Wednesday, December 26, 2012


If I may take a moment of personal privilege, I want to write about an experience from last week. A few weeks ago, Chris, my younger son (43) decided his brother, Mike (46) and I (never mind) should renew our Man Cards for 2013. He proposed a fly fishing trip to Arkansas. We would all arrive on Monday and leave the following Friday. No hotel for us; we rented a small cabin—I’m not about to sleep in a tent for a week in the middle of winter. Now Chris and Mike are avid fishermen. Both love fly fishing, though they don’t limit themselves to that. I, on the other hand, last went fishing about 37 or 38 years ago.

That fishing trip was with the two of them. We lived near Reelfoot like and I thought they needed to be introduced to the sport. As I recall it, this meant I would affix their floats and hooks, as well as bait the hook. When we landed a fish, I would be the one to take it off the hook. (We tossed them back because I didn’t want to clean them. Too big a yuck factor for me).

I remember the day well, partly because one of the highlights was Chris hooking his arm. Before I could get to him to gently remove it, he yanked it out. He lived and apparently it didn’t turn him against fishing. But this blog is not just a walk down the dim shadows of my memories.  Here’s why.

I’ve never been fly fishing. I have no, I repeat no, equipment or experience. So my kids were the ones who tied the heavier lines onto the leader line. They selected the perfect fly and they tied the tiny fly onto the leader. They showed me the proper stance and the proper cast. They showed me “line management” (at which I stink, BTW). I stood in the Little Red River in someone else’s waders. I caught a tree trunk, a rock, some river bottom vegetation and very sore leg muscles. The next day, we tried spin casting off the dock.  Different kind of rod, different kind of line, different kind of (a new word I learned) presentation, and a different way to cast.

I remember a little of that from long ago, so casting came back quickly. But when I got the first trout, it was one of them who tried to net it for me. For a lot of reasons, this one got away. One of them re-loaded for me. Bam! A hit. A successful netting. I didn’t gut it or cook it, but I ate it.

Throughout this trip, our roles were almost completely reversed from long ago. They were the patient ones. They delayed their fishing long enough to help me. They encouraged me. They rewarded me with a virtual Blue Ribbon for catching the most fish in the shortest period of time. One of them drove me to Heber Springs and back. The two of them cooked for us. I got to have fun because they were unselfish and attentive.

In the last quarter of my life, moments such as these will become more common. There will be a ladder I will no longer be able to safely climb. A gadget I can’t hook up. A memory I’ve lost. It will be their love that will climb that ladder, hook up that gadget and give be back, if for no more than a moment, the lost memory. Such is the circle of life. Jesus made it clear that we are to care for those who can’t care for themselves. Even if it only means reminding them of the joy of being with loved ones and recapturing the memories of fishing. Or making new memories. As one of them wrote in an e-mail, “I know I will remember this the rest of my life.” Me too.

Merry Christmas,  Jerry

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jacintha Saldahna

When I was a young man, a friend of mine and his wife had their first child. When I saw him a few weeks after the birth, he showed me a picture and asked, “What’d you think?” What I thought was, “This baby looks a lot like an ugly monkey.” I thought that because, that’s exactly what it was. He was showing me the monkey picture as a prank. I didn’t fall for it and say the expected thing: “What a beautiful baby!” Instead I said, “Looks just like you.” We both laughed.

I thought about this harmless prank when I learned of the death of Jacintha Saldahna, the nurse in England who put through a phone call she thought was from the Queen, inquiring about Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. It now appears that Mrs. Saldahna committed suicide by hanging herself, apparently as a result of this call. The prank raises a number of issues.

First, since her identity had not been made public and all she did was transfer a call, what would have prompted such an extreme reaction? Her brother said she died of shame. But should such shame require death? Second, the Australian DJs who made the call have been fired, vilified, and even received death threats. The question is how responsible are they for Mrs. Saldahna’s actions? Can the ire heaped on them be justified? Third, and the issue I will take up is this: how “harmless” are any pranks?

