Posts Tagged ‘Mother Eileen’

Letter From Claverack 10 12 2017 Thoughts on what I would preach…

October 12, 2017

At sea

Monday, I sent out a blog inspired by Mother Eileen’s sermon at Christ Church on Sunday and forwarded her a copy as she is not on my list.  She wrote back the following day and jokingly suggested I might preach this Sunday, which led me to think about what I would preach.  What would I say if I had to, this Sunday, preach at a church?

I looked up the gospel for next Sunday and its essential line is:  many are called but few are chosen.

Certainly, that fits with last year’s election cycle which started with more candidates for the Republican nomination for president than I remember in my life.  Many were called and, in the end, the one that was chosen was Donald Trump and he went on to become President of these United States.

It will probably surprise many who know me but every week at church I light a candle for the man.  No, I don’t like him.  His policies seem mean spirited, quixotic at best.  His relationship with the truth, as I experience it, is equally quixotic.

And he is President of these United States, a man with great power, influence and the ability to shake the world on more levels than I believe he is aware of or understands.  But he is the president and I pray for him, hoping, on a very fundamental level he doesn’t do anything that will prevent me from being back at church next Sunday to pray for him.

He appealed to a disenfranchised part of America we, all of us, have not been listening to or acknowledging.  They gravitated to Donald Trump as people in the water after the loss of Titanic, desperate to be saved, crying for help.  Do I think he will save them?  No.

But I want us to hear their cries and find a way to address them and to help them.  They are Americans.  With very real issues.

Today I read there are the most job openings than there have been for a very long time.  Those jobs are harder to fill because we have a massive opioid crisis and many people cannot pass drug tests.  Companies are beginning, in desperation, to turn a blind eye, not asking for drug tests for dangerous jobs because they can’t find enough people to fill them.

Not so long ago, there were two Amtrak employees killed, men not much younger than me and their autopsies revealed they had non-prescribed opioids in their systems.  Our local paper, the Register Star, gave a face to the epidemic by highlighting on the front page a young woman, full of hope, who overdosed.

It is time we faced this epidemic, its causes and its ravages and did something and quit pretending everything is going along just fine.

President Trump, weren’t you going to make this a national emergency?  What happened?

Nothing much.  Why not?

Even the beauty of the cottage is not soothing my soul these days.  What am I to do?

Many are called but few are chosen.  What is it I am called to do in this tumultuous time?  Every day I ask myself that question.  What am I to do?  What am I called to do?

Whether you are a supporter of Donald Trump or not, what is that you can do, personally, to change the awful things that are happening in this country?

Many are called, few are chosen.  What will make me chosen?  What thing can I do to make this awful time better?  I want to.  I do and I am not sure what it is that I should do.  Pack a bag and fly to some war-torn part of the world and put up my hand and say: I’m here to help? What can I do?

A friend suggested I do that.  Maybe I will.

We all need to ask ourselves how we are going to respond to Jesus’ call?  I am not a raving evangelical.  Far from that.  I respect, at the deepest level of my soul, the kindness Jesus worked to insert into the human dialogue and which has resonated for both good and ill since then.

Since I was a boy, I have thought Jesus would be appalled at what has happened to what he started.  He preached love and love is not often what has happened.

Many are called but few will be chosen.  Be one of the few.  Practice what Jesus taught.


Letter From Claverack 10 09 2017 My country ’tis of thee…

October 9, 2017


There are times when even the quiet beauty of the cottage is not enough to soothe the soul; this has been one of those times.  Since the shootings in Las Vegas, I have found little solace in anything, except, perhaps, sleep.

Sunday, Mother Eileen captured the anguish, pain and despair I feel in her sermon.  After the Prayers of the People, the bell tolled once for each person killed in Las Vegas.  The service closed with “My Country Tis of Thee.”

My head bowed, I fought back tears.

There has been Las Vegas.  Jeff Sessions is claiming that bans on discrimination don’t cover transgender people.  The Trump Administration is rolling back rules that help women have birth control as part of their medical coverage.

The United States joined Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and a few other repressive regimes in refusing to declare it immoral to execute people for being gay.


