The Teachers Teacher

If you know Hillel…

If you know Aristotle, you know Plato. If you know Thomas Jefferson, you know John Locke.

How do you know them? Because Plato and John Locke were the teachers, you might even call them Masters. When you read the words of the student, you can hear the masters voice.

As I often do, I was wondering about things. I began to wonder…who was Jesus teacher? When we read about Jesus, he is referred to,and thought of as, the teacher. They called him Master, and Rabbi.

Now before you criticize me for not giving all of the credit for what Jesus thought and said to his Father, and to divine inspiration, hold on a second. I am referring to that human side, the one that was “famished” when he fasted in the desert. The one that I believe was hungry to learn.

If you know Jesus, you know Hillel.

Often, too often in my view, we disregard that Jesus was a Jew, raised as a Jew, by Jews and with Jews. He was never a Christian, always a Jew.

I don’t believe that there is any certain evidence of Jesus being a student of Hillel. In fact, his death is recorded as being in the year 10, which would make Jesus an unlikely student. However, Hillel had established what was called the House of Hillel.  It was an Academy that outlived the founder.
At that time there were two dominant traditions. There was the House of Shammai, which was rigid and conservative in it’s teachings, focusing on strict adherence to religious law. The House of Hillel was far more liberal, emphasizing openheartedness to all; including women. While the Shammai school were about the law, Hillel was about philosophy.
We know that Hillel lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod and the Roman Emperor Augustus. He was a constant student, even at the time of being viewed as the premier sage and scholar in Jerusalem. It is said that he spent half of the day cutting wood, to earn enough so that he could study the other half.
We know that Jesus was inclined more to peace, and to understanding others than he was drawn to the strict following of the law. In fact, it was his dismissal of the law for greater good that often got him in trouble.

Consider some of these parallels:

  • Hillel said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.”
  • Jesus said: “Do unto to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

 

  • Hillel said: “Pass not judgment upon thy neighbor until thou hast put thyself in his place.”
  • Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37)

 

  • Hillel said: “Whoever would make a name loses the name… whoever makes use of the crown perishes.”
  • Jesus said: Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 32:33)

These are  considered to be the most famous words of Hillel:If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Like any worthwhile philosopher, he asks the questions, the ones that lead us to the introspective answers. Jesus was always asking also. His words to us are loaded with question marks.Once, when the two rival leaders stood together, they were asked if they could sum up the Torah while standing on one foot. In other words, were they capable of brevity. Shammai got mad and left, Hillel said:”That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation. Now go and learn.”

I can see why Jesus would have been drawn to such thinking. I am, and I am grateful that he was. The Jews were the first culture to believe and teach this revolutionary thought about their relationship with their God. Most cultures spent all of their time trying to do things for their God, so that he would have favor on them.This Yahweh God was saying that he would find favor with his people, if they would only be kind to each other. This is how you get a quirky commandment, unknown to any other religion.

Love one another, as I have loved you.
 

Listening For The Messiah

About one hundred years after the death of Jesus, the Jews living in Jerusalem made their final stand against those who would occupy their holy city. This time it was the Romans.
At first, there was a mere movement, led by Simon bar Kokhba, a militant Jew that refused to fall under the heel of the evil empire.
Reportedly charismatic, undoubtedly devout, and wise in the ways of war, the bar Kokhba led a rebellion that steadily grew. In the year 132, when the most prominent rabbi in Judea proclaimed that Simon bar Kokhba was the long awaited Messiah, the ranks of the rebels grew more quickly.
They had good reasons.The Romans had destroyed the Temple again., For Jews this was not just a building that had been knocked down. It was the destruction of the only place on earth where they could worship Yahweh God.
We know that for the Jews in Jerusalem one hundred years earlier, the great hope was that when the Messiah came, he would lead them with the sword. He would turn the Romans out of Jerusalem, and would be known for His might.
This is why so many of the Jews missed it, when the Messiah did indeed ride into Jerusalem. There was no white steed, standing up on it’s back legs, front legs churning, while his rider brandished a sword of might, and a crown of gold. No, he came simply, and rode a donkey.
And so he was missed, by many men and women. Good people, devout Jews who only wanted their city back, and to rebuild their temple so that they could worship their God.
They had rejected Jesus as the Messiah and accepted bar Kokhba for the similar reasons. Military might, the restoration of their beloved temple, and a land of their own should not be too much to ask from the God that you love, and remain faithful to.
They wished to shake loose of their foes and the shame of living beneath under culture…again. The Romans had even renamed their country. Judea was now Palestine. Removing the history of a people cuts deeply into their dignity.

And so the faithful Jews made their move, and drove the Romans out. For a while; two years or so. No doubt their victory was a source of great pride and celebration.
Tens of thousands of roman soldiers were killed. bar Kokhba reclaimed Judea as an independent nation. Life was good again.
But Hadrian and his army returned. They were led by their best general, and four times more soldiers than would be needed to decimate the Jews..
Six hundred thousand Jews were killed. All of the remaining Jews were kicked out of Jerusalem, and the name of the city was changed to Aelia, which was Hadrian’s middle name. The city was plowed under, and a pig was carved into the gate. Any Jew caught in Jerusalem was crucified immediately.

Simon bar Kokhba was not an evil man, nor was he a fool. He set out to save the city that in the end he helped to destroy. He wished to return Jerusalem to the Jews, not have them murdered by the hundreds of thousands and the remaining cast out.

Those good people that did not see the true Messiah when he came to Jerusalem were not godless fools.
They were devout believers. They were caught up more in their own hopes and desires and beliefs, than they were about the wishes and plans of God.

One hundred years later, others followed one who was not the Messiah, full of the belief that they could destroy their enemies, and God would bless them for it.

