Haiku Friday: Delis and Restaurants

Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen is an amazing place to eat here in Houston. The 2014 documentary Deli Man is about the owner of Kenny & Ziggy’s and also reviews the history of Jewish delicatessens in the United States. Miracle of miracles, he opened a second location very close to our neighborhood. We could walk there.


Everyone in our family can find something good to eat at Kenny & Ziggy’s. There are guaranteed to be leftovers for the next day too. The manager of that second location now recognizes the family of the Episcopal priest who wears a seersucker suit (i.e., me). And the husband of a woman who is a rabbi at one of the other congregations that also border Rice University stopped to introduce himself to me recently on his way back to his table. It’s an interesting place to meet people and to watch people. Even more interesting is taking a look at all of that wonderful food in the glass case.


I’m hungry now! So let’s write haiku about our favorite places to eat a delicious meal with family or friends, like Kenny & Ziggy’s. Your one verse only needs five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line:

Sandwich #1:
“Fiddler on the Roof of Your
Mouth.” Yum! Thanks, Ziggy!

Haiku Friday: Hearts

Yesterday I was one of several parent chaperones for a field trip with my oldest son’s second grade class. We went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and spent the morning in the Hall of Ancient Egypt. These are canopic jars that held the mummified and wrapped internal organs of a person who had died. But I was most interested in the winged scarab and the heart scarab in the middle. Those amulets are inscribed on the back with a spell that commands the heart not to betray itself during the judgement of the dead person on his or her journey to the afterlife.


That’s an important insight into our human nature. The problem of being human is equally distributed, even across millennia. Here’s how I put it in a recent sermon:

“If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” That is good news for those of us who are a tangled mess of the holy and the profane, which is to say all of us, no exceptions.

When our hearts condemn us, as they inevitably do, God is greater than our sin and our self-righteousness. Through the waters of baptism, we have been clothed in the righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As my favorite Moravian chorale puts it: “Thus well arrayed I need not fear, when in his presence I appear.”

Traditional liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer conclude with a blessing that also speaks to the idea of shielding our hearts and is introduced with these words:

The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God . . .

The New Revised Standard Version of Philippians 4:7, which is the source of those words, says that the peace of God “will guard your hearts and your minds.” What a wonderful image that is: God, who is greater than our heart, will also guard it. So let’s write haiku about our hearts — how they break, how they love, how they hold our secrets, how they make themselves vulnerable, how they need to be protected, etc. Describe something about those experiences in a verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line:

Nebseny, a priest,
was given this heart scarab
to live without fear.

Haiku Friday: Travel

The Rev. Henry Strobel, Ph.D., is not only an Episcopal priest but also a professor emeritus of biochemistry and molecular biology at McGovern Medical School in the heart of the Texas Medical Center. Over the last 30 years, he has taken Houston medical students to China to learn about the Chinese medical community through its schools and hospitals. Dr. Strobel, who has celebrated Easter Day more often in China than in Texas, will be my special guest on Sunday, May 8, at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church for the Rector’s Forum, which begins at 10:15 a.m. in Room A102.

My conversation with him earlier this week reminded me of my first encounter with a culture that seemed radically different than the world of my childhood. It was 1984, and I was 14 years old. I was on a mission trip with my father and others from Union Cross Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Bethel, Alaska. Bethel is located 400 miles west of Anchorage on the Kuskokwim River and home to many Yup’ik people who are members of the Moravian Church, which dates to 1885 in that region. Bethel is only accessible by air or by river. When I was there, it was a dry town with a curfew from late night until early morning for children and youth.




That experience changed the way that I looked at the world around me and my place in that world. I even met a friend named Adam, who was there with his father from Texas. They were members of the Unity of the Brethren in Texas, a family of Czech congregations that are related to the Moravian Church but with their own separate history in present-day Czechoslovakia that also looks back to the life and witness of the reforming priest John Hus, who was martyred in 1415. I’d never heard of them.


Travel opens up new horizons, inviting us to see the world with fresh eyes, as though for the first time. So let’s write haiku about that. Compose a verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line:

My America
embraces many peoples,
many histories.

