JP tries Porchfest

July 20th, 2014 1 comment »

Jamaica Plain did a fine job copying other such events in its first JP Porchfest yesterday. 50 or so groups performed at 35 venues, most of them quite literally porches.

I careered among many venues, playing a speed-listening version of the Odyssey. To my ear, there was a little terrible music, but most was good and some superb. With so much simultaneously in the works, no one was stuck anywhere. Here’s hoping this becomes annual.

As a disclaimer, several shots here are of a group where my wife sings and plays. I’m prejudiced. They jam weekly and perform as features on occasionally, largely bluegrass. Their road group has taken to call themselves Still Here.

Among some of the gems I found was Damn Tall Buildings, Rebecca Hope, and Outrageous fortune. As an indication of the event’s diversity, they play respectively bluegrass/blues, up tempo ballads, and swing. Click over to the event site for a list, many of which have videos.

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Avery ‘Montana’ Ballotta of Damn Tall Buildings dtb2
rhope1 Rebecca Hope
A couple of the Outrageous Fortune gang fortune3
stillh8 Still Here’s mando player, surely the best gurning of Porchfest
My uxorial unit for Still Here. She’s the primary family musician. stillh2
stillh6 Of course Still Here had the mandatory bluegrass components, including dobro…
…and a banjo stillh7
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Tito’s Turkey Power

May 24th, 2014 No comments »

If you’re running for office in Boston or statewide, you’re smart to show for City Councilor Tito Jackson’s annual turkey fry. Most gubernatorial contenders showed, among others, for this sixth version.

For you left-brain types and other quibblers, yes, there’s a lot more than turkey, like burgers, dogs, BBQ, a few non-meat offerings, sodas and water (no alcohol), ice cream and ta da, a snow-cone machine. Oh, and while Tito is a big guy, he had four loudspeakers in the street, each of which was bigger than he. The music kept people dancing, swaying, eating to the beat, and shouting to be heard. Sweet.

Mostly, this is a street party for the Roxbury neighborhood above Seaver Street. Plus the pols get to mingle while they and their minions pitch planks and promises.  There are surprisingly few events so casual and low-key where pols can have several easy hours chatting up black and Latino voters outside a dais/chair venue.

I tried to behave well, not dominating time with pols nor even taking pix of all of them. Many have been guests on my Left Ahead show. I’d already met nearly all of them and it was a chance to touch hands again. In some cases, we swapped cards and agreed the candidate should come on the show or come on again.

The following are a few images with comments. Among other pols there were Don Berwick and Joe Avellone (governor), Leland Cheung (looey) and Maura Healey (AG). I was there for nearly three hours and saw nothing of a certain Martha Coakley nor any of her lackeys. (Sunday update: I see on Tito’s FB feed that she did show late, after I left.)

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Long-term State Rep. Gloria Fox (since 1986) was a crowd please. She asked for support, noting, “I do not play. This is a diverse district (Suffolk 7) and I handle it well.’” GloriaFox
FDarroyo1 Another familiar face and voice was Felix D. Arroyo, former Councilor, father of a current councilor, and candidate for register of probate and family court. He’s always delightful and to us boomers sounds refreshingly like Ricky Ricardo. In fact, he noted that when he first ran for office many years ago, his accent was stronger.He asked one thing of the voters before him, on the Sept. 9th primary, his office will be down at the bottom of a long ballot, he wants to make sure people get all the way down there and finish the job.
Not everything was smiles and sandwiches. The Suffolk sheriff crew showed up with a police-dog demo. Adults a bit, but mostly the kids were impressed at the tenaciousness and training. Titodog
Falchuk Evan Falchuk (governor on the United Independent Party and sure to be on the November ballot) noted both in his remarks and to me that he considers it his job to discomfort the other candidates and raise key issues. In a deep nod to the Roxbury locale, he said that carried over, not so much to where the party was but to where he lives (Newton). He noted that his daughter and her classmates didn’t get the BPS-style warnings about how to behave when confronted by police. He said he regularly draws attention to the contradiction with urban communities of color.
Here’s a small subset of the several hundred at chez Jackson. (Right in the middle is Leland Cheung ([t. gov.] who didn’t want to give up his baby.) Titofront
Tolman Warren Tolman (lAG) pitched specific planks, like support for smart-gun technology.
 In a turnabout that borders on irony, gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman immediately went to the ice cream table — but to server rather than eat. He loves ice cream but is willing to share.By the bye, he said he wasn’t disturbed ty the recent poll that showed rival Coakley well ahead of all contenders. He noted his campaign had not spent a dime on ads and when it started, the field would level. Moreover, the thought the poll was an outlier. Grossmandip

