Haiku Friday: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day was great this year in the City of Houston. Last year our family was living in Minnesota and had no idea that we would next celebrate this holiday in Texas. We’re grateful for old friends there and for new friends here. We’re grateful, too, not only for the bounty that we enjoyed yesterday but also for the abundance that surrounds us always. Here’s photographic proof that there was more than one turkey in the house before the feasting on Thursday morning:

Butter Turkey

As this long holiday weekend continues, let’s write haiku about turkey, gravy boats, pumpkin pie, college football, family awkwardness, or anything else that comes to mind when you think about this quintessentially American holy day. 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 the irony that I always ponder as an Episcopal priest who looks across the pond to find his ecclesiastical “mothership” while fully embracing something with grace-filled roots in the Plymouth Colony:

Weren’t the Puritans
thankful to have left behind
the Church of England?

Ferguson: Making Sense of Things

Yesterday I posted a photograph which reminded me that wrestling — in love — with scripture, tradition, and reason is what makes sense of things not only for me but also for millions of Christians in the Episcopal Church and throughout the Anglican Communion. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the craziness of the world is somehow brought into focus overnight, as though God automatically speaks to us in a dream at the snap of a finger. The Bible itself testifies to generations of deep reflection on the experience of exile in the Old Testament. The truth is that Jews and Christians alike are still pondering that sense of disorientation because, as a word without end, it speaks to our own times of feeling lost or even abandoned.

Most Americans are trying to make sense of lots of things this week as they watch media coverage of the tragic events that have unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri. Make no mistake about it, the tragedy is real, regardless of where you see — or, more accurately, think you see — the roots. Maybe you think you see them in the actions of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black teenager who allegedly stole a $48 box of cigarillos from a convenience store and physically assaulted the store’s clerk. Maybe you think you see them in the actions of Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer who allegedly struggled with Brown, who was unarmed, and eventually fired his weapon at Brown a total of twelve times, hitting Brown at least six times. Maybe you think you see them in the statements or actions of Ferguson Chief of Police Thomas Jackson, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, the grand jury that voted not to indict Wilson, or the protesters who turned violent after the grand jury’s decision and burned cars and businesses in Ferguson.

Regardless of the facts — of which I only have bits and pieces — that surround the death of Michael Brown, there is a much larger context that colors the passionate responses to it from different people. Yesterday that larger context was described well by Gary Fields, who refers to himself as “one of the few black male reporters at The [Wall Street] Journal” in an essay about a time when he was 17-years-old, carrying his bowling bag, and walking home from a bowling alley “on a beautiful Saturday afternoon” in Alexandria, Louisiana. Then he remembers the following:

I noticed police cars speeding around. Several passed before a Louisiana state trooper stopped. He told me to be careful: There had been a fatal shooting in my neighborhood, and the suspect—a 5-foot-6-inch black man—had escaped on a bicycle.

I walked on until I heard a screech of brakes and looked back. A Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputy—Louisiana has parishes, not counties—got out, crouched behind his car door and pointed his .357-Magnum at me over the top of the door. When you’re on the wrong end of it, the barrel of a .357 looks exactly like a tunnel to eternity.

I knew a few things instinctively: Don’t run, don’t move, don’t argue, and above all, don’t ask why I’d been stopped. Stay calm to live, I thought. The cop had the gun, but it was my responsibility not to do anything to push him to use lethal force against me.

“Turn around real slow,” he said. That’s just what I did. I asked if it was OK to put down the bowling bag, slowly. I knew I had to do everything I could not to create any fear in the officer. Dead but innocent is still dead.

I said little, even as the deputy pushed me down on the hood of his car and handcuffed me.

I was saved when the state trooper who had first stopped me drove back by. He ripped into the deputy, asking him questions, and I answered—which, in another situation, could have been a comedy routine. Does this kid look 5-6? I answered, I’m 6-3. Does this kid look 40? I’m 17. Does this kid look 150 pounds? I’m 230.

The trooper ran through several descriptors for the suspect. I matched just one of them. I asked, “Outside of the basic black, is there any part of the description I fit?”

“Don’t get smart, boy,” the deputy hollered. But the trooper, who also was white, ended the discussion. He was livid. I thank God for him.

Years later, there is still no doubt in my mind that if I had moved in any way that frightened or angered the deputy, he would have shot me, and a reason would have been found to justify it.

I know honest, dedicated, and hard-working individuals who serve either in law enforcement agencies or in the judicial system that defends and prosecutes alleged criminals. And I believe the stories that Gary Fields tells in his essay about his experiences of racism in American society. That’s something people of good will both inside and outside of law enforcement and the judicial system ought to take seriously. It’s also something that people of faith ought to pray about as they — as we — watch the news and reflect on what our response might be. So here are words from the Book of Common Prayer that can be your own words right now:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Haiku Friday: High School Sports

Watching episodes of Friday Night Lights this week in Texas made me a little nostalgic about high school football when I was a teenager in North Carolina. The year was 1984, and I was a freshman at Robert B. Glenn High School in Kernersville. In the first game of the season, we “Bobcats” played against the “Eagles” of East Forsyth High School in their stadium. It was there in the stands that I remember meeting, by chance, a teacher named Mrs. Whicker, whom I would later learn taught English and advised the yearbook staff. She was desperately trying to get a few official photographs of the game but was befuddled by the SLR camera around her neck. I offered to help and, to my complete surprise, got to watch the action from the sidelines, a fun beginning to four years as a yearbook photographer.

