I have written rather extensively about the Spanish Castle Youth Center in the Bon Air area of Richmond, VA, and I’ve also previously mentioned a reunion that took place a few years ago. However, we recently had another reunion, this one at the nearly half-century mark!

In 1968, the story of the Spanish Castle began with some teens, parents, and church folk responding to a situation brought forward by the mother of one of the youth. He and some friends had been getting high, and claimed that if they had a place to jam with their bands and hang out after school, maybe that would make pot a less attractive alternative to boredom. Maybe.

Instead of wringing hands and berating breasts, the community found that a local church had an old house available, other churches were willing to share human and financial resources, and many youth were willing to organize a board, fix the house up, and come up with some rules for self-governance. The title of a Jimi Hendrix album cut inspired the place’s name: The Spanish Castle.

I was hired part-time (a familiar song for me) to be the “Youth Advisor,” — not the head chaperone, not a counselor. I was to be a regular guiding “presence,” someone trustworthy, open, and understanding. Frankly, looking back, I wasn’t fit for the position. I was more into church kids. These teens were counter-culture, maybe a bit hippie-looking (as the disapproving NIMBY neighbors said), and I looked, as the rector of the landlord church said when we met, “harmless enough.” He may have been expecting Timothy Leary, and here I was almost-but-not-quite Ivy League.

In 1969, after months of meetings and planning sessions, the Castle opened its doors. And last week about 40 of those kids (I still call them that) gathered to celebrate friendship, memories, good times, and close relationships. And now they are in their sixties! The Spanish Castle Facebook group has 260 members, many Castle regulars, many more I guess former teens who dropped in only now and then. Some still live near the old neighborhood, but naturally many have moved a world away. But lots of them came (one from the west coast) to catch up, share stories, and renew the community that hosted “rap sessions,” produced plays (!), provided safe spaces, hosted pool and ping pong tournaments, and even sponsored a prayer group (as requested by the teens as the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s dawned).

Here’s a photo of some of those Castle kids. (Some had left by the time the pic was clicked.) Yes, check out those smiles. DSC09644

By the way, the person who stepped up to plan the evening chose a unique venue. Please take note of Max’s Positive Vibe Café in Richmond, and see that I have not misused the word “unique.” Thanks, Margie, for the perfect place to gather!positiveviberva.com

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My 10 year old grandson spent the day with us recently. It was his spring break and we offered him a kind of retreat for a day at our home. I heard him use the word “literally” soon after he arrived. And then again. And again. It started several sentences in our conversations with him, and I was pleased that almost each time, he used the word correctly.

I got to thinking. Literally. One of the issues our progressive adult Sunday School crowd (of 15 or 20) has talked about recently is the break we adults have made from taking the whole Bible literally. In our various faith journeys (not literal ones), somewhere along the way each of us grew to understand that much of the Bible is very creative literature: lots of poetry, countless parables, ancient myths, and many wonderful stories. Maybe two of Jesus’ followers did literally walk a road to Emmaus and encounter a stranger who turned out to be their resurrected Lord. But so much Biblical content is far from literal.

That poetry? The best-known Psalm (23) speaks of a shepherd. That’s a figure of speech. We are not literal sheep. The parables? Guess what? There was no specific, historical person who was the one prodigal son. (There were legions of them, and still are; but the story Jesus made up is designed to teach a lesson.) Myths? Well, let’s count the Genesis creation stories as mythology, and those stories run parallel to the creation stories found in other ancient cultic literature.

Now, to be sure, there are millions of good Christian folk out there who feel compelled to “believe the Bible” as literal factual truth. They will not be persuaded otherwise, for to take some of the scripture as figurative or allegorical or symbolic, well…who’s to decide what’s True (capital T intended). Best just accept it all as fact.

Now that Easter 2018 has come, the discussion in our class (had we met that morning) might have been centered on whether God literally raised Jesus from the dead, or whether the story is more symbolic. And before long, we’ll be thinking about Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Ascending. Up.  A direct line stretching from somewhere in the Mideast into cosmic space? And ending up at “the right hand of God.” Literally? If not, then what?

