Sunday, April 29, 2012

Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Come to My Funeral

5. Anyone from Cumnock, Scotland – you wouldn’t take a chance on me as a student minister cos I’m a girl – really?  Because some gal before me hadn’t been such great shakes, suddenly all women are suspect?  Really?  A coal town wouldn't take a chance on a gal from West Virginia?  Really?  Well, it did work out for the best, both for you and for me, so I guess you can come if you want to, but why would you?  We never even met, did we?

4. Anyone who has somewhere more important to be.  No hard feelings, but if you don’t have the time – if you start looking at your watch beyond a certain point – just give it a miss – we’ll both be happier for it.

3. Anyone who doesn’t know that you bring food to my family and friends as an expression of sorrow or regret and caring for the living.  It’s bad form not to bring food, so if you can’t be bothered with the obligatory (and it is obligatory) home-made casserole dish, you’d better skip the funeral (unless you’re coming from more than 100 miles away - a rough rule of thumb, but it’ll do).

2. If you don’t know me well enough to know my kids’ names, don’t come.

1. If you can’t laugh at all the silliness of my life, stay home - this funeral isn’t for you.

And a special shout-out to Milan Cikovich, who stands in a category all his own – because at age 7, Milan told me there is no Santa Clause and I’ve never gotten over it – those childhood wounds run deep.  But the Easter Bunny’s real, isn’t he, Milan?  Milan?

All kidding aside, in the pastor business, we spend a fair amount of time dealing with the dying and their vision of how the send-off should be, which includes more often than you might think, a list of who is and who is not, welcome to come.

One thing I’m pretty clear on at this point in my life: when I’m dead, the yardstick by which I measure such things will have changed pretty dramatically and what seems important to me now will not matter even a little bit then.

So when it comes to my own funeral, I too have a vision, but that’s all it is.  And my whims are not to be given sway.  When it comes to my own funeral, to those who will be in charge, do what you like.  Don’t worry about me – I’ll be busy somewhere else.

And yes, Milan can come if he wants to.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Scotland -- Day 17: Dyeing Eyelashes

That’s right – you can now have your eyelashes died and that’s just what Liz and I did yesterday.  For Liz, it was a restful interlude in the midst of a busy day.  For me, it was the only time I stirred from my bed, as I’ve managed to catch Zara’s cold – hardly a surprise with my batting average – just suggest you’re getting something and before you can exhale, I’ll have caught the bug – just my way of staying close.

Liz getting her eyelashes dyed.
Ignore the date/time stamp - I never could figure those out.
Anyhow, we went to our salon to have eyebrows waxed and eyelashes dyed, yes, dyed.  It felt very weird.  And I have to say that for me, the biggest success was managing not to cough or sneeze into the face of the woman so kindly tending us.

Indulging in such utter silliness put me in mind of a story told to my former law partner and I years back by an expert witness we had retained to testify about the phenomena of sexism in the work place.

Dr. Devika Malhotra talked extensively to Walt and I in our pre-trial preparations about the concept of culture and how the assumptions of culture, often unseen by those of living in its midst, shape our understandings of virtually everything.  Listening to Devika was like being in the classroom of a first-rate teacher (which she was and I hope still is).

My favorite example was from Devika’s own personal story: coming to the United States from India in the early 1960's, she prepared herself to go and look for a job.  So she bought herself some western-style clothes and tried them on for the judgment of a trusted American friend.  Her friend reassured Devika that all was well with the outfit.  “There’s only one problem,” said the friend.  “What?” asked Devika.  “You have to shave your legs.”  “Why,” asked Devika.  The friend’s reply is priceless: “I don’t know why; you just do.”

And that, Devika told us, is culture – the things you have to do even though no one knows why.

So here it is on a random Friday that I find myself in Scotland, sick with a cold, properly lying in my bed, but instead headed out to have my eyelashes dyed.

Why, you might ask.

The answer is I don’t know.

But I did.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Scotland - Day 16: The No. 1 Chocolate Factory



chocolate . . .

last night Liz and I had a girls night out to Glasgow to No. 1 Chocolate Factory, where we learned about chocolate, donned paper hats and plastic aprons and got our hands dirty making truffles and chocolate purses – that’s right – chocolate purses.

I am of the firm opinion that every woman should have her own chocolate purse.  I know my life is the better for it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Scotland - Day 15: The Hostiles

Saturday was spent being a groupy for The Hostiles, the Ska Punk band Ruaridh* plays trumpet with.

As part of the learning curve, I had to find out that the ‘ska’ part of Ska Punk is in the instrumentation, often the horn section.  And punk, of course, is punk.

Ruaridh and his trumpet with Josh
Saturday’s venue was an old warehouse of sorts that’s been divided into practice sound and recording rooms, so imagine several small venue areas through a maze-like series of corridors, decorated in the artwork, darkness and eclectic mix of paintings, rugs and such on the walls.

I’d forgotten what it’s like to sit in any kind of edgy music space – the decibel level left my hearing muted for a couple of days – but it wasn’t all that unwelcome, this feeling of my youth.

