Thursday, October 29, 2015

Miss Adventures

Better to do one thing supremely well than many badly. Anonymous

I stepped over to the trash can in the kitchen and dropped a cupcake paper into it. To my amazement, it missed the opening and fell to the floor, where I had to pick it up and try, more successfully, to toss it into the bin. Two-time’s the charm, I noted.

A bit later I tossed a used tissue into the trash and, like its paper cousin, it went straight to the floor, rather than into the receptacle. Once again I found myself trundling off into the kitchen to retrieve the wayward wad of detritus, putting it more directly into its intended repository.

Being of scientific bent – or at least having bent over a number of times I’d have preferred not to – I proceeded to contemplate the reasons for my kitchen trash can to repel everything I was tossing its way.

The fact is I have an infuriating habit of routinely missing targets. Even when I stand directly over the dust bin to drop something in, it goes astray. A tiny piece of it will stick to my thumb or finger and as soon as I let go – bombs away – it veers off target and hits the floor.

My aim is so bad I am truly amazed I have never been nominated for “Miss” America. When it comes to missing, I am not only a professional, but in a class all my own.

Speaking of class, when I was in school, it was not unusual to miss a class every now and then. And when I attended class, it wasn’t unusual for me to miss the point of my being there. These days it would be called hyperactive attention deficit disorder, but in my day it was called Not Paying Attention. Fortunately, I was never sent to the principal’s office; I was too principled for that.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I did get called to the principal’s office once. A neighborhood busy-body had gone to the school to report I had been throwing rocks at a house. Her claim (and this is true) was completely false!

I should probably explain.

The day before this most unpleasant (and unfounded) inquisition, my brother and I and our good friend Mark had been killing time a few blocks from home, engaged in a conversation, the substance of which eludes me now.

As we chatted, we picked up grains of sands (and I am not exaggerating – nothing larger than a bb gun BB) and were mindlessly tossing them against a rockery beside which we were standing and talking.

As we yakked, this woman came screeching to a halt in her Cadillac, jumped out like an Imperial Storm Trooper, and screamed, “What are you hooligans doing?”

Well, both Mark and my brother took off running in different directions (doing a three minute mile, I might add), leaving me to stand there alone with Darth Vader’s older sister.

I told her we weren’t doing anything, but when she saw my companions doing an imitation of the Pamplona Bull Run, she presumed the worst, and so she asked my name, what school I went to, and insisted we were throwing rocks at the house on the other side of the wall (a claim I most vehemently denied. Besides, if I had been, I would have missed anyway. So: No Harm, No Foul – Right?).

She told me she was a good friend of my principal, and assured me I hadn’t heard the last of this incident, which was true.

The next day I was called into the principal’s office, and there she sat in the corner, smirking like the proverbial cat with bird in maw. In a matter of seconds, I explained what my brother, friend, and I had been doing (using small words so Miss Nosey would understand), protested my innocence clearly and unequivocally, and after about ten seconds of deliberations, was allowed to return to class completely vindicated of any and all wrong-doing.

I had told the truth, and being innocent, I couldn’t miss being acquitted. I learned that from watching Perry Mason – a show our family would never miss.

Momma always said, “When you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.” That is “can’t miss” advice in this, our valley.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Shoe Falls in the Valley

It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us – The “Twelve and Twelve” (p. 90)

Autumn is the season when pests begin migrating into places they just do not belong. Not all pests were created equal, of course. I am still allowed to frequent homes, medical centers, businesses, and the like without too many complaints. But still, there are other vermin that can be quite annoying, and it affects my psyche more than I would like to admit.

The other day I was on a hospital visit and a young lady jumped up from her chair while we conversed. I gave her one of my inquisitive looks – the one with head cocked, one eyebrow raised, and complete, total, and utter confusion written upon my face. She said, “There’s a spider.”

I looked and, sure enough, there was one of those little brown critters hiding in the shadow where the wall and floor meet. Remarkably, I kept my poise, for I have found little alarms a patient more than a priest who goes running from a room screaming like a little girl (meaning no offense to little girls, by the way).

This was quite ironic as I had awakened just hours earlier from a nightmare in which there were spiders crawling all over me (and the more I brushed them off, the more they multiplied in horrendous fashion). I wondered: Was this a coincidence or a prophecy?

To play it safe, I asked the young lass if she planned on doing something about the spider. I wasn’t being timorous or coy, by the way. I am simply a non-chauvinist and wanted to give her first dibs tackling this unwanted visitor (I’m referring to the spider).

She returned a look that can only be described as one-degree short of calling for a SWAT team (or Seal Team Six, if they were available), so I offered to take care of the problem and asked her for a paper towel.

She handed me a massive fistful of paper, from which I deduced she also retains a plethora of banana clips and ammo for her Uzi. I thanked her for her generosity and assured her that one towel would be sufficient to handle the arachnoid menace.

Having developed most of my hunting skills from regularly reading Art Kehler’s Hollow Top Smoke Signals, I slowly and stealthily moved my companion’s chair out of the way. I wanted nothing to slow me down once I launched my arach-attack. It’s a good thing I did, too, for no sooner had I begun to approach that little brown beastie, she discerned my intentions and made a run for it. Suddenly, it was Speedy Gonzales vs. Elmer Fudd!

