s Robert standing in front of me, the tall boy. 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Earthling: No Veronica

It’s always one of us, isn’t it, it’s never them, it’s always us. “12 Year Old Takes School Bus For Joy Ride” reads the PCNH front page headline this morning. How do we know HE was 12, well, they caught HIM, didn’t they. It never even occurs to us that maybe it was SHE at least this one time. But no, it’s always us: HE was out bike riding before dawn, HE came upon the bus, the key was in the ignition, so zoom. I could drive at twelve too, my father promised to teach me to drive, and the Sunday after my twelfth birthday, the family went out into the woods at the far west end of Bay County, and I drove. These days, I prefer that Linda drive.

With no idea how it is now, and couldn’t care less, I remember that when I arrived at the University of Florida in September 1953, the student body was ten thousand, a real man’s school said to be ten to one males, and I believe it although I never actually counted us, but judging by my classes, that was true. Word was that our sister university in Tallahassee, not far evolved from Florida Normal College for Women or some such, was ten to one females, and I wondered what the hell am I doing here in Gainesville. But UF was macho, I certainly wasn't about to go to a girls' school, besides, when I graduated from high school any other than Gator was unthinkable.      

Is the world changing? IDK, I thought so for a while when Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel, but she turned out as hard as nails as any male, and Margaret Thatcher too. I was thinking for president, maybe a grandmother who’d never stolen a school bus, but one possibility didn’t even have enough sticktoittivity to finish her term as governor and another gets so balled up in signing copies of her book that I'm wondering if she’s lost touch, her clock ticked, her alarm rung, and her luna set.

So I’m thinking maybe stick around to watch Adonai finish evolving us into Veronica, the ultimate and final true image, still adama but an androgynous race -- not huMANs -- and not perSONs but -- huperdottrs or hyperdottrs. Genderless, they will have finally overcome our vicious animal drives and fierce competitive nature.

Of which speaking, on YouTube I’m watching BBC programs about The Amish, so-called Pennsylvania Dutch or Deutsch or Deitsch, peaceful, gentle folk whose buggies I’ve driven along behind, who are trying to hold on to The Old Ways, the ways of the elders, meaning life as it was in German-speaking areas of Europe in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. Why stunted in that particular era beats the aitch out of me, and from living nearby and watching them in person, I know they squabble amongst themselves, and punish each other, and break apart into groups of the last surviving remnant of the one true church just like the rest of us. And their practice of “shunning” is quite cruel. But their rolling farmland is lovely. Quaint, horses instead of cars, 

maybe they’re a start. Toward Veronica. But I don’t think so. The husband is still unquestioned head. The family telephone is in a tiny booth out at the edge of the property because in the 17th century there wasn’t one inside the house. If you can’t have a car, you might have an electric golfcart built in the style of an Amish buggy. 

Where to recharge the battery on a farm that’s not electrified IDK, a charging station out next to the phone booth? The picture of a beautiful little loving family of six riding to town in their horse-drawn buggy to enjoy pizza lunch at Target seemed oddly asynchronous.

Not at all to make fun of them, not even the Amish limousine,

they’re just a quaint subset of all the rest of us who are certain that we have it right. Adam is not a male being in God’s image, but adama, earth, dirt, from dust. Doesn’t resemble God at all. Veronica? Not yet.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Posted: Keep Out

Rant: Let the Reader be Anathema

All the world holds its breath in wait for the wisdom and word of the grand vizier.

On Iraq et al.

+Time is no political blog but anyone with any sense has political opinions. Mine are studiously not party-oriented and I deeply resent being pigeonholed as red or blue, and most especially as lib or con. Once at church coffee hour someone said, “I understand you are somewhat left of center.” With a bristle that now keeps me, with narrowed eyes, thin lips and sharp tongue when crossed, steering clear of polite chit-chat that might go off rancidly political, I retorted more sharply than politic for a clergyman, “Oh, really? On what subject?” But politics is/are about polis, an assembly of citizens, which are people, and any person with any sense has views. I find that mine are different to most. With dismay. Not at self; at the wrong views of others. Which is why I refrain. Politically right of Genghis Khan on some topics, left of the ACLU on some, straddling the fence on some, I would have been an effective despot, but no smarmy congressman. 

