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bigger barns

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My sermon for the church in Westbrook this week comes from the lectionary text, Luke 12:13-21, where Jesus tells a parable about a person who keeps building bigger barns so they can amass greater wealth. (Consider the previous sentence as a clear example of a way to get people to decide not to read further—but please keep reading.)

The story was a response to a request from someone for Jesus to arbitrate a dispute over an inheritance. He declined, and then told a story to say, “Your financial abundance is not the point of existence.” It strikes me as a good perspective for institutions as well as individuals.

___________________________

As best I can remember, it was a little over twenty years ago that Ginger and I were talking with my mother and she said, “‘Would you like an inheritance or would you and Ginger like to go to Africa?”

We were unflinching in our response. “Africa,” I said, “definitely Africa.”

As I have told you, I spent most of the first sixteen years of my life in Africa. We left the continent to move to Houston, Texas in 1972–on my sixteenth birthday. I had never had the chance to go back. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity, even if it meant I didn’t get an inheritance.

it was a good choice, even though there are those who would point out that if I had invested the money spent on the trip it would have multiplied itself many times over in the last twenty-odd years. That’s true–and I would not have seen the herds of zebra and wildebeest, or listened to the hippo choir sing at night in the river below our camp, or listened to the young school children we met who were so proud to show us what they had learned, or had a chance to show Ginger the house where I lived in Nairobi, or gotten to take a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti.

I am infinitely richer for those memories.

Maybe that is an odd way to start a sermon about what we do with our possessions, but that is the first thing that popped into my mind when I read Jesus’ admonition about storing up our treasures, I think because my father caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect him to value a memory with me over a savings account. My parents were savers and planners and they also knew they was not going to live forever, so they shared the wealth to deepen the bonds of family.

Though life doesn’t always play out as simple either-or decisions, we have many moments in our lives where we must choose between generosity and self-preservation, and those moments string themselves together into a way of living. Sometimes we become most possessive of the stuff we didn’t earn or collect but has been handed down; we act as if we deserve it.

That seemed to be the attitude of the man who came to Jesus and said, “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” We don’t get any indication of the issues at stake. Perhaps the parents were dead and the other sibling was the executor. Who knows. Whatever was going on, Jesus had no desire to weigh in.

“Who set me as the arbitrator?” he asked, making it clear he had no intention of doing any such thing. He did, however, see it as an opportunity to speak to the larger issue, so he turned to those gathered and said something that jumped out at me: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

That’s not one of the sayings of Jesus we quote with regularity.

I have a feeling, at this juncture in the sermon, that it probably feels like you know where this is going–that I am going to talk about how we have too much stuff and we need to learn to live on less and give away more—Marie Kondo style; that the point is not to see how much we can amass, but how much we can share.

Yes, to all of those things. But since that is the obvious sermon and you already saw it coming, I feel the tug to focus in a different direction and start with the sacred cow of many congregations: our endowments and our perceived need for bigger barns.

The word endow means “to provide an income for.” The basic idea is not a bad one. People leave an inheritance to provide some stability for congregations that meant a lot to them during their lives. Often, they leave quite specific instructions about how the money should be used, and often those instructions are trapped by history and, even though driven by passion, are short-sighted.

At the church in Guilford, there is a fund “to provide hats for the minister’s wife.” I don’t know who gave the money or when, but the designation is no longer useful or helpful–although I did make a case for using the money to buy me a new Red Sox cap every spring. Though the line item feels kind of silly, the problem is the designation makes it hard to spend the money because of all of the rules around endowments, which leads to a larger question: what are we saving for?

What I have seen more than once is churches saved the money, but then don’t spend it for fear they will use it up and then have none. Meanwhile, the day to day life of the church suffers because they don’t have the money they need to answer God’s call to ministry in their towns and neighborhoods.

Ginger served a church in Massachusetts that both had an endowment and struggled to raise the money to support the annual budget. One of the folks in the church came up with the idea of drawing “legacy pledges” from the endowment as a way to allow the church to thrive. “Those folks gave the money for the church to use, not to sit on,” he said. It was a life-giving suggestion to the congregation.