It was fun to watch the band’s high-energy dreadlocked leader Josh sing, jump and play with the audience with his mother looking protectively on, rushing off to get him tissues for his sweating forehead, stepping forward to adjust his mike only to stop at the last minute realizing that there was a sound crew at this gig. . . and Chris with his bass and Callum on drums doing the usual musician interaction, playing to each other as if no one else was in the room . . . the young folk standing before the band, singing lyrics I couldn’t decipher, head-bobbing to the relentless bass beats, shouting out requests . . .

Steve & his trombone (yes, it's a beanie baby rat
jammed in the curve - gift from a fan)
But I came to see Ruaridh, the young man I’ve known since he was 9 years old, play his horn.  And play he did.  Ruaridh on trumpet and Steve on trombone were fabulous.

I came away with a red sweatshirt signed by all the band members (a 56-year-old grandma groupie has no shame), a t-shirt, CD, and a great sense of the fun and community of music (check out the guys on their MySpace page, remembering that Josh and Chris’s mom is the van driver and general factotum for all their gigs -- like I said, it's a community).

*Ruaridh is Liz & Idris’ oldest child and his Gaelic name is pronounced – well, I simply can’t do it – it’s something like roo-ah-ree –  but I call him Rudy – even with that nickname, there’s an ‘r’ in the middle being missed.  The important thing to remember about the Gaelic is that the ‘idh’ ending is pronounced ‘ee’.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Scotland – Day Fourteen: The Sport of Politics

I adore BBC and I especially adore BBC when Parliament is in session.  It’s way better television than C-SPAN, if only because Parliament is better television than the US Congress.

Who can fail to enjoy the give-and-take process whereby the Prime Minister must at least appear to be responsive to his opponents in the Q&A exchange?

While owning that it is dangerous to make observations about political processes and personalities with whom one is not overly familiar, I offer my reactions to this morning’s televised session of Parliament, when controversy involving Rupert Murdoch’s empire and the interactions of members of government with the same, holds sway in the nation.

My overarching sense of things is that, like the storylines of Emmerdale, Coronation Street, or my own favorite, East Enders, indeed, like the cherry blossom petals floating to the ground in the spring winds, you literally can walk away from a Parliamentary tale for years, come back later when even a different party is in power, and find that the same questions are being asked and the same answers (word for word) are being offered.

It is uncanny, this sense that no time at all has passed, when in fact, the last time I was in a position to spend time watching Parliament in the UK was in the immediately following months to the invasion of Iraq under Tony Blair’s Labor Party leadership.

Today, the Conservative Prime Minister, answering challenges to claims of back-room shenanigans vis-a-vis Murdoch, said that the matter should await the outcome of the Inquiry established to look into the matter, an answer Mr. Blair was awfully fond of offering whenever anyone from the opposition asked him any question about Iraq and the UK’s decision to join the US’s invasion of that nation.

The subject matter is literally all that has changed.  East Enders could have done no better.

But my own favorite has to be Mr. Cameron’s offering in defense of challenges to his leadership  (I paraphrase, but I’m not far off): It’s not new to us.  The implication is that when it comes to allegations of being in bed with media or other corporate interests seeking advantage from the government, Conservatives are merely following in the footsteps of the predecessor Labor leadership.

I’m in no position to judge the veracity of the claim, but as with all such claims the world over, the question begs to be asked: Really?  Really, Mr. Cameron?  Is that really the best you can do – to offer up the ‘he did it too and he did it first’ defense?  Did your mother buy that one when you were a boy?  Really?

Here’s the thing: it may seem rude for a visitor to offer such terse observations, but the fact is that even though I know better, somehow, I expect better of you in the UK when it comes to government.  I expect the process whereby questions may be asked directly of the nation’s leader, who is then required to respond, to actually result in an emerging truth.  I expect they who brought my country its foundational understandings to be so much better than we are at navigating those understandings.

Like I said, I know better.  Human institutions are flawed, being, as they are, filled with human beings.

But really, Britain, is this the best you can do?

I had expected better.

I had expected you not to be stuck in the same scene, on the same stage, uttering the same lines, that you were almost ten years, two wars, numerous inquiries, and one political party ago.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Hunger Games: Allow A Minister Who Can’t Help Herself to Kvetch

Some months ago, as a fan of the television series Grey’s Anatomy, I actually spent about half of a day trying (without success) to locate a way to communicate a programming idea to the producers.

The idea?  Simply to include a hospital chaplain as a (even if seldom) recurring character.

Most, if not all, hospitals of comparable size in the United States, actually have paid chaplains on staff.  The absence of such a character is, at least to me, a jarring absence, particularly when the drama engages matters of a spiritual nature.

Not even having dialogue that references the chaplain who just left is to literally erase such a figure and such a dimension from the real-time plane of existence for the characters.

It is an absence not unique to Grey’s Anatomy.

Having finished The Hunger Games trilogy of books (there are definite advantages to having an extended time off work – catching up on light reading is one of them), I find the same absence, the same lack.

