Belittled Bum Begs for a Good Word

I am navigationally challenged. Thanks to map apps, I get around okay in Houston. But apps are not much help when deciding the best parking garage to use in the Texas Medical Center.

I was thinking about that one day on my way to visit a parishioner in the hospital. A day when I also proved to be charitably challenged.

I had a lot on my mind – not least of which was that I’d parked in the wrong garage for my destination.

So, having parked the car and entered the nearest building, I made my way to the information desk of a friendly old man that I’d met once before under similar circumstances.

Back then, just like today, I was lost.

I said, “I need your help. How do I get to such and such hospital, this tower” (and so forth)?

He said, “Well, the easiest way would be to go back out that door, get in your car …”

My pride interrupted him: “No, I’ll walk,” I said.

“Okay, go out this door, head down the sidewalk to the third stoplight …” etc.

So, I did.

The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world with one of the highest densities of clinical facilities for patient care, basic science, and translational research.  The Medical Center receives over five million annual patient visits, including over ten thousand international patients. In 2006, the center employed over 75,000 people, including 4,000 physicians and 11,000 registered nurses.

That day, as I made my way down the sidewalk, there were people bustling all about in multicolored Scrubs and white lab jackets.

Then there was me, the man in black, walking in my rapid pace through the bustling throng.

“Good morning, Father.”

I had a lot on my mind. I was thinking about having parked so far away, how hot it was …

“Good morning, Father.”

… the person I was going to see in the hospital, the one who was dying across town … what was for dinner …

“I said, Good morning, Father.”

“Morning” – I mumbled, sort of under my breath. (I promise, I did!)

Bums. They’re everywhere in a big city. Here they were sitting across this little wall that lined the sidewalk.

Where was I?  Oh – yeah. I had a lot on my mind; hurry to see this gal … run over later to see the other one.

“I said, good morning, Father!”

Good grief! Is that the beggar still yelling after me?

Keep walking, I thought. Just keep moving.

“I said, good morning, Father!”

Now, y’all, this was getting ridiculous.

Without thinking, I turned ‘round and said, “I said, GOOD MORNING!”

[silence]

Crickets

Uh-oh.

It was like slow motion. All eyes were on me, the gray, wasted eyes of the old beggar, those bedraggled looking few who sat with him – even the Professionals in scrubs and white jackets (who seemed to have multiplied to 4 million).

All of ‘em.

Staring at the mean ol’ man in black.

I quickly turned and continued my way, thinking: “Well, you sure blew that one, didn’t ya!”

Oh, sure. Part of me – that other voice in my head – tried to justify my actions. But the rest of me wasn’t buying it.

Soon, I was in the cold air-conditioned environs of the hospital.

Smiling faces who did not know what a Meany I was, saying things like, “Good morning” … “Hi” … and “Father.”

My smile and response felt fake. Hypocritical.

Alone in the elevator on the way up to the room, I quickly fished out my wallet hoping that I had some money in there. Hoping that, good grief … please don’t tell me that all I have is a TWENTY.

Aha!

I had two bills: a ONE and a FIVE.

In hopes of redeeming myself when I had to pass the beggar’s block on my long walk back to the parking garage, I decided I’d give the ol’ guy a ONE.

Then, thinking to find some sympathy from the ailing parishioner whom I was visiting, I related the event as I was setting up to give her Communion.

Instead of forgiving me, even justifying me, she looked at me with a mix of sorrow and empathy. I knew what I had to do.

On my way back down the elevator I reopened my wallet and took out the FIVE.

Then, on second thought, I combined the ONE and the FIVE.

That’s it!  I’ll give the beggar everything I have. My Widow’s Mite.

 SIX whole dollars.

As I headed toward the hospital’s exit, it dawned on my prideful self that the same faces – those seemingly 8,000,000 eyes would now witness my beneficence. In short, that proved the least of my worries.

For when I got outside … UNBELIEVABLE!

The sidewalk was empty. Not only were the hustlers and bustlers gone, so were the beggars.

It was just the man in black taking his long, lonely stroll down the sidewalk, looking right, and left, only to catch his multiplied reflections in the hospital windows; totally caught up in the present, hoping to redeem himself.

To no avail.

The past was gone. The present wasn’t presenting as he’d hoped.

I put the six bucks back in my wallet and headed back to church.

I hate to sound like some sappy email FORWARD, but I wondered …

No, I was sure!

It was providential.  I’d come face to face with Christ and blown it.

Ain’t that the way?

I’d said my prayers that morning, put on my professional Christian clothes, and was on my way to visit an ailing parishioner in the hospital … and then

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!  This is a test.

For the next 60 seconds the Sovereign is conducting a test of the Emergency Salvation System …

My mind raced.

