Friday, March 30, 2007

Home, Sweet, Home

Several years ago a friend looked at my home page and observed that I really must love Los Angeles. I've not lived there since 1988, and must confess that image of home in my mind is more from the '60s than the early 21st century. Nevertheless, I do.

I was deeply touched last week when reading Ray Bradbury's 1974 introduction to Dandelion Wine. He was writing about Waukegan, but while reading it I was thinking of places I've lived: Canoga Park; that part of Van Nuys at Sepulveda and Roscoe near the Busch Brewery; Helena, Montana; the South Side of Peoria. Nearly 30 years ago, a woman in my home church said I had been "born 40." And while I wouldn't deny the compliment she was offering me, I'm glad I've never lost touch with little boy inside of me.

Here's Bradbury:
I was amused and somewhat astonished at a critic a few years a few years back who wrote an article analyzing Dandelion Wine plus the more realistic works of Sinclair Lewis, wondering how I could have been born and raised in Waukegan, which I renamed Green Town for my novel, and not noticed how ugly the harbor was and how depressing the coal docks and railyards down below the town.

But, of course, I had noticed them and, genetic enchanter that I was, was fascinated by their beauty. Trains and boxcars and the smell of coal and fire are not ugly to children. Ulginess is a concept that we happen on later and become self-conscious about. Counting boxcars is a prime activity of boys. Their elders fret and fume and jeer at the train that holds them up, but boys happily count and cry the names of the cars as they pass from far places.

And again, that supposedly ugly railyard was where carnivals and circuses arrived with elephants who washed the brick pavements with mighty steaming acid waters at five in the dark morning.

As for the coal from the docks, I went down in my basement every autumn to await the arrival of the truck and its metal chute, which clanged down and released a ton of beauteous meteors that fell out of far space into my cellar and threatened to bury me beneath dark treasures.

In other words, if your boy is a poet, horse manure can only mean flowers to him; which is, of course, what horse manure has always been about.

Perhaps a new poem of mine will explain more than this introduction about the germination of all the summers of my life into one book.

Here's the start of the poem:
Byzantium, I come not from,
But from another time and place
Whose race was simple, tried and true;
As boy
I dropped me forth in Illinois.
A name with neither love nor grace
Was Waukegan, there I came from
And not, good friends, Byzantium
The poem continues, describing my lifelong relationship to my birthplace:
And yet in looking back I see
From topmost part of farthest tree
A land as bright, beloved and blue
As any Yeats found to be true.
Waukegan, visited by me often since, is neither homelier nor more beautiful than any other small midwestern town. Much of it is green. The trees do touch in the middle of streets. The street in front of my old home is still paved with red bricks. In what way then was the town special? Why, I was born there. It was my life. I had to write of it as I saw fit:
So we grew up with mythic dead
To spoon upon midwestern bread
And spread old gods' bright marmalade
To slake in peanut-butter shade,
Pretending there beneath our sky
That it was Aprodite's thigh . . .
While by the porch-rail calm and bold
His words pure wisdom, stare pure gold
My grandfather, a myth indeed,
Did all of Plato supersede
While Grandmama in rockingchair
Sewed up the raveled sleeve of card
Crocheted cool snowflakes rare and bright
To winter us on summer night.
And uncles, gathered with their smokes
Emitted wisdoms masked as jokes,
And aunts as wise as Delphic maids
Dispensed prophetic lemonades
To boys knelt there as acolytes
To Grecian porch on summer nights;
Then went to bed, there to repent
The evils of the innocent;
The gnat-sins sizzling in their ears
Said, through the nights and through the years
Not Illinois nor Waukegan
But blither sky and blither sun.
Though mediocre all our Fates
And Mayor not as bright as Yeats
Yet still we knew ourselves. The sum?
Byzantium.
Byzantium.
Waukegan/Green Town/Byzantium.

Green Town did exist, then?

Yes, and again, yes.
from "Just This Side of Byzantium," pages ix-xii of Dandelion Wine.

