Archive for the Musings Category

Beyond the Pandemic

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , on April 25, 2020 by timtrue

WIN_20200425_10_41_07_Pro (2)

Just finished another thought-provoking read–The Great Mortality by John Kelly!

The Black Death, as the subtitle proclaims, was the most devastating plague of all time.

The first case of this bubonic and pneumonic plague was recorded in Caffa, a city on the Crimea–a peninsula in the Black Sea–in 1347.

Over the next five years it made its way to central Europe, across England, through Scandinavia, into Russia, and back almost to its starting point–a vast geographical hangman’s noose–wiping out more than a third of the human population within its grasp.

And that’s just a reasonable guesstimate. In some localities the mortality rate was closer to 60%. Can you imagine?

Of course, there are always lessons we can draw from history, which is why I was attracted to this book. What parallels might there be between the Great Mortality and COVID-19? What lessons from this sad time in western history might help us today?

To clarify, this book was published in 2005. John Kelly, the author, has made a career of medical writing. He wrote this book with no agenda for today’s issues: Kelly is not making any kind of statement about COVID-19 (indeed, published 15 years ago, how could he?), its effects, our responses to it, how one political ideology is better than another during crisis management, etc., etc.

Instead, he offers insights which had only recently become available through the efforts of archaeologists, anthropologists, biologists, and other scientists. Insights which shed new light on the Black Death. Insights, too, incidentally, which may help us understand the crisis presently confronting us.

Anyway, here are some quotations that caught my attention near the end of the book, where Kelly outlines some pretty dramatic changes that resulted in Europe in the aftermath of the Black Death–good changes, in my opinion. Will our world beyond COVID-19 experience similar changes?

The immediate aftermath saw a party-like, prosperous period:

“On a glorious morning, Christendom awoke to find the plague gone. Life and joy, denied for so long, demanded their due. Survivors drank intoxicatingly, fornicated wildly, spent lavishly, ate gluttonously, dressed extravagantly. . . . And everywhere survivors luxuriated in the sudden abundance of a commodity that only a few months earlier had seemed so fragile, so perishable–time: wonderful, glorious, infinite time” (276).

“As often happens after a major demographic catastrophe, immediately after the Black Death the birth rate surged” (281).

The longer term economy experienced an overturning:

“In the fifty years following the Black Death, the medieval world’s traditional economic winners and losers exchanged places. The new losers, the landed gentry, began to see their wealth shredded by the scissors of low food prices and high labor costs; the new winners, the people at the bottom, saw their one marketable asset–labor–increase dramatically in value, and with it their standard of living rise. . . . Serfdom . . . now began to disappear entirely . . . a man could simply up and leave a manor, secure in the knowledge that wherever he settled, someone would hire him” (285).

“One measure of the new peasant prosperity was a change in inheritance patterns. Before the Black Death, peasant holdings were so small, there was not enough land for anyone but the eldest son. By 1450 peasants were often prosperous enough to leave a parcel of land to all their children–including, increasingly, their daughters” (285).

“Women were also significant economic winners in the new social order. . . . Y. pestis [the plague bacillus] turns out to have been something of a feminist” (286).

Innovative technology increased and improved:

“Depopulation also had an important effect on technological innovation. The sharp decline in the workforce was an impetus for the development of labor-saving devices in many fields, including book production. . . . In 1453, at the near-centenary of the mortality, Gutenberg introduced his printing press to the world. Chronic manpower shortages also fostered innovation in mining . . . the fishing industry . . . the shipbuilding industry . . . [and] the development of firearms. . . . There were also a number of innovations in the medical profession” (287-8).

Institutions of higher learning flourished:

“Cambridge established four new colleges . . . while Oxford created two new schools. . . . Post-Black Death Florence, Prague, Vienna, Cracow, and Heidelberg also established new universities” (289-90).

Religious institutions . . . not so much:

“The long century of death that followed the medieval plague also had a profound effect on religious sentiment. People began to long for a more intense, personal relationship with God” (290).

“The upswing in religious feeling was accompanied by a deepening disillusionment with the Church. In the greatest crisis of the Middle Ages, the Church had proved as ineffective as every other institution in medieval society. In addition, it had lost many of its best priests, and those who survived often behaved in ways that brought shame to religious life. . . . In the decades after 1351, the ordination of ill-trained boys–the ordination age was dropped from twenty-five to twenty–and ill-suited widowers further damaged the clergy’s reputation” (290-1).

