Friday, July 23, 2021

 Fragments from Home

I came to you in the night-

or so Linda told me-

Daddy brought me

Limping in his grief

Bent over in his shame at giving me up.

"Can you take him?

At least until I get settled."

I can imagine Papa

Standing, arms crossed

In the dark corner by the dying fire.

Silent (for he was a silent man).

Unable to comprehend the grief or the shame.

Weighing what a baby would mean

In a household of a wife, three children, a granny woman, and a hired hand,

The youngest girl nearly a baby herself.

"Just til I get settled.

I have a job on a rig in Young county, Texas.

When I get settled, 

I'll come back for him."

Limping and bent he left,

The little girls watching his red tail-lights disappear

Up the sandy road.

So you brought me to your bed

And to your bosom-

A warm sweet place-

While Papa pretended to sleep

With his face to the wall.

In the glow of the remaining embers

You cooed me to sleep.


At breakfast I sat above everyone

On a tall metal stool made by

My great-uncle Ray.

Biscuits and gravy,

Sausage and eggs,

Jelly and molasses,

Between Papa on my right and Mama on my left.

I would sing (I was always singing)

Until Papa would say,

"Don't sing at the table!"

Then Granny Eller would smile

And begin to hum under her breath.

Catching her old, wizened face,

I would laugh.

Partners in crime.


On the floor

In front of the devouring fireplace

I devoured magazines and books.

Reading the pictures-

an Andrew Wyeth, an Edward Hopper-

Surrounded by the Rosetta Stone of text.

I am still reading pictures

And the Rosetta Stone has been deciphered.


The grassless yard

Swept regularly with a broom

(Grassless and swept for fear of snakes and fire)

This was my first world-my kingdom.

Sometimes I would hunker

Under the castor bean plant

Watching my world,

Like Jonah of old, 

Watching what God would do.

My world was inhabited by

Chickens, geese, guinea fowl,

Cats and dogs,

For a time, a pet fox squirrel.

Insects would skitter across the dusty floor of the yard

Leaving their tracks in the sand.

Flowers every where

Planted by my Mama's loving, strong hands.

A cedar and chinaberry tree

Among the old oaks.

Granny would stroll in the cool of the day

Singing "Barbary Allen."

In the fastness of my umbrella-ed plant

I saw

I observed

I watched

I wondered.

And I understood more than

The big people would allow.


I became a collector

Of bugs and bones

Of stones (rare on that sandy hill)

And discarded pieces of metal.

I learned to catch bumble bees

By trapping them inside hollyhock blooms

With trembling fingers.

Once I caught a horned toad that

I hypnotized by rubbing his yellow-white belly.

But, in my world dangers lurked-

Copperheads and coon-tailed rattlesnakes,

Cowkillers, and, in the dark places, black widows

With red hourglasses on their shiny bellies,

Goat heads and sticker burs as big as my childish thumb,

Wasps and yellow-jackets,

Cactus spines and rusty nails.

I learned to be careful-

And to be intrepid.


Once I went with Linda and Mary Lou

To Papa's spring-fed creek

Under the oaks and sycamores.

We dammed the lazy flow,

Dribbled sand castles from our fingers,

And chased water bugs that skimmed

Over the water's surface

With magic feet.

Provoked by some real or imagined slight,

I threw my aunt's birthstone ring into the sandy current.

It could not be retrieved 

So we trudged home

In silence and sobs.

A keen peach tree switch 

Awaited my naked legs.

As an old man

I still regret the childish, malicious act.

The ring is still there 

Under three-score years of sediment.


I rode in grand-daddy Black John"s old wagon

Atop a pile of freshly cut 

Post and Blackjack oak

(the memory of the tannic smell remains)

Singing and shouting

Almost above the roar of the tractor.

A little prince

Happy and carefree

Insulated by the love that surrounded me,

That formed me, 

That would keep me

In the dark and ugly days

That were coming,




On cold nights 

I would sleep with Papa

In the middle room.

"Don't fan the covers."

"Get in my crook."

He smelled of sweat, and tobacco smoke,

And once a week,

Of Old Spice.