For each, by stubbornly holding onto their own beliefs of what the Messiah would do, they missed him.

I hate when I do that, don’t you?

My decisions about the Messiah and His will for me will not affect an entire people. But my willingness to go about the work of struggling to discern who He is, and who I am, will make all of the difference for me…for ever and ever.

 

 

Imagine

Imagine that you are a father. Imagine further that on a certain day, your son comes to you with the happy news that he has found love, and he plans to marry. I have had that situation in my life, I don’t have to imagine it . It is a great day for a father.

As the story continues, imagine that your son bestows a great honor on you. He asks his father, a Methodist pastor, to perform the wedding ceremony.

It shouldn’t be hard to imagine this double measure of joy.

Is there any way in which you would not quickly begin making plans for this doubly big day?

Now imagine that it is nearly seven years into the future. Somewhere, a person, doing what he believes is right in the eyes of God and His Church, decides to alert the church authorities that a rule has been broken. A person with no personal stake in the matter decides that it is warranted to report that the young man in love, is in love with another man.

For the father, this was apparently of no import at all. I can see it that way, easily. If God is love, then the Creator creates and bestows love as He wills it. Note that it is as He wills it, not us. It is beyond my imagining that the young man  is confused in thinking that what he feels is love. We know love in ways that we can only feel, and have difficulty in describing. But we know it.

By that love the young man chooses to share his life with another. The father blesses the union.

The issue now becomes a church legal matter. The church has made rules, the pastor has broken one. It is no longer about love. No one interviews the couple to see if they love each other. Love suddenly fails to matter. The commandment of Jesus to “love one another,” stands in the shadow of the rule.

That rule is the same in many churches, or at least it was until reason entered.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” they say. A church rule undoubtedly supported by Fundamentalist Heterosexuals, with no stake in the matter.

I can understand that the Methodist church has to make a ruling, now that the “concerned Methodist” has brought it up. I further understand that the church must conclude that indeed their rule was broken. The Pastor should admit to it, because he did it, and willingly. It also provides the opportunity for folks to speak to the rule.

Before you trot out the Bible verses that we all know that can back up the “one man to one woman” mantra, I will ask you to use your imagination.

What do you imagine the church fathers should do now? What do we do when the presence of love in our world seems to fly in the face of our church rules?

Rev. Frank Schaeffer doesn’t have to imagine any of this. It is his present reality. Here are some of his words.

“I didn’t do this to make a rebellious statement against the church,” Rev. Frank Schaefer said on Friday, reflecting on the action taken by a United Methodist Church jury of fellow pastors that last week sentenced him to a 30-day suspension after convicting him of violating church law for having officiated over his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007. At the end of the 30-day period, the Lebanon, Penn., pastor will be defrocked unless he renounces same-sex marriage, including his own son’s marriage.

In a few weeks, the church will have to make a decision. I feel confident that this decision will have to be made in light of the fact that Rev. Schaeffer will continue to chose love and reason… over the rules.

Can you imagine what the world becomes if the church decides that by this one act, Frank is no longer called to serve God and His Church and His people?

I can’t imagine being silent about this. I will find my way to say as a Christian father that I can only admire the reverend for this act of love and bravery. I will be heard, even if it is in some small way.

I can imagine that the church will have a difficult time looking at the rule and listening to the voices of those that want “justice”.

None of us sinners should be asking God to reign justice on us. We live in,and by, His mercy. That is the demonstration of His love for us.

Imagine that.

Forgive And Remember…A Christmas Message

Forgive and Remember. A Christmas Message.

Sometimes I wonder what we would do without Christmas. I don’t mean this in the ‘What if Jesus never came into our world,” sense, but in the way in which Christmas is a time of forgiving and forgetting. Feuds, both silly and serious will be forgotten and relationships patched up by people that simply cannot resist a softened heart at this “most wonderful time of the year.” Without these wonderful Christmas miracles, the feuds would fester and burn year after year.

People will swear that they won’t attend a Christmas event because of so-and-so, and then they give in, and peace is made, or the feud and hurt are simply forgotten.

I myself have had this experience, swearing to avoid a situation where I feared being ridiculed again, and at the last minute letting loose of a stubborn grudge. In doing so, I found myself surrounded by those warm feelings that we seem to save up for Christmas.

Still, not all people will participate in “Good will toward all men,” this Christmas. Some feuds will continue, some grudges held. In every case, it will be because we will find it impossible to forgive, and the reason will be the conclusion that the other person(s) doesn’t deserve forgiveness. At the very worst of it, people will either believe that they don’t deserve the bad feelings directed at them (or refuse to accept their part) or that one believes that the other needs to come to them to beg forgiveness.

It is difficult to forgive and forget. Difficult indeed.

Recently, I had the good fortune of listening to a sermon on this matter by Bishop Clifton Daniel of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

The Bishop provided me with a new way to look at things. I have thought about it quite a lot since then, and I am grateful to him; and so I wrap his thoughts and mine together, and offer them to you.

Basically, the Bishop says that we are not always able to forgive and forget. Although we have some terrific models for this, we generally are not able to get all the way there.

One example was Pearl Harbor. The hatred for Japan seems to have dissipated and now the U.S. and Japan are friendly. Nelson Mandela seemingly forgave his jailers to the point that he could provide leadership to exercise “truth and reconciliation,” to a once divided country.

The Bishop also uses the Bea Arthur character in the TV show Maude, and her constant pronouncement “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”

What is the stumbling block? Why is it that for some, that they can never get past the hurt?

This is the help that the Bishop offers, and it is so obvious that it is brilliant.