Our government’s course on Iraq is appalling, pushing, for doubtful motives, to force "unity" in a region that is neither unified nor desires unity. Worse, worst is the tack of the opposition, especially the war criminal who in a morally just society would have been silenced at the end of a rope. This is a sensible view:  Tens or hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are dead because of the man and anyone who listens to him anymore is raca. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. 

And now reports that “advisors” headed to Iraq will not receive danger pay, as they will not be in a combat role. If this is so, it is outrageous, infuriating, because they will be specific targets of the sectarian barbarians who hate us almost as much as they hate each other. 

In Florida, a pop-tart law against suspending little kiddiewinks at school who chew their pop-tarts into the shape of a gun. Was there ever a little American boy who did not make a gun with his pointing finger and go “bang!”? God help us, a pop-tart law is necessary in a gun-crazed society where morons in the public school system criminalize little children for playing what all adults around them do. Pop-tart guns are now legal in Florida but give a child a criminal record up north? Will the Supreme Court hear the case? A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, a child’s right to chew a pop-tart into a gun shape shall not be infringed. 

Florida law that makes it now legal under “stand your ground” to fire a warning shot instead of shooting to kill; necessary after an overzealous prosecutor convicts and obtains a lengthy prison sentence for a wife who warns off her abusive husband instead of killing him. Overturned. But when we see the prosecutor’s name on the ballot for higher political office, we will know that we have gone completely insane.

Sit down funerals. I can love a New Orleans funeral procession

but a sit down funeral? Cadaver at a table enjoying a beer, 

or in a rocking chair waiting for visitors.

Okay, we have gone mad.


Monday, June 23, 2014

story moment

Probably nuts, but I like clicking YouTube and watching television news station coverage of soldiers surprising their children by coming home early from wars. Daughters, and sons, suddenly looking up and seeing their father walking into the classroom, jumping up and running, running, running, leaping into his arms to hold and never let go. Or onto the ball field. Or into a graduation ceremony. Maybe I like those stories because it happened with me several times in my Navy life and later, and it brings it all back. That it’s there to bring back is what makes me human.

Sermons, or homilies -- what I did yesterday was a homily not a sermon and they are not the same even though some Episcopal clergy think they are being sophisticated or more “catholic” by using the term “homily” regardless -- can have many objectives. One such that I enjoy now and then is helping folks in the congregation immerse personally in a Bible story, either “being there” inside the story’s moment, or reliving a cherished moment of their own. You can be right there as Jesus enters a village on a sunny day, for example, and comes upon a desolating situation of human life and with a touch or a word makes everything right; you can walk upon the scene, be astonished and so glad that you came in from the field in time to witness it and know him. An event such as Mothers Day or Christmas or Easter may be the right time to open one’s own treasure chest of memories in a way that helps others relive a long forgotten moment, perhaps especially with loved ones who have died.

On a Sunday when we have a baptism, I like it when the lectionary for the day includes a good Bible story to hear, and then explain for the one about to be baptized, or for the sponsors and witnesses, that at your baptism every Bible story becomes your own personal property, these are no longer their stories, they are now my stories, your stories to read again, and learn, and tell others, and remember. And as we read and hear them again, enjoy just like a little child wanting to hear a favorite story read over and over and over again. Maybe it’s what Jesus meant when he said that about being born again, or when he said that unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of God. He liked simplicity, and he loved stories. 

This summer and its Season after Pentecost is my good time to enjoy many old Bible stories that take me to my grandparents’ house in Pensacola years ago, and to going to Sunday School with my cousins, to relive it all again. Or going into Pop's office with a splinter in my foot, and have him lovingly dig it out and then pour on the iodine and sending me back out barefoot to play. Or climbing up in Mom's lap and asking her to tell me a story about Alfred. I love memories. I love doing that, going those places. I love the memory of Joe playing down the block with friends, suddenly spotting me getting out of the car as I arrive home from WestPac, and running, running, almost knocking me down as he leapt. All those stories are mine and will be in my mind as long as I’m still human. 


