Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My own private elevator speech

In March 2014 millions of people around the world followed the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines 370. We asked, “How could a commercial aircraft with 239 people aboard simply disappear?”

Cognitive neuroscience says our fascination with such mysteries is found deep in our brains. From the age of one, starting with peekaboo, humans seek to make sense of what puzzles us. We crave what researchers call the “puzzle of reality” and we thrill to the “zap of pleasure” when a mystery is solved.

Though we never went to church, as a child I constantly wondered about the mystery of life and the existence of God. As a teenager I joined a church and was comforted by the caring people and the safety of a sure dogma. Then, in college, I stumbled into an Episcopal Church where mystery and faith instantly re-emerged. In the beauty of the prayerbook language, in the sense of community, in the welcome of questions and rigorous conversation on all facets of faith, I found a spiritual home.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the psalmist urges. The Episcopal Church offers something else our brains demand: not only do we taste the bread and wine, but in worship we test each of our senses in turn and always in the company of others.

Taste and see. Allow your mind, heart, and soul to engage the mystery of life and the questions of faith. And perhaps you’ll find the Episcopal Church to be the perfect flavor.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

because celebrity bloggers ought to blog

In the fall of 2004 two things coincided that led to a remarkably rich and prolific (for me, anyway) period in my writing life. It lasted about 18 months.

The first was an incident that shook me deeply. That's pretty much all I will ever say publicly about it, except that it did not involve my family nor did anyone die.

The second is that I audited a class in Celtic spirituality at Bangor Theological Seminary that semester. We were asked to write a personal essay every week. When the class stopped in December, I kept writing. Prior to that I'd written a narrative essay for the editor's column in our diocesan newspaper six times a year, so the weekly deadline radically changed how long an idea had to percolate around in my brain.

To share the work, I started a listserv, publicized it a bit, and emailed a new essay to residents of heidoville every Friday. (I adjusted the population of heidoville each week as new residents moved in.) I also created a website to archive the essays. Eventually, I transferred all the essays - some 60 or so -  and some newer ones I wrote as a monthly columnist for Episcopal Cafe to this blog. The world was changing and paying to host a website seemed silly.

In February 2006, I started a new three-quarter time job at the Genesis Community Loan Fund while remaining a quarter-time communication consultant with the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. With the new schedule, Friday writing went out the window. Plus my two sons were in middle school and required a whole lot of carting around each day. For a year or two, I was able to deliver for the Cafe but then I returned to the Diocese full-time as Canon for Communications and Social Justice. Over the past four years, I've written an essay only when it has put a knife to my throat and demanded it be written.

So I've never been a blogger, really, or certainly a celebrity. I'm just someone looking to hang essays on the web for free.

There's a scene in the Coen brothers' film The Big Lebowski when one character - a German nihlist complaining that his friend's girlfriend sacrificed her pinkie toe in order to obtain ransom money that isn't, come to find out, forthcoming - wails, "It's not fair!"

Now the Coens know that nihlists bickering and arguing over what's fair and what isn't fair is funny stuff, (especially when they're complaining to an unsympathetic John Goodman.) If you care about nothing, you pretty much forfeit the right to complain about injustices you suffer.

There were elements to the incident of the fall of 2004 that still strike me as deeply unfair. The outpouring of words that started then was the timely collision of a deeper-than-normal dreaminess on my part driven by intense reflection on the incident and the rigor of a weekly assignment for my seminary class.

Extreme dreaminess plus discipline plus Friday mornings to work in quiet equal, I think, what Flannery O'Connor called - having borrowed the term from the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain who borrowed it from Cicero's writing on rhetoric - the habit of art. 

Frankly, I fear the situations and emotions that are intense enough to send me to a place of such dreaminess. However, as I look back on that body of work, it seems a fair price. No one died, after all.

I'm not sure what it would take - what igniting spark of emotional turmoil, what chunk of free time, what enforced discipline would be enough to launch another wave of writing for me?

Turning 50, my twin sons off to college, and a reading public that demands a weekly essay?

It's impossible to say.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

La Beaupré

Last week Martin and I paused on this slope again at Mont Sainte Anne.

Here's the original essay.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gifts and Glazing Windows

One lazy summer afternoon my friend Christine and I sat on the rickety porch talking about absolutely nothing while our kids ran around outside. At one point she gazed over my shoulder and in her calm mother-of-six voice said, “Ah, you’re missing a window pane there, Heido.”