 

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The WABAC (and round-and-round) Machine

May 14th, 2014 1 comment »

gmimeoFrom first grade, I was what could loosely be called a Red Cross volunteer. That is, my mother ran the local chapter, and pressed my older sister and me into service as needed.

At its worst, one time the three of us picked up the slack when real volunteers punked out. We worked all evening and night, stapling white, pink and red tissue paper (flowers) all around and on a flatbed trailer to be the basis of the RC float in the next day’s July 4th parade. (Actually, I recall enjoying being able to stay up all night, which I perceived as limited to adults, not elementary school kids.)

More typically, it was newsletters, newsletters, newsletters. Teens and adults also joined in, but it seems my sister Pat and I always had our role (after homework of course).

We became very adept at folding 8.5X11 sheets into precise thirds and stuffing them into number 10 envelopes. We used sensuously smooth whale bone to make the creases. Even now I wonder who ended up with those ivory treasures as they became illegal to own.

The newsletters themselves were most often done on mimeograph machines, as the Gestetner model above. My mother’s chapters tended toward that brand, which seemed indestructible, even when operated by volunteers as young as 6 or into their 80s.

I haven’t even gotten into this repro technology with my three sons. They are aghast hearing of the cheap thrills of moving from manual to electric typewriters. I’m not so sure they believe my tales of batch processing on a shared mainframe computer long before PCs existed. I did save the manual from my first PC, an Intertec Data System Superbrain. It had a 9-inch, monochrome screen and 64kb of RAM (not as typo — 64 kilobytes; we didn’t know of giga anything in 1981). A word processing program would load in 32K, leaving 32K for data.

Actually with no graphics or color, that was adequate. Moreover, even booting from one of the floppies (hard drives were about $5,000 or more), it was ready to use in seconds, much faster than today’s boxes. There basically wasn’t anything to test before loading the OS.

Here and now, we have Apple and Windows computers, desktops, laptops and tablets. We have laser and color inkjet printers, which we share wirelessly.

Mimeographs were not that way. (wikipedia as a good backgrounder on the technology.)

I remember the fragile, wax-based sheets you’d baby into readiness, wrap about the ink-filled drum and hope to hell they held at least for the print run.

You’d type without a ribbon to etch the sheet so the ink had places to go. You’d hope that the hollow letters, like B or g, did not destroy and tear the stencil. If you wanted illustrations, you drew directly on the stencil with a metal stylus or physically glued a doctored piece of stencil in place.

Those mimeograph users really had to be competent.

There are still mimeograph machines around. They are generations removed from the ones I used. They are now large, expensive and special purpose.

On the way to iPad Air and such, we went through the horror of desktop publishing. Starting around 1985, that software on PCs pushed the likes of mimeographs into closets. Suddenly everyone was buying dot-matrix printers and the likes of PageMaker or a half dozen other layout programs. You could do newsletters in a fifth or a tenth of the time…all without fragile stencils and smearing ink.

Of course, if you were around, you saw the dreadful results. Newsletters, promotional material and even Christmas letters looked the same. Everyone tucked in all the pictures they could and used dozens of fonts and headline styles per newsletter. It was the hideously overwrought style we were taught to avoid in our journalism-school classes — circus layout, from being in the garish style of a Ringling Bros. poster. Every became editor, artist and publisher in one.

