Help!  Week after week the mail brings me solicitations: “Please support This Good Cause.  Here are return address stickers to show our appreciation.”  They have come (so far) from sixteen different organizations ranging from Amnesty International to the Yosemite Conservancy. I even have some with a handsome scrolled W and no advertising.  I have no idea who sent them.

What to do!  I can’t throw them out.  Who knows, I might need them some day.  In fact, I have used some of them already.  Yes, and I have contributed to one or more of the sixteen organizations with whose stickers I am stuck.  But my informal and unaudited survey indicates that I have received one thousand one hundred and fifty-two stickers in the almost two years I have lived in San Francisco and used only thirty-eight.  That leaves one thousand one hundred and fourteen unused and if my math is anywhere near accurate, it will take me 56 years to use them up at this rate.  That’s assuming no one sends me any more – which seems unlikely.

It will also cost me $564.48 to use them at current first class rates, and that’s money I could have given to one of these good causes if I hadn’t had to spend it on stamps to use their stickers.

So far I have used most of them to pay bills so I hope not to increase that usage.

One idea that comes to me is that I could send a supply to anyone who would like to start (or continue) sending me letters – or bills or checks.  Preferably checks to pay the bills.  But you could also send me your thoughts about the state of the world or your appreciation of one of my books or nites about things you thought about in the night.  Whatever.   The smallest sheet contains fifteen stickers so that would keep you busy writing me letters for a few days.  And then I could send you more.  Let me know what designs you like best: wild life or monuments or flags or fish.

Thanks for your help; I really appreciate it!






West is West and East is in Russia

We thought California would be different and it is – and keeps manifesting that difference in new and unexpected ways.  For example: I went to get a haircut today and found a barbershop not far away.  I walked in and sat down in one of the two empty chairs and found myself facing a large screen television.  What a good idea!  Never saw that before.  But wait: we’re watching an interview with Vladimir Putin – in Russian!  The program moved on to other news of the day from Moscow and other points to the East – all in Russian.  Well, since I need to take my glasses off and hearing aids out to get a haircut, I guess it wouldn’t have done me much more good even in English.
Above the screen I made out a price list: $20 haircut, $17 Senior.  Ha!  A big city haircut for the same price I used to pay Don in Torrington!

One other difference: at Don’s Modern Barber Shop in Torrington there are four chairs and the other three are manned (if that’s the right term) by women.  Nothing wrong with that, but it’s different.  I’d never had a woman give me a haircut until I went to Don’s and my usual conversation had always been like this: “Morning!”  “How ya doing?”  “OK, how’re you?”  “Doing good.”  (Long interval while hair is cut, then): ” “OK.”  “Great.” “Thanks!”  “See ya.”  But at Don’s, my hair was often cut by Suzie or Jane or Allie and it was non-stop conversation and we got to know about each other’s grandchildren and vacation plans and opinions of late-night television – a whole different experience – except when I had Don.  Then it was a time to meditate, to stare at the mirror, or review my to-do list.
A month or so from now I’ll probably need another haircut and may have further adventures.  I could go back to Alex’s and work on my Russian or, perhaps, explore still further options.  What would a Chinese haircut be like?  Possibly with acupuncture.  Stay tuned.



Here’s an idea for next year – or this year if you have a good e-mail list:

Invite people to bring one or more kings from their creche at home.  Place them on or around the altar.  Then take them to coffee hour afterwards and give people a minute or two to tell about them if there’s a story:  “It’s been in the family since the Mayflower” (not likely!) or “I bought it at Oberamergau – or in Israel.”  We have three (somewhat fuzzy, to the right) that we got from I think it was SNCC that had put some dispossessed share croppers to work making figures out of scrap lumber. !

 These were found in a little store in Greenwich village the first year we were married – Mexican pottery and all on their knees,  much more pious than most kings!  They’ve been with us to Japan and back but tomorrow they will go to church with us for the first time!