As the bell was tolling [and it tolls for thee], I thought of a long ago, rainy, cold November afternoon and looked at my mother and said: what kind of country are we?  It was the afternoon of the day Kennedy had been killed and that moment is etched in my brain, looking out the front windows at a sad world and wondering just what kind of country would kill someone who seemed to be having so much fun and was doing good things?

There was nothing my mother could say.  To this day, I remember the look she gave me, wanting to have an answer and having none.  The silence still rings in my ears all these years later as does the memory of the slick, wet street, a yellow and red city bus moving slowly down the street.

Last night there was another torch lit march in Charlottesville, VA.  A return of Richard Spencer and his white supremacists.  Listen to their chants: “The South will rise again. Russia is our friend. The South will rise again. Woo-hoo! Wooo.” [Washington Post, October 7, 2017]

Russia is our friend?  The South will rise again?  Russia is not my friend and the South envisioned by these chaps is not a South in which I would be comfortable.  It’s one in which I think I might be afraid for my life.

Today is Columbus Day, the day everyone makes noise about old Christopher Columbus and his “discovery” of America.  Personally, I suspect it was the Vikings a few centuries earlier but they don’t get credit [maybe I think that because my mother’s family were Swedish].  However, as we have discovered Christopher Columbus was brave and not a model of morality in the way he treated native Americans.  White people, in general, have not been very kind to native Americans.

Thirty years ago, my friend Ann Frisbee Naymie and I had a conversation about this and she just said to me:  bad karma for what we did.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has announced he is not seeking reelection, electrified the world yesterday with a tweet saying the White House was an adult care center and someone had missed their shift.  Really?  A Republican lawmaker is talking about a Republican President in this way?  Wowza!  You go, Corker.  And I agree with you that Trump runs the White House like it’s an episode of the President and, like you, I think it is possible Donald Trump could stumble us into a nuclear war before he realized what he’d done.

Two hospitals have been evacuated in California and at least 50 structures destroyed in fires that are causing people to flee from Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties while in southern California fires are raging in Orange County, south of Los Angeles.

The Four Horseman are riding.

Thank you, Mother Eileen, for giving shape to the inchoate agony I was experiencing when I walked into church yesterday. Thank you for ringing the bell for the deaths in Las Vegas.  Thank you for asking the painful questions we all should be asking ourselves.  What kind of country are we?  What kind of country do we want to be?




Letter from the train… The rhythm continues…

September 18, 2017


Last night, there were insects buzzing around me as I typed out on the deck, following a warm summer like day, wearing shorts all day, even to church.  How scandalized the good Sisters would have been at my temerity to do so sacrilegious a thing as to wear shorts to church on a warm day.  But I did.

I knew Leonard would and so I wouldn’t be alone.  In fact, there were about six of us out of about fifty attendees who were wearing shorts.  It occurred to me that God was happy we were there and not concerned about what we were wearing.

Sunday’s sermon from Mother Eileen was about forgiveness and I thought about someone to whom I felt I owed an apology; I had said harsh things to her about her sister and had felt crummy about it since so I sent myself an email to myself to remind to seek her out.

She was seated at a table at the Red Dot when I walked in, we spoke and she hadn’t remembered the incident.  It was a good moment.

Post lunch, I crossed the Hudson and went to the little gem that is the Bridge Street Theater to see the current play, “How to Pray.”  As always, John Sowle’s sets were inventive and fun.  The cast was superb.

Three actors play myriad roles.

Steven Patterson played what seemed a dozen roles, including an aged transgender chanteuse who finally gets her moment as well as a dog and a cat.  His dog was spectacular; I got it and rolled in laughter.  He is a wonderful actor, having now seen him do several things, including a one-man performance of a play on Frankenstein.

Morgan Cooper must have mastered a half dozen, claiming each one with authority.  His three-year old was especially endearing.

Susan Slotoroff is the only actor who plays only one part.  She, too, held the stage and held my interest as she made a journey which an unexpected ending.

The playwright, Michelle Carter, has won several awards, rightfully so, for the work.

If you are in the area, you have one more weekend to catch it, next weekend, the 21st through 24th. Advance tickets available at or by calling 800-838-3006.

Today, I am going into New York, which is going to be a zoo because the U.N. is gathering global leaders.  Trump will be there and most of the global leaders are – and I don’t care if you are pro-Trump or not – trying to figure out what to make of President Donald Trump.

