Sermons

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Collect for the Renewal of Life


O God, the King Eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

(BCP 99)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Give Peace a Chance


I like how the many neighborhoods in Manhattan are distinctive from one another. Some feature more trees, others more bars, still others more brownstones and residences with names chiseled into granite above the doorways. But most of New York, in whatever neighborhood, features movement and color and noise.

In Washington Heights there are many street vendors, taxis whizzing along Broadway, people sitting out on the sidewalk in folding chairs to escape the heat inside, little vegetable markets set up under awnings selling all sorts of "ethnic" or "exotic" edibles. On weekend nights the noise from karaoke bars spills out into the street.

On the Lower East Side, a drumming circle is set up in Tomkins Park beside the handball courts, and folks walking their dogs pause to chat with one another, adding their voices to the drums-and-balls percussion. On the side streets, musicians play in bars - guitars, mandolins, bodhrans, fiddles - and the music drifts out in the streets every time the door opens.

In the subway stations all over town, the trains clatter down the tracks, the express trains zooming by on the express tracks beside the local trains that screech into the station and puff out some brake noise before opening their doors with a jolt. On the trains themselves, the noise is slightly more muted unless someone is listening to an iPod with the sound jacked up, and one can hear the voices of people speaking in many languages, discussing at which stop they should get off the train, mixed in with the occasional announcements from the conductor (which may or may not be understandable). On the air conditioned trains, the windows are closed and it's quieter - I remember from years go the local trains with open windows - boy, that was loud!

But there are also places of tranquility. There are little pocket gardens all over town - community plots for growing flowers, benches provided by the residents of nearby apartments in shady spots away from the street. I stopped into one across the street from the Cathedral of St John Divine that featured two folding chairs tucked up under some mid-size trees as if they'd been hidden in a secret spot under the hedge, with a table in between and umbrellas (personal rain umbrellas, not the restaurant table kind) perched over each seat. There are the quiet museums and the lobbies of banks. It seems that in every neighborhood, somewhere there is a place where one can find at least a smidgen of peace.

Relentless noise is not good for the soul. Those who cannot find a respite from the noise suffer, whether they know it or not. We all need a little peace sometimes.

Collect for Schools and Colleges


O Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities, that they may be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 824)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday


Sunday is for church.

I went to the Cathedral of St John Divine this morning for their choral Eucharist. Aside from it being rather warm in there (I thought stone cathedrals with stone floors and stone walls and chairs without cushions would be cool, but no), it was a lovely service. Incense, lots of processing, beautiful singing, a soaring organ, that cool way that sounds reverberate throughout the building in a stone cathedral. There was a good sized crowd, too, and many good singers in the congregation.

It was nice to sit in the pew and take it all in on the last Sunday before I start working every Sunday for three months.

Collect for Cities


Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that Holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth. Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfullment of their humanity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 825)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Morning Collect




Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 251)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Evening Hymn

O gracious Light, Lord Jesus Christ, in you the Father's glory shone. Immortal, holy, blest is he, and blest are you, his holy Son.
Now sunset comes, but light shines forth, the lamps are lit to pierce the night. Praise Father, Son, and Spirit: God who dwells in the eternal light.
Worthy are you of endless praise, O Son of God, Life-giving Lord; wherefore you are through all the earth and in the highest heaven adored.

(1982 Hymnal, 25)

Hitting the Streets


I am headed off to New York for a few days to do some churchy research and visit friends. And of course take photographs and encounter all kinds of things I will want to write about at some point. Posting will be sporadic, again, although prayers should show up every day, both here and in our lives.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting Out of Line


I am fed up with the news. I am fed up with church news and politics and just about all of it. I am avoiding the New York Times and NPR except for the occasional glance at some headlines and snippets of the top stories for the hour but I'm not reading/listening to the stories. I'm glancing at the church headlines on blogs and not reading the posts. I know that there are horrors continuing in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan; I think I can't comprehend the details any more.

Not because I'm sticking my head in the sand but because I just want to think about something else while everybody is wringing hands and shouting at one another and spreading all kinds of misinformation and hysteria, because none of that stuff seems real to me any more, at least not right now.

I see real life going on all around me and it doesn't have anything to do with the news. People are going through heartbreak, people are living through difficult transitions, people are searching for some kind of meaning in their lives. That's what's real. As I wrote yesterday, keeping body and soul together is hard. That's what's real to me right now.

My mom's new place has a voluntary program called Stat-check. Each resident's door has a little metal switch on the outside of it. When you press the switch to the right, a red flag appears. When you switch it to the left, the flag is covered up. In the morning when you get up, you open your door and press the switch to the left so the red is covered up. This way your neighbor who is on duty to check everyone's door in the morning will know you're doing ok in there. If you haven't switched your switch, and the flag is still red, your neighbor will knock to see if you're ok, and if you are, then she or he will switch it for you and be on their way. If you don't answer, the staff will telephone you to see if you need any assistance.

Mom is very happy that someone gets up every morning and comes to her door to make sure she is ok. Because of her sight impairment, she probably won't sign up to be a stat-checker herself, but she is glad that others do volunteer for a rotation or two. After living by herself in a house for several years, she is glad to be checked on; she feels safer and cared for by her neighbors. She knows others are concerned with her welfare and are willing to make the effort to put that concern into action. They take time to get up and get dressed and go around the floor making sure the community is accounted for, making sure the neighbors feel safe and cared for.

I just am not seeing all that much concern for community happening out there in the news right now. So for the moment, I'm tuning it out and looking for what's real in the lives of the people I know and care for. I know I'll be back on board with the news soon enough, but for now, I want to look for community instead of lament the lack thereof. I know I will find it if I look around me, here and now.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Evening Prayer: Sovereign


We name you king, Lord, sovereign.
We trust you, except
sometimes we do not.
We take matters into our own hands.

We fashion power and authority and sovereignty;
enforced by law and bureaucracy and weapons,
we think to make ourselves safe.
And then learn, staggeringly,
how insufficient is our product,
how thin is our law,
how ineffective is our bureaucracy,
how impotent our weapons.

We are driven back to you - your will,
your purpose,
your requirements:
care for land
care for neighbor
care for future.

We name you king, Lord, sovereign -
so undemocratic!
and in naming become aware of our status
before you . . . loved, sent, summoned.
We pray in the name of the loved, sent, summoned Jesus.


(Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, 41)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lifelines


The other day I stopped at a local fast food joint, one that is located on one of our more colorful neighborhood streets - the strip, really. One never knows who might be in there - street people, kids from the local high school, pillars of one neighborhood or another that borders on the strip. The locale and the restaurants along that street are a kind of stomping grounds for a crazy-quilt community of folks from various races, ethnicities, and classes who may or may not be mentally stable, live in homes, or be able-bodied.

I use the word community deliberately. The other day when I stopped in, I noticed a man walking by my car on the way inside ahead of me. He wore clean clothes and his white sneakers were very clean, too; his socks were pulled up all the way and his shirt was buttoned up all the way, too. There was something about his face and his gait and the way he talked that suggested he had some kind of mental impairment. He and the woman who took his order had a lively conversation about other people in the neighborhood (who had been in that day, particularly) intertwined with the food ordering part.

While he was waiting for his order, another man came in and got in line. This man appeared to be homeless; he wore dirty, torn clothing and his appearance (in stark contrast to the first man) was decidedly disheveled. He was of a different race but he, too, had features suggesting some kind of impairment. During his food ordering process, he and the order-taker/cashier had a discussion about how much food he could get for the $3 and some change that he had balled up in his hand.

The first man greeted the second man warmly, asking how he was doing. The second man replied that he was just trying to keep body and soul together, just trying to get by. The first man nodded knowingly. Yes, he replied, it's hard work just trying to get by, trying to keep body and soul together. They murmured together for another minute or two, each nodding at the other's comments.

I tried to be invisible so I could continue to linger and hear their conversation because I was touched at what I was witnessing - people reaching out to one another, to give encouragement and comfort and support, participating in community with such honesty. But I didn't want to gawk and when my order came up, I took it and headed out.

But all the way home, I thought about the little scene in the fast-food joint. Would that we could all be so understanding and pro-active about the needs of others for human interaction, for compassion, for understanding, for dignity. The scene I witnessed was not the kind of scene I would be likely to come across at the bank over on the "nicer" end of the neighborhood where people had community waiting for them elsewhere - at home or at work or at school. The people at the fast food place were acutely aware of their own needs and the needs of others for human touch and voice and compassion and interaction, the need to eat and the need to feel they have a place in the world, a place where they have companions along their way.

Just keeping body and soul together - it's hard. Amen.

Prayer: We Bid Your Presence




We know about your presence
that fills the world,
that occupies our life,
that makes our life in the world true and good.

We notice your powerful transformative presence
in word and
in sacrament,
in food and in water,
in gestures of mercy
and practices of justice,
in gentle neighbors
and daring gratitude.

We count so on your presence
and then plunge - without intending - into your absence.
We find ourselves alone, abandoned, without resources
remembering your goodness,
hoping your future,
but mired in anxiety and threat and risk beyond our coping.

In your absence we bid your presence,
come again,
come soon,
come here:

Come to every garden become a jungle
Come to every community become joyless
and sad and numb.

We acknowledge your dreadful absence and insist on your presence.
Come again,
come soon,
come here.


(Brueggemann: Prayers for a Privileged People, 49)

Pathways




I wish that when I got these urges to fly through life, checking things off lists left and right, that I would find myself in this garden (at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC) where the pathway meanders and one must pause every now and then both to get one's bearings and to enjoy the overall scene. Where one must go slowly and deliberately, noticing the scenery along the way, seeing how the paths all fit into the bigger picture, even while keeping an eye on an idea that's "out there somewhere" - a focal point off in the distance - through an archway or at the end of a walkway - a fountain or statue or other architectural accent.

In my regular life, I occasionally find myself just trying to reach the end without participating in the journey toward that end. Such is the case for me now, with my mom's move made but now settling in requires more things to check off the list. Do this, buy that, get that taken care of and then we can stop and enjoy.

Fortunately, Mom is not making the journey that way. She's settling in but enjoying the ride - meeting new people and doing new things and not worrying too much about an end or focus in the future. She arranges her photographs and then rearranges them and then sits down to admire the surroundings. Meanwhile, I look at my watch to see if I'm late to pick someone up or checking the list to see what we need to take care of next.

I expect we all do this on occasion. There are times we hurry along, head down, bent on the destination, and other times when we stop to watch the butterflies and savor the sunset. Sometimes someone just has to take care of the details. It's my turn to do that right now; she did it for me long ago when I was new to life, to school, to all kinds of things.

And in fact both the flowers nearby and the interesting destination piece are lovely. Each has its own charm. The overall picture with both pathway and far-away focal point is beautiful in its graceful complexity. One would not be quite the same without the other.

But I can go more gracefully along myself, keeping the long view but enjoying the immediate one as well. I hope to remember that all day today.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Life


Life is very full for me right now. I have many things I'd like to write about but am too tired physically and mentally and emotionally to do so. I went to the beach, I moved my mom out of her home 400 miles away, I moved my mom into her new place near me, I'm helping her get her place put together and preparing to spend much of this week doing things like getting her a TV and cable and phone service and a picture ID and a bank account and the new things the apartment needs. It's fun and hard work and she is appreciative and I am glad to do it. But I don't have a lot of energy to process much (in writing) yet.

This photo is from the day we moved her out of the house in which she lived for 50 years, the house in which I grew up. The butterfly looks rather beaten up with its wings missing edges; it's sipping from an althea bush blossom and it obliged me by posing on several flowers within photo range as Mom was doing the final walk through the house. The althea actually came from the yard of my first house in Atlanta - I dug up a few and replanted them behind the swing on Mom's deck. Now all the planst from Atlanta are in NC and Mom is has left NC for Atlanta.

Life is full. And it's good.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Canticle K: Song of Our Adoption

Blessed are you, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;
for you have blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Before the world was made, you chose us to be yours in Christ,
that we should be holy and blameless before you.
You destined us for adoption as your children through Jesus Christ,
according to the good pleasure of your will,
To the praise of your glorious grace,
that you have freely given us in the Beloved.
In you, we have redemption through the blood of Christ,
the forgiveness of our sines,
According to the riches of your grace
which you have lavished upon us.
You have made known to us, in all wisdom and insight,
the mystery of your will,
According to your good pleasure which you set forth in Christ,
as a plan for the fullness of time,
To gather together all things in Christ,
things in heaven and things on earth.

