Monday, February 29, 2016

Sigh

The parish I serve has a Facebook account, which is more or less expected of parishes these days.  A lot of people view it, as I know from the statistics that FB shares with the page's administrators.  In fact, many of the postings receive between 100 and 200 views, which is pleasantly surprising.

The other day I posted something on the page about needing volunteers for our food ministry.  It isn't the most ambitious or elaborate of ministries; it was something we inherited from the local senior center when they were no longer able to store as much as was needed by members of the community, especially near the end of the month when government benefits run thin.

It's just a collection of shelves that hold canned and boxed foodstuff, and all we need is someone to sit in the room to make sure that people can reach the top shelves, or that we can strive to keep in stock the items that are the most popular.

The posting has, after 48 hours, received seven views.  Not 200, not 100, just 7.  I have no new volunteers for this ministry, either.  Ah, well.  We'll keep trying.

More About That Mysterious "P" in EPA

Such are the unpleasant contours of a public health emergency that is playing out in Hoosick Falls, a quiet river-bend village near the New York-Vermont border that has been upended by disclosures that the public water supply was tainted with high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a toxic chemical linked in some studies to an increased risk for cancer, thyroid disease and serious complications during pregnancy.

Again, I lived there and worked not only at a nearby school, but also at two parishes in the area.  I still know people who live there and are nervous about the health of their children and grandchildren.  The gross indifference of our "post-religious" society is de-moralizing, to say the least.

What's the "P" in EPA Stand For, Again?

Take a drive upstate in rural Rensselaer County and you'll miss Hoosick Falls or Petersburgh if you blink. 

 Perhaps blinking will be the excuse we will next hear from state Health officials who appear to have had their eyes closed when it comes to monitoring the drinking water for these two small towns.

This bugs me more than most stories of our government's homicidal indifference to those who fund its insatiable maw, as I lived in Hoosick Falls for five years.

You Can't Use Facebook to Sell Weapons, Until You Can

eBay for jihadis: Al-Qaeda fighters using FACEBOOK to buy and sell 'CIA weapons' 

Facebook protects you from people like me.  Terrorists, on the other hand....

Sunday, February 28, 2016

More Photo File Clean-Out [Click to Enlarge the Photo]

Three guesses in which building I stored a surfboard.
The Transylvania, bringing my mother and grandparents to this brave, new world in 1926.
Incorrect use of a tree stand.
The snapper that hangs out at the water discharge tubes at the Millstone nuclear power plant.  [True].
I just like the photo.
Monday mornings.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday's Music and Groups of Which You've Never Heard

Harvey Pekar

"As a matter of fact, I deliberately look for the mundane, because I feel these stories are ignored. The most influential things that happen to virtually all of us are the things that happen on a daily basis. Not the traumas."
__________________________________________________________________

Maybe you have to be from Cleveland to understand the kind of power an underdog can have.  It certainly helps to be from a place perpetually associated with misery, bad luck, unemployment, provincialism, and really bad pro sports.  I could waste your time and mine with remedial observations such as that Cleveland has the world's greatest orchestra, one of the best art museums anywhere, and a terribly advanced collection of medical facilities; not to mention the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  But most people just reply by asking, "Isn't that where the river was so polluted that it caught fire?"

Yeah, let's just talk about what it is to be an underdog, shall we?

In the years when I was teaching English at one of Cleveland's high schools there was an artistic renaissance occurring within our modest city's bohemian community.  New voices in poetry were being heard and published in a variety of quarterly pamphlets, tactile art was being explored with never-before-seen combinations of media, independent rock music was everywhere [I mean that almost literally], my friend Stephanie had started a theater for urban youth that was becoming an established part of the city's culture, and half the people in my apartment building were writers of some sort.

Then there was this nebbish, this schlemiel; a homunculus who wrote reviews of obscure jazz records for equally obscure free neighborhood newspapers and supported himself as a file clerk at the Veterans Administration.  He was, without question, the walking, talking embodiment of ordinariness.  Despite his status as a quintessential underdog, he became the rallying voice for what is now called in college textbooks the "New Bohemian Movement".  Just as unlikely, the NBM began in...Cleveland, Ohio. Take that, New York and Los Angeles!

Harvey Pekar's literary efforts were aided considerably by one of the other great originals of the era. Fortunately for him and for the NBM, one of his close friends was Robert "R" Crumb, who became the most recognizable artist of the counter-culture in the late '60's and early '70's.  His characters of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural were commonly found not only in free newspapers but on t-shirts and album covers.  [An aside: At last weekend's ComicCon in New York, a four panel collection of original Crumb art sold for $65,000.]

                                                   

Pekar was interested in creating stories for the cinema, but did not have the knowledge, wherewithal, sophistication or looks to mount a production. Instead, he imagined using Crumb's art to illustrate stories in the same manner that a cinematographer frames images on the screen.  With art, especially comic art, imagination could be indulged in a manner both creative and inexpensive.  This idea appealed to Crumb, as did Pekar's notion that their comic stories involve the mundane instead of the spectacular.  After all, they lived and created in Cleveland, where the mundane was splendid.  As he noted:
 When I was a little kid, and I was reading these comics in the '40s, I kind of got sick of them because after a while, they were just formulaic. I figured there was some kind of a flaw that keeps them from getting better than they are, and then when I saw Robert Crumb's work in the early '60s, when he moved from Philadelphia to Cleveland, and he moved around the corner from me, I thought 'Man, comics are where it's at'.
1976 is considered the high-water mark of the New Bohemian Movement, as that was the year the 37-year-old Pekar's comic, illustrated by R Crumb, was published.  Its title was American Splendor, subtitled "From off the streets of Cleveland".  The comic, self-published and self-distributed, became the most desired and elusive volume of literature in northeastern Ohio.  In fact, it was 1980 before I was able to secure my own copy.  In it, Pekar chronicled his magnificently ordinary life and celebrated the mundane in a way never quite seen before.