Aren’t we all?


And if you are not aware of it, something strange is going on at the American Embassy in Cuba.  21 Embassy staff are having health issues that stem from who knows what but staffers are suffering hearing and cognitive issues from some unexplained and undetermined attack.  Raul Castro has offered to allow FBI agents to come to Cuba to investigate and the entire diplomatic community in Cuba is concerned because no one knows what’s going on.

A case for the X-Files.

The trees are beginning their turn as I ride the train into New York City.  A heavy fog played over the creek when I woke.

The rhythm of life continues.

Letter From Claverack 04 30 2017 Without hope, we have nothing…

May 1, 2017

It is a Sunday evening at the cottage.  Jazz is playing, the lights splash the creek.  I have made myself a martini.  It was a typical Sunday, up early, read the NY Times and a few articles from the WSJ online before the shower and then off to church, where I did the readings and then coffee hour, errands before settling at the Dot for a long and lazy brunch, reading more off my phone and chatting with a few people, home to the cottage, put away laundry, got the trash together and sat down to write.


Very hygge.

Because I need the steady rhythm of familiar things in this Age of Trump.

His aides were caught off guard when he extended an invitation to President Duterte of the Philippines to come visit him during a Saturday call.  If you haven’t been following it, President Duterte has been accused of extra-judicial killings in that country’s current “drug war.” Now those surprised aides are preparing for an avalanche of criticism as it’s hard to find a world leader disliked as much as Duterte by pretty much everyone.

Then, after unleashing a problem for everyone around him, Mr. Trump jetted off to Harrisburg, PA for a campaign style rally to “record breaking crowds,” where he railed to his supporters about the media which was, at the same time, roasting him in DC, even if he was not there.  In two events, the official White House Correspondents’ Dinner and the Samantha Bee hosted “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” withered the sitting President, the first to have missed this event since 1981, when Ronald Reagan was recuperating from an assassin’s attack.

I wake up in the morning and find I am in a state of continuing bemusement in what is going on in Washington.  It is reality television, which is what we should have expected when we elected a reality television star to the Presidency.  With Reagan, we had an actor who knew how to deliver his lines.  There aren’t really “lines” in reality television.  There is direction but no script.  We have a President who is making up his script as he goes along, knowing he knows better than everyone else.  Even if he doesn’t.

The WSJ, a deeply conservative publication, to which I now subscribe, seems to be wanting to support him and just can’t find a way not to point out that it’s all a little…off.

And it is more than a little off.

Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff, said the White House was looking at ways of changing the libel laws to make it easier to for Trump to sue media organizations who criticize him.  Imagine how the Democrats responded to that, not to mention many Republicans?  Not pretty.  Do we not remember the First Amendment?  Or is Trump being inspired by Erdogan of Turkey who has been arresting thousands of people he suspects of being disloyal while cracking down on the press?  Cracking down makes it sound nice.  He is dismantling any vocal opposition to him.

One thing we should note is that the economy grew at the slowest rate in three years in the first quarter of Trump.   Maybe it’s a holdover from Obama or maybe it’s the fear of Trump.

We are in a political Wild West except in this Wild West we have nuclear weapons.

It’s a dark time in American democracy and we need to remember, in this “of the moment” world in which we live, this has not been the only dark time in American democracy.  We had the Civil War, dark time.  We survived Andrew Jackson, a really, really not nice President [who, by the way, our current President seems to identify with].

We will, God willing, live through this.

In the meantime, I will play jazz.  I will drink martinis.  I will write and I will hope, because without hope we have nothing.



Letter from the Train, returning… Passover arrives and Tillerson departs…

April 10, 2017

The train is rumbling north from Baltimore to New York City where I change trains to Hudson, arriving there around 3:30 this afternoon.  It is a sunny day and the fleece pullover and winter jacket needed on the way down are unnecessary on the way home.

Hudson River

As I travel north, I have trimmed down the email inbox, sent some electronic Passover cards and started reading how to make large quantities of scrambled eggs as this coming Sunday is Easter Sunday and I am in charge of preparing the Easter Brunch that follows the 10:30 service.

