Monday, July 16, 2018

Why I Never Go to Mass, er, Shower

Reasons I never go to Mass shower
1) I was forced to shower as a child.
2) People who shower are hypocrites. They think they are cleaner than everyone else.
3) There are so many different kinds of soap, I could never decide which one was right.
4) I used to shower, but it got boring so I stopped.
5) I shower only on special occasions, like Easter and Christmas.
6) None of my friends shower.
7) I’m still young. When I’m older and have gotten a bit dirtier, I might start showering.
8) I really don’t have time to shower.
9) The bathroom is never warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer.
10) People who make soap are only after your money.
(There’s more)
– I get along very well without showering.
– I work hard all week and am too tired to take a shower on the weekend.
– The first bar of soap I ever used gave me a rash, so I haven’t gone near soap since.

 (Allegedly posted by a priest in Ireland in his parish bulletin.)

Pax et bonum

The Faith-Tinged Haiku of Johnny Baranski

Image result for Johnny Baranski

Johnny Baranski (May 1, 1948 - Jan. 24, 2018) and I had been following each other on Twitter for a while. I always appreciated his haiku, and had a sense of his spirituality and commitment to social justice. But, to be honest, I did not know a great about him personally.

Sadly, he died in January after a battle with cancer.

I learned he was indeed Catholic - I saw him described at "devout." I learned about his long career of opposing war and nuclear weapons, and supporting social ministry. I learned he had spent time in jail for his opposition to war and weapons - something I respect and which I consider honorable.

I wish I had known him better when he was alive. We could have talked about faith, helping the poor, protesting, and more.

Below are some of his haiku related to his faith and time in prison.

winter moon
the A-bomb dome
casting a shadow

our time together
short but sweet
prison yard snow

in ten summers
the convict’s first visit

in the prison graveyard
just as he was in life—
convict 14302

a walk-off home run
up and over
the prison wall

for a moment
the war be damned
cherry blossoms

prison lights out
drifting off to distant places
a train whistle

road to freedom
just a stone’s throw beyond
the prison yard
Nagasaki sunrise
their shadows tell
the story    
predator drone the butterfly is yellow  
off prison barbed wire
snow taking
the edge
prison lights out
drifting off to distant places
a train whistle
           moonlit spider
web weaving
          cell bar to cell bar
chrysanthemum garden
in this world too
bomb makers
basketball stops
in the exercise yard–
convicts shoot the breeze
jail visitor:
the warmth of her eyes
through bulletproof glass
amber wheat fields —
no one talks about
the missile silos
far from the mainland
reaching through the fog–
prison lights
                 In my jail cell
a shrinking pencil point
      grows many flowers
Here is his "death" poem, written two days before he died:

one last breath
before dying—
plum blossom

Image result for Johnny Baranski

Pray for us, Johnny.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Touched By Two Deaths

This past week I learned about the deaths of two old friends: Father Ted Metzger and Tom Dietz. 

They were not friends who had been active parts of my life recently (for various reasons), but they were friends who had been important in my life around the same time, and who affected me in ways that touch me still.

Father  Edwin "Ted" Metzger Obituary

I first met Father Metzger in 1976. I was in the college seminary at the time, and I needed a place to stay for the summer. He agreed to let me live in the rectory of the parish where he was pastor.

I had a job as a security guard working an afternoon/evening shift, he was taking classes, so during the week we had little interaction. But on the weekends we talked.

He was a gentle, caring person, and I needed that at the time as I struggled with whether or not to continue in the seminary. He listened, asked questions, but didn't push. I did ultimately leave the seminary, but it was my choice and he helped me to understand why I made that choice.

We also shared a love of old movies. We talked about them, and he even introduced me to Gone With the Wind, which, at that time, was playing in theaters, and which I had never seen before.

In addition, he allowed me to join the small "folk group" that played at Mass at his parish. I had never really played in public before (other than one joke performance in high school). Although I only played with the group for a few months, it led me into liturgical music, something I've continued doing in one form or another for more than 40 years (including my current involvement with Rock of Faith). The leader of the group also wanted to form a group to play more secular folk music at coffee houses. We practiced, I learned a good deal, and we did play out once - the first time I ever played in public (other than at church).

During the down times when Father wasn't there and I wasn't working, I did a lot of reading and writing. The rectory was topped by a cupola - a small room on top of the roof sometimes called a "widow's walk"  or "widow's watch." I used to go up there, and remembering the legend that these small rooms were where the wives of sailors would go to watch the sea to see if their husbands were coming home, I wrote what became my first published poem:

The Widow's Walk

A sail!

The young trip as they run.
The old curse their stiffness.
And all eyes turn to the sea
as on the widow's walk they stand.

There is motion on the sea road;
hearts flutter
as moving shapes become faces.

The exodus begins.
The young run down the stairs.
The old no longer curse.
Doors open.
Arms open
and close in warm embrace.

Far above,
silent eyes watch
as the road empties.
Tears begin to fall
down the stairs
as on the widow's walk she stands.

I left the rectory at the end of the summer, though I kept coming back to the parish for a while to play with the folk group (not having a car, though, by winter I had stopped doing so). Because of my work and family, and his various assignments out of the area and even out of the country, Father and I were not in regular contact. Still, I did see him occasionally through diocesan events and my work with the diocesan newspaper. Whenever he saw me he'd smile and declare, "It's a Lee."