While only seventeen issues were published from 1976 to 1993, Pekar's comic book was read by the literati of both coasts, making the file clerk famous enough to be a regular guest on David Letterman's NBC show, and even more famous for reducing Letterman to a stuttering rage on what became Pekar's last appearance on the show.

It really didn't matter to Pekar as he wasn't desirous of fame, and certainly not interested in appeasing the perpetually prickly Letterman.  Underdogs don't receive their power from impressing the wealthy and powerful; quite the opposite.  Besides, Pekar's creativity maintained its very original course long after Letterman's shtick had become stale.  American Splendor continued to chart the ups and downs of his very average life, including the dorkily charming relationship with his wife and muse, Joyce, with his co-workers at the VA, and his uber-nerd friend, Toby.

The verite quality of the comic book realized its prime when Pekar wrote of his diagnosis with lymphoma and his long, touching, yet successful, battle to survive it.  In 2003, a film version of his life was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay, winning a variety of critics' awards along the way, including the Sundance Film Festival's.



Pekar would eventually retire from the VA and continue to write comic books and music reviews, occasionally appearing in public, although with some reluctance.  While he could be found on a near daily basis at the public library in Cleveland Heights, the cognoscenti knew to leave him be, and the staff was always solicitous towards him.  His last major effort was when he wrote the book for the jazz opera Leave Me Alone!, which premiered at Oberlin College's Finney Chapel in 2009.

Illnesses of various sorts began to take their toll and, while effective fodder for his stories, Pekar was often in great discomfort.  In 2010, his wife Joyce found him dead in his bed of an accidental overdose of his various medications.  In a marvelous...no, splendid...juxtaposition, he is buried in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery right next to Eliot Ness of "Untouchables" fame.  His headstone reads, "Life is about women, gigs, and bein' creative."

Harvey Pekar is now recognized as the poet laureate of Cleveland, an absurd title for a comic book writer but somehow fitting.  After all, this is Cleveland that we're talking about, and the city follows its own rules of propriety.  Two years ago this month, the Cleveland Heights Library celebrated the installation of a statue to Pekar, an act that he would have found a bit odd, I'm sure, but certainly one that would have found its place in the pages of American Splendor.


For those of us like this blogger, who spent his early twenties writing music reviews for the same free newspapers, playing bass for terrible bands in stale, smokey clubs in Pekar's neighborhood, and occasionally getting poems published in journals so crude the print would rub off on your fingers before you could read it, he enabled us to own a small shard of the New Bohemian Movement.  For that alone, he's earned his status as a laureate beyond definition.

For those interested, I offer the following:

The New American Splendor Anthology: From Off the Streets of Cleveland

American Splendor: The Movie

 Originally published on October 17, 2014

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gender Really is Fluid, I Guess

Well, it is at Time magazine:

Time Magazine Put Evelyn Waugh on a List of Female Authors

I would laugh about this, but it makes me a bit sad.

Oh, a bonus.  This media member is a graduate of Harvard:

It's Not Those Tiny Cookies That're Making Kids Fat, It's Following the Government's Dull-Witted, Corrupt, and Inaccurate Dietary Guidelines

The Food Police is Coming for your Girl Scout Cookies

Hey, There's a Political Debate on TV Tonight

The "Eddie Would Go" Competition is Currently Being Held in Hawaii. This is a Small Wave.

I'm happy to say that this guy rode that wave as well as I would have.

Anything Despised by The NYT/NPR Set is Worthy of Re-Appraisal

Mainly because, as the 21st century unfolds, their values are being revealed as empty.  The antidote, of course, is "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives":


I've probably horked half a dozen recipes from this show and, unlike the New York Times and National Public Radio, they never disappoint. 

Weird Archaeology: Curse Tablets

I don't know about you, but I really enjoy stories that begin this way:

In 1976 laying of a water main in a field...above the village of Uley, Gloucestershire, brought to light Roman period artifacts and structures. Subsequent excavation over three seasons (1977-1979) revealed a sanctuary that existed from the late Iron Age through the Roman period into the early medieval era, when it perhaps became a Christian church.

Please glance at the entire site, as the history and content of "curse tablets" is a fascinating window into the historic human psyche.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Don't Know, Are "Thought Leaders" Mentally Ill?

Is Your Bacon Sandwich Oppressing Women?
The main argument you will likely hear in favour of feminist vegetarianism is that of linked oppression. Basically the idea is that women are consistently objectified in a morally problematic way that is very similar to the way animals are objectified.
It's remarkable how quickly jargon can become gibberish.  Between my academic career and that in The Episcopal Church, where the jargon/gibberish is as thick as Yucatan jungle "rain forest" undergrowth, I greatly prefer the company of monosyllabic surfers and musicians.

Either Archaeological or Fund-Raising News, Not Sure Which

Mysterious artifact discovered at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity

Given that no photo of it is displayed, I'm thinking it's a fund-raising ploy.

Everything You Know is Wrong

Forget What You’ve Heard: Organic Food Is Not Food Grown Without Pesticides

Photo File Clean Out, Part III [As Ever, Click to Enlarge]

Nat and Frank just hanging out.

When we were kids, the top of the main mast still protruded from the sand and we would play on it.  Marine archaeologists and treasure hunters have been trying to get to the rest buried under the 17th St. beach for over 100 years.

Self-explanatory, really.

My great [+ 5 or 6] grandfather, one of the scouts for General Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.  Marion's men were particularly known for their bloody disregard for the conventions of war and were the first guerrilla unit of the American army.  Apparently, it did Old Corny little harm, as he lived for 103 years.

Director and actor in consultation.

It's that time of year when I long for the beach and the after-surf breakfast at this place.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thank Goodness Chicago has the Strictest Gun Control of Any City in the USA

Can you imagine what it would be like otherwise?

Homicides in Chicago this year double same period last year

Since gun laws only control the law-abiding, there may be another issue at play.