In a tale of the upheaval of an entire society wrenched by violence and war, religion is notable for its absence.  Things spiritual simply aren’t there.  The rituals are the ceremonies of the soldier.  Gatherings are the collective of oppression.  Friendship is the cement, if any there be, of human relationships.

I struggle to name what troubles me.  After all, Susan Collins, the author of The Hunger Games books, the writers and producers of Grey’s Anatomy, as well as the myriad of writers of fiction for stage, screen and the printed page, are free to write whatever narrative strikes their fancy.  And I am free to view or read or not, as I choose.

But the vacuum, the dearth, of things spiritual in our fiction, argues for a problem that shakes me down to my soul: it isn’t that such things aren’t true or valuable; rather, the absence seems to suggest that in our common sphere of imagination, such things are simply irrelevant.

And that does more than make me sad; it makes me frightened – not wrath of God frightened – more that-which-has-no-name frightened – the fear that we are losing something so dear without even knowing it – the ability to imagine that even in the midst of our immediate concerns, something larger than ourselves looms ever present, calling out for our attention, calling out for us to be more than we are, better than we are.

It is the feeling that we who have so much are settling for so much less.

No doubt, a better theologian than I is already hard at work on the next Gospel According To . . . tome, celebrating the deep spiritual meanings to be found in The Hunger Games trilogy.  To that author, I hope my ignorance is forgiven.  And please know that I did not overlook the benedictory language about odds, but allow me to call to mind Mark Twain’s much more eloquent and True (the capital ‘T’ is intentional) The War Prayer for finding spiritual challenge to the collective wisdom of the day when it comes to war and violence and the ‘odds’ of winning and losing in what has always been a fixed game.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Red-Winged Blackbird

“Sue, what’s the name of the bird that’s black with red on its wings?”

FlickrCommons Photo by dbaron
With little, if any, trace of irony in her voice, Sue replies “Why Beth, that’s the red-winged blackbird.”

I still laugh whenever I remember Sue, my 92-year-old congregant and friend, smilingly telling me about the bird I was looking at.  Sue is my go-to gal for all things floral and faunal in our corner of the world.  “What flower is this?”; “What is this leaf?”  “Is this poisonous?”  “Why is a horned owl called a horned owl?” . . . Sue has all the answers to my many questions about the natural world.

But the best day was the day of the obvious answer – the answer that, in my certitude at my own ignorance of such things, never occurred to me – the black bird with the red wings is just that.

Now I am here in Scotland and Sue is back home from a winter away with family.

I hope her days are filled with red-winged blackbirds, obvious questions with equally obvious answers and silly friends brave or foolish enough to ask.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

An Earth Day Reflection

Why Are Your Clothes in My Closet?

The last visit she would make home before the Alzheimer’s that would take her life made travel an impossibility, my Aunt Lucie spent hours packing and unpacking my mother’s clothes into her suitcases, believing them to be hers.

It was a harmless past time, but no amount of persuasion or reason could change her mind that these were her clothes.  As she expressed to her sister, my mother, in what Aunt Lucie saw as the end of the matter, “Well, tell me this Harriett: if these are your clothes, what are they doing in my closet?”

Through the tears and the pain of watching the departure of mind in someone so dear, so vital, there were sparks of unintended humor, making the laughter all the more sweet.

Seaweed left on the bottom of God's closet
on the beach at Ayr
I wonder if God laughs even as She cries when Her children, seemingly bent on the destruction of Her earth through war and neglect of stewardship and wilful destruction of nature’s bounty, look Her in the face and exclaim, “Well, tell me this, God: if these really are Your things, why are they in my closet?"

I wonder how things might be different on this earth if we understood that the closet in which we stand looking for the next thing to wear, to use and to discard, is God's, and not our own?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Scotland -- Day Nine: Assembly-Line Sushi

Walking through the Silverburn Mall (aka the Silverburn Shopping Centre) near Glasgow yesterday, I particularly enjoyed the visual of all the food on offer.  My favorite had to be Yo Sushi, featuring, as it does, an assembly-line approach with dishes on offer wending their way along the thin oval of a food bar around which patrons are seated.

I am no fan of sushi (shoot, I don't eat anything from the water), so this was no particular temptation to dine for me.  I was simply tickled by the visual, imagining myself sitting there with the other diners, watching prospective dishes float past me like suitcases at the baggage claim, looking for my particular dish – would I only recognize it once it was well past me and have to wait for the next rotation?  Should I chase it around?

Then, of course, there is the I Love Lucy television episode from the 1950's where Lucy with her friend and sidekick Ethel, end up working in a chocolate factory.

It’s one of, if not the, funniest bits of television I’ve ever watched.  But I have to confess that the idea of having to pluck my food from a moving target fills me with the anxiety of Lucy and Ethel on that assembly line.

I suspect that the experience of sushi and even chocolate inevitably suffers when the attainment becomes a competition, even if its only a competition in my own mind and with only myself.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sunset, Sunrise


In the still 
time lapse
of the digitized 

how can you tell
the difference?