That curse carried over although the technology is long gone. We see its vestiges in Apple-based culture. That would be the likes of barely illegible sans serif fonts (from days when serif type was jagged, but no longer necessary), and white or other light type on a dark background, and still online and in print too many damned headline and body styles.

Stop it already. Contain yourself!

In fairness, I should relax myself. Most people just don’t know where their bad habits and preferences arose.

 

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Wanda’s Day — I Won

May 11th, 2014 No comments »

When my mother lived, I sent her or handed to her Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards and gifts. She played both roles from her divorce before I was 5.

wandacollegeAlso, I initiated a running patter related to the era…about what the dull-witted still call broken homes.  As early boomers, my sister and I were among a large and growing cohort. Many of our parents had married in the passions following WWII, only to discover they had no business together. Many were like my mother, Wanda, with one, two or three kids but no basis for staying married.

In her case, her husband was the handsome war hero (Battle of the Bulge and so forth) and she had been the campus queen, theater star and scholar. They made each other swoon, wed and two years later produced first my sister then less than two years later me. It was only when we were part of the Occupation Army in Japan that both Wanda and Bob wondered what the devil they were doing married to that stranger. They were OK when he was off in Korea directing artillery shells, but face-to-face they wanted different things. She wanted a union of equals as her parents had and he a woman to order him around as his mother had his father. Incompatible.

Bob took up with a bossy woman, they divorced, he remarried, and Wanda asked only for us kids and minimal child support (no alimony request). Then Bob and his second wife became deadbeats. He got a transfer to Germany with his new family of two sons, my half-brothers. He stopped paying child support as soon as he left the country. Wanda asked the US Army for help. They replied that as an officer he was honorable and they trusted him to fulfill his obligations, and would do nothing.

The humor in all of this and character-revealing aspect, is that Wanda never, ever bad-mouthed Bob to my sister and me. She would note that he was smart and good looking and yes, a war hero. It was only on one our moves when I found both divorce proceedings and those from when my sister and I were visiting Bob and his second wife in OK when he decided they would keep us and take us to Germany that I learned of and asked about his chicanery.  Wanda drove to OK from eastern WV with her father, who was in a cast from his heel to his waist from a work accident to fight for and reclaim her children.

She truly loved us. She showed it in ways big and small.

Oddly and with brutal irony, I found that Bob’s second wife did not have my mother’s grace, honesty and compassion. I have never been in her presence or on the phone with her when she did not slander and lie about Wanda. For a few examples, she would say that it was Wanda who was in an adulterous relationship in Japan, not she and Bob in Korea, or that she and Bob did not even meet until they were back Stateside — both total lies. More amusing to me was defending their decision not to pay child support, because they, with two military salaries and Army subsidies just couldn’t afford support, with no consideration of a single mom with two kids, or even the court orders.

The gist of that is that I won the Mom Game.

I grew up moving every few years as Wanda took jobs in challenged Red Cross chapters to support us. Invariably, I meet other kids, particularly boys, who were being raised by divorced moms. Just as invariably, nearly every one of those sons heard constantly what cads men were (what kind of insulting message is that for a future man?). Meanwhile, Wanda never defamed her ex.

As I grew, I came to realize Wanda differed from many mothers and fathers. A defining trait was her rationality. Key was her posture that if my sister and I had better reasons for courses of action, we’d win. That was both a burden to us, but great freedom. She expected and demanded that we live rationally. As a result, many friends over the years said they so wished their parents were like Wanda. Their parents were arbitrary, often violent to them (abusers call that discipline), and as often alcohol infused. She neither hit us nor was ever drunk in my childhood.

I now recall so many motherly things she did for me, some of which I did not know about until many years later. For one, in eighth grade, she got a call from the principal asking for a conference with all of my teachers. The Red Cross chapter building adjoined the school’s athletic fields and she knew the principal from running first-aid, home-nursing and water-safety programs. She walked into an ambush of irate educators.