(Enriching Our Worship 1, 36)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Prayer for Taking on the Care of Parents

In the circle of life, O Gracious One, your signs of love shine out in every situation, through dying and rebirth, growing up and growing old, holding on and letting go. Now, your servant P will be looking after her parent. She who gave care now needs to receive care; she who once were supported by her now needs to be a supporter. We pray this family may gracefully accept these changes. Grant them wisdom, good humor, patience and hope, as life continues according to your constant love, and bless their days with wellness, safety, and peace; through Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

(Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage, 45)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Prayer: Farewell to a Home

Gracious God, your heart is our eternal home, and your love is as present in sorrow as in joy; our sister Catherine is prepared to depart from this house. Help her carry the moments of grace she has known here to her new home.

+++++++++++

Sojourning God, you go before Catherine preparing the way to a peaceful new home. Give her grace to let go of the old, accepting the comfort and assistance of those around her. Help her know that you are as near as her breath, let her hear your whisper of the undying love in which you hold her as you held her in the beginning. We pray this through Christ our Savior. Amen.

(Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage, 54)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Evening Prayer

O Lord God Almighty, as you have taught us to call the evening, the morning, and the noonday one day; and have made the sun to know its going down: Dispel the darkness of our hearts, that by your brightness we may know you to be the true God and eternal light, living and reigning for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 110)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Ferryman


Today my son and I drove over to Harker’s Island and caught a ferry (i.e., a flat motorboat that seats about twelve people) over to Cape Lookout. The ferry leaves from the backyard of the ferryman’s house, which backs up to the sound - one turns into his driveway, parks behind the house, buys a ticket in the garage, and hops on the boat that’s parked in a little slip behind the cars. The ferryman has a great job, assuming he likes living on the sound and driving his boat back and forth to the Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout all day, going along beside dolphins and pelicans and herons, steering the boat between the shifting sandbars, pulling up alongside the wild horses that walk the beaches of the Shackleford Banks (and sometime swim), greeting all the other boat captains and ferrymen by name. He pulls up to the beaches or docks and helps the people get out of the boat and then back in again, people who are really excited about seeing the things he sees every day - the water, the sky, the lighthouse, the animals, the big boats with the pirate flags, the small fishing boats and colorful sailboats. He gets to do this every day and make money on it. My son pointed out the black Corvette parked in the yard, supposing it being the ferryman’s streetside ride.


Our boat out contained two parties, my son and I, and a group that appeared to be made up of a married couple, their daughter and son, and either the husband or wife’s mother and her sister. They were headed over to the Shackleford Banks, where wild horses and lots of birds roam. (The horses are apparently descendants of Spanish Arabians that swam ashore after a 17th century shipwreck, or perhaps they came with Sir Walter Raleigh’s English explorers.)


The ferryman zoomed across the bumpy sound, the wind blowing our hair all around, sometimes making dramatic turns to get us through the sandbars upon which pelicans stood (looking as if they were walking on the water) and then drove us in close to some of the horses grazing on the Banks and pointed out the ones ambling along the beach. Then he drove up to the beach near one end of the Banks and let the other family off, promising to pick them back up at the same spot a couple of hours later.


Then he steered the boat with the two of us left aboard back out into the sound and across to the beach on the other island, the lower end of the Core Banks where the Cape Lookout Lighthouse stands along with a few buildings maintained by the National Park Service. The lighthouse flashes every 15 seconds, day in and day out; it’s shorter than Hatteras and a lot larger than Ocracoke and instead of stripes it features a black and white diamond pattern. Back before the GPS, sailors used the lighthouses not only to keep away from the dangerous shoals but also to note where they were. Thus, each lighthouse has a distinctive day mark (the pattern on the outside of the lighthouse) as well as a distinctive light pattern/sequence.


First, we stopped in the small Lighthouse Keeper’s House Museum. Given that we have visited all but one of the North Carolina lighthouses (we’ve seen the Oak Island Light as we went by on a boat but didn’t visit the light itself), we know a lot about the histories. But it’s always neat to see whatever NPS movie is playing, and this one was both informative and very beautifully filmed. We learned that the outer banks of North Carolina were just sandbars when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, so had he made it to the NC coast, he wouldn’t have even seen them. The barrier islands are slowly moving towards to mainland (remember how the Hatteras Light had to be moved a few years back because the Atlantic side of the beach had eroded while the sound sides were building up?). The Cape Lookout National Seashore seems to be safer and more stable than the other islands, though, apparently because they are uninhabited.


Then we walked across the boardwalk to the Atlantic side of the island and walked down to the actual cape itself, a thick triangle of sand at the end of the island that trickles out into the Atlantic for fifteen miles or so. All along the beach, huge whelks and helmet shells wash ashore right at one’s feet. The Park Service allows each visitor to take away two gallons of shells, so we picked up a couple, only to trade those up for larger or more beautiful shells all along the way. I found one rather large Scotch Bonnet (the state shell), and we saw many clams, scallops and other bivalves, and a few large helmet shells, but the number of huge whelks is amazing.


It was beautiful walking along a nearly deserted shore (once we left the boardwalk area, we only passed eight or ten people in an hour and a half of walking) with the sea oats waving atop the dunes and the diamond patterned black and white light house rising from behind the golden dunes. The ocean was a beautiful blue and the shore was filled with piping plovers and sandpipers feeding furiously as they ran along in front of us. Then the whole flock would rise up into the air and fly across the water to land behind us where they could hunt coquina and sand fleas at a more leisurely pace.


We actually had to rush to get back to the ferry on time (we should have given ourselves an additional hour, something to remember next time). We managed to get there before him, and we waited at the dock until we saw him coming toward us, smiling.




Collect for Guidance

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of this life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 100)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Prayer for Joy in God's Creation

O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty:
Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works;
that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness;
for the sake of him through whom all things were made,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

(BCP 814)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sun, sand, sea oats

We have arrived at our destination, an old fashioned cinderblock hotel on the island. Our balcony overlooks a pool, a grassy yard accented with deck chairs, hammocks, and a grilling deck where last night several families were cooking and eating dinner. The ocean is at the end of the yard. Everything is brightly colored - the hotel is a loud aqua and white with a terracotta roof; bright yellow beach umbrellas shade the tables by the pool and grill/dining area. The ocean is blue, the sand taupe, and the grass is green if not lush. The front doors of our rooms are yellow, too.