“The safest conclusion one can make about the plague’s contribution is that, by promoting dissatisfaction with the Church, it created fertile ground for religious change” (291).

Fertile enough ground to bring about the Protestant Reformation soon thereafter? I will leave that up to you to decide.

Whatever the case, Kelly leaves us with a hopeful conclusion:

“Europe emerged from the charnel house of pestilence and epidemic cleansed and renewed–like the sun after rain” (294).

As we look ahead, to a time beyond COVID-19, where will our culture and society find cleansing and renewal? Will there be a surge in the birth rate? Will our economy be overturned? How and where will we see innovation at work? And what about our institutions of higher learning and religion?

We like to say history repeats itself. It doesn’t, really. But we do often find parallels.

Time for Slow Church?

Posted in Doing Church, Musings with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2019 by timtrue

Been falling behind a bit lately. Have a backlog of homilies from January and an Annual Report to post. Let me just say, lots going on. Here’s an article for the February newsletter:

Time for Slow Church?

We are in the Green Season again. That’s right, the season in our liturgical calendar when nothing seems to move quickly. We experience it for about six months after Pentecost; we experience it again between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. Which is where we are now, on the longer side this year because Easter is late, April 21. In fact, by Ash Wednesday (March 6), we will have spent fully eight of the past twelve months in this slow, mundane season.

Maybe you’re like me and want things to happen more quickly. The season of Advent lasts only four weeks—that seems about right. Then Christmas is only 12 days—even better! Best of all is Holy Week, because it only lasts, well, a week!

But hold on a minute! Is slow all that bad?

We live in a busy world. We’re used to speed, things happening fast, instant gratification. But—as we recently considered together the Wise Men from the East—God seldom takes us from Point A to Point B via a straight line. Despite all our efforts to the contrary, God’s ways of doing things are not always the most efficient, productive, or economical.

Along these lines, pockets of humanity are coming to grips with our culture’s proclivities for promptness. Are you aware of the so-called slow movements that are (forgive me) picking up speed around the world? There’s the Slow Food movement, begun by people like you and me who were tired of consuming mass-produced foods. There’s also a Slow Cities movement (called Cittaslow—it began in Italy), which in 2014 (the date of publication of the article I read about it) included more than 140 communities in 23 countries. To qualify, cities of fewer than 50,000 inhabitants are evaluated on categories such as sustainable agriculture, local food cultivation, land use, and hospitality. By the way, there is even a World Slow Day, which falls annually on February 26.

I believe that these slow movements—not to mention other popular trends like yoga and forms of meditative prayer—demonstrate a large-scale response to the frenetic pace that characterizes today’s world. In other words, the productive, efficient lives we lead are tiring us out; wouldn’t it do us all some good if we were able just to slow down a little?

Maybe it’s time for a Slow Church movement. This is actually a thing, by the way. There’s a rather good book out there called Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. There’s also a blog worthy of your perusal: But isn’t that what we’re already doing? During that Green Season? That slow, mundane part of the liturgical year when things move along like molasses?

This Sunday’s worship service will largely be the same as last Sunday’s. I will say, “The Lord be with you”; and you will respond, “And also with you”—just like we always do during the Green Season. I will recite the same Eucharistic Prayer I recited last week. And the body and blood will taste just the same.

But that’s the point! Our faith grows best over the course of time, slowly, organically, authentically.

Reflecting on CREDO 335

Posted in Musings with tags , , on April 19, 2018 by timtrue

Experienced my first CREDO conference last week. Hoping to experience a couple more of these in the years ahead.

CREDO is a conference-slash-retreat for Episcopal clergy with a focus on wellness. This was much needed for me now about five years into ordained ministry. As you can see, my focus on wellness included riding my motorcycle there.

Where was “there”? Chapel Rock Conference Center in Prescott, Arizona. Beautiful doesn’t do it justice.

So, met some wonderful colleagues, reflected long and hard on vocation, contemplated core values, delved into issues surrounding financial, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical health–and am a better person for it.

