30 August 2006

Gee, You Shouldn't Have

If you ever meet the pope in person you are supposed to bring him a gift. The customary gift, I am told (never having met a pope directly, but knowing some who have) is a white zucchetto, the skull cap.

Why tell you this? At the risk of sounding pontifical, people do give me things from time to time. And I do wear a skull cap now and then, but as a worshipper in a synagogue not as minister of a church. So that precedent is not relevant. B
ut neither do I need the assortment of well meaning things that have come and gone over the years. So if you feel a need to bring a gift, bring reading glasses.

I lose them constantly. My first pair, prescription types that cost me upwards of $50, lasted maybe six months. I put them down somewhere and forgot where. Since then I have bought dimestore readers, ranging from $10 to $20. None have lasted more than 3 months. But my absolute personal best for forgetfulness record has been this summer, losing 3 pair in less than two months.

How does this happen? Well, I only need them when I read or do close work. Rarely does that last more than a half hour before I have to refocus at a distance. So I take them off. If I am wearing a jacket I often slip them into the outer breast pocket, but if not they generally get set down somewhere. And then it is only a matter of time before some task or distraction takes me away and I forget where the glasses are.

Get one of those cords, you say. I should. There is no good reason except pure vanity. I see that string and think of my former high school principal, Gladys Mitchell, who always had her glasses stored that way although her mountainous matronly bosom carried them almost perfectly parallel to the floor. Those strings are the hash marks of age, the proof that one is in training for dotage and decay.

I have thought seriously of pince-nez glasses, the sort TR and Woodrow Wilson wore. Somehow the cord that hooked through the lapel hole does not proclaim geezerness so loudly. And hey, Woody and I are fellow WWs (initials, his and mine). But they cost about $90 and I am not prepared to take that risk quite yet. Monocles are another choice, but unless one is a Prussian general and has a dueling scar from Heidelberg it really is silly.

No, I must either start wearing the cord or accept that I will never keep glasses for very long. And for now, the latter is more likely. As frustrating as it is, it still amounts to less than $200 a year. I spend more on lots of other things without self-recrimination. It is my karma I think. And it may also be a sort of blessing.

Let’s go back to the beginning, and the tendency of people to give gifts to pastors. It occurs to me that my losing glasses is the perfect flaw. Not only does it give everyone something they can laugh and tease me about, but it provides for the perfect thing to give, when the occasion demands. Not only is it welcome, you can sure it will get used. At least for a time. The gift for the pastor who has everything, my zucchetto.

Only make sure it is 1.50 magnification, rectangular lenses (preferably rimless) with metal frame. Or a pair of rectangular lens horn rims. They sell for $18 at Rite Aid and other fine drug stores near you.

25 August 2006

Extra extra! Read All About It!

For those who like long, complex, and arcane writing – which you do or you would not be here – check out an article I just got published in the September edition of UU World Magazine.  They asked me to do a cover story on the meaning of 9/11 five years later, especially as it affects liberal religion.  Check it out!

I would love to hear what you think.  Post a comment on “Ranting Rev” about the article or the subject at large.  If you have something longer than a comment, send me email with your stuff.  I reserve only two rights – to say no to ad hominem stuff and to respond myself.  

For another take on the future of liberal religion, you can see what my seminary Meadville Lombard in Chicago, is doing.  Go here.  This is a pdf file so you need Adobe Acrobat reader.

24 August 2006

A Time to Pray - Or Not

“How was your vacation?” people ask. They mean the vacating part, the going away to see (insert beach, lake, mountains, or in our case family and friends). The NYTimes, my source of choice, published a long article on the vanishing vacation recently. No question that vacations are harder to get and harder to take. The planning alone is work. And the cost? Well, you have to work overtime to pay for it, so why bother at all, right?

But there are other vacations I have discovered, taken a few this summer - some as little as a day, some as long as three months.

A day vacation is blowing off responsibility that does not harm others. I have a ton of work to do around the house. Always will, so last week I tossed that and took my younger son down to see the Air Zoo, a museum of aviation in Kalamazoo. It was “way fun,” but a bit overpriced for all that. Just the thing, though, a dad and fifteen year old boy can do because it has just the right amount of gee whiz goofiness. I had a blast being tossed around a jet trainer piloted by my son and shooting 1980s era video tanks on the ground. The 3D bombing run over 1944 Germany was quite good, and all the planes and stuff were also fine.