What if I’d passed the beggar, gotten frustrated (as I had) by his continual “Good Morning” … turned and, “I said, ‘Good Morning!”

Only to be hit by a bus.

And then … as I swim through the ether making my way toward the bright white light, a big omnipresent voice says: “Good Morning!”

And I yell:  I ALREADY SAID GOOD MORNING!  HOW MANY TIMES I GOTTA …

Whougggggggggghhhhhhh !!!

Well, you get the picture.

Coming soon to a bookstore near you:

Fr Joseph Goes to Hell

Or

Mumble Good Morning, Save Six Bucks!

Or

How NOT to be a Christian

By Fr Joseph Huneycutt

Maybe I should write those works under a pseudonym. Ya think?

Thank God I didn’t have to deliver a speech for that summer’s Oratorical competition.

The theme for the contest was taken from the Anaphora prayers said during the Divine Liturgy:

“Be mindful, O Lord, of those who bear fruit and do good works in thy holy Churches, and who remember the poor.”

And I was FULL of ideas!  (At least, ideas for someone else.)

One of my ideas was for my teenager to stop and – I’d spot a few bucks – give some money to a beggar and then get their name to pray for them.

I said, “You could say, ‘I’d like to include you in my prayers. My name’s Mary Catherine. What’s your name?’”

She said, “Dad … ummm. Trust me, my name’s going to be SARAH!”

Heh!

Touché. She did have a point there.

In my own hypocrisy, I mused that it would be cool if one of the teens admitted that THEY were the poor. In other words, actions speaking louder than words; if an orator was to admit that THEY were the ones who needed help … THEY were the ones in need of your prayers …

That’d be a way to put a new spin on it.

Still. I hear that voice: “I said, Good Morning, Father.”

The Oxford English Dictionary says that the phrase “Good Morning” comes from “God give you good morning” – the same for “good evening” and “good night.”

GOD give you good ________________.

There’s also “Goodbye” which is shorthand for: “God be with ye.”

Alas, I hadn’t even yelled “Goodbye” to the beggar.

Rather, I’d said something like: “God give you a good morning! –Ninny, Nanny, Boo-Boo!

Which leads me to this:

St John Chrysostom said: “When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling, and have not listened to him.”

That’s heavy.

“When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling, and have not listened to him.”

Hummph.

In all sincerity, God give you GOOD DAY!

And do pray. Pray for the poor. Pray for the poor souls out there.

And pray for me. The belittled bum.

BTW. My name is … uh, SARAH.

[Taken from an old Orthodixie podcast from back in the day.]

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Theophany Poem – Come Lord, Cleanse Thou Me

How is it that my Creator comes to me?I’m not worthy.
To quench is my fate.
THIRST
All can relate.
Before Eden thou wast; even before the flood.
I parted for Thy people at the behest of Moses, Thy chosen one.
I’ve whetted e’ery path man’s trod; every field he’s plo’d.
At Thy command I came to be; my rest shall be in Thee.
Tell me Lord, what brings Thee to me? I’m not worthy,
I must confess.
Me? I cleanse from sweat, dirt, sand, and disease.
Washed away are cares and burdens — the soot of the day —
in my waves.
John calls forth the people.
In their salvation I participate.
Yet, to Thee, how can I relate?
For without, I’d not be.
Jest it seems!
(Agent of cleansing feels dirty in the presence of the King.)
Cleanse me, O Lord, that I may be worthy of Thee.
THIRST
I am water.
I lack nothing but Thee.
At Thy baptism, O Lord, Thou hast found me worthy.
Quenching, cleansing:
paths, fields, people,
salvation;
I
shall ne’er be the same.

Come Lord Jesus,
cleanse Thou me!

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Living Faith / Dying Dionysius

Charles “Dionysius” Caldwell

Few men impact our individual lives, casting a bright shadow that looms long and large.  In the days since burying my former Pastoral Theology professor, Charles Caldwell, I have pondered my small cadre.  Should the Lord tarry and my life continue, perhaps I’ll know others.  For now, I count giants on one hand.  The Very Rev’d Dr Charles Caldwell is one. `

After serving 50 years as an Episcopal priest, Charles Caldwell converted to Orthodoxy shortly before he died, taking St Dionysius the Areopagite as his patron.  It was my great and humbling pleasure to Confess, Chrismate, Commune, and Anoint him.  Two weeks later, I was blessed to bury him.

