Some Valentine’s Day “advice”

St. Valentine_fol.197 croppedOne of the great advantages of being a priest is that you can give your beloved leftover funeral flowers for Valentine’s Day. Jam some candle nubs that don’t really fit into your candelabra and set them on your table alongside some stale donuts from last Sunday’s coffee hour and voila! A romantic, low-cost dinner. I’m kidding, of course. As far as Bryna knows.

But if you really want to spice things up with your Valentine tonight, try this: show up to dinner at that cozy bistro dressed as the martyred St. Valentine. He was evidently beaten and stoned before his beheading at the hand of the Roman emperor for marrying couples in the Christian faith. So, depending on how realistic you want to make this, it might get a bit messy. Perhaps a simple Steve Martin arrow-through-the-head prop would suffice. Though maybe you should just stick to the roses and either borrow a red cassock from the acolyte room or, if you’re a priest, wear that seldom-used red chasuble hanging in the back of the sacristy closet.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s helpful to reflect upon the real St. Valentine. Actually, there’s some confusion over this since there appears to 1506575_10152253412466354_588056348_nhave been more than one St. Valentine. The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 to mark the death of a St. Valentine on February 14th. But even then it seems to have been a day to mark several martyred saints sharing the name Valentinus (from the Latin valens meaning worthy).

Nonetheless, the modern feast day likely commemorates the St. Valentine who was a priest in Rome during the reign of Claudius II (260-270 AD). He was arrested for marrying Christian couples and assisting those facing persecution – a crime in those days. Valentine tried to convert the emperor and was put to death.

It wasn’t until 14th century England that the feast started to become a celebration of romantic love. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer is often credited with bringing together the romantic imagery of blooming spring and birds choosing their mates. In The Parliament of Fowles Chaucer’s was the first mention of St. Valentine in a love poem.

None of this should actually matter to Episcopalians since Valentine doesn’t appear on our official Calendar of Saints. Indeed we commemorate Cyril and Methodius on February 14th — a pair of 9th century Greek brothers who were missionaries to the Slavs — rather than Valentine.

The good news in this for forgetful husbands/boyfriends is that if you forget to pick up flowers, you can always give your beloved a copy of War and Peace by Slavic author Leo Tolstoy or dramatically read a poem by Vaclav Havel.


Rousting Teens: The Impossible Vocation

2010 July 15 Phx pool 017After another morning of trying to roust Ben out of bed, I wrote most of this in the shower. The rest was written on the train into Boston this morning for a meeting at the diocese. I have to believe this just might resonate with some parents of teenagers. And if not? Well, maybe at least Bob Dylan will sue me.

There’s a classic book on the priesthood called The Impossible Vocation. You can argue with that premise but, in any case, I think getting teens out of bed before 7:00 am qualifies.

It Will Never End

How many times must a man go in
to wake up his own teenage son?
How many times must I shake that poor boy
ahead of the bright rising sun?
How many times must I go up the stairs
threatening to take his iPhone?
The answer my friend, it will never end.
The answer, it will never end.

How many times must we have this same fight
when that alarm clock goes off?
How many ways can I badger you, son
until you get out of that bed
How many times will you ignore my requests
to open your eyes and wake up?
The answer my friend, it will never end.
The answer, it will never end.

How many times must you be late for school
because you can’t find your math book?
How many times must I tell you to make
your lunch before going to sleep?
How many times must you lose your left shoe
before you’re sent in wearing socks
The answer my friend, it will never end.
The answer, it will never end.

How many times must I have deja vu
of arguments I had with my dad?
How many times must the teenager cry
“Why can’t they just start school at two?!
How many years ’til the tables are turned
and he has a teen all his own?
The answer my friend, it will never end.
The answer, it will never end.

Church Press Conference — Belichick Style

Bill BelichickBill Belichick press conferences have quickly become my favorite thing about football in New England. His gruff, non-answer Q & A sessions with the media are  comically absurd. “It is what it is” covers everything from next week’s opponent to Tim Tebow to defensive coverages to Aaron Hernandez. In other words, Belichick (a Hingham resident I might add) has perfected the art of saying nothing by saying something. Not that clergy could every be accused of that

Anyway, it made me wonder what would happen if clergy took a Belichickian approach to coffee hour. Here’s what I came up with using (more or less) actual Bill Belichick press conference answers:

Q: What happened with the acolytes at the gospel procession? Are you actively recruiting new ones?
A: I’m only talking about the personnel we have. Anything else is speculation

Q: The readings appointed for today seemed to give you some trouble. Are you looking forward to next week’s lessons?
A:  I don’t decide what the readings are. I’m not going to comment on something I don’t have control over.

Q: Are you disappointed by the lack of munchkins at coffee hour?
A: Are munchkins mentioned in the Bible?