First, consider that this always occurs in a broken relationship. Imagine any relationship between two people and you can identify what is at the center of it. It may be two friends that simply find humor in the same things, or two people that share a common spirituality. It might be the family connection of siblings, or parent to child. It could be husband to wife, or between co-workers. It doesn’t take much thought or imagination to see and name what was once at the center of that relationship.

And then something violent occurs. Someone steps out of a relationship, or tells a lie, or insults or steals or is just plain thoughtless. A wound is made. A deep cut that is undeserved. Isn’t the sense of undeserved pain always the cause of the wound? Can’t we always say “I didn’t deserve that!”

And so where we once had placed love or admiration in the center of a relationship we now place the wound. It’s like a rock the Bishop says. Perhaps it’s like a burning coal. A burning coal that burns on because we provide it with plenty of oxygen. The bellows of “I didn’t deserve that,” keep it a red hot and searing wound. It continues for as long as we wait for the guilty party on the other side to make things right, while we stand in our own righteousness with our arms folded across our chest.

This is what the Bishop tells me what I must do. Not them, me.

Take the wound and move it out of the center of our broken relationship. It is still there, you can’t forget it. But you can move it out of the center, and by doing so we can see what truly belongs in the center. It is the love or admiration that we once had for our friend, daughter, co-worker, girlfriend, mother, brother, neighbor, pastor, father…whoever. It’s up us me to do that, with the hope, but not the expectation, that they will do the same.

It’s about our own act of forgiving, with the knowledge that we won’t completely and entirely forget. Still, you have created a pathway to remembering the wound less. With the wound removed from being between you, all of the good stuff that was once there can become visible, can resurface, once again.

The Bishop seems to know that for me, I can accept a change only if the new thought or idea has a spiritual component.

He reminded me that when the resurrected Jesus came back to see His friends, he had already forgiven them.

Had Jesus forgotten the pain? When he reappeared in His resurrected body, it was complete with wounds at his hands and feet and side.

But He had removed them from the center of the relationship.

 

Thanks Bishop.

An interview with the Methodist Bishop that defrocked Pastor Schaefer.

Interviewer: Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

The Bishop: No trouble at all.

Okay, let’s get started then. Do you mind if I record this, to insure that I get everything correct?

Not at all. Lets see here, I was born in the 1950’s…it was a different world then, but I was lucky enough to….

That’s not where I intended to begin Bishop.

The Bishop looks a bit surprised, is thoughtful and then continues…

I was ordained in the 1970’s. It was a turbulent time, but I was fortunate enough to….

I want to talk about Pastor Schaefer, Bishop.

The Bishop begins to fiddle with the items on his desk, nervously creating perfectly even spaces between them.

Well, you never said…

Said what?

Silence.

Why did he have to be defrocked?

I don’t think I used that term.

Maybe not, but I did. You know what I mean.

He broke church rules. And that ends this interview!

Did you ever break a church rule Bishop?

We’re not talking about me breaking rules here…

Actually, I am talking about you breaking rules. Perhaps it’s time to think about your rules.

That is not relevant.

Alright then. let’s talk about Frank.

I’d rather not, it’s a church matter.

I agree. I’m asking as a Christian.

He broke a rule.

Do you agree with the rule?

That’s not the point.

Golly, it sure seems like the point to me. You’re a Bishop. Don’t you make rules?

Do you know your Bible?

I think that you are going to try to convince me that I don’t….so go for it.

In Leviticus 18:22 it says that it is an abomination for a man to lie down with a man, as a man lies down with a woman.

Yes it does. How about what is says in Leviticus 11? You know, the one about it being an abomination to eat shrimp.

Yes, but this was changed later on when Peter said…

Do you really want to go down that road Bishop, where you tell me which words to protect and which to discard?

Well, a man needs to reasonable.

Do you think that it’s reasonable to use the word abomination, when it wasn’t created until the middle ages?

You are a troublemaker. Do you think that you can come in here and take me on in debate by quoting a few facts? I don’t have to stand for this.

Alright then. let’s be reasonable. I understand that the Pastor broke an existing rule. Do you think that this rule will be changed?

That’s not up to me….entirely.

Okay Bishop, enough of the dance. Why did the Pastor get kicked out?

He broke the rules, and he wouldn’t recant.

I would love to talk to the person that blew the whistle. What is their name and phone number?

That’s a preposterous request.

I thought you would say that. So, breaking church rules gets you kicked out?

Obviously. We have the integrity of our tradition to defend.

Obviously. Just like when Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. He broke the rules.

It’s not the same thing.

I thought you would say that. Why does he have to be punished? The Pastor performed a marriage ceremony  for two people who were in love with each other.

But it’s not right…

I understand that it’s not right for you Bishop. Not for you. What would you have done if the church created a barrier to your marriage?

I love my wife! I would have done anything…

Go on.

This is such a difficult topic.

I agree Bishop. I do.

I truly tried to seek out the Lord’s way in all of this. I know that the decision will offend some, and be applauded by others.

I wouldn’t want your job Bishop.

If you had my job, what would you do? Lets turn the tables here a little.

It seems to me Bishop, that Jesus was a sucker for love. Love trumps all. That’s what He says to me.

So what would you do?

I would ask the Pastor if this wedding was an act of love. There is no guilt, shame, or sin in an act of love.

And then?

Apologize.

Frank seems like the kind of guy that can accept an apology.

Authors note: This interview is completely bogus, and a work of fiction. Perhaps it is a bit silly. But you know what…they started it.

All I want for Christmas is…

I want people to respond to my “Thank you,” with “You’re welcome.” Yup” is not acceptable. You feelin’ me, kid at Wal-Mart?
I want the phone number of the nice lady in my GPS. She deserves thanks…and gifts.
I want liquor stores to deliver. Better yet, put the liquor stores inside of Wawa.
I want a separate Facebook, just for people that want to post pictures of their cat(s).