If you can’t tell
from the geography
then you couldn’t
could you?

Does that mean
that every sunset is
in some way
a sunrise . . . 
just depending
on how
you’re looking
at it . . .
where you're standing. . . 
how your head is tilted?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Scotland -- Day Seven (Travel Dreams)

Day seven was an uneventful day in a life – spent relaxing and laughing and dining with friends – and spent dreaming about what I might do while here, having come with no set itinerary and plenty of time, a rare luxury.

So much of yesterday was spent dreaming of Shetland – I could go later in the month for the annual Shetland Folk Festival (#15 on The Herald’s 100 Things to do in Scotland Before You Die  list [I’ve already some aspect of fifteen others on the list]).

Ailsa Craig
I’d take the train to Aberdeen and the ferry to Shetland, singing, clapping and stomping in rhythm to the music made by my imaginary new musician friends going over to play the festival.  And hoping against hope, I’d stay up to the wee hours every night I was there craving a glimpse of the northern lights.  I’d make my way to the northernmost point of Scotland (and hence Great Britain and the United Kingdom – a discussion on navigating the politics of naming we’ll leave for another day).  And I’d stand on Mavis Grind and throw a rock from the North Sea into the Atlantic Ocean (or is it the reverse?  I can’t recall - but it’s also on The Herald’s Top 100 list).

Reality sinks in as I check out distances and costs.  It’s rather dear (meaning expensive) to get from here to there.  I can actually get to Paris cheaper than I can get to Shetland from Ayr.  It’s frustrating: while Paris is lovely, it’s Shetland I want to aim for this time round.

But here’s the thing about travel: once you’re where you’re going, you actually have time to think about why you’re here in the first place.

Liz & Idris Crumlish at Rozelle House Tea Room
And while Scotland has some amazing places to see and things to do, I didn’t come for the tourism.  I came for the friends I’ve already made, the comforting places I’ve already been.

Sure I’ll do some new things along the way.  But those will be the icing.  The cake, you see, I’ve already gotten in the faces of friends too long not seen, voices too long not heard.  Some I’ve been to already, some I’ll be seeing in the coming weeks, all in their own time.

And that is blessing indeed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scotland -- Day Six (On meals and common language)

Tea . . . dinner . . . supper . . .

Meanings vary depending on where you are. . . and who you are . . . or when you’re saying it.  Context matters, as the terms and their usage vary even with the same person from time to time.

Me at (I think) tea (lunch or dinner)
at Rozelle House.  Quite tasty.
When Liz wants to ask me what I’d like to eat for the evening main meal, she may ask me what I want for dinner, but she’ll usually ask what I want for tea; although if I don’t know it, she may be asking me what I want for lunch (dinner) or mid-afternoon snack (tea) or if I want to go out to a nice place for (high) tea and have a light supper (late-night snack) later.  

“Supper”* is defined as a light evening meal or late-night dinner (the only thing everyone agrees on the world over, as far as I can tell, is that if there are both a dinner and a supper, supper comes after).

“Dinner”* is defined as the main meal of the day, regardless of the time when it is served, or else as a formal evening meal.  In the southern United States, however, if you’re invited to dinner, you’re being invited to lunch, but it will definitely be the main (and perhaps only, depending on your stamina) meal of your day, as in “Pastor, will you join us for dinner after church?”, to which I, at least, almost always say, “Yes, thank you very much.”  (If you’ve ever wondered why pastors tend to be a chubby lot, here’s your answer – the kindness and talent of the culinary offerer kill us softly, to borrow from Roberta Flack.)

“Tea”* means a light late morning or mid-afternoon meal or snack or the main evening meal, at least in the United Kingdom.  In the US, tea persists in meaning something we drink, warm or (shockingly) cold.

This evening, when everyone in the family comes home and we gather round the table, it will, I suspect, be a combination of tea, dinner and supper – but whatever we variously call the moment, bread will be broken and community will happen.

Bon appetit!

*According to Wikipedia, who else?  But when it comes to tea, the matter is made even more cloudy by Wikipedia’s mode of distinguishing between words, persons or ideas who have a number of different meanings or contexts: the disambiguation entry.  Thus the main entry for “tea” will be found simply under “tea” (as in the loose leaves that grow around the world to supply the beverage-thirsting masses of humans with the various flavors we so appreciate), while the concept of tea as a meal will be found under “tea (disambiguation)”.  Really?  Disambiguation?  I should apparently know that “disambiguation” (meaning to make un- or not ambiguous) in Wiki-speak means “everything else”, as in “Any other meaning or context you’re looking for may be found in our disambiguation category.”  Like the UK and the US, Wikipedia and I are separated by our common language.  See Everything You Know About English is Wrong for a humorous discussion of the various persons to whom the "common language" reference has been (at least according to the author) misattributed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Scotland -- Day Five

Cello practiced
teeth brushed
shower had
new clothes put on
trash novel #2 complete
trash novel #3 begun
breakfast eaten
lunch eaten
tea eaten
snacks eaten
friends greeted
cigarettes smoked
e-mail checked
FB checked
blog posted
life lived
vacation begins
doing nothing
it’s a lot of work

Monday, April 16, 2012

Scotland -- Day Four

I’m in church
and I’m not in charge!