A bit of back story:

The guy was a nut job.  Even his sister, when asked at the funeral, “Was he always slightly crazy?” replied, “Slightly?”  He was a wild man.  Although having lost a leg due to cancer years before I met him, it’s hard to picture the man being still.  Imbedded in my mind is a constantly moving image of Fr Caldwell hustling to class – prosthetic leg flailing, cane digging forward, a plethora of gravity-tempting books and xeroxes sloppily clenched under one arm, dark trench coat and longish oily hair flailing about; as usual, he was late for class.  It was a sight to see; still is.  He lives on in my mental loop:  smiling, never still; slightly crazy, still.

I came to Nashotah House in the summer of 1989.  Long before classes began that fall, the rumors and tales of Fr Caldwell began to paint the man larger than life.  Folks loved him or hated him; it sounds like a cliché, but it was true.  There were two distinct camps on campus – I will not label them.  Suffice it to say that one camp is alive and well in a dying communion, the other has in large part left the building.

Professors had their own leanings which on a tiny campus were impossible to hide.  But it wasn’t Fr Caldwell’s label that caused a stir.  (Lord knows, we all had friends across the divide.)  It was because he was himself.  He was not defined by you or your beliefs.  He did not live, nor change, to please you.  And he was always teaching.  Always.  Yours was to learn, always.  This was not done in a haughty fashion – he did not lord over you.  He taught as if his salvation depended on it.  He could be moody, but he was never unloving.  I won’t rehash old Episcopalian battles here.  But I can say that everything Fr Caldwell taught us back at Nashotah House – from culture clashes to sex perversion skirmishes to church wars – has been battled out before us in the years since.  

One of Fr Caldwell’s favorite quotes, heard often in class, was from H. Richard Niebuhr’s work, The Kingdom of God in America (1937), which criticized the liberal social gospel, describing its message as, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” 

The nutty stuff he taught us in his Pastoral Theology classes?  True.  All of it.  One had to experience the ministry to understand; by golly, Fr Caldwell was right!  He was no dummy, just slightly crazy.

Fr Caldwell taught more about Orthodoxy than Anglicanism.  He taught prayer and care and tons about the human condition and the Cross of Vocation which we would all soon discover.  He railed against the contemporary heresy of political correctness, and sang the merits of studying CG Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Rollo May.  Mostly, he was a loving family man who was devoted to the Mother of God.  He loved to laugh, he loved to smile.  I trust he still does.

On our last meeting, while visiting after Communion one week before he died, we were talking about the TV news and the crazy state of the world.  I said, yeah – some hope to see seventy-two virgins when they die, we just hope to see one.  He laughed till I thought I’d hurt him.

How did this conversion come about?

Back in 1997, while serving as an Orthodox priest on the East Coast, having corresponded with Fr Caldwell since seminary, I visited him at his home in Naples, Florida.  At one point during the visit I said, “Father – I brought Chrism.”  He smiled and said, “Let’s do it!”  But, as his wife Ellie later pointed out – his having recently suffered one of many strokes – his reasoning wasn’t the best.  While there was no Chrismation that day, I did have him bless a new cross (necklace) for me.  I know, he was Episcopalian; this was certainly unorthodox!  But, there’s more …

Since that day in 1997, Fr Caldwell and I were regular (by today’s standard) in our snail mail correspondence.  He did not do the Internet.  He wrote me back in June of 2012 to tell me he only had a couple of months to live.  He always used to send money to my son, Basil Caldwell, on his birthday.  This year, he sent extra money to make up for the years he would miss.  I replied to him on the Feast of St Elisha, saying:

“Your most recent letter, as with all your letters, is a testimony to your unswerving faith and perseverance!  You and yours are a model for us all.  I am so weak that the least little ailment bothers me.  But you, Father, seem to slay great dragons on a regular basis.  God bless and keep you.  You are in my prayers when I pray; pray that I pray more.”

I ended that letter by stating that, with Ellie’s approval, I would come to Chrismate him before he died, if he so desired.  I even placed a smiley emoticon by that statement – as if to say, “If this offends, look – I’m smiling.”

It wasn’t long before I received a reply from my mentor saying:  “Yes, please come Chrismate me before I die.  I want to be Orthodox!”  I must confess, not knowing how to make this a reality, I drug my feet in replying to his letter. 

Several weeks had passed when I received another letter from Fr Caldwell, saying:  “If you are going to Chrismate me before I die, you’d better come quickly.”  He then went on to inform me that he had been getting his affairs in order, reading the Funeral Service from the Antiochian Service Book, etc.  So, having received a blessing from my bishop, I began making arrangements to fly to Naples to Chrismate my mentor and friend.

On the day I was buying the plane tickets online, his son called to tell me that Fr Caldwell had been moved to Hospice Care.  I told him that I would be there on Labor Day – tell him to hang on!  He said, “Oh, he’s going to hang on all right, he wouldn’t miss this!”