The three month vacation is that I have not been to synagogue all summer. For those who don’t know, my personal spiritual life seems best nourished through Judaism. The reasons are complicated and personal, but when people ask my short answer, a la David Letterman, is

3. Jesus never went to church
2. I am just another person there
1. It happens on Saturday.
Non Jews going to synagogue are rare, but actually quite ancient. In the first century CE many early Christians were God-fearers first, Greeks and Romans who found the ethics and theology of Judaism more respectable and compelling than their native pagan ways. But because conversion all but impossible, to say nothing of often painful, they were content to be limited to attending prayer and study and observing the Noahite covenant that the Torah says is incumbent on all people.

Anyway, most Shabbot (plural of Shabbat I believe) I am in services. In July I was not, being on the road, but I thought it would only be while. However, once back I found reasons not to go. The house, the kids, the wife, the heat. Gradually it dawned on me that I needed a vacation from spiritual practice.

Now doesn’t that sound weird? But why? The ancient reason, that we need to propitiate the gods, is certainly not true in my case. The more durable one, that the Bible says so or God will be ticked off, depends on accepting the authority of the Bible or other authority. Today we also have the AA rationale - that we need to maintain the discipline or will go soft and stray - which presumes human beings are bad or at least should not be left out of sight for too long.

Day and night alternate. The earth has seasons. Each lifetime has its chapters. Why should we not consider that spiritual life can wax and wane as well? Maybe a vacation from God is part of what we need. Did not the prodigal son only discover himself after going away?

John MacMurray, a Scottish thinker of the mid 20th century, in considering how we become individual persons with self awareness, posited that it was the rhythm of approach and withdrawal in infancy that is the beginning of personhood. As a child gradually learns that it and the mother are not one creature, because the mother is not always there as they were one in the womb, that we being to differentiate self from other.

Presence and absence desire and disdain, day and night, life and death. Taoism would call them opposites like Yin and Yang, but to me they are necessary to each other. One cannot exist without the other. So the spiritual life, to be complete must have its absence, its disdain, its night and its death, for all the other elements to be real.

So I took a vacation from worship this summer and will again next summer, unless the spirit bids me withdraw at some other time. But I will not consider this sin or flaw or apostasy. It is just the tide of the spirit, with its own lesson to teach in this all too brief voyage we are granted.

19 August 2006

I'm Drowning Here

Laid in bed to all of 6 a.m.  Early am is the slowest time in the day, and it is slowest of all on Saturday.  This morning I spent it roaming the fabled blogosphere.  By the end, I was almost shivering with an ancient fear.

Man is it noisy out there.  In an hour I had chased links and posts all over the place.  And as I did I felt a rising anxiety, the same discomfort I feel in large groups of people milling about at conventions.  People are talking a lot, they seem to be moving someplace but I cannot quite get what they are saying and where they are going.  Everything I hear feels like eavesdropping on a conversation in progress.  And when I do get the drift of their ideas I often find this is a conversation I have little stake in following or joining.  As so often happens in my demented brain, I yearn to be in the mix and yet fear drowning in it.  Here is where the fear begins.

I feel seven years old, on that summer day by the Severn River in Maryland.  The family is visiting friends in a development called “Sherwood Forest” with a dock and swimming area that is a roped off section of river near the shore.  We are all swimming and playing and having a great time with piles of other kids.  I jump off the dock a little further down than before.  But instead of hitting bottom quickly to shoot up, the river bed has dropped away here.  I plunge very deep.  

Surprised, I am now uncertain where I am.  I open my eyes and see legs above me, far above it seems.  The water is cloudy and unknown.  I can swim, but not all that well.  And my lungs are not that full to begin with.  Panic sets in fast.

I claw at the water, climbing toward the surface which seems far far away.  I can see the kids above, hear their shouting and splashing.  If only I can reach someone’s legs.  My arm reaches out and glances one.  The kid reaches down to brush me away.  Laughing continues.  They do not know I am there at all.  I reach again and fail again.  O that I could get a foot on the bottom and push back to the surface.  Pulling the water behind me like moving through tall grass, I make it to the sandy bottom and jump into the air colliding with some boy as I burst for air.

Why am I in this river – the blogosphere?  Hard to say.  I started because someone suggested it, and I do enjoy writing.  But when I think about all the other writers out there, realize how crowded the place is, I get this odd clenching in my chest.  Traveling over various blog sites I felt unpleasantly envious as I saw how various comrades in the cloth were well broadcast and highly cited and widely read but I was not.  The churlish part of me got all snarky and said “I wish I had all that time to read and comment and otherwise ‘network’ so I could get in on the action.”  But that’s cover for the childish resentment that lurks in the corner, pouting about feeling left out.