Q: Is the vestry excited about the new adult education program?
A: You’d have to ask them about that.

Q: The new Sunday School curriculum looks really engaging. Are you excited about it?
A: We’ll see how it goes.

Q: Did you know there are weeds growing in the church yard?
A: I’m responsible for every aspect of church life.

Q: Do you really think adding another service on Sunday morning is going to work?
A: We just try to do what’s in the best interest of the parish.

Q: Did you notice attendance is down this year?
A: It is what it is.

Okay, back to post-church football watching.  Love this time of year!

‘Twas the Night Before School

school-busAs Back-to-School Eve winds down, I thought I’d dash off a poem for the boys. They’re going into 7th and 9th grades this year (even though I’m way too young to be the parent of a high schooler).

Blessings to Ben and Zack and students everywhere as they begin a new school year. As a parent, it’s a privilege to watch children continue to grow and develop into the people God has called them to be. Even if they still sometimes drive us nuts!

‘Twas the Night Before School

‘Twas the night before school starts and all through our home all the children were stressed out, with little shalom. The backpacks were placed by the front door with care, with dread that the school bus soon would be there.

The children were wrestled down into their beds, while visions of teachers danced in their heads. With momma in her nightgown and I in my cap, we knew we’d be stuck soon in that old homework trap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang to the bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, it was only the neighbors holding their back-to-school bash.

The moon on the freshly mown lawn down below, reminded me of teachers from ages ago. When what to my wandering eyes should appear? But my old high school principal toting eight cases of beer.

With a little old man so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be Mr. Schmick. More organized than a Trapper Keeper he came, and he whistled and shouted and called them by name.

“On pencils and crayons and highlighters too! On paper and binders and three types of glue! Buy it now, buy it now, buy it now all! Backpacks so full they can’t help but crawl!”

And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof, the principal demanding mathematical proof. As I drew in my head, and was turning around, down the chimney came Schmick all tightly wound.

He was dressed all in tweed, from his foot to his head, and his glare evoked that old sense of dread. A bundle of tests he had flung on his back, all marked with “F’s” as he sneered, “Here, take that!”

His eyes — how they darkened! His dimples how scary! His cheeks were like roses from drinking that sherry. The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, all set to lash out like a sword in its sheath.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, reminded me I really had nothing to dread. He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all those backpacks himself, the old jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose. He sprang back to his desk, to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like a back-to-school missile.

But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight “Happy School Year to all, and to all a good night!”

Guest Blogger: My Mother!

41ZvMf8xTnLWhile most people blame their mothers for everything that’s wrong with them (paging Dr. Freud), today I’m thanking my mother for something she shared with me: a passion for writing. Despite a fruitful career in residential real estate — she always said that two people working in the non-profit world was one too many — she’s a writer at heart.

She did, in fact, author a terrific cook book in 1987 called The Desperate Gourmet. Yes, there were recipes but it was really a philosophy of life. With a symphony conductor for a husband, two children, and a thriving career the book was borne of necessity — if you like great food but don’t have time to prepare it you have no choice but to become a “desperate gourmet.” I’m particularly proud that my cheesecake recipe (“Tim’s Best of Show”) made it in since that’s really the only thing I can make that doesn’t involve a grill.

What I find interesting is that the older I get the more similarities I see in our writing styles. This became even clearer the other day when she sent me a piece she had written about 30 years ago. She never did anything with it and I’d never even seen it before. But I think it’s a great little piece of writing and told her I wanted to share it on my blog. It doesn’t have a title since she never got that far but I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Guest Blogger — Lois Schenck

In 1975, a reporter was kind enough to write a very complimentary article about how I manage to be a conductor’s wife, mother of two young children, professional writer and Realtor, all at the same time. What is closer to the truth, however, is that my life is a variation of that old nursery rhyme that goes, “when it is good it is very, very good, and when it doesn’t work, it is horrid.”

There are times when I feel exactly like a New Yorker cartoon I laughed at years ago before it became my logo. It showed two pictures side by side. In the first, an impeccably well-heeled lady was revealed. In the second, the boudoir itself was revealed: a clothing jungle in which no article was left inside a single drawer or closet.

In all fairness to me, the reason for my own jungle is not so much that I hate housekeeping or consider it beneath me, but more a question of priorities. If you are aschenck5going to care about your husband and his career, yourself and your career, your children as people and yourselves as a family, something’s gotta go! When you are trying to choose a dress for your husband’s concert while a pair of jelly-tipped fingers is tugging at you, while you are trying to remember where the maestro put the cufflinks that are supposed to be in the box in his top drawer but aren’t, while a real estate client wants you on the phone and while you are trying to answer some ponderous question like “Mommy, where does my food go after I eat it?” your boudoir is likely to wear the scars for a year!