Pure white with black heads, the laughing gulls line up along the roofline and do their loud screeching while the surf pounds in the background. It's calm out there this morning - this area is less rough than the area around Hatteras.

Last night we could just faintly make out the lighthouse's white flashes every 15 seconds and the green and red channel lights also blinked on the horizon. There was a lovely breeze in the evening, but it is still this morning.

Much has changed here, in that some of the hotels are gone and new ones have arrived. Places on the beach are hard to keep up - the humidity quickly rusts metal, people track in salt water and sand, hurricanes ravage the beach.

But much is the same. The sea oats on the dunes. The early morning bird breakfast feast, for instance, featuring lines of pelicans gliding just inches over the waves, sanderlings running quickly toward the water and quickly away as it approaches, a stately sandpiper carefully picking up one foot and placing it back down as it hunts coquina just below the surface. Gulls picking through the piles of shells hoping for a bit of crab.

A lovely start.


Prayer for the Good Use of Leisure

O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 825)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Evening Prayer

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.

(BCP 833)

Prayer Before Worship

O Almighty God, who pours out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and of supplication: Deliver us, when we draw near to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 833)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beach Time!

In between lots of other activities (back to school and moving Mom and starting a new work assignment) I was able to carve out a few days for a beach trip, and so my elder son and I are heading out tomorrow morning after church to the Bogue Banks, one of the barrier islands of North Carolina.

The lighthouse studded Outer Banks are the northern-most NC barrier islands, from the Virginia border down through Hatteras and to Ocracoke - lighthouses are located at Corolla, Bodie (pronounced "body") Island, Hatteras, and Ocracoke. The 75-mile long Hatteras National Seashore is part of the Outer Banks.

South of all that is Cape Lookout National Seashore, comprised of the Core Banks, the two barrier islands south of Ocracoke (there's a small inlet between these two islands), and the Shackleford Banks. At the top end of the northern most island of Cape Lookout National Seashore is the abandoned village of Portsmouth, once a thriving shipping village that then turned into a fishing village before finally dying out in the 1950's. (There is now an historic village there maintained by the National Park Service.)

The lower Core Banks island has an elbow shape at the bottom (like Hatteras) where the Cape Lookout Lighthouse stands. The 55-mile long Core Banks are situated between the Atlantic and the Core Sound - which is a much smaller body of water than the Pamlico Sound between the Outer Banks and the mainland. (The early European explorers thought that the Pamlico Sound was the ocean that led to the Orient.)

Finally, there are the Shackleford Banks, a smaller (only 9 miles long) island where there are wild ponies that are said to be descendants of horses that may have swum ashore from shipwrecks off the coast - some say from the Spanish, some say they're from Sir Walter Raleigh's doings. Anyway, they all still frequently swim, even now.

There are no houses or roads or development of any sort in the Cape Lookout Seashore and the only accommodations are for campers or in rather primitive cabins. The only access is by ferry. Thus, we are staying on the Bogue Banks, the 20 mile long island south of the Seashore (between the Atlantic and Bogue Sound). Like most of the barrier islands, it's only about a mile wide in its widest parts. This is the home of Atlantic Beach (which was THE cool beach for teenagers when I was growing up) as well as the more sedate communities of Salter Path, Indian Beach, Pine Knoll Shores and Emerald Isle. There's a maritime forest on the island (the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area) as well as Fort Macon State Park (Fort Macon was a Civil War fort, built in 1826). One of the three North Carolina Aquarium locations is at Pine Knoll Shores.

(We have a family story about our visit there in the mid 1990s when the kids were little. There was a nurse shark in one of the Aquarium exhibits. You may know that one of the distinguishing features of nurse sharks are barbels - fleshy moustache-like appendages hanging from between its nostrils. My niece thought her mother said it was a nerd shark and so she said to us, "Look, it's a nerd shark. See those nerds on its face?")

The highlight of this vacation, activity-wise, will be a trip out to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. It's the one with the black and white diamond pattern and the only NC lighthouse I've never before visited. One must go by private ferry and take food, water, and whatever else needed because there are very limited facilities there. The NPS has restored the lighthouse (one can climb it now) and lighthouse keeper's home where there are restrooms and that's about it. The ferry trip can be taken through the Shackleford Banks marshes area for good wildlife viewing as well. I'm really looking forward to that, as well as time just walking along the shore and eating seafood and maybe going for a couple of bike rides on the motel bikes.

Blogging will be light for the next week with limited internet access and maximum time outdoors plus moving Mom on Friday and Saturday.

Peace out.


Friday, August 13, 2010

The Times, They are a-Changing

Today I signed a lease on behalf of my mom for her new place. It's a small apartment in a retirement center only a couple of miles from my home. There is much to like about the whole thing - she no longer has to take care of the big house and property, she'll be just minutes away but in her own place, she gets meals and housekeeping and a service coordinator (social worker type) to assist her whenever she needs to arrange things, the grounds are well kept and not too intimidating for someone who doesn't see well, the people are very friendly, there is a geriatric hospital with geriatricians on the grounds. We also have relatives in nearby towns and she has friends here with whom she went to high school or who used to live in her town and, like her, moved here to be near their children. The move is a week away.

There was a last-minute glitch when the retirement place informed me that they didn't have a power of attorney in their file and I couldn't sign the lease without it. (I thought we'd already done that when she was here to look at the place nearly two years ago.) In the end, at 10:30 this morning I called her local attorney, who was our minister's son when I was growing up, who painted our house to make money when he was in law school, and he drove over to my mom's house with a power of attorney form before noon (because she was headed out for a luncheon) for her to sign, and then faxed it to the retirement place before our meeting at 2:30. Ah, small towns. Where else can you call a guy you haven't seen in 30 years and ask him to drive over to your mom's house RIGHT NOW and take care of some paperwork?

Meanwhile, after a last trip to the beach with a couple of old friends with whom she's taken many beach trips, she's going out for lunch or dinner with all kinds of groups of people to say goodbye. Her next door neighbor is having a fancy china luncheon for her tomorrow. At these gatherings, she instructs them all not to cry so that she won't cry, and so for entertainment they read silly things about getting old that people pass around on the internet and they laugh a lot instead. This is how she wants to do it. If she needs to cry, she's not going to do it in front of anybody.