And, he didn’t.  On Monday, September 4, 2012, I entered his hospital room and it was full of joy.  The first question I asked was:  “Are you ready for this?”  Without reservation or hesitation, he said:  “Yes, I am!”  You might think we were talking about the Chrismation.  I understood, and believe he did, too, that we were discussing moving beyond the veil.  Dying.

After his Confession, we were joined by some of his family, those who live in the home place – wife Ellie, son Stephen, and daughter Margie – for the Chrismation, Communion, and Anointing.  From that point, our discussions were sober and morbid.  The newly-illumined Dionysius was preparing to go to his rest, to finally be still.

I stopped by to Commune him the following day – Tuesday, September 5th.  As I spoke with him that morning, I noticed, draped around his neck under his hospital gown, that old baptismal cross he had blessed for me years ago.  On the Sunday before his funeral, the Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross, I had blessed it with holy water and placed it on the holy table for the Liturgy.  I’d had no time to get him an appropriate baptismal cross, so I gave him mine.

Fr Joseph Shaheen of St Paul’s, Naples, visited him a couple of times in the following week.  Then, eight days after being received into the Church, Charles Dionysius Caldwell fell asleep in the Lord.

Fr Joe Shaheen and I buried him on September 18, 2012.  In between his death and burial, the Church celebrated the Great Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.  The reading for the Sunday after the Elevation:

The Lord said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power”  (Mark 8:34-9:1).

Anyway, it was all very fitting in every way.  I don’t really know how to tie up this long tribute to a beloved friend and teacher.  So, I’ll just mention a few more things about him:

  • Fr Caldwell, late for class but never for chapel, prayed the Akathist to the Theotokos each evening in his choir stall prior to communal Evening Prayer.
  • Pale Gas.  I’ve done retreats, received a doctoral degree, and published a book — all thanks to Fr Caldwell’s introducing PALE GAS (and mnemonic for the Passions) and the Two Trees to us back in PT3.
  • Fr Caldwell’s Three Rules of Pastoral Ministry:  1) Listen; 2) Listen; 3) Listen.
  • “Your job as a priest is not just to read the Scriptures, but to read the Living Human Documents before you.”

One final note – a curious one, but such is life.  His lovely wife, Ellie, just before I left the family home in Naples following the burial, gave me an envelope.  She said she wasn’t sure what to do with it, started to bury him with it, but decided that I might want it back.  “Your medal,” she said.

He blessed, I wore; I blessed, he wore; I now wear:  that cross.

Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.

May his memory be eternal!

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Ain’t Gonna Bump No Mo (With No Big DOWAMA)

Y’all? You ever had a wreck with a bishop in the car? Yeah, well, my involuntary bucket list is now complete (I pray)!

First of all, my bishop – who shall go unnamed, as I do not have his blessing – comes to the East Texas Deanery each year and I, as the dean, have the honor of spending a lot of time driving him from place to place.

Over the past 8 years of this dean gig, we’ve had some interesting experiences on the roads in and out of Houston.

Once we were returning from St Silouan/College Station and, just as we got into the busy Houston multiple lane highways, I saw a sign I’d never seen before. It caught my eye – attracted my attention. For whatever reason, in the dark of night, I stared at it a bit too long and we swerved toward another car. Sayidna gasped; I a righted the vehicle and he said, “Are you okay?”

I said, “Yeah … the sign back there said …”

He said, “Fr Joseph! You look at the road, I’ll look at the signs!”

Later he asked if I did that on purpose to clear his arteries. I said, “Does that work?” He said, “It did tonight!”

Just last year, I was test driving the car that I eventually bought from a parishioner – a 2014 Chevy Impala …

Listen the Orthodixie Podcast for the rest of the story.

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Part-time Hesychast, Full-time French Fry

It’s been a year since my son and I made pilgrimage to Greece & Mount Athos … and, may I be frank with y’all?

Sigh.

It ain’t easy being a hesychast.

Nope. Not. Easy. Atall.

Let me give you an example …

I was recently finishing up my reading of Elder Ephraim’s book, My Elder Joseph the Hesychast – on the earnest urging of my son – and, boy oh boy, is it ever intense. Not for everyone – that’s for sure. But, a worthy read, nonetheless.

As I was racing toward completion of the 700 page book, I was at my leisure in a local Lebanese restaurant where, sometime ago, I discovered their French Fry Sandwich.

Now now … I know what you’re thinking. French Fry Sandwich???

Y’all. O my. Yes. That’s what I said: French Fry Sandwich … with pickles, slaw, and, well: fries … all wrapped in delicious Lebanese flatbread.

Mmmmm.

Okay, well, here’s where my asceticism came in handy.

That day, after being served my FF Sandwich …

Listen HERE.

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