I want the President to go on TV and say “I am calling for a special referendum on the Affordable Health Care Bill. Vote Yes to keep it as it is, vote No to scrap it entirely.” 

I want a blue Schwinn bike just like the one I got for Christmas when I was nine. I don’t care that it weighs 135 pounds.

I want a Taser. I promise to use it only on people that park in Handicapped signs that don’t belong there, litterbugs, and racists.

I want all school boards to include at least two students. That’s our best chance at being reasonable.
I want all stupid road signs to be removed. We already know that things get slippery when wet. Also, who are those deer crossing signs for? You can take down the No Smoking signs too. We get it.
I want a redistribution of wealth, based on this system: The richer people should be nicer to the poorer people.
I want 23 year old suburban cops to lighten up with their attitude. You ain’t patrolling on 8 mile.
I want everybody with kids to spend their entire Christmas fund on their own children. Everybody else, your parents, your siblings, your friends will understand.
I want any president with an approval rating below 75% to have to fly commercial.
I want to be in charge of the Universal Christmas music playlist. Also, I will define the dates in which it can be played.
I want to understand what wax beans are.
I want a ban on any more drummers jokes. Banjo players jokes may continue unabated.
I want good will towards all people. For real.
I want socks and underwear for Christmas. Then I can pretend my Mom is still here.

There are some things that I wish for, but accept that they are not really possible. For instance, a ban on rap music and sensible gun control.

An open letter to Hunter Yelton, the six-year old sexual harasser.

Dear Hunter,

You don’t know me. I’m pretty old compared to you. In fact my grandchildren are about your age.

I saw that you got suspended from school. That can be hard for a first-grader, unless you are like me and would be happy to get a three day vacation.

I want you to know Hunter that you are not a bad boy. You probably shouldn’t kiss girls in school, but that’s only because your friends might make fun of you. It sounds like you really like this little girl, and that’s nice.

When my grandchildren visit my house, they always say hello to each other with a hug and a kiss, and that makes me happy. They don’t do that in school though.

Your Mom says that now you are asking her questions about sex. I will tell you not to worry or even think about it. It has nothing to do with kissing a girl on the hand.

You were accused of doing something that only adults are capable of. There is other bad stuff that we do too, like being mean to each other and thinking that punishing children is good because it “sends a message.” They sent a message alright.

Be a good boy and a good student Hunter and try to follow the rules. In the meantime I am going to see if all of the silly adults involved in this can get a three day suspension, and have to spend the time trying to remember what its like to be a six year old boy.

I will ask them to consider the times when they were treated unfairly as children, and the effect it had on them.

On Having a Grandfather from Kensington.

Roots. We all like to know about them. Mostly, we want to celebrate them or glorify them and sometimes we indulge them. These are all good things in my view and far better than denying your roots, as some seem to do.
Recently, I ran across a cool little emblem that shows a handful of Shamrocks that were pulled from the ground, roots and all. On the bottom, it read, “I’ve Irish Roots”. I like that. It got me to thinking about roots and somehow or other it took me backward to some old memories and it reminded me, with a bit of pain, that I owe a debt to my grandfather.

My grandfather was Irish; I know that because he told me he was. Also, there was a tattoo that backed it up. Like many Irishmen, he was a tall strapping fellow of about 5’6 and 135 pounds. His graying hair was always in a neat crew cut. I once overheard my Dad describe him by saying that he walked sideways like a crab when he got drunk. I recall him walking like Jimmy Cagney, with long, energetic strides as though he were heading to something important. I can assure you that he was not.
I never actually saw the crab walking, myself. I suppose that I was in bed by then.

When my Dad mentioned the crab-walking, it was fun and funny and sometimes he would act it out, to everyone’s amusement, including my grandfathers. It was good-natured fun and I recall how everyone around the table roared. Later they all groaned, in fun, when he started a story that began “When I was building the Ben Franklin Bridge…” I think that they had heard that particular story before, and I suspect that it immediately preceded the aforementioned crab walking.

Now if I say to you that he was “all Kensington” you probably know what I mean. I am not trying to be too particular or condescending about this. I’m just trying to make my point. You know what I mean if you have roots in Kensington, but it extends to Fishtown and Frankford as well. Maybe even some of the outlying areas. If you don’t what it means if someone says, “He ain’t nothing but Kensington”, I shall try to illuminate.

People in Kensington are not rich, but they are proud and they bind themselves together by having fun. I have vivid recollections of ringing in the New Year, just off Lehigh Avenue, by rattling pots and pans, while others used actual pistols as noisemakers. New Years Day was always pork and sauerkraut although no one seemed to know why. My mother, a Kensington girl, would use phrases like “Christmas in Kensington” when someone came into a few bucks and didn’t mind spending it, and she would always be surprised if a wedding didn’t become a fistfight.

Most of my memories are of summer. Men in strap tee shirts, with a beer in their back pocket, arguing about baseball and complaining about having to go to work. The whole street would be outside, gathered around the stoops. I recall the sound of the radio in the background and laughter in the foreground. Stick ball and hose ball and half ball and pimple ball. The men playing with we boys. I don’t recall a lot of career talk. It seems as though a job was to provide enough income to get you through, and no more. I recall hearing the word “disability” quite often. My grandfather knew that word.

My Grandfather can be best explained in these three vignettes.

