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2015 Lent 12

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , on March 3, 2015 by timtrue


Jeremiah 2:1-13

Facebook is an interesting modern-day phenomenon.  Through it I’ve been able to rekindle many friendships from an earlier time in my life.  Just recently, for instance, a girl I’ve known since before kindergarten shared a scanned photo of the two of us in spiffy 70s garb sitting on a curb, waiting for the school bus to pick us up and transport us to first grade.

It’s also good for making virtual friendships: introducing friends from one time in life to friends from another through common interests, though the one has never actually met the other in person.  I wondered today, in fact, at three of my friends–none of whom had ever met each other; all of whom I’d met during different stages in my life–conversing (nonetheless) with me and each other over our common interest in motorcycles.

But what about those old friends who aren’t a part of it, this social networking phenomenon?

I don’t know about you, but my heartstrings are tugged by these rekindlings.  A memory comes to mind from a friend’s post that somehow involves me.  This memory triggers other, almost unrelated memories; which trigger others still, until I’m asking myself something like, “Gee, I wonder how Greg’s doing?”  And so I try to find out.

Now, when old friends are not on Facebook, (at the risk of sounding like a stalker) there are other means of tracking them down.  Google, for instance.

So I typed my old friend’s name into Google–a name I’m not going to reveal, for reasons I now make known–only to see some mugshots pop up under “Images for Greg Blanketyblank.”

Yeah, mugshots!

Well, you can bet I clicked on those mugshots.  I wanted to find out what my former bestie had been up to, after all.

But I wish I hadn’t.

The first mugshot was actually a double.  That is, it was a picture of my old friend and another man, about twenty years younger.

The caption beneath this double mugshot read something like: “Greg Blanketyblank and his son Blanketyblankson were arrested after police confiscated 61 marijuana plants from their house.  Bail is set at $20,000 for Greg.  His son was released after questioning.”  It was dated some time in 2013.

And I said, “Oh, Greg, you dipstick!”

Then I decided to click on the other mugshot, a single this time, of Greg only.  Curiously, it was dated just a week prior, early 2015.

Again, though, I wish I hadn’t.

For this time the caption read, “Greg Blanketyblank was arrested for soliciting a woman supposed by him to be a prostitute.”  But–doh!–she was actually an undercover cop.  Bail was posted at $1,500 and, apparently, no one had yet bailed him out.

“Dang you, Greg!” (or something like it) I exclaimed.

We’d had a lot of good times together.  There was one summer in particular: I was freshly armed with a driver’s license and we had ample free time.  We spent a lot of time at the beach that summer, loving our simple, irresponsible lives.  Usually our adventures included several friends along for the ride.  But the driving force was our duo.

It saddened me that we would never have these adventures again.  It saddened me even more that now my old friend was sitting in jail.  He once had known the prospect of an exciting life ahead of him, a new adventure to face just beyond adolescence; a kind of glory.  Now he sat in jail enduring an unprofitable season (perhaps an understatement).

Whether he still sits in jail now or not, I don’t know.  I have yet to be in contact with my old friend.  I hope it will happen someday.  And I hope he will return to a more glorious and profitable season, to a way of life he’s already known.  But I don’t know.

What I do know is that my heart aches for my old friend, much like Jeremiah the Prophet’s must have ached for Israel, a people who had “changed their glory for something that does not profit.”

Rekindled Friendships, Connections, and a Regret

Posted in Reflection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2014 by timtrue

In recent weeks my Facebook account has seen a surge in childhood friendships rekindled.  Friends I haven’t seen or heard from in more than thirty years are now people with whom I am enjoying daily conversations, usually over an old photo like this one:

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There’s a lot of catching up to be had.  Significant amounts of water pass under the bridge over the course of three decades.  Marriages have been started and ended; families have been raised; life has been enjoyed and endured.  Through it all I’m really wishing I could track each of these old friends down and enjoy an evening of dinner and good ol’ face-to-face conversation.  And maybe it will happen in time.  But for now the virtual world will have to suffice.

My favorite thread so far is now more than a hundred comments long, picking up something like seventeen of us childhood pals along the way.  After lots of stories told and commented upon, a friend altogether out of the blue except for some comment I made forty or so posts ago writes, simply, “I’m still tripping out that Tim’s a priest.”