Oh, look.  Another gun law paradise:

Elderly siblings shot outside West Baltimore carryout

Gun laws only effect the law-abiding; lunatics and criminals are not controlled by laws.  That's why they are called "outlaws".  As William S. Burroughs once said, "Every time there's a shooting, they want to punish the people who had nothing to do with it."

Create jobs, reinforce families, evenly punish criminals, and limit public assistance to rational levels, and more will be done to save lives than a whole collection of politically cynical gun laws.

Of Course Not

Can Harvard Solve the Problem of Religious Illiteracy?

Another Reason to Love America

East side plaque marks spot where Elvis broke up a fight

I don't know why I'm surprised that it's in Wisconsin.

Today in History: Members of the 1st Marine Division Raise the Flag on Iwo Jima


I understand that this may seem an odd post for an Episcopal priest, especially since many of my ordained and lay colleagues find the military, and especially the Marines, to be distasteful.  Heck, a parishioner once expressed amazement that anyone with an education would join such an organization and be trained to mortally defend her existence.

I guess this is why I never mentioned it in my early days in the ordination process as I didn't wish to have it held against me.  One can earn seven academic degrees and certifications, have knowledge of five world languages, teach at every level of education from kindergarten to doctoral candidate, be a published author, serve a long and varied career in what was once an intellectually-demanding church, and still be regarded as doltish and morally reprehensible just because, once upon a time, one wore a uniform.

Funny world, isn't it?  Funny church, too.

Anyway, as I was once a member of the vaunted 1st, this day is seminal and I am pledged to honor it.

Weird Archaeology: Witch Bottles

Witch bottle found during Newark Civil War Centre dig

More about them may be found here.

They have been found in the US, too, although only a handful of them.  If you see something like this in your grandmother's bottle collection, give me a call:


Also, be cautious of the contents.

I've Seen Some Elaborate Urns in My Career, But....

Ashes of Italian ‘coffee king’ put in giant espresso pot

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hmmm. Or, Rather, Oh-Oh.

US sends 5,000 tons of ammunition to Germany

and

Why is US storing new tanks in hidden Norwegian caves?

According to the old bulldog network, it's not just tanks, but members of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare command, who are very serious professionals with very specific training.  Their unofficial motto is "Suffering is mandatory; misery is optional."

It appears that the Cold War is back.  If only the media would spend more time on this and less on that loud, orange fellow whose current whim is to be president.

[Original information courtesy of Reynolds.]

Christian Challenges for the 21st Century

Salisbury Cathedral sculpture moved because texters kept walking into it

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ohio Man!, and in My Old Neighborhood, Too

Ohio or Florida? Man shot after argument over where the better strip clubs are turns violent

Seriously, that is just two blocks from my first apartment, where I lived in my early days as a high school teacher.  It appears that the area has degraded some since my day.

An Area of Archaeology That I Happily Avoided

Excavating outhouse holes yields historic treasures 

My favorite quotation:

"You're working your way back in time," he said.

That's one way of putting it.

Friday, February 19, 2016

"Life During Wartime" Talking Heads LIVE



The bassist used to drop off her child at the Trinity Parish pre-school in Southport many years ago.

“I’ve always wanted to try that.”


The first time I ever saw Rut, it was on the long entrance drive to the private school where I had just started working. I was driving a typical teacher car, a compact station wagon, and he was heading directly towards me on a skateboard. I was going about 15 miles an hour; he was traveling about 20. Instead of giving me a panicked look, as one would expect from someone who was about to die on the hood of a Ford, he smiled, waved, and then ran off the road and into a drainage ditch.

Great, my first day at a new school and I just killed someone. I hadn’t even gotten the keys to my office yet.

It turned out that he was okay.  Rut looked at me from the ditch, smiled from under a grossly askew helmet and, indicating the skateboard, said, “I’ve always wanted to try that.”

As I was to discover, he was used to falling, as he owned a variety of sporting equipment that, from time to time, ensured it. I also discovered that Rut was a bit of an anomaly in the school community, and not just for his frequent tests of gravity. A private secondary school is, after all, a place organized for and dependent upon the pursuits of youth, but Rut was not a youth.  He was, at the time I almost killed him, 65 years old.

He was a Korean War veteran who had been a motorcycle dispatch rider, ski instructor, rock climber, had hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entirety, worked a variety of jobs, and, while a graduate student at Boston University, had lived across the hall from Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom he would refer, and not ironically, as “my buddy, Marty”. He had built his own cabin in Maine, even felling the trees, and built a boat to complement it.  Now in his seventh decade, he was a history teacher and “outdoor skills” coach at our second-rate prep school.

I learned of his history in five minute installments, chatting from our adjacent classroom doors during the daily change in classes. One day, Rut told me that he had bought a mountain bike and was looking forward to trying it out later in the afternoon. “I’ve always wanted to try that,” he said. The next day he was on crutches, telling me of the deceptively steep trail that he’d discovered. Later that year, at a faculty meeting, he arrived sporting a new cast on his arm. We exchanged looks and he just said, “Inline skates”. He’d always wanted to try that, too, you see. Because of events like these, behind his back some the students and twenty-something faculty called him Rut the Nut.

I could see why.  According to the hobbled world view of the students and younger faculty, Rut was too old for skateboards and mountain bikes, too old to be a teacher [he was at least twenty years older than any of the other faculty members], and would talk about things that were, well, just plain old. After all, as a young faculty member once asked me, who is this “Marty” guy?

Despite the pretense of uniqueness and originality, ably reinforced by the professional marketing community, teenagers are remarkably uniform in their tastes, style, and world view. Like artists, they think of themselves as edgy and progressive and, like too many artists, seal themselves off in an attitudinal bubble that ensures that they will be anything but. 

Which was why, of course, Rut did new things. As there will always be those who seek the safe cocoon of homogeneity, their counterparts will be challenging any notion that limits human activity and endeavor by prejudices about age, culture, gender, ideology, and spirituality. I recognized that kind of defiance immediately as it was and is a strong part of surfing, an activity that, in those days, was beginning to reclaim my attention and activity.  It was pleasant to spend hours in the company of surfers after weeks on end with clergy and private school teachers and students.