Now that’s
a Halleluia!

Singing praise
looking upward
eyes guided by the song words
on the screen

looking upward
and seeing the high windows
joining the roofline
and spying
the blue sky

lifted eyes
lift spirit


Shopping for clothes
for Ruaridh
and Zara
and Liz
and me

yes - the one
who can’t shut
her suitcase
decided that she
wanted --
more clothes

"Do you think it’s a sin
to love to shop for clothes?"
she asks her fellow minister
and friend

more friend than minister 
in the moment,
Liz reassuringly answers

I love this woman


Afternoon Sunday
just like back home
once the church scurry
is over
it’s total sabbath relaxation
whether hanging the laundry
washing the car
pulling weeds
or relishing the
nothing doing
of the moment

and it is glorious

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Scotland -- Day Three

Failford Inn for soup (cumin & parsnip - tasty) and crusty bread and warming up after a good hike (what my friends would call a walk – I’m left wondering what the difference is and am thinking that hike, suggestive of the more strenuous, is for old chubby out-of-shape gals like me to describe the amiable stroll my younger and more fit companions and I were enjoying) . . .

We walked to Peden’s Cove, the site of Alexander Peden’s preaching from one of the Covenanters’ pulpits – apparently there are at least three locations referred to as Peden’s Pulpit – places from which Prophet Peden illegally preached, which raises an interesting question – how can preaching the gospel, especially in a land claiming to follow that self same gospel, be illegal?  Who ‘owns’ the rights to The Word?  Who gets to mediate what can be said and by whom it can be said?

With all these high and lofty religious thoughts swimming around about my head, I am minded of more pressing things, like the love of a mother for her children – as I watched Liz walking arm-in-arm with daughter Zara and then side-by-side with son Ruaridh . . . I watch and listen and smile . . . and ponder . . .

How do you explain to the golden child stretching his wings and preparing to leave the nest how she hungers for him . . . for time spent with . . . for words of sharing from . . . how do we explain to these creatures we spawned in a way they can understand that their absence from our lives is a physical loss and that the hunger their absence creates is one filled only by their presence?

It was a good day today – children present, safe, and hungers held at bay – for a time.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Scotland -- Day Two

Rozelle House for lunch.  Beautiful grounds.  Tree so old and big that the multi-tonned sculptures around it look   merely temporary, a passing fancy in the grand design of things.

Currency exchanges negotiated, reminding me of the money changers in Iraq, so skilled in dealing with the cash economy of their time that you can scarce see the bills flying as they count, scarce hear the numbers as they rattle off, one after the other – they are never wrong.  The rarity of perfection – always amazing to me that I find it in the hands of the bankers.

Dinner with Zara and her friend Catherine, Liz, Idris and Catherine’s parents Anne and Graham.  Good food, good wine, good conversation and the fun of simply being in the presence of two teen-aged girls enjoying each other’s company and laughing at the joy of being alive in this now, right now, here now.

Walking home, Zara promises that I have been such a good guest that I can come along to visit with any of her pals – high praise, indeed – and I find myself laughing with the joy of being alive in this now, right now, here now.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Scotland -- Day One

Plane lands safely 
through the obligatory fog 
and clouds

Scottish breakfast
good friends
Zara remarkable for her presence
Ruaridh for his absence

the waters of the Irish Sea
is that Ireland in the distance?
must be on such a clear evening as this

Walking the beach
and behold --
Ailsa Craig --
how do you explain 
a giant rock of an island 
jumping up
out of the sea?
Or the river?
Or the ocean?

Culzean Castle
Guest house to presidents
and such

The sun sets bright
and gold, 
laying itself down
across the water
day is nearly done

Stop at the Chip Shop
now it’s done
and well done

Scotland – day one

Thursday, April 12, 2012

You'd Think

The first time I traveled to this land
of highlands and lowlands
and cathedrals rising,
it was raining . . . 
all-day. . . 

you’d think I’d never
been here before
the way I packed so many
light spring linens
and such

you’d think somewhere 
in the suitcase so overpacked
I have to sit on it to get it
closed enough to zip
I would have loaded up 
on sweaters 
not so much
on flip flops
and tank tops

You’d think I would
believe the weather reports
just this once . . . 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Waking to Jazz

The alarm rings at the appointed time
I’m sure of it, even though I don’t look
Some things, you just count on –
like the ability of a clock to know the time

But the alarm isn’t ringing
it’s singing
and talking
the rhythm of jazz
the counter beat
to the woman’s voice
rich, dark chocolate
spoken song
to greet the day

Her words have already
faded into the place just beyond memory
but I am left with the sense
of enlargement – 
of being granted the gift
of being made more than I was
just a moment before

Before the beginning
I am yet blessed

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In Transit

Jesus is risen; I’m in transit and all’s right with my world . . .

