Archive for the ‘Boston’ Category

Living out 17-year-old’s words

September 13th, 2014

high school yearbook text and imageTruth be told, my high-school-yearbook description referred to ovines not congregants. We got to write our own and in my 17-year-old cleverness, I included “A future shepherd.”

This Saturday, I have performed my first marriage since my ordination. Those who follow my original marriage-equality and political blog, Marry in Massachusetts know I have already officiated at (solemnized in MA lingo) five weddings.

The others have all been under MA General Law Ch. 207 § 3 9,which lets any adult petition the governor’s office for the right to marry one couple in one town on a specific day, one such per year. Unless they discover in their cursory look at that you are trying to do something nefarious, like an immigration scam, you get approved.

I’ve enjoyed the formality, elegance and touch of theater in being a one-day solemnizer. Petitioning the governor, indeed.

This time an aunt of a family friend asked me to perform the ceremony. Not sure of the timing and a wee fatigued of the one-day process, I figured it was time for the online ordination. I could be ready to marry folk at will without waiting one to three weeks to get the solemnization certificate in hand. That has to go with the signed marriage license to remain on file at the issuing city or town hall.

Nominally, the Universal Life Church Monastery ordination is free. You don’t have to attend divinity school and don’t need to fellowship or intern. Practically though, depending on where you want to conduct marriages, funerals and such, you have a couple of tasks.

The first is getting the right materials. The ULC, known to itself as The Monastery, does ordain for free, but profits from its store. You’ll want proof of ordination and such. The various packages of range from $30 to $100 and include all manner of certificates, wallet cards and even parking placards. The shipping fee is $12 to $18 as well.

I got caught by not knowing that my state is one that requires a separate registration process to perform marriages. After any ordination in any recognized church (including the Monastery), you need to apply to the secretary of the commonwealth, and include a copy of the ordination certificate and an original letter of good standing from the church. Oops, all of a sudden there’s a wait of a week and another $30 for letter and shipping/handling.

The secretary’s office didn’t inform me I was set. However, I called a week after applying and learned I was on the approved list.

By the bye, in most states, you don’t need the additional registration. If you decided to go The Monastery way, you should check with your state, probably the secretary of state, before ordering your goods. You might suppose the ULC site would have a table with per-state requirements. I haven’t found that.

Part of me has long been cynical about online ordination. I knew of folk who did this mail order in days before the web as well. Yet over the years I’ve also noticed that many ministers are either self-ordained (called directly by God to ministry). Others are instant clerics by mutual agreement. I think of one megachurch here in Boston where the father self-ordained, then promoted himself to bishop and then named his son as a bishop as well. They’ve had decades of success, industrial level.

Certainly The Monastery at least offers a veneer of approval, control and record keeping. Also after all, performing marriage or funeral ceremonies is not exactly the more demanding counseling aspect. Moreover, while most ministers have one or two wedding they do repeatedly, I customize the ceremony and vows for each. I’ve had good reviews…satisfied customers.

The humor to me is that over the years several ministers, some UUs as I am, and others, have asked whether I am a minister, then whether I have considered becoming one. They tend to say I am suited to the profession. Future shepherd indeed.

Urban critters

August 20th, 2014

We see coyotes, raccoon, opossums and such in our part of Boston. I scouted out a few more today at Forest Hills Cemetery and the in-town Audubon nature center.

In Lake Hibiscus in the middle of the graveyard, I was surprised to see a pretty big snapping turtle (surely undocumented immigrant). It was pretty creepy. It came from maybe 30 feet off-shore and surfaced just below me by the tiny rocky beach. As I moved about 100 feet along the shore, it tracked me. I began to feel like it was viewing me as a two-legged fish…a snack.

The lake has regular turtles, cormorants, and of course the usual ducks and geese.

A short distance down Walk Hill, I trotted the fox trail (el sendero del zorro on the sign). The hen turkeys did the turkey trot faster. They did not want to chat or play.

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Cormorants in the cemetery lake were chowing down on little fish. corm1
corm5 Several cormorants used the boulders as bases to flap and dry off.
The snapping turtle seemed to find me fascinating…maybe edible.

Less spookily, was he used to someone on land tossing bread?

snap3
smallerturtle The shiny to-scale turtles like the warming rocks in the cemetery lake.
The wild turkey hens were not happy with my being on their trail. They quickly repaired elsewhere. turkeyleave
snap2 [Jaws theme here] The snapper followed me along the shore and several times stuck its anaconda neck out to get closer.

JP tries Porchfest

July 20th, 2014

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

Tito’s Turkey Power

May 24th, 2014

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

 

AAA (kind of) helps cyclists

May 6th, 2014

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.

 

 

Babies and veggies

March 31st, 2014

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.

It’s a buck, Jack

March 14th, 2014

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.

 

 

Food for the hungry minister

March 5th, 2014

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.

 

Onion Skins and Snow

February 5th, 2014

heavypine We got a pretty solid snow, about 9 or 10 inches of the heavy stuff. It was a three-man clearing job. I did the front steps, front walk, sidewalk and the four Hellish feet where the bastard plow operators got their jollies packing us in. Ho ho.

The sons are at the driveway now…no mean feat.

emachinesnowI had cleared the upper deck and back stairs, feeling righteous. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the path to the lower compost bin. Sure, both levels of the deck get more snow, fallen, drifted and blown than the yard gets. However, this was a first when Nature goofed on the Earth Machine.

It was buried.

So it was digging down and far-flinging heavy snow off the deck, off the stairs, to create a path to the compost bin. Then it was humping off snow over the brick and grass to get to the huge marshmallow that hid the Earth Machine. Finally, it was carefully clearing the lid to allow access.

I’d been clever putting in our two compost bins. There’s one in the back that we use in warm weather. It’s a nice little walk with our stainless steel bucket of vegetative matter topped off with warm water. Then come late fall, we can retrieve rich soil for the fall prep of the flower and vegetable beds.

The one close to the house is for the winter. It’s close to the kitchen, so that after snows, we don’t need cross-country skis to dump our rotting veggy and fruit parts. This time though, the snow, at least figuratively, laughed at me.

Landscape Flames

January 26th, 2014

Putting the lie to the stereotyped drabness of Boston winters are a few gaudy treasures in the arboretum. I trotted the hills — so you don’t have to — in the gelid, windswept park.

As it turns out, the Arnold folk put a little but not too much effort in year round color as points of interest. There are areas lined with dogwood bushes, drab when the longer-lived flowering shrubs are showing off, but striking in their yellow or red branches when leaves are gone. Otherwise, red is the color that dominates above the snow and in the bitterest wind.

If you’re up for it, and be aware there were joggers in shorts with purplish legs, you can find lots of spots of color on the main road (Meadow becomes Bussey Hill becomes Valley becomes Hemlock Hill).

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Tall European cranberry bushes are flush with fruit. ecranberry
virburnum Several varieties of viburnum maintain
their berries.
Another of the many colorful viburnum bushes. viburnum
sumac Bussey Hill has staghorn sumac at the top,
along with vistas of Boston Skyline and
peeks of the Blue Hills.
A few bushes, like this Poiret barberry, have delicate fruit. barberry
highbush Beyond berries, the branches and canes
of some, like the Highbush blueberry,
expose colorful bark when the leaves
have fallen.
Some of the most intense colors were on the dogwood bushes, here in red… redcornus

yellowcornus
…and a little subtler in yellow.
Some of the less splashy visual include the Korean Yodogawa azalea, which look like star anise on the bush. yamazalea

witchhazel
A delicate delight was the Ozark
witch hazel’s flowers.