Ha!  Well, me too.  In many respects anyway.  But in other ways not so much.

I’ve written elsewhere about the idyllic setting in which I grew up (see “Background” tab).  Many a day I can remember just sitting out on the lawn, my back against an avocado tree, soaking in the southern California sun and contemplating.  It doesn’t really matter what: the way the sun played on the mellow green leaves rustling in the wind; a jet trail in the sky; how the hens shuffled their feet and simultaneously jerked their necks as they foraged for food; whatever–I was contemplating the world, God’s world, and my place in it, much as the ancient poet Vergil contemplated his world beneath his bucolic beech.  Only (unlike Vergil) I wrote nothing down.  These contemplations were only for my own memories, to reflect upon as I grew older, like I’m doing now.

I was always a bit more esoteric and pensive than the rest of the group.  I asked questions they didn’t care or think to ask; questions about pain and sorrow and happiness and joy and the differences between them; questions about good and evil and purpose and value; questions epistemological and ontological; questions most nine year-olds didn’t consider.

I was also a bit more in my own world.  Sure we had our alphas.  I wasn’t one of them.  But I was much more of an omega than a beta (or delta or gamma or . . .); for to their chagrin I never really followed the alphas like my brother did.  I did my own thing.

Like figuring out that grapes made perfect ammo for pvc blowguns.  It was especially fun when I showed one of the alphas what I had come up with–by shooting him in the belly from about fifty feet away–and he led us into all-out neighborhood boy warfare.  The original paint-pellet guns, only with grapes instead of pellets; and pvc pipe instead of guns.  Anyway, I felt affirmed in my creativity and innovativeness when an alpha took my idea and ran with it–effectively so!

Not that an alpha can’t make a good priest.  I believe that one can–in theory anyway; don’t know that I’ve ever seen it in actual practice.

Okay, to be fair, I have seen it.  I even know a few.  But it’s a hard balance to maintain.

A bit of a tangent here: but the church today seems to value priests who are successful and effective leaders.  Those who can develop programs and lure in the numbers, or (especially) those who can secure great big pledges, and lots of them at that, are the valuable priests to the Church.  But really!  Shouldn’t the priests, the spiritual leaders of communities, be more about things like spiritual disciplines, prayer, and formation (i. e., knowledge, wisdom, contemplation, introspection, etc.)?  It’s hard enough to be one or the other; a true rarity is the priest who is both.

As for me, I fit into the second category.  Leave the first in the hands of the vestry, I say.  Anyway, I was that way as a kid; and I’m still that way now.

One more.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time with my great grandmother.  She lived a quarter-mile down the street.  I mowed her lawn every other week or so throughout my childhood, pulled weeds in her garden, and enjoyed lots of home-baked goodies from her kitchen.  I have my mom to thank for this Granny time, by the way; though at the time I didn’t think anything of it: it was just part of the routine.

Now, though, as a priest I regularly visit shut-ins: those who are either too old or too frail to make it to church regularly.  I find this work very enjoyable.  And I’m a natural at it (thanks to Mom).

A few days ago, for instance, I visited an elderly woman suffering from the ravages of dementia.  After several minutes of barely intelligible conversation and feeling as if this was going nowhere, I moved to the piano I’d noticed in her living room.  There, on top, I grabbed a book at random from a stack and opened it and began to play.  Smiles, exclamations of happiness, applause, and even laughter followed.

I’d made a connection!  And the idea harked from childhood, when I used to do the same for my granny.

But a regret surfaced too from these rekindled-friendship conversations.  A friend’s younger sister died a year ago, I learned (very) recently, after a lifelong battle with cancer.

I remember her clearly, vividly even.  She was only a couple years younger than I.  But at nine she had no hair.  That seemed strange to me at the time, 1979 or so.  But rather than make easy conversation or simply be present, I didn’t know how to act around her and therefore avoided her most of the time.

Oh how I regret this now!  Now, when I spend hours of my week in close contact with people like her–beautiful souls–who love the presence of a smile and the joy of a story just as much as anyone else!  Oh, why wasn’t I more of a friend to her then?  And now she’s gone!

If only I could turn the clock back thirty-five years and do it again!

May her soul rest in peace.