It’s my hope that Mother Eileen’s clipboard filled with some people to help me. If not…

The weekend visit with Lionel and Pierre and Marcel, the poodle, was wonderful, overflowing with good food at various venues:  Modern Cook Shop, Peter’s Inn, Red Star, Rusty Scupper, Nanimi, Petit Louis.


On “The Avenue” [36th Street] I shopped the antique stores and found some Christmas presents, tucked in my luggage; that it is expandable saved me from buying another piece.  At BJ’s with Pierre, I stocked up on Excedrin, Prilosec and more.

Long train rides give one a time to think and I enjoy them for that, for being able to see the countryside glide by without the responsibility of driving.

Pierre sings in the choir at the Church of the Advent in Baltimore.  While Lionel and I were preparing to go to hear him at church, the television flashed pictures and video of the Palm Sunday explosions in Egypt, targeting Coptic Christians, who represent about ten percent of that country’s population.  Last word I heard, forty-seven have died and scores are injured.  At Christ Church this week, I will light a candle for them.

In response to the bombings, responsibility for which was claimed by IS, Egypt has declared a three-month state of emergency.

Rex Tillerson, our low-profile Secretary of State, heads to Moscow for meetings, either strengthened or weakened [depending on your view] by the US bombing of the airfield in Syria where chemical attacks against a rebel city were initiated.  Tillerson called the Russians incompetent for allowing Assad to keep chemical weapons.

Putin is thinking of revoking the award he gave to Tillerson.

This should be an interesting week for watching Syrian affairs.  How are they all going to react?  Niki Hailey is talking regime change; Tillerson is not. Trump is unpredictable and Putin a risk taker; Assad seemingly a wily survivor who managed to turn peaceful protests into a civil war no one seems capable of winning or willing to negotiate an end.

Syria is bringing five questions about the situation to the head, outlined in an article in Bloomberg, available here.

We have ships moving toward the Korean peninsula, possibly to be in place in case there is a decision to attack North Korea and its pudgy, vindictive, unpredictable little dictator, Kim Jong Un.

President Xi of China and Trump managed to get through their summit without damaging each other and we will await to see what China will do vis-à-vis North Korea.

In 2013, Democrats used the “nuclear option” and McConnell said they would live to regret it, which they did last week when Gorsuch was successfully nominated to the Supreme Court and sworn in this morning.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right French candidate for president, has declared that France was NOT responsible for the deportation of Jews during WWII, a statement that has created, as one might imagine, more than a soupcon of controversy.

New York is the first state offering free four-year public college to its students in families with incomes under $100,000, a move to help residents avoid crushing college loans and to help the state have a work force ready for the future.

May it work.

For all my friends celebrating Passover tonight, Chaq Kasher veSameach! [Happy Passover!]

Letter from Claverack 09 13 15 In a time of travail…

September 13, 2015

The sun is setting here in Claverack. It has been a grey day, mostly, with bits of rain here and there. It’s been warm but not hot. The high was at most mid-70’s today. Soon it will be cool and I’ll be lighting fires in the Franklin stove.

As has been the case of late, I had a hard time waking this morning and hit the snooze alarm an annoying number of times but, as it was my personal commitment to go to church today, I pulled myself eventually out of bed and prepped myself and got off to church.

For some reason, I found myself thinking about my Catholic childhood, all of us forced to attend Sunday Mass with our classes, filling the 9:00 service with all our bodies, a Mass generally avoided by any thinking adult. Who would want to go to church with hundreds of school children?

Sister Ann, my 8th grade teacher, announced one day that we would be persecuted because we were Catholics. I remember thinking how strange that sounded. Certainly I didn’t think of myself as being persecuted. I lived in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood and it didn’t seem to me that anyone was persecuting me for being Catholic.

I was born a couple of generations after that had happened.

It came to mind today because Mother Eileen, interim Pastor at Christ Church Episcopal, where I now attend service, talked today in her sermon about those who are suffering around the world because they are Christians.

And, while I am not in those countries, it is real that Christians in Iraq, Syria, and other places are being targeted. There is IS with its rigid and antediluvian interpretation of Islam and there is persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Muslim/Christian tensions inflame the African continent.

I thought we were beyond those times but we’re not, not at all.