This recognition was ratified one morning when, for reasons that are clouded now by time and distance, I had used a surfboard to teach a lesson to my philosophy class. After carrying a Hanson board, bright in the colors and pattern of the flag of Finland, across the campus quad from my classroom to the administration building, I found Rut in my office eager to talk of surfing, surfboards, and what one has to do to get started in the sport.

“You know, I was stationed in Hawaii when I was in the Army and used to watch those local boys on those enormous boards out on those waves. Man, it looked like fun. We wanted to do it, too, but we weren’t allowed to mix with the locals in those days. This doesn’t look as heavy as those boards did, though. You know, I’ve always wanted to try that.”

Before I could explain that surfboards were no longer made out of koa wood, Rut grabbed the Hanson, ran outside and placed it between two picnic tables by the dining hall. He then sprung, with considerable vigor, onto the board and began to mimic the motions of a surfer on a wave. At first, I was worried that he would snap the board in two; then I was worried that he’d fall and have another visit with his close friends at the local emergency room. But after a minute of surf pantomime, he nodded, brought the board back to the office, placed it carefully against a bookcase, and asked, “Where can I buy one?”

As the closest surf shop was clean on the other side of the state, I suggested that he try to order one through the sports equipment provider who was contracted to the school. To this day, I wish I had been privy to his conversation with the salesman. It arrived shortly before graduation.  Rut showed it to me while loading up his car the day after the last day of the school year and told me he was going to try it out on the particularly bone crushing waves on Cape Cod. I more or less expected that this meant I would see him modeling some form of orthopedic gear upon our return in September but, as I knew from my own experience, with some things you just have to get out there and do it.  I don’t think that process ever had to be explained to Rut.

I saw him next at the new term’s opening faculty meeting, nearly a year to the day I had almost killed him.  Rut sat next to me and, while our new headmaster droned on about the difference between culture and character or something like that, I heard the familiar tales of a neophyte’s first surfboard summer. He could have been 12 and it wouldn’t have sounded much different.

“It was momentous. I just spent all day at the beach. I felt like Hemingway in Spain.” He paused to explain to one of the twenty-something English teachers who Hemingway was. “Nothing but sun and water. Some shellfish, maybe.” He leaned forward and said conspiratorially, “A little rum.” He responded to one of our many faculty health scolds with, “At my age, you don’t worry about skin cancer. By the time you get it, you won’t live long enough to die from it,” and employed all of the appropriate terminology of surf life such as “pearled”, “puka”, and “stoked”. Yeah, he was stoked alright.

That year, our classrooms weren’t next to one another and, owing to a promotion that meant I had to spend more time with administrators and less with faculty, I didn’t have a chance to speak with Rut on a daily basis. Sometimes, whole weeks would go by when I would only see him across the quad, or nod to him across the dining hall. One day, in the midst of a particularly miserable winter, when all of us were spending too much time indoors, he came to my office. At first, I thought it was just to visit, but he seemed to have something specific on his mind.

“Do you still have a church somewhere?”
“No, I just sub for other clergy on Sundays.”
“Oh. Uh-huh.”
“Why? You looking for one?”
“Went a couple of times when I was a kid. Before the war. Indoors in a dark place never attracted me.”
“Well, some of them have electricity now.”
“But I was thinking that I’m not getting any younger and I should expand my horizons some. You know a good place?”
“My wife’s church. Not far from here.” I gave him the location.
“Yeah, I know it. The pretty one with the glass. Okay. Sunday mornings, right?”
“Usually. You can go on Wednesday mornings, too.”
“No. I want the Sunday experience. Might as well do it right. Organ music, right?”

Boarding schools maintain brutal schedules for their faculties, with only Sunday mornings free of scheduled activities. That, coupled with the late 20th/early 21st century need for the college-educated to affect worldliness and intellegence by disdaining religious practice, meant that church attendance was as rare and worthy of comment as was a 65-year-old on a skateboard.

I knew that Rut was joining in worship for the same reason that he skated, biked, and surfed: To push the limits placed on us, not by time or age or undeniable natural force, but by the conventional thinking that the mediocre use as a complacent cage.

So, with the same defiance that marked his physical endeavors, Rut found his church, attended regularly and, one evening, even saw to the organization of a parish’s pancake dinner. When other faculty would comment on his devotion, he would shrug, smile, and explain his burgeoning spirituality by saying, “I’ve always wanted to try that.”

[Excerpt from Reading Water, all rights reserved ©2011]

Monday, February 15, 2016

Photo File Clean-Out

What I would give just to drive this for one day.  In Las Vegas.  Or Santa Monica.
An early 20th century "punt gun" for duck hunting.  Yes, it's real.


The control room of a U-Boat.
Just a mom and her son watching the atomic bomb tests in nearby Yucca Flats.  Good family fun.
In the 1930's, demented physicians suggested the use of "baby cages" in ensure that children who lived in the new high-rise buildings could be exposed to sunlight and fresh air.  Not to mention lifelong vertigo.
Weirdly, twenty years after Woodstock, I worked for this guy.

This is More Interesting Than a New Bus Line

Slovenian town plans public beer fountain

It Isn't Frankie and Annette, Is It?

'Bay Boys' surfer gang cannot block access to upscale beach, Coastal Commission says

Protection. That's a Good One.

The disclosure that the Environmental Protection Agency's toxic spill at an old gold mine in Colorado was far worse than previously stated has unleashed a flood of anger at the agency, which was already facing numerous lawsuits from states and individuals along the affected waterways.

Something tells me that the Navajo nation is about earn some serious coin.

