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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Farewell, Sadie Gene

An Obituary for a Beloved Family Member

Ms Sadie Gene Waggie-Tail, aka 'Sadie Gene, Jelly Ole Bean', Princess of The Land of Neurosis, first of her name, House Havanese, died peacefully and without pain last night in the arms of one of her humans. She had just turned eleven in August. 
She had been diagnosed last October with an abdominal tumor by her Vet, April Reed, who, together with her staff, had provided care with excellent skill and deep compassion. Dr Reed had planned to be here in our home “when the time came” so that Sadie’s two brothers, Lenny and Theo, could be with her as she left us, but Ms Sadie had other plans. 
Sadie came to us from a breeder in South Dakota via Millsboro Havanese, when she was 18 months old. After two litters it was determined that motherhood was not her calling and her breeders sought to find her a good home. 
As the fates allowed, she came to live with us and she quickly became an irreplaceable part of the pack at Llangollen. She will be missed by her two devoted brothers, Lenny, age 17 and Theo age 13 (recently diagnosed and being treated for cancer of the pituitary gland), her friend and walker, Auntie Anita, her Uncle Bill whom she adored, her groomer, Ryan at Wizard of Paws, who, at the end, groomed and bathed her special so she wouldn’t freak out, and the Fed Ex man, who always fell under the spell of her deep, brown soulful eyes. 
Cremation services will be handled by Parsell Pet Crematorium in Lewes (Part of Parsell Funeral Home where her humans will be tended to after death). A Memorial Service will be held celebrating her life later in October. She will join the ashes of her Brother Bogie who continues to keep guard over Llangollen from his spot on the desk, and Ms CoCo Chanel, who is interred in the front yard where she maintains her vigil as Honorary Harbormaster. 
Donations may be made in her memory to the ASPCA so that other dogs and cats may find their forever home. Of your mercy and kindness please keep her humans in your prayers as they grieve this unfathomable loss. 
You’re free now, Ms Sadie. You can run and walk without a waddle and the sound of the dishwasher or thunder in the distance will no longer freak you out, causing you to shivery-shake and tremble. It won’t be too much longer before you are joined by your brothers so please prepare them room. 
Thanks to the many wonderful memories you have left us (and password protection) you will never be forgotten. Because you were who you were, uniquely and distinctly, you will always be loved.
We’ll meet you at Heaven’s Gate.

 I know. I'm going to risk looking like a complete and utter fool, perhaps confirming for some of you what you only suspected to be true about me.

As our Ms. Sadie Gene was dying, I kept telling her softly how much she was loved and how much she enriched our lives. I kept telling her that she was going to be missed but she would soon be in a place where there was no pain and where she would be able to walk and run and not be afraid of thunder or dishwashers.

I did ask her - I'm not sure where the impulse came, but the words were on my lips and out of my mouth before I could process what I was saying - that she send us a sign that she had arrived and that she was okay.

Ms. Conroy took this picture at 6:30 this morning when she was accompanying the morning constitutional of Sir Theo Barksalot, first of his name, House Heinz 57, a Rescued Knight of the Abandoned Barn.

Yes, it is a double rainbow. Right on our canal.

Think what you will. My heart is full and my soul is at peace.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Have salt in yourselves


A Sermon Preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 
Georgetown, Delaware
and simultaneously broadcast on Facebook Sirach 26:10 
September 26, 2021


Well, the disciples are complaining because John, one of the Sons of Thunder, ran across someone who was healing in the name of Jesus, but he was not a follower of Jesus. Apparently, he had not yet sat for his “Disciple Boards,” or paid his Annual Apostle Union dues, or signed his Oath of Conformity, or placed his hand on a Bible or crossed his heart and hoped to die.


Jesus says to let him go, adding, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Well, that’s a pretty low bar, isn’t it? Indeed, Jesus turns the tables ‘round on the disciples and tells them the personal cost to them if they try to put a stumbling block in the way of anyone trying to do some good in His name.