Or I would sleep with mama,

Smelling sweet from her talcum and cold cream,

Pulled close to her big warm breasts.

"Don't twiddle my hair," she would say.


Some days

I would be watched by Granny.

We would go to the winged-elm thicket

Where she would gather green twigs for her snuff habit.

She would chew their ends into brushes.

Or, on hell-hot days

We would descend into the storm cellar, cool and musty.

The back wall was a tapestry

Of color and reflected light.

Row upon row

Of canned tomatoes, okra,

Corn and peaches.

She would sing with her reedy voice,

And, I, with her.

"Old Suzanna" was our favorite

With "Shall We Gather at the River" a close second.

She would delve into her old trunk,

Her treasure chest

And retrieve from its musty depths

An ancient album in faux tortoise shell.

Turning its thick gold-edged pages

She taught me my history,

My Ancestry,

In pictures.

"That's your great grand-daddy, my husband, Mister Smith."

"That's your uncle Pat in his uniform in France."

"What is France?"

"A place across the ocean."

"What's the ocean?"

"Hush, Shitpot!" ended the interrogation-

For a while.


The dominating presence,

The omnipresence in all this world was Mama,

The meekest of dominant women.

("Mama," or "Big Mama" to distinguish her from my

"Little Mama"-now deceased.)




A lilting voice.


Calmly planting a flower,

Or weeding a garden,

Or gutting a chicken.

A queen baker and cook.

A seamstress and quilter.

A gardener of flowers and vegetables.

Making a wealth of beauty

With a dearth of resources.

Bearing and raising seven children

And then me, an eighth.

Living with an irascible and hateful mother-in-law 

With kindness and equability.

Plagued with bad health ("Woman Trouble" from too many big babies),

Up first in the morning and to bed last at night.

Cooking two big meals for eight every day.

Laundering on a wood fire in the kitchen yard

With a big black cast iron pot.

Canning produce in the hell-hot summer

Over a wood stove.

Carrying water in the winter whose

Frozen surface had to be broken.

Weeping over her wayward sons.

Worrying over her girls

Holding faith in the face of so much

That beggars belief.

And loving a motherless boy

In her late middle age.

Taking care of me

When she could barely take care of herself.






And, all the while,

Praying for what I would face,

What I would become.

Building a wall about me

That the shocks and assails

Of the near future

Would bring.


Papa and I in the woods.

The hickories are cadmium yellow,

The oaks taking on their russet hues.

The Winchester '90

Is in his hand,

The barrel points like a finger to the tree tops.

"How long, Papa?"

"Just sit tight, Toss."

In the loft of a giant cottonwood

Ablaze with fall

The little thing pokes its head out from behind a branch.

The rifle cracks

And "the hairy-tailed rat" (his description)

Lands in the leaves with a thud.

He takes his long-bladed Case knife

And pierces its hind foot, 

Cuts a green twig and passes it through the wound.

I was the Carrier.

The bushy tail bobbed all the way home.


I am surrounded by brothers and sisters

Who are my uncles and aunts.

And surrounded by their loves and hates,

Their knowledge and ignorance.

My own ignorance is lessened

By what they teach me.

My prejudices strengthened by their ignorance.

Johnny Roy would push me on the tire swing 

Under the big oak,

Twisting the tire

Until I was drunk with joy.

The world swirled giddily and mixed with our laughter and shouts.

He would amaze me

With his prowess as a marksman,

Breaking pop bottles with the old

Single-shot Winchester

That shattered into shards

Of glorious light.

Sometimes he would let me shoot.

Linda, the older sister,

Shared Granny's role a s

Keeper of the child.

Next to Mama

She was mother to me.

Her strong maternal self found purchase in me.

(She would not have children of her own for years.)

So she doted,





And delighted

In the Child.

"Tom Cat" was her nickname for me...and still is.

In her love and care

I learned to trust love and care-

And to take it for granted.

In my near future 

Such love and care would dry up and blow away.

And trust would wither in that desert.

But the memory survived

And in its survival,

I survived.

Mary Lou- five years older-

Was my near sister.