Sunday, June 22, 2014



Topics swirling in mind, all but One of them as a crank.

The One on which I am fully qualified to speak is that this morning we return to the part of our Revised Common Lectionary, so-called “Track One” in which our First Reading, the lesson from the Old Testament, is a Bible story in its own right and does not have the OT reading’s customary link to the Gospel reading for the day. I like this new feature of the RCL, because I enjoy hearing again Bible stories that I remember from Sunday school of my childhood. This morning we shall read the story of Ishmael and his mother Hagar being cast out of the family at the insistence of Abraham’s wife Sarah. Most of our congregation will be away, enjoying our annual parish adventure Shell Island Sunday, billed interestingly as “Father, Son and Holy Coast.” While they are baptizing and feasting, the few of us, the last surviving remnant of the one true church, will have our usual gatherings at eight o’clock and ten-thirty. I will be chief mouse, officiating while the cat’s away, and I intend to talk about the Abrahamic story.  

Swirling around otherwise in my troubled mind, my anguish about the children crossing our southern border, from terrible conditions in their homelands. We are a nation of immigrants in a country that people are willing to die to enter, the opposite of every other major nation. Only in America. My feelings about the children are that -- I’m glad it’s someone else’s problem to face; I pray that it will be handled with chesed, lovingkindness regardless of cost to us; and I only wish my house were big enough to accommodate every single child.

The other major thing is extreme anxiety about the 300 American troops being sent to Iraq to “advise and assist” the repelling of the ISIS invasion. It’s a religious civil war where we have no business. The leader of a key Shia faction, al-Sadr, has said he can’t wait for the Americans to return so he can resume killing us. We resume protecting Maliki the sectarian despot. This business of “advisors” was our then-presidents’ rationale and ticket into Vietnam, how soon we forget. My view was expressed by someone who this week said Not one more life. Not one more life. Not one more plane. Not one more life. Not one more gun. Not one more Marine. Not one more body bag. Not one more life.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Out of Tune, Touch & Phase

Out of Tune
Out of Touch
Out of  Phase

Now about a quarter, the moon is still high enough in the eastern sky to lighten the concrete steps for my predawn stroll down to get the newspaper. Moonlight, along with the sound, helps me avoid the sweeping stream of the sprinkler. By next week we’ll have dark and I’ll have to make my way more carefully. 

There’s also the threat, new to me, maybe it wasn’t new to Pop and Alfred, about bears: of late, more than one in the neighborhood. Speculation was they swam across the Bay from Tyndall just opposite. Just opposite is Shell Island, but slightly to the east is TAFB. If the bears are overpopulated there, my friends along the BCR shore are even closer, have they had bears in The Cove? Are there enough bears for an open season? Are the animals big enough for bear rugs, or just the size to make Halloween costumes for kiddiewinks? IDK. ARA, arise and smite. Two or three bears within a block or so of my house gets my attention, suffices to make me leery of being outside in the dark of the moon. 

Reminds me. My first business trip to Australia, winter 1978 in Pennsylvania, summer 1978 in New South Wales, the Australian Department of Defence flew me down for five-weeks to conduct seminars for DoD and defence industry executives, on how to do business with the U.S. Department of Defense and the American defense industry. My first morning in Brisbane, Queensland, my coordinator there told me that he and his wife had recently cancelled their vacation trip to America for fear of the bears. “The bears?” I asked. “Yes, the grizzly bears.” Their news media had reported the fatal mauling of a woman in a campground by a grizzly, dashing their lifelong plans to vacation across America.   