So this is a hinge time for her and for me.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Inching Toward September

As we get closer to September, a funny thing happens to the sky. It turns blue again and seems to be way high up there, instead of the muggy/hazy/smoggy part drooping down close to the buildings. It feels a little crisper, a little less humid. Even while we are in the dog days of summer, there is a glimmer of hope that September will come soon and with it cooler mornings, clearer skies, lower humidity, less smog and haze. It still gets really hot on September afternoons, of course, but there is relief after sundown and in the mornings. Every year about this time, I notice that we'll have a morning or two like September - just a preview, to remind us that it's coming, that it won't always be this way, it won't always be oppressively hot and humid and hazy.

This morning the sky looks that way again. It's heating up already and the summer bugs are singing their hot-day songs, but I saw the high blue sky this morning and felt the crisper air and I rejoiced.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Information Overload

I have information overload today.

Between back to school, trying to get my mom's move coordinated (and running into some obstacles) and a short beach trip planned, nailing down the details of my new work situation, catching up with friends, getting the school and extracurricular calendar and kids' appointments straight and carpool worked out and all the supplies bought, and a bunch of other stuff I can't think of right now, I'm unable to do much reflecting/writing.

Blogging may be periodic for the next week or so depending on many factors, including internet access! There will be lots to reflect on as the dust settles, though, so stay tuned!

Morning Prayer

Blown by God toward Newness

The news is that God's wind is blowing.
It may be a breeze that
cools and comforts.
It may be a gust that
summons you to notice.
It may be a storm that blows you where you have
never been before.

Wherever the wind is in your life,
pay attention to it
and the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Spirit,
will abide with you always.



(Walter Brueggemann: Prayers for a Privileged People 183)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Burnout

Don't you hate it when you think you've found what you need only to discover that it doesn't work? It's not the answer to your problem, it doesn't satisfy your need? You've got a whole scenario going, and then reality sets in. The replacement part you bought doesn't fit. The shoes don't actually match the dress. The person you thought would be able to help you is suffering from burnout and they either make things worse or just aren't available to you.

There is currently a national conversation going on about clergy burnout, based on a couple of articles that have appeared in the New York Times recently. (See here and here.) Clergy themselves talk about this issue and go to seminars that may have a unit on self-care; clergy wellness programs (as referenced in the first Times article) are gaining in popularity. The work I am about to embark on is covering for someone who is taking time out to rest and renew and refresh - a sabbatical, to use the Biblical word for it.

Burnout is not unique to clergy. Lots of people burn out. Teachers, therapists, coaches, lawyers, doctors, volunteers, parents. These generally are people who are very giving folks who for one reason or another run out of gas. Some people burn out very quickly, due to a lethal combination of factors that may include high expectations, poor boundaries, conflict, a misguided desire to be everything for everyone, lone wolfishness, and many others that I'll bet you can think of yourself. For others it comes like an accretion, slowly building up until one day it's all just too much.

I've been privy to some interesting conversations about burnout. There are those who will blame the burnoutee completely. He didn't take care of himself; she was naive about how much time it would take, it's all his or her fault. There are those who think that there is no such thing as burnout, that in their opinion, people don't work hard enough. And I've also heard burnout talked about as some kind of moral failing - he must not have been cut out for this kind of work, she wasn't really very dedicated. They should have had more regard for themselves or they should have had more regard for others. And then, as the second article suggests, there's the belief that people burn out because they are constantly under pressure to sell out and please people instead of following their calling - that burnout can be caused by the congregation itself.

What I usually end up wondering in these conversations is why people (including myself) end up getting so heated up over defending their opinion about burnout. We are invested in our opinions about it big time. I know enough psychology to recognize that sometimes the things we get the most worked up about are things that push our buttons, that hit closest to home. I got into a warm (I won't say heated) exchange with a colleague once who quoted a well-known male theologian whose prescription was that when we're feeling burned out we should go out and help other people. I nearly lost my temper, because I knew that the well-known male theologian has a wife who is dedicated to HIS career and an income and career as a writer that afforded him ample support and time away. What about those single mothers out there? What about man who doesn't have a spouse dedicated to supporting his vocation because she has their own?

Now let me say that my family is supportive of my vocation. So that's not why I was testy. I wondered if it was a gender thing - that women are always told to go out and help other people and not take care of their own needs. But then some men chimed in and said they felt the same way I did. We all agreed to disagree about the subject of burnout and move on to other topics.

As evidenced by the two NYT articles, this is a complicated issue. The fact that the whole story doesn't fit into a sound byte doesn't mean it is incomprehensible, but it is complicated. There are many factors on all sides and some of them have to do with personality, both individual and corporate, history, circumstances, and "fashion." The second article notes that people are consumers in all arenas now, including choosing a church - they are looking for the church to offer them the best service. This is a current fashion. If it's good for choosing a school or a bank, then it should be good for choosing a church.

Everyone loses, though, when people get burned out. The burnee, for sure, but also the people entrusted to the burnee's care. How it happens may be debatable, but the result seems clear, and it's that God's people get hurt.

Monday, August 9, 2010

School Daze/New Starts

In my community, the children went back to school today. The neighborhood seems quieter this morning, as mothers (and some fathers, too) rejoice that regular schedules have returned and for some the house is now empty for a few hours. Soon enough, those schedules may become oppressive and life will be too hectic and demanding, but on that first day, everything looks fresh and new and all -parents, teachers and kids - have a sense of anticipation. What will this year be like? Will there be new friends, how will the new teachers/students be, shall I take up a new activity? Old friends will be rediscovered; growth and maturity and new hairstyles will be noticed. Notebooks are not yet torn nor pages lost, backpacks do not yet hold stinky uneaten lunch leavings from three weeks ago. Someone will get a much needed clean slate/new start, thanks be to God.