Not to be outpaced, outwitted, or outmaneuvered by this dreadful denizen of the dark, this fleet-footed skittering skedaddler, I instantaneously intuited where she was heading (to avoid death by alliteration, I presume), and dispatched her to the Great Flytrap in the Sky (with a mighty smoosh), where she has no doubt sprouted wings and is now scaring the perdition out of unsuspecting angels.

The question that most naturally comes to mind is why such a little thing as a spider would scare those of us who are so much bigger.

I consider myself  quite the man’s man; I don’t even bother carrying bear spray with me in the woods – for one thing, I make it a point to stay out of the wilderness, but when I DO go hiking, I make sure I have someone with me I can outrun. That’s why they say there is safety in numbers, don’t you know.

But little things like spiders are simply and irrationally scary. I remember getting dressed one morning as a child and having this big gorilla-sized tarantula (or a near relative) climb out of my shoe as I prepared to put it on. I must have lost ten pounds right then and there! Of course, I annihilated the eight-legger with the aforementioned shoe.

Over time, I have learned to overcome some of those things that used to bug me badly. Facing one’s fears and overcoming them helps build the confidence we need to adapt to our ever-changing environment.

I’ve learned to walk softly in this, our valley (but I still carry a big shoe, just in case).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Creating a Person

I normally don't publish my sermons as they tend to be notes from which I speak (and often deviate, as I speak to several different congregations each week), but was asked if I would provide my sermon notes for October 4 (Proper 22). The matter before us was Jesus' answer to the Pharisees regarding marriage and divorce. I didn't say all I could have on the subject, but shared the following insights I have gleaned over the past 30 years of preaching. Interestingly, since diocesan convention normally falls on this weekend, my notes indicated I had never before actually preached on this subject! So this was new for me. I hope you find it useful.

In 1974, I became a police officer in Spokane, WA. My degree from WSU was in Police Science & Administration. Spokane was a relatively small department – about 100 officers +/-. It was like a large extended family.

Near the end of my first year, I was ready to buy a house. I didn’t want to live in an apartment. I hadn’t really saved much money for a down payment, but Lt. McGooghan was buying a larger home for his growing family – something more in keeping with his lieutenant’s salary – so I bought his house. We made a little side deal where he gave me a receipt for a down payment I didn’t have, allowing the bank loan to go through, and I paid it off over the course of the next few months. He didn’t do it because he was rich; I had SPs on my collars, and that made me family, and that’s what families do. Message: You Belong! Writ large.

Contrast: In my early days on the department I became friends with another officer – Sergeant Lou Moss. He worked out of the Young People’s Bureau, dealing with juvenile offenders, truants, run-aways – anything involving children. Over time I discovered he was an Episcopalian, but he hadn’t been to church since the late 50s. I asked him why and he said he and his wife got a divorce in 1958, and the priest there made it clear he was no longer able to receive communion. He could come to worship, but he could no longer participate in the table fellowship.

I told him times had changed and that I knew he’d be welcomed at our little church out in the Spokane Valley but, “No, that’s OK.” He hadn’t lost his faith in God, but for him, the church had taken a leaf out of the table, squeezed the ends together and said, “We no longer have a place for you.”
Message: You Don't Belong! Writ large.

The GOOD NEWS for us is that the church has changed over the past 50 years or so, but for those of us who came from broken families or who have experienced the heartache of divorce, the Gospel lesson this morning must be really hard to hear.

Jesus’ words seem unusually harsh and cruel. The temptation will be to say they came out of a different era in a different time and are no longer relevant, but I’d like to suggest that what he has to say is very relevant, very timely, and very important for us to hear.

11)      It is true that our cultures are different, so we need to recognize that. Divorce in America is VERY different from divorce in 1st century Israel. Women and children were property, in Jesus’ day; for a woman to divorce a man was inconceivable. Property cannot disown its owner, but an owner can disown his property. There were no divorce courts; there was no such thing as alimony or child support. A man would simply hand his wife a note saying, “Get out!” and that was that. A divorced woman had limited options: Move back with family, become a beggar, a slave, or a prostitute.

      Jesus said, “That’s got to stop. Women aren’t property; women aren’t chattel; they are people; they are your equals; Treat them like it, for heaven’s sake!” He points to Genesis and reminds us that God created us – all of us: male and female, Jew and Greek, Slave and Free – in God’s image (mashing what Jesus said here with what Paul says in Galatians). That’s why we, in our Church’s teaching, promise to “respect the dignity of every person.” Jesus isn’t talking about divorce, but personhood – and is challenging all the things we do that are hurtful to one another.

22)      That brings me to the second point. Jesus tells us the issue has nothing to do with marriage or divorce, but the human heart. “The problem,” he says, “is your hardness of heart.” Is it possible Jesus is looking back on his own family history? Joseph was a “righteous man” – a Tzadik. He’s a man who knows the LAW (Torah). Mary’s pregnant. Options: Rock, Scissors, Paper. Angel: Don’t be afraid to take her under your wing! He can do the right thing, or he can do the RIGHT thing.

3) Now, here, today, God looks at us. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All of us have heart problems. Maybe too small (Grinch) or blocked arteries, causing pain & shortness of breath. God can kill us all, OR … Jesus took up some children, held them in his arms, and … He blessed them. 

Our options: We can take up arms (with one another) or we can take one another up IN arms. Jesus calls for the Tzadik in each of us, and THAT’s the Jesus way to be in the family way. Let us Pray (BCP 101)