Many years ago I was serving a church in Brooklyn when a man came by from the New York City Council of churches to conduct a survey. “And how many people can be seated in your sanctuary,” he asked.  I thought a minute and answered, “Three.”  He looked puzzled and it turned out that what he really wanted to know was how many could be seated in the nave.

General Protestant usage is different from that of the Episcopal Church – or used to be.  I just read a church notice in my e-mail that said they would be closing “the door to the sanctuary” in the winter months and asking people to enter through the Parish Hall.  More and more often I hear and see the term “sanctuary” used for the whole interior of an Episcopal Church.  But then what do you call the area around the altar?  Of course you can call it “the area around the altar” but there is a word for it and it seems a shame not to know it.

For Whom Will The Bells Toll?

The Governor of Connecticut has asked that church bells be rung on Friday at 9:30 am, one week after the tragic events in Newtown, to remember the victims.  It reminded me of a passage at the end of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mystery, One Corpse Too Many, in which a number of hostages are killed and a murderer “hides” his victims corpse among the others.  The book ends this way:

“‘As for justice,’ said Brother Cadfael thoughtfully, ‘ it is but half the tale.’  He would say a prayer at Compline for the repose of Nicholas Faintree, a clean young man of mind and life, surely now assuaged and at rest.  But he would also say a prayer for the soul of Adam Courcelle, dead in bis guilt; for every untimely death, every man cut down in his vigour and strength without time for repentance and reparation, is one corpse too many . . .   ‘From the highest to the lowest extreme of a man’s scope, wherever justice and retribution can reach him, so can grace.’”

Why should the church bells not ring 28 times?  Are there not, indeed, 28 victims: all of them a result of our society’s failure to deal adequately with issues of mental health and gun violence?  Is not every life precious in the eyes of the Creator?



Heating our house with wood sets us free from the Middle Eastern energy suppliers and reduces the impact on our economy and politics.  It’s also good clean fun to apply a chain saw to a dead ash tree or red oak and bring it crashing down – ideally in an unoccupied space.  It’s fun also to cut it into lengths and load up the tractor cart and bring the pieces of tree back to the storage shed and adjacent log pile.  But it’s not a lot of fun to split the stuff into stove-size pieces.  Red oak and ash split as well as anyone could  ask, but not all the trees in the wood are red oak and ash and not all red oak and ash are free of knots.  It sometimes take a good many whacks to get the log’s attention before it splits obediently into the right size pieces.

Several years ago, a neighbor loaned me his log splitter.  It was a monster machine, six or eight feet long with an engine fueled by gasoline and requiring several yanks on a pull cord to start it.  The neighbor hauled it around with a trailer hitch on the back of his Jeep and when he took it away I knew I couldn’t ask to borrow it again – just too much trouble.  I thought about buying one myself but the price tag was upwards of a thousand dollars – and where would I have stored it anyway and how would I have been able to move it?  I researched electric machines but people I asked said they didn’t have enough power.

Then, a few days ago, I saw a box in the hardware store labeled “log splitter.”  It wasn’t a very big box – maybe four feet long and about a foot on each side.  It said it could produce 5 tons of pressure.  How much pressure do I produce with my maul?  Even if it only split red oak and ash, it might save me some time and effort. Also $299 is a lot less than $1000 plus.  I bought it.

“No assembly required,” it said.  Just plug it in.  OK.  Then press the “on” switch.  The diagram showed an “on” switch on the side of the machine but when I looked for it there wasn’t one.  I looked all over the machine.  No “on” switch.”  I called the store.  “Oh,” he said, “you have a newer model and they haven’t updated the instruction book.  Look for a silver button.”  Sure enough, there was a silvery mound-shaped thing that could be pushed in – and the motor roared (softly) to life.

I picked up a log and set it in the cradle and pulled the lever.  Like a hot knife through butter, the wedge went calmly through the log which fell to the ground in two pieces.  I put in another log, not ash or red oak and not free of knots.  The wedge split it carefully in two and waited for my next offering.  In fifteen minutes I split as much wood as I might have done in an hour with the maul.

