All posts by J Dot

Prominent Ontologists (a poem for ordinands)

Do prominent ontologists
Recognize each other
In the liquor store
The weight of their
Being there having become
Too much to bear

Or do they wink
As they choose their drink
To soothe a back made weary
Toting the barge of our identity
Along the towpath of history
But rarely considering
The flooded canal beneath
Us borne toward the crystal sea

Late night in the craft shop

My brother turned 46 this week. Not my oldest brother. He’s 54. The brother who turned 46 is closest in age to me (which makes me older than I thought.) This brother and I used to fight a lot when we were kids. I’m not really sure anymore what we fought about, but maybe we just spent too much time in close proximity.

When we got old enough, our parents separated us for the summer. I’d go to camp for a month and then he’d go to camp for a month. That worked until he was old enough to be a counselor. Then he went to camp for both months. Which turned out to be fine because, for whatever reason, we did not fight at camp. We got along pretty well there, actually.

When I became a counselor, we actually hung out together. We’d play cards late at night when all the campers were asleep. Some of the counselors would hang out in the dining hall, but a group of us would go down to the craft shop and play spades. If you don’t know the game, it’s something that people play in teams and it helps if you can guess what cards your partner has. It especially helps if your partner has the Ace of Spades.

The deck we played with most often was a set that commemorated the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. Each of the cards had a historical fact about Texas, and the Ace of Spades had directions to the LBJ Ranch. When our opponents did not know this particular deck of cards, I could ask my brother something innocuous like, “Have you ever been to the LBJ Ranch?” If he said yes, then I knew he had the trump card.

It was cheating, but it seemed like a fairly benign form of cheating. There were other benignly illicit behaviors going on in the craft shop. Since the campers were not allowed to have cokes, drinking them was our chief pleasure. We used the cans for spitting juice from the tobacco we chewed. This was definitely against the rules for us as well as the campers.

At some point, word got back to the camp director about the Copenhagen we’d been using. He was a very good man, and none of us wanted to disappoint him. For me, he had created a place of peace and stability in the midst of an uncertain childhood. I owed him a great deal, but when he asked me a direct question about goings on in the craft shop, I lied to his face.

About ten years later, I took a car trip across the country. On the way back home, I stopped off at camp. It was the middle of the summer and the middle of the day, but the camp director stopped what he was doing to spend a little time with me. I told him how much camp had meant to me, how it had provided a shelter from my stormy family life. I also told him that I had lied to him, and that I was sorry.

He looked at me through slightly teary eyes and said, “That must have been really hard for you to say.” And then he thanked me and invited me to stay for lunch. I still had a place at his table.

Malcolm Williams died this summer. There was a memorial for him at camp today. Hundreds of former campers were invited to attend. A few weeks ago, I found some decks of those LBJ playing cards on Ebay. I bought a couple of packs and sent one to my brother, along with a poem.

In the Craft Shop
(For Allen on his 46th birthday)

On summer nights
Under a bare yellow bulb
We observed a truce
Called brotherhood
Which trumps all

Do you know the way?

Crunch Then Brunch

Crunch then BrunchFrom artisanal loaves
And fresh caught coho
Whole tables were fed
The starters
Including women and children

Consider the athlesiure
Of the meals

The heroic rising
To consume in conspicuity
Plates of homefries
At exotic restaurants
It takes a lot of work
To be this casual
You have to earn it
By owning it*

(*Financing is available
To qualified buyers)

The Kingdom of Brunch
Is like this
“Our applewood smoked bacon
Can be prepared
To your desired crispness”
But it is not without
The risk of consuming
Raw and cooked egg
Products may cause illness.

I need new brown shoes.

I’ve decided that it is time to go to work. For the last couple of years, I’ve been able to pull off wearing cargo shorts and flip-flops most of the time. I know it makes me look like a youth minister from 1998, but I feel comfortable. In some ways, too comfortable. When I am that comfortable in how I dress, I can get comfortable in how I think. One might even say complacent or lazy (not that seminary leaves much room for laziness.)

Well, break’s over.

Today, I’m intensely aware that we have work to do. We have work of discernment. What is the truth when it comes to disaffected communities, people under threat, and the relationship of our past to our future? As we come to see the truth, we must tell the truth. We must talk about who we have ignored and about who we have been blind to. Maybe we can work on reconciliation, but we must first be honest about the degree of our separation. We have lots of work to do.

Now is not the time for me to be lazy. Now is the time for me to show up for work, wearing the proper clothes. That includes appropriate footwear. Closed-toed shoes. I put on my old Clark’s chukka boots this morning. They were old when I started seminary two years ago. They are really old now. And kind of frumpy. But then again, I’m planning on wearing a lot of black in the near future. Is this a time for buying new brown shoes?

Mine are not quite so frumpy, but they are close.

As I sat in Noonday Prayer and pondered such things in my heart, I realized two ideas at the exact same time. First, I’m thinking about shoes and shoe shopping. Yes, our world still needs healing and no, buying stuff is not the way to heal it, but the sun did rise in the east this morning. Tonight it will set in the west. While we are working on some big challenges, the little joys of life persist. (I’m open to considering that formulation in reverse, but the challenges don’t seem little in this moment.) Second, I’m ready to get to work. I’m excited. Not so much because I think we can get it all done (or at least not easily and quickly) but because I get to do it with you.

So, what do you think? Maybe tan leather?