When I was young, school didn't start this early, even in the South, and we attended only half-days for some weeks in order to accommodate the families who needed their children to help bring in the tobacco crop, which was the mainstay of our local economy. Those children might otherwise not show up until some weeks into the school year and some might never catch up, and so a compromise was in order. Our county was one of the biggest producers of brightleaf (cigarette) tobacco in the country; the local tobacco market where farmers brought their barn-cured bundles of golden, fragrant tobacco leaves brought money - in some cases the whole yearly income - and jobs to many: the auctioneers, the tobacco company representatives, and a host of others. The money was spent at the grocery store and the drug store and the department store and the movie theater and the hardware store and the feed and seed. And there were many banks in our town, where the money was deposited, from where money was loaned and expected to be paid back, all of it tied to those fragrant golden leaves.

During the summer the work had been to pick the suckers (the beginnings of flowers) off the plants to make sure the energy stayed in the leaves and didn't go into the flowers; during the fall, the leaves were ready to be harvested. They were picked by anyone old enough to do the work, men, women and children, although someone was always in charge of cooking the big dinner (at noon) in the house and bringing water to the people in the fields or running messages back and forth. The pickers picked the leaves and threw them onto a sled that was hitched up to a mule (wheeled wagons got bogged down in the soft soil) as it slowly moved down between the rows. The leaves were then tied into bundles and hung upside down in the barns to cure. This was all done by hand when I was a school-aged child.

My family didn't raise tobacco, or if we had a field or two it was rented out to tenants. (I think we may have done that for a brief time.) I liked everything about starting a new school year. Although I enjoyed my summers, I was always ready to be back among the throng, ready for the new books to read and subjects to encounter and the after-school activities. I especially liked getting new clothes for the new school year. New, unscuffed, shoes and whatever was the style of schoolgirl clothing that year. For a couple of seasons it was Pappagallo shoes and Villager skirts and tops (with the ladybug stick pin). Then miniskirts and fringe jackets, followed by tie-dye t-shirts and bell bottoms. Shoes ranged from saddle oxfords to Converse sneakers. It was a shock to me when I stopped growing so fast and could wear something for more than a year. Sometimes this was good, sometimes not; but I sure missed the major and annual back-to-school shopping spree.

The first day of school is to me, much more so than January 1st, the time for a new beginning - a rather glorious one, too.

It seems appropriate, then, to say that I too am beginning something new soon. Not only in my family life, with my mother relocating here in the next week or so, but in my life as a priest. After my month of vacation (August), I am beginning a new stint, filling in for the rector of a small parish about 30 miles away while he takes a three-month sabbatical. My work will be temporary and very part-time but I will be in the same place every week, unlike the last several months which found me in a different parish each Sunday. I will be able to do the pastoral work of a priest in a congregation as well as the sacramental work I have been doing but now within one community. I'll be doing Bible study and adult education and visiting and listening and singing and praying and just being with the same people, accompanying them on their journey for a short season.

I am excited about this new beginning and am looking forward to new relationships and new possibilities and new physical surroundings. Also, I probably should check my closet. I might need new shoes.

A Prayer for the First Day of School

Holy God, hear our prayers for all who teach and all who learn: give them all curiosity and patience, perseverance and open-mindedness, playfulness and purposefulness as they engage with one another in the pursuit of knowledge. Give to teachers gentle wisdom and to students discerning minds and to administrators clarity of purpose. Bless those who cook and clean and serve and drive and coach and answer phones in the pursuit of our children's education; bless parents who volunteer and help with homework and set boundaries and drive carpool and pay tuition. Give those children who do not have resources champions who will stand up for them. Help us all to remember that the education of our children enriches our whole community and makes the world a better place. We ask these things for the sake of your Son, our savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sleep, Interrupted

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been complaining about sleep issues for the last few months. This is probably boring to many of you, but I know that others are experiencing similar issues. There is something about middle age, about stress, about hormones, about irregular work schedules, about sunrise or noises in the night or too much caffeine or the placement of street lights in relation to bedroom windows that cause anything from mild irritation to major disruption in sleep patterns. Some of you know this first hand.

Regular readers also know that I have more than one of those factors going for me (and actually I have other factors in the picture as well) and so in some ways I am hardly surprised that I am having sleep issues. But I am deeply resentful, particularly while I am lying awake during the night. And I am particularly aware of the attendant/consequential issues as well. Morning sluggishness leads to extra caffeine consumption (that leads to sleeplessness later) and lowers the possibility that I will get exercise or accomplish much during the day. Catching up via nap, which I am trying to learn to do, is so far only successful in the early morning, meaning I miss the coolest time of day to be outdoors, getting in a walk or doing a little gardening. The repercussions of a bad night last all day, and a string of these nights/days brings on even more anxiety.

All the physical stuff aside, I think the worst thing about insomnia is that it leads to excessive negative thinking that is unhitched from reality (i.e, the light of day). It is just so easy to get all worked up, to go way too far in worrying or obsessing even about things that are not quite as monumental as they seem at 4 a.m. It is easy to imagine the worst about oneself, about the future, about the past while lying in the dark with no one to refute, redirect, reflect or generally process (or re-process) with you. No one to remind you that there are other things going on besides (or instead of) your own foibles and failings. No one to remind you of the bright side or to reassure you that all will be well and that you are loved and not a failure.

Some folks I know use insomnia for prayer time. I'm afraid my prayer tends to be, "God, put me to sleep, right now! I've got to get some sleep!" My contemplative friends suggest the rosary. Others suggest taking melatonin. I did get new curtains, but there are still two other windows that let in light across the room. I probably should redo those curtains, too.

I wish all my insomniac friends more sleep soon, as fall arrives and cooler nights come round again and the days get shorter and the nights get longer. Know that you are not alone.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Priest, Interrupted

I have just finished reading "Girl, Interrupted" by Susanna Kaysen. I never saw the film version (starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie), which came out six years after the book was published. The book was written twenty-five years after the events it depicts, the author's two-year stay at McLean Psychiatric Hospital outside Boston. She was eighteen at the time she voluntarily checked herself in after a visit with a psychiatrist in Cambridge.

In this small book, Kaysen writes almost lyrically about the parallel universes of normal and deviant, of sanity and mental illness. She wonders whether someone who questions the things in life others take for granted ought to be considered sane in an insane world or is someone who truly needs treatment. She doesn't press these ideas too far, though; she brings these considerations up and then leaves them for us all to ponder. Sometimes she questions whether she has bones in her hand. Other times she questions why no one thought it odd that the men at her job were all supervisors and could smoke while the women were all typists who were not allowed to smoke. In the end, as she had suggested in the beginning, it was a relief for her to go somewhere that was safe so she could rest and be protected from the world that was too much for her. She knew that the hospital was a sort of prison as well, but it did give her time.