My friend hoped I would be put in an awkward position and feel uneasy or worse when he showed me the picture. Such a reaction, he must have believed, would be good for a laugh. He liked the idea so much that he showed the picture to others of our mutual friends too. Was his prank “harmless.” I wasn’t harmed. But then I “got it” and I got it quickly. I did watch others of our friends squirm, however, when it was their turn. They didn’t get it. They felt constrained to say something nice, so as to not hurt the proud papa’s feelings. Even if anything nice they might say would, of necessity be something of a lie.

So the question is this: when it is our deliberate intent to embarrass or humiliate someone, to create a situation in which they feel awkward or ill at ease, is that in keeping with Jesus’ teachings? I know, you might think I’m making too much of this. And I have to confess that I’ve “pranked” people before myself with no thought to any negative effect on them. And you may be saying that I’ve fallen over the PC cliff. Feel free. But, since this incident with the nurse, I’ve seriously considered trying to avoid my natural tendency to kid around if that kidding around could reasonable bring discomfort to another.

Jesus did make it very clear that our treatment of others should entail compassion, care and love. He did say that the paradigm for how we act is one in which we gauge how we might like to be treated in a similar situation. If I take that seriously, can I ever justify deliberately creating a situation where another would likely be emotionally uncomfortable? I’ve decided the answer is no.

I don’t think the DJs can be held accountable for the nurse’s death. There was no reasonable expectation that a person who might be embarrassed by an action would react in this extreme way. But, they did intend to trick someone—even though they claim they were surprised the call was put through. And that tricked person could reasonably be expected to be uncomfortable to some degree. It’s a complicated matter and I’m not suggesting that any reader do anything different going forward. I think I’m going to try, though.

Peace, Jerry

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pink? Really?

The third candle of Advent is pink.  Know why?  I posed this same question last year, about a month after I started the blog. You may not have seen the answer, but even if you did, it will be good for us to hear it again.

If our service was in Latin, the first word you would on the third Sunday of Advent in the traditional mass would have been from the Introit and it would have “Gaudete” which is Latin for “rejoice.”  The traditional introit or entrance hymn begins with, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice,” which is a quotations from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  And it is echoed in the epistle reading of the day of I Thessalonians which begins, “Rejoice always” as well as the Isaiah reading.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, the readings for Advent tend toward a somber tone, especially the first Sunday. The typical purple vestments and purple candles in the Advent wreath call Lent to mind, the major penitential season of the year.  But on this Sunday, now at the half-way point of Advent, the mood lightens a little and the pink or rose candle is a reminder of that.  We are encouraged to continue our spiritual preparation, especially through prayer and fasting, but done in a spirit of joyful anticipation.

Oddly, it seems the way modern Christmas is prepared for in the States is with the emphasis on rushing and hurrying as we try to beat mailing deadlines and miss black out dates with our air miles, which means we are more likely to be unhappy rather than joyful.  Our shopping for gifts is often frenzied either with trying to get the “perfect” gift, the “hot” item for the year, or just trying to get a gift for all on our list. The lines at the mall and post office are longer and the clerks may not be as cheerful as we’d like. Websites crash as we try to make a purchase on line forcing us to start over again. A common result is we approach Christmas Day harried, near exhaustion, and in a bad mood rather than with a sense of joy.

But this third week in Advent can be our time of relief.  All we have to do is shift the focus back to the real purpose of Advent and spirit of Christmas, at least for a bit.  “Rejoice in the Lord” is the message.  The introit doesn’t end there. The wonderful message that is ours for this week and for the season continues with, “...the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything...”

Joyfully, Jerry  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Surprising Saint

On 29 December, much of the Church will celebrate the feast day of Thomas Becket. I point that out in this week’s post because many of us will be recovering from our Christmas celebration and be busy making resolutions for 2013 about that time. We might miss the moment. The story’s too good to miss.

