This morning I got to watch an impressive Halloween parade with children of all ages in their costumes. Tonight, of course, is that weird and wonderful ritual of childhood in which kids are invited to knock on the doors of neighbors, saying, “Trick or treat!” Then they will hold out a bag or a plastic pumpkin, hoping the adults in the entryway will toss candy into it. If they’re lucky, the treat will be something other than a Mounds candy bar with its dark chocolate-encased, coconut-based center. Yuck. I prefer Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Mmmm.
As promised, this week’s theme for writing haiku is Halloween. It might be about candy or costumes or feeling really scared. So have fun creating one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. I thought of the door in my neighborhood that I was the most afraid to approach as a child. Walking up to that door made my heart race year after year:
On Ben Nevis Drive,
the house at the end, haunted,
just on Halloween.
Last Sunday evening, my family and I were invited to dinner at the home of some friends here in Houston. Our oldest son, six-years-old, decided to entertain himself at one point by taking photos of art that he could see throughout the home of our hosts. Below is one of those photos that actually turned out pretty well, I think:
No, this isn’t a Halloween decoration. It’s part of a larger display that’s connected to Día de los Muertos, which means “The Day of the Dead.” This Mexican celebration of friends and family members who have died is observed in many other parts of the world, too, including Texas. The celebration isn’t meant to scare people but to invite them to remember and to pray for those friends and family over All Hallows Eve on October 31, All Saints Day on November 1, and All Souls Day on November 2.
Interestingly, according to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, monarch butterflies passing through Texas to spend the winter south of the border arrive in Mexico around Día de los Muertos. Does that mean anything? Resurrection?
Tonight, while my wife and I enjoyed a nice dinner together in Rice Village, our boys participated in an evening program that included the option of wearing their Halloween costumes. Both of them enthusiastically accepted the invitation to do so. I’ll save the theme of Halloween for next week. This week, let’s follow the lead of our boys, who dressed up as astronauts, and write haiku about outer space.
Your one-verse poem, which can be shared here in the comments, only needs five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. This is mine, describing a famous moment that I mentioned in my first sermon in Houston, a city long associated with the space program in this country:
Words from Genesis,
read from space, transformed the year
This week the clergy conference for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas is being held at Camp Allen, our diocesan camp and conference center near Navasota, Texas. It’s an amazing place, but even more amazing was that gathering to hear nationally known speakers and to hear one another in community. Both are gifts that I will treasure.
My wife and I celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary last Saturday. Actually, we celebrated with a nice dinner at Brennan’s of Houston the night before that. On the night of our official wedding anniversary, we were at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, eating popcorn and tacos while watching the movie Star Wars with our kids. Also, while there, I pulled a loose front tooth for our oldest son. True story.
So let’s write haiku this week about dessert, anything from a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream to baked Alaska. Your poem could even be about avoiding dessert. To create your haiku, use five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. That’s all you need. Here’s mine:
after Tex-Mex. I love them
a little too much.
On Monday our oldest son, who is in first grade, had the day off from school. So we enjoyed a family trip to Space Center Houston. Although we’ve been there before, we hadn’t seen the new exhibits about Mars and NASA’s exploration of the Red Planet. One of the most amazing things about those exhibits was the opportunity to touch a rock from Mars, which, of course, we did. More importantly, however, I saw this display, which included pictures of Marvin the Martian and a 1962 Mars Attacks trading card from a series that inspired the 1996 movie Mars Attacks!
That 1996 film, directed by Tim Burton, was a parody of science fiction B movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood. It featured an incredible number of well-known actors and celebrities in starring and supporting roles, including Jack Nicholson as the President of the United States. Here’s the pre-title sequence:
When the Rev. John Maxwell Kerr was in town recently from Virginia, visiting my family and my church, we spent one morning with him at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We had an especially great time since he is both a priest and a scientist. He’s also British. So we simply had to take this photograph of him striking a pose in front of a chart of royal genealogy in the very impressive Fabergé exhibit.
