Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Old and the New

Alfred tilted the goblet and considered the translucent medium-red cranberry color of the 1983 Cockburn Vintage Port before taking a sip and saying, “Mother, ‘I love everything that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.’”

“That sounds like a quote, Alfred,” said Mother looking up from her new copy of Neal Sperry’s Lone Star Gardening book.

“Well, yes it is Mother. It’s from Oliver Goldsmith in The Vicar of Wakefield, but that doesn’t make it any the less true.”

“Let me be the first to challenge that, Alfred,” answered Mother. “Surely something being old isn’t the only value by which we should measure things. What did you think about the Paul Revere House in Boston? It was built in 1680. That’s old, but it’s an ugly house.”

“I see what you mean, Mother,” said Alfred. “The Paul Revere House may be old and historically significant but it’s not beautiful. I love it because it’s old, but I would hate to live in it.”

“Mother,” said Alfred, “I didn’t mean to make being old a universal standard by which to appreciate everything. I just happen to like a lot of old traditional things, as you very well know. Take for instance the new 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It has its critics, as well it should, but it rests on a venerable tradition going back to 1549, and many parts of it go well back beyond that. However some of the attempts to modernize the language fall short of the promise. It kind of reminds me of the Curate’s egg.”

“What on earth, Alfred,” said Mother, “does that have to do with the Curate’s breakfast?”

“Ah, well,” said Alfred, “the Curate was invited to breakfast with the Bishop. As he sat there stirring his boiled egg with his spoon the Bishop looked up from his tea and crumpets and asked, ‘Is there something wrong with your egg my son?’ To which the Curate replied, ‘No, my lord, parts of it are very good.”

“That’s surely not the same thing, Alfred,” said Mother. “There might be some things you like in the new Prayer Book, and a few things you don’t, but you don’t need to let the things you don’t like spoil the things you do like. “However if you have a bad boiled egg, it has to be bad all the way through.”

“That raises another question, Mother,” said Alfred. “When I interview people to work in our department store, I want them to ring true. By that I mean I want them to be honest, industrious, and not shirk some of the hard jobs. I don’t enquire about other things. They have to be good enough, but not perfect.

“As you know, Mother, I have decided to serve on the Calling Committee and that raises other issues. I want to know if they have a personal faith, and I want to know if they believe that Holy Scripture is an adequate standard for faith and morality. I also want to know if they love people. I don’t expect a candidate for Rector to be perfect, but we can’t afford to call a bad egg. That just won’t do.”

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”: [Titus 2:11-13].

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Unwanted Caller

Ah, at last a few moments of quiet and peace; a time for refreshment and solace for the soul. Mother and Alfred are sitting together at the dining table enjoying a magnificent repast that had been prepared for them by Agnes Findlay their Scottish housekeeper.

“What a treat, Mother,” said Alfred, serving himself a generous portion of Agnes Findlay’s horseradish and herb crusted prime rib and a great slice of Yorkshire Pudding.”

“Now this is marvelous, Alfred,” said Mother, spooning out some of the Asiago and Sage Scalloped potatoes. “Just look at this Butter Nut Squash au Gratin, what a treat.”

            They had just loaded up their plates when they were interrupted by the harsh jangle of the telephone. They stopped to listen to the caller I.D. The obnoxious electronic voice said, “Charles Wentworth.”

            “Do you know a Charles Wentworth, Mother,” asked Alfred? “Neither do I. How do these telemarketers know when we sit down to dinner? It’s most unfair.”

            Alfred took his embroidered linen napkin off his lap, placed it on the table, and went to the side board and picked up the telephone saying, “Bonjour, comment ├ža va?”

            The voice on the other end answered, “This is Charles Wentworth. You’ve been specially selected . . .”

            Alfred interrupted, “Pardon? Parlez-vous Francais?”

            The voice on the other end of the line said blankly, “Huh?”

            Alfred continued, “Je ne parle pas Anglais.” 

            The voice on the other end of the line gives it another try, “I’m calling to offer . . .”

            Alfred says hopefully, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Nein?” Then he tried again, “Spreek je Nederlands? … Parli Italiano? … Snakker du Norsk?” 

            The voice on the other end stammers, “I don’t understand.”

            Alfred gives it another try, “Yabba Wobbi Spork?  Key whocka whacka? Poogi woogi?!” 

            There is a click on the other end of the line. Alfred looked at Mother and said, “That really is a shame. At dinnertime I only accept polyglottal sales calls. If they speak French, German, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, or even Wobbi Spork they might have a chance.”

            Mother looked quizzically at Alfred, and said, “Wobbi Spork?”      

Alfred sat back down at the table, picked up his linen napkin and placed it in on his lap before answering, “Wobbi Spork? I just made that one up Mother. The point is that we were receiving so many of these calls that it actually is abusive. There are times when we really need to shield ourselves from predatory marketing. I just prefer to do it with a little bit of humor.”

            “Thank you, Alfred,” said Mother, as she took a bite of her prime rib. “You know that since you have started answering those calls we have had a lot less of them. I wish it was that simple in other areas. I’m almost afraid to go into a furniture store because I don’t really want to be preyed upon by an over eager salesperson.”

