75 Years Old

December 30, 2016

75! How can this be possible?

Family lore has it that I was due to be born on or about December 7, 1941. That was, of course, Pearl Harbor Day. A Day of Infamy, to quote the then POTUS, Franklin Roosevelt.

I didn’t show up for three weeks later. I have commented on the information that my due date was when it was, saying that I took a brief look at the shape the world was to be, and so crawled back in where it was nice and safe and warm for a while longer. By the time December 29 arrived, my mother was well ready to be rid of me.

As history would reveal, the world was already in pretty terrible shape by the time that the USA was dragged into war. Already by this day, thousands and thousands of people in Western and Eastern Europe were surviving, or not, in the most terrible condition imaginable.

A quarter of a century. I have been truly blessed. I have visited more countries that I can count, and have made at least interstate highway rest stops in 49 of our 50 states. Only Iowa awaits.

The Facebook posting of my birthday lists over a hundred greetings. A hundred! I can hardly believe that I have 100 friends. I’m not a very public person, and highly introverted, too. Life of the party I am not nor have I ever been. A hundred! Yes, I am truly blessed.

I asked my wife, Sandy, if today I should start to wonder aloud whether I would see another birthday. She said no. OK, I’ll wait another year or six for that question.

Still playing the clarinet, still singing, still active as a (retired) Episcopal priest, still walking city streets and mountain paths. Still traveling, still voting, still writing, still a number of things. Yes, very blessed and very grateful.

Thank you so much for all your greetings. I love you.

St. Stephen’s Gate – A Rocky Place

December 26, 2016

On this Feast of Stephen, December 26, my mind travels back to a pilgrimage to Israel-Palestine, and an afternoon in Jerusalem.

Our group had some free time to wander through the old city. I was amazed at the open air markets, but I’m not a shopper, so I went in search of another place that might take me away from the crowds and to someplace with an outside view.

I found myself on the eastern edge of the walled city, and to one of the gates leading to the outside. My memory may be somewhat challenged, as this trip is twenty years in the past. I do clearly remember the gate: St. Stephen’s.

Many children learn of St. Stephen by singing the Christmas carol, Good King Wencelaus. The first verse directs us to know that the good king “looked out, on the feast of Stephen,” now celebrated in the Western Christian Church on December 26 every year.

As I recall, as soon as I went through the gate, I stopped and admired the view. The gate was, as I recall, along the eastern wall of the old part of Jerusalem. That wall sits on a steep slope that descends to the Kidron Valley, and in clear view across to the Mount of Olives and, near the bottom of the mountain, what Christians know and revere as the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent his last night with his apostles on the day before his execution, or crucifixion.

After crossing over the threshold of this gate, the path suddenly becomes rocky and steep. I was not stepping carefully, and so I slid on a stone and ended up on my behind. Not an injurious accident, merely a scrape on one of my hands.

If indeed the first martyr and first deacon of the Christian church was tortured to death by stoning at this very place as a punishment for his faith, then my slight injury was a reminder of what blessed Stephen went through at the hands of a furious mob who saw belief in Christ to be treasonous.

Bless you Stephen. I’m proud to carry your name, and a tiny bit of blood that I left at your gate mingled with your much more copious offering. Thank you for your witness and courage.


Dog hurt

December 1, 2016

I hurt my dog yesterday.

Skylar is a 6 year old whippet. For those unfamiliar with this breed, it is a small version of a greyhound, but not as small as an Italian Greyhound. Whippets are truly the middle child in the sight hound family.

They are called “sight hounds” because if they see something moving, they go after it. Fast. The other side of that energy concludes, “If it isn’t moving, who cares?” In any given “waking” hour while indoors, the whippet will dash about for one minute, and then collapse into untroubled sleep for the other 59.

This breed has great big brown eyes. The better to see with, we can conclude. When Skylar wants something (as happens often), he will put his head in my lap or nearby, stare at me with those great big eyes, and keep staring until I give in and give him either what he wants, or some consolation. Anything to get him off my case. Who can resist those big brown eyes? I can’t.