As I drove to church, I was listening to a program on New England Public Radio that was devastatingly funny in its oral portraits of what Republican candidates are saying regarding constitutionality. It was almost hysterical, except these people are serious. The constitution should be enforced when combating Muslims but shouldn’t be enforced when Kim Davis refuses to uphold the law of the land. The hypocrisy was astounding.

Post church, I went for a drive while I listened to “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!,” my favorite NPR program and then I went to the Red Dot and perused a new cookbook I had purchased the other day, realizing that we are slipping into fall and it was time to think about Holiday meals.

While the day was supposed to be cursed with thunderstorms, there were none. A bit of light rain has fallen but nothing more.

It is seven in the evening. The light has almost completely left the sky. The light on the fountain has automatically turned on.

The house is quiet. My world is quiet though I know that far away from me the world is not quiet.

The Saudis are bombing Yemen, inflicting terrible pain upon the civilians. People in the lands controlled by IS are cowering in their homes. The markets of Baghdad are not safe.

All of this seems far away. Today, though, Al Qaeda called for individuals to launch attacks in America. Europe is in turmoil over the refugee situation. 14,000 refugees arrived in Germany today. Austria and Hungary have closed their borders.

They are being overwhelmed.

People are lamenting the refugee situation without looking at the wars that are causing the situation.

These are desperate times. I am not sure what to do except to donate to charities who are attempting to help the massive flow of people, desperate to escape their desperate lives, wanting to flee to someplace where they might not be randomly killed or starved for lack of resources.

I have no answers and am not sure I have the questions. I only know we are in a time of travail.

Letter From New York 01 04 15 Living in a world of choices…

January 4, 2015

The sun has set and the lights in Claverack are blinking on, here on Patroon Street. If the family of deer trotted across the property, I missed them, as I was busy in the kitchen cooking for some friends who are coming for dinner.

Today I woke early, close to five and attempted to return to sleep but really couldn’t so eventually got up and made coffee. While it was brewing, a text came in from a friend down in Delaware who apparently was having the same kind of morning I was having. Feeling fretful and grey like the day, he took himself for a walk to the beach from where he sent me a picture of a beautiful but barren beach.

We had a text conversation for a few minutes and then he let me know he needed to call a friend who had just informed him, by text, that he was very ill with a form of leukemia.

That smacked the world into perspective.

While I have anxiety about moving into the New Year, it is not burdened with health fears and the prognosis of a limited horizon. It caused me to realize I have all kinds of options and opportunities in front of me. And it is with that knowledge I must move forward.

There was a task I have been delaying so I went to my laptop and finished it and got it off my desk. After showering, I went down into Hudson and went to Christ Church Episcopal for their 10:30 Sunday morning service. I was, unfortunately, a little late because there was a radio interview on NPR with Deborah Halber, who is the author of The Skeleton Crew, all about amateur sleuths who help solve the country’s coldest cases.

I know one of them well. His name is Todd Matthews and he solved a forty year old case known as The Tent Girl, an abandoned body wrapped in a piece of tent canvas for a shroud. Todd was active in The Doe Network, a group of hard-core individualists who become fascinated with particular cases and are like dogs with a bone. They won’t give up. He has parlayed his work into a job as Communications Director for the recently formed NamUs, National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

His work is fascinating. He was one of those amateurs who got it into him and he wouldn’t let go until the woman was identified. We’ve been friends now for ten years or so and while we don’t connect frequently, we have a place for each other in our lives. I admire him immensely.

So I was late to church, a thinly attended service this second Sunday after Christmas. Being a lapsed Catholic, I find solace in the services of the Episcopal Church, so like Catholicism but fundamentally different in their approach to many things. Mother Eileen, interim Rector of Christ Church, always goes out of the way to make me feel welcome.

Like many, I have a hard time concentrating on the sermon but it was a good one today, about carrying the Christmas spirit forward into the year, that all of us have good and evil in us and we make the choices day to day on which we’ll be.

At least that’s what I took away from it.

Hey, Hitler was said to have doted on children and Osama Bin Laden was many times a daddy.

It is now fully dark. I must go turn on the lights so my guests can find their way to my home and I will do my best to live in the choice of good over evil and, while I must acknowledge my anxieties, I must also remember all the good fortune in which I live.