Friday, 15 July 2011

Ordained ministry. If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly.

A colleague of mine once told me of a conversation he’d had with a pastoral advisor who asked: “How does it feel when you are walking towards the altar for the beginning of the Liturgy”.

My friend related that as he walked down the aisle it “felt” as if his vestments were covered in velcro, on to which the congregants placed their hopes, dreams, fears, angers, frustrations, disappointments, unrealistic expectations etc. - so that by the 
time he reached the altar he was carrying a very heavy burden.  But he was not able to divest himself of the burden at the end of the Liturgy.

That conversation “came back to me” this morning as I remembered the dream I’d had last night.  

In that dream I was present in some big service or other, and the bishop asked for a bible.

I went to a table on which there were three beautifully bound but unused copies of the Scriptures.  I carried all three to the bishop, and he announced “I’ll take the Maynooth version”

(There is no “Maynooth” version of the bible, but the national seminary for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland is in a small town called Maynooth. It’s odd how things get a bit jumbled in dreams).

But then, in the dream, the bishop disappeared and I was left to carry three heavy bibles.

Not just bibles. Now I was also carrying all manner of church paraphernalia, on my shoulders, on my back, and on my head.  I kept calling out “please someone; take all this stuff away from me”. 

No-one did.

My friends who are ordained ministers will recognise and understand the dream.  (I suspect that parents will also “get it” as they consider their relationships with their children).

I retired early because I was carrying a ministerial burden which I never should have accepted, a burden which was making me angry and tired.

Now that in the absence of a rector in my local parish I am doing a bit more church stuff than usual, the dream was a warning. 

It runs as this:

“God help my soul if I willingly take up the burdens of unhealthy ministry, especially the burden of wanting to perform well”.

I must remind myself that “if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Prayer as subversion

“I can’t stand you.  I’ll say this every day. Asshole”

Those were the words with which my neighbour greeted me as I returned home this afternoon.  (We share a driveway, and our car-ports are “cheek by jowl” with no dividing wall.)

I said nothing.  This neighbour has orally harassed me on a frequent basis during the years since I have lived here.  She’s done the same to many other neighbours.

It’s not that I am perfect. But I am not an asshole.

I tried “killing her with kindness”, especially when her mother died.  But I suppose that she could not “hear” this kindness.

On one occasion I yelled at her (and called her a stupid woman) - it was when she alleged that my indoor cat had pooped on her driveway. I immediately wrote and mailed her a letter, in which I apologised for my intemperate words.

My best strategy has been to ignore her; and to refuse to rise to her baits.

So I ignored her this afternoon.

I began to think that her words: “I can’t stand you.  I’ll say this every day. Asshole” may have more to do with how she thinks about herself, than with how she estimates me.

Nonetheless her words “bothered me” - at the same low level of botheration as a mosquito bite.

As I thought about them I opted for some subversive action.  I will pray for her every day.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Back to Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland was twice elected President of the United States, in 1884 and again in1892.  Since his terms in office were not consecutive he is counted as the 22nd and the 24th President. 

(He won a plurality of votes in the 1888 election, but his opponent, Benjamin 
Harrison, having a majority in the Electoral College, became President).

Cleveland was distantly related to Moses Cleaveland, for whom the American City of Cleveland is named.  (The lore is that the local newspaper requested the dropping of the “a”, so that the name could fit on the newspaper's masthead).

Grover Cleveland was successively Sheriff of Erie County, NY; Mayor of Buffalo NY; Governor of New York State; and President of the United States of America

Wikipedia has what seems to be a fair and balanced article on him. (see below)

 Cleveland has never stood out as a great President.

His virtues were in his diligence, hard work, honesty and incorruptibility.  He was in some ways a “plain and ordinary man” with no formal education and next to no pretension. 

There is a story that when he first entered the White House he was more than unhappy with the “fancy food” which was prepared by the French Chef (who had worked for the gourmand President, Chester Arthur).  On smelling the corned beef and cabbage being cooked for the White House Staff, Cleveland sent his fancy food to them, and asked that he be served the humble corned beef and cabbage dinner.