Maybe all of this is on my mind because you as a congregation are beginning a new chapter in a time when we are getting warnings about our economic situation. It also hits a recurring theme for me that the reason for a church’s existence runs deeper than self preservation. The reason we gather and minister as a congregation is not so the “church” will last forever, but so faith will endure through loving our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to meet the needs around us, to offer help and healing and hope. We are called to generosity and compassion, not frugality.

Theologian Carol Howard Merrit says,

Our future does not depend on our bank balance; it depends on whether we are making a difference in the world. Stewardship doesn’t mean we stockpile cash until we all die; it means that we look for ways to use our resources to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger, and tell the good news. Faithful ministry is not watching over the bank balance to make sure it doesn’t dip below a certain point. It’s about being faithful in our work and witness.

The reason the man in the parable built bigger barns was so he could feel like he had enough to relax and live his best life. That formula for life doesn’t work. There is never enough to allay our fear if our fear is about never having enough. Whatever security we think we have in our endowments is not a reliable sense of security. Congregations don’t thrive because they are sitting on tons of money. They thrive because they are sharing what they have and they are sharing themselves. They share what is in their barns.

We have congregations all over New England who have wealthy endowments but only a few people in the pews. Many are closing and the big question is what to do with the money they saved as security and never shared.

This congregation is far from closing its doors. In fact, you have a new pastor coming and you are sharing new ideas and dreams. You have good days ahead of you, even as I know you have big questions to face about how you will minister to people in Westbrook and the surrounding towns. Remember no one ever chose to be a part of a congregation based on how they handled their investment portfolio. Remember Jesus didn’t say, “I am with you as long as you have a healthy endowment.” He said, “I am with you till the end of the age.”

We are not called to last forever. We are not called to build bigger barns. We are called to love one another, to care for one another, to share with one another for as long as we can. The legacy of love that we create with our compassion and faithfulness is what will endure. Amen.

Peace,
Milton

growing old

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I have been working my way through Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants for several weeks now, moving slowly on purpose because it feels like I need to let each chapter take root before I love on. It feels like the rhythm of my reading is keeping time with the rhythm of her writing.

In one chapter, she talks about a pond on her land that had been taken over by algae such that it was not a place her daughters could play, so she decided to clear the algae and restore the pond. She describes the issue this way:

Like many an old farm pond, mine was the victim of eutrophication, the natural process of nutrient enrichment that comers with age. Generations of algae and lily pads and fallen leaves and autumn’s apples falling into the pond built up the sediments, layering the once clean gravel at the bottom in a sheet of muck. All the nutrients fueled the growth of new plants, which fueled the growth of more new plants, in an accelerating cycle. This is the way for many ponds–the bottom generally fills in until the pond becomes a marsh and maybe someday a meadow and then a forest. Ponds grow old, and though I will too, I like the ecological idea of aging as progressive enrichment, rather than progressive loss. (86)

My etymological dictionary says the root of the word old means “to grow, nourish.” Whether you’re a pond or a person, to age is to be enriched rather than to be diminished. In both cases, the point of the enrichment is not to stay the same, but to grow and change. Perhaps that is why we say we grow old.

Many languages make a distinction between old vs. young and old vs. new. English is not one of those languages, which may explain why we struggle with aging. New and young are seen as the pinnacles of culture and consumerism. Old things are passed away. But Kimmerer’s pond tells us that is not how life–in the largest sense of that word–works. Life is growth: birth and death and rebirth, feeding and sharing and changing.

I love the way she talks about the way in which many ponds age to become a marsh and then a meadow and then a forest. I had never thought about enrichment as transformation in such terms. To grow old is not simply to become an antique version of ourselves but to mature into a more complex being. The pond of my childhood has become a forest of a life. Then again, perhaps the metaphor works better when it is less individual. In the same way that a forest is not a collection of singular trees but a diverse being of many trees who belong to one another, growing old means growing together.

As rich as the metaphor is, it does not hold much sway in the way we as Americans think about aging. Too often, the reality is more along the lines of John Prine’s “Hello in There.”

you know that old trees just grow stronger
and old rivers grow wilder every day
old people just grow lonesome
waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

But my reason for writing tonight is not to lament all that is lost in this country because we look at aging as progressive loss. I started writing because Kimmerer made the connection between ponds and people, offering the reality of aging as progressive enrichment.

