Friday, December 2, 2016

For Those New to The Coracle [Bumped Up from Earlier]

I notice that there is a new collection of readers and, since The Coracle can be a bit of an acquired taste, I thought it best that we answer some of the frequently asked questions about the weblog, its history, and its peculiar world view.  For those who have been regular readers since its earliest incarnation 15 years ago, it may be a pleasant reminiscence about our piquant and mutual journey.

What is a coracle?
A coracle is a small, round, rudderless, sail-less, and keel-less lightweight boat traditionally found in Wales, Western and South West England, Ireland, and Scotland.  It is made of woven reeds and is generally used for travel in tidal rivers.  It relies, with some aid from oars, on the current and tide to transport it .
There is a traditional story from Celtic Christianity about three men who wished to test God's providence in a tactile manner, so they set off from the Irish coast in a coracle to see where the wind and the sea would take them.  According to most versions of the story, they had a rich variety of adventures that granted them ample opportunity to overcome evil and preach a particularly Celtic understanding of the Gospel
This seemed an apt metaphor for this weblog, as it, too, drifts about, offering postings and links concerning all sorts and manner of human endeavor, foible, and success.  While not always explicit, it also seeks to present a Christian view of our world.
What is the weblog supposed to be?
Well, that's the question, isn't it?  Originally, The Coracle was an extension of the newsletter of a parish with which I was associated in the earlier part of this century.  As the congregation was young and computer savvy, and as people had stopped reading "e-mail blasts" and whatnot, I thought it might be better to give them a type of bulletin board that they could access from anywhere and at any convenient time.  It worked very well.
However, when I moved to the next parish [professionally, I work with parishes in need of some help, for one reason or another, and have been associated with 14 different ones during my 30+ year career], the congregation was neither as young nor as computer-able, so the weblog didn't really work save for the handful of people who bothered to read it.  That's when The Coracle, in its current format, came into its current incarnation.
I must confess that, while I was editing the original version of The Coracle, I was also editing a satirical site that poked gentle fun at mainstream Protestantism.  The latter weblog created the fictional town of Dymchurch that served as a microcosm for the greater church.  It was fun, occasionally a little edgy, and good at provoking a response from those who didn't like their presumptions challenged.  The only thing I didn't care for is that I was anonymous, and I wanted to stand by my own observations, however light-hearted, openly.  So, The Coracle and Dymchurch were, in a manner, combined.
Has it ever gotten you into trouble?
Yes.  Despite The Episcopal Church's public proclamation of celebrating diversity and "respecting the dignity of every human being", diversity of thought is rarely embraced and dignity is reserved for those who obey the common narrative.  Because of this, from time to time The Coracle finds sport in linking to and posting perspectives that challenge the common narrative.  Free-thinking really isn't prized in 21st century Protestantism but, as noted in Job, "we are born to trouble, as sparks fly upward".  So, what the heck?
How many regular readers are there?
Upwards of 300 read The Coracle on a daily basis, with more using it as an occasional research tool.
From whence do they read?
While the readership mostly favors the English speaking world, every continent except for Antarctica is represented by our readers.
Who are the staff?
Just me, these days.  While Dymchurch had a variety of writers, The Coracle has only one. 
I have been an Episcopal priest for thirty years and a professional educator for forty.  I have also been a member of the Marine Corps Reserve, a field certified archaeologist, a free-lance reporter, a beer truck driver, a high school English teacher, a private school assistant headmaster, a volunteer firefighter, a bassist for New Wave and blues bands, a luthier, a seminary professor, and an international lecturer.  I wrote a book about adolescent spirituality that sold three copies in the United States [it did rather better in Australia].  I hold three master's and two doctoral degrees in English, philosophy, and theology.

Even in my advanced age, I like to surf and have done so at some of the world's greatest breaks.  I own a sailboat and occasionally even use it.  I have enjoyed fishing since I was a child roaming the small lakes and rivers of Ohio with my tribal grandfather.  I am a scuba diver and have jumped out of airplanes.  A few years ago, I competed in a triathlon and managed to come in third...from last.

I bring this up not to promote myself, but to note that my experience and interests are broad and tend to travel beyond a range common to most clergy.  This means, mostly, that I'm interested in anything that is interesting and that is reflected in the postings.
What is The Coracle's singular contribution?
When my granddaughter was born four years ago, I realized 1) my mortality, and 2) that schools didn't teach some things that were common in my ancient education.  Mainly, I think that there are people in history, some very obscure, who have highlighted the best of what the human race may muster.  Whether by will or by faith or by some combination of the two, they have been remarkable.
As weblogs are a personal medium, I decided to profile those who either served as an inspiration or were people with whom I had an interaction that I valued.
Sometimes these are famous people, others known in a narrow field of endeavor, but no less deserving of some recognition, and some are not well-known at all.  They brought some point of grace, favor, industry, creativity, or cleverness to our world and left it a better place. That's true even when their gift was shared with only one or two others.
So, for a calendar year, on every Friday I presented a peculiar biography of selected individuals.  After taking a year off, I presented another year's worth of profiles.  These are now the most read portions of the weblog and the basis for my next book.  Nearly every day, someone somewhere will read one of the profiles.  They appear to be most popular at the beginning and ending of academic years, when I suspect that students are writing term papers and the like.