Long post.  I am not good at the brevity thing.  But at the risk of revealing more than I should, let me say that I am really struggling with my hunger for attention and approval.  It is so manifestly infantile.  But putting it out there is healthy.  As the AA folks know, telling people your struggle is part of owning it for yourself.  

I want to be noticed and quoted and listed on various blogger recommended sites, and all that stuff.  But if I try to join the movement completely, reading and commenting and posting all the time, I may find lout that in the end my triviality is not that I am not part of the network but that I have nothing anyone wants to hear.  And that fact would be a whole lot harder to accept.  Damn.

15 August 2006

Well Hush My Mouth

This is tough.  This post in particular, but also this whole thing.

I wanted this blog to be funny and cunning and full of the Gen XYZ irony that jaded and faded youth love.  Religion is so self-absorbed – wheeling from sanctimony to saccharinity – that I wanted to show it did not have to be that way.  You do not have to be sophomoric or soporific to be a person of faith.  

Well. I am either denying my true atheism or blind to my credulity because as hard as I try I can’t get away from preaching, even in this place.  

Until today.  For a moment I was speechless.  Literally could not find words for something I wanted to say.  

That makes some people laugh.  I may be at a loss for many things, but never at a loss for words.  Not today.  And it was scary.  Not because I did not know what to say, but because I could not find words adequate for what was on my mind.

I was in a meeting and sharing my thoughts about the future of Liberal Religion and my church as an outpost of that spirit.  My thoughts were written down so they were reading; thoughts that sounded pretty clear when I wrote them.  But now, as I read them again I was not so sure.  Not that they were wrong but they were not exactly right.  They were almost, not quite.  

You need to know that this idea I have has been forming for a long time.  I had a piece of it about four years ago.  Another piece came along a year or so later.  It is clear and sure and utterly compelling in my head.  But for some reason when I try to share it I cannot get the idea out in away that really represents its power.  

I really believe, perhaps need to believe, that what liberal religion has to say must verge on self-evident.  When you hear it, everything falls into place.  I have had the experience inwardly, but have not yet found the way to give it to others.  I want them, you maybe, to have this moment of clarity that briefly illuminates the whole world.  In the meeting I said it was like writing a song.  The words and the notes have to belong to each other so that no other word or note makes sense.  

I trained as a composer, discovering that the muse was a very faint and fickle thing.  I learned a lot about music as a technique, but I did not have the inner ear for music.  So I left the business to those who could do it better.  But the composer’s demon, to hear the notes, has never left.  Every sermon, every sentence in every sermon, wants to sing that song I can hear inside.  Only this is a song of ideas not of sounds.

Today, it felt closer than ever.  And I was speechless.  “Lord, open thou our lips,” says the psalmist in me.  “Be still and know that I am God,” says the prophet.  

12 August 2006

For Want of a Nail

The good news is that I got a good night’s sleep. Woke up at 330 but fell back asleep until 530. Total? 7 hours. First time in a week. But, as is so true in the sermon business as well, you’re always thinking of the next. See how nefarious the human mind is. Was it Lincoln who said of a general that he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory? Some of us have that gift in our daily livers. Show us the silver and we’ll find a cloud to go with it.

Speaking of which, one of my favorite jokes has the two Vermont farmers meeting over the back fence. It is a day like today, perfectly blue and warm but also clear and sharp. Cows stood amiably in each meadow while not far off the corn grew easily as high as the elephant’s eye. One farmer looks at the other and says, in that New England laconic style,

“Beautiful Day, ain’t it?”

“Yep,” says the other, chewing for a moment. “We’ll pay for this.”

It is a beautiful day, making the burial I did this morning all the better. Planting the ashes of a 96 year old man has the best sort of sorrow in it. No lament for life wasted here, only the sadness of saying goodbye. Clear and solid like the day itself.

Went out to repair my shoes. I walk a lot compared to most people, and in actual shoes. So my Florsheims get worn. Had them soled and heeled about six months ago and this morning when I checked the bottom one had worn through. So the wife and I went up to our local super duper market, our Wal-mart alternative, which has a shoe repair kiosk in some stores.

It was gone. Turns out there is not enough business. People don’t wear actual shoes enough to make it a paying concern. And not just that store. All of them are closed.

Think about that. Are shoe repairs going the way of farriers, horologists, wheelwrights, haberdashers and corsetieres? Is this bad?