There are a lot of things that are not fun about growing old. I don’t know that it would serve much purpose to provide even a partial list here, though as I type I realize that there are a lot of things that are not fun about being young. I have no need to romanticize growing older as a means of self-assurance. I also don’t want to lower my expectations on what I have to offer or what life has to offer me just because I can’t do all of the things I used to do. Then there is the temptation to claim age as some sort of superiority, as though seniority automatically translates into wisdom. Looking at life that way breeds condescension.

It strikes me that Kimmerer never draws an analogy between the pond and a person. She says, “Ponds grow old, and though I will too, I like the ecological idea of aging as progressive enrichment. . . .” It may be self-congratulatory to think I am a pond in the metaphor. Perhaps, I am a nutrient, or one of the plants fed by the flow of minerals into the mud.

The choice I have is how I want to grow. I can grow lonesome, or I can grow into connectedness.

Ginger had a meeting today with a ninety-five year old parishioner who wanted to talk about what to do with the rest of his life. Norman Lear wrote an opinion essay for the New York Times yesterday to mark his one hundredth birthday and spoke of his “next century.” Last weekend, Joni Mitchell sang her first full set in twenty years at the Newport Folk Festival.

The forest is already well-established. None of us is the first tree to grow or the first pond to age. All of us are made of mud–the sacred, soggy stardust made to grow older and richer. John Lennon may not have had all of that in mind when he wrote “Grow Old with Me,” but his words add their own enrichment:

grow old along with me
the best is yet to be
when our time has come
we will be as one
God bless our love
God bless our love

Peace,
Milton

lizzy!

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lizzy!

she told us
she spells her name
with an exclamation point
by the way she dances
and flails her tail
any time we call her

she is an
off-the-chart extrovert
(I should know)
who wants to meet
everyone she sees except
the riddle of small children

most mornings
after breakfast and some after-
noons she takes time to sit
in the chair or on the back
patio in the summertime
and pay attention

she is not
bored or pining or asleep
she is attending to the world
a small schnoodle monk
soaking up the sounds and
sights for as long as it takes

an exclamation
point is used to show emphasis
she assumes the posture of
the punctation to soak up
the world not shout at it
then she goes back to dancing

Peace,
Milton

shameless

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We have always had a passport drawer.

It is the top drawer of an old Singer spool cabinet that sits on top of a table that used to hold a Singer sewing machine. Both were handed down from my mother’s parents. They have traveled with Ginger and me to every house we have lived in and they have always held the passports.

Since both of us are ENFPs, details and organization are not our strong suits. We have a lot of stacks of things and drawers with stuff in them. The passports were different. We knew we needed to be able to find them.

Yesterday–a week ahead of our trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland for a peace and justice retreat (that we were supposed to do in 2020, but you know the story), I opened the drawer to get the passports, proud of myself for thinking ahead, and they were not there. Well, there were passports in the drawer, but they had expired before the last time we had been out of the country in 2018. The valid documents were somewhere in the house, but not in the drawer–the drawer we had not needed to open for four years.

We began two processes this morning: One was to start looking in every drawer and closet and on every shelf to see if we could find them, and the other was to call the US Passport Office to see if we could get a new one as a result of a “travel emergency.”

I dialed the number around 9 o’clock and followed the instructions, pressing numbers when asked to do so. Well, first I dialed in four times only to be told the call volume was too high and to call back at another time. Then I got a voice that told me to press numbers, which led to another voice that told me to hold on for the next available operator, and then another voice that said, “Your wait time is more than two and a half hours.”

My hearing aids have a bluetooth feature that allows my phone to connect directly, so all of this was happening in my head, including the switch from the voice to classical music–a tune I recognized and got to know even better because it was about a three minute loop and I had been told I was going to wait far longer than that. (I would tell you the name of the piece, but I have since blocked it out.)

The website was clear that we could not walk into the passport office in Stamford without an appointment, but we thought we would drive down there just in case someone answered and we could get in line. The trip down to Stamford took about an hour. I have Apple Car Play in my CRV, so I was able to move the music out of my ears and on to the car speakers, but the music never changed. About the time we got to Stamford, the voice told me the wait time was “more than two hours” and then it dropped to “more than an hour and a half.”

