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Friday, November 24, 2017

The Pope's Nose

Atlanta Constitution, November 24, 1919

It’s funny the memories that the holidays bring.

The Thanksgiving tradition and menu at my childhood home were as predictable as the conversation, each intensified by liberal amounts of alcohol.

I don’t have horrible memories of explosive arguments or slimy uncles to stay away from.  I do remember that the women gathered in the kitchen and the men stayed pretty much in the garage where my grandfather had his own kitchen. The men played cards around the table and smoked cigarettes and cigars and talked sports and the war and cars. The women talked food and recipes and shared stories about what was happening with other women or relatives and their kids.

At our table - as happened, I'm sure at hundreds of thousands of tables around the country - the kids fought over the wishbone; precisely, who would get to break it after it had dried out on the kitchen window sill. But the real prize of the day – coveted by the adults as well as the adolescent children who were eligible for the competition – was The Pope’s Nose.

If you don’t know about The Pope’s Nose, let me correct that immediately. 

The common narrative is that Protestants called it The Pope's Nose and Catholics called it The Parson's Nose, but we were devout Roman Catholics and it was, for us "The Pope's Nose". 

To be honest, I have always suspected it had something to do with the heated conversations I overheard some of my older cousins having about birth control.  I should note that my grandmother had 20 pregnancies and 22 children, 15 of whom made it to adulthood. I should also note that while my grandmother loved all her kids, she never made it a secret that she would have preferred a smaller family brood. And, my grandfather often talked about how difficult it was "with all you kids".

So, here's what I'm talking about: The Pope’s nose is the fatty end of the turkey’s .... um .... end. It’s the round, bulbous, fatty piece from which the turkey’s tail feathers emerge. 

Indeed, when you cut or bite into it, you'll find several strong, quills there, in and among the gelatinous fat and the few strands of dark meat. 

It's gross, actually, but I was always told that it was a "delicacy". 

I came to understand that, for the most part, 'delicacy' is what adults of my youth called food when they didn't want kids to eat it, mostly because it was expensive.

For example, in my house, you were not allowed to eat lobster until you made your First Communion. And then, you got a lobster roll for your First Communion lunch. 

But, The Pope's Nose? Ummm . . . yeah, but no. 

I came to understand that the real reward for getting The Pope's Nose was that you got to be a clown at the dinner table, without any adult reprimanding you to "behave". 

The deal was that my grandfather, who always carved the turkey, got to determine that year's recipient of The Pope's Nose. I'm not sure how that determination was made. Or if, in fact, it was any kind of logical, reasoned 'determination'. 

At that point in the day, he and my father and uncles had already consumed many beers, some of which were "boilermakers" (with a shot of whiskey at the end), so any semblance to an informed choice was strictly coincidental.

But, if you were chosen, well, that was cause for much celebration, accompanied by great, loud laughter and back-slapping among the men.

And, oh, by the way, it was always the boys or men who got awarded The Pope's Nose.  Sometime after my grandfather died, girls got to share the award, too.

You got to put the slippery blob in front of your nose and pretend to be the Pope. You might repeat part of the Thanksgiving grace in "pontifical tones". Or, put a napkin on your head in a point, stand up and bless the table the way the Pope stands at the widow of the Vatican and blesses the crowds below at St. Peter's Square. 

I do remember the time my cousin "Junie" - his real name is Al but he was named after his father so this was a short term of affection for "Junior" - was favored by my grandfather as that year's recipient of The Pope's Nose. 

I remember that, after the prerequisite prayer parody and mimic of the pontifical blessing of the Thanksgiving table, he held it up, pointed it and said, "And, this is what the Pope's "galo"  - a play on the Portuguese word for a male rooster or 'cock' - looks like after all those years of celibacy."

Well! I mean, he was 15 or 16 years old at the time. He had "made his Confirmation" as was said in my family. He was eligible to have The Pope's Nose. But, while the men laughed and slapped their thighs, for most of the women at the table, he had crossed an invisible line of table manners.  

I'm pretty sure it was not an original thought. Indeed, I'm sure he had heard the men in the garage speak of it for years. What was fairly new and bold and daring is that he said it out loud - in public - in front of the men and the women and the children. 

What I do remember is that my grandmother shot an angry look at my grandfather and then gave the "olho mau" - the evil eye - to each and every son and grandson around the table. There was a dramatic silence as she rose from her place and slowly and gracefully but deliberately made her way over to my cousin, whose smile had fled his face along with the color.

She looked him in the eye for a few unbearably long seconds and then smacked him right upside the head. "Oh!" "Owh" and "Hey" came the male voices around the table, as if they, too had been hit.

She leveled them all into silence with a glance before looking back at my cousin and said one word - in English - which underscored and punctuated the meaning.

"Respect!" she said, pointing her finger at him and then around the table. 

She slowly returned to her seat - back straight, head high - and sat down again to silence until she took a few deep breaths, picked up her fork and knife and said, "Eat!". 

The clatter of silverware and dishes slowly rolled into a few indiscernible words here and there, then, sentences, then laughter, and then it sounded, once again, like a family holiday meal.

I hadn't thought of this incident in years. I suppose, given the present cultural #MeToo climate, it's really no surprise that it popped up again after all these years. 

I'm thinking that's what's really wrong with the world today. We don't have strong grandmothers who are able to silence a holiday meal with a glance or stand up to an offender who had violated a societal boundary and smack him soundly upside the head.

What I do know is that it is when memories like that make a holiday appearance, it's probably no coincidence. 

"Respect!" said my grandmother. It wasn't a request. It was a demand. 

Sometimes, holiday memories bring warm memories.