Yesterday he did this, as is his custom. The problem was, I wasn’t in the mood to be provident. I fell down the outside stairs of my town house just a few days before, and have been recovering slowly since. Most of me hurt, and just wanted to be left alone, wrapped up in a blanket and a heating pad, feeling sorry for myself.

A whippet who thinks he needs to go out or to be fed or to be played with or generally to be paid attention to does not know how to leave his human alone. He’s just not the kind of dog to quietly lie down until the owner has a more convenient moment. Maybe this sounds like your dog, too.

So I yelled, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

He paid no attention. He continued staring. I had finally had enough. I bonked him on the nose and told him to get lost.

You cannot imagine the look on Skylar’s face. You would think that his best friend (me) had rejected him harshly (I did). He tucked his tail between his legs, and made his way upstairs (his favorite retreat – it’s warmer up there) and sulked all the rest of the day.

Eventually I repented, and went upstairs to make amends. No change. He paid me no attention. He had forgotten that he is a dog and began acting like a cat. You know the act. Go away for a weekend and the cat will pay you no mind for a day or two after you return. My wife, Sandy, said that he will get over it.

He did. This morning, he was himself again. I expect that he will be in my face as soon as he wants something.

I think that I won’t hit him on the nose again. Almost nothing could be as bad as seeing the look of my dog scorned.


Another Passage

December 3, 2015

Tomorrow, a towing company designate will come and take away my ancient Nissan Sentra that I am donating to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

That little car is the best I have ever owned. Except for a tired timing belt some years ago, the only money I have paid for its maintenance has been two or three times a year for an oil change, and once or twice for a tune up.

The last time I took it in for a tune up, the man said that it was developing a leaky head gasket. The quoted cost of repair is more than the car is worth. Donating a twenty year old car seemed more prudent than selling or trading.

Sandy and I will now be a one car household. Both of my children have shamed me in this regard. In spite of their youth, active lives, and (in one case) a child, they have remained one car families.

I am annoyed when I see a family with four or five or more cars parked outside. Does everyone have to have instant access to a car at all times?

So now I can feel superior to such suburban families and gladly (or not) take the bus and light rail to anywhere I want to go. Such trips are considerably fewer than in years past.

On the minus side of this decision is the occasional inconvenience of not being able to drive whenever and wherever I want. On the positive side is the saving of tax, licensing, insurance, and (minimal) maintenance on an aging vehicle, and the sense that I’m doing something to slow down global warming.

I will find a way to get to where ever I want to go. Other times, I will remain home, recognizing that I didn’t really want to go to that meeting in the first place, and now I have an acceptable excuse.




Really retired?

June 30, 2015

Today, for the first time, I feel really retired.

I finished my work as Director of Pastoral Services at William Temple House, Portland, after a 16 year go, in mid-May. The first few days were spent in going through all the accumulated stuff that I moved out of the office and into the car and then the house. That took some time and energy.

Further, Sandy and I were looking ahead a few weeks to a long-planned cruise of the Norwegian fjords, taking us from Copenhagen up the west coast of Norway above the Arctic Circle and to the North Cape. Planned for the summer solstice, the experience of 24 hour days was an event to lose several nights’ sleep over. We arrived home after another 24 hour day on the plane, plenty sleepy and looking forward to a week of jet lag.

Sunday had me fulfilling a preaching duty that I agreed to some weeks ago. I drew on reserve strength and delivered a careful mass and a moderately good homily, not my best but probably not my worst.

Now, it’s Monday morning. There is no job to go to, no commute to consider, no plans for the work day. I will eat, and nap, and read, and go to bed early and expect to get up early tomorrow, partly on European time still. Life feels different today.

I’m not concerned about my retirement future. I have plans, some of which are realistic. I will dive into the achieving of some of them.

For today, and for the next several days, I am just…retired.




January 21, 2014

More like trial by endurance.

A friend remarked that he could think of a dozen things he’d rather do than sit through a day hearing a church choir singing all 720 hymns from the Episcopal Church’s 1982 Hymnal. Ok. For me, this was a kind of superb dream rather than a nightmare.

As a member of the Portland, Oregon, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral choir, I had the chance to participate in what was termed a “Hymnathon,” a fund raiser for the choir’s summer trip to Bristol, England, to sub for the choir of the cathedral of the same name.

