Iceberg Lives by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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We all lead them: iceberg lives. Anyone can clearly see the visible parts of our lives, the parts that lie above the waterline—our families and friends; our homes; our jobs; what we do and say, the color of our eyes, what we ate for breakfast. Far less apparent, however, is all that lies beneath the surface of the water: the secrets of our hearts, those parts of us known only to God.

We know that the tip of the iceberg is the visible part—our public personae, our apparent selves—but it is also the smaller portion, perhaps as little as 10% of our berg’s entire mass. That leaves the far larger portion of whom we are lying below the waterline, invisible to others, maybe even lost to our own view.

At the very least, we float on a long strand of DNA, our chromosomes and genes, stretching back generations into the mist. That’s the “nature” part of each of us: tribal, determinant, inescapable. Then there is also the “nurture” part: birth order, where we live, how we were raised, how our parents were raised by their parents and so on and so on and so on. These are the subtle shadings, perhaps not readily apparent to ourselves or anyone else but present nonetheless and these elements of our personalities may inform our lives and daily interactions just as much as the more nature-given components of our beings. But I believe there is even more that holds us up from below: our hopes and dreams, yearnings, longings, our greatest loves, our darkest fears. Although often hidden, these, too, combine to sculpt that part of us that’s visible to all.

Because so much of its mass lies below the surface of the ocean, an iceberg is usually highly stable. However, from time-to-time, a berg “rolls over” and what was below becomes the topmost and apparent part. It’s a highly dramatic event that can create a tsunami-size wave, but when this does happen, startling new colors and formations become visible for the first time—dark, mesmerizing hues and textures that challenge our perception of what we thought we once knew. I suppose the same would be true of our own individual icebergs. Flip us over and all manner of things, previously dark and submerged would suddenly be revealed in the cold, clear light of day. Talk about a tsunami!

But icebergs have no dark secrets to reveal, only beautiful glassine features that glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. How I wish that were true of humans! I’d like to think that if my own iceberg flipped over, the ice that emerged would be free of debris, undamaged, pristine, dazzling. Alas, friends! I’m all too human for that—we all are—so perhaps it’s better if we each work hard to maintain our delicate equilibrium and let what lies below remain below.

Icebergs are just floating chunks of frozen water calved from glaciers; upright or capsized, they are whole. To be human, however, means (among other things) being part seen and part unseen. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to improve, to do good in the world, or to be good people. After all, when it comes time for each of us to roll over—and eventually we all do— wouldn’t it dazzling if what lay below was even more beautiful than the tip above?

Happy New Year!

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Publisher Notes: The Spy in 2018

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Waiting for the Stage William Caton Woodville (National Gallery of Art). Forwarded by Spy Agent Glass

For almost nine years now, I have made it a practice to insulate the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy from any comparison to other print or online publications. In simple terms, this has meant that I have never participated in any professional association nor have I been a subscriber to the Star Democrat and Kent County News.

Like any act of innovation, it is not in the creator’s best interest to compare one’s new enterprise to models that are not direct competition. From its earliest beginning in the spring of 2009, The Spy was developing an entirely different news source targeted at community education first and foremost. It also began as a “no-profit” turned non-profit business that aimed at successful sustainability rather than return on investment.

All of that has worked in our favor as we recently completed eight years of operation. Unlike countless other start-ups, particularly in small communities throughout the country, the Spy has been able to grow in its reach (one million plus hits a year) while maintaining the trust of our readers and the confidence of our sponsors.

But like every other curious person in the world, I couldn’t help but wonder about the “other guys.” And last November I broke these vows of separation in two ways: 1) I attended a conference devoted to independent local online newspapers and 2) took out subscriptions for Chesapeake Publishing’s local papers.

In Chicago, over 150 publications and their representatives gathered for four days to discuss best practices and new trends in this growing field. And it was heartening to hear in some ways that not one these other online ventures had found on a sustainable business concept like the Spy model.

The other trend was that very few of these newspapers moved beyond their primary focus of covering local government issues.  In most cases, there was no attempt to include local arts and culture, or there were only token steps to publish press releases related to these subjects. And few, if any, had taken advantage of multimedia like original content video, which has been the Spy’s primary tool since we began with now close to 2,000 videos online.

In the case of both the Star Democrat and the Kent County News, my response is only one of respect for these “newspapers of record.” Unlike the Spy, these printed news sources must take on the responsibility, and the expense, of covering such local topics as crime, sports, weather, legal notices, and obituaries, all of which is not in the Spy portfolio.  It was a relief to note the unique difference between the Spy and these legacy papers, and the complementary nature the Spy plays to their hard work.

