Haiku Friday: Rules and More Rules

“The Law of Seersucker” is an interesting post on the Mockingbird blog. It’s subject is the unwritten but much debated rules about when seersucker suits can be worn. For those who hate them, the answer is obvious: Never. For those who do like them in the North, the answer is from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which that post on Mockingbird notes as “a short 101 days!” For Southerners who like them, including me, the season for seersucker is a bit longer from Easter Day to Labor Day.


Needless to say, this oral tradition raises lots of questions. For example, what’s a gentleman to do at Eastertide if he lives in Missouri? Most importantly, does it matter? Since moving to Houston, I’m living in a subtropical climate. Wouldn’t it make sense to wear seersucker here as long as it’s hot? That is, after all, the reason people began wearing clothes made out of this material. I have to confess that it’s tempting to break the rule, exercising my unalienable right to pursue happiness.


So let’s write a haiku about rules — breaking them, mocking them, fearing them, not breaking them, being too scared to color outside the lines, etc. Here’s mine:

What makes me happy?
Seersucker and white bucks, then . . .
Labor Day. Sadness.

Now it’s your turn. The “rules” are simple: Write one verse only, using five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line.

Texas Tuesday: The View Down Fannin

Directly across the street from the church that I serve in Houston is the largest medical complex in the world. The Texas Medical Center is, collectively, the biggest employer in the city, with more workers than Exxon, Apple, or Google. Over 160,000 people visit there each day. Whenever I walk across Fannin Street from Hermann Park to the church, this is what I see. And it just goes on and on and on.

Texas Medical Center

Grace in Addiction: Archway Academy

Today was first day of school for the students of Archway Academy, which is a high school that’s located on the campus of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church and was “established in 2003 by concerned parents and adolescent addiction recovery experts who recognized the need for a school that was dedicated to supporting teens in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse or dependency.” Here’s a picture of the students with some of the faculty and staff in front of the church doors last fall:


It’s wonderful that the school has a home at the church, and I’m grateful for the adults who have been called to this amazing work with these students. As I heard them gather in an assembly this morning and gave thanks, silently, for a new beginning not only to the academic year but also to the life ahead of them, I couldn’t help but think of a man named Fred Myers. He was a member of my congregation in Minnesota and a community leader known for his work with AA and with non-profits that he founded to help recovering alcoholics both find and keep a job.

There was a full house at Fred’s funeral last fall, and at least half of those present were members of AA. It was a great privilege to preach at that funeral, and I got more than a few “amens” during my sermon when I talked about what the church can learn from AA. Near the end I quoted something about jazz and AA, which was perfect for the occasion. Fred loved jazz, and his funeral was filled with its sounds.

Here’s what I said about life in the ruins and grace in addiction: Continue reading

Haiku Friday: Getting the Last Word

In the narthex of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church there’s an impressive plaque on the wall that lists the name of each Rector of the congregation with his years served in that role. As you can see in this photograph, my name is currently at the bottom, which is a strange thing to ponder, especially when I sometimes walk into the empty church alone. In all honesty, it feels — at least for a moment — as though I’m looking at my own grave, incomplete perhaps, but very much real. However, that’s not really such a bad thing to contemplate from time to time.

church plaque

It reminds me of this haiku challenge on Osler’s Razor, the blog that inspired Haiku Friday on Tumbleweed Almanac. Mark Osler, who is both a friend and a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, invited his readers to write their own obituary in haiku. So this is what I wrote, connecting something odd about myself to my paternal grandfather, who was born in 1894:

Like his Granddaddy,
wore an old-fashioned collar,
only backwards. Priest.

My wife accepted the invitation, too, creating this unforgettable image:

What obit? There will
be too much wailing, weeping,
to read clearly. Duh.

What would you write about yourself in three short lines? Remember to use five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Then share it here in the comments so we’ll always remember you!

Haiku Friday: Summer Vacations

One of my clergy colleagues in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas is the Rev. Sarah Condon, who is also a contributor to the Mockingbird blog. Last month she posted a reflection there entitled “Summer Vacay: Where Is Mom’s Coffin?” Believe me, it’s worth taking a few minutes to read that little gem about the ritual of summer vacations with the family. As she says at the end of that reflection:

. . . no matter how much we expect out of vacations (or any other sort of escapism for that matter), we are still very much the same people we are at home. We may transport ourselves to some beachy locale, but we will still carry our neuroses right along with us. Family getaways offer this rare opportunity to accept that fact; not only about ourselves, but about those people we love most in this world.