I dropped Ginger off in front of the office and went to park. I had barely gotten out of the car when she sent a text that said, “Don’t hang up! Come back and get me but don’t hang up.”

I did as I was told.

By now it was a little after 11:30. We started driving back and ran into heavy traffic, so we made a signature B-C move in such a situation: we got off the highway and found a diner. The Silver Star Diner in South Norwalk. We had lunch and then went across the street to REI to see if I could find a rain jacket for our trip–a small gesture of hope as the music continued to loop in my ears.

As we checked out, the voice said the wait was down to “more than twenty minutes,” then, as we pulled out of the parking lot, a human voice said, “US Passport Office. How may I help you?” We pulled into the next parking lot so we could pay attention.

We laid out the situation and answered all the questions the way the website had instructed. The person asked for our zip code and then said, “We don’t have anything in the Eastern US. I can get you an appointment in El Paso, Tucson, LA, or Hawaii.”

She was serious and she was kind. She just didn’t have anything else to offer. As hard as our day had been, I tried to imagine theirs. For all the time I had waited, they had been talking to people who needed help. Who needed appointments. People who didn’t live in El Paso or Hawaii. She had nothing to offer, but she still had to keep answering the calls of people asking for what she could not give. I thanked her for trying.

As we hung up, I looked at the length of the call: three hours and fifty-seven minutes. Then I realized I forgot to thank them for making the music stop.

As we drove back, Ginger reached out to a couple of our local officials who are a part of our church and they put us in touch with the office of our state representative, Rosa DeLauro. The folks there are trying hard to get us a shot at making our flight on Monday. They too, have been kind.

Sunday we had a guest preacher at the church where I am bridge pastor–a “neutral pulpit” for a search committee for another church. The preacher followed the lectionary, talking about Jesus’ parable that we call “The Friend at Midnight” in Luke 11. I learned the the word as persistence (“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”) is better understood as shamelessness, as in the guy knew it was late, but he also knew friends are willing to be taken advantage of, so he asked shamelessly and his friend got up and helped him.

That’s how I have felt today: shameless. Yes, I wish we had kept up with the passports, but as exhausting as the day has been, I am grateful that Ginger and I have not blamed each other or ourselves, have worked hard to turn the house over looking for the passports (and ended up throwing a bunch of stuff out–bonus!), and we have called and waited and driven and asked and then turned to people we trust to see what they can do. And they got up and are trying to help.

I am mindful tonight of the gift of people in our lives of whom we can ask shamelessly. I am humbled, hopeful, and grateful.

Peace,
Milton

tomato time

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Tomato season in New England runs a little later than other parts of the country. Ours are just beginning to come in–at least, the cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen–but most wait for August. The good news is we keep harvesting tomatoes well into the fall.

I would love to tell you we are going to have a bumper crop this year, but our tomatoes are having a hard time. They are still growing and there is fruit on the vine, but not in the quantities we had hoped, so the picture is from last year. Still, it’s a good time to talk about tomatoes.

A fair number of our cherry tomatoes get eaten as we pick them. They are like little pieces of candy on a hot summer afternoon, and then a good number of them get eaten fresh on, well, pretty much anything I can think to put them on. And still there are more. I have found two ways to cook them that make them last and taste even better; both of them take a little time, but not a lot of attention.

tomato confit

The traditional meaning of confit has to do with slow-roasting meat in its own fat (like duck confit), but the idea has expanded to include vegetables as well. As one article I read put it, confit is to deep frying what smoking is to grilling: low and slow versus fast and furious.

Here’s what you need:

enough cherry tomatoes to cover the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish
enough olive oil to come up about half way on the tomatoes
unpeeled cloves of garlic
fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil)
salt and pepper

You can also add:

sliced jalapeños
peeled shallots cut in half longwise

Preheat the oven to 275°.

Cover the bottom of the dish with whole cherry tomatoes, then add the garlic, jalapeños, and shallots. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and lay the fresh herbs over the top. You don’t need to take anything off of their stems. Drizzle the olive oil over everything until it comes up a little over halfway on the tomatoes.