Thomas G. Dietz Obituary
Tom's death came more recently. I met him at college after I left the seminary. We had some mutual friends, and were part of the same circle. We shared a love of music - he taught me some ways to improve my playing, we frequented the college coffee house, and so on. He even tried to teach me how to box. We'd spend hours talking and telling jokes. He was such a caring, decent person.

I wrote a song about this time about a woman who drank too much (the typical good-hearted but flawed woman bluesy type song) and Tom showed up in one of the verses:

Maggie met Dietz one time in a bar
he'd been singing and playing guitar all the night.
Maggie got up, and started to sing,
Dietz didn't mind 'cause together they sounded so right.
She sang the high parts, he sang the low,
She ran out of steam when her whiskey got low,
Dietz didn't mind he just went home and played some mo'.

(What helps to make this song extra special to me was while I wrote most of it, my good friend and playing partner Dave Nittler later helped with a couple of lines, and we used to play it at local coffee houses. Dave, sadly, died a couple of years ago. So this song now reminds me of two old friends.)

I last saw Tom shortly after college. We had to part ways for personal reasons, though there was no fault on his part for those reasons. But I've thought of him often in the years since, and have told stories about him. One was about the time when he was a child and had wandered out of his home and gotten lost. He then spotted a synagogue, and sensing it was a church and had people in it, walked in in the middle of a service and called out, "Take me home!"

The other story, which I used to illustrate courage and decency just this past year, involved a party in his dorm that was beginning to get out of control. At one point, a freshman girl, very drunk, ended up in his suite bathroom, and Tom, realizing that some of the other students were trying to take advantage of her, brought her into his room, locked his door, and kept her there safe. If they had found out, he could have faced some problems, maybe even violence, but Tom was protecting someone, and was willing to take that risk. That's the Tom I knew and liked.

God sends special people our way, and even if they are not in our lives every day, they are still a part of us. Father Metzger and Tom Dietz are and always will be part of me.

Pax et bonum

Friday, July 13, 2018

Praise God and console the soul

"Brother, the children of this world have no understanding of the things of God. Formerly, the saints used such musical instruments as the zither, psalteries, and others to praise God and console their soul; now these instruments promote vanity and sin, contrary to the will of the Lord." - St. Francis of Assisi

I came across this quotation while reading John Michael Talbot's The Lessons of St. Francis: How to Bring Simplicity and Spirituality Into Your Daily Life (written with Steve Rabey). (The book did not give notes about where Talbot/Rabey found this quotation, and I have not been able to locate the source with a quick search. I'd like to know where it came from so I can read more.)

I immediately thought of contemporary music - so much of it full of messages that promote vanity and sin. Then I thought of contemporary Christian music, some of which is wonderful and inspiring, but some of which, sadly, seems banal, overly pop-influenced, and ultimately not really worshipful.

But then I thought about the local art museum.

We were there last week. There were many wonderful paintings, sculptures, and so on. I paused in front of many works to take them in.

So much truth, beauty, and goodness.

But I noticed that there were a number of modern/contemporary works that were disturbing, and not in a good sense. Yes, it's fine if a work disturbs us because it helps us to see something that needs to be corrected or improved, or shows us something about ourselves that we may not have realized. But these works were violent, disturbed, chaotic, discouraging. Rather than uplifting us or rousing us to take action, they made us feel worse about the world and ourselves.

They created hopelessness, not hope. Ugliness, not beauty. 

They struck me as false, not true.

I actually hurried out of one room full of these works to seek out a room with the works of some Masters. Yes, the Masters also showed some of the darker parts of life, but they conveyed a sense of hope. You got a sense that we can do better.

Too much of the modern/contemporary work seemed to convey the message that we can't expect anything to get better, so we might as well just give up trying.

I later scribbled:

At the museum
seeking truth, beauty, goodness -
find the Masters' rooms.

This is not to say that there were not some wonderful works among the more modern. There were indeed some really nice pieces. But they seemed to be the exceptions, not the rule.

The St. Francis quotation gave voice to what I've been thinking since: We do indeed need more that praises God and consoles the soul.

Pax et bonum

King Saint Henry Clerihew

Image result for St. Henry

Saintly King Henry
was generally courteous and friendly.
But he could be a bit of a crank
If you dared to call him “Hank.”

Pax et bonum

Some wisdom from Peter Maurin

Image result for Peter maurin

The aim of the Catholic Worker
is to create a new society
within the shell of the old
with the philosophy of the new,
which is not a new philosophy,
but a very old philosophy,
a philosophy so old
that it looks like new.
~Peter Maurin

Pax et bonum

Thursday, July 12, 2018

God sends a bird

I don't use an alarm clock. I don't need one. After years of getting up early - paper route, radio shift, teaching, dog waiting to be walked - my internal clock is set for around 5 a.m.

But many mornings, I wake long before that time. I turn over, drift back to sleep, wake again, check the clock, drift back, and so on until it's finally time to get up.

This morning, the usual pattern.

But then when it was almost time to get out of bed, and I turned over for a moment more, suddenly a bird began to sing. The song came through the open window. Loud, beautiful, joyful.

And what passed through my mind was, "Thank you, Lord."

I got up smiling. As I stepped out to walk the dog a couple of minutes later, the bird was still singing.

So was my heart.

Thank you, Lord. 

Pax et bonum