As I thought about the debate among committed Christians of every stripe, the Fundamentalists vs. flaming liberals, for example, it occurred to me that one reason so many people these days have backed away from the faith in which these stories were told, or rejected them outright, or thought this “faith” thing was silly and non-reasonable to begin with — well, I have the feeling that there is an understanding of our Christian story (from scripture to dogma) that is skewed because agnostics and atheists are taking that story literally. (Heavens! Don’t try diagraming that sentence; you’ll strain something…though not literally.)

The non-believers, doubters, scoffers, and others may think all of us Christian folk are fundy literalists. They read the pamphlet left by the two Witnesses who knocked at their door one Saturday, and they assume we all subscribe to that theology. Or, they see some cock-eyed evangelist on TV, catch a bit of the sermon/rant, and think, so that’s what my church-going neighbor believes. Maybe two white-shirt-tie-and-jacket Mormons dropped off their Book while making the rounds of the neighborhood. And, upon hearing some of their story, the steeped-in-reason guy across the street thought that was my systematic theology as well.

Go ahead and reject my faith if I don’t live by it or up to it. But please, my rational-minded “non-believing” friend, don’t judge me or my faith because of perceived  literalism I too have spurned. Virgin birth? Jesus’ ascension? Restoring sight to the blind? Living water?  Well, there are some things that seem unbelievable I do believe. And, as someone wise once said, some things are True, and might also actually have happened. Literally. But Nicodemus was wrong to assume that when Jesus said you must be born again that meant going back into your mother’s womb. And Jesus’ critics were wrong to assume that he would re-build the Jerusalem temple in three literal days. Or, that meal where his body and blood are consumed? Metaphors be with you!

I have to admit that I love living a rational theology, sorting through the meaning of words and parabolic stories and teachings. I’m up to the challenge! Things like grace, peace, justice, and love are of utmost interest to me as I look back and ahead in my faith journey. Oh, and people. Family and community help focus my faith commitment.

This is not all that came to me when my grandson visited. I also had to decide something else of importance. Was it some guy named Plum, in the drawing room, with the knife? That, like our theology, is our best guess given the cards we’ve drawn.

 

 

 

 

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United Nations, NYC, USA

{Today marks the last day of the 40 day Lenten season. Each day I have posted panoramic photos and written some reflections on those images. Joan will be glad to have me back in the mornings. It usually takes a couple of hours to write these things. I know that may surprise you, but choosing the photo and waiting for inspiration and looking for words…well, I write (and type) slowly. So, I too will be glad to have my mornings back. I am grateful for you who have read the daily meditation/essays and shared comments. Frankly, I have written mostly for myself, and have sometimes been a bit too “self-revealing,” but as a friend says, “It is what it is.” So, we have reached the day after which is also the day before.}

Nobody knows how long Saturday will last or if it will never end. Saturday is that in-between day of stillness and doubt and despair when time stands still in lethal flatness. The old Saturday was about abandonment and disappointment at the far edge of the crucifixion. And then came all the Saturdays of fear and abusiveness, of the Crusades and the ovens and genocides in too many places.

Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent.

Yesterday, I wrote of loss. Today, on this day between the days, I write of hope. Persistent hope. The kind of hope that is not mere wishful thinking, or keeping fingers crossed or the “where one door closes God will open another” kind of hope. It is not even the light at the end of the tunnel, that hope I call persistent.

I’m thinking of the hope that remains in that 5% of people in the most rural areas of Puerto Rico who still do not have power restored after Hurricane Maria. I’m thinking of the kind of hope that remains after a devastating personal defeat. Or, that flickers in the heart after a deep, deep loss. It is the hope that will not be extinguished, or, expressed more positively, that will persist no matter what.

I have never quoted a Bengali polymath before (have you?), but this quotation speaks to me.

Within us we have a hope which always walks in front of our present narrow experience; it is the undying faith in the infinite in us.

Rabindranath Tagore, (1861-1941), Sadhana

For many who read these words of mine, the infinite in us is the God both within and beyond us. It is God who will not let hope fade or die. But, God knows, hope is hard work. And we must persist in it.

Have you figured out why I chose that photo? To me that monolithic slab of New York City skyline is a symbol of hope. Since the League of Nations was founded in 1920, at the end of the First World War, a global  yearning for peace has at least had a forum. With the founding of the United Nations in 1945 (optimistically in Lake Success, NY), that forum has continued to struggle with political and social upheaval, military skirmishes and all-out wars, emerging nations, tyrants and dictators, border violations, shoe-pounding tantrums and verbose threats, and untold barriers to the peace for which the world yearns.