And so the Spy starts the new year with a renewed confidence but also profound gratitude to its writers, columnists, poets, and the kind and thoughtful support from the Spy’s fiscal agent, the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, as well as the Spy’s talented and generous board of advisors for making it the success it has become.

Beyond our investment in technology, the Spy has been particularly proud of the extraordinary trust our 100,000 readers a year have in these two online news sources. In the midst of what might be one of the most challenging times for public discourse and the public’s trust in news in our country’s history, every week the Spy has become a safe harbor for serious and thought-provoking perspectives. I am indebted to our remarkably distinguished columnists and friends Howard Freedlander, Craig Fuller, Jimmie Galbreath, Jamie Kirkpatrick, Mary McCoy, George Merrill, David Montgomery, Nancy Mugele, Al Sikes, and Amy Steward for sharing their very different points of view with the community. Likewise, we are grateful to our readers willing to engage in civilized debate in response to those opinions by offering up their comments.

As publisher, it would have been impossible to fulfill our mission last year without the generous contributions of our writers and volunteer editors. Those include Jane Jewell and Peter Heck in their coverage of Kent County, Jenn Martella for Talbot County, Jean Sanders for maintaining our high quality of design and our Facebook presence, the marketing strategic support of Bill Rolle and Mary Kramer, and Neoma Rohman and Derek Beck for website support. We are also indebted to our content partners, the Delmarva Review, Capital News Service, the Bay Journal, Maryland Reporter and Talbot Historical Society for their invaluable service to our region.

One of the reasons that the Spy has maintained its existence for eight years is to keep the organization financially nimble and free of debt. One way we accomplish this is that neither the Spies nor our parent, the Community Newspaper Project Fund, have any full-time employees, including this publisher. Instead, we offer modest stipends for our writers and greatly benefit from the volunteer support of others.

We will continue that tradition in 2018 with a few changes in editorial priorities and staffing.

To emphasize our commitment to public affairs, we have renamed our Occurrences section just that to reflect the Spy’s coverage of local issues facing the community rather than the need to produce daily headlines. While we suspect that most of our readers understand this subtle but significant difference, it helps to reinforce our mission to educate the community through “long-form” coverage of timely issues.

This year Jenn Martella will take on a managing editor role for the Spy. Jenn created the Spy’s popular Habitat section for Chestertown and Talbot County, and we have asked her to extend that coverage to include our culture and arts as well as direct the Spy’s ongoing sponsorship/ad program from Mary who is leaving the Spy after six years of very committed service to our mission.

2018 will also be the first year that the Spy will have an annual giving campaign to encourage our readers to donate what they might to keep the Spy solvent. While we are committed to maintaining the newspapers free to every member of the community, like every nonprofit organization, we must also find an easy way for those who appreciate our role on the Eastern Shore to support the Spy on a monthly or yearly basis.

Lastly, pundits are predicting 2018 to be a gruelling time in American politics as the country faces a Congressional election in November. It is unlikely the Mid-Shore will avoid this environment as challengers continue to sign up to oppose Congressman Andy Harris for the 1st Congressional District race from both parties. Once again, the Spy is determined to be a safe harbor for debate and will be making this race a public affairs priority over the next eleven months. We look forward to working with all political parties to ensure constructive dialogue in what might be one of the most critical elections in our country’s history.

Dave Wheelan
Publisher and Executive Editor

 

 

Scenarios for 2018 by Craig Fuller

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Time for predictions. But, how often are they accurate?

The weekend shows were full of pundits offering predictions, but how useful are they for planning our future?

The discussions caused me to reflect on something I learned about long ago from a large global corporation that found the best way to prepare for events in the future was decidedly NOT to try and predict the future. Rather, they examined the major factors that would influence the future and developed scenarios.

Of course, books have been written about scenario planning, but for me, it has always meant charting alternative paths forward based on assumptions one makes around key factors shaping our society. Sounds simple and it comes with one important advantage – if you pay attention to what happens with the key factors you considered at the start, over time you will refine your thinking about the most likely scenario. The company – Shell – that really focused on this, wanted to make sure they were ready for all of the most likely scenarios that could affect their business, then they watched over time to refine what they determined to be the most likely situations they would confront during a planning period.

With so many variables in today’s world, the chance of a single prediction being correct in twelve months seems slim. So, maybe looking at key factors and developing a few scenarios might be useful.