There’s still an election pending and votes to be counted and the future may not seem as bright by midnight as it seems at the moment.  But right now I see the Arab oil lords grieving over the gallons of gas not sold and my therapist twiddling his thumbs for lack of a spinal cord to adjust and the world seems a  better place and I am a happy citizen with a new toy to play with – no, with which to play.




Last October we had a storm that left trees and branches down throughout the state.  At some point afterward I found a big red oak down across an old wood road not far from our house and cut some sections out of it to reopen the road and replenish my wood pile.  Then I left it because I had other things to do – plow the driveway in the winter, deal with the garden through the summer.  But the first killing frost put an end to the garden and alerted me to the need of a wood pile big enough to keep our wood stove hot and our home warm through the winter.  Yesterday I put the chain saw in the tractor cart and went back to the downed red oak.  There is still a lot of it left but then I noticed an even bigger tree, also red oak, across the road a hundred yards on – and another beyond that.  Life is good.  I spent a couple of hours cutting sections out of one of the bigger branches of the second tree.  I counted a hundred growth rings.  The main stem will be a challenge!  Miscalculate the tensions and a cut can close on your saw and leave you to chop it out with an ax. But working with red oak is one of the special joys of country living.  It has a distinctive color, a pungent smell, splits easily, and burns well.  I have many happy hours ahead of me – until the snow gets too deep.



I went to bed last night with the world in disarray.  The bank had locked me out of my account, the television set I need for watching “Morning Joe: while I do my exercises would not turn on, and the latest raccoon was still ravaging the deck.

Today the world is a (slightly) better place.  Crowds may still be shouting Death to the Great Satan in the middle east but the raccoon succumbed at last to my trap.  I left him a cracked egg in an egg carton and he couldn’t resist.  In fact, he ate the egg carton as well as the egg.  Later today I will transport him far away.

Meanwhile, the question of why raccoons dig up flower pots remains open.  Is there something in store-bought planting soil that motivates them?  Or is it, as I suspect, pure malicious evil?  Any insights, theological or otherwise, will be welcome.



“Some people dream of a different world and ask, ‘Why not?’ I look at the world as it is and ask ‘Why?'” (George Bernard Shaw revised)

I learned long ago that I can’t plant things in a planter on the deck because someone will come by and dig it up.  I assume it’s raccoons because bears would go for the bird feeder and squirrels don’t go out much at night.  Deer and coyotes and turkeys have better things to do with their time.

So I occasionally put out a flower pot and bring it in at night.  Except when I forget – as I did night before last.  The picture was taken the next day.

I replanted whatever survived and put it back out yesterday.  Last night I went out about 10 pm to bring it in – too late.  Why?

I know I can sprinkle cayenne pepper as a deterrent and I will, but what satisfaction does the Enemy get from pure destructiveness.  Some ask, “Why is there Evil?”  I ask, “Why are there raccoons?”



Are you also aware of the way “passed” has become a synonym for “died”?  Someone “passed,” we are told, and we are supposed to understand that it wasn’t that they didn’t complete their class work successfully or get ahead of the car in front of them.  No, they became deceased, their earthly existence was terminated, they are among us no more.  It used to be called dying.

There was a time some years ago when speaking of death was becoming respectable and school children were taught about it.  Apparently that fad “passed,” if I can put it that way.

Does it reflect an increasingly secular society that quite naturally fears being eliminated?

If it becomes standard usage, we might wonder what children will say at the end of the school year when asked whether they passed?  Will they say, “No, I’m feeling fine”?

Whatever the reason, it is surely a step away from facing reality.

Would it be helpful to respond, when told that someone “passed,” by asking “Passed what?” or, more aggressively, “to where?”

A better phrase might be John Bunyan’s from Pilgrim’s Progress: “crossed over.”  That makes it clear that someone has gone somewhere, not merely disappeared.

