Welcome to the website of a retired United Methodist pastor! This corner of the Internet continues nearly fifty years of a weekly column in a church newsletter, on topics ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The opinions expressed are the author's and represent no institution, although it is hoped that within these pages you will find a reflection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who, in his own borrowed words, insists that we love God with, along with all the rest of what we are, our minds. "Critical" as used in the title does not mean being nasty or grumpy; it means using intellectual faculties in the service of God. Your reactions, rebuttals, comments, and questions can be addressed to: BobHow9846@comcast.net.
If you would like to be put on an "alert" list, the better to receive Email alerts to the posting of new material on this website, please indicate that intent with Email to BobHow9846@comcast.net.
September 29, 2016 - Personal Matters: "Mortalized"
October 26, 2016 - Essay: Growing Older
I stepped into the fifteen seat shuttle bus for the return to the parking
lot from the ferry
I stepped into the fifteen seat shuttle bus for the return to
the parking lot from the ferry. I was the sixteenth passenger. Two
young women rose to offer me their seats. I declined their kindness.
It wasn't chivalry. I blurted out, "No thank you. Refusal is the last
vestige of my attempts to deceive myself into thinking I am younger than I am." Another
woman, standing large and smiling, suggested I grab the overhead railing to
steady myself as the bus moved. She also suggested that I could fall into
her if it came to that, and I would be well-cushioned.
Later that evening having returned to West Hartford, I opened
the mail. An oversized envelope from a division of the DMV carried a plastic sign to be hung from the rearview mirror. I wrote my signature on
the sign and listed the last four digits of my Connecticut driver's license. The
sign reads on a field of blue with a wheelchair icon:
The following day, Sunday, after church I drove, as is our wont, to Starbucks
and occupied the handicapped parking space twenty-five feet from the front door,
went inside, and drank my cappuccino.
Stenosis humbles me. But the sign emboldens me. I
can now park downtown next to the restaurant that sells my favorite oysters.
Trips to the supermarket are no longer framed with small anxieties about how far
from the checkout counter I'll have to walk. Friends and neighbors may be
more inclined to include me in their entertainment excursions... if I bring
along my blue plastic sign to hang in their car... next to the front door of the
Of course, some of you will needle me with your predictable
admonitions to be more optimistic, less complainy.
As I explain to my gym buddies who, unlike me, are full of vim
and vigor, the biggest problem in growing older is accepting dependency.
I.e., restricted mobility parking signs. I spent seventy of the past
eighty-five years doing everything myself. (Well, sure, I didn't do much
cooking or cleaning, and I left major car repairs to the garage mechanic.)
But I built a cabin, refinished gym floors, clipped hedges, set up and tore down
chairs and tables for church dinners, chased teenagers smoking pot from dark
corners of the church property, flushed ice from frozen drains on the block-long
parish house, plus many other church-keeping chores about which I was told over
and again, "Pastor, you shouldn't have to do that." Of course, I didn't
but I enjoyed doing it, and, I confess, taking unsaintly pride in my moment of
strength and savvy.
The savvy may remain, but the strength is gone.
In the years of my ascendancy I pondered the King James
Version version of the first Beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit. for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven." That seems counterintuitive.
Surely it is the strong in spirit who should get God's blessing. Still I figured
Jesus usually makes sense, so there should be something to his blessing on those
who, in the translation of the New English Bible, "know their need of God."
Like: the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That is, a due regard
for one's own mortality provides a solid place to stand when viewing the world
and your own place in it.
We are always dependent on the grace of God, when strong and
savvy no less than when hanging a restricted mobility sign on the rearview
But I detect an additional message in the first Beatitude,
other than our dependence on the deity, good fortune, or however you identify
the agency which holds our lives in and out of balance. Namely, that we
are also dependent on each other for a blessed condition. My, my, how often I
have thought that thought lately watching my helpmate toasting the bread and
putting mayonnaise on slices of roast turkey for my lunch. Or sat at my desk at
the front window of my den and followed the landscaper preparing our lawn for
its winter sleep... as at this very moment I write.
Toward the end, as at the beginning, of our lives our need of
each other is simply the terms on which we have life. Maybe that is also
what Jesus means when he tells us that unless we become as children we shall not
enter the kingdom of heaven. Maybe that is also what he means by insisting
the first shall be last and vice versa. Our society has an aggravated
appreciation for the rugged individualist. Getting older is the cure for that fantasy of
Next time I'll take the seat on the bus a young woman offers