This can be a participatory process where you get to decide the factors to look at and which ones are most important. You also get to decide the movement or direction of change most likely to be encountered.

Here are mine:

The economy – we are still in recovery. In fact, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, we’re entering the 102nd month of economic recovery. The average post-World War II recovery has lasted 58 months! So, will the economy continue to strengthen, or will it begin to decline?

The political climate – many of us around Washington will say we have never seen it this bad, but there are many around the country who suggest it is about time we shake things up. So, will the President work more collaboratively with Congress, or continue on the path he established during this first year in office?

Congress – while holding their approval scores well below the President’s own record low scores, the Congress did manage to pass a Tax Reform measure. Will this action to advance a legislative priority show them the way forward and should we expect a more productive legislative agenda in 2018?

Engagement – in off-year election cycles where there is not a presidential race, voter turnout is generally lower, and the election is usually viewed as a referendum on the incumbent President with the party out of power normally picking up some seats in the House and, at times, the Senate. Just over a year ago, about 1/3rd of registered voters voted for President Trump, and 1/3rd voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There was 1/3rd of eligible voters who did not vote. In this upcoming election, the question is who will be more motivated to send a message…those who voted for President Trump or those who voted against him or not at all?

International conflict – sadly, we’ve grown all too accustomed to world conflict involving Americans. There seems to be an almost growing acceptance that this is the way it will be. That said, a dramatic rise in tensions where Americans are involved would most likely cause strong reactions at home and abroad. Perhaps the most important question is whether we come out of any serious event stronger or weaker than when we entered. In the context of our scenario planning, what is more likely – do we see our nation as stronger or weaker at the end of 2018?

What-Matters-Most Factor – I keep observing more and more people who seek and find relevant and meaningful activities in more and more creative ways. Time was when, if you had a passion for flying, it was hard to have time for boating and camping. But, now there are places where you can do “all of the above.” And, if travel is a challenge, you can go online and participate in thousands of forums for just about every and any interest someone could have. And, in communities, the churches, museums, schools and community centers offer programs that are of interest to more and more people. Maybe it’s the holidays or living in a smaller community, but family, friends and neighbors, just seem more important than the national media and our nation’s elected officials to many more people. So, when you think about the future, do you think that family and local concerns along with personal interests are going to matter more or less as we go forward?

Well, we could come up with more factors if we wished, but this should get us started on some scenarios.

Here’s my take….

The high expectations for current leadership scenario – this requires one to believe we can keep an already historically long period of economic growth going through 2018 and actually, we don’t really break the record until 2019. You would need, I think, to see a bit more collaboration between the President and Congress and even among the leadership in Congress to advance a national agenda. And, if the President and Republican party are to avoid a major political upset, more than a third of the voters are going to have to be motivated to turn out to vote for Trump-backed Republicans. Retaining control of Congress is pretty fundamental to having the ability to advance the agenda set by Trump through his first term. All of the above would be threatened by a major international upheaval; thus, I think this scenario requires the acceptance of tensions without the occurrence of a calamity. Lastly, if people are turning more inward, the leaders in Washington are going to have to look and sound relevant to more Americans.

The expectation of major change scenario – while seldom things are as good as some would wish or as bad as some see them, there are serious factors that could lead to a very difficult 2018. First, the economy could finally falter. A major stock market reset or crash would sharply change people’s expectation for continued prosperity. A more collaborative President seems less likely and the combative relationship with Congress seems more likely in an expectation of change scenario. It could also be argued that the leaders in Congress have less reason to get along and more reason to try and fight out their differences in the November elections, yielding little legislative activity for the year. A power shift in the House of Representatives and/or the United States Senate would send shock waves through the body politic. These changes actually sweep far more people out and then new ones in than the change of leadership at the White House. With or without a change, post-November 2018 will mark a point of major positioning for the next national election in 2020 making it very difficult to advance new initiatives. Voters seeking and getting a change in 2018 will arguably be highly motivated to continue the sweep right through 2020.

Is there a scenario in between? Well, there is, but as they say, “it’s complicated.” The economy and stock markets seem to have adjusted to the vagaries of Washington, thus insulating economic growth from some of the political machinations. And, consumers seem to remain optimistic which bodes well for economic growth, or at least not a serious downturn. While political upheaval feels very possible, it would be wrong to dismiss the angst many in the nation have for the ways of Washington. While even supporters may take exception with the way the President goes about governing, they remain perplexed that those holding national elected office just do not understand the voters’ concerns. Betting that some kind of legislative deadlock will turn out well for anyone seems foolish.

