"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, October 28, 2016

Urban Village

Victorian House Graphic from The Woodlands Website

If you're off to Philadelphia this morning,
And wish to prove the truth of what I say,
I pledge my word you'll find the pleasant land behind
Unaltered since Red Jacket rode that way.
Still the pine-woods scent the noon; still the catbird sings his
Still autumn sets the maple-forest blazing;
Still the grape-vine through the dusk flings her soul-compelling
Still the fire-flies in the corn make night amazing!
They are there, there, there with Earth immortal
( Citizens, I give you friendly warning ). .
The things that truly last when men and times have passed,
They are all in Pennsylvania this morning!

concluding stanza from the poem
"Philadelphia" by Rudyard Kipling

I never tire of writing about our days in Philadelphia (1993 - 2004), both good times and bad (well, never all that bad). One of my long - ago literary friends happened across a couple of these posts and left a quizzical comment -- "I don't know how you put such a nostalgic spin on it -- that made me think about some things that I've been meaning to put into words for a long time.

Living in West Philly was a mixed blessing. It was so unlike anywhere else I had ever lived before -- Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana. Yes, it's true, we moved right into a beautiful historic home, but on a tough corner where it was not unusual -- day or night -- to find men you didn't know sitting randomly on your porch swing for a smoke, peeing on your flowers, digging up your evergreens (for resale), doing drugs on your back steps and leaving their crack vials behind, breaking into your car or your house, stealing your purse or your kids' bikes or the mail out of your mailbox. We witnessed house fires, domestic abuse in the streets, and some one - on - one foot chases.

But, no, we were never beat up, aside from the times my son was pushed over at school and called "white boy." Sadly, other neighbors were robbed at knife - point, mugged, apprehended and asked to surrender their bikes on the way home from work. It was challenging but also exhilarating because of the many positive trade - offs -- great neighbors, public transportation, communal gardens; lots of schools, shows, and museums -- all in walking distance.

The human density could be stressful but was also an enriching reminder of how far the spectrum of possibility can be stretched when the choices are multiplied. Over the years, our area improved, yet one by one many of us re-located to the midwest or upstate -- retaining our nostalgic spin, however unrealistic. As one of my best quote sources (that's you Cate!) wrote just the other day, " . . . thinking of West Philly, it really wasn't the Shambala we think it was, but it was so nice that we were in such good presence with each other."

Philadelphia: place we called home. Turns out the big city was actually more like Mayberry RFD than any of the small - to medium - to rural towns I'd lived in before. Why? Because the neighbors were neighborly. Why? Because we shared a common vision and needed each other to make that life come true. It took a village.

Such a beautiful view of our neighborhood,
looking from the third - floor down to 48th Street!
[Click for earlier views: 1994 & 2000]

Additional Comments From Friends & Neighbors

Cate: So very true. Now living in beautiful Perfectville, Ohio. I know all my neighbors, but have yet to have one in for coffee. So Midwest -- keep those fences up.

Joyce: The block has changed quite a bit from 2004. I frequently say I feel I live in heaven. There is still the occasional incident on the block, but they are rare. I may be the only one still using a Club, out of habit. Several neighbors find excuses to get together for breakfast on the deck or porch, a holiday meal, even game night. We take each other to our colonoscopies, recommend orthopedists for our hip replacements. The Baltimore Avenue Coop (Mariposa) is in a stunning new space a block west and open to all, meaning there is truly a place nearby to purchase most foods; new eateries appear, gardens are still tended, the Curio Theater is a hit in Calvary. I, and I think many others love the 800 block of S. 48th St.

Lisa: Great post, just spent the weekend with Robert Rosenthal, and we were re-hashing some of the good and challenging times living in West Philly.The good news is that there are many good people still there and it has become a Mecca for young people. My niece now lives there and loves it! I think the crack era was particularly hard. I am still inspired by the diversity there. All of America needs to learn how to be neighbors and citizens again.

Emily: Thanks Kitti. Your words help me remember some of the more urban moments. It was wonderful being a mom of young children together. We all looked out for each other and helped out so much. It's been a few years, still I want to thank you for being so open, helpful, and welcoming back then. Keep on blogging.

Many thanks to Tony, Cate, Joyce, Lisa, and Emily for their
heartfelt responses, leading to the assemblage of this blog post.

And to Ben & Cathleen for the photos
from their recent trip to the old hometown.

Gerry's old office window at the Wharton School

Staying at The Gables Bed & Breakfast

Rube Goldberg Ball Machine at the Airport

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, November 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Friday, October 14, 2016

Pre - Election Reflection


I was just finishing up another post this morning, all ready for today's Fortnightly, when a note from my brother popped up: "I'm preaching on Sunday. Most of these words come from Christianity Today, Frederick Buechner, David Kuo, and Max Lucado, all of whom I will cite. Tell me what you think."