Roast for about 2 hours, until the tomatoes look wrinkled but are not bursting. Set the pan aside and let it cool. Squeeze the garlic out of its peel and put it back in the confit.

Put in top of everything from pasta to steaks to chicken to you name it.

I store mine in pint-sized mason jars and keep them in the fridge. Use the oil from the pan to cover them when you put them in jars.

Here’s the second variation.

oven-roasted tomatoes

The two biggest differences between this recipe and the one above are the temperature and the amount of oil you use. Oh–and you cut the tomatoes this time. My recipe is adapted from this one (and if you don’t know Smitten Kitchen, you need to.)

The ingredient list is similar to the recipe above.

enough cherry tomatoes to cover a baking sheet when halved
olive oil
fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil)
salt and peper

Preheat the oven to 225°.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the tomatoes in half longwise (slice where then stem was) and arrange them on the baking sheet so they are close together. Get as many in there as you can. Drizzle with olive oil (you don’t want to drown these) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you want a little kick to them, add some crushed red pepper. Lay the herbs across the top. One again, you don’t need to pull them off of their stems.

Roast them in the oven for at least three hours. I use the cook timer on my stove, set if for three hours, and then forget about it so that they cool in the oven. They will resemble sun-dried tomatoes, but will have a little juice still left in them.

They make a great pizza topping, are wonderful on salads, and taste pretty damn good all on their own. You can also put these in pint-sized mason jars, or other airtight containers. If you do, cover the top with oil. You don’t want to drown them, but a little bit of oil will help them last. Refrigerate them once they cool, if you haven’t eaten them all.

Happy tomato days.

Peace,
Milton

joint effort

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I am a couple of days away from marking ten months since my second knee replacement and three years and three months since my first. As you can see, I have the scars to prove it.

Though they got me up hours after I came out of recovery to start walking and had me climbing stairs the next day, the recovery from the surgery is hard work and takes a long time. Everyone who had knowledge about the surgery gave me the same advice: go to physical therapy and do everything they tell you to do. I did and it both helped and hurt. I had a new understanding of Jesus’ question to the man who had sat beside the pool at Bethsaida waiting to be healed–“Do you want to get well?”

Healing, often, is not for the faint of heart.

And, sometimes, healing happens when you don’t know it.

The first week of July I went to Youth Camp with the folks from Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, a group of folks I love and who love me. Camp is one of my happy places, and Wilshire’s camp has been my home for something like twenty summers. We were at a campground in Arkansas, a little west of Little Rock, and it was hot and humid despite the rolling hills and tall trees.

Last summer at camp, I was two months away from the surgery and had a fair amount of consistent pain. My room was in a building about a quarter of a mile from the meeting room, and up hill; I struggled to get back and forth. This year, retracing those steps gave me a visceral understanding of how the surgery had helped because it didn’t hurt to walk.

After my first surgery, my doctor told me to expect to make good progress, but to understand that it would take a year before I forgot I had had the surgery. He was right almost to the day. My second knee seemed to respond more quickly, but it still stiffened up when I sat or stood too long, and bending my knees to reach something on the floor or a low shelf remained challenging.

Because the afternoons at camp were so hot, I stayed at the pool, as did a fair number of the kids and adults. I also spent a good deal of time just sitting in the water talking with those around me. The second afternoon I realized I was crouched down in the water, which was about four feet deep, almost sitting on my haunches and I felt no pain. The next afternoon, I made a point of doing deep knee bends and squatting down some more.

What I remembered was that being in the water was a kind of no-gravity situation; I could bend my knees without resistance. I had waded into healing waters without knowing that was what I was doing. I was just looking for relief from the heat.

When I got the invitation to go to camp I had already given my notice at work. My last day was on a Thursday and by Sunday night I was in Arkansas. The timing felt providential. I went not only hoping to offer something to the kids there but also hoping for healing since camp is mostly about reminding ourselves that we are wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God and worthy to be loved. I knew I needed the message as much as they did. Maybe more.

I also gained a greater range of movement.

In the story of the man at the pool, the whole set up is that everyone gathered around the water waiting for an angel to “stir up the water” and then whoever hit the pool first was healed. The man Jesus encountered had been there for thirty-eight years and had never managed to get in first.