Yesterday was filled with random things dictated by luck, chance, the structure of the day, the agenda of the coming days and the whims of the moment – pretty much like any other day.

So a happy haircut in a nearby mall and a haircutter who would talk theology unknowingly to the two women ministers seated before him – the man had scissors in his hand, so I kept my own counsel – mostly.

Overpacked, I struggle to haul all the worldly goods that I cannot possibly live without for my time away, only to realize that I really could live without all of it.  Object lesson: in this life, carry not merely that which you can carry, but that which you want to carry.

Rhonda and I sit side by side on the couch, each with computer on our laps – friendship in the 2010's looks a wee bit different than it did back in the day – and so here we are, content to spend some random time together, collectively rearranging our blog layouts, listening to Rhonda’s giggling granddaughter, and enjoying this life in which our paths cross only briefly, but with such joy when they do.

May your own transits be blessed this day and always.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Sunrise by the Ocean by Vladimir Kush


stasis: (1)  a period or state of inactivity or equilibrium
(2) a stoppage of flow of a body fluid*

A little boy lies in bed, suspended between wakefulness and sleep.  He lifts his head from the pillow for a moment, seeming to emerge from the suspension between two worlds, only to flop back down, shut his eyes in surrender and enter into the dreams of 4-year olds, where lions, tigers and bears are held at bay by the saving love of Daddy and Mommy.

Thousands of years ago, a grown man lay in the tomb prepared for him by others, others who believed that he too had succumbed to the sleep of the eternal rest, unaware that he was in a state of perfect equilibrium, the delicate balance between the already and the not yet . . . the time and the place where time and space . . . finite and infinite . . . had their perfect balance . . . the time and the place when all the cosmos held its collective inhaled breath of anticipation . . . where . . . when . . . everything hung in the balance . . .

Would it work?  Could it?

I wonder that they asked . . . he was, after all, God . . .

But surely they asked . . .

I would have . . .

I do . . . even now . . .

How is all action perfected in the full stop of all everything?  How is life assured by its ending?

How is sleep necessary to wakefulness?  How does a little boy win the battle only when he stops fighting?

How is it that the most profane of acts . . . the murder of an innocent . . . is the most holy?

How . . .

how . . .


*Google dictionary

Friday, April 6, 2012

We Dare to Call This Friday Good

T. S. Eliot wrote about this day:
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood –
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

A body . . . . . never treated so lovingly in life . . . save in a mother’s arms . . . 
A body alive subjected to torture and such contempt . . . 
gently, even delicately taken down . . .  
A body gentled in death
That was so cruelly treated in life.
A man . . . . . feared to be known in life . . . shunned . . . met only in secret . . . 
Openly, even proudly claimed in death.
A life of poverty
A death of extravagence . . .
 new tomb . . . 
Lavish, excessive burial spices . . . 
How anxious they were . . . we are . . . I am . . . 
to do . . . something 
when there is nothing to be done
There is a time to weep and a time to laugh
a time to mourn and a time to dance
Temptation is ever before us 
to duck the choice
Busy . . . busy we must be . . . 
busy with the business, the busy-ness
of tending dead
He is past caring
but we cannot care . . . we do not dare –
grief large enough to split the earth in two
is too large for this human vessel
But busy . . . that I can do . . . 
I can be
busy getting the tomb 
the best – only the best will do
Busy tending to the body
busy is not too big for me
And there is no room for grief in this
busy-ness of the business of death
The grief, you see, is just too big for me
So on with the busy-ness of the business of it all . . . 
Busyness of thought and mind 
even when the body dares cry out for rest . . . 
Even then I am busy . . . busy remembering . . . a day
was it only yesterday?
A meal with friends . . . 
conversation laden with meaning . . . 
The matzah . . . my body, he said . . . 
like blood
poured out
He said
Symbols within symbols 
time not yet passed
events not yet happened
and trying to make sense
of the senseless
But if understanding . . . then what?
No grief?
No grief!  It is too big for me!
Groping for words . . . 
I rest in the poets and greater beings
I grieve
It is too big for me . . . this grief
But it must be done
And so . . . sigh and surrender . . . 
It is a time to mourn . . . 
The tomb will wait
Sabbath is coming
Poets be damned!
I am not the child of a lesser god!
My God is as big as the pain in my heart
and it . . . is . . . endless . . . 
And so, Mr. Eliot, yes, thank you very much, 
we do dare call this Friday Good.
And so it is
not ice cream and cotton candy good
not falling in love for the first time good
not last-minute governor’s reprieve and presidential pardon good
but suffering fit to the occasion good
12 step bull shit but true feel-the-feeling, 
knowing I won’t die from the pain good
clinging to a whispered half-heard hardly understood promise good
Good-day-for-a-funeral good
Yes, Mr. Eliot, when friends die
it is right . . .
no . . . 
It is good . . . to cry

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Going to the Tomb

Today at LOGOS*, the teens did a modified Stations of the Cross. . . holding crosses they had picked from my stash (ask any pastor - when it comes to crosses, we’ve all definitely got stashes of them) . . . each leading the rest to a place in the sanctuary of their own choosing . . . sharing the reading and prayer . . . assuming some interesting body positions, like lying face up at the foot of the cross, itself lying across the front steps at Word of Faith . . . and entering our own tombs by lying face down under the chairs, side by side . . .