1. Every Friday, he played the number. It was always the same one. If you don’t know what this means, then I suppose that your family left Kensington for Delaware County (Or the Great Northeast) before mine did. Playing the number was a bookie thing, not a Pennsylvania Lottery thing. One day, the number actually hit. Now a term that you will never hear from the proper Kensington Irish Gentleman is “Savings Account”. Money was meant for spending and living without it for four or five days of the week was ordinary financial planning. By the time my grandfather got home, he was out of cash, yet laden with riches. True Riches. The most notable thing was that he drove home. The day that he learned to drive was the day that he hit the number and bought a car. He took that car everywhere that he went before he lost it a few weeks later. (This is not poetic license; he lost the car and he took it like a man.) He bought, for my grandmother, a TV, which already had the rabbit ears wired to it, so I suspect that it wasn’t new. He also bought her a Tony Bennet record. She was ecstatic. The balance was spent on cases of Ortleibs Beer and he proudly stacked them floor to ceiling in that little shed room that is often behind the kitchen of a row home. These were the considered and careful choices of a man who saw himself, at least for that moment, as a winner.
2. He was wonderful to me. Every summer I would go to stay with him and my grandmother for a week or two. Sometimes he would have a job, so the visit wasn’t as much fun, but he would always manage to keep his work week down to three days maximum. I recall swimming in the Delaware River, near Penn Treaty Park, under his “supervision”. I am not certain if it was already illegal to swim there or not. He took me there because he knew that I hated swimming in the public pools around the neighborhood because they were so crowded. (Note to foreigners. “Swimming” in an inner city public pool means trying to find a place to stand. Any real swimming was out of the question). He always took me on the El and the streetcars and my visit was always planned so that I could see Willie Mays play against the Phillies. We would get the cheapest possible seats and went for the “Kensington Upgrade” which meant grabbing two sensational and unused seats, with the admonition to “look like you belong here”. After the game, he took me to his tappy. I would sit at the bar, and have unlimited cokes to his unlimited beers. He would introduce me to everyone by name and title and he was clearly proud of me. He would say “This is my grandson, Danny” and then whisper that I shouldn’t tell my grandmother that he brought me to the tappy. I, of course, knew that it was wrong to be there, because my grandmother would always say, on our way out the door “Don’t you take that boy to no tappy, Jack”. I understood the Coca-Cola bribe without his explaining. I really didn’t understand why he would say, “Don’t tell ‘em I’m not really your grandfather”.
3. He wasn’t really my grandfather. My grandmother had two husbands that had left her. I can see why. One took the time to divorce her, but the other went into hiding. For this reason my grandmother and he were “living together” which was pretty brazen living, even by Kensington standards. I didn’t know all of this when I was a boy. I only learned the story when my grandmother left him when I was in my 20’s. She decided to move in with my parents, apparently so that she could complete the job of being a completely useless mother to her own daughter, who was my mother. Jack was, by the reports that I got from my aunt, heartbroken. His cure was predictable. He took even harder to the bottle.

I never saw my grandfather after that. I am a worse man for it. I intended to find him, but waited too long to do so.

After a few years, I was able to track down a place where he had been working. I called there and asked to speak to the owner. I explained to him who I was and why I was calling. He was a nice man and I could tell that he believed that I was a grandson looking for his grandfather and not a bill collector. I felt his discomfort when he let me know that he had to “let him go” a year or so previously. He politely alluded to a drinking lifestyle as the cause. I thanked him for his honesty and recalled telling him in a lighthearted way that I wasn’t surprised. I then I asked if he had any idea of his current whereabouts. “Son, I liked Jack, I did. But he had a problem. He died a while ago…on the street”.

He lived and he died in Kensington.

When I think of my roots, I think of Kensington. I think of my grandfather and that he loved me.
I feel bad, more than I can explain, that I did not stay in touch with him.
I would have told him that I remember him fondly and with respect and gratitude.

Is there a greater legacy?

The Family Camping Trip (Or, to hell and back.)

 

Vacation always meant going to my grandparent’s house.

 

When I look back on that, it might have been a financial decision. Like my own parents, I have a large family, so I understand the necessity of economy while vacationing.

 

I must have been successful at it; it is a frequent way in which my children remind me of my cheapness. Of course, they have no idea that I would scrimp all year just to take the trips that we did. They know nothing of the “secret coffee can,” into which I would make a weekly contribution. When they have to go through it, they’ll understand, and not before. It will be just like the electricity thing. Not one of my children mastered the art of light bulb extermination until the electric bill had their own name on it.

 

With the exception of one year, my family vacations were spent in New Jersey, at the home of my father’s parents. I loved each of them.

 

The entire family would go for a week, and there would be several days when we went fishing. The fishing trips would include “us boys,” my father, his father, and sometimes it included the odd uncle or cousin. “Us boys,” or “You boys,” was the collective name for my brothers and me. In my memory, there were always at least three boys, and eventually four of us.

My grandfather was the fishing master, for sure. He led the way, and he alone made the decisions. This is important in my memory; because I watched something unusual occur on these vacations that became a life-lesson.

My Dad, you see, is one of those highly dependable fathers who took responsibility, and therefore control, of his family. He was the man in charge.

Except, that is, when he was around his own father. It was interesting to watch my father give up the power, and become a son. I learned a lot about respect by observing that dynamic.

 

Apparently, fish are early risers. They must be, because the clock usually said four-something when Grandpop would wake up “us boys.” It was never hard to wake us up on fishing mornings. Much easier than getting up for church, I can assure you.

 

He would already have the bacon cooked, and the eggs went into the pan immediately afterwards.

All of the bacon grease would remain in the huge cast iron pan. The eggs slid down your gullet effortlessly.

He poured “us boys” our own cup of coffee. My father would never have allowed this at home, but we weren’t at home. When we would look at him for approval, he gave a look that signaled the O.K.

The only reason that I drank that coffee was because it seemed manly and exotic. It tasted awful. It was the kind of coffee that would put hair on a wooden leg, and it took two hands to stir.