The core of it was that I asked questions in several classes that were not in the courses or assigned text books. We had many reference books, including three sets of encyclopedia, at home. From second grade, when I asked a question, Wanda would invariably reply, “Look it up.” I did and we’d discuss it.  I knew a lot and rather expected my teachers to have such curiosity.

As Wanda told me years later when she revealed the meeting during my college years, she was amused, not angry, at the teachers. She said she asked them whether the problem was that I asked them questions they could not answer. She said they replied, “Yes,” with the anticipation that she’d realize I was out of bounds. She said she replied, “Well, then don’t you think you’d better find out the answers and be ready for the next time someone asks?” That apparently was the end of the meeting and their chance to shame her.

I won the Mom Game and I didn’t even know I was playing.

Here’s an ethereal but sincere Happy Mother’s Day, Wanda.

 

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AAA (kind of) helps cyclists

May 6th, 2014 No comments »

triplemehTo this cyclist who is also a member of AAA, the new-to-Southern-New-England service should be welcome and praised. Not so fast.

The auto folk brag on the front of their new monthly Members can get help with bicycle breakdowns. While the feature did not note this was not a Massachusetts idea. As the Boston Globe writes, AAA has done this is two more bicycle friendly areas, Oregon and Idaho, for the past two years. The New Jersey AAA has been doing it for a year.

Unlike the sparse coverage in the AAA regional maggy, the Globe reported that what it really means is that 30 AAA trucks will have attached bike racks — a limit sure to further delay help on a bike call.

What do we AAA members who cycle get? “Transportation for you and your bike will provided to your home, your vehicle or another location free of charge within a limited range,” writes AAA.

More limits? Sure, this is AAA, after all. Consider:

  • Annual total of two bike calls.
  • No promise of repairs or attempts to repair.
  • No service off-road or bike trails or paths.

This is in fact the very least AAA could do.

While the current maggy has scattered biking items. The upper left for one writes about the chance to win a bike. Even that has a catch though. You need to go to the Facebook page and answer questions about the program to prove you’ve absorbed the marketing info.  Hazing.

So at least you’d get a ride home with an inoperative bike, twice max. Meh.

Moreover, in the Boston area, our experience the few times we’ve called AAA over the decades was extremely slow response, often in the nature of two hours. In fairness, AAA’s strength is using garages near major highways in the sticks. We’ve never had to use that but chum claim that is their forte.

Honestly, AAA, if you want to claim multi-modal transportation, you have to do better. Your rescue trucks need the gear and knowledge to patch flats and pump up both types of valves. Being a biannual taxi service for someone with lots of time to wait is nothing to brag about.

 

 

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Babies and veggies

March 31st, 2014 No comments »

Come blizzards. Come scorchers. Boston’s Haymarket vendors sell vegetables, fruits, herbs and fish.

For our part, the tradition continued this weekend. I had visited during college days when I was living across the river in Cambridge, but only every month or so. It was 34 years ago when we moved to Boston with our six-month-old son that I went weekly…and still do. Back then, Aaron was in a Snugli carrier I had embroidered with his name and I walked from Beacon Hill.

34years

This Saturday, a considerably larger Aaron, well beyond carrier size, wore his own six-month-old son there. Continuity, generations and yes, traditions come into play.

Among obvious differences were that we drove in from the Hyde Park neighborhood, that Aaron and Alasdair are visiting from California and won’t be regular visitors there, and that the carrier is the new version, an Ergobaby. Still, the symmetry ruled.

As Alasdair does, baby Aaron really enjoyed being toted, face to face, chest to chest. I always liked doing it as well. The only (minor) shock to me this time was that both Aaron and I wanted to carry the baby. I deferred, in part because he is the father and in part for the elegance of dad with his son in the sling.