Oh, look.  More protection:

Emails: Despite knowing of lead in water, EPA planned to let Flint keep drinking it into 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Another Year

This was composed about five years ago, but it remains evergreen, if you're willing to wade through some musings about waves for the first couple of paragraphs:

Surfers know something about Valentine’s Day or, as it is known around our house, The Feast of St. Valentine. Valentine was an irregular saint, to be sure, dropped from the Roman martyrology for reasons that still seem unclear, but then I’ve never really understood the politics of canonization. But for all of the candy hearts and increasingly expensive greeting cards, there is something that happens in his octave that is the portent for all good things to come. Namely, in mid-February, the shape of the waves begins to change.

There will be many who will dispute this, but those would be people who limit their understanding of nature to the sciences of meteorology or physics or astronomy. Some of us still use the ancient art, so liminal as to be pre-verbal, of rud a bheithsa dúchas agat to understand tides and gravity. We so often watch the waves, are so often immersed in them, observant of their nature and their potential for transport, that, in a crude translation from the Celtic above, “their nature is in our blood”. We know that the waves have changed and that winter’s power is diminishing and, even if we should suffer still more snow and ice, it will be of shorter lease and far less strength. In short, we’re through the worst of it.

That’s the first, and least important, thing that I note on this day. The second is that it’s my wife’s birthday. While I’ve always been thankful that it falls on a memorable date, so that I don’t become like a grotesque situation comedy husband who forgets his wife’s birthday, I am particularly pleased that it is an event that carries far more importance and relativity than what may be expressed in an abstract Valentine. While I am the one socially bound to offer her a gift, today I also recognize a gift that I receive from her. Not only is her love as constant as that of the Almighty’s, but I have come to particularly appreciate the grace she displays when she fulfills the duties of her call to ordained ministry. There are times when I cannot fathom how she does it.

We were just married when Jenni became the first woman hired by a tony parish in Connecticut; later, upon the departure of the rector, she became the acting rector of the parish. Again, this was a first for the congregation and one that was not well received by all of them. In the 1980’s, there were still too many who believed that ordained ministry was not something for women. Those who held this prejudice were of both genders, I might add. Thus, every decision she made, every action in which she engaged, was strongly scrutinized. Despite that, she prevailed in ensuring that the parish prospered, the giving increased, a new assistant was hired [one who would later be a candidate for bishop], a lovely and appropriate memorial garden was built, a complicated wedding arranged by the more-complicated Martha Stewart was celebrated, and the burial office was read both for a U.S. congressman and for the teenage son of the senior warden, tragically killed in a terrible auto accident. The scrutiny relaxed after these events, especially since they were all squeezed into twelve months. Clearly, she could do the job.

She was then called to be the rector of a parish in the Berkshires. Again, the first ordained woman ever to celebrate the Eucharist and, again, the subject of scrutiny. A few people left the church upon hearing the news of a female rector; others came to see if they could find something, anything, about which to complain for the remainder of her tenure. The couple in the pew in front of me on her first Sunday muttered during the length of the liturgy about the inappropriateness of a woman behind the altar until, somewhere in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer, I told them both, in the name of our Lord and Savior, to shut the hell up. It didn’t matter as the parish prospered, new things were done, infants and adults baptized, couples married, and the faithful bid to the reaches of the Kingdom. When Jenni suffered a brain aneurysm while in the pulpit, and the best the doctors could hope for was a partial recovery of speech and motor function, with one physician even suggesting that giving her last rites “would not be inappropriate”, the treasurer of the parish held a meeting to convince the vestry to reduce her position to part-time. As he stated, her brain damage was actually good news for the budget. While this would have reduced me to a near-murderous rage, or at least a life-long Celtic grudge, Jenni’s response was to recover fully and return to work on a full-time basis. After six months, it was as if the aneurysm had never occurred. It was coincidental, but I seem to recall the treasurer moved out of town later that year.  I seem to recall helping him. 

She moved to yet another parish for fifteen years. Again, the first woman and, well, you know the rest by now. She retired, worked again, retired, and worked yet again. Even after nearly thirty years of service in the Episcopal Church, there are some strains of narrow-mindedness that resist time, change, and reason. She still deals with the antics of those for whom sourness is the chief feature of their relationship with a parish. Well, history generates through people and their experiences, and some folks cannot be blamed for the simplistic provincialism that doesn’t permit them to see what is manifest in my wife’s long and eventful service in the Church. Sometimes small towns in Connecticut seem a lot like small towns in the Ozarks. Except with a country club, of course.

It is my lot as a husband to permit these petty sufferings to attract my attention, but Jenni never seems to regard them as anything other than unimportant portions of the curious responsibility to which we have been called by God. For her the job is about those who pray in strength and weakness, who fight the good fight, who keep the faith; for her it is about the infant lofted above the font, the children who work the Epiphany puppets, the couple who kneel before the altar at their nuptials, the kind and good man for whom the burial office is read. What we do is reflected in those hands that reach out, week after week, at the altar rail to receive the sacrament.  Hands big and small, soft and rugged, eager to receive the promise of the Covenant.  Every congregation will bear those who have been rendered sour by their inability to truly hear the Word of God, even when it is revealed again and again through the positive life of a parish. But congregations, and clergy, live by the good works of the muscular Christians who ennoble parishes and invite all to come before the altar, even those who seem the least able or willing to comprehend it.

So, on her birthday, I thank Jenni for always presenting me with examples as to how to be a good priest; one who strives in grace and truth, one who sees the good inherent in any human undertaking, who suffers fools gladly, and who locks each day in prayerful intention. I also thank her for her love, without which I would never have known the good life we enjoy, the great achievements we have experienced, or the simple, plain fun that has marked our common life and our mutual service to God.

I guess rud a bheithsa dúchas agat is not just for waves.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Hello, Media? Are You in There?

Did you hear about the historic meeting that will occur today between the media superstar Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Moscow and All Russia? Is there up-front coverage of this in your newspaper this morning?

The meeting is taking place in Havana for the expressed purpose of voicing support for persecuted Christians facing genocide in parts of the Middle East, primarily – at the moment – in Syria and Iraq. There is very little that Rome and Moscow agree on at the moment, when it comes to ecumenical matters, but Francis and Kirill are both very concerned about the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in that devastated region.