So, which path looks plausible. For me, as we enter 2018, it is one of slow economic expansion and greater antipathy towards policy makers in Washington. It’s a path where party politics in Washington will grow less relevant to more voters who will in turn hand a President an even smaller governing majority than he has now within the Republican party. Throughout this, I do believe people will look more inward and more locally for meaningful and fulfilling engagements. Whether the future then brings disengagement or a renaissance of sorts will be something to examine a year from now.

Watch the signals along the way to see if your favored scenario is becoming more likely or less likely!

Above all, have a Happy and Healthy New Year!!

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

Starting Over by George Merrill

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In my first attempts to write a personal essay appropriate to the New Year, I fell into a trap. As most of you know about writers, their first drafts are awful. That’s’ why it takes so many rewrites to get it to work and if not, at least get it representative of what an author truly feels – not just some attempt at posturing.

I began with a theme in mind. The theme was “starting over.” I thought the new year is one kind of ‘starting over’ and starting over is also an old Buddhist teaching about how we can skillfully deal with our efforts to, well, start over. It specifically refers to deepening our spirituality simply by learning how to not quit in discouragement, but to just start over.

The teaching guides me in ways to gain the riches of the spirit and self-control by minimizing aspects of my life that work against it. This always requires a change in how I normally go about things. Typically – and New Year’s Eve is one good example – after the first drink, I will swear to either give up something or to embark on some new discipline. The giving up invariably involves certain foods and uses of alcohol or tobacco; chocolate is a big one as is resolving to abstain from certain disagreeable habits like flipping the bird at pokey drivers creeping down the St. Michaels Road. Having only two lanes makes such people really irritating. Vowing to exercise regularly is another frequent resolution.

New Year’s resolutions don’t last. There’s good reasons for that. They’re not undertaken for substantial reasons, or to say it differently, they are undertaken for egoistic motives. Just why I choose to forswear some particular food or drink, or even undertake to change other habits is frequently driven by negative motives rather than an aspiration to more noble estates. Topping the list is a desire to lose weight and look good. ‘Because I am fat’ becomes an issue of pride more often than it is a concern for good health. In fact, I’d offer the thought that most New Year’s Eve resolutions I’ve undertaken are to prove something to myself. I long to prove that I possess strength of character and resolute will. I am not, as I secretly fear, a wuss or wimp. I have character, determination.

I will own that there are people who by sheer force of will can alter their undesirable traits, but I would not want to live with them. I notice they remarry a lot. Maybe they don’t smoke or drink or eat fatty foods, run every morning and drink ten glasses of water daily but the very undesirable character traits that led them into bad habits in the first place, remain. They’re not overindulging anymore, they’re self-righteous and know everything, instead.

But back to my problem in writing an essay appropriate to the new year.

As I started writing, I began thinking about the year as I’ve experienced it since last January. The trap: I just grew more and more angry. In a snit, I typed away furiously about how we’re being jerked around by a flood of mindless tweets with which the White House floods America’s cyberspace; I thought of a federal judge charged with pedophilia whose Christian constituents defended him by comparing him to Joseph, the father of the Holy Family. After all, Joseph dated Mary, Jesus mother and Mary was well Joseph’s junior. So, what’s the problem? It’s beyond crazy, that’s the problem.

And then I remembered the president of a Christian College who encouraged his students to carry a concealed weapon so they might be prepared to shoot Muslims. I felt as though I was flying over the cuckoos’ nest. Felt, hell, I was flying over a cuckoos’ nest.

At lunch, I mentioned to my wife, Jo, how worked up I’d been while writing. As I told her she assumed a look, like I’ve seen on the faces of those who’d just eaten a bad oyster.

“What?” I said defensively.

“Why rehash what everyone knows anyway? Is there something helpful, something different instead that you can say that might help us live through this with some dignity and hope?”
So much for St’ Paul’s admonitions that wives defer to their husbands. It’s a new ball game.

That’s just what the last year has been instructing us, instructing me. It is a new ball game.
My challenge is to hold still to the ideal that how we play the game is as important or more so than winning. The trap I fell into was identifying with the aggressor. Ranting against the absurdities of this administration is simply doing the same thing as I claim to be denouncing. I’m just firing off another round of mindless tweets.

In situations where people have been treated abusively or contemptuously, there is a tendency to assume the vicious qualities of the perpetrators. In short, I want to unleash on others, what they have, or I imagine they have, visited on me. It’s one variation on revenge.