Yet, there it stands, that building along the river. And if it weren’t for some persistent, deep-seated hope that we can keep from blowing the world to hell, the whole grand idea, the 72 year-old scheme, might whiffle away. As our leaders falter, as words fail, as visions are vetoed, and negotiations are negated, no wonder it all seems futile. And yet…

A few years ago, I met Robert Smylie at a Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference. At that time, Smylie headed our denomination’s Presbyterian Mission at the United Nations. I learned that since the UN’s founding, our church had a stake there in working for peace and justice, and interpreting UN programs to our congregations. On line, I found this statement:

Amid the restless spirits and often-tough diplomacy of the United Nations, the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations helps inspire, equip and connect Presbyterians for ministry as faithful disciples of Jesus in the global community. We educate with the hope of helping individuals live out God’s call in Christ to live with compassion, seek peace, and pursue justice wherever they go.

We do that because our hope will not die. Nineteenth Century minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker offered this prayer: “We look to Thee; Thy truth is still the Light which guides the nations, groping on their way. Stumbling and falling in disastrous night, yet hoping ever for the perfect day.”

Today, this Saturday, this last day of Lent, leads us to consider the shadow of emptiness and fear that gripped stunned disciples hours after the crucifixion of Jesus. Was all hope lost? I wouldn’t be surprised. He had told them to believe otherwise. He had whispered, preached, promised them concerning that third day, that perfect day. But they weren’t the brightest candles against the darkness. So who knows?

But there is something in us that hopes against hope, that prays earnestly for peace in the  world and in the heart. It is a hope that persists. That lives. It is the very breath of life. Somehow, amid the diplomats and  bureaucrats and ambassadors and interpreters and worker bees of that monolithic hive, that which has been elusive through almost a century of striving continues to plod toward peace. We hope. For the world depends on it.

And the world depends on this too: that hope will ultimately win. And the sun will rise, and the wideness in God’s mercy will shine through the whole of creation, bringing at the last our peace to the world God so loves.

Expect Easter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Assassination 1963

{Throughout Lent 2018 I have used panoramic photos from my files to prompt some writing. This is Good Friday.}

Today is Good Friday. The image I’ve chosen for today was taken on a Bad Friday in 1963. I was a student photographer for college publications, the yearbook and weekly newspaper. That day there was some sort of campus-wide fraternity activity, the details of which escape me, since I wasn’t a member. But I was photographing the shenanigans, including one fraternity’s carrying a coffin around the quadrangle, meant to be an outrageous bit of fun, brothers dressed in black, looking like undertakers, but with broad smiles.

Later that day, I was in class when someone suddenly entered the room and announced with a panicked voice, “The President is dead!” I assumed it was the college president. But, no. President John F. Kennedy was dead. Dr. Bleasby immediately dismissed class, and as the news spread, some of us went straight to the chapel to pray. And to cry. (My wife Joan tells me that she was in the school’s Conservatory of Music when the news came, and her professor openly wept at the news. He, like all of us, was shaken by the loss of our charismatic, young President.)

I left the chapel and went to the yearbook office to grab our ancient 4X5 Graflex camera. I looked out the office window and saw students gathered around car radios to listen to the news coming from Dallas. I took the image you see above. The original negative is long gone. Even the prints I made in the darkroom that afternoon have disappeared. All I have left is the image printed in the yearbook, and that was spread across two pages. Thus the poor scan. Nonetheless, the photo still tells the story of that afternoon. We were stunned. And confused. And fearful. What was happening? What would happen next? Who did this? And why?

1963. No smart phones. No internet. And maybe only one television set per dorm. Really. Thus, the radios…volume turned up in cars so all could listen to news they did not want to hear but had to listen to.

The coffin prank was no longer funny.

Something many in today’s younger generations do not grasp is how much many of us loved that President. In my family, his 1960 victory over Richard Nixon brought utter joy. Dad had twice run for local offices as a Democrat, so while not everyone in my school thought Kennedy’s win was good for the country, the Kellam clan was ecstatic. Kennedy, besides being in “our” party, was only 43 when he was elected, handsome, full of personality and good humor, married to a, pardon the expression, classy woman, and he brought two small playful children to the White House, adding to that Camelot image of idealism and hopefulness. I guess we knew he wasn’t perfect, as a man or politician, but he had gotten us through the Cuban Missile crisis. (That was enough to help us forget the CIA’s ill-fated, and ill-conceived, Bay of Pigs invasion.) In years since, even our fallen heroes have reputations blemished by their fallibility. What kind of drugs did Kennedy use to cover severe back pain? What about Marilyn Monroe? Or, the corruption that power and affluence breed?