Below are links to the biographies.  Simply "click" on a name to be taken to the original posting:
Series One:
Howlin' Wolf, blues musician and rock and roll influence
Bob Manry, small boat sailor and adventurer
Yukio Mishima, Japanese novelist, playwright, short story and film writer, and military adventurist
Jacques Cousteau
Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing 
William Augustus Muelenberg, unlikely innovator of the 19th century Episcopal Church
Jane Scott, rock and roll's grandmother
Paul Bigsby, guitar innovator and motorcycle mechanic
Max Perkins, mandarin of the 20th century American novel
James Harold Flye, the quintessential Episcopal priest
Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, Bible translator
Alan Watts, Episcopal priest and Buddhist educator
Charlie Parker, jazz innovator
Thomas Merton, monk, hermit, and writer
Rell Sunn, The queen Of Makaha 
Raimundo Panikkar, priest, philosopher, and chemist 
Lou Kallie, jazz drummer and saloon keeper
Barbara Crafton, Episcopal priest and homilest
Jim Steranko, comic book artist and innovator
Art Pepper, jazz survivor
Bruce McLaren, racing car driver and builder
Cliff Young, farmer and ultra-marathoner
Sun Ra, space case
Matti Moosa, scholar, translator, deacon, and mentor
Debbie Harry, New Wave chanteuse 
The Hippie Who Sat Next to Me at Tony Mart's
James Magner, poet and mentor
Swein MacDonald, Highland seer
Waldo Peirce, artist and inspiration
John Fitch, racer and innovator
Malcolm Lowery, poet and miserable human being
Max Hardberger, modern-day pirate
Richard Race, landscaper
Hiram Bingham, historian, explorer, discoverer
John Watanabe, failed kamikaze pilot and bishop
Kathleen Kenyon, archaeologist
Captain Sir Richard Burton, fencer, explorer, translator, soldier, diplomat, and madman
James Agee, screenwriter and novelist
Madeleine L'Engle, writer and dinner guest 
Robert Crisp and Tommy MacPherson, unlikely war heroes  
Peter Scott, cat burglar
Wilfred Thesiger, the last of the explorers
Peter Marshall, preacher and chaplain to the U.S. Senate
Dingo, Mexican entrepreneur
Bruce Brown, documentarian and surfer
Joshua Slocum, solo circumnavigator
Mr. A, soul surfer
Thomas Edward Lawrence, archaeologist and adventurer
"Cool Breeze" and the Lyrical Gangster, an islander and his boat 

Series Two:
The Waterman, just some guy
Harvey Pekar, unlikely folk hero
Bernard Moitessier, Zen sailor
"Holy" Grail, old school D.I.
Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, industrial artist
Gerry Lopez, surf pioneer
Ted, Ricardo, and Curtis, three men I knew
Carol Kaye, ubiquitous bassist of pop
Ernie Anderson, Ghoulardi
Patti Smith, she does the rock, herself
Jacques Piccard, explorer of two atmospheres
B. Traven, international man of mystery
Carroll Shelby, Texas cobra
Lucien Aigner, he captured the world
Frank Miller, re-newer of myth
Kiyoshi Aki, he knew how to fall
Bob Simmons, hydrodynamisist
Igumen The Iconographer 
Anita O'Day, jazz singer
Alfred Pierce Reck, the proto-editor
D.A. Levy and the Cleveland Beats, poets
The Voices on the Radio: Freed, Franklin, and Dee
 Eugenie Clark, the shark lady
Dick Dale, king of the surf guitar
Dorothy Fields, Broadway and Hollywood's favorite lyricist
Hart Crane, the voice of new poetics
Rocky Colavito, baseball idol of nine-year-old boys
Bruce Meyers, fiberglass artist and professional dust-eater
Doc Pomus, blues mouth

Three others who were offered irregular to the original schedule:
Eric Hoffer, longshoreman and uncommon philosopher
Tom Blake, innovator and archetype
Dickey Chappelle, an actual feminist icon

What is the future of the weblog?
Good question.  As ever, we have no plan.  We simply go where called by wind, wave, and whim.  Posting to The Coracle has become such a habit that, even when I was out of the country for five weeks, we still had pre-loaded content.  Every morning, it seems, something worthy of note presents itself, whether through mainstream media, sidestream media, academic journals, or the obtuse imagination of the weblog's editor.

So, whether on a daily or weekly basis, a reader will always find something new and, one hopes, at least mildly provocative.