Starting over is a significant discipline in Buddhist spirituality. It recognizes the deep desire to do something good, be something worthwhile, but invariably to slip back into old habits. It’s discouraging. The tendency is to be self-critical, and feel inept in meeting the challenge. If we slip often enough, eventually we just quit.

I want to start over again this next year by attempting to be as wise as a serpent, but gentle as a dove. I mean by that looking directly at the evils and absurdities that surround me daily, but with a clear eye and gentle spirit. And if I get riled up and want to go on a new rant, just remember to go back and start over. I then keep my focus on what’s important for me to be about and not remain stuck and focused on the provocateurs.

There’s a phrase that I’ve known for years. One part is from psalm 37. The latter part I don’t know but together they make the point beautifully:
“Fret not for the evil doer, lest thou be moved to do evil.”
May we all gain the grace to live wisely and courageously in the coming year. And, if we slip and fall into old ways, let’s just start over.

Blessings in the New Year.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Grants in Action: The Ladies of Nia and Women & Girls Fund Prepare Young Girls for Real World

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While the accomplishments of the BAAM program in Talbot County has become well known for its mentoring programs for young boys, it was comforting for the Spy to learn the other day that there was a Mid-Shore equivalent just for girls, thanks in part due to the sponsorship of the Women & Girls Fund.

Nine years ago, six young women took a “girls trip” to reunite with childhood friendships from Lockerman Middle School in Denton many years after they had graduated from college and had started professional careers. As Malica Dunnock, one of the ringleaders of the group recounted in her interview with Spy, every woman on that trip had an extraordinary sense of being blessed to find a way to higher education and all the promises that it brings to young people. And like many who have had good future like this, the ladies quickly moved on to talk about ways to help a new generation of girls have that same experience

That was when this special friendship circle formed of The Ladies of Nia, which borrows the African term for “purpose” in the organization’s title, which has been working with dozens of girls growing up in and around Denton to find a path forward to the same opportunities as the founders.

The Spy talked to both Malica and Alice Ryan, the founder of the Women & Girls Fund, about The Ladies of Nia, their young students, and their special partnership.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Women & Girls Fund or to help support its work please go here 

Christmas Humbles or Should by Al Sikes

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Most writing has an autobiographical dimension—sometimes disguised but always there. This essay was triggered by a brief moment in my life which was recalled by an obituary last week.

The obituary was about Cardinal Bernard Law whose last real job for the Vatican was as Archbishop of the Boston diocese. Law was found to have covered for priests who in one way or another preyed on young boys. He was disgraced, removed and given a nominal position in Rome.

I spent some time around Bernard Law in the middle of the 1970s. Pope Paul VI named Law Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield–Cape Girardeau in Missouri. At the time I was practicing law in Springfield and was periodically in community settings with him. He was in many ways a charming, larger than life character.

His talent and charm moved him along quickly. He went from a backwater in the Church to one of its most important positions; he became Archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese.

That position became more important than what I assume were biblically informed principles–power became more important than the Church; at least if the Church is an organization of believers and followers.

Where I grew up, religious leaders were culturally important. Journalists didn’t poke around their lives and positions to find errant conduct. Today there is a journalistic swagger that follows an outing of a religious hypocrite. We are finding that the clerical calling attracts about as many hypocrites as any other career pursuit. Too bad.

We all need moral leadership—true north. It is unlikely to come from pursuits that celebrate success almost regardless of how achieved. The celebrated have a hard time avoiding the magnetic force of riches and fame at any cost.

In Christianity, the most important speech Jesus gave was the Sermon on the Mount. Most recall this counterintuitive pronouncement: “the meek will inherit the earth.”

We should also recall this metaphorical truth: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:15-17

The New York Times in its Christmas Eve edition, ran a quite lengthy story on Vice, a media company and its co-founder and Chief Executive, Shane Smith.

The writer, Emily Steel, in her profile of Smith wrote, “Along the way Mr. Smith regularly mocked traditional media companies as stodgy and uncreative. But in recent years he set about courting conglomerates like the Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox, which were eager to profit on Vice’s cachet with millennial audiences. The latest round of investment gave the company a valuation of more than $5.7 billion.”

She continued, “People involved with Vice during its early days described a punk-rock, male-dominated atmosphere in which attempts to shock sometimes crossed a line.”

In a 2012 interview with the Financial Times, Mr. Smith recalled his earlier days with Vice. “I would be at the party and would just want to get wasted, take coke and have sex with girls in the bathroom.”