Have you heard about this in major media?


 Judging from this related story, it's not just in the Middle East and Europe where this is a problem:

‘No rhyme or reason’: Police, witnesses describe Columbus restaurant machete attack

Allow me to be of aid to the Columbus Police Department, knowing their "turf" as I do.  The restaurant in question is owned and operated by an Israeli and is popular with the Middle Eastern Christian population in central Ohio.  The restaurant's name is "Nazareth", for heaven's sake.  Other news outlets have stated that the assailant's first name is "Mohammad".  Does that put two and two together for anyone?

Pura Yucatán


The monkey had seized his Pepsi, an act that left Estefan somewhat agitated.  He had never liked Mexican spider monkeys ever since he had seen one snap his brother’s index finger like a twig back when they were boys.  Twenty years later, the sight of one would reduce him to a state of medieval terror.  The fact that the monkey was now sitting next to him on the tailgate of one of the pickup trucks belonging to the university’s archaeology department, with its legs crossed like his, helping itself to his bottle of Pepsi and behaving like any of the other diggers under the shade of some mangroves, had left him in a state of descolada.

Of course, Estefan also disliked thunderstorms, mud, bus drivers, Coca-Cola, and norteño music; the latter being something on which the two of us often agreed.  This was not lost on Heraclio, another digger at the archaeological site and our truck driver, who would gleefully read the weather report to Estefan whenever it included a prediction of rain, deliberately drive closely behind buses on the  narrow roads of the central portion of Quintana Roo, and turn up the volume whenever Los Tigres del Norte were playing on the radio.  In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Heraclio had trained the monkey to steal Estefan’s Pepsi.

The relationship between the two diggers, who were also cousins, would have made for an execrable journey had it not been for the fact that they were taking me to what they described as “a beautiful cenote [or sinkhole]” so that I could experience Yucatan-style surfing.  As we were about twenty-five miles from the coastline, my curiosity was piqued some by a surfing opportunity in the middle of the flat, dry llano.  That and I had never seen a sinkhole that could be described as beautiful.

So, as we drove through towns named after either Christian saints or monstrous Mayan royalty, as Estefan and Heraclio bickered about technique, I heard about the main feature of the Yucatan method.

“We do not use surfboards, doctore,” said Estefan.  “We use rododendro.  You will see; it is pura Yucatán”  Heraclio just laughed and nodded like a bobble-head doll.

My Spanish has always been horrible.  In fact, the university staff would label what I spoke “kitchen Mexican”, so I didn’t think it odd that Estefan had just said that they surfed using houseplants.  I just assumed that I hadn’t understood him over the roar of the loose muffler and the top 40 norteño hits that Heraclio had blaring from the truck’s radio.  That is, until we got to the cenote.

Truly, if a sinkhole could be beautiful, this was the one.  It was introduced by a stark opening at ground level of approximately seventy-five feet in diameter.  Crude stairs that looked rather ancient had been cut in the limestone walls in a rough spiral from the opening to the small patch of earth and sand about three stories below that served as a type of beach at the bottom.  The remainder of the sinkhole’s base was liquid.  Aided by the minerals in the earth and vegetation that grew within and around the opening and down its dark shaft, the water at the bottom of the cenote was made azure; capturing and magnifying the available sunlight but retaining a refreshing coolness.

Second only to the water in vividity was the verdant vegetation that clung to the sides of the shaft and dropped their roots from the sun-soaked surface thirty feet down to the water, lacing into strong knots of vines that formed basketball-sized root balls just below the water’s surface.  It wasn’t until I saw the cousins grab these vines and begin to swing themselves from the spiral steps to just above the water level that I realized the plants were, in fact, tropical rhododendrons.  Remarkably, I had heard correctly; they did use rhodadendro instead of surfboards.

The sport, as I came to learn it, in sinkhole surfing is bending both vine and body so that the soles of one’s feet, at the right moment of the parabola, make contact with the water and, if timed right, enable the “surfer” to release his grip upon the vine and glide across the water’s surface on a buffer of surface tension.  It wasn’t a long ride, and the cousins would loudly celebrate even a five foot glide, but it also wasn’t easy.  In fact, learning the nuance in a Hawaiian short board was probably simpler.  For over an hour, once I was assured that the vines would hold my weight, I repeatedly sent myself inauspiciously into the water with a sizable splash.  However, in the second hour, I was beginning to get the hang of it.

While it was a hot, humid day and a dusty ride after a long week of fruitless digging among the remnant stones of a pitiable Mayan archaeological site, when Estefan suddenly remembered that on his last trip to the cenote he had hidden a number of bottles of Noche Buena in the cool deepness, it turned into one of the best and most memorable days spent in any kind of water.  Our fatigue from work, and Estefan’s descolada, were cured.

In fact, to this day, after a particularly good session of conventional surfing, if asked how was the water, I sometimes respond that it was “pura Yucatán”.

[Excerpt from Reading Water, all rights reserved ©2011]

You Were Right, Dad. Well, You and Albert.

Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction

Maybe you have to be a total science nerd, or the son of a physicist, to appreciate how remarkable is this news, but it's remarkable.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I Wonder What All of the Losing States Have in Common?

Connecticut's Population Drops Again 

Hmmm, could it be...taxes?

Again, this will have an effect on church growth, too.

In the Monastery, We Had to Make Due With Keeping Bees

The Sisters of the Valley in Merced, Calif., grow medicinal marijuana in their garage for various pot-laced health products.

Bad Theologian or God Almighty?

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Saturday said there was a "special place in hell" for women who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's primary.

Actually, she's neither.  She's just another in a long line of politicians who hijack religion for their own purposes.

Hmmm, given the demographic outcome of the most recent primary, most women in New Hampshire chose hell.

Lego 'promoting unrealistic body image'

LEGO has been accused of making children covet unattainable squat, yellow bodies with c-shaped hooks for hands.