I looked behind me and sure enough a pane was just…gone. We stepped outside to the deck and the troops gathered around. Everyone had to stick a hand through the hole. At the base of the window the glass lay, unbroken but sheepish.

“If you don’t fix that, Mom, the flies will get in,” my ever-helpful son Martin said, poking at the neighboring pane with a stick. It clattered to the deck. “That one too.”

Well, there was no way around it. It was summer. Maine has bugs. It had to be fixed before nightfall. Before long I was back on my deck with glazing compound and glazier points. I don’t know where I learned to fix window panes – maybe growing up on a farm or the summer I painted college dorms – but it’s something I know how to do.

Warming to the task, I began the fun of rubbing a snake of glazing compound between my palms. I relished the satisfaction of placing a little metal point in just the right spot to keep the pane snug against the sash and the expert flick of the putty knife smoothing the compound so pretty and even. Except that when I finished, it wasn’t. It wasn’t in the same hemisphere as pretty and even. What it was, was -- marginally -- okay. But here’s the truth: as homely and unprofessional as my panes looked, I was a little proud.

As I stood on my deck dodging annoyed bees and wielding my putty knife, I began to wonder if that’s how the gifts of God work: some of us have general ability in a number of fields, some of us are tremendously capable in one area. Some of us have strong minds, some of us have strong backs. Some congregations have a powerful call to one ministry, some are drawn to many missions of a limited scope. Some priests are gifted in pastoral work, some are drawn to other pastures.

If that is true, then there’s the beauty, the symmetry of our life as the Church of Christ – on the parish, diocesan, Church-wide, and Communion-wide stage. Each one, each entity has a niche but we need what the others bring to the table to be complete. We tend to think of gifts as big, bold offerings, but perhaps some of us are gifted with the ability to do a lot of things well enough. It’s not a flashy gift like preaching or singing or running a tight meeting, but what congregation could do without those few capable and willing souls who are there, day after day, doing what needs to be done. And how do we shake the crazy notion that a certain way of being a church or a priest or a saint is more valuable to the Kingdom of God than any other?

My late father, who insisted that knowing how to shingle a roof was a life skill his children needed to possess, used to say of himself, “A jack of all trades, master of none.” He always said it with a self-deprecating chuckle, but we knew he wore it like a badge of honor. I think God has created a lot of people like my dad and me, those who can do long division in a pinch, tie on a fishing lure, roast a turkey, comfort a friend or write a heck of a good letter when the need arises.

Those among us with tremendous ability or a singular talent are dear to us for showing us God’s image so clearly. Those with broader gifts sound the daily gentle hum of the Spirit of Christ in our midst, and they sure are handy to have around when a window pops out.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Making Room for the Piano

When your kids are in third grade and you’re in the midst of a construction project and you discover that the foundation of your mudroom needs to be replaced and that while you’re at it adding a second floor room wouldn’t cost too much more – when all that happens, building an upstairs playroom sounds like a good idea.

At least it sounded like a good idea to my husband Scott and me in the summer of 2003.

A playroom would build a breakwater to keep the relentless surge of kid junk from spilling into the other rooms. We could get a bumper pool table. Scott could finally have a place for the 1980s pinball machine he’d been hankering to buy from Mike Knudsen. We could set up our old dartboard. At last we’d have a place to hang the entertaining campaign posters we stole from lawns across the Micronesian island of Saipan when we were teachers there in our youth.

And it was a good idea. Vast Lego and Playmobil cities spread out and could be left for days at a time without ever puncturing the tender parental foot at midnight. Pinball machines came and went. Posters and memorabilia from vacations were added to the walls. But slowly – especially in recent years as our twin sons have entered high school and are more apt to request iTunes gift cards instead of Nerf guns – it has become a place to dump stuff no one knows what to do with: old computer monitors and obsolete gadgets, clothes meant for the rummage sale that never quite made it, a castoff electronic putting green from Granddad that nobody really wanted but couldn’t not accept.

All four of us are guilty of covert dumping, especially Colin, who is responsible for the layer of cream cheese adhered to the surface of the bumper pool table from a bagel he laid down one afternoon in the late 20-oughts. While we’ve been living with growing playroom chaos for several years, today something happened that caused me to take the matter in hand: Scott finally consented to procuring for Colin a real piano.