We talked about lots of stuff today . . . but it was in the psedo-tombs, lying down like kids hiding their heads and believing they can’t be seen, that we each most revealed ourselves . . . and what surprised me most – we all, even me, imagined not Jesus in his tomb, but ourselves in our own tombs – some felt comfortable, peaceful even, while others felt anxiety, sadness, and even joy.

We emerged from our tombs a little bit quieter, a little bit wiser . . . and we all agreed that when we’ve got something serious to discuss, we’re going back to the tombs – our safe space in a world often gone mad – just a few chairs aligned in a sanctuary in the middle of a small town somewhere in America.

Was it the chairs?  Or the people beside us?

LOGOS is a ministry geared towards children of all ages that meets once a week after school.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

7 Ways to Avoid Being Depressed About Your Age

This started out to be a list of 5 good things about being 57.  I really don’t know five good things about being 57.  I’m 56.  But I sure am hoping there are at least five – good things – about this impending age that careens beyond my control towards 60.

But if you want to avoid being depressed about your age, especially at 56, here goes:

(1) don’t let a friend take you out to celebrate your birthday four months early;

(2) don’t look in the mirror too closely – ever! 

(3) don’t stay up until 4 a.m. thinking you can bounce back the next morning like you’re still in your 20's . . . or 30's . . . or 40's . . . ;

(4) don’t round up - ever (as in “I’m going to be 57 – wow, that’s almost 60!);

(5) don’t hang out with much younger people – their shock at your age is flattering, but it is still shock;

(6) don’t start cello lessons at 56 – the sound of the 12 year olds racing across the strings with their spry bows will only depress you, for you will never have that agility again;

(7) never – and I do mean never – read or watch Mrs. Dalloway – there is literally nowhere to run from the musings of the ever genteel title woman’s ruminations on the things she will never do again.

So there it is – my list of how to avoid being depressed about the ticking clock.  Most days, I’m glad to be who I am, where I am, and the age I am.  But every now and then, that blasted ticking clock reminds me that the alligator waits*.

And I hate alligators!

*Check out Peter Pan if you don’t get the reference.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Know a Place*

I’ve come to know a place I can call home
It’s work and love and dust and green growing things
It is the smell of loam and clean air, skunks and eye-burning turkey poop
It is trembling gnarled hands and late-night crisis telephone rings
It is a bone-jolting place of hair-pin horseshoe twists and turns and veers
It is a place so bird-filled, it sings
It is a place where grandeur and quiet and wonder fill the sky at night
It is a place where the breeze blows so strong the laundry on the line has wings
It is the smell of casseroles, the stiff feel of hung dry linen, a still place
A place where God takes the orange and red flame of fall and just flings
I’ve come to know a home, a sacred space.

Modeled on Rosie Miles’ Blessing for a Home, an exercise out of Joy Mead’s Making Peace in Practice and Poetry.  The 1st, 2nd & last lines are from Miles’ Blessing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Wholly Weak



the living
the dead



oh my

Sermon Cliff Note: Only a Boy*

I was there that day . . . I’m an old man now, but I was only a boy then . . .living with and working for my uncle and his family . . . 

I’m sure you’ve heard how, When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, [Jesus] sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter the village. . . my uncle’s village - you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. . . I’ve often wondered how Jesus knew about that colt – none of his followers were from my village. . . untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it . . . actually what they said was that The Messiah needs it – do you have any idea how many Messiahs were running around in those days?  Everyone was looking for saving from the Romans and every other guy had someone tagging behind yelling ‘Mesihee’ over his head . . . and will send it back here immediately.”

So they went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street.  As they were untying it . . . It’s a bit of a stretch to say that they untied the colt . . . these guys are fishermen, don’t you know . . . they really don’t know anything about donkey colts – it was pretty comical really – they kept trying to get near her and she kept heeing and hawing and dancing around so they couldn’t  get close. . . then they noticed me standing there, watching and laughing – that was my mistake - laughing - in my defense, we were all laughing that day. . . I never was sure which one it was came over and grabbed me by the arm and said “You - farm boy!  Untie this son of a donkey and bring it - you’re coming with us!”  What was I going to do?  Yell for a Roman  soldier to save me?

Some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ You’d think my friends would have asked what they were doing dragging the boy away . . . but be realistic – boys are a dime a dozen in my country, but donkey colts are pretty valuable . . . They told them what Jesus had said and they allowed them to take it. . . it wasn’t ever going to be much of a fight anyhow – the fishermen were big and strong and determined and nobody was going to ask too many questions, either – in my world, questions get you killed quicker than answers . . . 