I don’t know how many people were there on a daily basis, but I am struck by the fact that they were together but all alone. No one was helping anyone else, they were caught up in pushing their way to the front. Imagine if they had had the wherewithal to say, “Let’s line up and we will help each other in, one at a time, day after day.” Yes, some would have had to wait longer than others, but no one would have waited thirty-eight years. And, as they worked together, they might have been surprised at the other things in their lives that were healed.

This summer marks the first summer I have been able to work in the garden and get up and down without groaning loudly. Most every time I bend my knee is an exercise in gratitude, for my surgeon, for Ginger, for my physical therapists, for others who cared me, and for those who sat and talked to me in the pool at camp where we disturbed the waters and was healed by surprise.

Peace,
Milton

living with losses

4

It was already over by the time I got there.

Ginger and I went to dinner with some folks and I turned on the Red Sox game when we got home, as I am wont to do on a summer evening, to find that the score was 14-3 in favor of the Toronto Blue Jays. And it was only the bottom of the fourth inning. Since it wasn’t close, I went upstairs to do a couple of things and when I came back down one inning later it was 25-3–at the halfway point of the game. By the time the game finally ended, it was 28-5.

The scale of the loss broke a ninety-nine-year-old club record.

But the thing about baseball–and life–is you have to play again tomorrow. Last night was the first game of a three-game series with the Blue Jays, so they all showed up again this afternoon and the Sox lost once more, this time only 4-1.

The Sox have played ninety-five games and have lost forty-seven of them. They have faced a whole lot of days when they just had to get back out there, but last night came on the heels of two losses right before the All Star Break, 14-1 and 13-2, both to the Yankees.

The oldest roots of the word loss have to do with “ruin” and “destruction;” the oldest roots of the word defeat mean “to not perform.” The Sox leaned into both of those roots last night.

As epic a loss as it was, the game ended. The destruction endured for only nine innings. Same with the loss this afternoon. Tomorrow a new game begins at 0-0. Game to game, the scoring is not cumulative. Life will go on. They will play again tomorrow and the days after that, both winning and losing until this season fades into the next. All of that is true. And they will from now on be the team that lost 28-5. They have to live with that loss. As a fan–and I will always be a Red Sox fan–I get to live with it, too.

But the losses add up. Boston has won one more game than they have lost this year, which puts them in fourth place in our division and makes us a long shot for the playoffs. Living with losses does have a cumulative effect. Each day starts new, but it doesn’t always feel like the score is 0-0. We have debts that weigh heavily, obligations that have already spoken for our time, things that need to be done and left undone. In many ways we live in the aftermath of destruction and with the consequences of not performing.

And still, there is grace. Grace to live with and through and, perhaps, beyond our losses.

I grew up with a father who thought sports were the quintessential metaphor for life. As one who was and continues to be an amazingly mediocre athlete, I remain wary of drawing too straight a line from competition to circumstance. Life and sports are not analogous because life is not divided between winning and losing.

After the game on Friday, manager Alex Cora said, “I would like to say that this happens, but it doesn’t happen often. We’ve just got to turn the page and get ready for tomorrow. That’s the only way you can attack the next one.”

I know of too many specific things happening in the lives of people I know and love that make me want to state emphatically that life’s pages don’t always turn that easily. We live through moments and events that create a Before and an After, that alter who we are and what choices we can make. The page we turn to is not blank, and it does not erase the story that has already been written. Cora’s right: those things don’t happen often, but they happen and we have to live with them.

And we do. We live with them, through them, beyond them. And we don’t get over them. We are the sum of our losses, but they are not all of who we are.

When I started this post, I thought I had an idea of where I might end up, but I feel like I have lost the idea much like Jarren Duran lost the fly ball in the twilight that led to an inside the park grand slam for Toronto. Then again, perhaps to say we live with losses and all is not lost is worth saying, even though it doesn’t tie everything up neatly.

We are all living with losses. Let’s keep pulling for each other.

Peace,
Milton

a ticket to you

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A couple of weeks ago, I got an email telling me I could sign up for a lottery tog et a link to buy tickets to one of the concerts on Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming tour. The date closest to me is in March 2023 at a relatively small arena, compared to some of the places I have seen him play.

