too much

women like men with a sense of humor.
one wonders why the republican candidate
for president flaunts his prowess when he
doesn’t have much of a sense of humor,
real humor, self-deprecating humor, the
humor of seeing the joke, getting it and
laughing spontaneously, johnny carson
and steve allen humor, good-natured
ribbing, not the biting sarcasm and
attacks, which pawn themselves off
as humor in this society which, tragic-
ally, is becoming less and less humorous
and more and more disrespectfully
cynical. maybe, he doth flaunt too
much to go along with all the rest
of his “too much.”

be it resolved

he wonders not where all the flowers
have gone but where all the courtesy
has gone having been taught please,
thank you, excuse me, pardon me,
sorry, forgive me (all without
attitude), to stand aside and let
someone else pass, to hold a door
not just for women and the elderly
but everyone, but no matter how hard
it is not to retaliate he will say
those things when appropriate and
keep his mouth shut when not appro-
priate he hopes and thank the lord
for hope and forgiveness when he
doesn’t do what he should do which
on occasion he won’t especially when
he forgets to say get thee behind me
satan and as a result says a lot of
the right things with the wrong atti-
tude as a cowardly way to get away
with it.

The Balm in Circumstances’ Determinations

A couple of days before she died
she sat in the condo sipping wine
listening to but not hearing the
conversation of the moment about
her parents’ relationship. Her
sister said it wasn’t good which
translates to bad with some booze
fueled abuse early on when the
kids were little and then just
sort of a stalemate and ships
passing in the night when their
father was off the sauce. She
denied it vociferously contend-
ing instead it was good, sweet
and romantic. Everyone raised
their eyebrows. After her death
it was discovered that blood
had been seeping into her brain
for about nine months suddenly
bursting as if it had just happen-
ed. She had changed her mind          
about a lot of things during that
nine months, except that medical
science offered that it was the                                       
blood changing her brain. So where                                           
is the free will here? It took some
time before her husband could
take that into account when
thinking about how she changed
her mind about him over that
nine months. Ironically, it
was medical science that proved
a Balm in Gilead for him after
her death.

Since Retiring From Ordained Ministry

Since retiring from the ministry six years ago, I realize how inadequate I was as a young man of twenty-five to have the “wisdom” of the gospel needed to serve the church and follow Jesus.

I embraced the definition of “success” as defined by the culture in which I lived and so often “failed” to measure up within that competitive academic system with a need then to have the priority of proving myself by eventually excelling in the system.

Instead of understanding the significance of learning as a discipline leading to service, I remained a part of and victim to the underlying notion that my worth was determined by my academic achievements in relation to my classmates and in the eyes of my professors.

Instead of “throwing off the lustrous garments of the world” and embracing the teachings of Jesus as lived by those such as Francis of Assisi, I carried the notion of success into the ministry — how good a preacher I was, how good a counselor I was, how good an administrator I was, how good a fundraiser I was, and the perpetually nagging need to prove myself academically, etc.

In hind sight, I regret not being better at the complements of ministry, a contemplative spirit and a “community organizer” for Jesus, mobilizing the “resident aliens” as urged by such luminaries as Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon.

And so I humbly offer the follow suggestions regarding admissions
to denominational seminaries:

When screening applicants for seminaries (divinity schools being
a different matter by serving a different purpose, by and large),
these should be told “Sorry, Charlie or Charlene”:

— those having gone directly from high school to college to seminary
because they have been conditioned by an educational system to compete
for best grades and are taught by professors who, by and large, never left 
that competitive environment and perpetuate it in the minds of young students;

— those who have sailed along in life without having experienced a
significant loss leading one to an understanding of powerlessness and helplessness;

— those who having experienced significant loss are so wrapped up in their own suffering they have been unable to move toward  compassion for others who experience the vicissitudes of life;

— those who evidence a significant need for approval (as in looking
to crawl back in the womb of the church);

— those who are not immersed in the sayings of Jesus particularly
the Sermon on the Mount;

— those who majored in religion in college;

— those unfamiliar with the notion of “to follow” as vs. the notion
“to worship” which Jesus never asked of himself;

— those who do not get “the first shall be last and the last first”;

— those who have been immersed in “individual salvation in Jesus Christ,”
a particularly pernicious notion advanced in a Western individualistic culture;

— those who think of the congregations as “buildings, bodies and bucks to be built up,” rather than mission stations of service to the poor, oppressed, victimized by the power structure of the economic culture;

— those who don’t know the difference between metaphorical and literal;

Finally, not having followed the trends in seminary education, I may be offering advice that is nonsensical, outdated, anachronistic, impractical, silly or whatever to administrators and Boards of Trustees  of denominational seminaries who will never read this blog anyway.

On a personal note, my remembrance of seminary is that of warmth and affirmation with patience and tolerance and prayer for the young, immature student in whom the professors saw some semblance, no matter how slight, of talent for ministry.

Bees, Wasps and Hornets Swarm

“Oh, death, where is thy sting?”
“Well, I’ll tell you — right
here,” he said pointing to his

heart and stomach and head —
“everything.” St. Paul must
have been referring to himself,

thought the man, ruminating on
his own demise, “That wouldn’t
be so hard. It wouldn’t sting

too much as long as I didn’t
have to be in pain, just slip
away, if you know what I mean,”

mumbling to no one and every-
one. “We do know what you mean,”
he answers himself, “those of us

who are on our way through the
shorter end of the stick, but
the death of a loved one?” It

isn’t just a sting, he thought.
It’s the whole hive after him.
And so the preacher is called

and he or she speaks with big
smiles of saccharin similes
which most take literally about

a heavenly home while standing
over the dark ground and wooden
box and then the box is lowered

and the dirt is shoveled and
the mourners go home to an
empty house with their sting-

ing hearts, stomachs, heads —
everything. And bees, wasps
and hornets swarm and swarm.