Generally speaking, I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world. But I loved being a photographer at football games and everything else related to the experiences of high school. Much like being a priest, it was a great privilege to be invited to witness things from a unique perspective, standing in places and beside people whom one might not have encountered otherwise. This is one of my favorite photographs from that first season of high school football as a photographer for the yearbook. That’s Coach Blaney in the middle, our “Coach Taylor” that year.

Glenn High Football

So let’s write haiku this week about high school sports. The rules are simple: Create one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. If you go beyond that, I’ll have to throw down a penalty flag for an illegal formation. I want to see good sportsmanship, like this:

Coach Blaney, straight-laced,
walks the line, while Coach Lauten
walks onto the field.

Texas Tuesday: Friday Night Lights

After five months in Texas, I finally watched my first episode of Friday Night Lights with my wife this weekend. It’s a critically acclaimed TV series about a high school football team that’s set in the fictional small town of Dillon, Texas. Premiering in 2006, the series ran for five seasons and tackled contemporary cultural issues.

Folks at the theologically-oriented Mockingbird blog seem to have fallen in love with Friday Night Lights, and rightly so, as evidenced in these posts over multiple years. There’s a lot to be said about the way this series depicts life in rural America, human relationships, and the difficulties of leadership. Apparently, one thing that makes it easier is saying, “Texas forever.” I might have to give that a try from time to time.

News from the Church of England

The Church of England’s General Synod, as reported today by the BBC, has formally passed an amendment to the canon (i.e., church law) that governs the consecration of bishops, finally allowing women to be consecrated as bishops. The amendment had been approved previously by the General Synod. Then that legislation was approved by Parliament and received Royal Assent. Today’s action makes it a reality.

What this means is that women might become bishops there as early as next year. According to the Anglican Communion News Service, four diocesan bishops and five suffragan bishops will soon be named for the Church of England. The BBC states that women who are priests have already been considered for the vacancy in the office of bishop for the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham. So stay tuned . . .

Haiku Friday: Childhood Artifacts

Have you ever gone through a box of old stuff in the attic and found something that you’d almost forgotten, perhaps something from your childhood? I once did that, rediscovering an amazing cutaway illustration from 1978 of NASA’s space shuttle by Barron Storey. It had been carefully folded and put away, probably when I was still in elementary school. Today I hung that poster in a library at home that’s filled with children’s books. Here in Houston, where the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is located, I hope that my two boys will be just as curious about outer space as I was.

Space Shuttle Poster

Many years from now, when they’re older, my sons might be fascinated to see that same poster in Super 8, a movie about an alien from the mysterious Area 51 that was directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg. Take a look at it:

So this week’s haiku theme is childhood artifacts. It might be about something that survives to this day or that you wish had been preserved through the years but wasn’t. It might be something that brings you great joy or, perhaps, great sadness as you think back to an earlier chapter in your own life or in the life of someone else. Translate that memory into one verse of poetry with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line, like this:

NASA’s space shuttle —
once a dream in this poster,
now gone like childhood.

Texas Tuesday: Veterans Day Peal

Today is Veterans Day, which is a federal holiday to honor all United States military veterans. Many other nations observe this date as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I, or Remembrance Day, remembering members of the military who have died in the line of duty. Americans remember those who died while serving in the military on Memorial Day, although many Americans confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day. I’m sure that’s now as clear as mud for you.


This is a photograph of my daddy, who served in the United States Army. He was stationed in South Korea in Pusan, which is now called Busan Metropolitan City, arriving there after hostilities in the Korean War had come to an end. Daddy died in 2008 at the age of 73, but this photograph always comes to mind on Veterans Day.

On this anniversary of the armistice that brought to an end the fighting in “The War to End All Wars” in 1918 but obviously didn’t bring an end to war itself, visiting change ringers from England attempted a “full peal” at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston. They were observing Remembrance Day, while I was observing Veterans Day. I was also hoping that all of us were praying for peace on the earth.

Haiku Friday: Zip-a-Dee-“Zoo”-Dah

The Willard family made an expedition to the Houston Zoo today, and it was a great outing! With temperatures in the mid-60s, the weather was perfect. It’s hard to describe just how close the zoo is to Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, where I spend most of my time during the workweek. I know, I know, insert joke here about how churches — and lots of other organizations — can seem like a zoo. Flannery O’Connor said that the church was like Noah’s ark in the sense that only the storm without exceeds the stench within. Many folks, in the weeks leading up to Election Day last Tuesday, probably felt like they were trapped in a political zoo, forced to watch misleading television ads and to listen to annoying robocalls.

Houston Zoo

So let’s write haiku this week about either literal or metaphorical zoos. That gives you wide latitude to create your 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:

Thought my kids were tall —
but then we went to the zoo
and saw these giraffes.

Texas Tuesday: Election Day

Uncle SamIt’s election day here in Texas and across the nation. Sadly, by the end of today, the majority of United States citizens who are eligible will not have exercised their right to vote. But I did, and I hope that you will have too. My wife took advantage of early voting last month, casting her ballot inside a Fiesta grocery store. I kid you not.

So please take a few minutes to vote. It doesn’t take long, and there likely won’t be a waiting line. Don’t choose to sit out this mid-term election. Make your voice heard.