And, sometimes, even warm memories bring important lessons.

Consequence - of some measure - can be a powerful deterrent.

It's not that we didn't know that. Sometimes, we just have to re-learn it.

Funny how that happens.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Don't Stop Believin'

It happens this time every year.

The leaves are turning colors and will start to fall off the trees and I find that I wake up in the morning inexplicably tired. It won't be long before I awaken to gunshots ringing out across the early morning marsh signaling that the hunters have returned in their primal quest for "game" - the strange euphemism for the killing of the elegant duck and noble dear.

The autumn wind starts to blow the leaves around in small, swirling eddies like a harried housewife sweeping trash into the bin, and I place my sweater by the door. 

After tonight's time change, the darkness will begin to arrive sooner, shortening a day already overflowing with too many tasks, and I wonder why I sometimes trip over unseen but rising anxiety. 

There is a sad resignation to this season for me. It's easy to stop believing that it will be warm again, that spring will come and flowers and trees will bloom again. The realization of this "change of season" will press heavily on my shoulders and fill my shoes with invisible lead.

Just under the crinkling sound of dry leaves scraping across the pavement, new life is already whispering their secrets in the dark. It is the paradox at the center of life:
All life must end. Death nourishes new life.
I hear it. I know it in my heart. I believe it and I don't.

Just when the trees have become hideously, obscenely naked, when I think I won't be able to stand another minute of chilly bleakness, when I'm resentful of being expected to be thankful, Advent arrives.

It can't come soon enough this year. I need time to prepare for the Light. For new Life. For hope, no matter how newborn and fragile.

For us to be a bit more tender with each other as an antidote to the rantings and tweetings of the Syphilitic King in the Oval Office.

I need to remember that tyrannical autocrats have their season, too. And then, the arc of the universe begins to bend toward justice once again.

There are a few weeks left to this Season of The In-Between. Of the climate change of The Almost-But-Not-Yet. Of The Time of The Dying-To-Be-Reborn.

So, I'll head into this day, singing my Autumn Anthem:
Just a small town girl
Livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train
Goin' anywhere . . . . .
And, remind myself every step of the way, "Don't stop believing."

Friday, November 03, 2017

Call no man 'Father'

So, buckle up church-going buttercups. Unless your church decides to observe All Saint's Day this Sunday, you're going to hear Matthew quoting Jesus' rant about Scribes and Pharisees and his final wind up and pitch right across home plate to call no earthly person "Rabbi" or "Father" or "Instructor".

Here are the lectionary lessons for this week

For the last 40 years - at least - I've been hearing the argument about how we, in The Episcopal Church, need to stop calling men who are priests "Father" - and, likewise, stop calling women who are priests "Mother".

Or, conversely, if we call men "Father" then we should absolutely call women "Mother".

I am really, really weary of this conversation so I'm going to cut right to the chase here.

Yes, I know. The title "father/mother" is meant to be a spiritual honorific which alludes to the ancient tradition of the church recognizing the nurturing and guidance of spiritual leaders in the life of faith in the Spirit.

I understand.

What amuses me - when it doesn't flat-out annoy me - is that the very ordained men and women who adhere most to that title usually don't know the first thing about being a "spiritual nurturer" much less a "spiritual guide".

In my experience, most of them haven't worked through their own ... spiritual crap .... to guide anyone anywhere. They may be fine biological parents (although a surprising number have no children) but that is a very, very different role from being a spiritual guide and providing spiritual nourishment/sustenance.

Yes, I know. That passage is taken way too literally. Yes, I know, the applications in today's world are very different. No, I'm not being anti-Roman Catholic - although I note that more and more RC clergy are being called "pastor".

And yes, I know, there are clergy - male and female - in The Episcopal Church, who demand it. They usually follow it up with either "that has always been the tradition here" (See also: seven last words of a dying church) - OR - "but, the people like it - they WANT to call me Father/Mother."

Yada. Yada. Yada. See also: 40 years of conversation.

And, of all of the things I've heard that last one is the most transparent. It's simply shocking how many clergy have absolutely NO insight into their own behavior. I mean, if you are in your 20s or 30s (I wouldn't pay to be 20 or 30 again!), I suppose it's understandable. But, eventually - like it or not - we all have to grow up, kids.

Let me rush to put a fine point on it:
*It is absolutely poor pastoral theology to call clergy "Father" or "Mother". 
*It infantilizes the laity. 
*It sets up the congregation as a repository for all their family dysfunction - and then we wonder why our congregations implode when there is conflict.
I don't know how many times I'm going to have to say this, but I'll say it again:
"Mother is a false equivalent to Father." 
Like it or not, it just is. "Mother" simply does not have the same authority and power as "Father" in the authority structure of a family dynamic.

Now, I will agree with those who say that the effect on our psyches of the archetype of "Mother" can be more powerful than the archetype of "Father" - but, more often than not in a very damaging way.

Do we really want that dynamic operational in a congregational setting?

There is so much more to this than just a title.

What will it take for us to come out from behind the protective wall of church tradition, stop dressing up our neurosis in church satin and lace, put down the thurible that blows smoke everywhere and listen to what we are doing to ourselves, the church, the Body of Christ?

And, with that question, here endth the rant.

PS: Someone just posted this on my FB page. I wanted to make sure I added it in a place where I could return to it:
Marion Hatchett, of blessed memory, always said that the ordination rites in the book of common prayer answered this question quite succinctly:

"When the ordinand is presented, his/her full name (designated by the symbol N.N.) is used. Thereafter, it is appropriate to refer to him/her only by the Christian name by which he wishes to be known." BCP 536, 524