In the middle of the longest strip of vendor stalls was Pat (in the pic below from last year) with his huge stall, two or three times the average. There are vendors who specialize in only brown or green produce, some who favor greens and herbs, some who go for salad and cooking greens (and reds), and a couple with mostly citrus. Pat’s stall always includes various potatoes, a range of citrus (including the absolute best lemons in the market), and various other veggies and fruits. You generally can get a full trip’s worth from him.

balmy

He has known for calling every customer, “Cousin” or “Cuz.” He was long twinned in my memory with his father, a short, thin, ever-smiling gentleman. His father deflected the impatient, pushy and rude customers with a kind word and gracious attitude. He was a delight. He died not long ago, but I half expect to see him beside Pat.

Saturday when the three of us appeared, we chatted up Pat for a couple of minutes. I mentioned that 34 years ago, I brought my six-month-old baby to the Haymarket and bought veggies and fruit from him and his father. That day, my son was wearing his own six-month-old to do the same. Pat was appropriately impressed and reminiscent.

He said, “34 years,” several times. He even reckoned that he might have a vague memory of me with baby Aaron from back then, when he’d have been in his teen or early 20s. It’s not all that relevant whether he does nor does not remember. It’s enough that the connection is real and continuing.

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It’s a buck, Jack

March 14th, 2014 No comments »

What the hell is it with Spare Change News? or maybe their vendors? and Bostonians, Cantabrigians? and Somervillains?

For crying out loud in a bucket, as my mother used to say when she was disgusted. Buy the damned rag. Enjoy the unique content. Feel a wee twinge of compassion and humanity.

First for urbanites, if you have any sense of hipness, you’ll want to get every issue. They are rife with poetry and social-action news nobody else has or bothers to cover.

Second, it’s low output, small beer for the reward. The vendors pay 35¢ per copy out of pocket. They sell them for $1 each and keep the 65¢ per. They are working, earning money honestly. Give ‘em a break.

There is no shame in honest labor.

I seek out the vendors. In case you are fastidious or a self-righteous type, you can check a vendor’s bona fides without dirtying yourself. They have ID tags they wear on their shirt, blouse, dress or jacket. You’re doing a good thing by buying and nobody’s scamming anybody.

Third, the vendors are to a man and woman sincere and jolly. Have a few words, connect with a human you didn’t know before and be human and humane yourself.

I see folk in Downtown Crossing, Harvard Square and elsewhere scurrying like Esplanade picnickers who have just noticed a rat crawling behind the Fiedler’s head sculpture. Honest to God, Spare Change vendors won’t transfer vermin to you. Instead, you might have the most genuine interaction of the day by buying a copy.

Do it.

 

 

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Fractured Methodist Tales

March 11th, 2014 No comments »

Nearly 34 years ago, I sat in an unpadded pew of the Old West (Methodist) Church in Boston on the Sunday when my firstborn was to be Christened. Subsequently, my later two sons were named instead at the Arlington Street Unitarian Universalist Church, which had horse-hair stuffed cushions. That day though, I had brought my wife and son to the prearranged ceremony at the denomination of my childhood, youth and young adulthood.

umc_crossflameThat day actually was the end of that religious association. I opened the hymnal to the Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t have to read it. I had memorized it long ago and the phrases have become seminal. That version differs slightly from that of many other churches, in that it leaves out mention of Jesus descending into Hell at death. Otherwise, it has the heavy baggage of doctrine and even bureaucracy that produced its carefully crafted message.

I sat there with my baby in the crook of one arm, looking at the page. I realized that I didn’t believe it, any of it — no Father Almighty, no virgin birth, no bodily resurrection after three days moldering, no judgment of the quick and the dead, no universal (lower c catholic) church, no saints, no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection, and no everlasting life.

Done, done and done. You have had your Methodism and you aren’t compatible.

The last I had felt any sort of communion with Methodism was before it went sour during the Vietnam war era. I did hang around the Methodist youth center building sometimes at the University of South Carolina. I could delude myself by subscribing to the excellent Motive Magazine. It was anti-war and pro-integration among other virtues (and had great poetry). It was in the mold of 18th Century Methodism founder John Wesley, a strong prison reformer and abolitionist in England and the Colonies.