I love the Boss. I am ready to see him again. His live shows with the E Street Band are something to behold. So, I signed up and got a text a couple of nights ago telling me I could log in with a special code this morning at ten to buy tickets, which I did, only to find that the cheapest seat in the house was $450 before Ticketmaster added their fees. Floor seats were $1250.

I guess “tramps like us” means people with a lot of disposable income.

In December of 2021, Bruce sold his song catalog to Sony for $550 million. Who knows how much he has made on records and his other tours. I know it’s not cheap to tour. Next week, Ginger and I are going to see Lyle Lovett and are going to sit on the second row for $150 each, and Lyle is not going hungry.

Needless to say, I have seen my last Springsteen concert. To deal with my frustration and sadness, I wrote new lyrics to “A Letter for You,” a song off of his last record. I don’t imagine he will ever see it, but who knows.

A Ticket to You

‘Neath a crown of hopeful fans
I joined that bothersome queue
Sat down in my chair
Clicked the link so I’d get through
To hear the songs that my heart finds true
And get myself a ticket to you

Songs I’ve loved through hard times and good
You wrote ’em all out in ink and blood
They speak to my soul because they ring so true
And hoped to get a ticket to you

Just a ticket to you
And take all my fears and doubts
Yes, a ticket to you
But the hard thing I found out
Is a ticket to you
Is too much for me to do
I can’t afford a ticket to you

Five hundred bucks to just get in the door
A thousand more to get down on the floor
Your cashing in
and your fans are getting screwed
If they want a ticket to you
If they want a ticket to you

For a ticket to you
I shouldn’t have to get a loan
And that ticket to you
Means my trust in you is blown
With a ticket to you
I wouldn’t see the guy I knew
I’m not gonna get a ticket to you
I’m not gonna get a ticket to you

You’re breaking my heart, Boss.

Peace,
Milton

 

hopeful chicken salad

4

It’s only Thursday night and it has already been a long week.

I feel fairly safe saying I think I speak for a majority of people and not just for the way things feel at our house. As I said last night, life is hard right now. One of the advantages of living on the Shoreline, as folks call it around here, is that we are close to the water and close to restaurants that look out over the water, so Ginger and I drove down to Lenny’s in Branford, the next town over, to sit on their deck and enjoy the late afternoon.

We were talking on the way and I made a comment about an article from The Atlantic that I posted today that said–well, it’s titled “America’s Self-Obsession Is Killing Its Democracy.” The feel good read of the summer, I assure you, and worth your time. In response, Ginger said, “I need someone to write something hopeful.”

“I’ve been writing something hopeful,” I replied.

“Have you been reading your blog posts?” she said with a laugh.

We both laughed. And I started thinking about what hopeful thing I could say tonight, which made me start thinking about recipes.

Last night we had a chance to have dinner with friends who were only in town for a couple of days. We didn’t decide to eat together until kind of the last minute and it was too hot to want to cook a big meal, so I decided to do a variety of salads and dips, hoping to use stuff I had on hand. I had made hummus a couple of days ago; I had a couple of avocados and had just picked some cherry tomatoes and jalapeños from our garden, so I made guacamole as well. I roasted some zucchini from the garden also, and a a smoked trout dip (smoked trout, capers, celery, creme fraiche, lemon zest) but the main thing I made was chicken salad.

I love my chicken salad, in part because the recipe grew from stuff Ginger likes.

As I have said before, I learned how to cook from my mother. Not only that, I learned how to think about cooking from her. I learned how to open the fridge and see possibilities, how to adapt when you don’t have time to get more stuff, and how to see a recipe as a suggestion rather than a demand.

There is no one way to make chicken salad. I found a great article on the history of chicken salad, only to learn that it has been a rather interesting culinary journey to the variations we have now–and that the deli that claimed to be the first to serve it the way we Americans have come to expect was just up the road in Wakefield, Rhode Island.

I have called my recipe “gigi’s chicken salad” because it started with the fact that she is allergic to onions and doesn’t like “green stuff” in her salad (celery, herbs). What she does like are Granny Smith apples and dried cranberries. Over the years, rather than using roasted chicken, I started cooking the chicken breasts in a cast iron skillet first so they had good flavor and some crunch on the outside. Like any good salad (other than a tossed one), it’s better on the second or third day. It has become something I make on the fly, as I did last night, and that I also make on purpose, whether it goes on a sandwich or is accompanied by a sleeve of Ritz crackers.