It seems to me that the speech pattern implies a question that only a Christian can answer!  And more people should become familiar with John Donne’s fearless put down of death:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Take that, poor death!  “Passed,” indeed; no, died – but so what.  Death does not have the last word.



[advance copy of the President’s speech to the Democratic Convention; NOT AUTHORIZED FOR ADVANCE DISTRIBUTION]

My fellow Americans,  four years ago I stood before you to accept your nomination for the office of President and hold up the promise of hope and change.  With your support and enthusiasm we won that election and set out to work on America’s long-deferred agenda.

We came into office with the economy in chaos.  Unemployment was far too high, some of our largest companies were threatened with bankruptcy, millions of home owners were seeing their biggest single investment being washed away as banks foreclosed their mortgages.  Not since the Great Depression had the American economy been in such turmoil.

Thirty-some years ago, a Republican candidate asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  For most Americans today the answer is, “Yes, but not enough.”  Today there is hope because we did change as much as we could.

Governor Romney suggested two weeks ago that America is not better off than four years ago.  But he wanted Detroit to go bankrupt.  Would we be better off if it had done so?  Would his native state of Michigan be better off with General Motors out of business?

We went to Washington four years ago with this nation in a state of collapse and we pulled it back from the brink.  Governor Romney would have let it go over.

Am I satisfied with what we’ve accomplished?  No, I’m not.  But lets move forward not back.  Let’s come together as a nation to reject the nay-sayers and make the changes we need for all Americans.  We’re not there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Most especially, we fulfilled the dreams of many of our greatest leaders, beginning with that famous Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, and created a national health insurance program.  Today, if you are just out of school and beginning a career, you can stay on your parents’ health jnsurance policy until you get on your own feet with a good job.  Today, if you have a pre-existing condition, you can longer be denied coverage.  Today, if you change jobs, you won’t lose you coverage.  That’s real change – but the Republicans have promised to take it all away.

Governor Romney and his friends tell you that we can’t afford decent health care for all Americans – only for the citizens of Massachusetts.  I tell you we can’t afford not to provide decent health care for all.

When some Americans can’t afford health care they don’t get an annual physical, they don’t get preventive care, and they wind up letting their health problems build until they come in desperate need to the Emergency Room needing more health care at greater cost – and the rest of us pay the bill.  My friends, that makes no sense.  Right now we pay more for our health care than any other developed country and get worse results.  It’s time to move forward with a plan that helps us all by helping especially the ones who have the greatest needs and who, without affordable health care, raise the cost of health care for everyone.

Was I too optimistic four years ago?  Yes, I was.  Even though I had spent a few years in Washington, I underestimated the negativity of the opposition.  I never imagined that they would stand in the way even of programs they had once advocated themselves.  My hope was that Americans could come together in common cause and create good jobs to develop energy programs that would free us from dependence on foreign oil.  I thought even an opposition party would see the wisdom of moving toward energy independence and the wisdom of starting to heal our ravaged environment.

Scientists tell us that without action on our part, violent storms will get worse, drought in some areas will become endemic, floods in other areas will threaten some of our oldest and proudest communities.  Even if you doubt it, it still makes good sense to have cleaner air and water and to create good jobs developing our own renewable energy resources.  But Republicans have united in saying “NO” to our hopes and refusing to change.

Governor Romney told the Republican Convention that “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise…is to help you and your family.”

My friends, that is not the choice we are faced with.  Unless we slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet, you and your family face a threatening future.  The choice we face is between helping you and your family by working to save our environment for future generations, creating good jobs in the process – between doing that and standing helplessly by while the environment continues to deteriorate and other countries leap ahead of us by taking the scientists seriously and committing their economies to build renewable energy technologies – which they will then sell to us.

Is that the future you hope for?  Is that the change you want?  I have a higher opinion of you than that!  I ask for four more years to put more programs in place to renew America, to build a better America for our children and children’s children.  We know now how hard that job will be, but we can do it with your support.  We have to do it for our children and the world’s children.

Will future generations look back at us and say, “They saw the challenge and turned away?”  I have more hope for America than that.