We were grubby colleagues

Keeping boredom at bay by our

Explorations and experiments.

Going for the mail

We ran in our bare feet from shade to shade

Across the tracks of boiling sand.

We watched dung beetles- "tumble bugs"- 

Roll their fragrant balls.

We dug up doodle bugs-

"Doodle bug, doodle but, won't you come home..."

We laughed at Granny

As she circled her lilac bush over and over

In her dementia.

Once, tiring of my company,

She sent me off to the army.

I returned, after a very brief deployment,

A hero.


From time to time 

Daddy would come-

Once with a car trunk full of catfish,

Some still heaving with life.

And then, just as quickly, he would go,

Holding back tears

As I released mine with abandon.

Once, he said,

"I'll come and see you next Saturday, We may go fishing."

Saturday came.

Breakfast finished, I sat in 

My little read rocker on the front porch

And watched the road

For his black Ford...

All morning.

At dinner time (the noon meal)

I wolfed down my food

And returned to my post

A little sentry.

Watching and waiting.

Waiting and watching.

The hot afternoon crawled past,

The setting sun painted the road gold.

I sat and watched,

And waited,

And rocked,

Buoyed by his promise.

A big yellow moon

Kissed the horizon.

The twilight faded into blue tones.

In the early dark,

Mama came and with a thick voice said:

"He's not coming honey; he must've got held up. Bed time. I made you a milkshake before bed."

The promise melted in my heart-

The first of melted promises.

(Sixty-plus years later...

It is Daddy's seventieth birthday.

I am hundreds of miles away to the North-

Engaged in business.

I call late in the day to wish him

Happy birthday.

"I watched the road all day long. thinking you might come," he said.)

And he settled

After another marriage.

("One too many," Papa said, "And to that human being if she is a human being.")

He settled.

And, he came for me.

He kept that dark promise.

He came in the night

And Mama put my few things 

In a brown paper bag.

She wept.

Papa stood in the corner by the fireplace,

Red eyed and swallowing hard.

Daddy took me in one arm

And the brown paper bag under the other.

I clung screaming to the door facing.

We drove up the same watched road,

The road home, 

And, now the road away from home.

At the hard road, exasperated at my crying, he exploded,

"Well, go back then!" and put me out in the dark-

The dark that had been my terror before,

But, was now my ally-

My way back to Mama and Papa.

To John and Linda and Mary Lou,

To home.

Through the shadows of the big trees

At the old well I ran.

I could just glimpse

The yellow lights from the windows

Of the old house.

I was almost free.

But, he had followed me in the black Ford

With the lights off

On that familiar road in the moonlight.

I was captured-again.

Home was lost,




Where I was taken in my captivity

Was a world away from what I had known on that hill.

It was a dark place,

And its darkness dyed my soul.

It was a place imbued

With sadness and violence

That has left a chasm of sadness

That remains in my old age.

But, surrounding that pit,

Like fall trees and Mama's flowers,

Were the memories of when

I was a little prince,

Loved and adored,

Taught and corrected,

Made moral by the purity and decency 

Of the people

In that beloved place.

The darkness and sadness

Could not and would not have

The Final, Destructive Word

For I had known life,

And love,

And joy,

In the life and love of

That man

And that woman,

And all the others.

...and I would come to know these things...


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Each man's life is a drawing...

Each man's life
Is a drawing-
Planned, but taking on
A life of its own.


With many
Searching lines,
False starts,
Light, nervous impressions,
Deep, dark lines of
Frustration and fear.
Sweat drops

The pencil moves
Into the unknown void
Of the white paper
With satisfactions,
Always fears-
Some little,
Some big.

Moving towards
But never finished.
Moving into accomplishment,
Never accomplished.
Groping for perfection,
Never perfect.

Finding joy
In the movement,
When the object is forgot
As object.
Finding reality
In the real
When the real is forgot.
Finding pleasure
In the process
When the end is forgot.

Viewed with pleasure
And disgust.
Viewed with love
And not-quite love.
Viewed with unsettled peace
That is both peace
And disquiet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Two Worlds: the Puritan and the Anglican (To Max)

My dear friend,

I will try to answer your question in the following way.