Haiku Friday: Parties and Receptions

Last weekend I officiated at another beautiful Saturday evening wedding at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. There were lots of alumni/ae from Wake Forest University present, including me, the bride and groom, most of their parents, and most of the wedding party. I noted that in my remarks, of course, and also quoted the flamboyant Prince of funk, rock, and pop music, saying to all, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”


The reception after the marriage liturgy was held at the Houston Zoo, which is actually within walking distance of the church. My wife and I soon discovered that we got to sit at the fun table. Seriously, it was awesome. I’m so happy for this newly married couple and for the family and friends that surround them. Wedding receptions like this one, and many different kinds of parties, are ways of coming together in friendship and in community to get through this thing called life.

So that’s our haiku theme for this week — parties and receptions. Say something about an experience with those in a verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s mine:

Sat down at the zoo,
pondering this thing called life.
It surrounded me.

Haiku Friday: Fall of the Purple Reign

Yesterday a funky icon of pop music, especially throughout the 80s and 90s, died at the age of 57. Known to the world as Prince and, during a dispute with his recording company, as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, he was a favorite native son of the Twin Cities. Purple, of course, was his signature hue. One of my staff members at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston wrote a wonderful reflection, “. . . and the purple rain falls,” that’s worth taking a minute to read in order to appreciate the power of music to shape our lives and the world around us. Meanwhile, the Dean of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis wrote these words:

For three nights, your cathedral tower will be washed in purple to honor and celebrate someone who was, for me and for many, our very earliest border-bender. Well done, good and faithful servant [Prince]. May you rest with the angels in peace and rise with the saints in glory.


Did the songs of Prince shape your life in some way? Let’s write haiku about Prince or the music of other pop icons like him who created the soundtrack for high school or young adulthood or watching your children become little children no more. This time I’ll let Prince himself write a haiku and pray that his dream has come true:

Prince: “Dream if you can
a courtyard, an ocean of
violets in bloom.”

Haiku Friday: Wild Rides

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is in full swing, and one of the events there is called Mutton Bustin’. An announcer gives the name of a kid between the ages of 5 and 6 and tells the audience what that kid wants to be when she or he grows up. We heard about cowboys and fire fighters and, interestingly, Secretary of the Treasury. Then a gate is opened, and that same kid tries to hold on tight to a sheep that bolts to the other end of the arena. It only lasts for a few seconds, but — wow — what a ride!


I would image that Mutton Bustin’ is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. There are all kinds of wild rides — race cars, roller coasters, a ship rolling with the waves, driving 30 miles per hour on an endlessly curvy road in the mountains, riding in a helicopter across the edge of the Grand Canyon as the ground below suddenly drops away from view, etc. Write a haiku about your experience with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line.

Saw bucking broncos
at the Houston Rodeo.
That’s not for me, y’all!

Haiku Friday: Political Chaos or TV Series?

The astute reader who is also a fan of science fiction movies will recognize at least a few details in this picture that come from Star Wars. An Imperial Star Destroyer is in the upper left corner, and two Imperial TIE Fighters can clearly be seen below it.


My oldest son, eight years old, drew this recently. My favorite part is the quote: “Stop this party right now!” Although I’m not really sure about the origins, it might be a paraphrase of a quote from Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones. However, what I am sure about is the fact that a lot of people I know would like to shout those words throughout the galaxy because of the deterioration of our national political discourse in a presidential election year. As one comedian famously tweeted about a month ago, imagining that what we see on our screens is actually a television series:

So let’s write haiku about all of the political craziness that seems to be increasing daily. Craft one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. I turned to writers from across the pond:

Downton Abbey twist
could be: “Make America
Great Britain Again.”