My elder son is thinking about this in how own way. He will apply to graduate school in something intellectual sometime, but he longs to have a physical trade or skill that can sustain him as well. He may have a point. There may be something vital lost when we can no longer shoe a horse or drive a phaeton or sole a shoe. We are so eager not to lose species, but what about knowledge? When the power really does fail who will provide the typewriter ribbons or hitch the team or repair the pump or know what a hobnail is to nail a leather patch on a shoe.

God knows that when gas reaches $10 a gallon, lots of people will find walking their only real choice.

(Aside: when I spell checked this, the program did not recognize “farrier.”)

11 August 2006

Counting Curses Instead of Sheep

Well, I got my wish mostly. Returned from four quick days to retrieve the worldly goods of my college completed son. I left with a fresh case of poison ivy being treated with prednisone that propelled me into a renewed bit of insomnia. I had that one lousy night, and then from Monday through Thursday I did better. Not great, travel always makes me a little edgy and there are those steroids after all, but I got between five and six hours at night. Most important, I did not lie awake for hours, but fell asleep rather readily (rather is a relative but accurate term) and woke up early.

Then I got whacked by the old meany last night. As has happened in the past, if I am roused soon after falling asleep the first time I find it very hard to go back to sleep. My son was out with a friend and came in about a half hour after I drifted off thanks to a little melatonin and single malt. (Very little of both for those who are worried). I woke up when he came and stayed that way until 345 this morning.

What made it hard was that I could do nothing but lie there, as he went to bed and did fall asleep. We share the tendency to insomnia, and the only thing worse than having it is giving it to someone else. So I lay there a very long time, very annoyed and very frustrated with my fundamental inability to go to sleep. I recited poetry in my head, rehearsed old car trips, said Hindu prayers, surrendered to Jesus and Allah, adjusted the AC, turned it off, scratched every little piece of my aging skin, tugged at my bunching drawers, and railed at my simple human incompetence.

Why tell you all this? For one thing it is on my mind. Second, and more important, I have been mortally ashamed of this for thirty five years and decided that this, the blog that is, is a great way to face the shame by sharing it

For me, insomnia is very like all those plumbing people on that commercial and bladder incontinence. The creatures are limited by not knowing when they might have to go. They structure their lives around their problem. Which is what I have done with insomnia.

One of the reasons I left music (the larger and more important one being mediocre amounts of talent) was that it is night-time profession. Staying up late is anathema to the insomniphobic. Note I did not say insomniac. I actually get it rarely, but I am always afraid of it and so go to great lengths to avoid tempting fate. Rarely do I stay up past ten or eleven p.m. Rarely do I make outside appointments before ten a.m. I have a job that gives me schedule flexibility in case I have a back night or two.

OK, this could be called shrewd and wise, but in my mind it is craven and cowardly. I wish I could stay up late when something fun was happening and never worry about whether I would fall asleep later. I really wish I could simply fall asleep when I want, the way I can eat when I want or in the parlance of the commercial, eliminate when I want. A piece if my life exerts way greater control over the whole than it should.

Maybe I am telling you all this so you I can get out from the excuse of shame and embarrassment and finally do something about it. I am not sure what. Maybe I am not supposed to get lots of sleep? Maybe what it needed of me is to give up this comfort so I can do other things I am supposed to do but have avoided because I was afraid of losing sleep.

Please note, that the worst part is the enervated and depressed feelings. If I could get rid of those, and the foggy headedness of feeling sleep deprived, I could get lots more reading done and other stuff. But for years I have told myself I have a choice between happiness of mood or reaching my potential. Real leaders/artists/saints put their own well being aside for their followers/art/faith and die an early heroic death immolated by burning it at both ends long. “But O my friends and O my soul, it throws a lovely light,” says the poet. I have always been afraid of that very real possibility. I am a tortoise not a hare.

I am rambling; something else I dislike about inadequate sleep. All I wanted to say was that this pastor business is about “living out loud,” being alive

in front of God and everybody letting the not packaging just the finer parts for public consumption. If we are worthy to of life, we are worthy with all the parts of our lives, including warts and scars and naughty bits. I can say it our loud all I want, but living it out loud is what puts the cash on the barrel head. That means this insomnia obsession, and the rest of my unlovable self, needs to have its place in the spotlight alongside all the nicer parts.

Fankly though, I did not bank on how much real spiritual leadership would end up being more sideshow (Step right up and see the bearded lady and the headless man!) than Shakespeare.

