Monday, January 25, 2010

Zydeco Snow

Before my first National Cowboy Poets’ Gathering, I assumed it would be nothing but white guys emulating Baxter Black – which is not bad. But the folks in Elko who put this event together are intentionally cosmopolitan. The first event I ever attended was a concert of Mexican corridos performed by artists from our neighbor to the south. My next event was a concert by the Cowboy Poets of Kyrgystan. Amazing Asian folk traditions expanded my horizons.

This year’s guests were from the Southeastern United States. That made sense. The Southeast has produced cowboy legends like the immortal Florida wrangler Bone Mizell. So my mind was open to the two Florida cowboy poets who opened tonight’s show, Swamp Tunes. The mediocrity of their verse was punctuated by base insulting rudeness and on one occasion an “inartful” racial slur. The dignity of Elko was saved only by my having failed to bring fruit to the event.

However, they were only the openers. The main act was a 5-man Black zydeco band from South Louisiana. Washboard and drum rhythms drove the accordion melody. The artists were more than talented. They were inspired and inspiring. Cajun music, kin to country, has its own charm, but this was zydeco -- a celebratory cousin to blues. The music was so aesthetically compelling I was lost in it. A truly spiritual experience. Someday we must have a zydeco mass.

When I stepped outside the Folklife Center, the music still pulsing in my body, snow was falling from a sky my poet friend Lyn Lifshin would call “onyx.” Life is good despite Florida poets.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mystery & Redemption On The Road To Elko

Maybe it was the cloud of unknowing. My day long drive from Las Vegas to Wells was mostly uneventful -- skies variable, roads mostly clear. At Wells I turned west on I-80 shortly before sunset. The skies by then were partly cloudy, but mostly bright, enough blue to lift the spirits. Then I saw a cloud in front of me -- not in the sky but lying across the road -- a dark cloud mass come to earth.

I drove into the cloud, then saw an orange circle of light straight ahead -- the sun "as through a glass darkly" -- bright but not at all too bright to look at directly. The sun shown into the cloud, which had been grey on the outside, but on the inside, the cloud was like orange smoke shifting.

At first, it was not snowing in the cloud, but dry snow was blowing across the highway from south to north. This this was not a small cloud. I was in it for awhile. About halfway through, it began snowing, the flakes rushing toward my windshield as if they were flying parallel to the ground. It stopped. Then I drove out of the cloud and the day was bright again.

We had a good clergy conference today at St. Paul's. One of the good people there treated me to a ticket to tonight's opening of the National Cowboy Poets' Gathering. I arrived early and was browsing in the bookstore of the Western Folklife Center when I had my moment of redemption. I was redeemed not from my moral failings but from the regrettable hat blunder I committed in Fernley last year. See blog entry for 8-23-09 "The Social Risk Of Hats In The American West."

Dressed for Elko in jeans, a heavy long coat, and my Frontier Collection Renegade style cowboy had from J. M. Capriola's Western Wear, I was standing stock still, hands in coat pockets, focussed as I was on the covers of some chap books on a bottom shelf. That is when a nicely dressed lady mistook me for a manequin.

Feeling grateful for the gift of the tickets and somewhat pleased with myself for having "passed," I especially enjoyed the show which featured Virginia City troubador, Richard Elloyan, and perhaps Nevada's premier cowboy poet (he at the least has the premier mustache), Waddie Mitchell.

Friday, January 15, 2010


The Haitian rain
falls heavy.
Birds sing to it
songs in strange bird tongues.
By the merest glint
of light,
the lonely curiosity
of the alien,
understands these birds
better than
the people.


Haitian light
so other
Iona’s, Delphi’s, Nova Scotia’s.
Softish here the light
and languid.
Light’s difference
does not look
It others how
all things appear.
I would be changed
by a vision
– not something seen –
but a way of seeing.


Les Beaux remote
mountain village.
The church concrete
& cinder block.

Guilene, in yellow
skirt and top
neatly pressed
and grey New York baseball cap
over tight black ringlets,
may someday be Haiti’s second
woman priest.

But now, bent double,
in her Sunday best,
she mops the church floor
with a towel,
pulling outside
last night’s rain.

And now
she sits
beside her mother
in plaid suit
and scarf
yellow, black, purple,
blue, & orange
knotted at the top.

They are waiting
for something
to begin.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Socio-Theological Reflection On Hats

This is probably over due. It is one of the few issues on which people have seemed genuinely interested in my views. I have sidestepped the question until now. However something has happened that makes this issue so central to my episcopacy, if not my life, that I can no longer remain silent.

I recently changed my profile pic on FaceBook and the responses have been favorable. Every single person who likes the new pic has said it is because of the hat -- a soft wool Western hat (a Scala classico) which I got in Salt Lake 2 years ago. I gather the pro-pic folks prefer this hat to the church baseball cap which I wore in my old pic (as still seen on this blog).