Ready for the next five years!

Partnering with Pokémon

Posted in Doing Church, Musings with tags , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2016 by timtrue


“Dad, St. Paul’s is a Pokéstop!”

This was the statement that really caught my attention.

My daughter, Hannah, had been making comments for a few days about a new app she’d downloaded, something called Pokémon Go.  I’d listened to her explain how it works a time or two, half-interested, like I am with most things technological.  You know how it is: a new app comes out, it’s hot for a few days, then the fad passes and something else catches the attention of those who stay up with these things.

I don’t, though.  I’m not one of them.  My phone, for instance, doesn’t even have a camera.  I can text and call.  And I like it that way.

But I keep up with my kids.  And so what my kids are into, by extension I’m interested too, or at least half-interested.

But when she ran into my office on Sunday morning, wide-eyed and grinning, and expressed her excitement in the words at the start of this blog, my half-interest turned into full interest.

Here was an app that had caught her attention.  Moreover, a few days had passed and not only was her attention still caught, it was increasing.

And the out-the-box idea of a game to get people outside, off their backsides and into the highways and byways!

“So,” I replied, “explain.  What is a Pokéstop?”

Which she did, showing me on her iTouch just how this app worked, utilizing something called Augmented Reality (a term which, admittedly, before Sunday I thought referred to cosmetic surgery); something like a scavenger hunt all over the neighborhood, the town, the county, the state, or anywhere else a person determined to catch them all is willing and able to go, except what you’re hunting for are Pokémon, which can be seen only through a screen.  (Think of it as ghost hunting, where the ghosts can be detected only through paranormal cameras.  The Pokémon are the ghosts; the paranormal cameras your smart devices.  The more you catch, the more your rewards.)

And, for whatever reason, the creators of Pokémon Go decided to designate many churches (and gyms, by the way) as Pokéstops, places Pokémon could go to catch a breath, rejuvenate, whatever: a virtual Pokémon nest.

Now, we people in the church business think we’ve got something valuable to offer, namely, the calming presence of Christ to a chaotic world.  There’s salvation in this; it’s why we do the “business”—or it should be.  And thus we’re always concerning ourselves with the question of how to offer more of this message to the world around us, how to exude even more of Christ’s peace.  This question seems especially important now: politics, arguments over the second amendment, tensions over racial and religious differences—these matters are at a fever pitch.

So, my alarm woke me a 3:30am on Monday morning.  With another daughter, I was rising early to hike to the top of Telegraph Pass in order to catch the 5:40am sunrise.  I do some of my best thinking when I have a few hours of quietude, the heat would be unbearable by 8am, and besides it was a workday—so, yeah, a sunrise hike.

We enjoyed a brilliant sunrise in fact, summited just ten minutes before the eastern sky was pierced by fire; and returned home for breakfast just after 7am.


Unusual morning as it was, it turned even more unusual some ten minutes later when we suddenly realized that all five of us—my wife, both daughters, my seven year-old son, and I—were sitting casually around the breakfast table—all on summer break (except me)!

So, put it all together—concentrated time freshly spent with the younger set; recent more-than-half-interest in this new app; fever-pitched large-scale angst over politics, religion, and race; and a personal constant concern to offer Christ to the world—and a sudden brainstorm came.

“Girls,” I announced, “what if I put a message up on the church marquis about it being a Pokéstop?”

Almost instant and definitely loud yesses erupted.

The marquis, by the way, is a sign with changeable letters.  See top photo.  The church makes an effort to change it out weekly, offering a sort of calendar or inspirational or humorous message to passersby.  And there are many passersby, for it overshadows a main thoroughfare in town.  Between you and me, when I first started as pastor I thought, really?  So I’ve tried to see it as potentially useful, maybe somehow, possibly, to offer Christ to the world around us, etc., etc.  Still, many a Monday you’ll find me agonizing in my office over coming up with something worthwhile to say.

In any event, my girls and I deliberated over the exact message during breakfast, concluding something short and to the point.

And when I arrived at the office, instead of agonizing indoors I took matters into my own hands outside, set up the ladder, removed last week’s message (“Good judgment comes from experience that often comes from bad judgment”), and put up, simply, “Pokéstop!!”  (I would have used more exclamation points if we had them.)