The title of the book is taken from a painting by Vermeer called "Girl Interrupted at her Music." The first time she saw it (displayed at the Frick Museum in New York), before the hospital but when she was already getting out of control, she felt the girl was urgently sending her a message, which was "Don't!" The next time she saw it, many years afterward, the girl looked different to her. Kaysen felt that the girl looked sad that she was being interrupted from her music by her somewhat overbearing teacher.

I have had some interruptions myself, in different areas of my life. It's hard not to resent them, these interruptions, however they come about, and it's hard not to be sad about them, too, to have regrets. Sometimes deep regrets. Where did the time go? How much did I miss, one worries?

It can become something of an obsession, in fact. (Kaysen described the instance of having been under anesthesia to have an infected tooth removed and having been desperate to know just how much time had passed while she was unconscious - she was frantic to know: how much time had she lost?) Because of course one never gets it back, the time lost. The interruption destroys it.

And yet. It is almost never time lost. The time in the dentist's chair was spent helping her get better. The time in the hospital was spent giving her respite. The interruptions are sometimes necessary and healing.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Transfiguration/Transformation

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. The time when Jesus went up the mountain and was transfigured so that his garments became impossibly white and bright and he himself shone or his face changed somehow. His glory was revealed, glory being depicted as light. Interpreters suggest that this might have been a post-resurrection account retrojected into the narrative of Jesus' ministry; early church fathers connected with the mystical vision aspect of the event. Whatever the meaning of its placement in Scripture, the Transfiguration shows us a glimpse of Jesus' divinity, which is usually veiled by his humanity.

Although not on this actual date, I was ordained to the priesthood on the occasion of this feast, so it's a special day to me. I have a lovely icon of the Transfiguration which I received as an ordination gift as well as a couple of other items that both depict/symbolize and commemorate the day.

Is transfiguration something that happens to anyone but Jesus Christ? Can it happen to anyone else? Or are we really talking about transformation as the event that happens (might happen) to us, at least in this life? We have some kind of experience or epiphany and we are different afterwards. Transformation happens over time and it can also happen rather suddenly. Think perhaps of the difference between the apostle Paul and James the brother of Jesus. If James had a (conversion) experience like Paul's, we don't know about it. Rather, it appears that he was in the company of Jesus for a long time before he became a leader of the church in Jerusalem; perhaps he had some kind of resurrection experience that suddenly changed him, but no one recorded it. When I was ordained, the Bishop preached about how I was changed in that experience, but also how it had come about over a long time. It may have been a form of transformation, my ordination, but it was not transfiguration.

In Harry Potter, transfiguration is turning one thing into another. A mouse into a teacup, a mean boy into a ferret, a rabbit into a top hat. It's not necessarily a good thing to be transfigured in the world of Harry Potter. But transfiguration in Harry Potter seems much more akin to Ovid's Metamorphoses - where people and gods turn into trees or animals, often in order to pursue or escape lovers - than the Biblical story of Jesus on the mountain.

Perhaps transfiguration is what happens to us at the resurrection. Perhaps, if Jesus became human so that we might become divine, as Athanasius wrote (this is theosis or divinization in Eastern/Orthodox thought), the message of the transfiguration is that just as the human veil was lifted to show the divine in Jesus, so when we are perfected at the last, we too shall finally become transfigured.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Personality

The IKEA catalog came today. I love looking at it (and many other catalogs as well) and imagining the furniture in my house (or, in most cases, in another house which I do not own but might like to in my mind). Similarly, I like looking at real estate ads and floor plans and imagining living in different spaces.

I am a Myers-Briggs ENFP, and one of the things we do is endlessly imagine possibilities. We see situations not only as they are and how they got to be the way they are but also how they might be. We like to play out scenarios and ideas and can get very enthusiastic about them, without anyone else having been part of the conversation or gotten much consideration. If you live with an ENFP you learn that this is just what we do and you don't have to gear up for every possibility along with us. But we get bored, we want some adventure, we like mixing things up and changing things up; sometimes imagining is all we get to do, given life's particular circumstances and if we're reasonably mature. Maybe we can rearrange the furniture or repaint a room in new colors - this is "safe adventure." (Unfortunately, the way our house is laid out, we really can't rearrange the furniture in most of the rooms. This is a problem for me.) If we are not mature, we go off half-cocked to get new experiences, to do new things, just to mix things up, and sometimes we find ourselves in places we didn't mean to be. Life doesn't always play out the way we imagined it....

I am finding life to be challenging now - all these family transitions we're having in the midst of underemployment and questions about health issues and all that. It's helpful for me to go back and remember how I deal with things, how I look at life, what aspects of my personality add to the difficulties of this time, what strengths I can draw upon, where the pitfalls may be.

If you know your Myers-Briggs type, I have found this site to have good and fairly detailed information about various aspects of personality. If you don't know your type, there are various "informal" personality tests available through Facebook applications or other online resources. These are not actual Myers-Briggs tests - one can only take those through official channels - but many come from the Keirsey Temperament Sorter materials, which are very similar and tend to use the same labels.

It is of course always helpful not only to understand our own personalities but also the personalities of those who live with us. Some personality types are more interested in learning about their loved ones' and friends' types. Some personality types tend to go into MEGO (my eyes glaze over) when forced to endure reading about someone other than themselves. (This is like Milo, the cat in the movie "The Adventures of Milo and Otis," who, upon meeting Otis the dog, remarked that Otis was a strange looking cat. Otis replied that he was not a cat but a dog. Milo thought for a second and then said, all right, a dog, I understand - but deep down inside we're all cats right?)

But give it a try.




A prayer for those who influence public opinion

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 827)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Oblivious

I love this picture. This guy is just sitting on the beach reading, and there's a boat that washed up on the shore behind him. One wants to say, "Hey mister, did you know there's a boat behind you?"

I'm sure he knew about the boat, actually. It had been there for several days before I took this shot, and he would have had to come from in front of the boat from his beach villa to set up here. Perhaps at one point in the day, he found it interesting to watch the boat for a while before turning in the other direction and taking up his book. I know I found it fascinating and stood at the boat for a long time myself.