Quickly though, the bishops (its governance was not by elders as the Presbyterians but Episcopal [by bishops] from its roots in Wesley’s Anglican communion) tromped on Motive. They had no patience with pinko, pacifist junk. They turned off a generation of thinking, feeling members.

That was not new to them. They had driven away what became the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches’ members. In the early 19th Century in Philadelphia and New York City, the racist and exclusionary practices made it plain to black members they were inferior as far as clergy and church pols were concerned.

Today with mixed feelings, I read in the NY Times of a Methodist bishop dropping the persecution and prosecution of a minister. His alleged violation of church doctrine was to perform the same-sex marriage of his son.

With my strong stance here and elsewhere in favor of marriage equality, I had long been disgusted by the United Methodist Church’s regression into anti-gay dogma and rulings. That they were defrocking their clergy who dared perform same-sex ceremonies was pathetic if not a surprise.

A year and one-half ago, at 80, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree performed the ceremony. He said, “I actually wasn’t thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.”

I relate. I have performed five wedding ceremonies, one for my eldest son. That was to a woman, but two of mine have been same-sex couples. There is nothing more moving than performing the marriage for your child. Three of my ceremonies were of long-term friends and very powerful, but your own child?

The NYT piece linked above concludes that the decision in this case is far-reaching. It includes:

Bishop Martin D. McLee “who oversees about 460 churches in lower New York State and Connecticut, agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Ogletree; in exchange, he asked only that Dr. Ogletree participate in a dialogue about the church and its stance on matters of sexuality. Promoting dialogue, the bishop said, could be a model for other United Methodist bishops to follow.

“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

That level of compassion and rationality is what I expect in UU churches and what I grew up with what was then my Methodist church.

I do hope that the United Methodist Church takes advantage of this offering from Bishop McLee. It has been divided on homosexuality long before being faced with dealing with marriage equality. Its bishops too are old now, at the moment when the nation has some to see same-sex marriage as the present as well as the future. Methodists in general have not been leaders here, but perhaps they won’t be the last to get there.

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Maple Sugar Day Sights

March 8th, 2014 No comments »

Vapors were the order of the at the Maple Sugar Festival today (repeat tomorrow, Sunday, March 9th, 10AM-4PM). Many maples on the DCR’s Brookwood Farm had taps drawing sap. Stops on the trail included one with Native American forms of syrup making —keeping a strong fire going and plunging hot rocks into wooden bowl of sap to do the deed. (Insert big hiss.)

Down the dirt road was the colonial take — with the benefit of metal pots, they hung these over fires and evaporated the sap into syrup and sugar.

Further down was a small evaporator unit in the modern style. Its big sibling at the end of the path was a sugarhouse, with a massive evaporator unit. The evaporators spewed steam as they did their work.

Also along the way was a blacksmith, Michael Bergman. He showed his skills and pitched classes in Waltham at the Prospect Hill Forge.  He worked with an anvil, of course, and instead of a massive heath and forge, he worked off what appeared to be a round Weber grill.  It used coal to generate enough heat to turn the steel rods red hot, and along the way smoke up the place.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The smith with his hand-cranked fan stoking the coal. bhsmith5
bhsmith3 The red-hot steel bar twisted quickly in a vise.
The colonial version of reducing sap to sugar used metal pots over fires. sappot
sugarhouse1 The sugarhouse is full of steam, sweet-smelling steam, as the big evaporator cooks down the sap. Your reward for walking the history trail was a little cup of fresh syrup.
Count our toes. The 300-year-old barn on the site is under rehab. The crew uses only tools available at the time. To create a beam, the team strips the bark and shapes a log into the right proportions. counttoes
bhspileguy More period drama with tool restrictions occurred at the colonial sugaring area. Here a reenactor makes a spile (a tap for a maple). He hollows a piece of wood into a tube. He then inserts this into a drilled hole in the maple to draw off the sap into an attached bucket.
It had nothing to do with sap or syrup, but Mass Audubon worked with the DCR on the event and showed up with several birds. An impressive one was a red-shouldered hawk.She survived a raccoon attack on her fledgling nest that killed all her siblings. She’s growing back the flight feathers the raccoon bit off her. She doesn’t get a name because they don’t want to treat her as or make her a pet. redshlulder4

screech2
There was also a screech owl.
Another of the hawk…just because… redshlulder2

icetongs
The barn has period relics too. Several ice tongs were on shelves, remnants of when colonists cut blocks of ice from ponds, like nearby Houghton’s, and stored them under straw in cellars for use many months later.