Once, I tried putting milk and sugar in it, because I knew that my parents drank it that way. Grandpop didn’t approve, so it remained black. It has been more than forty years since I have had my grandfather’s coffee. It was just last week when the bitter aftertaste finally left my mouth.

 

The fishing was superb. My grandfather, or my father, would rent a huge motorized rowboat that held eight people with ease. Every morning my Dad would offer to pay for the boat, and the bait. Some mornings his father allowed it, some mornings he didn’t.

The boat also held all of the coolers and the fishing rods, with room to spare.

 

The fishing rods occupied their own special spot in my Grandpop’s barn. It was a locked area.

Sometimes he would invite one of us boys in, to carry the poles out to the car. It was a very cool and manly place, and you knew that you didn’t enter without an invitation. The wood-walled room contained all manner of fishing gear, including an outboard motor, which lived a life submerged in a fifty-five gallon drum filled with water. It said “Evinrude,” on it, and it had a distinct aroma that I can still recall. I believe that it was a mixture of motor oil and salt water.

 

Spending a day in the sun with your brothers, your Dad, and his Dad, might have been an inexpensive vacation day, but it was worth a million bucks to me.

 

The day of fishing often ended when we ran out of room to put the fish. There would be around a hundred fish, mostly weakfish and flounder, and a bushel basket of crabs. These are facts that my brothers will back me up on, and the rare part of a story where I have no need to exaggerate.

 

We would go fishing several times during the week, because my Grandpop and my Dad planned their vacations for the same week. It was the best part of a great week, every year.

Some years, my grandmother, (who was in charge of everything except fishing), would suggest that “us boys” stay for an additional week. The entire decision was based on whether our Dad was able to make the ninety-mile trip on the following weekend, to pick us up. On most weekends, he worked. Still, he often found a way. I’m sure it provided a nice break for my mother and he. It left them with only “you girls,” at home, which was another trio.

 

The second week did not include fishing, as my grandfather would be back at work. I don’t know if my grandmother knew how to drive, but it wouldn’t have mattered, because those were the times when a family had “a car,” and the car took my grandfather to work.

 

Their home was in a tiny village along a river. Even though the village was tiny, it was urban compared to our rural home, in Pennsylvania. So, we walked around the village, and sometimes we would get together with our cousins.

In the village, there was a general store, owned by a Mr. Hankins.

 

Mr. Hankins hands and head shook all the time, from some sort of awful disease, or palsy, or condition. It was so awful and apparent, this shaking, that I often imitated him for my brothers, who would scream with laughter, and then remind me that I could go to hell for making fun of people that “couldn’t help what was wrong with them.”

 

I hope that isn’t true. I still sometimes go for the laugh, and risk my eternity for it.

 

Anyway, Mr. Hankins had a pinball machine. You will have to take my word for this, but back then, pinball machines were exotic, along the lines of a poolroom. They cost a nickel a game.

Because pinball machines and pool tables were known to induce criminal behavior in a boy, parental approval was required. This may seem like an odd fact, when today, young boys frequently play video games that provide a lifelike ability to “waste cops,” but it was so.

 

“Us boys” thought that we were out of luck when Mr. Hankins told us that we needed permission from our parents to play the pinball machine. When we explained our position, he said that a note from our grandmother would do.

 

Grandmom was happy to give us permission, and even provided a handful of change.

My older brother delivered the permission slip to Mr. Hankins. He laughed so hard as he read it; I thought he would shake parts of his body off.

 

It was a full-page letter, which began by explaining who we were, where we were from, and included a full family history. It was a little embarrassing when he hung it up on the wall for everyone to enjoy, but a boy will put up with a lot to play pinball.

 

Sometimes, in the evenings, we would go by car for soft ice cream, or some other treat. My grandfather would endure the constant criticism of his driving, from my grandmother, but still, he seldom ventured over twenty-two miles per hour.

 

I have many wonderful memories of my boyhood vacations. I looked forward, with great eagerness, to this time with my grandparents.

 

It is possible, however, that the richness of those times is implanted so deeply, because of the year that my parents tried something different for vacation. To say it didn’t go smoothly would be to say too little.

 

If I recall it all correctly, two things happened at about the same time. One was that my father got a raise. This was never discussed openly, but somehow we would get wind of it, probably because my parents would want to treat us in some way, given the improvement in circumstances.

 

The other thing that occurred was that some friends offered to lend us their camping equipment. Therefore, we would have a new and exciting vacation experience that summer.

 

Eventually, my parents would have seven children, counting me. I only bring that up because I am not always included in the count, but this is usually by my own brothers and sisters. At that time, there were six of us. My youngest brother had the good fortune of not being born yet, so he missed all the excitement. He was the lucky one.

 

My Dad selected a place called World’s End State Park, for our camping experience. I recall a brochure, which showed happily camping families, and fathers in plaid shirts and fishing hats sitting alongside their sons, enjoying the idyllic and pastoral setting, as they smoked a pipe. Mothers in Bermuda shorts smiled, as they prepared a meal over a camp stove. I will admit, it looked like fun.

 

We were a little too much family to manage the four-hour car ride, with us, and all of the camping gear. To solve this, my father borrowed my uncle’s car. It was a newfangled thing, called a “station-wagon.” For the youthful reader, who has never seen one of these, they were the precursor to what we now call a “van.”

 

So off we went, the noveau riche, on a new and exciting vacation, in a borrowed car, with borrowed camping equipment.

 

It started well. I only got in trouble a few times on the car ride for bothering my sisters, because there was a fresh supply of comic books to amuse us. Before the advent of in-car video systems, the comic book was the best weapon that parents had for keeping the peace.

