Refrigerator Vision

June 3, 2017

My wife has diagnosed me with a disease called “refrigerator vision.” That is, things can be safely tucked into the fridge but I can’t see them, because the item sought is hiding behind the ketchup bottle.

Others have made reference to “old man’s vision,” or “selective vision,” or “you have to move things to see what’s in the back of the cupboard.”

What is the opposite of misogyny? That is, when a man says derogatory things about women, that’s the term used to describe the tendency. However, when women, such as the married ones in current comic strips (Hagar the Horrible, Blondie, Pickles) roll their eyes at their husband’s shortcomings, we laugh and think it’s funny. Do I recall from my childhood that Major Hoople’s wife regularly called him an insect? Beating up on aging husbands seems to be a favorite pastime.

Yes, I do have trouble seeing items. It takes me 15 minutes to find the right condiment in the grocery store, because they all look the same yet they all look different.

My ophthalmologist says that this is not a vision problem but a perception problem. After that diagnosis, I don’t feel any better.

I keep hearing a (female) member of my childhood family saying to me, “If it were a snake, it would have bit you.” She was probably right. The item was there all along.

I’m especially perplexed when something gets moved.

I’ve really raised two issues here. One is why I can’t see stuff. The other is why older men, particularly husbands, are considered fair game for ridicule.

Any thoughts on either topic?

 

A Happy Landing

May 18, 2017

When I retired from parish ministry, I began thinking about the right place for my wife, Sandy, and I to call our church home where we would attend worship on Sundays and also find a church community that seemed to be a good fit. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the Parish of St. John the Baptist, Portland, was a very good choice.

My first step (after attending worship for several Sundays) was to ask for an appointment with the rector, The Rev. Canon Robert Bryant. He was delighted to speak with me, and seemed very happy to learn that we had chosen St. John’s as our home church. His first question was, I think, a wise one. He asked what it was about St. John’s that appealed to us.

I had anticipated this question (glad he asked!). A most obvious answer was the proximity of the church to our residence. The Portland area has about 15 Episcopal churches, many quite a drive across town. St. John’s is a 10-minute drive, door to door. I am becoming a more frequent user of public transportation. A 10-minute bus ride, plus a 10-minute walk, is good for my finances as well as my fitness.

Beyond that, we liked the liturgical style of the congregation. The worship is Catholic in its orientation, and the music is traditionally hymnal yet with openness to other sources.

The church is on the campus of the Oregon Episcopal School. Education plays a vital role in the life of this congregation. We sensed that no question is inappropriate, and the congregation seems to have its critical faculties in place. No platitudes in the preaching there. The parish has an atmosphere of honoring both diversity and tradition.

Fr. Robert then asked me what I would like to do as a retired clergy member of the congregation. I appreciated this question. As I have read other contributions to Vintage Voice, I have noticed that some writers are happy that they now can devote their energies to those aspects of parish ministries that they felt most skilled at. Some have offered to help with pastoral care, others with social justice. My preference is to offer to assist at parish worship.

The staff clergy prepare a rota of ministries for Sunday worship. I am frequently scheduled to serve as deacon, as we have no real deacon assigned to us at present. I also serve as assisting priest, distributing the bread of communion alongside the presider. I am invited to preach about once a quarter. I am grateful that I can step in at the altar and pulpit when needed, and appreciate that I can exercise those aspects of ministry that I find most satisfying even into retirement.

Pastoral care is always at the request of the staff clergy. Once in a while, I am asked to take communion to a parishioner. It’s clear that I will honor this request from the staff clergy upon occasion. It’s very good now to not be in charge.

I’m also grateful that I am not called on to provide leadership in those areas of parish ministry that I found difficult. I think that I am terrible at evangelism and stewardship. Now that I’m retired, I gladly turn those ministries over to others who are more suited than I am.

How good it is to be in this time of life, and at a place where I can offer my strengths and set aside my weaknesses. I share this ministry at St. John the Baptist with six other retired and non-stipendiary clergy. Our group includes a retired bishop and a retired cathedral dean. One of us is a younger priest whose other vocation is financial planning. We gather once a month in support of our rector and associate, and to express freely our views of the health of the church and world.

Together, we are a blessing to our church. Each of us will freely admit that in that blessing, we are ourselves richly blessed.

About the Author

Steve is a retired priest living in Portland, Oregon. He is one of the associate priests at the parish of St. John the Baptist, Portland, and he plays clarinet in a community concert band. He and his wife, Sandy, are enjoying the freedom to visit Europe several times a year. You can reach Steve at snorx@hevanet.com.

About Vintage Voice

Vintage Voice is a monthly publication written by beneficiaries of The Church Pension Fund. We hope you enjoy these articles and find them helpful. Articles are published with the authors’ permission.

 

 

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.

Three quarters 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.

 

 

Hymnathon

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.

10-80-10

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.

Steve

 

GOE’s

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.

Steve