Some of us remember Becket from the movie of the same name released in 1964 which starred Richard Burton in the role of Becket and Peter O’Toole as England’s king Henry II. Others remember the story from our study of the Christian Church. I’m guessing most of us have no idea what the story was about. That’s too bad, because the story is important for many reasons. So, here’s the story in a nutshell.

To fully appreciate what happened to Becket, a little context will be helpful. Becket was born in the twelfth century in London in the middle of what we call the Middle Ages or the Medieval period. In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church was extraordinarily powerful, controlling all of life—this one and the next. The Church had positioned itself as the only instrument that could provide salvation from death and a life of eternal torment. People were in a near perpetual state of anxiety about their eternal future, fearing the Church as much as revering it.

At this time, the Pope was powerful enough to remove kings, but kings could not remove Popes. The usual method employed by the Pope to deal with uncooperative kings was to place their kingdom under interdict. Interdict meant that the clergy did not provide the sacraments to the people—the very means of grace that could assure them of their salvation. If you died while your king was under interdict, you could not be buried in the consecrated ground of a parish cemetery. Not uncommonly, bodies would just be stacked near the cemetery awaiting the lift of the interdict. No marriages, no weddings, no Eucharist, no penance: no hope of heaven. The intention of the Church was to cause the people to rise up and over throw the monarch so the kingdom could be returned to the Church’s favor and the sacraments once again become available. It was a powerful and effective tool used many times by the papacy.

English kings had a problem with having a “foreign” power having this much control over them. When William, who would be called the Conqueror, defeated the last Anglo-Saxon king of England in 1066, he became the first Norman king. One of his agenda items was to reform what he considered to be a corrupt Church in England. He declared he himself to be the head of the Church in England—almost 500 years before Henry VIII. So when Henry II, 100 years of so after William wanted to flex his muscles viz a viz Rome, he had a precedent—his great grandfather, William.

In 1162 the Archbishop of Canterbury died and Henry wanted to appoint his friend, Thomas Becket to the most important Church position in England. Not only did he have a lot of respect for Thomas, he believed Thomas would support him in a reform he wanted. At this time, Church courts were the only ones that could try clergy for wrong doing. The tendency was to either acquit or to impose light punishments. Henry believed this undermined his authority as king and intended to change that. He would be the final power in his own kingdom.

Becket knew what the king wanted and he told Henry he didn’t want the job. He wrote Henry that were he to be Archbishop, “our friendship will turn to hate.” Henry persisted and Becket took the post. It changed him. He had been a “party animal,” living a luxurious lifestyle. Now he ate only bread and water, slept on the floor, and under his splendid robes of office, wore a horse hair shirt. He showed concern for the poor, giving them the food meant for his table.

Henry passed a law in 1164 that stated any person found guilty in a Church court would be punished by a royal court. He insisted Becket support him, but Becket would not. Eventually, fearing for his life, Becket went into exile.

After six years, he felt it safe enough to return, wooed back by Henry, but the turmoil only escalated. When the Archbishop of York supported Henry’s efforts, Becket asked the Pope to excommunicate him. Henry was enraged. He was king and demanded obedience and loyalty, but Becket asserted his allegiance was to a more powerful King, God himself as represented by the Church.

In a fit of anger, Henry is said to have shouted, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” It is not clear he actually said this, nor is it clear that he wanted Becket dead, but four of his knights understood whatever happen that way. They murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. The Pope quickly made him a saint.

And Henry? To receive forgiveness from the Pope, he was required to walk barefoot from his palace to the Cathedral and to pray at the spot Becket fell; as he prayed, monks whipped him. The people? The Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage for people, not just in England, but from all of Europe. The spot of the murder is identified even today with a plaque and a continually burning candle flame. When Henry VIII looted the Church in the 16th century, it took 21 carts to haul away the valuables left at Becket’s shrine by pilgrims.

Becket faced the same kind of issue we all face: whom will I serve, to whom will I be loyal? As we proclaim the birth of Jesus, we should be reminded his intention was the establish the Kingdom of God, a kingdom in which we are citizens. Our personal question: what kind of citizen will I be?

Peace, Jerry