Whenever I complain about this to my mother she cheerfully reminds me that I didn’t have to have either children or a career, both of which are only true in theory.  But she’s right about one thing. I do lead this crazy existence of mine by choice and, if the truth be known, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of the funniest examples of the kind of people, place and juggling that goes on around here happened about 4:30 on an afternoon when I had just gotten home. Andrew called from the concert hall to say that the soloist for his upcoming concert had just arrived and invited us out to dinner. I knew I couldn’t get a babysitter at that late hour, so joining them was out of the question. But I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity because spending time with guest artists is one of the pleasures of our existence.

Scan 5Could we invite the soloist to our house for dinner? It was already 4:30, a definite minus. I happened to have a pork tenderloin sitting in a lovely Chinese marinade, a definite plus. I also had something in the freezer I could pull out for hors d’oeuvres. Fine.

I decided that if I started right then, I might just be able to set the table, organize the dinner, get the house picked up (forget clean), get the kids fed (forget bathed) and put to bed without feeling rushed to the slaughter, and come out like a reasonable facsimile of a human being.

By some miracle, we had a delightful dinner. So delightful, in fact, that the festivities lasted until 1:00 am, which is fine and dandy until  a very few hours later, breakfast for the nursery school set comes crashing in without even knocking.

As I said before, when it works, those fleeting moments when I feel I might have succeeded in being all things to all people, life is wonderful. But when it doesn’t, when I go flying off to a real estate closing without the termite certificate, without which there can be no closing, or when the baby sitter calls in sick half an hour before we have to leave for a concert, or when any number of things happen to make my much too saturated solution break down.

At moments like this, it is hard to think positive about the joys of multi-tasking, but it does make the pleasures all the more enjoyable. Before Matthew was in Scan 7nursery school, I used to love to keep Timothy home for the day so I could take both boys to one of their father’s children’s concerts. Quite apart from their obvious pleasure in watching their father conduct, my compensation for trying to keep track of two little Indians in a concert was watching them experience some things most children never get a chance to do: climb on an opera prop, bang on the timpani, or take flowers to a star in her dressing room.

Times like these really make me appreciate the specialness of my life, but it’s funny. People invariable envy you for the wrong reasons. Everyone assumes my general state of happiness comes from the excitement of living with someone in the public eye. Actually, the public Andrew Schenck and all the “glamour” that surrounds him excites me far less than the person he is. Among other things, the thrill of being recognized in public brings with it the mixed blessing of being seen in places where you would rather be anonymous like  when the symphony gossip mongers see him in the grocery where he appears on rare occasions and report to their cronies that Andrew Schenck’s mean wife makes him do the grocery shopping!

If anyone is going to envy me, let it for the right reasons. Most of all, the relationship I have with my husband in which the happiness of one is directly related to the happiness of the other.

So many people ask me how I manage the number of roles I juggle that one day I tried to figure it out and came to the single conclusion that I am that rare breed of woman in today’s world: liberated, and very much in love.

Why I Write in Coffee Shops

Coffee and laptop squareAnyone who knows me can attest that I spend a good amount of my time in coffee shops. It’s where I write all my sermons, articles, and blog posts. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where it’s really the only place I can write.

This started innocently enough when we lived in New York. I couldn’t write at the house when Bryna was home with two toddlers running amok and the office had its own share of distractions including nursery school classrooms across the hall. So I began searching for places to write that were conducive to the creative process. I found libraries too quiet and, with young kids at home, a shot of caffeine was always welcome. The ubiquitous New York diners weren’t bad except for the coffee and they aren’t exactly known as havens for writers — I wasn’t going to encounter the next Hemingway at the Pleasantville Diner.

coffee_lab_3_copyThat’s when I stumbled on the newly opened Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown. Not only did they roast all their coffee on site, they were dog-friendly so I started my weekly ritual — Thursday morning sermon writing with Delilah in tow. Over time I became friends with the owners Mike and Alicia and before I knew it there was a whole artistic community forming around good coffee, good conversation, and an environment that kept both the coffee and the creative juices flowing.

There was Julie Anello, a talented oil painter, who showed up most days with a sketch pad to “practice her chops.” She’d unobtrusively sit in a corner by the roaster and draw people before unceremoniously handing them the sketch on her way out. I have countless pencil drawings of both me and Delilah, several of which we keep framed in our house. And Barbara Fischer, a gifted poet who writes under the name B.K. Fischer, has flourished in the years since I left New York. She was always scrambling to write while her children were in those two hour nursery school programs where the time quickly evaporates.