 

At the very edge of World’s End State Park, there was a fishing store. We stopped, and my dad engaged the proprietor in a conversation about “what they were biting on,” and other fishing wisdom. He loaded up with the appropriate bait, and we set off for our campsite.

It was a very cool spot in the woods, I will admit. “Us boys” wandered around exploring after the car was unloaded, and my parents’ set-up camp. My Dad said that we would get some fishing in, as soon as things were in order.

 

Before very long, we were off to the river, Dad, and “us boys.” This kind of fishing was new to us, being fresh water and all, and my dad instructed us on how to cast off, as well as a few other intricacies.

When the rain started a half-hour later, we had gotten nary a nibble. By the time we got back to the campsite, my mother and the girls were huddled inside the tent, avoiding the now torrential rain, and attempting to keep warm.

 

There was no cooking done on a campfire that night. It was too wet. We had bologna sandwiches, and sat around. I remember being cold. That raw kind of cold that you sometimes feel in the summertime, during a windy storm. At long last, it was bedtime.

My Dad inflated some mattresses, and sleeping bags were unrolled.

 

This was when we discovered that the tent did not exactly sleep eight, comfortably. We did try; it just wouldn’t work. The only person that seemed to find comfort was my father, who fell asleep quickly, as he always did, and snored thunderously. They often said that my Dad could sleep on a hook in a busy subway.

 

After a while, my mother had to wake him, as there simply was no way that we could all find comfort.

The solution finally unveiled itself. My brothers and I waited in the tent, while my dad set up the back of the station wagon, where “us boys,” would now sleep.

It was roomy enough, plus it gave my older brother and I the opportunity to continually tell our younger brother that we were pretty sure that one of the many man-eating bears was on the roof of the car. There were snakes too. Large ones, that could swallow a picnic table in one gulp.

When we finally got tired enough, and things became quiet, all you could hear was the rain thundering on the roof of the car. It sounded as though it would hurt if you stood in it.

 

That was Saturday. Sunday was a little better, as the rain held off until about two in the afternoon.

It gave us a chance to take a walk, and climb some rocks. There are a few pictures of this walk floating around the family somewhere. It was the only dry time of the entire vacation. We are smiling in the picture, although I’m not sure why.

 

Again, there was no fire-grilled supper, as the weather didn’t allow it. So, my mom had to make an endless supply of sandwiches, with the rain pounding on the canvas, in the cold. The top of a little cooler provided the only flat surface for her to work on. I don’t know how she managed.

 

After supper, my parents stood by an open tent flap, having their after-dinner smoke. They reminded each other to be careful not to burn the borrowed equipment. My sisters complained about the cold. I think my Dad tried to organize a sing-along, to distract us from our cooped-up misery. It didn’t work. I had begun to wonder what the good part was about a camping vacation.

My parents had stopped asking us if we were having fun.

 

That night, in our Ford Fairlane Hotel room, my older brother and I ramped up the scare tactics, as we swore to each other that we could hear the roar of a lion, and it was getting closer. When my little brother ran from the car to the tent, we laughed together in victory. That is, until my father brought him back out, and told us to take it easy on him. It was one of his shorter lectures. He spoke to us, with the car door open, as rain came off the brim of his hat in long sheets. He was shivering also.

You just don’t think to pack winter clothes for summer vacation, even though you should. Plus, before long, everything you own is saturated.

 

Figuring that he wouldn’t come back out, we turned up the torture until it ended in a long three-way rumble, where we all ended up hurt. I have a distinct memory of having a car door handle stuck in my ear. It took twenty minutes to untangle the sleeping bags.

I can recall hearing my mom hollering at the girls to “settle down,” as I tried to pee out of the open car window, to avoid going out in the rain. It didn’t work perfectly. I kept this fact a secret from my uncle.

 

The next morning, we awoke to…rain.

 

My mother did her best to feed us, and we had some of those cool little cereal boxes that you poured the milk right into, and ate from them as if they were a bowl. That was modern technology in 1960, and I loved it, even though my carton leaked.

 

One of the big problems with camping is the absence of toilets and showers. At my age, I didn’t care about the showering much, but I will admit to missing the toilet. For my sisters, there was a potty seat.

I recall this, mostly because they insisted on privacy for it, and so the boys had to go to the car while they used it.

 

On that third day, sometime in the early afternoon, the rain slowed to a drizzle.

 

We all loaded into the car, and went to a building that resembled an army barracks. It was wooden, and it had a long row of toilets, and showers. There was a boy’s side, and a girl’s side.

My Dad took a shower, while “us boys” relieved ourselves of the bologna that we had managed to store up for a few days.

 

It was while I was seated there, that I heard my mother yelling. First, she was hollering my sister’s name, and then she was calling for my father. He tried having a conversation with her, hollering through the wall, with a towel around his middle. All that was really audible was that there was some kind of emergency, and he was dressing as quickly as he could.

 

It seemed as though my sister had somehow managed to flush the keys to my uncle’s station wagon down the toilet.

 

Now, my Dad is a handy guy. That meant all the difference. Even though he was unsuccessful in retrieving the keys from the toilet, using a straightened coat hanger, he was able to hot wire the car. I have to tell you that I admired him for that. I thought you had to be a criminal to have such knowledge.

 

In the midst of all of this excitement, we failed to notice that the rain had stopped, completely.

 

Back at camp, my Dad started a fire. They hooked up some sorting of cooking gizmo that had a fuel tank attached to it, and before the supper was started, they made coffee. I now understand how difficult it must have been for them to be coffee-less for those last days.

 

My mom and dad sat sipping coffee and chatting, while we played around the campsite. It was an entirely enjoyable forty-five minutes.