So, that was at 9am.

At 3pm a TV reporter stopped by and interviewed me, with the sign in the background.

At 5pm a 20-second clip of this interview aired on the news.

At 6pm the news showed again, but this time the local police told the dark side of the Pokémon Go story: some bad people might use Pokémon Go to lure good people into secluded areas and mug them; and (oh the horror!) in fact teenagers were out hunting for Pokémon last night past curfew!

And at 10pm, the whole minute-forty-nine story aired—both sides of it—giving me a full thirty seconds of air time:

Then today a radio show from Phoenix called me and interviewed me over the phone—supposed to be broadcast on a morning talk show tomorrow—supposed to be emailed a transcript.

All from that silly marquis!

All from wanting to bring Christ’s peace to a chaotic world, and seeing how Pokémon Go is helping to do just that—a fun, community-oriented activity to distract us in a healthy way from the fear and anxiety over recent national and international tragedies.

Who knew?

On behalf of St. Paul’s, thank you for partnering with us, Pokémon Go!

Pilot Knob for Posterity

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2016 by timtrue

I hiked up Pilot Knob today–the third time this year.  About time I documented this local hike, eh?

It’s named so because it once served as a navigation point for boat pilots making their way up the mighty Colorado River from the Sea of Cortez, a prominent landmark.  That was before all the irrigation canals were built, of course, which leaves the Colorado a not-so-mighty trickle by the time it reaches the Sea today.

But the name stands.  As well it should.  For Marine aviation pilots use the mountain today to let them know international airspace boundaries.  More on that below.


Pilot Knob is the lone mountain behind the farm in the foreground.  I took this photo just a few blocks from my house.  The mountain is in California; I’m in Arizona; much of the area between me and the mountain is Mexico.  How does that work?  Well, I’m looking to the northwest, if that helps.  Maybe GoogleMaps can give you a better idea.

Anyway, it’s a mere 20-minute drive to the trailhead (I have to drive about four miles to the east and then a couple to the north and then back west for several miles to skirt around a corner of Mexico).  I can hike to the top and back in about an hour, meaning there and back from my house in just over an hour and a half.

But did I say “Lone Mountain”?  Hmm.  I wonder: maybe Smaug’s cousin inhabits it; maybe I’ll meet up with some dwarfs. . . .


So, a shot at the trailhead.



A couple shots of a nice ocotillo in bloom.  Notice the RVs in the background of the second shot.  People will camp on this BLM land in the southeasternmost corner of California from September till May.  Cost is $186.  That’s less than a dollar a day.


Unlike many of my Friday hikes and scrambles, this one has a well-defined trail.  No scrambling today.  Just some steeps.


More well-defined trail; and a nifty rock formation.


Looking down (to the west) at my ascent thus far.  That nifty rock formation from the last photo is about a third of the way up from the bottom, right in the middle.  RVs dot the landscape below.


Taken from the same spot as the previous photo but I’ve rotated 180 degrees.  Still have something of an ascent before me.


Now at the top ridge nearing the summit, this view captures many desert sights and sounds at once.  I’m facing north.  The tallest peak on the near horizon is Stud Mountain, where I was last week.  To the right a ways on the more distant horizon is Picacho Peak (which I’ve blogged about previously).  Behind Picacho the Colorado River bends to the west (going upstream), with much more water there than the trickle down here, downstream of the Imperial Dam (which diverts the river into so many irrigation canals).  In the foreground you can spy a train on the valley floor, and (with eagle eyes) the interstate complete with agricultural inspection station on the westbound side.


I’m at the summit now looking southeast.  The town in the foreground is Los Algodones, Mexico.  You can see it come to a distinct corner just to the left of the hill.  Beyond the corner–the fields–is Arizona (my neighborhood is just beyond the green patch in the middle); on this side California.  Los Algodones is a pie-wedge town, bordered by a fence on one side and shallow-bottom Border Patrol boats (and a parched river) on another.


I took this shot from the same place, now looking directly south with my telephoto maxed (on my cheap snapshot digital camera).  Do you see the fence?  Kinda looks like a wall to me.  Does Trump know about this?  So what’s all his rhetoric about building a wall?  It sorta seems like we’ve already got one.  Anyway, just in front of the wall is a road.  And–do you see the white (late model four-wheel-drive) vehicle with green highlights?–an agent is patrolling it.