It made me think about family trees and the ways we interpret them. Lots of people cling with all their might to odd zig-zags in the jungle of their ancestry, claiming a connection to royalty or some other type of celebrity. But, to me, the ordinary facts of the most direct branches in family trees, both the good and the bad, are far more interesting than examples of genealogical gymnastics. In either case, however, charting this out has nothing to do with who I am today in God’s eyes or where I’m headed, ultimately, in God’s presence. It’s interesting but not determinative.
Enough preaching — let’s write haiku about family trees! Don’t let my sermon keep you from stating whatever outrageous thing you want to say or claiming whatever highly dubious connection you want to make. Write one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s mine:
Willards — German but
French first, Huguenots forced to
flee to Otterberg.
Last month I attended a men’s retreat for my church at a place called Laity Lodge, which is located in the beautiful hill country of Texas. One of these days, without a doubt, that wonderful place will be featured on Texas Tuesday. But today, I want share a photograph that was taken by someone on his way home to Houston from that retreat. It’s a long line of boots that have been place upside down on the fence posts of a barbed wire fence. It’s art that made the photographer think of an image from scripture, saying that the sight caused him to want to “shake the dust off his sandals and move on.” Well, amen to that. How do you interpret this odd display?
Last week included the “Celebration of a New Ministry” and my institution as the Sixth Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of Texas, presided over that liturgy on Tuesday night, and the church was filled with members and friends of the congregation, together with visiting clergy from the community. It was a wonderful sight to behold.
Christ the King Lutheran Church, located on the other side of the campus of Rice University, prayed for me and for my congregation last Sunday morning “that together we may bear witness to [God’s] love in Jesus Christ in our common service in his name. Amen.” Pastor Robert Moore and his clergy colleagues from Christ the King also attended the service of institution. I was so grateful to see them.
After meeting him at the airport, we got stuck in rush hour traffic on Highway 59 but finally made our way to the church so that he could see it on the eve of the big celebration. While there, I noticed a large book that was sitting on a small table in front of the communion rail. It was the original parish register for the congregation that goes back to 1929.
The sections that record communicants, baptisms, confirmations, and burials have long ago filled up and spilled out into other, newer books. But this book was opened to a different section, one that starts on the first page and lists the rectors of the congregation. What struck me and filled me with more than a little humility was the fact that it was mostly blank, containing the signatures of only five rectors and one interim rector.
This is what it looked like:
That was the “before” photograph. Near the beginning of the service, Bishop Doyle read to me in the presence of the congregation the Letter of Institution before inviting me to “sign the book.” So I wrote the number 6 and signed my name with the date that I officially began earlier this year. Here’s the “after” photograph:
So there it is. Number 6, reporting for duty — which, of course, reminds me of a 1960s British TV series called “The Prisoner.” As a young person, I absolutely loved to watch reruns of that spy/allegorical/science fiction series. It starred Patrick McGoohan as a British agent who, after he was kidnapped, was referred to as Number 6. Don’t worry, it’s not a description of my life in the church. But it does explore human nature and psychological realities that touch on the gospel.
McGoohan’s Number 6 stays in an isolated village, against his will, for a very long time. He has no idea where he is in relation to the rest of the world, although he desperately wants to know the truth about his situation. It’s stressful, and he can never manage to escape from the village. Hmm, sounds like a lot of people I know.
The rectors of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church have stayed here for a very long time, too, but not against their will. I am free to stay, as it were, in the service of Christ and Christ’s Church. This is where those of us who are like lost balls in high weeds — which is to say all of us — come week in and week out to be raised to heaven, peering over the tall grass and reorienting ourselves in this broken world with the love of Christ. As it says in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
When [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
I recently made my first visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This was my favorite scene in the dinosaur exhibit, which brought to mind the words of a famous hymn: “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small . . .”
Contrary to popular belief, nature doesn’t always bring one closer to God. After all, “the T-Rex ate them all,” as a friend recently sang for a new ending to that hymn.
So let’s celebrate the magical world of museums in haiku this week. All you need is one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s what came to mind for me:
At the museum,
T-Rex comes to life in my