We are talking about two worlds- the term "world-view" is so hackneyed now that I will avoid it.

On the one hand is the world bequeathed us by the Puritans, not the Reformers, per se, but the English Puritans.  Of them, C.S. Lewis writes

"…the marks of a puritan, in my sense, are a strong emphasis on justification by faith, an insistence on preaching as an indispensable, almost the only means of grace, and an attitude towards bishops which varies from reluctant toleration to implacable hostility."  English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, page 18.  (emphasis mine)

Our heritage from the Puritans in the contemporary evangelical churches is that which centralizes preaching, almost to the diminishment of every other thing.  The recovery of worship in these churches over the past twenty or so years with praise songs and the contemporizing of old hymns seeks to remedy this, and, as such is laudable.  But, in the circles you and I have traveled in, preaching is central and supreme.  And, preachers are central and supreme, as it must follow.

Here, is the source of what I have criticized as "the personality-cult" among evangelicals and especially contemporary Reformed evangelicals.

Now, preaching is a means of grace, a gift of the Holy Spirit, and a blessing to the Church. The same things must be said of those who are extraordinarily gifted to preach. The problem lies in our fallen tendency to exalt and idolize the gifts of God, even the spiritual gifts of God, to an impertinent and perverted place.  This is the tendency of our hearts with everything, so we should not be surprised to see it in action in the realm of preachers and preaching.

The result of this in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries was that preachers were exalted and people went to hear preaching as people now surf the Net.  Those who went to hear the preachers at St. Giles, Cripplegate, had to do so very early in the morning, and they did for years.  The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries were the same.  These were centuries of "great preachers," the greatest being Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892.  Spurgeon may be called the first "rock-star" preacher (though some would grant this to George Whitefield, 1714-1770, who was Spurgeon's "idol preacher").  Spurgeon is the first preacher whose success was based, not just on his extraordinary spirituality and oratorical gifts, but on a wave of marketing methods employed primarlily by his publishers, Passmore and Alabaster.  This, I think, along with the availability of cheap (and excellent) printing, made the Victorian age of preaching the father of the modern marketed church, with it many marketed preachers. There was the market: in those who loved preaching; there were the marketers: like P and A; and there were the preachers, who too often (always?) failed to see what this might mean to the spiritual health of the larger Church.  In this sense, I might venture the opinion that Passmore and Alabaster were the grandfathers of the Trinity Broadcasting Network and the 700 Club.  (I am exposing myself to fiery missiles here!)

The free church tradition of Spurgeon and others, was always (like their Puritan fore-fathers and mentors) hostile to the Liturgical Tradition of the Historic Church as being popish and foppish.  Preaching became central and, as the result, the "great preacher" became paramount.  This period gave rise to sobriquets like "the prince of preachers," "the kings of the pulpit," and,"pulpiteer." Woe to those who suffered from what Spurgeon called a "slender apparatus" (inferior gifts)!

This has carried over into the present situation.  The new favorites are John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, et al, who are men of saintly spirituality and extraordinary gifts of personality and oratorical skill.  Given the milieu that they and their followers come from- the preaching-centered and liturgically skeptical one- it is inevitable that a cult of personality has grown up around each of them, and sometimes around them together.  While it is possible to live in such an atmosphere without it going to one's head, it is extremely rare and the situation created by it is spiritually dangerous and sometimes, fatal- to the preacher and the devotees.  I could name many examples, but it would make for sad reading.

What I have been trying to say in my other communication with you on this subject is this: The Liturgical Tradition of the Historic Church (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican) avoids this dangerous and sometimes fatal set of circumstances by having the Right Things in the Right Place, including preaching (though I will not vouch for this in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Communions because I have no real experience of them).

Nor will I place my imprimatur on all Anglicanism.  It is well known that contemporary Anglicanism is in a real mess.  But, I will speak for my own denomination, the Reformed Episcopal Church (though my experience is limited, even here).

From the beginning the Reformed Episcopal Church under the aegis of founding Bishop, George David Cummings, 1822-1876, sought to give the Lord's Supper and preaching their right place as the right things in the context of the Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.