Between us–you the reader and me the writer who lives smack dab on the Mexican border–I can’t really grasp whatever Trump’s concept is.

Anyway, now do you get why this lone mountain is a good navigation point for modern Marine aviation pilots as well as the ship pilots of yesteryear?  Flying south of it means leaving American airspace, even if only for a few seconds.

But enough about politics.


Looking directly east now, Telegraph Peak (another frequently hiked trail for me) is on the horizon.  In between is mostly Yuma, the town I call home.


Well, no dragon or dwarfs today.  But another mountain conquered in Jesus’ name!

(Not sure how I feel about this. . . .)

Stud Mountain

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , on March 6, 2016 by timtrue

So I decided to try to climb Stud Mountain.


That’s it, the peak in the middle, the one the road’s pointing to.  It’s something like 2150′ and I’m driving along here at something like 150′.  The pavement will soon end and I’ll veer to the right until I find Road 715, which will bear left into a canyon and put me within a few miles of the peak.


This is my chosen parking spot.  Stud is the peak on the right.

Stud is its real name, by the way.  Leaving me to wonder why.  Did someone once see a stallion on the peak?  Or will I find a two-by-four wedged between some rocks once I get there?  Or do I have to be a stud, as in the eighties-and-nineties slang term for a manly man, to make it to the top?


The climb begins.  It’s 64 degrees and 7:45am CA time (8:45am AZ time, this time of the year anyway).  With me is a 20-ounce water bottle and this old snapshot digital camera.  Not with me, but probably would have been helpful, is a topographic map, a hat, a snack or two, and more water.  The forecast predicts near record highs, maybe 90 degrees, by the afternoon.


On my way.


Starting to feel warm now.  Decide to make for that saddle, to gain my bearings.  No map, remember.  Also, was there supposed to be a trail around here somewhere?


At the saddle now, looking back (southeast).


Looking forward (northwest).  Still a ways to go.


And here’s a nice view (still at the saddle) of Picacho, to the north, where I enjoyed a hike with my kids over Christmas break.


Continuing on now.


But–dang it’s hot!–and I’m out of water!–I decide to abandon the adventure for another day.  When I got home later and looked at the online guide, by the way, there apparently is a trail; my makeshift trailhead was a half-mile or so shy.


Now to descend.


I follow this wash . . .




. . . and find some blessed shade.  Got to be 85 by now.


And this is just a shot of a quartz vein in some other kind of rock.  Cool stuff in the desert!

So I never found the answer to my question–whence this mountain got its name–because I never made it to the top.  Or, wait, maybe I did.  Find the answer, I mean.  Maybe it’s is actually option number three.  But I won’t know for sure until I return to try my manliness another day.

Some Thoughts about Two Old Guys

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , on December 14, 2015 by timtrue

Capture acad

So I’m connecting some dots.  Plato’s on our left; Aristotle on the right.

Plato’s concerned with the big picture.  He’s pointing upward.  He looks at life from 10,000 feet, as it were.

Aristotle is motioning at the ground.  For him, it’s the individual tree that matters, not the forest.

There’s that old story about country mouse and city mouse.  Well, Plato’s the city mouse.  He’s always looking up.  He doesn’t look at the ground when he walks.  He needs sidewalks, marble floors, smooth surfaces.  Otherwise he’d stub his toes all the time.

In Raphael’s picture, above, he’s even barefoot.  He doesn’t need shoes in cities with their smooth walkways.  As one who thinks on the macroscopic level, always in the realm of abstract ideas, why would he ever need to leave any one place (i. e., the city)?

But Aristotle, on the other hand, is preoccupied with whatever’s right in front of his nose.  He watches where he’s going and thus enjoys the stark contrasts that can be found at his feet, often seen when covering just short distances.  A country path has rocky, bumpy terrain to cross.  But no matter.  Aristotle has his shoes on.  So he can enjoy the roads between Athens and Rome without stubbing his toes, or the rugged path that traverses Mount Parnassus.  Country mouse.

