Saturday, 15 September 2007

The chimney sweep and the green grocer

Bert Lucas was the chimney sweep. He lived on the other side of the railway bridge from our home. That meant he lived on the wrong side of the bridge - for he lived in Easton and we in Whitehall.

He was a little, wiry man who plied his trade on a bicycle. Chimney sweeps in England did not wear top hats, and they swept the chimneys from the bottom up.

“Go tell Bert Lucas we need our chimney swept” my mother would say. “He’s the best”.

Of course he was “the best” - every trader my Mum patronized was the best in his class. No matter that Bert Lucas was the only chimney sweep in our area - he was still the best.

Mr. Haskins was the greengrocer. His was a gloomy little shop. In winter he would purvey a dismal range of root vegetables, cabbage and shriveled up apples.

We believed that no-one ever shopped there, but somehow he stayed in business.

Every once in a while I’d be sent to Mr. Haskins’ shop to get spuds or parsnips. He would shuffle out from some nether region of the shop, always with a three day old 7 o/clock shadow, and always with snot dribbling down his upper lip.

Mr. Haskins was an occasional member of the Plymouth Brethren “Assembly” to which my family adhered. He’d shuffle in, and shuffle out.

He smoked a pipe, de rigueur amongst the Brethren.

The story went that on one Sunday he’d shoved his pipe into his overcoat pocket as he entered our meeting room. His identity as the secret smoker was soon revealed when billows of smoke arose from the coat rack.

It was also told that he’d been spotted on hands and knees, crawling out of the meeting room at the sound of an air raid siren.

But those were just stories.

In truth I was scared of the chimney sweep and the green grocer.
For Bert Lucas had a huge red facial birthmark, scarcely masked by the soot of his trade. And Mr. Haskins? I thought that he looked like the devil - sans horns and tail.

Parsnips anyone?

Friday, 14 September 2007

Carry your own plastic bags Bishops.

He’s there most mornings. A man in his late sixties, and his dog. I see them as I take my 6:00 a.m. walk.

The man smokes. I suspect that he’s forbidden to do so in his home. He waits there, ambling for a few yards every now and then.

He also waits. I commented on this to him yesterday “Life’s odd isn’t it?” I said, “just hanging around waiting for your dog to poop”. He laughed a good laugh and agreed.

And he cleans up the poop before he leaves the lakeside.

Some folks think that we are in an unique mess in the Episcopal Church.

I think “it has ever been thus”.

But we are in a crappy time, when we seem to be hanging around waiting for sundry Bishops in Texas, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin to poop. Poop they do, and then expect our Primate or the Archbishop of Canterbury to clean up the mess. “Carry your own plastic bags Bishops!”

I have a friend, a wise and now retired Episcopal Priest, who lives in Maine. Years ago we were at a dreary “Clergy Day” in Western Massachusetts.

We, the Clerics, were divided into small groups and sent off to the Cathedral Sunday School rooms to discuss “our philosophy of ministry”.

We were sullen We grunted at each other. Then my friend broke the gloomy spell. “Philosophy of ministry?” said he. “I think that I am just farting around hopefully”.

Of the mess in the Episcopal Church I think “it has been ever thus”. And despite my sinful desire to add to the mess, I am trying to live into my friend’s wisdom.

Life is sweet. God is good. As for the lovely Episcopal Church. My part will be to fart around hopefully.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Apples dipped in Honey

Happy New Year. Today is Rosh Hashanah , the Jewish New Year, and a celebration of the beginning of Creation.

Apples dipped in honey is a traditional food for Rosh Hashanah. Sounds good to me!

By the way, it's also year 2000 in the Julian Calendar. This is the calendar used in Ethiopia, and particularly in the Coptic Church there.

An Ethiopian was talking on NPR yesterday. He related that his people are most adept at using both the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Without having to think about it they will use the Julian calendar if writing a cheque in Amharic, and the Gregorian if they are doing the same thing in English.

Cool! And Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

You can't do that here

You can't do that here - more's the pity.

"Here" is the Glen Oaks Ridge Condominium Community where I live.

"What we can't do" is hang out the laundry.

It's against the rules. God forbid that our neighbours should see our knickers!

And "more's the pity" is the truth. There is something beautiful to be seen in a line full of laundry.

In Italy they hang their laundry on their balcony rails. I swoon whenever I see it. But a trip to Italy is not on my horizon, so I content myself by looking at an 18" x 14" framed photo' which hangs on my dining room wall.

I bought it at an art show in St. Armand's Circle, Sarasota. It shows some lovely tenement buildings in one of the Cinque Terre. There it is - lovely laundry against fading and peeling stucco.

Lest you should think that my love of drying laundry is an odd thing - well the poet Richard Wilbur loves it too, and sees laundry and more than laundry.

Here is his "Love calls us to the things of the World" , which I use with his permission.

Love Calls Us to the Things of the World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.

Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
And cries,

“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven."

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

"Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.’

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur is a Pulitzer prize winning poet, a great translator of French playwrights (especially Moliere), and the librettist for "Candide".

He is also a friend of mine!

Here is one of my favourites. (Check the biblical reference). It is used with Mr. Wilbur's permission.

Matthew VIII,28 ff.

Rabbi, we Gadarenes
Are not ascetics; we are fond of wealth and possessions.
Love, as You call it, we obviate by means
Of the planned release of aggressions.

We have deep faith in prosperity.
Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential.
In the light of our gross product, the practice of charity
Is palpably non-essential.

It is true that we go insane;
That for no good reason we are possessed by devils;
That we suffer, despite the amenities which obtain
At all but the lowest levels.

We shall not, however, resign
Our trust in the high-heaped table and the full trough.
If You cannot cure us without destroying our swine,
We had rather You shoved off.

Richard Wilbur

Monday, 10 September 2007

If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. (Psalm 139:8)

All last week (Sept 2nd -8th ‘07) I was thinking about Psalm 139. Part of it was the liturgical reading last Sunday (Sept 9th ‘07).

On Tuesday I was at Resurrection House in Sarasota, the day shelter for homeless people where I volunteer. I was listening to M as he told me the trials and woes of his life. I asked of he’d like to come to the Chapel to pray. That’s what he wanted to do.

I asked “are you Jewish or Christian”. (I had guessed that he is Jewish). “I am Jewish” he said, “does that make a difference?”

I reminded M that Jesus was a Jew and that Jesus had never been a Christian, and then I began to read from Psalm 139.

I had often wondered what the second part of verse 8 meant.

Then it hit me

If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there

My homeless brothers and sisters make their beds in hell every night.

M and I prayed to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Holy One who makes a bed with homeless people in the streets.

M and I hugged, got teary eyed, and then he went back out to make his bed in hell.