What this means to me and other worshipers in our Communion is this:

1.  Preaching takes place in the environment of worship, i.e., confession/absolution, praise with Psalms and hymns, the reading of the Psalms, Old Testament and New Testament- the written Word of God, the confession of our Faith in the Creeds, the offering of ourselves and our worldly goods to God, and the Holy Communion, and prayers, prayers, prayers!

2.  Preaching is seen, ideally, as preparation for the Eucharistic Meal at the Lord's Table, where we receive by faith in the Gospel, the Real Presence of Christ Himself and enjoy fellowship with the Holy Trinity and all the saints, in heaven and in earth.

3.  Preaching is controlled by the Collects, the Propers, and the Lectionary of the Church.  This keeps us from running off on our personal tangents and riding our personal hobby horses.

4.  Preaching is done under the scrutiny of our Rector and Bishops.  If we get off often enough, we are called on it.  This protects the congregation and ourselves.

5.  Preaching, then, is a means of grace but not "almost the only, means of grace" Lewis, ut supra, nor even the central and supreme means of grace.  It is a servant of the the Liturgy and the Holy Communion, and therefore of God and His people.

Thus, we can have poor preaching and still be fed on the Word of God and the Flesh and Blood of Jesus.  We can, as preachers, have a bad preaching day and the people are still ministered to by the Holy Spirit and Word.  We can be unexceptional preachers (as most of us, alas, are) and still be good, faithful, and useful preachers in the Church of God.

And we and our hearers are thereby protected from the noxious and toxic "personality cult" I am so critical of.  (I do not say, for a moment, that we are not subject to the temptation to this, or that we never fall into it.  But, when that happens our Pastors, the Bishops come a'calling and you really don't want that to happen…if you know what I mean.)

So, dear Max, this is the long answer to your short question.  I am sure we can flesh it out even more in further conversation and I hope to do this with you personally this summer.

The Lord be with you and with all whom you love.

In Christian love,


Monday, February 10, 2014

Reflections on a Long Parish Ministry

We were partners in a strange marriage,
An arranged marriage in which
We gave our consent to a life together
We had neither prescience or understanding of.
But, it was a marriage and because
We honor marriage,  we determined
To make the best of it.

I loved you and did not know
How to love you.
And you loved me and shared
The same ignorance.

All the things that sour a marriage were there:
Pride, fear, confusion, inflated expectations.
But the things that save a marriage were there, too:
Forgiveness, humor, respect, and satisfaction.
They worked contrary to one another in such a way
As to produce a persevering resignation and trust.

And the result was a good thing for both of us.
We brought to one another
What the other lacked.
We were bettered by the conflict,
By the discipline,
By the failures,
And by the many renewals of love.
Thus, we were made more like one another
And more like the Thing
We both supremely loved.

And in my aging days I look back.
My regrets stare back at me with hollow eyes.
But, there is no bitterness
And the pangs of longing are mixed with joy.
The regrets and pangs make me wish
That I could have been a better man, a wiser man.
And, yet, even in that longing
Is also something of love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

To John Peter Boonzaaijer, "Batiushka"

And so, you came to me:
Young and impressionable,
A sponge, ready to drink in everything
I could give you.
And, like a sponge,
Rough and wooly on the edges.
And I taught you
All I could,
Ancient truths,
And the lore of the woods and fields,
(Remember when we skinned the raccoon?)
And the forgotten crafts
Of wood and iron,
Of water, fire, earth and air.
And you left me richer than you came,
Dripping with newly acquired knowledge
And a modicum of experience.
You left happy
And I watched you go with a
Sad joy.

And so, I came to you:
With white hair and wrinkled eyes,
Still longing to know,
Still thirsty to drink from
Wells of knowledge.
And you taught me,
All you could,
Ancient truths,
Venerable forms,
The lore and luster
Of the Ancient Church,
The old light shining with
New illumination upon the Sacred Text.
You taught me
The holiness of real things,
Bread and Wine,
Water and Oil,
Holy smoke from
God's own forge.
And we stand together now,
Not parted, not parting,
Until death shall come for one of us-
And I hope it will be me first,
And you will
Watch me go with a
Joyous sadness.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Christian "Culture of Complaint"?