I once heard a scholar remark that the Roman Catholic Church is more like Aristotle and Protestant Christianity is more like Plato–and have been contemplating this contrast ever since.  Is this the key?  Plato is the big-picture perspective.  Is that what Protestantism has going for it?  It saw the big picture where Roman Catholicism was preoccupied with the minutiae?

Maybe so.  Once upon a time, anyway.  Today, however, Protestantism strikes me as so caught up with dividing over the minutiae that I don’t see it.

How about you?  Are you more like Plato or Aristotle, more looking at the forest or at the individual tree, more a big-picture or a detail person?


Posted in Musings with tags , , , on November 20, 2015 by timtrue

Funny thing about being a priest, I find that I have less opportunity to recharge spiritually now than before I was ordained.

I don’t know, maybe it’s something to do with the work environment.  Before I was a priest, I used to walk into a worship space and fairly easily lose some sense of space and time, fairly easily enter into some sense of divine presence.  Now, as a priest, I’m so focused on producing a worshipful space for others that I myself have difficulty finding it.

Anyway, today I simply want to give one answer (there are others) to the question, What do I do to recharge spiritually?


These photos are from some hikes I’ve taken recently.  Arizona has some awesome wilderness.  And the wilderness, well, you know, there’s a precedent from people like Moses, John the Baptist, the desert fathers, even Jesus himself.

Not ready to fast forty days yet though.

Not really wanting to meet Satan out here either.

Chillin’ in Yuma

Posted in Musings with tags , , , on May 13, 2015 by timtrue

Not a title anyone would typically slap on Yuma, Arizona in May.  But it really has been unseasonably cool.  Last week, Friday only got to 76 degrees; and this Friday is forecasted for 79.  Typical this time of year?  96.

So, having come to Yuma ahead of my family, with cool temps and no family (whom I miss terribly), I’ve been hiking.  A lot.

Awesome desert around here.  Awesome arid mountains!  So when I find a few free hours and the thermometer is below 90 (or even 95 when the sun is low), it’s off to explore some canyon or climb some peak.

I’ve enrolled in a new gym, by the way.  It’s got its share of negatives, sure: there’s no air conditioning, for starters; and on any given day you might run into a rattlesnake or a scorpion.  But it’s free!  For me, it’s a fairly consistent 2 hours and 15 minutes of a workout; climbing 200 feet in elevation over the first mile; 1200 feet over the second.  Coming down’s a knee-burner too.  But the view at the top’s to die for.  I call it Club Telegraph Peak.  It’s training, by the way, for a backpacking trip with three of the kids near the end of June.

Anyway, 6 hikes over the last 11 days.  Looking forward to more, while this mild weather lasts.

Too bad I forgot a camera though.  Pics will just have to come with future posts.

Hey, maybe a pilfered one or two (or five, turns out) from some kind of photo share?  (The final one is Club Telegraph Peak.)

McDowell Mountains at Sunset

McDowell Mountains at Sunset




Telegraph Peak

I love being back in the west.

Painting the Annunciation

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , on December 23, 2014 by timtrue


A couple of days ago I included this painting in my post “Infinitely Intimate,” a homily on the Annunciation.  I chose it for a couple of reasons.

First, it captures Mary’s mixture of feelings quite well, don’t you think?  Gabriel appears to her and announces that she will bear a child.  She responds, “How can this be?”  The angel also tells her not to be afraid.  Finally, she resolves that, yes, she will do this wonderful task (bear the very Incarnation) as faithfully as she can.  Point is, what a mixture of emotions must have been flooding through her being all at once!–doubt, skepticism, and fear at least, perhaps a lot more.  Don’t you think the painter has done a pretty good job at capturing this in Mary’s face?

The second reason I chose it was because of the artist himself: Dante Gabriel Rosetti.  I know very little about this artist; but he is the brother of Christina Rosetti, a fairly well-known nineteenth-century English poet.  She penned words I hope you’re familiar with, a poem entitled “In the Bleak Midwinter, ” famously set to music by Gustav Holst among others.  (Holst’s setting is in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, #112.)  I like to think his sister Christina was his model for this one, though I haven’t been able to verify it.

Anyway, these two reasons compelled me to include this particular painting (of the many many available).  Call me sentimental, idealistic, whatever.  But there’s just something beautiful about sibling artists collaborating in the great conversation.