Ms. Steel concluded: “A media company built on subversion and outlandishness was unable to create “a safe and inclusive workplace” for women, two of its founders acknowledge.”

Diseased trees? Bad fruit? I wonder what Walt Disney would think?

If the lessons of Jesus define your true north, then yielding to the pull of power is destructive on more than just a personal level. The Catholic Church was harmed irreparably by the actions of a few who persisted in covering up a wrenching departure from the covenants of faith.

In the last several months, friends or acquaintances of mine who regarded themselves as evangelical Christians have backed away from that adjective as too many so-called evangelical leaders have been lured by political power into the orbit of Donald Trump.

I have been blessed and inspired by a quiet spiritual missionary and friend who was often in the presence of secular power but found the words to quietly warn against its downside. And, while living and working in New York, I joined a small group that was taken on an extraordinary tour of the Bible by Tim Keller who founded and led Redeemer Presbyterian. Beyond the biblical lessons, we were given a very human lesson in humble constancy.

But let me return briefly to the present. Christmas, even in a secular society, inspires probing explorations of the other side—the transcendent.

And my guess is that Pope Francis chose to go public around Christmas with these words to the Curia (the Vatican-based operational arm of the Church). He warned them of being corrupted by “ambition or vainglory.”

But easily the most compelling of the pieces written around the underlying story of Christmas was penned by Kim Phuc and appeared as an Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. She began: “You may not recognize me now, but you almost certainly know who I am. My name is Kim Phuc, though you likely know me by another name. It is one I never asked for, a name I have spent a lifetime trying to escape: “Napalm Girl.”

In these words she relates, “I was photographed with arms outstretched, naked and shrieking in pain and fear, with the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance.”

Kim Phuc goes on to tell of a salvation experience on Christmas Eve in 1982 and then expresses what should be the essence of both Christmas and every other day: “Christmas is not about the gifts we carefully wrap and place under a tree. Rather, it is about the gift of Jesus Christ, who was wrapped in human flesh and given to us by God.”

As we anticipate a new year we should all, leaders and followers alike, update Jesus’ most famous speech by re-reading Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg or recalling the words of Albert Einstein: “Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind.”

“What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living.”

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

A Community Christmas

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“Ugliest Christmas Sweater” contenders at the Feast of Love – Community Christmas Dinner, Dec. 25, 2017, at First Methodist Church in Chestertown            Photo by Jane Jewell

It’s early Christmas morning in Chestertown.  While many children are still opening gifts, volunteers begin to arrive in the kitchen of the First United Methodist Church on the corner of High and Mill streets.  The annual “Feast of Love” begins in just a few hours!  Donated food from the Fish Whistle Restaurant and the Lapp Family Bakeries is already on the shelves and in the church’s big fridge.  Turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, and a variety of desserts are on the menu.  The doors open at 1:00 pm!  But there’s a lot of work to do before then, though much prep work had been done in the preceding days.   There’s tables to set up – with real plates and silverware, paper, plus styrofoam for the 100-plus to-go boxes that will be taken home to those who couldn’t attend.

Volunteers and staff for in the kitchen at the First United Church in Chestertown         Photo by Bill Arrowood

Volunteers and staff for the 2017 “Feast of Love”      Photo by Bill Arrowood

All in all, nearly fifty volunteers pitched in both before Christmas and on the day itself to make the dinner possible. The set-up and decoration crew, including Sue Dorsey and Judy Connelly, were there by 9 a.m. The turkey carvers, who included Emerson Cotton, Tom Bowman, and Jack Dorsey, also came at 9.  The dishwasher volunteers started arriving at 11.  They jumped right in as there were pots, pans, and dishes to wash pretty much straight through the day.

When the doors finally opened at 1 p.m, there was a long line.   The Feast of Love is open to all, with no charge.  The crowd was a diverse one – all ages and races.  And not just members of the First Methodist Church. This was the first time, Yvonne Arrowood, said, that they had to set up extra tables.  It was, in fact, the largest Feast of Love ever, with over 200 in attendance. The hall was quickly filled with conversation and laughter – and singing.  One church group led the crowd in singing all the traditional songs plus popular favorites as “Amazing Grace.”

Rev. May Etta Moore was both one of the oldest in attendance (0ver 90) and one who had attended the most times (more than 20).

During announcements, Bill Arrowood queried attendees to discover that the two oldest people there were over 90, the youngest two were three and four years old.  Most were from Kent County, but several had come from more than 50 miles away and one had traveled over 100 miles to celebrate Christmas in Chestertown!