Working with Myself/ Washing Myself Away

I’ve been working in the yard,
(I’m under my nails.)
picking up flower pots,
(I’m under my nails.)
putting them close to the house
(I’m under my nails.)
to be covered for the winter.
(I’m under my nails.)
In the process, I handle humus.
(I’m under my nails.)
Why call dirty fingernails dirty?
(I’m under my nails.)
It’s just dirt, humus, pre-human.
(I’m under my nails.)
I’m just a human handling clods.
(I’m under my nails.)
I’m just a clod handling humus.
(I’m under my nails.)
Still, I’d better wash myself away
before dinner.
(I’m under my nails.)

On Looking in a Mirror and Then Lying in Bed

He lie in bed
wondering about his head.
Is he this or
something else instead?
Is he the same inside
even though there
are changes to his hide?
Perhaps, he should find
some place to hide.
There used to be hair there
on that head.
Is he this or
something else instead?
He thinks he’s the same,
but he doesn’t look it
in the picture frame.
Relatives and friends
constantly take photos
with their phones.
He would rather be
left alone
to ponder with his
different-looking head,
if he is this or
something else
His faithful Chocolate Lab
loves sleeping with
his head under the bed;
the man thinks, perhaps
I should join the
dog and put my
head under the bed
while I wonder
if I am this of
something else
He climbed down
and joined the
dog head to head
and the dog’s
tail wagged
as if the dog
“Whoever you are,
I’ll always love you
and your
hairless head.”

Sometimes Being Somewhere First Really Doesn’t Matter

The sun shines, the temperature
is in the high seventies in late
October and the termites who have
lived in the sand outside the house
for millenia still fly up on the
window screens looking ever and
always for an invitation to dinner
on the wood in between the interior
walls. The barrier is there. “Sorry,
Charlie, you’re going to have to
try up the block or up the dune to
the high rent district overlooking
Lake Michigan. I hear they think
they are too good to be invaded.”

An Assembly Line

He lived through one tragic death
and, in time, thought that made
him a grief expert, except he
was only a teen when it happened

and he didn’t have a clue what
was happening to him. He thought
it informed his understanding and
compassion for those who went

into the dark night of the soul
in response to the death of a
loved one. Yes, by the grace of
God, he did the right things

while not really walking along
as a companion in the darkness
having been there, resurrected
and then willing to go there

again knowing that the darkness
couldn’t hold him as he held the
hand of the “hell bent” traveler.
That didn’t happen until his own

dark night came upon him in a
day and stayed and stayed and
stayed and wouldn’t go away,
staying much longer than those

around him could tolerate and
then gradually, slowly, he
began to emerge. It began when
he looked at Jesus on the cross

in his mind’s eye — Jesus knew
and Jesus was with him, holding
his hand as they both sat in
hell and then it was okay to be

in that darkness for then he
knew he wouldn’t stay and then
he knew that he could descend
on another day and that, too,

would be okay and he could
squeeze the hand of another
for whom the darkness would
not go away. And as he opened

his eyes he saw the assembly
line of all who had been hold-
ing his hand day after day
after day in the darkness

and it extended to the bright
light of heaven’s eternal day.

Fertility Phenomenon, a poem by Vicki Hill

Arriving in 1945’s spring
I pinpointed my birth a week before FDR’s death, thus admired Eleanor & Dems.
Glad later not to join the overflowing ranks of Baby Boomers
Still in utero or merely a gleam in the future’s eye
Grew first months in home of paternal grands while father,
Stationed in England, finished WWII bombing of the enemy,
[stories retold so often that my four brothers-to-come assigned them numbers–
Dad was not of the ranks of silent survivors.]
Mother nursed me and jealousy over a bigger, better baby shower
His sister “threw” for her best friend
(Hers were at a distance, gas rationed– these facts I know)
Because when I reached 59 years and pressed, I learned of long-held bitter feelings,
Unwilling to breach into 60s hearing ‘You know what you’re like’ &
Parental looks comparable to passing Chicago dump or shellac making on then- Doty, that connector highway between Hegewisch and my homeland, Roseland.

I comfort a small, colicky babe still within, attended by all these:
Grands celebrating 1st granddaughter, aunt adored/ adoring for 65 years , her demise after I flew to her in Texas to sing her to heaven;
uncle so recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s–such a treatment puzzler — after when, marriage of two years broken, he became a medical Guinea pig in a Chicago hospital of prominent research
up to and after a lobotomy.

We were made of stern Dutch stock, I at age 2, was plunked on a pew and required to sit motionless through Worship day-and-night: “long prayer ” questioned at dinner if less than 30 minutes, each
Sermon an hour.
Motionless reward: no midday service in Dutch add-on
Punishment as Father played organ, then rapped sleepyhead tots awake to listen:
“This is church!” Not understood Calvinist words,
Though I did pick up languages quickly from their cadence and
Words of a multi-ethnic neighborhood of Swedish, Irish, Lithuanian, heard at 110 grannies gathered weekdays at “ma’s”–
coffee at 10 or tea at 4, ‘shh’ for White Sox on radio by Grandpa,
His milkman duties done in time for games and grub–
“Die jonge ” signaled polyglot argot devised to keep our ears (or
Memories which might be carried home) pure.

Gertrude Stein nods knowingly: “We are always the same age inside.”.