25 July 2014

Six Months Doesn't Seem That Long Now

When I was very young I noticed that time went slower when I was bored and faster when I was engaged. This makes a dilemma, though.  Being aware of my mortality at a very early age I realized life would seem much shorter if I had a good time, but much harder if I did not.  Hell of a choice.

What I did not know then was that boredom was a luxury of youth.  Adulthood never lacks for things to do, that must be done, that are so numerous they cannot all be done.  The result is that time seems to move faster as one gets older (That and the ever smaller difference one day or month or year makes compared to the days and months and years already lived.) 

All of which is to say I was shocked when I saw how long ago my last posting was.  Six months!  My birthday was the last occasion and now half a year had gone by without even noticing.

Of course, now that Facebook and Twitter are so popular that not only occupies more of my time but channels some of the urge to communicate.  It seemed for a little while that blogs were passe as well.  

But it now seems evident that all three forms are forming a little menage a trois (gee two French terms in two sentences.  Ain't I literary!) where one blogs - then tweets about the blog, which then appears on your Facebook page.  Very entrepreneurial I have not doubt, and way too much for me to do.  

Aside from the shock of a half year passing, though, what prompted me today was an essay in ye New York Times Book Review of July 20, on poetry, in which David Lehman says,
What Twitter offers is ultimate immediacy expressed with ultimate concision. "Whatever else Twitter is, it is a literary form," the critic Kathryn Schulz has written.
Perhaps, 140 characters will become the new haiku.  That day is a long way off, as the art of the haiku is not creating seventeen syllables in three lives (5/7/5) but in using them to express what Matsuo Basho called sabi, shiori and hosomi.  

One power of the haiku (properly hokku) of 17th century Japan that is present in the modern tweet is immediacy.  It may turn out that Tweets will be the zen poetry of the coming age.  

02 February 2014

Bringing Out the Dead

Pete Seeger's passing recalls to me the one time I met him.  The occasion was a funeral.  I was officiating at a small private service for Norman Rosten, a well regarded Brooklyn poet, less than a year after arriving at the First Unitarian Church there.  Those outside the city may know Rosten because of his book on Marilyn Monroe whom he knew through Arthur Miller, later adapted into an opera performed in 1993. 

The service was held on the barge that held Bargemusic, right at the Fulton Ferry beside the Brooklyn Bridge.  I do not remember why but in New York City people have many overlapping connections that often are not evident.  Remind me to tell you about praying over George Plimpton sometime.  Anyway, after planning the service, I assumed the music would be of the sort you would get at Bargemusic.  Wrong.

Pete Seeger was the one and only musician.  I was not sure why at that moment.  Maybe there were 25 of us there, hardly a crowd.  Even for the barge which is scarcely larger than a garage.  I shook his hand and we compared notes about who does what first and second and so forth.  This being less than a year into my church, I was fairly star struck and humbled by the occasion. 

Then he sang "The Ballad of Norma Jean," a song he composed on the words of one of Norman's poems.  It was sung at, and recorded for, at Carnegie Hall in June of 1963.  There was the connection.

Whenever he sang or spoke the famous smile was there.  But after the service, during the reception, he was very quiet.  Not knowing him I was loathe to chat him up.  He did not linger long.  I was tempted to think him aloof, but realized it was just as likely, probably more so, that he was as shy in private as he was ebullient in public.  There was something tender in him, almost vulnerable. 

So I like to think, at least.  But I remember with clarity him standing there in barge, instrument over his shoulder, singing to this small band of mourners, for a man whom I had known but a little in my few months there.  But at the end of that day my thread had been added to the knot tied by Pete Seeger and Norman Rosten and Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe.  It was a strange and precious day.

01 January 2014

I Know Nothing...

On the First Day of the Year (as we record them) I encountered this column from the "Huffpost" by Ben Michaelis, Ph. D. author and clinical psychologist.  He is listing the "Nine Best Books for Meaningful Change." I haven't read a single one.  And do note, these are not the Nine Best Books of 2013," but the "Nine Best Books" period. 

Great way to start the year, feeling Nine kinds of ignorant. 

Yes, I knew about some of them, and sometimes I knew the author's names if not the title.  All of them are hypercompetent folk compared to me, as they have written books and gotten them published.  I, on the other hand, find it tough to get the weekly sermon thing done.  My tweets are less than one a day.  This blog has languished. 