 Then they brought the colt to Jesus . . . I always laugh at that part . . . even when we got her untied and headed down the road, those fisherguys gave the colt a pretty wide berth . . . every sound she made made them jump – especially the big one – he was the scaredest of all . . . I didn’t dare let him see me, but every time he jumped, I snickered a little into her ear and whispered to her . . . good job . . .

I don’t know what I expected, but their Jesus wasn’t anything special to look at, that’s for sure . . . usually Messiahs coming through the village are big, strong, handsome fellows - you know the kind - the ones any fool will follow – but this Jesus guy was different – he wasn’t much to look at – not memorable at all – I can hardly call his face to mind, even now . . . and he was quiet . . . and he was more like me than the guys he sent to the village – at least he knew his way around a donkey, although I don’t think he ever sat on one . . . 

The people there threw their cloaks on the colt’s back.  He looked pretty awkward sitting there, like he wasn’t used to it . . . but when he sat, it was like something fell into place for the people there with him . . . like they knew their parts now. . . 

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. . . and slowly, we started walking toward my village . . . me, holding the bridle and keeping the colt from running home. . . my uncle just shook his head when he saw us – and pointed his finger at me just to make it clear whose fault it would be if that colt didn’t come back the same way she left . . .

We kept on walking like that, to Jerusalem and clear up to the Temple . . . what a sight!  Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! . . . save now!  Really, they were pleading, ‘save me now’ . . . we were all in need of some saving in those days of new Roman rules to follow . . . new ways of getting in trouble with those sons of dogs . . .

As we walked, more people fell in behind us, shouting their hosannas and waving their branches . . . not everybody followed - some just came out of their hovels and watched in silence as we passed by . . . some laughed and pointed – he did look pretty silly, sitting on the colt, his feet practically dragging the ground – 

I wondered the ones following didn’t notice – how did they think the one riding on a baby animal could save them?  Where was his war horse?  Where were his following troops?  

I reckoned, he was a pretty sneaky feller – if he had come into Jerusalem . . . Jerusalem!  riding on a great horse, that would have gotten Rome’s attention!  But all the centurions did that day was watch from their doors and windows and laugh . . . they thought we were great entertainment – and I expect to them, we were . . . poor villagers from the far corner of their ‘Empire’ processing into town like it was a parade . . . like we didn’t know our lot, our fate . . . like we didn’t know they were watching . . . but we knew . . . He knew, I can tell you that much . . . whenever he saw them, though, he just seemed sad . . . like he pitied them . . . lucky they couldn’t see his face . . . I don’t like to think what they would have done to him . . . of course, they did do it to him, didn’t they?  Only not then . . . 

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t catch the spirit and get all excited too . . . everybody loves a parade and this day was definitely different than any other day of my life . . . I still can’t believe the guys didn’t mention me when they told about getting the colt . . . but that doesn’t matter . . . not really . . . I was only a boy . . . 

Hosanna, they kept shouting . . . and I started shouting it too . . . then others responded . . .   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! . . . Hosanna, we’d shout . . .  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! they shouted back . . . Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Finally, we entered Jerusalem . . . As we got closer to the temple, it got quieter . . . even the hosannas seemed to be whispered . . . 

The sky started to turn that weird color it gets just before a storm . . . sort of greenish black . . . the air was alive around us, crackling with import . . . and then the wind came . . . sand storm . . . the closer we got to the temple, the more the wind blew until you couldn’t see or hear anything . . . I put my hands over the colts eyes to protect them from the grit of the sand and we crept forward, one slow step at a time . . .when we came to the first step of the temple . . . ran into it, really, he just got off and walked up and in . . . 

I stayed with the colt . . . it seemed like he was gone forever but really, he wasn’t gone long enough to do much besides look around at everything . . .

When he came out, we headed back the way we came, all of us, even him,  walking this time . . . back through my village where I tied up the colt at my uncle’s door . . . 

He kept going . . . he went out to Bethany with the twelve. . . and a few others, like me, tagging along . . . 
When the insiders tell the story, they don’t mention the dust storm, do they?  And they don’t mention me . . . why would they?  I was only a boy . . . 

They tell the important bits – about the parade and the hosannas and the colt and the temple – and I get it . . . those are the things everybody looks for – the signs – that make a messiah – it’s kind of a prophet’s check list with my people – and if this guy was the messiah, his followers needed all the check-list proof they could muster – cos he sure didn’t look or act like who or what  we were waiting for – he came from the wrong people, wrong birthplace, wrong status, wrong looks, wrong horse, wrong message . . . wrong, wrong, wrong!

How could we have been so wrong?  My excuse?  I was only a boy!

I wonder how it would have been if I’d stayed with them, with him?  Of course I know what happened to him . . . and I know the stories . . . but I didn’t stay . . . I went back to my uncle, back to my life, back to everything the same . . . I went back . . . but I was only a boy!!!!! 

*Palm Sunday sermon, imagining the procession from the point of view of a village boy conscripted to hold the bridle of the donkey colt upon which Jesus rode, weaving his narrative into the account as told in the gospel of Mark.  'Colt' is referred to as a female 'she' - forgive my ignorance of equine gender.