I hear the voice of Ray Bradbury -- yes, I've heard it on the radio and TV -- while reading this.

And, just to make this entry's title more appropo, while I'm typing this up I'm Iistening on XM Radio to my Los Angeles Angels play the Dodgers, as Spring Training is winding down, in the annual Freeway Series. Since the game is at Chavez Ravine (Dodger Stadium), it's the home team's announcer: Vin Scully. (Alas, the score is 6-1 Dodgers, bottom of the 3rd.) Maybe I am a little boy again!

"You really live on the South Side of Peoria?" I get asked. Yup, right next to the church. Wouldn't have it any other way. I wonder what the kids playing outside going to remember of this coming summer 2007?

Home, Sweet, Home.

Central Illinois and the Anglican Crisis

I have long counted the Bishop of Quincy a father in Christ, colleague in ministry, and friend. My association with Bishop Keith Ackerman began when he arrived here in Peoria through our mutual participation in local observances of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity arranged by the former Peoria Clergy Fellowship. Later we discovered we had much in common, including a Swedish heritage and mutual friends in the Society of St. Birgitta. Zion was privileged to have him preach and celebrate the Lord's Supper at our 110th Anniversary celebration in 2004, the first (and, thus far, only) time in the history of Zion that a non-Lutheran presided at Holy Communion (thanks to the full communion agreement between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church).

Bishop Ackerman is, of course, smack in the middle of the various controversies that beset the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Those of you who read Canon Kendall Harmon's titusonenine blog (linked as one of my Blogs for Faithful Churchmen) or otherwise keep up with the news will be aware of an increasingly-likely split of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion over the place of homosexuals in the Church's ministry. Last week's Peoria Journal Star quoted Bishop Ackerman's distress over the House of Bishop's response to the communique of Anglican Primates to the Episcopal Church.
Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman said the resolutions are "an absolute rejection of everything that was envisioned in the communique."

Ackerman, surprised action was taken, said, "What is very, very sad, though, is that first of all they had indicated they would not make a decision at this meeting but wait until the September meeting."

The Quincy bishop, based in Peoria, also said that the resolutions, in essence, say that "we want to be a part of the Anglican Communion, now here are the conditions by which we're willing to be in the Anglican Communion."

Ackerman said Quincy's leadership will not take any action in response to the resolutions since the statements don't have legislative power. "It would be unwise for us to do anything precipitous without taking counsel of other Anglican provinces," he said.
Read the rest here.

Last Monday, the Journal Star's Mike Miller offered more from his interviews with Bishop Ackerman and Springfield Bishop Peter Beckwith in his Faithfully Yours blog:
From Bishop Keith Ackerman of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy:

“I believe it’s an absolute rejection of everything that was envisioned in the (Dar es Salaam) communique, and it’s an absolute rejection of everything that the majority of (Anglican) primates have agreed to. What is very, very sad, though, is that first of all they (the bishops) had indicated they would not make a decision at this meeting but wait until the September meeting. This is very, very surprising that this action was taken.

“It does call into question the presiding bishop’s willingness to work with all the points of the communique. She agreed to it, and then came back and only said that she would present it to the bishops. The other condescending feature is that it makes reference to the fact that the other primates don’t understand the unique polity of the American province. The vast majority of the overseas bishops” are quite knowledgeable about polity.

“The real embarrassment is that it’s not only poorly written in terms of academic and theological structure, but that it also says we want to be a part of the Anglican Communion. Now here are the conditions by which we’re willing to be in the Anglican Community.

“It’s a bit of an embarrassment to read that and then to see that it lacks so much of the polish and the poetry that comes from overseas bishops, for whom English is not a first language.”
Read it all here.