I don't know the story of the boat. It was just there where I arrived at the beach, with some police tape flapping from one of the masts. I'm sure it was an interesting and probably very sad story. But without taking the story into consideration, it was striking and rather funny really to come upon a boat washed up amid the jellyfish, driftwood, coconuts and seashells that dot the beach. Oh, look, a boat.

So it's kind of funny.

And also, I think this photo is a fair representation of the way we live our lives sometimes. It's the beach equivalent of the pink elephant in the living room. We're absorbed in one thing while something else that's huge and rather unusual is sitting right behind us. And we're oblivious, or at least trying to be.

On the other hand, it's also a representation of how we need to live sometimes. Something large and unusual has happened, and yet we have to get on with our lives. And so we find a way to focus on what's at hand even as we know there's something looming, something that we can't do anything about.

I suppose one last way to interpret the picture might be to imagine the boat as God, having arrived in the guise of something else, something unusual, standing guard over the man while he goes about his day. God is not, of course, a washed-up boat, but God is certainly unpredictable and not tame.

At any rate, I like this photo for many reasons and was glad to have had the opportunity to be there in person and to have the photo for reflection purposes in perpetuity. Or until my computer crashes and I lose it.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Newly Planted or Lying Fallow?

I can't always tell the difference in the time when things are lying fallow and the time when new things have been planted but are as yet growing invisibly, under ground.

Remember that Frog and Toad story about planting seeds and how Frog (or was it Toad?) was impatient for the seeds to start growing - he played his violin for them, he talked to them, he shouted at them, and only when he fell asleep and awoke much later did he see the fruits of his planting activities.

There is, also, a very good reason to let things lie fallow for a while. It gives the soil a chance to rest and recover from being fruitful. And yet, this works great for certain crops but not others. In the American South, where cotton was grown season after season, letting fields lie fallow and/or rotating crops was necessary because the cotton leached all the nutrients out of the soil. But in China, where rice is grown, this is not the case.

When it comes to people, there's a similar issue. We need rest and rejuvenation. And yet we easily turn into couch potatoes. Sometimes we need to do more, not less, to keep mentally and physically in top form. Of course we all need breaks, but I think this may fall more appropriately into the crop rotation idea - I often need a change of scenery or something new to the routine or just a fun project rather than a lot of down time. But I end up taking a lot of down time because I feel tired. Which I think probably comes from not doing enough.

And like Frog (or was it Toad?) learned, stuff is always going on, even if you can't see it.

More food for thought, for me.

Morning Prayer

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who constantly receive good things from your hand,may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 207)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Armchair Tourist

I just finished a fantastic read - Tom Coyne's "A Course Called Ireland," which is an account of Mr Coyne's adventure of walking around the entire coast of Ireland playing all the links golf courses that dot that coast. He not only walked the golf courses but all the land in between as well, sometimes for two or three days between courses! He walked 1000 miles in four months and played 54 courses - nine hundred and some holes. The book is not exactly "about golf," nor is it a travelogue, or a memoir. It is a very personal account of someone who wanted to have a great adventure, who lived to tell the tale, and wrote some things about it.

Someone who reviewed the book on Amazon suggested that this book belongs in the category of "vicarious literature." That is, books that let us experience something of the experience of the writer that has further been sweetened with his subsequent reflections about it.

In a way, this is a form of the modern day hero story. We need people to admire - people to look up to, people who have the guts to drop out of the everyday world and do something really special. Our modern day heroes are nothing like the ones from the olden days. But they are still heroes - they still have attempted and often prevailed in courses most of us would not believe we could do.

Tom Coyne dropped out of his "regular life" for four months to live in something of an alternative universe... yes, he was in Ireland playing golf, which many Americans do, but he was doing more than playing golf (and drinking beer). He was purposefully opting out of the prevailing culture (one particularly built around the automobile), to focus on something else, something primal - walking the earth. And for another, he was trying to connect the dots between the wisps of information he had about his distant Irish ancestors, Ireland itself, his personal history of golf (with his father and his own pursuits) and his life. It's a fascinating study and a fun read.

That reviewer was on to something about "vicarious literature." Through all kinds of books and National Geographic and TV specials and DVDs like Planet Earth, we can sit in our living rooms and marvel at the world. We can book tours into many parts of the planet formerly inaccessible to all but the most intrepid of explorers. We can have something like an experience without having exactly the experience. We can experience someone else experiencing a place, a life.

This is what TV, books, and movies give us anyway. How many people read The Perfect Storm, watched the Pride and Prejudice miniseries, read Moby Dick in order to go and live somewhere else for awhile, to become liberated from the constraints of every day life? This is one of the great American pastimes, the mainstay and fodder of book clubs and movie nights all over the country.

I often wonder, though, if we could disconnect from the prevailing culture more easily than we think. In truth, the Christian life is supposed to be countercultural, but we have trouble connecting the everyday culture with our faith life, believing them to be separated and put into boxes that don't touch. We don't necessarily connect liberating ourselves from our cars, or fast food or the huge grocery chain, or the soccer league, or whatever our daily grind may be with living a life of faith.

But so many of us read these books and watch these shows with a real hunger to do something special, to do something that isn't just going with the flow. Tom Coyne marvels that after he has walked hundreds of miles around the coast of Ireland, someone still would tell him that ought to call a cab because he couldn't possibly walk twenty minutes to get to the movie theater. The tone of the paragraph he wrote about that was palpable. That someone simply didn't have a clue about what was real in life.

That's what so many of us are looking for, something real. Something that doesn't get covered up by the daily grind, the expectations and shoulds and musts and the way everybody does things, whether or not they even want to.

I don't think one has to walk across Ireland to get to that realness, but I understand it's easier in a way to do the grand adventure than it is to live life differently every day at home in our own communities.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Reading Fun

Anne Rice's announcement (which she posted on Facebook) that she is breaking up with the Church has been all over the news lately.

Some of the folks from The Episcopal Cafe created a new Facebook page called: The Episcopal Church Welcome Anne Rice. Quite a few posts have already showed up on the wall. You will note that the page lists its own fan page selection of favorites: Anne Rice, The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Cafe.

See it here.

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