My hope for America is that we can continue to be a beacon and bulwark of democracy.  Governor Romney said almost nothing about foreign affairs.  He said nothing at all about the troops who have fought to root out terrorism in the Middle East.  Don’t they deserve our gratitude?  As we bring them home at last, shouldn’t we thank them for what they have done?

Think what has happened in these last four years.  Al Qaeda is still out there, but their leader is gone thanks to American troops.

Think how the Middle East has changed.  American troops have given Iraq the chance to build a democracy.  Egypt has moved toward becoming a true democracy after generations of tyranny.  Libya has thrown out a dictatorship that supported terrorism and shot down peaceful travelers.  Syrians are fighting to throw out their dictator.

And all this was done with no further commitment of American troops on the ground.  We do more to support democracy around the world when we build a better democracy here.    Ronald Reagan liked to cite the Pilgrims vision of America as a “city on a hill.”  It is that America that serves as a beacon of democracy and inspires the disenfranchised everywhere to demand freedom for themselves.  We cannot compel them to create democracies but we can inspire them by our example – and we do.

Governor Romney complained that we are still talking to Iran.  What would he do?  Winston Churchill once said, “Better jaw jaw than war war.”  We are not afraid to use force when all else fails but a peaceful and confident America inspires more lasting change than any number of troops on the ground.

A better democracy here will be one in which we spend more on schools than on our military.

A better democracy here will be one in which our children get the education they need to take part in a technological society.  Some would tell you we can’t afford to provide grants and loans for young people who want a college education.  I say we can’t afford not to provide that support.
Some say we can’t afford better health care, better education, a better environment.  Yet there are people who have millions of dollars to spend on unregulated negative advertising.  Couldn’t we channel some of that money to a better use?

It’s time to reform our tax code.  No one can justify a system that leaves those with the most money paying the lowest tax rate.

Governor Romney wants to lower taxes for the rich even further and still shrink the deficit.  He says this is the greatest nation on earth but we can’t afford medicare and social security.  I say we do have the resources but that some of us aren’t paying their fair share.  The top 1% have more money than ever.  Shouldn’t they pay their fair share?  Republicans call that suggestion class warfare.  I don’t want to call it a war but I suggest that the wage earners are losing out.

Too many Americans    have seen their mortgages foreclosed, their health care reduced, their hope that their children can go to college threatened.  Too many Americans are being told that Social Security and Medicare won’t be there for them yet some Americans have millions to pour into negative advertising to persuade us that their taxes should be lowered.  Why is that those who have so much money to spend should begrudge a fairer shake for others?  Why is it that the Republican Party is so dedicated to preserving that wealth for the fortunate few rather than proposing specific programs to help those less fortunate?

Governor Romney told his convention that a “united America  will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need.”  So why did his party in Congress oppose every effort we have made to do those very things?

I don’t want to call it a war but too many Americans are losing the battle to build better lives for themselves and their children.  Washington can’t solve all our problems but Washington can help level the playing field and give those with the least a better chance.

I went to the White House determined to move beyond partisanship and reach out ton those of good will whatever their political affiliation.  I was told that I was naive and certainly I have too often seen my efforts to rise above partisanship rejected.

We created a bipartisan committee to offer specific proposals to overcome the deficit.  Paul Ryan served in that committee and criticized me in his convention speech for not supporting it more effectively.  But he and his colleagues voted against it.  Time and again our best efforts to find a compromise have been vetoed by Republicans in Congress who now complain that so little has been done.

My fellow Americans, we must urgently move beyond this type of narrow, negative partisanship.  I know what you want and what the vast majority of the citizens of this country want.  They want leadership that is willing to listen and make common cause with all those who love their country more than their party.  There’s too much to be done to put party first.  It’s time to put our country ahead of party.  It’s time to put the needs of all our citizens ahead of party.  It’s time to move forward together, Republicans and Democrats, to show the world what America can be, must be, and will be with your support.