I love singing hymns. Not just any hymns, and not what are often called spiritual songs. I love the ancient hymns of the church. And as I get to know them, I also am finding that I like the newer hymns of the church. Some of them.

I especially like the ones that are based on chorales, or hymns in four parts. I can sing fairly well three of those parts. I am a natural (second) tenor, but one who has a baritone voice. I can also sing the melody, or soprano line (an octave low). I can’t manage the alto line at the same pitch as they, though I once could. Above a g, and I’m totally in my head, and I can hardly hear myself, an inaudability for which real altos are highly grateful.

Some of the 720 hymns should never have made it into the hymnal. Congregations have largely ignored them, and certainly never include them in Sunday worship.

Some of the most beloved hymns shouldn’t be in the hymnal either, but we’ll never get them out of there as long as real people are doing the singing. One of the best things about hymns is that they are church music of, by, and for the people. Hymn singing is worship, not a performance. How wonderful to hear a congregation of people singing their praise of God.

As we stood for the last hymn in the book, one we have come to know as The National Anthem, we struggled through it as does everyone, but on our feet in immense gratitude for the church, for its music, and for the opportunity to spend an entire day in musical praise of God.


January 9, 2014

Bob Bly, a writing coach, has made an observation that I think is right on.

He says that a writer’s readers fall in a 10%-80%-10% division. That is, as he describes, 10% of one’s readers will love anything you write. 80% judge your writing on its merits and its application to their lives. The final 10% neither like you nor anything you write.

I suspect that this observation is applicable to the ordained ministry. If so, it might go something like this: 10% of your congregation are in love with you and think you are just wonderful. Your sermons are all magnificent. They hang on everything you say, laughing at all your jokes and praising you to anyone who will listen.

80% of your congregation think you are all right, but they engage their minds when evaluating your work. They have a rather clear view of your strengths and weaknesses, and will as likely say no to your requests to serve on parish committees as yes.

The final 10% don’t care for you, and nothing you can do or say will change their minds. Maybe you weren’t their choice for the position, and they are still resentful that their favorite candidate didn’t make the cut. Maybe they took offense at an offhand comment that to you was a minor oversight. Maybe your personality rubs them the wrong way.

So here’s the question for us clergy: Why do we pay so much attention to the last 10%? Wouldn’t our efforts be better directed to pleasing the 80% whose perspective we should value?

Like you, I have stood at the door after church, hearing comments on my preaching. One critical comment stays with me all day, while the many favorable comments are soon forgotten.

I like Mr. Bly’s analysis of how the readership of his writing tend to be. I suspect that such is true for the work of us parish clergy as well.




January 6, 2014

I see that aspirants for holy orders in the Episcopal Church are finishing up an often frightening requirement for full entrance into the ordained ministry: General Ordination Exams, often referred to as the dreaded GOE’s.

Way back a thousand years ago (actually 40 some) I remember clearly taking the exams. In those primitive days, each diocese devised its own set of exams, and, of course, there was no internet to speak of. We typed our essay answers to the questions at home, and after revising and editing a hundred times, put them in a big envelope and walked or drove to the post office and put them in the mail with a wing and a prayer. Several weeks later our work was reviewed by the Board of Examining Chaplains and then, win or lose, we went out for (several) drinks to celebrate or grieve.

Since each diocese did its own, we of course believed that our diocese had the roughest exams, followed by even rougher examiners. I remember¬† sitting at the dining table in the house provided by my first parish as a curate (St. John’s Episcopal Church, Olympia, Washington), sweating heavily over the church history exam. The others were somewhat less scary.

All that heavy paper and typewriter ribbon has now been replaced by the much cleaner internet communication, allowing for last-minute revisions and edits. But the fear and anxiety anticipating the exams live on, to be sure.

I wonder how I would do faced with the set of exams today? I may have forgotten many of the details, but I suspect I would do more than all right with the bigger picture. Over forty years of practice in the ministry of the church surely ought to count for something.

Best wishes to the younger clergy coming along. Regardless of how well you do on these exams, chances are you will be a bright and shining star in the leadership of today’s and tomorrow’s church. I’m awfully glad you are here.


doctor visit

April 4, 2013

Yesterday found me going to my urologist for an annual checkup. I left the appointment determined that I was going to find another doctor the next time. By the time I got home, I had reconsidered.