Still, those students in the old, distorted photo were aware of only one distortion that day: an assassin had taken the life of their national leader. I read this morning in the newspaper filler called “Today in History” that on this day in 1981 President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. Politically, I was no fan of the former actor, but had he died, yes, certainly I would have been among the mourners, just as many non-fans of Kennedy mourned his loss that day in 1963. The violence of our culture does rob us all of our hopes, dreams, ideals, national stability. And peace. No matter the party or politics of the lost leader. Look again at the photo, and picture yourself there as the disturbing news sinks in.

It is Good Friday. Good? The word has in its history meanings related to pious or holy. Some traditions call this day Holy Friday. Others, Black Friday. It is the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. And his disciples’ loss.  All that “love your enemies” idealism. Hung on a cross. All the assurance of “My peace I give you…” Stabbed with nails. Hope? As breath and blood ebb and flow, hope dies. For the disciples. And all the family and followers. From the trials, the riled crowds shouting “AYE” to crucify, and the mocking derision of Rome and religious powers — there on the cross, he dies. And something in his followers and friends and beloved family dies too. There on the cross, he dies. For them all.

Am I comparing Jack Kennedy to Jesus Christ? Give me a break. No. I am only thinking of loss. Heartbreak. Fear. I am trying to identify with those faithful at the foot of the cross as well as those who had gone into hiding. On that frightening Friday, when the Hosannas had been silenced and the yearnings and promises had been smothered, what loss, what emptiness… how did it feel? Look again at the image, and multiply the pain and confusion by cosmic exponents.

Today we deal with loss. Tomorrow, more darkness if you can imagine it. The Saturday sunrise may not help. But there is always, always, always the next day! But for now. Loss Friday.

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we’ve lost.

 

 

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A Winery on Seneca Lake

{Maundy Thursday of Holy Week…my series of forty panoramic pictures is coming to an end soon.}

We once lived along the Finger Lakes Wine Trail. Our house was in Ithaca, just a couple of parcels up from Cayuga Lake. A little further up the road, vineyards lined the lake, and wine tours were serious business. This image is from Seneca Lake, just to the west of Cayuga. If you are counting, there are nine other lakes in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, and the area is so scenic it’ll hurt your eyes. If you are into wines, you’ll be twice blessed.

I am not into wines. Part of that comes from the family in which I was raised. I can’t recall most of the relatives I knew in my early years ever serving or discussing wine. Or hard liquor. Beer? Oh, yeah. But the heavier stuff or the more “refined” stuff? There was no bar in the Kellam household. Nor in those of grandparents or aunts and uncles. (One exception: the family with Irish Catholic roots enjoyed raising a glass or two, and it gave them joy. I won’t argue with that. Just stating the facts.)

Mom and Dad had a beer now and then, Dad especially after some summer chores or while watching a game on TV. I remember a rare party they threw one holiday season, and Dad went to the liquor store to buy some wine. He fell on the ice coming up the porch steps, breaking a bottle and spraying himself with fermented fragrances. He was so worried what the dry cleaning guy would think about Dad’s overcoat smelling of wine that he was reluctant to offer it up for cleaning. I also remember trying to go to sleep that night as people seemed to get sillier as the night and the drinking went on. I recall the audio track of that party so well, because in my house it was so rare to hear people so high on whatever it was that spiked the festive gathering.

As I moved through my high school years, I eschewed (love that word!) both smoking and drinking. I was happy to avoid the cigarette habit and pleased to drink a cheap Coke while classmates spent more on their exotic alcohol. Yes. I was square as they come. And then came college. Small Christian college, no alcohol allowed. And it was even in a dry county. Friends with cars would drive a few miles to get their beer, but, again, I just wasn’t interested. Square.