It’s a problem when your child starts playing the piano at the late age of 15 and it becomes apparent after the first two months that he really knows what he’s about. Recriminations of “Why didn’t you start me with lessons when I was small?” have often cut deep to the maternal heart this last year. Colin’s dissatisfaction with our ancient digital Yamaha Clavinova became apparent about six months ago. “The action,” he said, “it sucks. I can’t play Debussy with that thing. I need a real piano!”

“Well, I can’t play Debussy, either,” I replied. “And your dad doesn’t believe in real pianos in Maine. He’s certain they don’t stay in tune in this climate, so don’t hold your breath, kid,” I warned.

Perhaps it was when Granddad, over for dinner recently, gave Scott a certain look that said, “I supported your interests when you were young,” that made him relent. All I know is that last Friday I returned from a work trip to Miami and suddenly there, on the kitchen table, was a copy of Maine’s quirky classified ad magazine, “Uncle Henry’s” with an entry circled: “Chickering baby grand. $500. Call after 5. Kennebunkport.”

In many ways 2003 feels like last week. Our boys were a perfectly sweet nine years old, and I was writing pieces about the election of Gene Robinson. Now they’re almost 17 and thinking about colleges and +Gene just announced his retirement. How do these things happen?

I don’t feel a day older. But here’s the thing: Scott and I work at the same places. We live in the same house. We eat the same food and read the same magazines and wear (sad to say) many of the same clothes. Lots of things have happened around us since 2003 but a remarkable number have stayed the same. Except boys: they grew an alarming number of inches and shoe sizes and turned from funny, smart, adorable little boys into funnier, smarter, handsome young men.

So amidst the work of clearing out all of the plastic bins and bookshelves and tubs of junk in the playroom, I had trouble accepting that no one wanted the mongo T-Rex that had been such a prized possession. Everyone but I was indifferent to the Mr. Potatohead that had served as a space capsule for intrepid Playmobil pirates on so many adventures to the planet of Zumbar.

I started a pile on top of the pool table for things I couldn’t throw away: one of the little black super-soft stuffed puppies I bought for the boys the day after my father died. We’d been out buying chocolate to take back to the nursing staff at the hospital and, when the children pleaded, I couldn’t say no.

“Hey, Martin,” I hollered. “C’mere.” After a moment my wise wrestler-poet leaned on the doorway to the playroom. “What do I do with some of this? I can’t chuck it.”

“Aw,” he said, fingering first a beanie baby hedgehog that his Kindergarten teacher had given him and then a much beloved Star Wars X-Wing Starfighter.

“Make a nostalgia pile and we’ll go through it later,” he said, leaving me sitting on the floor surrounded by the vestigial tokens of our precious family life. But, well-adjusted person that he is, Martin left with nary a trace of nostalgia in his deep voice. He’s ready for the next thing.

In the Diocese of Maine – and in many places across the Episcopal Church and indeed, we’ve heard in recent months, in other denominations – we are embarking on a strange journey and asking ourselves many questions about how to transform the Church to meet the needs of a changing world. Our diocese is one year into a study process that is compelling us to look at both our mission strategies and our mission priorities. The coming year will reveal an emerging set of both. And, I gotta say, I’m curious about what they’ll look like and how they’ll be received.

It all started in October 2009 when Bishop Steve Lane offered a convention address that stunned members of our diocese with its combination of forthright truth-telling and the firm reassurance that together, with God, we will walk through whatever comes next.

Click here to hear the address.

In his sermon last month at our 2010 diocesan convention, Bishop Lane had this to say:

“The process of adaptive change is many things: a journey from one paradigm to another, a journey through a new and risky landscape, a journey often without a clear destination - but most of all it is a spiritual journey, a journey from habitual ways of being and doing to a closer, more trusting and self-conscious relationship with God. The journey we're on will require a change of heart and a new spirit in every congregation. It will require all of us to be flexible and to take risks…

“The ways we serve God, the shape of our communities, the nature of our buildings, the relationship between clergy and people - all these may change. But our call to announce the good news of God's merciful presence with us never changes and never ends.”

Our church is a lot like my family’s playroom. It’s hard to believe that time has passed and the same practices that have given us such pleasure and comfort over time are no longer relevant or in demand by the people around us: the people we’re called by Jesus to serve. Our nostalgia pile heaps to overflowing. And, yet, as my boss maintains – ever confident in the love of God that holds us altogether and all together - we don’t quite yet know what will take the place of all the things that we must give up.

Seven years ago, if you had told Scott and me that we would be buying a piano for the playroom so Colin could play Chopin and Mompou with such dazzling skill and passion, we would have said you were crazy. “This kid has fine motor skills below the 5th percentile,” we would have sighed. “Piano lessons would be a frustrating, futile effort for us all.”

But it turns out all the people who took a gander at him were right. “This kid has many strengths. He will compensate. He will turn out great!”

We couldn’t have imagined a piano in our playroom, but Colin had other plans.

Perhaps if we, as a people of God, let go of some of the things we can’t imagine our corporate life without, then possibilities we can’t imagine will emerge is the space left behind. The hard truth is that there’s not enough room for everything.

Right now, as I listen to the lovely sound of Beethoven coming from the grossly inadequate Yamaha in the living room, I can just hear the sweet strains of what might be possible.

Winner of a 2011 Polly Bond Award for devotional writing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Intervening in the Lives of Goats

Intervening in the lives of goats

By Heidi Shott

Fifteen years ago this week five friends enjoyed a picnic on the west coast of Ireland just north of Galway. We had ham and cheese, good bread and a tube of spicy mustard perfect for a cutlery-free, wayside lunch. I suspect there were cookies and cherries and probably pickles. We ate perched on a jumble of rocks – not unlike the coast of Maine – high above that side of the Atlantic. It was a wonderful lunch, full of happy banter. It was the kind of lunch I would have remembered years later even if what happened next hadn’t happened.

After lunch, my friend Denise and I decided to pick our way along the rocks. We hadn’t gone far before we heard the insistent, unmistakable bleat of goats. We walked toward the sound and looked over a precipitous edge. Twenty feet below three goats – two grownups and a kid – balanced on a narrow ledge. Bleating, panting and standing amid clumps of goat poop, these were not happy goats. The drop facing the sea was much greater than the 20 feet above.

Oh dear. A goat crisis.

Denise, a physician, is used to fixing things and immediately started to make suggestions about how to effect a rescue. We tossed a few implausible ideas around but after a moment we yelled, “Scott!” My husband, the best kind of troubleshooter, ambled over with our other companions, Chris and Mo, whose turn it was to pack up the lunch things.

“They’re goats. They’ll figure it out. That’s what goats do,” he said dismissively. “They leap up and down rocks and ledges.”

“But they look hot and panicky,” I moaned.

“There’s a lot of goat shit down there and they appear to be dehydrated,” said Denise. “They’ve been stuck down there a long time.” She looked around to a couple of cottages a quarter-mile in either direction along the coast. “Maybe we should tell a farmer.”

Scott howled and his native West Virginian accent suddenly shifted to Irish: “Now, Jimmy, do you remember the time when we were kids and the daft Americans stopped by to inquire as to the welfare of the goats?” He looked at Denise and me. “They’ll be telling that story 50 years from now.”

After another ten minutes of heated goat debate, we conceded defeat and piled into our rental car. We stopped for the night in Galway where, at the modern Cathedral, I looked around for my friends before dropping an Irish punt into a tin and lighting three candles for the you-know-whats.

The goat affair wasn’t the first time I’d been tempted to intervene in matters outside my sphere of responsibility. About four years earlier, just a few weeks before we moved to Maine from West Virginia, I sat down in a colleague’s office at the newspaper and told him that there was something I thought he should know. I thought he should know that there were rumors floating around town that he was having an affair with a church secretary. I said I knew the rumors would be hurtful to his wife and daughter. I admired this man.

“I don’t know how these things get started,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I appreciate you telling me, but there’s nothing to it.” He deftly shifted the conversation to some loose ends with a story I was working on. He walked me back to the stairs.

“You did what?” Scott asked me when I told him I’d talked to Keith. “It’s not your place to intervene.” Months later we learned that Keith and the church lady had run off to North Carolina. It hadn’t lasted. After a month he slouched back to his wife.

Despite my acute embarrassment, I wondered if I still hadn’t done the right and caring thing by talking to him. I had intervened with a good heart and loving intentions. But feeling burned, I also decided to never put myself in that position again. I’d mind my own business in the future. Later, when it came to the goats, I didn’t insist on intervening and it’s haunted me ever since. My good friend Denise knows this and every few years, after we’ve had a few glasses of wine, she’ll lean back in her chair, look to the ceiling, and muse, “I wonder what happened to those goats?”

I was pondering this fine line between saint and busybody one morning last week while driving Colin, one of my 13 year-old twin sons, to school. For someone who considers himself an agnostic with deistic leanings, Colin has an awful lot of questions about religion. We’d been cruising along in pleasurable silence when Colin asked me to buy him a copy of the Koran. “I need to know more about Islam,” he said.

“You need to know more about Christianity,” I countered. By the time we crossed the bridge over Great Salt Bay, we’d moved onto the central theme of Christianity. As in, “So, Mom, what is it?”

Easily nailed! “Matthew chapter 20-something: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” (I realized, however, such imprecision would not impress my high school Bible quiz team coach.)

“So if you do those two you’ll automatically keep the ten commandments?” Colin asked as we turned into his school’s driveway. “They sort of take care of all the wrong things you might otherwise do?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” I said, the ever-deficient carpool theologian.

But as he leaned his head in the rear passenger door to grab his backpack, he delivered the zinger: “Well, I don’t need to be a Christian to love my neighbor.” And then with a cluck of his tongue – our schoolyard signal that means ‘I love you but I don’t want to say it in front of the whole world’ – he turned and was gone.

He’s right, of course. Some of the most wonderful, selfless, appropriate interveners I know would not characterize themselves as Christian.

The problem is that I’m not one of them. I’m not at all selfless but I am a Christian. After all these years of trying to live this stuff, I am yet to figure out where the line should be drawn between loving involvement and benign indifference to the people I walk this world among.

Amid the ridiculous busyness of two jobs, two kids, two school boards, many friends, one house, one garden and one husband who is lobbying to host a lobster feed for 60 people on the fourth of July – amid all this – I can’t quite figure out whom to love first or in whose life I should intervene.

Jesus commands me to love my neighbor, which, according to the wristband I’m wearing, means everybody in the whole wide world. It also means enforcing a consistent computer policy with Colin. It also means visiting my 84 year-old mom more than once a year and supporting my brother in his care of her. It also means checking in more regularly with my friend who’s going through a hard divorce. It also means making time to go to town with my sons to choose goodies to send to the four children of our friend Alex who are living on their own in Ghana while he works to support them in England. It means everything in between.

In this world where it’s possible to know so much about so many, how can we possibly manage to do what Jesus asks?

In the Galway Cathedral, I lighted three candles and prayed for the goats. If we’d jumped down onto the ledge to try to hoist them up, we would have failed and irredeemably soiled our shoes. If we’d gone to the nearest cottage to report the goat situation, we would have been the worst sort of tourists. So I prayed, dropped a coin in the box – such good work as had been prepared for me to walk in. That was June 1992. Four years before I’d sat trembling in a chair just before I told a good and kind man something I thought he needed to know, something I thought no one else would tell him.

Last Christmas morning, I opened a package from Denise. In recent years we’ve tried to scale back on the gift-giving and have taken to donating to good causes in our families’ names. Inside the box was a card with the Heifer Project logo. “In honor of the Shott Family: Three Goats.” Below, in her hand, I read, “They’re not Irish goats, but I did the best I could.”

Heifer International

Uncle Walt Keeps the Gate

July 18, 2007

My Uncle Walt died last Tuesday, just a few weeks shy of his 92nd birthday. An extremely pious Roman Catholic, he considered my father’s older sister, Alene, his wife until the day he passed on – 32 years after she left a short note and skipped out of the house like a school girl.

He was a goofy kind of guy, but I always liked him. He played the guitar and sang; he wore moccasins; he liked to play catch. He was a terrible driver. He liked to swim in the lakes in our part of central New York and appreciated my mother’s willingness to swim with him when no one else would. He used Grecian Formula on his gray hair and everybody knew it.

But his outstanding characteristic was his profound devotion to the Church. He made his daughters say the rosary every night. As a small child I remember staying overnight at their house and reading comic books while they fingered their beads and murmured the prayers over and over. It was both extremely exotic (they were the only Catholics in our extended clan) and extremely boring. It seemed to last for hours and hours as I lay flopped on their living room davenport, as Aunt Alene always called the sofa, listening to the cadence of their voices and watching my two older cousins glance at their watches and one another.

Uncle Walt was exceedingly frail when I saw him last at my father’s funeral in 2000. As we sat with our baked ham and potato salad after Dad’s informal service on the side lawn of the family farm, Uncle Walt told me how he drove each Sunday to Syracuse (at least an hour’s drive) to hear the Latin mass. The thought of an 85 year-old Uncle Walt driving on the New York State Thruway was truly terrifying.

He died on Tuesday, the day Pope Benedict XVI released his statement which contends, in part, that Protestant denominations are no more than “Christian communities.” This reiteration of the “Dominus Iesus” declaration of 2000 and the news last week about the lifting of restrictions for the Latin mass may very well have been too much of a good thing for the old guy. He must have died a happy man. Things were finally swinging his way!

No one else in our family was religious, including another uncle who was an American Baptist minister. The rest of us were Protestants merely because we weren’t Catholic or Jewish or Zen Buddhist. So it’s funny that my most enduring childhood memory of spending time with Uncle Walt and Aunt Alene is of those Sundays when they dragged me to Mass and I had to sit alone while they went up for Communion. It was my first experience of exclusion.

“You’re part of our family for everything else. You can wear hand-me-downs from your cousins. You can drink milk from the special Mary Poppins cup. You can fall asleep on our laps after you’ve run around in the backyard and we’ll stoke the damp hair off your hot forehead. But at Mass on Sundays you can’t approach, much less partake of the body of Jesus. Nope, sorry. Not allowed. Stay in your seat and be a good girl. We’ll be right back.”

It seems we Christians…of virtually every stripe…are very good at being gatekeepers of Jesus. When we humans attempt, through sophisticated theological debate or literal scriptural interpretation or the occasional lively claim of divine revelation, to have the corner on the Jesus market, it scares me. I’ve been there and can’t forget the sucky way it made me feel. Implicit in the act of keeping the gate is the notion that the keeper has access to information and power and knowledge and secret handshakes that the rest of us don’t.

I’ve always been tickled by the practice – started in Mormon youth groups, I recall – of determining one’s actions by asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”

Here’s my answer: “I don’t know! I’m not Jesus!”

As a parent of two young teenagers, I’m beginning to realize there’s a day in the not-so-distant future when they are going to shake our hands and say (I hope), “thank you, lovely parents.” Then they will walk out that door. When confronted with the inevitable choices life will bring their way, I hope to God they don’t ask, “What would my Mom do?” I want them to do the right thing because it’s what they know they should do. I want them to remember how we’ve taught them to live and to how we’ve taught them to treat the people they encounter. If they have to pause to ask the question, then I fear for the answer.

Jesus, that savvy teacher, left us such good, simple instructions. If we heed them well and faithfully, we shouldn’t have to stop and think.

There has been a lot of interesting talk about open communion in these parts and I understand (most of) the conversation and appreciate the arguments on both sides. The recent posts reminded me of my college roommate reading aloud a letter from an old boyfriend who was an agnostic and fairly cynical about Christian faith. He wrote that he was attending an Episcopal Church and that he liked the ritual. He “relished” walking up the aisle and taking Communion.

“Eeeuuuwww,” we both said when she read that part. “That’s creepy.”

But now I’m not so sure. Maybe the mysterious act of taking communion was the start of something for that young man. Maybe, as the songwriter Bruce Cockburn sang a few years later, “spirits open to the thrust of grace.” Who am I to say?

But then again, maybe being shut off from something mysterious and holy, something I didn’t understand when I was seven or eight, maybe that fed my yearning for the things of God. Maybe I’m still pondering these things decades later because they weren’t just handed to me. Does it matter how the gift is given? Does it matter how it is received?

But not everyone is an asker of questions. God gifts some people with the different propensities. Some people are like my Uncle Walt whose passion for the Blessed Mother and the Roman Catholic Church was all consuming. His need to keep that gate in place was as clear to him as breathing.

What does the question-asker do with an Uncle Walt?

Seven years ago, at my father’s funeral, I balanced a chinet plate on my lap and listened to him tell me about the Nocturnal Adoration Society. The next day I prayed he wouldn’t kill anyone while driving to the Latin mass in Syracuse.

Then today, I sent some flowers.