Here are a few examples: A millstone round the neck and thrown into the sea. Cutting off your hand – or a foot – or tearing out your eye. Yikes! Let’s hope Jesus is exaggerating again, just to make a point; that this is just his way of saying, “Listen. This is serious. Pay close attention. I really mean this.” Or, maybe he’s trying to evoke in them an understanding of the suffering of others by citing that which would cause suffering in them.


Jesus says, “For everyone will be salted with fire.Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Havesalt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”


Have salt in yourselves. And be at peace with one another. What in heaven’s name is Jesus talking about?


Well, we know that the human body contains many salts, of which sodium chloride (AKA common table salt) is the major one, making up around 0.4 per cent of the body's weight at a concentration pretty well equivalent to that in seawater, interestingly enough.


According to the Salt Association (yes, there is such an organization), Roman soldiers were partly paid in salt. It is said to be from this that we get the word soldier – ‘sal dare’, meaning to give salt. From the same source we get the word salary, ‘salarium’. Other sources disagree with this and call it a myth, but I’ve long ago discovered that there are few coincidences in the world.


Salt was used for healing and purifying. Salt water was applied to infections and wounds and newborn babies were bathed in it. In some forms of Christianity, “the salt of wisdom” is placed on the baby’s tongue at baptism. That is also later ‘balanced’ with a drop of honey on the baby’s tongue, to signify the sweetness of the words of the Gospel.


Salt was connected with worship and covenant[i]. The ‘Covenant of Salt’ God had with King David refers to the imperishable and irrevocable quality of the engagement made between the two parties to the covenant.[ii] Salt was also used as an image for wisdom.[iii]


Salt is used for many purposes: Preservative. Adding taste. Cleansing. But, for the punishment of looking back as Sodom and Gomorrah burned, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. I know, right? Go figure.


I remember that my grandmother always kept a small bowl of salt in her kitchen. She would take a huge handful of salt and sprinkle it into a huge vat of soup or a large casserole pan before hoisting it into the oven. She would rub it briskly into beef or pork or on the outside and in the cavity of a chicken or turkey along with freshly ground pepper kernels.


However, it was a good thing that, in those days – with occasional exception –we only took a full tub bath once a week, on Saturday night before church on Sunday morning , because there was always a huge piece of salt cod soaking in the tub. The thick layer of salt had done its work to preserve the goodness of the fish; now it was time to soak the fish in a tub of water to remove the salt and cook the fish with other seasonings, along with vegetables and potatoes.


Salt can preserve. Too much salt can burn, which is why there is an old saying about “Rubbing salt into the wound.” It not only burns, but it preserves the hurt and pain.


Have salt in yourselves. What might Jesus mean by this?


In preparation for my upcoming pilgrimage to Egypt, I've been reading "How to Love" by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.


At the heart of Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the idea that “understanding is love’s other name” — that to love another means to fully understand his or her suffering. (“Suffering” sounds rather dramatic, but in Buddhism, it refers to any source of profound dissatisfaction — be it physical or psycho-emotional or spiritual.)


Understanding, after all, is what everybody needs — but even if we grasp this on a theoretical level, we habitually get too caught in the smallness of our fixations to be able to offer such expansive understanding.


He illustrates this mismatch of scales with an apt metaphor:

"If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform."

Thich Nhat Han teaches that understanding is love's other name.


There is a wise saying that “Jesus and Buddha walk together in heaven”. More and more, I think that may well be true. Jesus is teaching that, once we understand the suffering of others, once we recognize that suffering in ourselves and can see it in others, we find that understanding is love’s other name. 


It’s what our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls, “The Way of Love.”


There is no longer need to criticize or cast out or cut off or judge. There is no need to cause pain. We are called to try to understand – or as Jesus commanded, love one another.


Now, I confess to you that I am far from perfect on this Way of Love. I am as guilty as ‘flying off the handle’ and ‘rushing to judgment’ as the next person. That said, you should have seen me before I met Jesus. Let me just put it this way, it wasn’t a very pretty picture.