There was a scandal from his earlier days.   This concerned a Maria Halpin ( a widow) with whom he and others had slept.  Maria became pregnant, and although Cleveland could not be sure that he was the biological father, he gave child support to Maria’s child (a boy), and arranged for him to be adopted.

The “scandal” (much embellished) became fodder for the Republicans in the 1884 election. G.C. was accused of fathering, and then abandoning the child. 

Republican parades would feature an empty baby carriage behind which the crowd would walk calling out “Ma, Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa”.

After the election, Democratic party members would similarly follow a baby carriage with their riposte “Pa’s in the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha”.

When the scandal first broke, Cleveland responded the concerns of his immediate allies by saying “tell them the truth”.

Grover Cleveland had a modest agenda. He worked for Civil Service reform and the ending of political patronage at the lower ends of public service; he opposed the protectionist high import tariffs favoured by big business and some Republicans; he was an anti-imperialist.

But he had no grand vision, and like his predecessor Chester Arthur,  he had no deep political base within his party.  

He has been judged a failure on account of his inability to deal with the panic of 1893 (see below) 

But he has been widely respected for trying at all times to tell the American people the truth.

My editorial comment is that I think Pres. Obama to be a “Grover Cleveland type” President;  or maybe it is that we live in “Grover Cleveland type” years.

For further reading see

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Cabbage soup and other matters,

1.    Grover Cleveland can wait until tomorrow.

2.    My neighbour Ed and I drove through pelting rain last Friday to have lunch in the wonderful older district of Tampa called Ybor City.  We ate at a gay friendly restaurant called “Hamburger Mary’s.  The place was all but deserted on account of the very heavy rain.  It’s a nice enough place, but dammit,  the menu is filled with unhealthy foods. 

I settled for a “Buffalo Burger”, being assured that buffalo meat has much less fat than beef. It was very tasty, though far too big.  I also opted for sweet potato fries in the belief that sweet potatoes are nutritionally good.  

All well and good, but a $50 price tag for two people , (including a generous tip),  seems excessive in these days of recession.

3.    Bloated though I was, I knew that I needed to eat a wee bit of dinner. Fortunately I had some homemade “cabbage soup” on hand. This was a simple and healthy repast. (Vegetable stock, coarsely shredded cabbage, diced orange tomatoes, and a bit of garlic comprises the basic menu.  I added a few leftover garbanzo beans – a.k.a. “chick peas”).  Yum yum!

4.    I have become an aficionado of beans and peas. There is nothing like a dish of fava beans, or chick peas; of black beans or black eyed peas. Butter beans and lima beans are also most delicious.

5.    It’s a joy to observe my two cats.  They were strangers when I adopted them, but these days they rub along very happily. They take turns in licking the other’s ears. Once in a while senior cat Ada has had enough and she chases junior cat Adelaide around the house.

6.    I get even more joy from my adopted dog, Penne.  She delights and amuses me.  When I am changing my clothing she will present herself in my bedroom, “tail a wagging”.  When I say “not now Penne” she slinks back to her bed.  But if I utter the one word “well”, Penne prances and dances about the house, knowing that we are about to take a walk.

7.    I am one of four retired clerics who are “minding the shop” at St. Boniface Church this summer. We are Ralph, Jack, Charles, and Michael. It is an unmitigated blessing that we like each other. I presided at this morning’s 10:00 a.m. Eucharist, whilst Charles preached a very fine sermon.

8.    St. Boniface’s Senior Warden announced today that the Vestry has selected an Interim Minister.  His name is Dean Taylor.  He will join us in October. This news causes me to be both happy and nervous!

9.    In this “in between time” at St. B’s it fell to my lot to officiate and preach at a funeral this afternoon.   It was for Kathryn Stickney a woman who I knew and liked very much. After the chapel service we placed her cremated remains in a niche in the St. Boniface columbarium.  I preached on the biblical promises of God’s faithfulness, ratified (as it were) by the resurrection of Jesus, as the basis for our hope of eternal life.

10. That’s it folks!