Great way to start the year, feeling Nine kinds of incompetent. 

In fact it has been a pretty lame year when it comes to reading as well as writing.  Not many books digested overall. Maybe six in all of 2013.  My stack of unread NYTimes magazines and Journals of Religion and Smithsonians and National Geographics keeps growing.  Not that I am not reading, but serious stuff seems always to be what I start at 9 pm and then my eyelids droop. 

Great way to start the year, feeling Nine kinds of lazy.

Maybe being older is involved.   I am on the verge of 61.  Nothing on my mind has not been said already by people I have known or read before, and people way smarter and more eloquent than me. That's not ignorance, that's being sensible.

I see older friends writing books between sermons, but before wishing for their work ethic let me consider what I would have to give up in trade?  Perhaps I am not incompetent so much as wise.

And while I do think I spend too much time doing unproductive things, this past month reminded me that clergy cannot fill every hour because sometimes your people will need you right then and not when you can schedule them.  My Facebook friends know on December 21 I created one funeral, on December 22 preached at two Sunday services, on December 23 led another funeral, on December 24 was part of two Christmas Eve services, on December 27 led yet a third funeral, and on December 29 was leading worship again.  That's nobody's idea of lazy, even my own. 

So I am going to let myself off the hook for at least today - Watch the Rose Bow, "Go Green," do some ironing, and maybe finish last Sunday's New York Times. 

10 December 2013


Clergyfolk hate December.  I mean, of course, those clergy who are in the gravitational field created Christmas.  We hate it not in a theological sense but in a personal sense, because the pleasure the season brings are often denied us. 

Come to think, lots of people work extra hard at this season, and some of that effort goes to working at being merry.  We are told this is the season we should savor and appreciate things, but that itself takes effort and planning.  Frankly, I have already given up trying. 

Which may be the best path, actually.  "Trying" creates work.  My spiritual project this Yuletide is not to try and simply accept what comes my way and not resent what does not meet my expectations. 

This too is a sort of work, but instead of looking to Yuletide to meet my spiritual desires, I ponder my desires themselves. 

I want faith - some fragment of the childhood belief that the world was enchanted. Einstein supposedly said that either nothing is miraculous or everything is.  Faith is being open to the second possibility.

I want hope - some confidence that the life I have and that of others has some value that transcends this moment and even this life.  Hope is faith in tomorrow as well as today.

I want love - which is not the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie love.  It is some sense that our life is cherished by others.  Love is hope incarnate. 

I want joy - which like love is not a sensation so much as a pervasive gratitude that can be felt physically as well as known mentally.  Joy is love incarnate.

These can show up anywhere, not just in elves or trees or carols.  I think the purpose of Christmas is not to tell us how enchanted and hopeful and lovable and joyful Christmas is, but how enchanted, how hopeful, now lovable, how joyful, life itself is or can be.  If we notice. 

I'm getting all verklempt.  Discuss.

03 November 2013

So... how the heck are ya!

Another long lapse, friend.  Sorry about that.  Partly it was a pilgrim journey to Spain, yes to Santiago.  If you want, I will post photos and make insightful comments.  What I want to do this time, though, is tell you if I have not already that my twitter feed is now dedicated to nagging people about gun violence. 

Unless unable, as I often was overseas, I try to post a link to a gun death every day. This is as much for me as for you.  When I found out that the number of domestic gun deaths in America since RFK died exceeded all the war dead from all the wars it made me ask, "is this necessary?"  But rather than propose an answer, I took the advice of the gospel (the parable of the unjust judge comes to mind) and decided the way to get action was not to promote my answer but to demand that the question be heard.  Only by nagging, repeating constantly, refusing to shut up about it, will those who are supposed to have answers be motivated to find one.

Up until now the single-mindedness of the gun industry has been the only consistent and constant voice.  Perhaps there needs to be another voice that points at our level of gun violence (virtually unequalled in the 'developed world') and says, "We can do better!" 

Finding the answers is not our job as the public, but deciding which questions need to be answered is.  I invite you to follow me at @fred_woodenYou will get a sad reminder most every day.  Read it.  And if you also retweet it or repost it, who knows that eventually a few thousand nagging citizens might give some backbone to those who need it. 

No wisdom or insight, not even a comforting word.  Just a nagging knock on your moral door.  Step by step, drop by drop, knock by knock.