Zion regularly prays for Bishop Ackerman and the Diocese of Quincy, and for Bishop Beckwith and the Diocese of Springfield. It seems (as we used to say in Holy Communion) "meet, right, and salutary" that the faithful should pray for the faithful leaders in sister churches.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Just a Parish Pastor in Peoria

Granted, a blogger can't be a complete shrinking violet. Nevertheless, when I wrote about the "discovery" of "Jesus' tomb", while I thought it qualified as a genuine pithy comment, I really didn't expect The Confessing Reader to write this:
As for His Body: here it is

Pastor Zip on the nonsense of James Cameron’s claims about Jesus’ tomb and his bones being found.

Bar none, it is the best response I’ve seen. Talk about bringing such claimants as Cameron and his co-author up short.
It's not helpful for one's Lenten discipline.

But thank you, Todd.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Towns Never Really Won...

By the time I was in Junior High, Ray Bradbury was one of my favorite authors. It started with stories that I read (or heard on rebroadcasts of X Minus One) that made up the book The Martian Chronicles. But more, growing up in Los Angeles I would get to hear him being interviewed on radio talk shows (in the days when hosts like Michael Jackson or Hilly Rose hosted, rather than monopolized, conversations between guests and listeners. So I got to hear Bradbury talk about writing, monorails, Walt Disney, Moby Dick, libraries, growing up (and living) in Los Angeles, motion pictures, Proposition 13, etc. The Ray Bradbury who enthralls me can be found, among other places, in his 2005 book Bradbury Speaks, about which you can read in this spot-on review or at Amazon.com. Right now I am reading Dandelion Wine, his "semi-autobiographical recollection" of growing up in Waukegan (the town that also gave the world Jack Benny) in the summer of 1928.

Last summer I went to Sweden and visited rural Kristdala parish in Småland, the place from which my great-grandmother, Emma Sophia Bring, emigrated in 1870, the first in the family to follow her brother Lars August Peterson to America. The photo here is of the last house in which she lived in Fagerhult. Don't worry, the house isn't there anymore--just the foundation. After being in the family for a couple of hundred years (or more), people stopped living in the house in the the mid-1930s. And in the intervening 70 years it has been reclaimed by the forest. The gray in the middle is part of the house's brick foundation, one of which sits on my fireplace mantel next to a photo of Emma's daughter-in-law, my Grandma.

Bradbury writes in Dandelion Wine:
Douglas turned. This path led in a great dusty snake to the ice house where winter lived on the yellow days. This path raced for the blast-furnace sands of the lake shore in July. This to trees where boys might grow like sour and still-green crab apples, hid among leaves. This to peach orchard, grape arbor, watermelons lying like tortoise-shell cats slumbered by sun. That path, abandoned, but wildly swiveling, to school! This, straight as an arrow, to Saturday cowboy matinees. And this, by the creek waters, to wilderness beyond town. . . .

Douglas squinted.

Who could say where town or wilderness began? Who could say which owned what and what owned which? There was always and forever that indefinable place where the two struggled and one of them won for a season to possess a certain avenue, a dell, a glen, a tree, a bush. The thin lapping of the great continental sea of grass and flower, starting far out in lonely farm country, moved inward with the thrust of seasons. Each night the wilderness, the meadows, the far country flowed down-creek through ravine and welled up in town with a smell of grass and water, and the town was disinhabited and dead and gone back to earth. And each morning a little more of the ravine edged up into town, threatening to swamp garages like leaking rowboats, devour ancient cars which had been left to the flaking mercies of rain and therefore rust.

"Hey! Hey!" John Huff and Charlie Woodman ran through the mystery of ravine and town and time. "Hey!"

Douglas moved slowly down the path. The ravine was indeed the place where you came to look at the two things of life, the ways of man and the ways of the natural world. The town was, after all, only a large ship filled with constantly moving survivors, bailing out the grass, chipping away the rust. Now and again a lifeboat, a shanty, kin to the mother ship, lost out to the quiet storm of seasons, sank down in silent waves of termite and ant into swallowing ravine to feel the flicker of grasshoppers rattling like dry paper in hot weeds, become soundproofed with spider dust and finally, in avalanche of shingle and tar, collapse like kindling shrines into a bonfire, which thunderstorms ignited with blue lightning, while flash-photographing the triumph of the wilderness.