Like in my own field, the ministry, we tend to require that our doctors be all things to all of us. We want them to be friendly, helpful, cheerful, competent, positive, assertive, good listeners, and on and on. Since no one yet has become all things to all people, we have to choose the particular competencies that we need and maybe want.

I’ve concluded that this particular doc is one that I would trust to tell me the truth about my condition, and would do all in his ability to treat me should the need arise. Never mind that he is, at times, sarcastic. Never mind that he is not the friendliest doc in the clinic. Never mind that his accent is at times difficult to understand.

I wish he were friendlier, more cheerful, more evidently happy to see me. But he is not those things. What I suspect he is is that he is a highly competent physician and surgeon.

I think I’ll stay with him. I hope that I will need to see him very seldom in the future.

October 29; Crash and Good Memories

October 29, 2012

October 29. My Dad’s birthday. Had he lived to today, he would be 100 years old.

Unfortunately for me, he did not live to see his 90th birthday. Dementia and its attendant barriers weakened his mind and body to the point that he just ran out of energy and the will to live. He took to his nursing home bed and did not rise again.

Dad and I used to make an interesting conversational connection between his natal day and the great Tuesday, October 29, 1929, a major day in the collapse of the American Stock Exchange. As today’s installment of The Writer’s Almanac recounts the day:

On this day in 1929, more than 16 million shares of stock were sold off in a panic in the stock market crash known as “Black Tuesday.” Thirty billion dollars disappeared, 1,300 banks closed within a year, and almost 30 percent of the workforce was unemployed. Within four years, 11,000 of the 25,000 banks in America had failed, and the Great Depression was in full swing.

Not a great birthday for anyone.

He was, on that very day, a senior in Charleston High School in the city of the same name, the capitol of West Virginia. I suspect that he and all his classmates were wondering a similar question. “What will become of us?” Very few, giving their ages and appropriately optimistic outlooks, could have foreseen the domestic sufferings of what was to become the Great Depression.

It was the custom in those days to write a few lines by the classmate’s picture and description of course of study with a few lines. Bob Norcross’ words were these:

“Industrious and frugal; one who has already made a start in the world.”

No question about the industrious frugality. He made stuff and saved some money. That early start in the world became an economic necessity as he was to drop out of his freshman year at the University of Cincinnati to help bring in a paycheck for the struggling family.

Many people have wondered about Bob, beginning with me who called him Dad and his grandchildren who called him Papper to of course his wife (my mother) of over 60 years who often could not figure out what was going through her man’s head.

In spite of his public appearances, Dad was painfully shy, a total introvert. Never mind that he wound up as a lobbyist for the coal industry in his home state of West Virginia, forcing him to meet hundreds of people and say the right thing to each one, and to press the flesh on behalf of an industry that would make any thinking person hesitate. But he was stuck in a job that demanded that kind of work, at least when the state legislature was in session. Imagine if you will the inner conflict of a man who must be a legislative lobbyist who would have given anything in those days to have been home with a good book or out walking a mountain trail.

There is so much of him in me, and I grow more aware of that closeness every day. Like him, I can put on an act when necessary, but doing so wears me out and I must seek solitude to recharge my strength.

I’m sure he was a puzzled by me, his only birth son, as I of him. At some level he wanted me to be a normal, red-blooded, athletic, strong, popular all-American boy. Until age 14 I was a weak runt, perhaps Momma”s boy, afraid of dirt and cold and water, more sick than well. Somewhere at about puberty I got enough of being held down by all that infirmity, and made up my mind to be healthy. Band music was my savior. I’m sure Dad breathed a sigh of relief and thanked his God and lucky stars (both) that I just might turn out ok.

I sure didn’t choose a profession that would have made him proud. I’ve often wondered whether his lack of chosen profession might have put him in a position to live his hoped-for life through me. We never had that conversation, and many others.

I trust that you rest in peace, Dad, and that if there is a life beyond this one, you find happiness and contentment and joy and full acceptance. Perhaps we shall meet again, and if so, oh boy it will be wonderful to see you.