With practice and with (ahem!) age, I have gotten saltier and a bit wiser. I confess that church bureaucracy is still a huge stumbling block for me. I’m a bit like John, one of the Sons of Thunder. The institutional church makes me pull out my hair in absolute frustration. I have very little patience with it, mostly because, like the disciple, John, I really don’t understand it. I admit, this has entered into and been a factor in my decision-making process to be with you consistently for a period of time. 


You’ve no doubt heard me talk about “The Four Killer B's of Parish Ministry: Buildings, Boilers, Budgets and …. Lemme think…. There’s a Fourth Killer B . . . Oh, right, BISHOPS!


Buildings. Boilers. Budgets. Bishops. The Four Killer B's of Parish Ministry.


If we could just worship God together and enjoy each other’s fellowship and hospitality and do the stuff Jesus asks us to do like feed the hungry and welcome the stranger and love our neighbor, and bring more people to Jesus and bring Jesus to more people, well, it would be enough. It would be more than enough. 


I honestly love you all and, although we all have our “issues” and there are bumps in the road ahead, I see a bright future, and I seriously want to be part of that journey.


So, these words of Jesus sting a bit for me: “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Jesus calls me to realize that in order to be with you, I have to take the salt of the church as institution with the honey of the church as Body of Christ. 


I promise to try.


It's not unlike the rest of life, right? We have to take the bitter with the sweet. Try to see in every challenge an opportunity - to learn, to grow, to change.  As Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."


“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” 


These words of Jesus remind me of the wisdom of children’s author Shel Silverstein, 

How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. 

How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it. 

How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. 

How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.”



[i] Scripture says, Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings (Lev 2:13). So the use of salt was ordered first for the meal offerings, and afterwards for “all” offerings, including the “burnt offering.”


[ii] For example, Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? (2 Chron 13:5)


[iii] Gregory the Great said, “Now by salt is denoted the word of wisdom. Let him therefore who strives to speak wisely, fear greatly” (Pastoral Rule 4.12).

Sunday, September 19, 2021

One small wish

A Sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE

and simultaneously broadcast live on FaceBook Sirach 26:10

Pentecost XVII - Proper 20B - September 19, 2021


When I lived in Maine, my family was very involved in foster care. We took in foster care children, mostly on a short term, emergency basis. That might mean a weekend or a few weeks and, depending on placement opportunities, those few weeks might suddenly become a few months.


I’m not going to try to romanticize it: Foster care was hard work. It was a work of the heart and mind, soul and body. It was impossible, at times – especially around the holidays. But mostly, it was humbling. Over time, we learned that what foster kids want is not what we think they want. What many of us think they want are X-boxes or smart phones, expensive sneakers, sports bikes or dolls.


Those things are relatively easy to attain but it’s not the thing they want – they want what the thing represents: That they are special enough, loved enough – in fact, enough – that someone will give them the “things” that represent that love, that special status.


Some of those kids in foster care wanted us to think they want those things because it is embarrassing to admit the truth of what they really want. It’s humbling to think they might not ever be deserving what they really want: a home, a family, love. So, they don’t – well, rarely – ask for that.


I remember one teenaged kid – I’ll call him “Ronnie” – we had for a weekend because there had been some crisis in the group home with the foster parent and all the kids had to be placed in other homes. In the midst of this turmoil, the news came that one of his favorite uncles had died in a car accident. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Ronnie felt he couldn’t attend because he didn’t have proper clothing.


Ronnie had been in and out of foster care for much of his childhood. He had moved around a great deal, and didn’t even have a suitcase. Instead, every time he moved, all of his possessions were dumped into two large, black garbage bags. Imagine the message that gave about your worth.


"I don't really own even a shirt and tie or dress shoes," he said. "I was going to be seeing some of my old family members, and it was kind of embarrassing to not have a suit when everyone else would have one. If I could make one small wish, it would be that I would have something to wear so I wouldn’t embarrass myself or my family at my uncle’s funeral."