 

 

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Food for the hungry minister

March 5th, 2014 No comments »

The hallmark of social-activist preachers is not complacency. Instead, they should inspire you to both think and act. You want it, you get it, in Twice-Told Tales: A Collection of 21 Sermons.

I am surprised to recommend a collection of homilies. If you pardon the expression, Lord knows that I have squirmed enough times listening to tedious, cliched, often repetitious preaching. While the author doesn’t have a recognizable first name among his Rev. Dr. Farley Wilder Wheelwright, he is an excellent minister, both from the pulpit and, as many have told me, for pastoral counseling.

Disclaimers: I have known Farley for decades, back to 1987, when he was interim Senior Minister at Boston’s Arlington Street Church. I was a board (Prudential Committee) member, then chair. We solved many problems together. I loved his preaching and we have been good friends since. I also wrote the book’s forward.

The book has some potent historical mentions. Farley is still, as he has always been, an egalitarian, free-thinking, atheist, activist. Ministers in general and UU ones in particuar divvy into a big bucket of the timid and a smaller one of the righteous. My chum was active in civil rights, knowing many of the leaders and being a friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, Rev. King was to deliver the Rev. Wheelwright’s installation sermon, only to be assassinated a few days before that could happen.

Over my life involved as a worshiper and in various churches’ politics and polity, I have known many ministers. I have lost count of the boring and inane sermons I have heard. The winners are regular surprises and delights. Farley’s book is filled with those.

As a side note, the Arlington Street Church has an illustrious history filled with many noted Unitarian preachers. It is know as the mother church of American Unitarianism, as the base for Rev. William Ellery Channing (although he had to go to Baltimore to preach the sermon that defined his brand of religion, because the board found him too radical). I joined the ASC when the Rev. Victor Carpenter was senior minister. He did not believe in comfortable congregants and gave us social-action homework from the pulpit weekly. Following Farley and to this day the Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie holds the high pulpit. She can be insipid, but when she hits one, it is out of the proverbial park. She is the rarest of liberal preachers, a charismatic one.

Farley is a magnificent preacher. He is smarter and better read than any minister you are likely to have known. Yet, his sermons got you to the conclusions without letting his intellect get in the way.

When he began discussing this project with me, he envisioned it as a nice-to-have for new ministers. He knew that there are likely the roots of three to five sermons in each of his. He figured newbies would benefit. He says he’d be happy for them to built sermons from these and they’d only need give him credit if they lifted large portions or whole ones.

Drawing on my experience with ministers, I think more established preachers might gain more. As we all who visit various churches have noted, many of the same sermons reemerge. For UUs and beyond, I think immediately of the Rev. Clark Dewey Wells’ You be glad at that star.  Sure, it’s a good idea and sermon, but why have so many ministers modified or lifted it? The answer is simply that most run out of ideas. They are constantly reading their peers’ work and listening to their podcasts. They aren’t forever insightful and creative. They really couldn’t cut it as newspaper columnists who have to come up with three or five pieces a week. Although in fairness, sermons are not their only duties.

I have read or skimmed numerous books of sermons. They tend to the trivial and saccharine.  From my ASC days, I recall visiting the Boston Athenæum for research on my own church and board speeches. I rather loved the 19th Century monthly The Liberal Preacher. Many of those sermons were smarter and harder hitting than modern ones. I also have judged UU sermons for the annual Skinner Award; fortunately there were always deserving ones in a UUA-wide contest.

My prejudices aside, Farley’s collection is full of good ones. I heartily recommend it for your own reading and as a gift for ministers you know.

 

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