The Feast of Love was first held at the Methodist Church in 1984 with Yvonne Arrowood as one of the driving forces.  Today, over three decades later, Yvonne is still here, organizing, cooking, and cleaning up.  Her son Bill Arrowood also helps organize each year.  There have been a few years when the feast was not held, but the annual event was revitalized about ten years when the Rev. Rick Vance was the pastor and has continued, growing each year, under current pastor David Ryan.  It is a wonderful community event with a wonderful Christmas spirit.

 

Photo Gallery by Bill Arrowood and Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Last Letter (Fifth and Final Stave) by Jamie Kirkpartick

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Just as everything unto heaven has a purpose, so must every story have its conclusion. And so, dear reader, our tale now comes to an end. But first:

By the time Mother Wilmer had finished reading “A Christmas Carol,” little Holiday was fast asleep in her lap and drowsy Christian was not far behind. The fire had burned to embers and the last of the dim afternoon light was fading quickly. The chore of undecorating the house would have to wait another day.

Christian looked up at his Mama with half-closed eyes and murmured, “Tiny Tim had a father, didn’t he?”

“Yes, my darling.”

“Then where is our papa?”

It was not an unexpected question, but coming at this peaceful moment, it caught the good widow off her guard. She had to admit: it was a confounding query. She knew for certain that the man in the cemetery was the very man whose likeness she had seen in the just-read book was none other than the redoubtable Ebenezer Scrooge. Could he also be the two cryptic letters mysterious signatory, “S?” But how could that be? Scrooge was only a character in a Christmas tale while the man whom she had seen by Mr. Wilmer’s grave was flesh and blood—or surely seemed to be. True: he had left no trace anywhere, so what was he then—a ghost? But characters in stories don’t have afterlives—how could they?—they are, after all, nothing more than figments of some poor scribbler’s imagination, players on a stage, shadows without substance or corporal form. And then there was the matter of this other actor, this poor “Marley,” Scrooge’s one-time partner in an accounting firm, whom, as she had learned at the very beginning of Mr. Dickens’ story, “was dead.” But what had he to do with her departed husband and why did “S” think he was he buried under Mr. Wilmer’s headstone?

And now she began to put two and two together: if this “Marley” character were indeed dead, and if her husband were also dead, and if the mysterious “S” was in fact Scrooge and if his cryptic letters were the common denominator, then was the answer not four? She had to admit she knew next to nothing about her late husband’s past—he never talked about his origins which (as she had divined by his accent) must have been in England. He had simply materialized in Chestertown one day nearly a decade ago and, with hard work and an honest reputation, he had prospered—as an accountant!—to an extent that made her and the twins the most fortunate beneficiaries of what he had created out of seemingly thin air.

That thought brought her back to the moment and to young Christian’s plaintive question. She looked down at the boy and saw he was watching her, waiting for her to answer.

“Your poor Papa,” she began, “was a wonderful man and he would have…”

Just then, there came a knock on the door. Not wishing to wake little Holiday, Mother Wilmer sent her son to answer. A moment later, he returned holding an envelope. It was simply addressed to “Mistress Wilmer.” This time, she recognized the hand immediately.

“Who gave you this?” she inquired of Christian.

“A very nice gentleman, Mama. He looked just like the man in our new book. He said I was a remarkable boy and he gave me this!” He held out a bright English shilling.

“Run, quickly, darling, and invite the gentleman in!”

“I can’t, Mama.”

But why ever not, my dear?”

“Because he’s already gone, Mama. One minute he was there and the next he..he just wasn’t.”

Mistress Wilmer looked down at her son and her daughter who was just now waking and at the envelope she held in her hand. She thought to open it later but seeing the seal was already broken, she withdrew the folded note and read it silently.

“What does it say, Mama?” asked the twins in unison.

The good widow smiled and turned the letter—if one could call it that—to show her children what was written on it—one simple sentence: “God bless us, every one!” Signed, of course, “S.”

FINIS

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

That They All May Be One by George Merrill

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The title of this essay I took from the Gospel of John. It states Jesus wish for universal reconciliation.

I watched a talk show rerun recently. Joe Biden was being interviewed. He discussed his book, “Promise Me, Dad,” dealing with the death of his son, Beau. One 0f the women present and conducting the interview was Meghan McCain. Meghan McCain, John Mc- Cain’s daughter, is a former host on Fox news, a cradle Republican and one of the hosts of the talk show, The View. Biden’s book (I have not read it) is a grief work of hope that describes the profound sense of loss Biden felt for his son and the obligation he felt to honor his memory.