During the bishop election in 07, I inadvertently created a stir in the diocese by wearing a hat in the profile pic for the candidates. My hat was for some a decisive factor in their discernment. Generally, it seems to have played pretty well in the rurals, to have been an acceptable eccentricity in Reno, but to have been controversial if not downright offensive in Las Vegas. One clergy person interrogated me at some length as to what I was trying to say with my hat or if there was a psychopathlogy concealed beneath it.

The hat, by the way, was a standard white summer straw hat such as I see in stores all over Las Vegas. Some of the hat's critcs called it a Panama Hat. Not true. The Panama Hat is a perfectly respectable style, but I do not now and have never owned one.

So here's the story on that hat. I was told by the search committee to wear "street clericals" for the pic and when I am on the street I wear a hat. The reasons are not subtle or complex. I have been bald for decades and without the hat I would be having cancers dug out of my scalp monthly. The only thought that went through my mind as I decided, in the blink of an eye, about wearing a hat in the picture is that it would cut down on the glare from my head. I was concerned that the glare would suggest a halo and so unfairly disadvantage the other candidates who did not have halos.

So I was surprised and remain perplexed by the interest in my hat. My sense of the spiritual incidental-ness of hats goes back to an anti-racsim public service announcement in the 60's. Richard Boone (Paladin from Have Gun Will Tavel) appeared on camera holding two hats, one white and one black. He said television used hat colors in westerns to distinguish good guys from bad guys, but in real life we sould never judge a person by the color of his hat!

That is obviously true. Hat color tells us nothing about a person. It is the style of the band, the height of the crown, and the strategic tilt of the brim that are the measure of character.

Since my first months in Nevada, like St. Paul I have been learning to be all things to all people in the hope that I may bring a few to the gospel. I have learned to wear a black fedora in Las Vegas, and never a Stetson, except at one congreation where the DOK demands the Stetson. In Elko the Stetson always. In Reno, hats suggestive of down jacketed proximity to California. At House of Bishops, usually the Episcopal Chaplain baseball cap, except sometimes I wear my Pioche Nevada baseball cap because it's fun listening to the other bishops try to pronounce Pioche when they ask me what it is.

Oh yes, I was also surprised that anyone would be concerned about a bishop's propensity to wear odd hats, given the eccentricity of the mitre. I started out wearing a plain humble Beckett mitre but that was met by groans of dissatisfaction. So now I usually wear the "higher mitre" of medieval pomposity -- the one worn by the pompous clergyman in Princess Bride. (It makes me want to say "Mawiage. Cwistian mawiage." The bands in the back flop around my face making me feel like Jar Jar Binks in church). That seems to better meet expectations, but I would still like to have a mitre with showgirl feathers (of seasonally appropriate liturgical colors of course) for special occasions -- such as diocesan conventions when we meet in a casino.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why Me Lord?

We had a special service at St. Luke’s today. Instead of the usual Sunday morning liturgy, we used Burial Rite 2 to celebrate the life of Anthony Grino, a leader of Bibak, the Igarot Filipino cultural organization, and the patriarch of that wonderful congregation. The junior warden and members of Anthony’s family gave eulogies. Then Fr. Jeff Adiego (St. Matthew’s) told about his giving last rites to Anthony. Fr. Jeff described how Anthony was completely unresponsive, unable to speak or move. But after the rest of the rite had been performed, Fr. Jeff knelt down to where Anthony could see him without lifting his head, then read the Prologue to John’s Gospel and said, “Anthony do you believe what I just read?” Anthony responded with a strong “I do” – and thereafter did not speak again.

After the service we went downstairs for a reception. At my previous visits, we have had drumming and Filipino folk dancing. But this was different. There was a music group of four members of the congregation. The lead singer played guitar with a lot of body movement. He wore a frock length sports coat. Another singer had a Mandalay Bay jacket. The first song was a gospel classic:

O Lord you know I have no friend like you.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

The second song was “Why Me Lord?” Remember Kris Krisofferson.

Lord help me Jesus I’ve wasted it
So help me Jesus I know what I am
Now that I know that I’ve needed you so
Help me Jesus my soul’s in your hand.

That’s my religion and I am grateful to these good Christians for holding it up for me to see and hear. I feel so blessed by our people.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

On The 12th Night Of Christmas

On 12th Night, our mysterious benefactors capped off the season with a final gift. They left on our porch the storage box for our white plastic tree. The box was wrapped in blue and white snowflake Christmas paper with a big red bow. It was stuffed with multi-colored tissue paper flowers. What a Christmas. Wit and liturgy. Whoever y0u are, thank you.

And Now Mary Daly

So soon after the passing of Edward Schillebeecykx, we have now lost Mary Daly a pioneer feminist theologian who wrote groundbreaking books in the 80s and 90s. She was not my favorite feminist theologian. I resonated more with mutuality Trinitarians like Johnson, God image liberators like McFague, retrievalists like Schussler-Fiorenza, and critical theorists like Soelle. But Daly pushed the envelope and made it possible for these other great theologians to gain a hearing.