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

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.

Sports fan?

July 29, 2012

I have never been one to watch sports on tv.

I’ve always had something else to do while Monday Night Football was on. I’ve always thought the World Series to be a drag, slow and boring. I’ve always found something else to do when the Super Bowl was played. New Year’s Day found me taking a long walk in the South and having a big dinner in the North.

So what has happened to me? I am glued to the tv during the London Olympics, beginning with the open ceremony yesterday and continuing today with swimming and volleyball, both court and beach. And I’m loving every minute, allowing for my blessed mute button through the commercials or fast-forwarding when recorded.

Much of it is the international and global flavor of the Olympics. While our congress gets stuck with partisan politics, and conversations about the world economy are just that–talk with no action, the Olympic games represent the best of our youth and younger generation.

I also admire the amateur nature of the participants. These thousands of people who strive to do their best aren’t being paid a penny beyond their expenses.

Guess I’ll have to reevaluate myself. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself, and am willing to admit that my admiration for the young people I see on screen lifts my hope for a global future.

Thank you, participants in the London Olympics. You have gotten me watching you, and I very much like what I see.

 

Yikes! Just ret…

June 12, 2012

Yikes! Just returned from a lovely cruise through the Baltic capitals plus St. Petersburg. What a wonderful part of the world.

Not so great is the loss of my personal data assistant, sometimes known as a Palm Pilot. I must have left that pocket of my pack unzipped, and the device fell out in an airport lounge or possibly jammed under the little space under the seat in front of me, as directed clearly by the flight attendant.

What a lost feeling! All my life is in that thing! All my appointments, conferences, names, addresses, phones and assorted other things that I MUST KNOW.

Whoa. I’ve in an instant deleted all the people that I don’t have reason to talk to any more because the need has passed. They are gone, and I don’t have that twinge of guilt or regret and removing them.

I can truly start over, and there is something very refreshing about that.

I’ll just have to get a new device and start with a clean slate. Isn’t that what new life is about, anyway?

Steve

 

Religionless faith? Or faithless religion?

April 3, 2012

I hear a lot about those who claim to be spiritual but not religious. Maybe this is an assertion that is especially prevalent in my part of the country. The Pacific Northwest is widely known as an unchurched corner of the country. Apparently more people stay home from church, or never join a church, or state that they grew up as a (whatever) but have exchanged church going for hiking or camping or traveling or sleeping in followed by a tasty brunch.

I do not, however, hear much from those who say that they are big on religion or church but low on spirituality. Maybe the lack of conversation about this option is because it’s seen as unacceptable. It’s all right, even preferable in some circles, to be big on spirit but low on church. How about those who may be big on church, but have questions about the validity of spirituality, especially as popularly defined and understood?

If there is a continuum between high church on the one side and high spirituality on the other, I suspect that I fall on the church side. I love the church’s liturgy (done reverently and well), the church’s fellowship (when graceful and forgiving), and the church’s sacraments that cover life from conception to death and beyond. Many spirituality questions are frankly over my head. It’s like when I’m sitting in a men’s group, and someone reads a poem, and everybody but me goes “hmmmmm.” I (silently) go “huh? What was that all about?”

I’d love a conversation about this.

 


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