The interview was poignant. It told an important story of its own.

In the initial minutes of the interview, Biden and Ms. McCain were seated with a person between them. As the conversation developed, Biden spoke of how his son (who died of the same brain cancer that John McCain suffers now) had always found comfort in Meghan’s father’s bravery. As he spoke, Meghan grew teary. Biden then rose and seated himself next to her. He took her hand and shared with her some fond memories he and his son had of her father. In the political arena, John McCain and Joe Biden had done battle with each other. Each had great respect for the other. They were political adversaries and very loyal friends. They enjoyed a relationship with dignity.

I do not recall being moved by anything recently as much as I did watching this interview. Certainly, talking of our losses touches us all deeply; mourning is the one feeling that stabs us to the core and a feeling every one of us understands. Perhaps even more than laughter, grief is the universal emotion we all share. However, there was something else about the interview that haunted me. I couldn’t identify it right away.

Joe Biden, by almost all accounts, is a representative human being. Professionally, he is regarded as an honest man and a skillful politician. He has a sense of humor, engages people in respectful ways and has passion for his ideas. He has integrity, is clear but gentle in his opinions and has a deft manner of handling complicated feelings tactfully – whether they’re political or emotional. He possesses that redeeming quality of being able to poke fun at himself. He talks freely about his big mouth in the way president Obama used to speak of his own big ears. It’s the kind of playful self-denigration people who are secure in their own skin are able to indulge.

Christmas, now upon us, is a paradoxical time. It’s a festive season. It’s also a time of mourning. Despite all the lights, bright colors, parties, gestures of good will and aspirations to joy, an undertone of melancholy prevails. I think one reason for this is that Christmas as a holiday is an anniversary event. It occurs yearly at a designated time. Anniversaries induce memories. Christmastide is strongly associated with attitudes of kindness and generosity and of being close to the people we love. An anniversary event like Christmas also has a darker side; it stands as a yearly remembrance of the people who are not here now, but with whom we shared this event in the past. We are made aware of what we’ve lost; the festivity’s bright lights cast dark shadows. There’s always sadness about that. Joe Biden knows about loss. Meghan McCain knows that for her, the final curtain of her grief will fall. They mourn together.

One of Joe Biden’s character traits is his personal warmth. When he got up and went to sit next to Meghan McCain, took her hand and spoke softly to her as she wept, I almost wept, too. It was an image of male tenderness in a powerful man that is so different from the images reported in the daily news we hear or read about. We are besieged with relentless tales of abuse that men with wealth, social capital and political influence inflict on others. It seems to be a trickle-down effect, originating from the highest echelons, seeping through the political fabric and down into the various major and minor industry captains and entertainment celebrities. The frequency of the sordid reports would seem almost to testify to behavior now become routine, the kind we’d once have called unacceptable.

Who is left for any of us to look up to, to inspire us?

In that brief exchange between Biden and McCain I saw a possibility, a hope for the way we can be with one another. Tenderly and kindly. I am confident that for anyone who saw Biden take his seat next to Meghan McCain in that clip, there was no way this could be construed as posturing. It was a genuine gesture, based on a history of trusting relationships, demonstrating the kind of authenticity that has been in painfully short supply in the political figures we are confronted with daily in news media. There is so little trust evident, so little tenderness. While women today may be witnessing to the ideal of dignity and respect we need to emulate, it’s the good men that are hard to find.

My attempt here is not to lionize Joe Biden or Meghan McCain, but only to cite his decency and McCain’s grace and suggest how people who do have power and social capital and are fundamentally honest and compassionate, can create good will and facilitate healing, personal and collective. They become agents of reconciliation.
The Christian message its’s core is a drama of reconciliation. The tale recounts the struggle to achieve reconciliation with God and with each other. We become reconciled to God by reconciling to each other. It isn’t accomplished by mouthing pious clichés nor by overlooking differences or even by accommodating political, religious, racial and ethnic distinctions.

When we are able to see in others, the wounds and brokenness we have known in our own lives, we meet each other in deeper and more loving ways.

I believe I saw in that clip some a tender and respectful moment between a man and a woman, a conservative republican and a liberal democrat, a devout catholic and a practicing Baptist.

I think our alienation from each other is weighing heavily on us. We hunger for closeness, to be able to share our true humanity with one another.

That one day we may all be one remains my vision of hope.


Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.