Finally, in seminary of all places, I had my first wine. Having been nurtured in one of those denominations that feared real wine might turn everyone into alcoholics or seriously hinder those recovering from the illness, the chalice at our church was filled with grape juice. I understand that good old Welches was invented for just such a purpose. But in the seminary chapel at the first Communion service of my graduate school career, when the Communion trays were uncovered, the aroma wafted through the room alerting me to the real presence of genuine wine. I drank from the cup, and didn’t die.

Fifty years later, I am an advocate for serving the real thing (and I don’t mean Coco-cola). I confess to a little smirk inside when I think of editing the Words of Institution to reflect the way many churches “do” Holy Communion. “On the night of his betrayal, Jesus took the bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples… and in the same manner…he took the Welches, and offered it to his disciples…”

At one church I served early on in my pastoral ministry, the tradition was to offer a tray of little glasses, with grape juice in the outer ring, and red wine filling the rest of the tray.  That way, everybody could decide which sacramental “cup” fit their desires. It was a very good compromise.

I’m fond of what Frederick Buechner wrote about wine in his book Wishful Thinking: a Theological ABC:

“Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses.

Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk-making. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one.” (p. 95)

Within that quotation, there is a phrase I like to add when I officiate at the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “Life blood.” I have grown to dislike the blood sacrifice symbolism of this ritual. Fountains filled with blood, being washed in the blood, all those bloody hymns. In spite of Christian traditions that speak of Jesus’ “sacrificial death,” sins washed away by his blood, my theology has no room for such primitive belief. While the ancients did make sacrifices on blood-spattered altars of old, (lambs, doves, and other innocents), my evolving image of a loving God has no room for “killing Jesus” to effect my salvation.

I get Jesus sacrificing himself, just as many heroes have done for their comrades on life’s battlefields, but now more cosmic for all of humanity. Giving himself up to show us the wideness in God’s mercy, unconditional love made flesh, and forgiveness made radical (“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”) — that I understand. And bread broken and wine poured, a cup shared (a multi-layered symbol for sure), in remembrance… that I understand. And this: that we, hisDSC07464 followers, share in his life blood, in his blood line even, I get that. And tonight, as I lead a small congregation in the Sacrament, I will combine their understanding of the tradition with my “always being reformed”* interpretation of the Lord’s Supper, and we will all, as one, share in what my home church used to call “The Meal with the Master.” It will be a holy communion with Jesus.

Or, as many traditions know it, Eucharist, the Sacrament of Grace and Gratitude and Remembrance. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

[*That’s a Presbyterian catch phrase.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grand Teton National Park

{Lent 2018 has provided me with time to let my photographs prompt some writing. The days dwindle down to a precious few, as the old song says.}

As I age I grow aware of my limitations. This is the time of our lives when we just have to admit that some things we had hoped to do, or dreamed of doing one day, or even things we had once enjoyed — well, those things are no longer possible.

This is not to say that advancing age means we are now invalids, or in-valid as persons. It simply means that we know we must learn to deal with some limitations. While retirement has brought awesome (I rarely use that word unless I mean it) opportunities for travel, our sight-seeing reminds us that our trails are shorter, our hikes less intense, our energy levels not what they were when we were 35. No kidding, huh? You too?

There we were in Grand Teton National Park. We had hiked, and thoroughly enjoyed the journey over some fairly easy trails. But looking into the distance at that grand panorama, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be climbing any of those peaks. Just gazing at them from afar would have to do.

 

There was a time, however, that I climbed, and with a heavy backpack weighing

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The Writer Back When…

me down. I’m not a veteran climber of the most challenging high peaks, handling ropes, harnesses, rappel devices, grip savers, etc. I liked the smaller challenges of Virginia sections of the Appalachian Trail, or hiking up Montreat’s Lookout Mountain in western North Carolina. I had the legs back then, and the energy, and the will. Today, I still have the will, but less energy, and a bad knee. So my climbs are more modest. I know my limits.

 

That expanse of water in the photo above prompts another limitation of mine. After three local attempts at swimming lessons when I was a kid, and even after a couple of years of weekly classes in college, I am not a swimmer. I never got over my fear of high water. I guess I could do the back stroke, but why would I want to? So, swimming in that lake, or canoeing or kayaking? No, thanks. It’s been a lifetime limitation; not one related to aging. What is related to my growing more elderly is the realization that at my age, I do not hold out much hope that I will ever learn to swim. Please…I know it’s possible. But, I’ve gotten along just fine, so far. I like boat rides, from my friend Matt Matthews’ speed boat ride through Hampton Roads, to transatlantic cruises on huge ships.