Within the first couple of paragraphs, I knew that this was one of the most insightful sermons I'd read or heard in awhile and that my brother had conveniently and coincidentally created a timely guest blog for me -- and made an excellent connection to a soul - searching article that we had been discussing only an hour earlier. Hopefully I can return the favor by widening Bruce's audience to include my readers in addition to his congregation.

Reposted with gratitude to The Rev. Bruce L. Carriker,
and his sources, Frederick Buechner, David Kuo,
Max Lucado, and Christianity Today:

We are really ready for this presidential election to be over. We’re ready for an end to the rancor and tackiness. Voters on both sides feel frustrated, even embarrassed by it all. There is great angst about the result, by supporters of both major candidates. What if the other one wins? There is a visceral fear, encouraged by the media on both sides, that if the wrong candidate wins, it means the end of the United States as we know it. And, it's that fear I want to address. Hear the words of Frederick Buechner:
“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you.”
Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Don't be afraid. I am with you.

Christians on both sides seem to have trouble hearing that message right now. Our country is bitterly divided, and more than simply reflecting that division, the Church EXEMPLIFIES that division. What we are doing is nothing less than putting the gospel at stake. The gospel is of infinitely greater importance than any political campaign, and one good summary of the gospel is, “Jesus is Lord.” And the lordship of Jesus Christ places constraints on how we involve ourselves, or entangle ourselves, with earthly rulers.

The Democratic nominee has pursued unaccountable power through secrecy. She exemplifies the path to power rooted in a rigorous control of one’s image and a calculated disregard for norms that restrain less powerful actors. Such efforts to avoid accountability put both the leader and the community in greater danger.

Because several of the Democratic candidate’s policy positions are so incompatible with certain Christian values, and because some in her party are so openly hostile to the expressions of the traditional Christian faith, there is plenty of critique, criticism, and concern over her possible election.

But, the Republican nominee raises equally valid concerns. In many ways he personifies the “earthly nature” Paul wrote of in Colossians: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry”. That he has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should be clear to everyone.

Supporters of either major candidate have valid reasons for concern about the other candidate. But, we ought to be equally concerned about our own preferred candidate as well. These are two extremely flawed candidates. No Christian should claim to be supporting either one based on an appeal to Christian values. Measured against Christian values, neither of them deserves our support.

That is not to say “Don't vote.” By all means, vote. It's your duty as a responsible citizen. And you can support or oppose either candidate, based on very real policy differences – differences that get lost when the candidates and their campaign representatives engage in the vile, disgusting horror show that this election has become. Say you support Hillary Clinton because you believe she's more experienced and more qualified. Say you support Donald Trump because you think he'll do better protecting us from terrorist attacks. But, don't say you support either one of them because of your Christian faith.

When we, as Christians, ally ourselves with politicians, in an attempt to manipulate the levers of power in favor of our cause we support and engage in a form of idolatry . . . placing our faith in earthly kings and princes, at the expense of our dependence on God. When we engage in the same bitterness and vitriol that pervades political discussion today, in support of a human leader; we give our neighbors cause to doubt that we really believe Jesus is Lord. They see us as self-interested, self-protective hypocrites who will ally ourselves with anyone – even those who violate things we consider sacred – if we believe they may help us advance our agenda.

For too long we've held this hope that the right person doing the right things would make America better; eliminate poverty, wipe out crime, and expand opportunity to all our citizens. But, it hasn't happened. Our hopes have been misplaced and unreasonable; the bar set too high; and we've squandered our energy and our treasure in the deal.

Our political leaders, regardless of party, are just that – political. No matter their faith or lack thereof, they are just plain old people doing a plain old job. They can't save America. Maybe they can change things at the margin, here and there. But, ultimately, the job of fixing America is our job..and by “our” I mean both the American people and the church in America. And our faith must be placed where it belongs...not in politicians, but in God.

This year’s presidential election presents Christian voters with an especially difficult choice...AND IT'S NOT THE CHOICE OF VOTING FOR ONE CANDIDATE OR ANOTHER. It's a choice about how we are going to behave when this election is over.

As Christians, we are instructed to pray for our rulers, even those who directly oppose our welfare. If the Apostle Paul prayed for a Roman emperor who used Christians as human torches, can we not pray for our next president, whoever that may be?

I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 is going to bring. No matter who wins, God will still be God; and Christians will have a choice: We can wring our hands in despair at the result. We can continue the character assassination and politics of personal destruction. Or, we can behave like Christians.

When you get home today, circle November 9 on your calendar and, in very large letters, write these words: “God is still God and I will pray for our new President.”

“Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid. I am with you.”


[Click for further thoughts & Election Aftermath]


Or, as Dame Julian of Norwich expressed it
so many centuries ago (1342 - 1462):

"All shall be well
And all shall be well
And all manner of things shall be well."

But, as I always say: we have to do our share to make it so.

"What is so rare as a weekend in October?"

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday October 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading