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.
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December 25, 2015 - Essays: Christmas Day 2015
February 4, 2016 - Essays: Locker Room 3
Locker Room Three
Locker Room Three
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week I suit up
for exercise in the men's locker room at the best little aquatic center in the
free world. I've written about the place twice before. Without photos, for
Last week the manager of the operation dropped by
while I was dressing. One thing led to another, about my talking too much,
and I delivered to him an observation truer than I might be willing to admit,
that in retirement I have been fulfilling John Wesley's claim about his
ministry: "The world is my parish." Especially the locker room at Cornerstone
It is the only place in Central Connecticut that
I am likely to be greeted with a "Hi, pastor." The auto repair people call
me "Reverend," but the intimacy and affection packed into that six letter word
evoking shepherd and sheep always makes me glad to be me. Credit Doug from
Buffalo, seconded by a musicologist with his own weekly hour of classical music
on FM, with their pleasing habit of addressing me as a keeper of the flock.
Which is probably what I am doing, by training
and lifelong practice, engaging those in my circle in conversation sometimes
just banal but often deep and personal. Like Paul, verging on 70, who grew
up in Laurelton, cheek by jowl to Valley Stream, my neighborhood for thirty
years: he's a PhD and marathon swimmer, a gentle soul nonetheless, about whom
there is a great sadness for the loss of an adult child.
Like Sam (Salvatore, really) who credits me every
time he sees me with two choice tidbits of wisdom, that (1) life and most
everything else is a mystery, and (2) make the most of the moment because it is
all we have. And Sam pays me no mind when I tell him the ideas are not
original with me but come from Jesus.
Like Eamon, with a wonderful soft Irish lilt to
his voice, who read our daughter's book about my Mom and my aunt, immigrants
like Eamon from the auld sod. He doesn't share my fondness for Guinness,
preferring chardonnay; but he does share my interest in matters eternal and,
like me, CCRWH, quick to sniff out phoniness in purveyors of religion.
Like Jim, who will be reading this essay, the Dad
who put five children through the best small liberal arts colleges in New
England, a world traveler and lover of opera, who whenever he sees me has
another bon mot to edify me; a generous critic of my musings on this
website, Jim is candid but generous in his assessments of my efforts, hopefully
this one too.
Like David, younger than me by four months, the
former medical director of a local hospital, Princeton hockey defenseman, who
was prep schooled with five of my college classmates, no stranger personally to
medical insults, the fellow I see on Sundays a head above everyone else in the
pews in front of me.
Like Ken, who could have been my classmate at
Trinity College in 1949, a retired insurance agent, fellow Methodist, who pegged
me earlier on as one of those A type personalities, but never held it against
me, conversant always about matters denominational.
Like Greg, a thirty something who had both hips
replaced by the same orthopedist who did my knees, wanting himself to be a doctor
but settling necessarily for a job in one of the Hartford insurance companies,
the fellow with whom I have commiserated about rehab and the difficulty of
getting admitted to med school, an open and unassuming soul with a Greek surname
and an Italian heritage.
Or Patrick the Dublin-educated geriatrician who
must have kissed the Blarney Stone because he once greeted me as I emerged from
the exercise room as the poster boy for successful aging.
Something is missing here. I should say,
someones are missing here. Women. Obviously they have no place in
the men's locker room. But I do have my fairer parishioners, met along the
way to lifting eight pound dead weights and touching my toes. Tweetie
(that's what she told me to call her, Tweetie as in Tweetie Bird), for instance,
raised in Viet Nam, wife of a naval officer there, emigrating of necessity in
the aftermath of the war; an avid exerciser in her seventh decade, declaring in
no uncertain words that those of us born here have no idea how wonderful we have
And Leesa, architect, photographic artist, who
has steered me clear of home repair contractors who cheat, the woman who, with her
husband beside her, sits in front of us at monthly concerts at The Bushnell
named after (the building about which I feel the need to point out) a Hartford pastor whose parish
interests spread far and wide.
Or Alexandria, the fine arts expert from Russia,
gregarious and inquisitive, sometimes unintelligible for her accent, an
occasional companion in the hot tub.
Plus Judy, the French horn player in a local
symphony, trim in her eighth decade, with whom I chat about church (hers is
Lutheran) and stenosis (from which the two of us suffer), an avid exerciser who
still climbs the precipitous slope from the exercise center to her home, which
effort would be an
invitation to someone like me for a heart attack.
My new appointment (the locker room) has not kept
me that busy with ritual duties: just one funeral, ninety year old Jim Bishop;
and one wedding, Jay's younger son. Prayer in the shadow of the shower room
would be unwelcome and more than a little tacky. Still I'm amused by the
congruency of conversations in the locker room with those, in my previous life,
in living rooms and beside hospital beds. Serious doesn't mean somber. Who
we are and what we are is resident in every sentence, holy or wholly mundane,
we utter. I simply relish engaging other souls and even in my ninth decade
am profoundly curious about them.
I don't wear a ritual stole in the locker room,
but my bathing suit is solid black with cardinal trim.