Email not opened yet, but Google News: nada on flight 370, has the Administration pronounced it no longer missing? If the WH declares it not found but no longer missing, we will finally have the truth. Or maybe Fox, CNN et al wrung all they could out of it. This morning on Google News, ISIS factions in Iraq were battling each other and significant casualties. Holy smoke. The president’s idea of political solution to religious war seems naive to me, just as the promise of no USA boots on the ground followed by dispatching 300 military advisors to Baghdad reminds me of our origins in Vietnam. I remember it well. We need a constitutional amendment that in order to qualify for president you had to sing along with Maurice Chevalier.

Shell Island Sunday tomorrow: we need Pat Robertson to pray away any thunderstorm. Would Pat do that for an Episcopal parish? Not if he knows there'll be beer.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Heart Healthy

If my favorite breakfast is six large oysters broiled on toast x 2, second (leftover fried mullet is probably third) and not far behind the oysters, is liver pate' on toasted strips of whole wheat bread. 

This started seventy years ago when my mother would buy me liverwurst for sandwiches, made early on with butter, in later years with Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Slices of liverwurst, tubes of liverwurst labeled “Braunschweiger,” or fried chicken livers smushed with mayo or butter. Not heart healthy, and Linda, who never liked it in the first place, put the kabosh on all of it years ago, then rather uglily with my onset of heart disease symptoms, etc. late 2010. 

It’s still a first love, rarely indulged unless Linda was at Blue Lake or somesuchplace. Charlie Lahan’s Carousel at PCB had a tasty pate' that I used to buy when serving at St. Thomas Church, Laguna Beach 2004-2009, then later when shopping for wine: it must not have been a big seller, because the last time we were there that refrigerator shelf was other-occupied.  

A couple of weeks ago, however, we were in Tallahassee for three days and made our trek to Trader Joe’s, where I got these boxes of Block Red brand Australian shiraz. To my simple palate, shiraz needs at least a bit of aging, but at $10 the box = $2.50 per bottle equivalent, it’s okay, I might not especially recommend it to a friend who loved shiraz/syrah, but I would buy it again for myself. Maybe the producer could spray a whiff of "liquid smoke" into the plastic bags before sealing them up or something. 

There’s the horse wandering off the trail again, the subject was liver pate' wasn't it. When in a new grocery store I generally look in the peculiar foods section (wth, if they want to call it “gourmet” and run up the price, I look anyway), and there I found two or three different liver pate' products. The one I bought was Trader Joe’s brand, contains no pork, I think it was chicken liver, with sherry, I could just barely taste the sherry, which was perfect. We (I) bought it Sunday evening and had it on toast for breakfast both Monday morning and Tuesday morning. There’s the question now of whether the price of gas for a special trip to Tallahassee to get more should be calculated into my cost of another package of pate' or whether I could write off travel expense as purely the cost of seeing my girls. 

Now, God help me, a friend is vacationing in France and his travelogues, when telling what they had for lunch or supper, usually mention foie gras. This has unfortunately ignited my salivary glands into researching the internet for foie gras sources here in the USA. It’s barely a stretch to say there aren’t any. 

My cardiologist would likely be just as happy. But then, as I say, this taste is rarely indulged. Pate' is probably better held for the noon meal anyway, because it’s best with a glass of red wine, and I don’t do that with breakfast.

W+ still alive in +Time 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Das Boot, Jr.

You couldn’t even laugh later with your buddies, if you had any you could trust, which you don’t. Didn’t. News reports of Saddam Hussein’s meetings always showed his top generals clutching notebooks, standing when the great leader entered the room, paying close attention, and earnestly jotting down his words. Once when Saddam’s two brutal sons were at the meeting, a son noticed a general listening too closely and not writing. “Take notes,” ordered the son, and the general started writing furiously. 

Just so now under the ugly fat boy with the bad haircut. Generals walking around with Junior, never without the little notebook, jotting down his morsels of brilliance. Most ludicrous, at least to me as a naval officer, the report this week of the puffed up toad proudly inspecting his imposing submarine force, 1950s Romeo class diesel electric Unterseeboot. 