            “Mother, said Alfred, “there is nothing wrong with setting limits. We have to do that in many areas of life. If we don’t set limits we will be driven hither and yon by every stray wind that blows.”

            Alfred continued, “That is even more important in matters of faith. I was reading Ephesians this morning and St. Paul says that we should aspire to “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” [Ephesians 4:13-14].

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Changing of the Guard

It had not been a propitious morning at Church for Mother and Alfred, and perhaps not for most of the congregation. It should be noted that acid-tongued Moana Crutchley actually appeared to be gloating. And certainly Ima Hatchet would have been delighted. After all Father Goodfellow had given her marching papers and she was now well ensconced and infecting another parish.

What had happened was simply this, Father Goodfellow had announced at the morning service that he had accepted a call to be the Rector of St. Walburga’s in Franklin.

Alfred took off his blue blazer, took his leather Anaconda cigar case out of the breast pocket, and folded the blazer carefully over the back of a chair, so that the gold Wilfred Choate school initials were prominently displayed.

“Mother,” said he, “What a shame, and just when we have celebrated our one year anniversary at St. Fiacra’s. I can hardly believe it.”

“Six weeks, Alfred,” said Mother, picking up Alfred’s blazer and hanging it just as carefully in the hall closet.  “In six weeks Father Goodfellow will be gone, then what will we do?”

“As I understand it Mother, “the bishop will appoint an Interim Priest until we are able to call a new Rector.”

“How long is that going to take, Alfred,” said Mother.

With that Alfred opened the Anaconda cigar case and said, “Well, Mother it’s quite a process. The Vestry will consult the Bishop, appoint a Calling Committee, develop a profile of the parish, seek names, visit prospective candidates to hear them preach, invite them for interviews, check with the Bishop again, and if all goes well then call someone to be our new Rector. That all takes time.  One hopes that the first names of prospective candidates will provide a suitable candidate, and if it doesn’t we look for some new prospects.”

“Alfred,” said Mother, “I had no idea it was that complicated,” she paused, then added, “I also had no idea that you knew so much about it.”

Alfred winced, “Well, I didn’t, but Horace Whittington has asked me to consider being on the Calling Committee. I don’t know; it’s quite a time commitment.”

Alfred drew two cigars out of the case, held one up to his nose and sniffed. “Now Mother,” he said, “Selecting a Rector is like selecting a cigar. For instance take these Villar y Villar 754s cigars. At first sight they seem acceptable. They may be hand rolled in Nicaragua, but they are not really a special occasion cigar; far too mild and non-descript for that, sort of a run-of-the-mill smoke.”

With that Alfred dropped the two cigars in the trash, saying, “When we call a new Rector, we want him not only to look fine at first sight, but we want him to actually be fine; to have a good aroma, and after the first year to be just as fine as he looked at the beginning.

“For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” [Titus 1:7-9].

Saturday, July 5, 2014

American Camelot

“You know, Mother,” said Alfred, looking up from the New York Times, “Harry Truman was the last President we had that didn’t want to be king.”

Mother put down her Royal Albert Old Country Roses teacup and daintily wiped her lips with her embroidered linen napkin, raised an eyebrow and asked, “How so? Alfred.”

It’s this business about President Obama carrying on the Camelot of the Kennedys,” said Alfred, ”Even if Ted Kennedy did endorse him at the American University in 2008, I still find it a little too difficult for me to contemplate today; especially in light of the current popularity polls.”
At that point Alfred began to sing sotto voce,

We're knights of the round table
We dance whenever we're able
We do routines and chorus scenes
With footwork impeccable
We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot

 “That is why, Alfred,” said Mother, “I’m going to vote for Queen Elizabeth for President.”

“Now, Mother,” said Alfred, “you know she can’t run; she wasn’t born in the United States of America.”

“Well, neither was Senator Cruz,” said Mother with a twinkle in her eye, “he was born in Canada; but then again you know very well that I always vote Democrat just so that I can cancel your vote.”

            When Alfred stopped laughing he said, “Mother, the thing that started this odd chain of thought was reading St. Peter.”

            “St. Peter,” asked Mother?

            “This morning and I ran into this verse, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” [1 Peter 2:17]. Now I thought to myself, I can understand “honor everyone, and love the brotherhood, and I can even understand ‘fear God,” although I would rather love Him. What causes the problem is ‘honor the emperor!’ We have a democratic system where we do not have a king, nor do most Americans want one. That makes it difficult to ‘honor the emperor.’”

            “I suppose, Alfred,” said Mother, “the uncomfortable application is that we should honor our political leaders

            “That poses a problem Mother,” said Alfred, “what if they are not honorable?”

            “That is what elections are for,” said Mother. “If they are not honorable, vote them out of office, no matter what party they belong to.”

            “I suppose, Mother,” said Alfred, “underlying all of this is, that in our case, it is the Office that should be honored, both by the politicians and by the people who elect them, or vote them out of office.”

            Alfred continued, “St. Peter also said, “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” [1 Peter 2:13, 14], because if we don’t honor authority, whether elected or not, the whole system falls apart.”

            “I think, Alfred,” said Mother, “that the same thing applies to the Church, even though that in the Church it can be just as difficult.”

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” [Hebrews 13:17].