My Generally Low Opinion of Hollywood and Actors Has Just Reached Its Nadir

There was even more destruction in Quentin Tarantino’s bloody Western “The Hateful Eight” than anyone thought. A priceless, 145-year-old guitar, on loan from Pennsylvania’s Martin Guitar Museum, was accidentally smashed to bits by Kurt Russell during filming.

Given Its Length, I'm Guessing the Reporter was Being Paid by the Word

Accordion causes school evacuation

Also, to whom did the accordian belong, as it had never been seen before?

and

It looks like the state police canine unit needs some more training.

Ohio Men! are Determined

Ohio man still pursuing 20-year dream to get Wright Flyer on state seal

The Single Most "Human Hostile" Product Since Lead Paint or Zyklon B

Remember when the CFL was presented as the Future of Lightbulbs? We'd all be thrilled to replace our archaic incandescents with high-tech CFLs. Just to hasten us along in the proper direction, the old bulbs were banned, lest people go all squirrelly and anti-social and prefer them to CFLs. Then came LED bulbs, which were A) better, and B) didn't require opening every window in the house and wearing gas masks if you dropped one. Well:
GE just announced that it no longer make or sell compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) lightbulbs in the US. The company will wind down the manufacturing of CFL bulbs by the end of 2016, and it will begin to shift its focus on making the newest and most energy-efficient lightbulbs, LEDs.
Those absurd bulbs were also the product of grotesque collusion between GE and the U.S. government.  Since GE wasn't making very much off of the simple incandescent bulbs that we all used and liked, they had the government declare them verboten, stopped making them, forced the poisonous CFL bulb on us [seriously, Maine's Dept. of Environmental Protection had a fourteen page pamphlet on how to clean up after a broken bulb, including such gems as "don't use a vacuum cleaner" and "clear the room for at least 24 hours"] and told us it was for our own good.

After all, it was for the environment and children.  You don't want to harm the environment and children, do you?  So, BUY THE DANG BULBS!

I'm really glad I horded incandescent bulbs until reason, and market factors, prevailed.  Oh, and this used to be a much better country that it is now.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A busy week with the beginning of Lent, with its pancakes and liturgies, not to mention two snowstorms in four days, so new postings will not be seen until Thursday. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

The proper liturgy for Ash Wednesday will be offered at 7pm.

Langhorne Slim & The Law "Changes"

Snowbound? Bored? Go Here for Scintillation.

The Christ Church of Roxbury Facebook page.

Photo File Clean-Out: Snow Day Edition

This photo may be the greatest ever offered by a newspaper: Thundersnow, coatless guy in a hurry, ice cream cone.  It really has it all.

Marvel Comics most underrated superhero, Dr. Strange, rendered by their most neglected artist, Steve Ditko.  This is circa 1966, by the way.  Click on the picture to enlarge it and appreciate its glory.

The Warlocks in their first performance.  They'd change their name to The Grateful Dead the next year.

Ah, the halcyon days of youth.

The 1916 Cleveland Indians, just hanging out at their original, original ballpark.
[They're currently on their third, just so you know.]

The original 1964 version of G.I. Joe.  From left to right, Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force.

No Kidding. Guess Which Books are More Popular with My Granddaughter.

Beatrix Potter's unpublished manuscript is finally revealed:
Potter’s “new” book isn’t the first to gain posthumous popularity; last year, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s annotated autobiography Pioneer Girl sold like hot cakes. Perhaps these classics are so popular because they are full of timeless morals and virtues often lacking in contemporary children’s books. Browsing the titles of some of the most popular recent children’s books, I found works such as: Zombies in Love, Polar Bear’s Underwear, I Don’t Like Koala, Poop Fountain!: The Qwikpick Papers, Hot Rod Hamster: Monster Truck Mania, and The Wonderful Things You Will Be.
Do children really need books about zombies or a polar bear’s missing underwear? While I’m sure these books are imaginative and fun, children also need books with more substance; they need books that will help them learn how to build character rather than simply tell them how wonderful they are. Classic books with lessons and virtues can strengthen children’s personal ethics and help teach them right from wrong. Potter’s famous The Tale of Peter Rabbit has beautiful illustrations as well as a lesson on what happens when you’re disobedient and mischievous (Hint: you might end up in a pie).
Poop Fountain? Good Lord.

Apparently, No One Has Told the World Bank That There is More Money to Be Made in Predicting Doom

World Bank Forecasts Global Poverty to Fall Below 10% for First Time 

But, but, but the environment, man!  Global cooling warming climate change disruption will kill us all!

In a God-less age, not only do plonkers need to create their own gods, be it Gaia or government, but they need to create their own Satan.  Unfortunately, that devil is usually the human race and its progress.  I'm glad the World Bank injected some necessary reality, not to mention good news, into the news cycle.

“Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday from 7am until 8:15am in the parish house parking lot

“Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday

Still, Small Prayers

It was late in the year, but with surfing that’s not such a bad thing. The water may be cold, sometimes brutally so, but the waves are usually stronger and October days can be beautiful. Also, you can go to the beach around noon and there isn’t a crowd in the water. In fact, on this day, there were only eight or so people on the beach; one sweeping the sand with a metal detector, a couple of joggers, a woman madly knitting from her beach chair, the others reading or just sitting in the sun.

We were in the water riding whatever it would offer. There were some good waves, most were small and a little weak, but the wind was shifting and the tide was coming in.  As a Zenned-out clerk in a Huntington Beach surf shop had said to us, “It’s okay. Just get in the water. The waves will come.”

I was surfing with Terry, my oldest surf buddy. We had met in seminary and had once served together as chaplains in a small hospital in Queens. He had been a talented priest, but had left ordained ministry to work on Wall Street some years before.