One thing often said about Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is that there were no villains and no heroes. That claim, in a nutshell, is a family vacation. We pile into a vehicle, take our turns acting like jackwagons, and hopefully, learn to accept one another all over again.

So I think that we should write haiku about summer vacations, which can indeed be occasions of grace. Here’s mine:

On the road again,
both annoyed and annoying —
loved and loving, too.

Now it’s your turn. The rules are simple: Use five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line.

Texas Tuesday: Twilight Epiphany

On the campus of Rice University, adjacent to the Shepherd School of Music, is a skyspace that was created by American artist James Turrell. Inside this work of art, entitled “Twilight Epiphany,” are two levels which combined have seating for 120 people to enjoy an LED light sequence on most days of the week. These sequences can be seen about 40 minutes before sunrise and about 8-10 minutes before sunset. So our family decided to check it out last week.

The picture below shows what the skyspace looked like when we arrived well before sunset, and the tall building to the right is the Hermann Memorial Medical Plaza — located directly across the street from Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church.

Epiphany A

Here’s what the skyspace eventually looked like from the inside on the lower level: Continue reading

Haiku Friday: Your Faith Tradition


Earlier this week, a post on the blog of the Acts 8 Moment challenged Episcopalians to write haiku about the Episcopal Church. So this was my contribution:

What makes sense of things:
scripture, tradition, reason,
intertwined with love.

But my favorite response was tweeted by someone in Lexington, Kentucky:

The Body of Christ,
the bread placed between my palms,
broken, just like me.

How would you describe your own church or religious tradition? Try to do that in a short poem with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Then consider sharing it here as a comment.

Texas Tuesday: Galveston Road Trip

Last month we took our first road trip to Galveston Island. Our oldest son has been interested in fish lately, so we headed to the aquarium at Moody Gardens. Here are the boys having a great time there at the touch pool:

Aquarium A

Later, while admiring this cute seal by a different pool, snoozing and looking rather comfortable with a rock for a pillow, I suddenly became very, very sleepy:

Aquarium 1

Dead Languages and the Holy Spirit

Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas
The Reverend Neil Alan Willard, M.Div.
Proper 12, July 27, 2014

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

I’ve always been fascinated by languages and the use of words. On our bookshelves at home, there are several guides to graceful grammar. My favorite is titled Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. Another one is called Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. This one even comes with an endorsement on the dust jacket by Garrison Keillor, the host of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion. He writes,

You forget so much about English as you go along being profound in it, like who a gerund is and where adverbs go, until one day you stand up to receive your honorary LL.D. and children snicker at your grammatical errors. Woe is I can save you from that. I mean, this is, like, a cool book.[1]

Well, unfortunately, most of us will never have to worry about our grammar on the day we receive our honorary degrees! But guides such as these are certainly helpful from time to time. Maybe you’ve been a guide too. Hasn’t one of your children or grandchildren ever asked for help in figuring out what to say? Perhaps they were making a birthday card or putting a colorful message on a special crayon drawing.

All of us, at one time or another, have tried to “search for the right word” in response to some kind of experience. Sometimes moments of surprise and joy leave us speechless. Even an encounter of forgiveness and relief can have that effect on us. However, when we come face to face with profound sorrow or disappointment, searching for the right word might seem endless, almost useless, perhaps hopeless.

What language shall I borrow . . .

Those familiar words set to Bach’s Passion Chorale come to mind. Continue reading

Haiku Friday: Your Alma Mater

Most of the streets in West University Place, like this one near the Rectory, are named after colleges and universities. Needless to say, I love this intersection.

West University Place

So let’s write haiku about institutions of higher education that have formed us — from the ACC to the Ivy League, and even the School of Hard Knocks, which confers honorary degrees on most of humanity a little too prolifically.

Although real haiku can be flexible about some things, let’s stick with the Willard rules of one stanza only, consisting of five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s mine:

I’m proud to be a
Demon Deacon in the land
of “Hook ’em Horns.” Ouch!

Share yours in the comments. Heck, you don’t even have to use your real name, just your imagination!