But it wasn’t until I took a two and a half month sabbatical that I realized I could no longer write without good coffee and the creative environment of a coffee shop. People would ask, “Where are you going on your sabbatical?” And I’d say, um, with two young kids at home where would I possibly go and who would tell Bryna? The reality is I spent my sabbatical at Coffee Labs where I finished my first book, What Size Are God’s Shoes: Kids, Chaos, and the Spiritual Life. I’d wake up, help get the kids out the door and head down to Tarrytown to write, drink coffee, enjoy the company of fellow artists and writers, drink more coffee, write some more and then head home. I always referred to this as my sabbatical on training wheels, knowing that one day I’d take a real one (still waiting but hopeful).

lI’ve been reflecting on why I find the coffee shop so conducive to creativity ever since I read a book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Bryna saw it in the library and thought I’d be able to relate (for some reason). She wrote most of the book in a neighborhood cafe after trying unsuccessfully to work from home. She spent time carefully clearing out a writing space, moving filing cabinets, and setting up the ideal home office. The problem was that she “felt too cut off from the world to type a single key-stroke there.”

The cafe worked as my office because it had specific attributes that are absent from many modern schools and workplaces. It was social, yet its casual, come-and-go-as-you-please nature left me free from unwelcome entanglements and able to ‘deliberately practice’ my writing. I could toggle back and forth between observer and social actor as much as I wanted.

In other words, many of us need the dual stimulation of being “alone” in a social setting. I like this environment because I can take a break, chat with people on my own terms, and then go back to work. In recognition of this, there’s a new website/app called Coffitivity that allows you to listen to “coffee shop” ambient background noise to spur creativity. Granted this approach has its limitations as it doesn’t come with freshly roasted coffee, but as they say on the website:

Research shows it’s pretty hard to be creative in a quiet space. And a loud workplace can be frustrating and distracting. But the mix of calm and commotion in an environment like a coffee house is proven to be just what you need to get those creative juices flowing.

introI now do my writing at Redeye Roasters in Hingham which I half-jokingly refer to as my “satellite office.” It’s an artisinal coffee shop that, thanks be to God, opened about a year and a half ago. They’ve been terrific about letting me work there and I’ve done my part to draw customers by writing articles about it and talking it up around the community. It truly is the best coffee shop on the entire South Shore of Boston. The owner, Bob Weeks, graciously donates coffee to St. John’s and I’m very grateful for this. As I like to say about the church, “It’s God’s house not Maxwell’s House” — there’s no reason churches should be havens for lousy coffee served in styrofoam cups.

Of course I’m sitting at Redeye right now on my day off drinking a nice cup of coffee from the Finca el Mirador region of Colombia. There’s plenty of genuine ambient coffee shop noise to fuel this blog post and, of course, I’ll be back later this week to start Sunday’s sermon.

“I am the True Vine”

vine-logoHow’s that for a heretical, Messiah-complex inducing statement? Okay, only Jesus is the true “True Vine” but yesterday I became at least a scraggly branch when I joined Vine. What’s Vine? It’s a mobile app owned by Twitter that allows users to post seven second looping videos to social media.

This was personally monumental for me because I’m not exactly an early adopter of technology. Some people think I’m on the cutting edge because I blog, tweet, etc. but the reality is that it’s all relative. For a middle-aged priest I may appear technologically savvy but compared to your average teenager I’m bordering on luddite.

The irony is that my late father was an early adopter of various technologies. He was one of the first people in the neighborhood to own a video recording device — granted it was a Betamax so it became obsolete rather quickly in the face of VHS. But I remember thrilling my friends by recording an episode of the Dukes of Hazard which we watched over and over again (chase scenes in slow motion!).

yb11_vin_philips2And he was also one of the first people to own a Compact Disc player. Granted it was prompted because the first recording he made came out on CD (he was a symphony orchestra conductor). So when we received copies in the mail of his digital recording with the London Symphony Orchestra we had to be able to play them — yes, it also came out on LP and cassette.

R-1543509-1227286511When I try to explain to people how old I am I retell the story of walking into Tower Records in downtown New York City to purchase my very first CD. There was a tiny section of them off to the side where I picked up my first CD — The Cars — and brought it to the cash register. The young cashier looked up at me breathlessly and said, “You have a CD player?” I blushed and ran out to get back on the subway.

Anyway, I was rather late to the Facebook party, Twitter was around for awhile before I joined, I had a BlackBerry for years before finally switching to an iPhone, and I just got my first Apple laptop within the year (still no iPad). Nonetheless I was inspired to join Vine (which debuted earlier this year) after learning about it at  a meet-up of “social media gurus” at Trinity, Wall Street that I attended last week.

Basically they’re moveable pictures — seven seconds of video is brief. I plan to use Vine as part of my ever-growing arsenal of online ministry tools. After a brief test video shot in my favorite coffee shop, I used it later yesterday to share a video of our newest parishioner at St. John’s. I blessed a baby and then caught the newborn, mom, dad, and big sister on video and shared it (first asking permission) on our parish Facebook page and Twitter account.

Great stuff! And all part of building up the body of Christ — you know, the one who is the “True Vine.”