Haiku Friday: Go Texan Day


It’s Go Texan Day in the City of Houston, which means that the Willard boys got to wear cowboy hats and boots to school today. And the youngest one sang this song over and over and over again in the car this morning on the way there:

Today’s edition of the Houston Chronicle includes an essay entitled “Going Texan: My life with boots.” It’s worth taking a few minutes to read in its entirety. As my wife Carrie said, “This sums up so much about what I love about Texas, and Houston, and the high holy day that is Go Texan Day.” Here’s the conclusion of that essay:

Over time . . . it’s dawned on me: Go Texan Day isn’t about being Texan. It’s about becoming Texan.

Here in Houston, most of us weren’t born here. And even the natives rarely grew up roping and riding. Most days of the year, we don’t look the way that Texans are supposed to look.

But once a year, just before Rodeo, we do. We dress up in what, for most of us, are costumes.

We turn ourselves into Texans. No matter where we started out — no matter which state, which country — we are here now. We swagger and play-act and refuse to be dull. Outsiders don’t realize how new most of us are to the role.

And that, you realize, is how Texans have always become Texans. We don’t just settle in this state; we enact it. Like I did.

The boots make us Texans. And Texans make Texas.

Let’s write haiku about Go Texan Day or whatever else it is that gives you roots in the place that is home to you now. All you need is a single verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line:

These two Willard boys
were born in Minnesota,
but now they’re Texans.

Haiku Friday: Literary and Film Heroes


Today the world is mourning the death of famed author Harper Lee at the age of 89. She wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which was first published in 1960 and made into a film in 1962. This story of racial injustice, set during the Great Depression, is told through the eyes of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. Scout’s  father, Atticus, is a small town lawyer in rural Alabama who is appointed to defend a black man against an accusation of rape. While Atticus is unable to prevent an unjust guilty verdict, the truth shines through his words in the courtroom.

Not surprisingly, my image of Atticus comes from the film version. Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Atticus. From the movie, I always remember the words of an African American pastor to Scout, which I quote in my haiku below, as Atticus walks beneath the balcony from which the pastor and Scout and numerous African Americans in the town have been watching the trial.

Maybe there’s a scene in your mind that highlights a hero from a book or a film — someone who has been an inspiration to you and to others. Those heroes are the theme for today’s haiku. Say a few words about them in one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line:

Atticus lost . . . yet
the man says to Scout, “Stand up,
your father’s passing.”

Haiku Friday: EDOT Annual Council #167


In the Episcopal Church, there are annual meetings not only for parishes but also for dioceses, which are geographic regions in which multiple congregations, under the leadership of a bishop, work together as God’s people. Today, a little north of Houston in The Woodlands, the 167th Diocesan Council convenes for the bishops, clergy delegates, and lay delegates from across the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

It’s like an extended family reunion, with everything, good and bad, such an image encompasses. Sometimes these conventions inspire the faithful. Sometimes they’re blessedly boring. I say “blessedly” because occasionally metaphorical fireworks are set off. The 113th Diocesan Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia in 2005 was an example of high drama. Sometimes we move beyond past divisions.

There will be an opportunity for that kind of movement to happen this weekend if Diocesan Council votes to approve a reordering of our diocesan canons that omits Canon 43. That canon, or church law, bars gay and lesbian clergy in same-gender marriages from serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, I invite you to comment or share a memory or make a prediction — in the form of haiku — about Diocesan Council or about whatever conventions or annual meetings that you’ve witnessed. All you need for this 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 mine, which links to a relevant newsletter article from a friend:

Canon 43
shorthand for a lot of things.
Untangle this knot.

Haiku Friday: Weddings

Last month I officiated at a beautiful Saturday evening wedding at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. Friends and family of the bride and groom, of course, gathered there for a joyous occasion in their life together. As a priest, I had the privilege of witnessing that moment and, in the name of God, blessing it. This is a photograph from another wedding, one of a former staff member at Palmer, about a year ago, in which I was assisted by a pastor in the Church of Norway (Lutheran):


There are all kinds of weddings. Some of them even include a blessing and readings in Norwegian. Write a haiku about that or other details from these ceremonies that mark the beginning of a marriage. Your one verse, like this, only needs five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line:

The bride and groom say
their vows. Then, as they walk out,
I think, “Mind the steps.”