His caseworker said that she was unable to justify buying him a suit because it was considered a “nonessential expense”. Nonessential. I’m sure in the Land of Bureaucrats and Red Policy Tape, and forms that need to be filled out in triplicate and certified and stamped by a Notary Public, anything that might help the still-forming self-image of a young teenage boy would be considered pretty “nonessential”.


But, that ‘nonessential expense’ was the one small wish of this young teen: He did not want to be an embarrassment. It took a lot of humility – indeed, maturity – for him to admit that. As I think about it, aren’t some of our most important small wishes that which seems “nonessential” to others? And, doesn’t that take a lot of humility to admit, especially as grown ups?


I remember talking with one of the nuns who taught at the Catholic school where we sent all our kids – the public school system was so bad it was out of the question to send the kids – so we paid the tuition our of our subsidy. Sister knew what we were doing and gave us a bit of a ‘discount’. She listened very carefully and asked me about how much I thought a suit might cost. I did some quick math in my head and told her the number, to which she nodded and then crossed her fingers as her eyes sparkled with hope.


Later that morning, Sister called me to say she had received a gift from an anonymous donor and if I would please come by the office and pick up the money she was certain I could find a new suit, shirt, tie, socks and shoes for young Ronnie and still have him back at the convent before the end of the day so another Sister would tailor it for him so he’d look especially sharp for his uncle’s wake and funeral.


Ronnie was with us for just a week, but that week changed his life and ours. Indeed, when he left us, he was getting ready to move in temporarily with the widow of his uncle who died. She and he had had some wonderful conversations about the man they both loved and admired, at the end of which, she said she knew exactly what she was to do – something her husband had said was his “one small wish” – to take Ronnie in and give him a home.


“I was always resistant to that idea,” she said. “I don’t know why. I really don’t. I guess I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle you. You always looked so . . . lost . . . so . . . scared and sad. But now, you look like a young man who knows he’s going somewhere. And, I want to be part of that journey.”


I thought about Ronnie as I considered the lessons for today. The lesson from Proverbs is a recitation of the teachings of the mother of King Lemuel – thought to be King Solomon whose mother would have been Bathsheba. Which sorta makes me giggle. If you listen carefully you’ll be able to hear the ancient wisdom of something that became a hit song in the 60s, by the Fabulous Miracles: “(My Momma Told Me), You bettershop around.)”


“A capable or noble woman,” taught Bathsheba, “. . . . opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.”


I think there are two or three women in this story of Ronnie who fit that description. Bathsheba adds, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”


Somebody give Bathsheba an “Amen.”


As for the Foster Care Case worker, it still makes me wince as I remember her saying – with a straight face – that she could not justify the cost of getting a suit for Ronnie because it was deemed “an unnecessary expense.” St. James writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.”


I suspect what St. James, the brother of Jesus, knew was that to “ask wrongly” is to not ask out of a sense of humility, a place of truth, a knowledge of our own poverty, that “one small wish”. Ronnie knew how to do that. So did his uncle. And, eventually, his aunt.


Somebody give James an “Amen.”


As Jesus was passing through Galilee, he heard his disciples arguing among themselves about who was the greatest among them. Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


As I think about Ronnie, I find myself wondering what ever happened to him. One of the really hard parts of foster care is that you often lose touch with them as they move through ‘the system’. He only spent one week of his life with us and yet so much happened to change his life and ours. I have prayed that his life with this aunt worked out for both of them.


I suspect it did as both of them were answering the “one small wish” of someone else. I have come to know that those “one small wishes” are the prayers that reach closest to the heart of God.


I have come to hear the words of Jesus we heard this morning as the “one small wish” from the heart of Jesus deep into to our hearts. If we worked to give Jesus his wish, just think of how different the world would be. If we were as generous as we know how to be and spend lavishly on what others might consider an “unnecessary expense” to build up the self esteem and self confidence of a child, how different might his – and our – future be?


The one small wish from the heart of Jesus is this, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”


Might we be able to do that? Might we consider being servant first and put our own needs after someone else’s? Might we listen for the “one small wish” that’s in our own hearts and be humble enough to ask for that?


Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”


Somebody give Jesus an “Amen.”