It was this then, the mystery of man seizing from the land and the land seizing back, year after year, that drew Douglas, knowing the towns never really won, they merely existed in calm peril, fully accoutered with lawn mower, bug spray and hedge shears, swimming steadily as long as civilization said to swim, but each house ready to sink in green tides, buried forever, when the last man ceased and his trowels and mowers shattered to cereal flakes of rust.

The town. The wilderness. The houses. The ravine. Douglas blinked back and forth. But how to relate the two, make sense of the interchange when . . .

His eyes moved down to the ground.

The first rite of summer, the dandelion picking, the starting of the wine, was over. Now the second rite waited for him to make the motions, but he stood very still.
Dandelion Wine, pp. 17-19 (in the pictured edition).

Fagerhult 1870/1936/2006, Canoga Park 1960s/70s, Peoria today outside my window. Ah, to be a boy of summer. Thank you, Ray. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Campaign to End Poverty

Last October I wrote here a bit about the ELCA's participation in the ONE Campaign.

Last week, Ryan Anderson over at First Things offered this in, "Bono Still Hasn’t Found What He’s Looking For," an article about Bono's RED Campaign:
It reminded me of one of Bono’s earlier endeavors: the ONE Campaign. Bono titled this “the campaign to make poverty history.” Its strategy was simply to rally Americans to call upon President Bush to allocate one additional percentage point of the U.S. budget to fighting extreme poverty across the globe.

Surprisingly, they never ask for any direct contributions: “ONE isn’t asking for your money, we’re asking for your voice. ONE does not accept donations. Instead, we hope that you’ll take action with ONE by contacting Congress, the President and other elected officials and ask them to do even more to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty. We encourage you to sign the ONE declaration and help by spreading the word about the ONE Campaign by talking about it with your friends, family and co-workers. Additionally, you can show your community that you support ONE by purchasing ONE merchandise on our website.”

Just sign our petition! Just call President Bush! Wear our wristband! That’s all it takes to make poverty history! You don’t even need to give a dime!

What a bizarre method. Why not appeal to our consciences directly and ask every American to donate 1 percent of our personal budget to the poverty-fighting charity of our choice? The ONE Campaign made significant inroads with the religious communities—having them demand more from the government. Why not ask for a tithe? Why not call for personal contributions instead of political noise-making?

But that would require sacrifice. And that wouldn’t sell. Nor would it be trendy. It’s so much easier to say we can fight AIDS by buying Armani and Gap. It’s so much easier to say we’ll end world poverty by telling Congress to do something about it. My “good-looking” “fine self” sleeps so much better at night knowing that my (RED) purchase has bought pills for someone in Africa, that my signature on the ONE declaration means I’ve done my part.
Tell you what. You want to help those in need? We have links to ELCA Disaster Response and Lutheran World Relief on Zion's front page. Or send a check to your local food pantry, homeless shelter, etc. It's still Lent and sacrifice is good for your soul.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Welcome to "Faithfully Yours"

Bishop Keith Ackerman brings to our attention Faithfully Yours, the blog of Michael Miller.

Miller has been Religion Editor at the Peoria Journal Star for several years and under his stewardship that has, in the years since I've come to Peoria, evolved from a weekly page of local announcements and largely national wire features to the 2-page Faith & Values section featuring a mix of local and national features every Saturday, plus other church-related news stories and features at other times during the rest of the week.

Over the years the Faith & Values section has offered an impressive view of the wide range of faith expression here in the Heart of Illinois (and, yes, I'd say that even if he didn't quote me every once-in-a-while) and has offered local perspectives on matters of faith. As Bishop Ackerman writes in drawing our attention to this new blog, "We are all indebted to Mike for his excellent reporting. He is a man of Faith; he writes it and he lives it." Faithfully Yours gives a good flavor of Mike's work here from Peoria and I too commend his blog to you.