07 August 2006

Sleepless in Sarnia

So I am away for a few more days – collecting the worldly goods of my elder son. The prednisone had an unhappy side effect by renewing my insomnia last night. Actually, I cannot say that was true absolutely. Knowing it could be true, and that I am prone to sleeplessness when anxious, and having to drive a long distance soon (notorious for their somnolence) with no one to share the driving, I may well have brought it on myself.

I firmly believe that each of us has a physiological soft spot, a system that is the first to react to stress or anxiety. Several women I know feel it in the digestive tract. Others get headaches. I am not speaking of ‘psychological’ symptoms but actual physical reactions. In my case, like lots of others, sleep is affected. I wrote about this some time ago. And no matter how much I think, analyze, ponder and therapute, this is where I work out my anxiety. I just hope I sleep a little better tonight than last night. Really would hate to screw up a trip by falling asleep at the wheel.

On the good side, the steroids have begun to unravel my skin outbreak. It really was, and still is, quite hideous. Great red gashes and splotches that would make me a great horror movie extra. They are fading now, thankfully, but not fast. My wife wryly observed that if I had been a very good Buddhist on Friday they might have cleared up instantly.

Not much to add right now. Feeling a little groggy but oddly alert as well. I shall be better once on the way. Better yet when done. Once home I can renew my passport, which I used overseas for five years and then not at all. Definitely time to go back abroad.

I would love to lead a group to Rome and Ravenna, the places that inspired our neo-romanesque building here. Every day I think of Santa Maria in Cosmedin as I enter through our portico. And I long to see the mosaics at San Prassede and San Clemente again. You can have the baroque. The Romanesque is where the real action is.

And then there’s Andalusia – Moorish Spain. That would be great. Never been there but would dearly love to see Grenada and the Alhambra. And being so close to Africa, why not Tangier and Morocco. And what about ancient Illyricum – modern Slovenia? And Greece? And Turkey? To see Ephesus and Istanbul! I hope my stars allow me to see Israel and Jordan and Egypt.

I should not have begun this because where would I stop? And I will not be happy with a weekend at the Kremlin or a stop by at the Taj Mahal. I need to see Petra and Saqqara and Great Zimbabwe and Macchu Picchu…

For the moment, Ottawa will have to do.

05 August 2006

'Roids without Rage

Well, I got my wish. Started Prednisone yesterday as my poison ivy (or some other plant for all I know) was getting out of hand. I knew it was a problem when I found myself waking up at night because the nasty bits on my legs were sticking to each other. You did not want to know that, I’ll bet.

Anyway, I took my first dose yesterday and my second this morning. The course lasts a long time as steroids have to be tapered off, so I’ll be taking pills for 16 days even though the outbreak should be gone within four or five.

Speaking of decrepitude, I was sitting at my new desk at home (new not in fact but new to me as I have moved from a bedroom to the parlor. That was necessary because my college age son has finished college, and, lacking a job offer from Goldman Sachs, had no immediate plans. So he is now home and in that same bedroom. Hence my change of location) when my lovely wife of nearly thirty years (this October 13 but who’s counting) walked by and observed how gray I have gotten. She should know, having with a major head start but on her it looks good.

What should I expect at 53 and half, but it was also just recently that I had to admit that I can no longer do without reading glasses. Oh, I can read without them. It just hurts.

Now for those who do not know I am an absolute expert at losing glasses. I got my first pair four or five years ago – paid real money – and they lasted about five months. Then and there I realized this would be a problem. Yes, I could wear one of those cords like my wife does, but so did too many of my high school teachers and a formidably haughty principal. What little vanity I have can’t go there yet.

So what to do? First, buy lots of cheap glasses. At less than $20 a pop I can forgive myself if they last only two or three months. I have considered installing a set in each room I use, like a light switch or a fire extinguisher. What about a monocle? Too Prussian. How about pince-nez that could be pinned to my lapel? Shades of Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. A fellow could do a lot worse.

Changing gears now - For those in my neighborhood (Grand Rapids) consider dropping by my church today between 10-5 and tomorrow from 2-7. A tour of Buddhist
relics is visiting for the weekend. It consists of fragments of ancient Buddhist saints, very much like Christian relics only smaller, ensconced in tiny stupas (pagoda shaped holders). Our chapel is marvelously laid out with candles and bowls and silk cloths. There are pendants called Tonkas that depict various ancient sages and saints and deities. In the center is an image of Maitreya, the focus on the project. It is quite worth the visit.