For the purposes of this blog post, I am renaming it “hopeful chicken salad.”

hopeful chicken salad

(the amounts are not prescriptive; make as much as you want)

2 full boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Granny Smith apple
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the chicken the way you like it. I like to put it in a really hot skillet with just a little bit of oil so it has that grilled taste. Let it cool and then dice it in small chunks and put it in a big bowl.

Dice the apple in chunks about the same size as the chicken and add it to the bowl. Add the cranberries and toss everything to mix it well. Add the mustard, mayonnaise, and lemon juice and mix with a spatula until everything is coated. I add the mayonnaise a 1/4 cup at a time so I can get the right feel to the salad. Season with salt and pepper.

It’s nothing fancy, but it tastes good, you know, like hope.

Peace,
Milton

 

the invisible flag

5

Last week as Ginger and I walked around the Guilford Green, I noticed the flag was at half mast. I wondered out loud who it was for, in part because I had not paid attention to the news for a day or two, but also because the recent spate of shootings gave me pause to think it could be for quite a number of folks. Turns out that day it was to mark the life of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe who was assassinated.

When we got back home, I spent some time researching the tradition of lowering our flags as a sign of mourning and respect. The tradition goes back a little over four hundred years, as best anyone can tell, when the captain of the British ship Heart’s Ease died on a journey to Canada. When the ship returned to London, it was flying its flag at half-mast to honor the departed captain.

The flag was flown exactly one flag’s width lower than its customary position to make room for the “invisible flag of death.”

Over the last four centuries, the rules and traditions around flying the flag at half mast (or half staff, as it is sometimes called) have taken different shapes from country to country. For instance, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7 of the United States Code outlines strict guidelines for how long the flag is flown at half-staff following the deaths of various members of the government.

I found one website that lists all the half mast alerts across the country. Some are for nationwide remembrances and some are more local. I learned that last week in Connecticut, our flag was lowered to honor the life of Sandy Hook Fire Chief William Halstead who died in the line of duty.

Just reading the name Sandy Hook made my heart ache for that community because they live with such grief. Today I also read about those who died because of extreme heat, about raging fires in Europe and in the western US, along with the continued horror of all that is happening in Ukraine, in Somalia, in Sudan–the list is unending, and we haven’t even begun to talk about the ground level grief we carry that never makes the news.

The truth is there has never been a day when we did not need to make room for the invisible flag of death. We live half mast lives, lives acquainted with grief, no matter what we say we can see by the dawn’s early light.

A poem by Amanda Gorman found me this week, repeatedly, and it seems to fit here.

Hymn For The Hurting
Amanda Gorman

Everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed and strange,
Minds made muddied and mute.
We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.
And yet none of it is new;
We knew it as home,
As horror,
As heritage.
Even our children
Cannot be children,
Cannot be.

Everything hurts.
It’s a hard time to be alive,
And even harder to stay that way.
We’re burdened to live out these days,
While at the same time, blessed to outlive them.

This alarm is how we know
We must be altered —
That we must differ or die,
That we must triumph or try.
Thus while hate cannot be terminated,
It can be transformed
Into a love that lets us live.

May we not just grieve, but give:
May we not just ache, but act;
May our signed right to bear arms
Never blind our sight from shared harm;
May we choose our children over chaos.
May another innocent never be lost.

Maybe everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed & strange.
But only when everything hurts
May everything change.

It is a hard time to be alive. We don’t need to qualify that statement to decide if it is the hardest; let us just take it as it is: it is a hard time to be alive. Gorman is right: we are both burdened and blessed to be here.

Let us raise the invisible flag of death and claim it as our own, not as a sign of invasion or occupation, but as a banner of our humanity, our courage, our compassion, our sadness, and even our hope. Whatever flag flies below it is colored by conflicting allegiances. We will not find our unity there. But to see see the invisible flag is to know our days are numbered.

We have everything to live for.

Peace,
Milton