A recent episode in deep water brought back my water-related phobia. We were in the Caribbean and a boat ride was to take us to an island for lunch. When the boat’s pilot learned I wasn’t a swimmer, he rather casually noted, “Hmmm, that might be a problem. There’s no dock I can get to there. We usually anchor a ways out and swim in for lunch. But I’ll try to get as close as I can. If the tide is right, you can probably wade in.” Probably. I left the boat and the water was chest high. All I could think of was stepping into some hole and… Or, what if the tide rose a bit and water that was chest high would be over my head? Turns out, the wading thing worked, and I am here to write this.

Living with limitations is something we all have to adjust to. And aging does mean the limitations grow. But, for every sign of slowing down, there is an opportunity to compensate. I won’t be learning to swim and enjoy water sports. So what? I won’t miss it. But, look, I’ve learned to over-write about it! (Freshman composition professor Dr. Bleasby would not be pleased.) I have other skills I can continue to develop. I may not be able to climb Mt. Ranier’s peak, but I can take a lesser trail there and pull out my camera. I may not follow my cousin Danny around the track at Watkins Glen at 100 mph, but I’m content to put miles and miles on my RAV4 between here and there.

One more limitation I’ve learned to live with. I can’t play an instrument. I go to jazz jams and wonder what it would be like to just get up there and play…play anything! Piano. Guitar. Trombone. But as I near the end of my third quarter of a century, I’m realistic. If I didn’t have the self-discipline to practice back then, what makes me think I would be able to “take lessons” now, and how much time would it take to actually play well? (The estimate, I’ve heard, is 10,000 hours. OK then.) So, while I can’t blow into a mouthpiece, strum strings, or beat a drum, I am a big fan of those who can. I am a music appreciation junkie. And, thanks to an invitation a few months ago, I am writing a monthly column about jazz artists in our community.

I live with one limitation after another, but adjust, adapt, compensate, and continue to bloom where I’m planted. Like a weed.

One more limitation: my understanding of God. The older I get, the more the Mystery deepens. One would think that after some sixty-plus years of Christian education and nurture, my aging would bring my theology into clearer focus. Maybe I have a theological cataract that’s come with age. I certainly hold to my faith, but my system of belief is blurrier. Maybe that’s not really a limitation after all. Maybe it’s a liberation. I am free to be me, and God is free to be God.

And perhaps — just maybe — that is indeed the wideness in God’s mercy!DSC06037

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alone in Glacier National Park

{Homestretch…just a few more days in Lent 2018. A photo/meditation per day for 40 days}

I have no hard evidence for this, but my conjecture is that introversion is rampant in the following alliterative vocations: clergy, comedy, and carpentry. The photo above depicts a person alone, gazing up toward a mountain peak out of our view. The soundtrack is not quite silent. There are some birds there in the woods, and a couple of hikers not in the frame, though their voices are hushed, as if in awe of the serenity of the place.

Full disclosure (as if this series has been anything else), that is my wife on the primitive log bench. I left her to take some photos, and glanced back, and there she was in contemplation of nature’s gifts.

This image suggests a tranquil ease with aloneness. As an introvert myself, I understand and treasure times of solitude. I see the value of the monastery hermitage to which a Trappist retreats on occasion, intentionally moving away from the all-important community of spiritual brothers who ordinarily pray, sing, eat, and study as one. At a monastery I visited in Virginia, the hermitage was a little cabin a short distance from the main house. It was far from solitary confinement; it was more a solitary liberation. Maybe a kind of “working vacation” that contributed to a monk’s working vocation of silence, prayer, and labor. But, again, only for a time, for every monk was to find spiritual vitality living in community, not isolation.

My Myers-Briggs profile confirmed what I had known for some time. I’m introverted. And that comes as a big surprise to people at church or in the neighborhood. I’m sure my obituary will note that I was known for my sense of humor. I have a way of speaking with strangers and making them smile. Or, trying to bring a smile. Usually it works.  Sometimes my comments only bring puzzlement or suspicion. And I feel sorry for such folk. But my wife knows that I will stop at the sales desk in a mall store and ask if today is the day they give out free gum. I enjoy interrupting someone’s routine with an unexpected comment that lightens one brief moment.