Last night, when it began, I delivered some welcoming remarks with citations from some Buddhist scriptures in consulted. Since the visiting monk could not make it on time – travel problems – they also asked me to bestow blessings. I was quite willing but unsure what to do, but it turns out that this meant holding a stupa with the original Buddha’s relics and when someone came for a blessing to place it on their head. Being a man of the word, I also spoke a brief blessing as well.

Quite the experience, as my qualifications were nil in my eye. Was I showing the proper respect? But I gamely spoke and listened and tried to find a helpful word for the 100 or so who came for a blessing.

The display will be there on Sunday during the service, but the relics will not be on display until afterward.

Well, it is Sabbath. I have a memorial to prepare for tomorrow and a trip to Ottawa to reclaim Aaron’s stuff this week. Hope I can leave a few words before then.

Thanks for all those who have been writing comments, here and on the Ranting Rev side. Some very interesting conversations have been going on. I read somewhere that a young post-modern pastor spends 20% of his day updating and adding to his blog. I can see how that might happen. It is not just a pulpit for the preacher but for the reader as well; and a confessional not just for the reader but for the preacher. Writing has always had that power, but never before so instantly and so intimately. I am not saying this is a perfect thing; there are as many potential problems as benefits. But it is certainly a potent thing. And what is religion if not about seeking power in the best sense. Keep at it.

01 August 2006

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days

- Further proof that global warming is not a ‘bad’ thing. My yard has never been so alive. Milkweed grows an inch a day in this heat. The racket from all the bugs and birds is deafening. This is great weather for vegetables, something farmers know. Why else would they have come out into these broad lands with their sweltering days? What is hard for us humans is luxury for corn and tomatoes and lima beans. It is succotash heaven.

- I am startled by how much stuff I pull out of the ground in the way of weeds. There is a vast heap of greenery in my driveway, the miraculous outcome of photosynthesis. People talk about renewable energy, scientists all over trying to find ways to harvest sunlight efficiently, while I am digging up sunbeams and throwing them away.

- I have a case of poison ivy. I see it growing in the yard and try to avoid it. It may also be that I unusually sensitive to ivies in general, as I got a furious case some years back when hacking holly from my mother-in-law’s house. Right now it is not immense, but I am really susceptible to this stuff. My right arm has bumpy lesions and I am praying it does not get up a full head of steam like it back then and times before. It gets really nasty looking and slimy and the only surefire answer is prescription steroids.

On the plus side, a course of steroids can be kind of fun. They have a temporary mood lifting and energizing effect, and for a few days I can really do heavy lifting at the gym a little easier.

- The heat is on this week in the midwest. Makes me remember our stay in NYC when it also got well above 90 (35 celsius. We really should switch over. It is not that hard really, and wouldn’t we all prefer to be measured in cms of heights – 170! – or kgs – 86!) and the rice steamer effect such heat has on a big city. Heat comes at you from all angles as the streets and sidewalks and buildings retain it over night and so reflect it back as the days build it up.

What I remember most unhappily is the smell. NYC is a crowded place, and unlike Philly or Baltimore or Chicago and other cities like them, did not create back alleys for the storage and disposal of refuse. So garbage is put out on the street itself. And lots of it. There is a stomach turning sweetness in old garbage.

Again, though, it is perfume to the rest of nature. I read earlier this summer of a century plant, a huge flower that blossoms very rarely (hence the name) with a shape that makes you “look for pods” and the smell of rotting flesh. This apparently is irresistible to the insects it needs to pollinate. Sometimes I wonder if we humans are at some level chickens in some coop just being fattened up for dinner.

- There was a fire yesterday in a construction dumpster in the alley alongside out church parking lot. I was in a meeting, and my office is a room without windows so we could hear sirens but downtown that is not rare. My phone rang, but I never answer during a meeting. Then came a knock at the door and one of the staffers was there saying there was a fire across the street, and – here’s the fun part – my car was right next to it.

Funny how I reacted. I was calm. Looking across the street, I could see that my the situation was outside my ability to affect it. Did I care, yes, and certainly did not want to deal with a fried automobile. But just like when the tree slowly fell down and damaged my house, I knew there was nothing I could do about it.

The fire fighters asked to move the car themselves, which they did, and in the end I had a very dirty car with lots of water splattered ash that needs to be washed off. But that’s all. What strikes me is how very untroubled I was about it all. It makes me realize that what truly vexes me are those situations where I can make a difference but cannot see exactly what the best course is. Having responsibility for something but not knowing how to do the job, that is my nightmare.

And as I reflect on that, I realize this is profound, literally deep. The most terrible moments of dread I can recall are those of feeling inadequate. Truly, the child is father of the man.