We are hearing a good deal these days about the persecution of Christians in current American culture.  (Most of the noise is to be heard from the 24-7 news (?) media and the social networks like Facebook.)  Much of this so-called persecution has revolved around free enterprise operations like Chick-Fil-a, Hobby Lobby, and the television series "Duck Dynasty."  I rarely shop or eat at the first two, and I have never seen an episode of the last, so I have no emotional investment in any of the them.

I have been cautious about commenting on any of this, and once, when I did, I was grossly misunderstood, ended up alienating a few friends, and was cautioned by my Rector.  The scalded dog avoids any water thrown in his direction.

But, the more I have listened  to this noise, the more I have thought that something is missing.  It was only last night that I think I saw what that something is.

Years ago, the late art-critic, Robert Hughes described America in the 90s as a "culture of complaint."  American's in the 90s had become hypersensitive, whiny, complaining, self-absorbed, quick to take offense and shrill in their response to it (real or imagined).  I agreed with Hughes' analysis then, and I think that thirty years later, we are not only the same, but worse.  So goes the culture and that does not cause me a lot of concern.

What does concern me is this:  The same charge can be leveled at Christians in America at the present time.  And with justification.

In the present climate with all the talk about persecution and "rights" the outrage and complaint are palpable and the whining and self-pity are thinly disguised (if at all).  "Poor Christians, we are always getting a raw deal."

What is missing from all of this is the attitude of the early Church, and the Church throughout the ages and
even now in other parts of the world.  What is missing is what Jesus commended and commanded in His disciples when confronted with mistreatment.  What is missing is Joy.

"Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you for my sake and the Gospel's"  "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." This is what the Founder of the Christian church said, and having said it, went on to model it before the world.  Even unto death.  Even unto death on a Roman torture stake.

The early Christians understood this.  They took up the cross, suffered mistreatment, persecution, and death and did so without complaint.  Indeed, they did so with joy and rejoicing.  "They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus' name."

We may be watchful about the current of contemporary culture.  We may be concerned about the loss of freedom in a free society.

But, we must never whine and complain.  This is a tacit denial of a core ethic of our Faith. The world understands this better that some Christians do.

And it is watching...too.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Little Incident at the Baptist College by E. D. "Shinbone" Smith, Bomar, Oklahoma, formerly Indian Territory, IT

For a spell I thought I was called to preach and preach I did with a license from the Thackerville Baptist Church.  I was young and zealous and full of fire- more fire than light, I'd say now.

 Anyhow, everybody thought I should get some education, and Lord knows, I needed it.  So, I packed up what little I owned (it fit in one big suitcase) and headed off to the Baptist college.  I always loved books and reading, so in one way I was in my element.  There was plenty of books and plenty of time to read.  Trouble is,  I'd get interested in something one of the professors said and start reading everything about it I could get my hands on and the rest of the class and the professor would take off and leave me behind.  I learned a right smart, but not always what I was supposed to be learning.

There was a lot of preacher-boys like me at the college; some of them was smart and some was as dumb as a 'possum.  Pretty much like life in general, I expect.

One day we was studying the life of King David in the Book of Samuel and there is this story there about how old crazy King Saul was envious of David and had reneged on his promise to give David his daughter's hand in marriage for killing the giant.  To thicken the soup, King Saul told David he could have the girl if David brought him a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.  You can read about this in I Samuel 18.

Now there was this country preacher-boy named Clovis from down around Gotebo, Oklahoma in the class.  There was a right smart of 'possum about old Clovis.  When he heard this story, his face kindly screwed up in a grimace and his shoulder started to jerk.  Finally, he raised his big hand.

"Dr. Blackwell, " he said, to our old wizened professor, "I was jist wondering, did he have to kill them fellers to git them things?"

Old Dr. Blackwell, leaned back, drew breath, and with just the fuzz of a smile, said,

"Well, son, he'd have to kill me to get mine!"

I always loved old Dr. Blackwell and I don't know what ever happened to Clovis.