So, I do speak to strangers, and as a minister I had no trouble speaking from a pulpit, or to a community group, maybe talking about Habitat for Humanity at a Kiwanis Club. I can be “on” when needed, but then, like most introverts, I need to move away from the crowd and find renewed strength in aloneness. For some reason, many (if not most?) clergy are introverted, or border on it. And, I’ve read that the same is true for comedians. Johnny Carson and David Letterman, for example. They would be “on” for the studio audience, but they weren’t into parties and crowds afterward. (So I’m told; we didn’t mix in the same circles. What am I saying? We introverts don’t have circles!)

When I did my radio ministry (with rock music yet) it was the perfect vocation for me. There I was in the solitude of the sound-proofed studio, but speaking with thousands across the country via broadcasting.

I’m OK with my “condition.” I’m no hermit. I can take groups of people for a time. But I’m far more interested in a quiet dinner with my wife than at a raucous restaurant, with music blaring and people shouting to be heard in conversation over the din. We go out socially now and then, but often find ourselves by ourselves, not mixing among the other guests. Please. I’m not judging others, anymore than I wish to be judged. Some of my best friends are extroverts, affably working the crowd wherever they go, hellos, hugs, and handshakes. I smile and chuckle. They throw their heads back in laughter. We’re all OK the way we are. We are just different from one another.

Now, when it comes to church, here’s the thing for me. I am more the Quaker type. Many churches are big into praise bands, hands lifted high in praise and prayer, some applause and shouted amens. I’m more of a sit-quietly-with-head-bowed kind of guy. I’m more into Taize and Iona chants of simple songs than toe-tapping, lyrics-projected, handclapping unison voices raised high, sing ‘n’ sway praises. Again, I’m happy for all who worship in that vein. From the African-American worship traditions to mega-church multi-media spectacles, it works for a lot of folks, and a growing number of people in our churches.

It’s said that there are “worship wars” going on in some churches, with worshippers on one side wanting more “modern” or contemporary music, and others desiring more traditional or classical approaches. Many churches are trying to blend worship styles, and others are dividing their congregations into two sub-cultures with separate services. I’m not suggesting that we introverts would be happier with one or the other. I’m just saying…the Quakers (the Friends) are probably not wrestling with these things in their meeting houses. (I could be wrong. I was once….or twice.) Quiet is golden in the meeting house, until the Spirit moves, and even then, quiet returns while listeners consider what has been said.

I couldn’t be a Quaker exclusively, not when it comes to worship. I thrive on great music, classical or jazz, and I love “high liturgy” now and then, and banner-waving, organ-thundering, massed choir-singing festivals!

And then I can go home and take a nap.

I don’t have time to do the research on this, but I’ll bet someone has. I’m wondering if extroverts are more lonely as a group than introverts. (Not lonely in a group, that is, but as a sub-set.) Are we introverts more comfortable with aloneness, and less likely to suffer loneliness? I know we are more likely to be lonely in a crowd; does it work the other way? Are extroverts suffocated by aloneness? Like I said…just wondering.

Oh, I almost forgot. Carpenters. Introverts? Don’t the woodworking artists labor alone, just them and their wood? For fun, just consider Jethro Gibbs! He works by day with his NCIS team, but at night, by himself, he’s in his basement, coveting the quiet solitude, as he shapes wood into a labor of love: a boat, too large to even leave his cellar. Gibbs is fictional, of course. But the image is an honest portrayal of an introvert carpenter at work.

Speaking of carpenters…pardon my psychologizing Jesus here, but do you think he might have been an introvert? I know he liked socializing, even being accused by his critics of eating and drinking too much and with the wrong crowds, “glutton and drunkard” that he seemed to be. He preached to thousands at a time, the scriptures say, and moved through crowds teaching and healing as he went. Wedding feasts, dinners — always surrounded by the Twelve, as well as the unnamed women and men who may as well have been called disciples. And yet… how often Jesus had to leave them behind, to go up a mountain by himself, to often seek solitude for prayer, to re-charge by boat or by foot. While he may have found comfort and strength in being alone, betrayal in those last days would not have fit his plan for solitude.

Eventually, the cross. Alone, yet between two others. Alone, but gazed upon by the crowd. Alone, even feeling forsaken by God, but…