With the admirals paying close attention and writing in their notebooks as the great one solemnly oozes wisdom on navigation and submarine warfare. Want to keep your head? Take notes. No doodles or happy faces either. What a schlemiel. There’s good news and bad news. First the good news: he’s returned to Pyongyang. Now the bad news: you have to run hide in your closet for laughing hysterics because there sure as aitch won’t be no snickering while comparing notes during happy hour at the O’Club.

Anchors aweigh.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

naught changeth Thee?

The problem with being sure that God is on your side is that you can't change your mind, because God sure isn't going to change His. -Roger Ebert, film-critic (1942-2013)

Independent, never related to his word for the day, Anu Garg always gives something to think about at the tail end of his message. The word is usually interesting, but sometimes, as today (pungle), the thought is more intriguing than the word. I probably read this thought in Ebert’s book Life Itself: A Memoir but he had so many cogent things to say that it’s hard to remember. Anu stirs a good one this morning.

Over a course of twenty-five or so years I served as an EfM mentor, a program of Bible and theological education by extension offered for lay people by the school of theology of The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. “Education for Ministry” is not meant to make ordained clergy of folks, it’s designed half and half to give an education similar in part to that read and discussed by seminarians, and through a practice called “theological reflection,” to help folks acquire a habit of looking at their life and the world from a theological perspective. Anu Garg’s thought from Roger Ebert brings this to mind as, looking at the quotation I thought immediately what it suggests about “Roger’s God” even though Roger said it lightheartedly, and perhaps brings into view for examination what I believe about “my God. Specifically, one can look at a sentence and see what it asserts or alleges about the Deity. Theologically educated, trained and experienced, I enjoy doing this, asking this question, especially in a group such as my Sunday School class: what is the theology of this statement, what does this statement say about God? And, do I agree?

The TR practice is useful to me, because I often find that the statement’s assertion is not one I agree with. I’ll come back to Roger’s statement, but I’m especially thinking about our liturgy, the Collects for each Sunday prescribed in our Book of Common Prayer. The collect for Proper 27 The Sunday closest to November 4, for example, asserts, “O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil.” Though the assertion is lifted from 1 John 3:8b and is used by the Church just before Advent when we start thinking about the First and Second Coming, it comes from the seventeenth century, it no longer is matched to the Lectionary reading for which it was composed, it does not fit my view of why Jesus came, and when I am officiating I struggle with saying it because it does not say about the Son what I believe, and I may change it as I say it. Often, with my Sunday School class, I open with the Collect for the Day and then help the class discern it’s theology, what it says about God.

But the theology of Roger Ebert’s statement, which he may not have realized says things about God and raises my question, do I agree? God sure isn't going to change His (mind). Minor point, it implies that God is male, a common reference to God with which I have no particular issue as long as the matter is not pressed. But major, God sure isn’t going to change His mind. I’m deleting the “sure” because it implies certainty about God, with which I almost invariably disagree; thus, “God isn’t going to change his mind.” This reflects my one and perhaps only issue with our closing hymn for Trinity Sunday, the line, “naught changeth Thee” based on our view of a changless God (James 1:17, Hebrews 1:12, et al). However, the proof is not in what we say about God or to God, but in God’s actions, including some 16 or more instances in Scripture, two being my particular favorites. At Genesis 6:6 God changes his mind, regrets that he ever made us in the first place, and proceeds to drown the lot of us. At Exodus 32:14 God changes his mind about his intent to rain down fire and immolate his people Israel after they give up on Moses returning from the mountain and make a golden calf to worship, this being my topmost favorite, “And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” In that case, God was persuaded to change his mind because Moses shamed Him. So maybe Roger Ebert was wrong, maybe God would change his mind. It’s arguable for any but a mental bull, and could be called “theological discourse.” It can make for noisy discussion in Sunday School class.  

Breakfast. Whisked in a 12-ounce mug, half Bulgarian style buttermilk and half plain kefir. Try it, Sam I Am, you may like it, Sam I Am. 

Outside and down to the street for Linda’s PCNH where as always beyond MLP is Daisy’s green light across the Bay, taking me, simple Jimmy Gatz, where this morning I struggle not to go. ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω. Yesterday caught in the sprinkler crossfire.