 

My mother had burgers cooking when the thunder started. When the lightning began, we all ran to our assigned stations. “Us boys,” to the car, the rest of them to the tent. I watched the rain douse the fire, and fill the frying pan with water. It was a terrible thing to have to watch, being as hungry as I was, and sick of bologna.

 

After a little while, “us boys” decided to join them in the tent. That was the start of the final unraveling.

 

It was just too crowded, we were too young, we had all been cooped up too long, and the coffee was outside getting drenched.

 

When my sister announced that she needed to use the potty chair, “us boys” refused to leave, and go out into the thunderstorm. My parents acquiesced, but insisted that we turn our backs. We did so.

 

Shortly after we were given permission to turn around, another sister announced her need for the potty chair. She was given the go ahead.

 

For some reason, she did not like the idea of her pee co-mingling with the pee in the pot, so she dumped it out onto the floor of the tent. There was a family chorus of “ewwwww,” and my mother tried to stop the pot mid-pour. In all of the excitement, the fire was knocked from her cigarette, and my father announced that it was now burning a hole in the floor of the tent. A rather large one, at that.

 

My parents didn’t argue much. But I suppose that it just became the breaking point, and they were exchanging heated words about “burning borrowed tents,” “losing keys,” and “dumb ideas.”

 

It was tense, I can assure you. The rain was coming down so hard that it was collecting on the roof of the tent to such an amount that it looked like it might just collapse at any moment.

 

My mother looked at my father. He looked at her. I saw the expression change slightly on his face, as you could see that he was hatching an idea.

 

“Let’s vote, kids,” he said. “Who wants to go home?” Although we all stuck our hands up instantly, my mother beat us by a mile. He was smiling when he raised his hand also.

 

“Okay everybody, get in the car,” he said. His voice had a lilt of merriment to it.

 

We sat in that car, while my father packed up camp and loaded the car. It could not have been raining harder. He didn’t seem to mind though.

 

In some moments when, as a father, I have had to do awful things, only for the good of the family, I recall that moment from my childhood, watching him go about his duties. Sometimes being the dad just sucks. Deal with it.

 

When it was finally done, the car wouldn’t start. Apparently, in the process of all of us going in and out of the car, someone had kicked the wires that now dangled under the dashboard. He didn’t complain, he just fixed it.

 

I’ll never know why I didn’t sleep at all on the ride home. All of the other kids did. It was only me that was awake, plus my dad, who was driving, and my mother, who made sure that he didn’t doze off, as he sometimes was inclined to do.

 

I can recall them talking on the way home, and even laughing a little, although I have no idea why.

 

It was ten minutes after four when we walked into the house. I remember that distinctly, because I had never before been awake at that hour.

 

My parents carried the girls to bed, and rousted my brothers.

 

I slept until noon.

 

It was a hot and sunny day when I awoke, back at home. My dad had set up the tent on the lawn and was cleaning it out with a hose. He repaired the hole admirably with a bicycle patch.

 

All of the packing of the borrowed camping gear was done with great precision. He left, in the hot-wired car, to return the goods.

 

I was in the kitchen with my mother, when he returned.

 

“How did it go?” she asked.

 

“Just fine,” he said. “I told them about the damage, and they didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they said that we were welcome to borrow it again.”

 

They just stared at each other for a moment, each with a half smile. Then they began to laugh at the thought of it. I got the joke too. Our camping career was over, that was for certain.

 

That night we all went to my uncle’s house, to return his car, and to retrieve ours.

 

When my aunt asked why we were back so soon, they told them, in detail. Much laughter followed.

 

There was still a half of a week left to my Dad’s vacation. He suggested, and we all agreed, that we go to my grandparent’s.

 

And so we did. And that was where we spent every other vacation in my memory.

 

I have never been camping since.

It’s time to ban the Boy Scouts

It’s time to ban the Boy Scouts. Why? Because they have become the “We will adopt the position of our sponsors” Scouts”. It is no longer about boys at all.

Here are two facts to consider:

1. According to the NY Times “more than 70 percent of local scout troops are chartered by religious groups.”

2. Some boys are gay.

Therefore, it is fair to conclude that the Boy Scouts of America are willing to sell out some of the boys, so that they can retain financial sponsorship of certain “religious” groups. 

It must follow that these sponsors have told the Scouts that if they allow gay scouts or gay scout leaders, they will pull the plug on the finances. 

I say that the Boy Scouts are spineless hypocrites, and their supporters are haters. 

Why in the world would any Christian person think that they are supposed to single out one group of people for exclusion? It is unfair, and in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. All you have to do read the “Love one another” sections. Jesus also says interesting cool things like “The Father is in me and I am in you.” It doesn’t continue with the words….except for the gay people.

Of course, we can’t expect the Scout leaders (which includes their Church sponsors) to change their position. They are the problem, and they have taken their position. We can’t expect that anymore than we could expect the leaders of the KKK to say that perhaps they were misguided. 

The change will need to come from outside of the group, from people that believe that excluding people based on their orientation is evil, and will stand up for that fact.

Here are another two things that I consider as facts.

1. Being a Boy Scout is a terrific experience. I treasure my scouting memories.

2. There have been some scout leaders that are pedophiles. They, of course, should be excluded for their crimes. Being gay is not a crime.

My recommendation for the Scouts are as follows:

1. Say what you are: Rename yourselves the Heterosexual Scouts of America. If you are going to exclude people, go all the way.

Or…

2. Support all boys as the children of God that they are. After you do, you can expect your current supporters to run away, and find another group to hate.

What will happen next? You will find support in abundance from those who love all of God’s creatures, regardless of any race, religion or orientation. I believe that. I would become a supporter for sure.

What motivates me to think this way? It’s a simple matter. All I have to do is imagine that I am a young man that is gay, and I want to be a Boy Scout.