The Church, often an institution of grasping people seeking not so much salvation but a salve for their egos, is a difficult bubble in which to work, especially for those like Terry, who are of a bookish, creative nature. Clergy can be hyper-critical of one another, many of the laity are deeply unhappy with the emptiness of contemporary Christianity, and it's easy to get lost in a non-spiritual morass. Terry, rather than risk what was left of his soul, decided to just “leave the whole dang deal" one day. He didn’t seem to regret or miss it. He had a much better salary, weekends off, drove a car that was newer than a decade old, lived on the top floor of a doorman building in New York City, and had what appeared to be a very contented life. I was sorry he had left, though, as people like him were and are few and far between in professional ministry.

We had planned the surf trip for an earlier, happier portion of the year, but I was delayed by business with the church in which I was working and then by the death of my mother-in-law. For Terry, well, there had been something else. By the time we made the trip, we were both ready to find some cure for the radical change that had occurred in the world and the staggering loss to many of those whom we knew.

We drove from Long Beach to San Juan Capistrano the first night, when the two of us, both used to getting up before dawn and both still on Eastern time, found ourselves wide awake at 2 a.m. and felt that a high speed run in a rental convertible up and down the Pacific Coast Highway would answer, stopping before dawn to get donuts from a cheery Mexican man who chain-smoked cigarettes and rhapsodized about the waves. At least, we think he did, as he didn't speak English and my Spanish is, well, “elementary”. It was a pleasant dawn, especially as it seemed that everywhere else we had been there was a sense of percolating tension.

The next night was a little worse when, after a day of indifferent surfing and some exploration of the local area, we found ourselves in a hole of a place just off the PCH, listening to bad music and finding old things about which to laugh. The evening took a darker turn when, in a moment of quixotic impulse, I scolded some other patrons for roughly handling a waitress when they felt their order had taken too long. When the loudest responded as I had hoped, with vulgarities and an ill-expressed threat, I was prepared to see if I could still remember Gunnery Sergeant Jackson’s half-dozen ways to render someone unconscious. Actually, I was just trying to remember the most painful one to inflict.

Terry stood behind me and I expected him to reason with both of us. Instead, he simply said, “I’ve got your back, Chief.” For some reason, the idea of facing down two apparently deranged middle-aged surfers seemed more daunting to the loud-mouth and his friends than it had before and everything ended rather quietly and quickly.

 “Well, that was stupid”, I recall noting.
“Yeah, for them.  It never pays to be rude.”

After that, we decided that spending our energies surfing made more sense and would reduce the chance of our being either jailed or hospitalized. It also allowed us, in those breaks in the surf, to try to put our new world in perspective.

Terry: What was the flight like?
Me: There were only five people on the whole plane.
Terry: Weird.
Me: And the stewardesses…
Terry: Flight attendants.
Me: …flight attendants were kind of odd. They watched us like we were going to do something.
Terry: Yeah, I know that look. Everyone on the street seems to have it now. In the office, everyone stops talking when a plane flies overhead. Doesn’t matter if they’re talking to someone in front of them or a customer on the phone, the whole place goes silent.
Me: How’s that going?
Terry: We lost a lot of computer files…well, all of the files, paper and electronic. I mean, we lost the whole building. But we’re going to have the temporary office in Long Island for a while. Maybe forever. I can’t take the subway to work anymore, but I drive in with the surfboard on top of the car. I can get in the water at the end of the day. At least for another few weeks. Then, who knows...? Here comes a set.

It was a good set of waves, too. Terry always takes the first one and I take the second one. There is no reason for it other than he thinks the first one is better and I think it’s the second. For the rest of the day we didn’t speak as the waves came in as they always do, one after the other, in the marvelous and compelling rhythm of nature, and we concentrated on getting the best rides we could.

Finally, when the water temperature was beginning to make our feet and legs too numb to stand, we sat on the sand and talked about how, once we could move, we should get a couple of cups of hot chocolate from a beach-side vendor who knew just what to sell to hypothermic surfers. Maybe a few cups.

Terry: You know what I found in my sock drawer?
Me: Socks?
Terry: Yeah, and my collar.
Me: Your clergy collar? Plastic or linen?
Terry: It was that nasty starched linen we had to wear back in the day. I got asked to help out at [a parish near Wall Street]. They’re still doing burials.
Me: I heard. How long’s it been since…?
Terry: Awhile. Seems like a time to get back into it.
Me: The Church or the surf?
Terry: The Church. Then the surf. God help me, but after dealing with The Church again, I’ll really need the surf.
Me: I know you're not looking for advice, but buy a plastic collar.

Thus, a still, small prayer of mine was answered as a talented and caring priest, who watched his building collapse and his co-workers traumatized on a sunny Tuesday in September, found his calling again.

[Excerpt from The Waterman, and Other Characters, all rights reserved © 2016]

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Archaeological News

4,500-Year-Old Boat Found Near Pyramids

It's probably a "funerary boat" that was intended as part of the offerings to the overlords of the dead rather than for practical, mortal use.

Here's good news:
Covered with the wind-blown sand, the 4,500-year-old remains of the wooden vessel were lying on a bed of stone with ropes and wooden components still in their original position.

The wooden planks, joined with wooden pegs, were found intact. The desert sand preserved the plant fibers that covered the planking seams, while some of the ropes that bound the boat together were also found in their original position with all their details intact.

“It is by all means a remarkable discovery. The careful excavation and recording of the Abusir boat will make a considerable contribution to our understanding of ancient Egyptian watercraft and their place in funerary cult. And where there is one boat, there very well may be more,” Bárta said.

I Knew a Priest Who Used to Do Something Similar in the Confessional

Instead of just hanging up every time “Sharon, your local Google specialist” calls, one person decided to create an artificial intelligence that is as effective at wasting telemarketers’ time as telemarketers are at annoying you. 

The Jolly Roger Telephone Co. was created by Roger Anderson, and it's a robot that talks to telemarketers (or anyone you want) by starting with “hello?” and keeps the conversation going by responding during silent moments with affirmatives like “yeah,” “uh-huh,” and “right.”

Photo File Clean-Out: More Surf Buggies, Woody Edition