Saturday, June 16, 2018

For Father's Day

The campaign to celebrate the nation’s fathers did not meet with enthusiasm--perhaps because, as one florist explained, “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.” On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah. The next year, a Spokane, Washington, one of six children raised by a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on July 19, 1910.

During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether in favor of a single holiday, Parents’ Day. Paradoxically, however, the Depression derailed this effort to combine and de-commercialize the holidays. Struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men, promoting goods such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and greeting cards. When World War II began, advertisers began to argue that celebrating Father’s Day was a way to honor American troops and support the war effort.

In 1972, in the middle of a hard-fought presidential re-election campaign, Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday at last.  Today, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts.
However, many men, including my father, continued to disdain the day. They “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products--often paid for by the father himself.” (see

My father, Ward Ely Morehouse, died on June 30th, 2012, six years ago.  I was not there when he died.  He was swimming in his favorite New England pond when he suffered a massive heart attack.  The paramedics revived his heart but he was in a coma and died twelve hours later.  I have shared with you before that I was in Yellowstone NP the day he died, and, at the precise moment he was having his heart attack I told Frances to pull over the car so I could jump bidden by some  unseen force into the glacier lake.  Only latter would I learn that the urge to jump into the water happened at the moment he was leaving this earth.

My father was a noble and complex man.  Like so many of his generation he was emotionally distant, which is not to say that he didn’t feel, he did, deeply and often with tears.  He just didn’t express those feelings often, preferring a stoic response to life.  And for good reason, a child of the Great Depression, his father was often absent as a wayward Academic and his mother, my grandmother, who suffered from debilitating depression, was often institutionalized.  My father learned early on that emotions were best kept to oneself.  I am not like my father in that regard.  I express myself openly – sometimes a little too openly from time to time.  I have also been tempered by living with six daughters and my beloved spouse.  Secrets are not part of our family system.

But despite his distance, he gave me the wisdom of virtues, seen and unseen.  Honesty, optimism, loyalty, hard work, vision and flexibility.  In honor of my father and all fathers, those biological and those who have held the role, embrace the best lessons you learned and pass them on.

With Grace and Grit, John

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hope In A Time of Addiction

My mother died young, quite suddenly, at the age of 73. My father who loved her very much was quite lost. He had come to live near our home in Maryland, a ramshackle little house that we were all in the midst of renovating.  I would check on me from time to time to see how he was. I noticed he was looking gaunt and was losing weight. Then one day I came to the house and I found him barely conscious on the couch. I got him up and drove him to hospital. The ER did a blood test and admitted him immediately, his white blood cell count was rising and he was anemic. The doctors spent the next several hours trying to figure out what was wrong. The primary doctor, a good friend and a member of our congregation, pulled me aside to tell me that he was very sick and that he might not make it.  I knew this phenomenon especially among men, that when their spouse died, grief and a lack of self-care often led the surviving spouse to follow in death within months. Now I knew how scary and painful that could be. Then the doctor asked me “Are you sure your father doesn’t drink?” “What?!” I replied, “Who told you that?” “He did” she replied. “Are you kidding me?” I said “He drinks like a fish”. In fact, both my father and mother were what we would now call functional alcoholics, downing three or four double scotches each night before a gigantic meal with wine at 10 pm.  “Well that explains it” she said, “He is dying of alcohol poisoning”. It turned that my father, in his grief, was drinking close to a quart of scotch a day and living on wonder bread and grape jelly sandwiches, that coupled with flu was bringing him to death’s door.

 After the doctor went back in to see him and to order new procedures to reverse the effect, I followed. It was one of the most difficult and powerful conversations of my life, not as his minister but as his son. “Dad” I said “I know you are heartbroken after losing mom. We are all carrying around these broken hearts. But you have choice here Dad: you can choose to leave your body and be with her again, or you can keep on living. You can keep on living for me and my brother, for your daughter in laws and your beautiful granddaughters. You can keep living for walks in the woods with the dogs, for the warmth of the sun on your face, you can keep on living to do the work of justice, to write, to agitate, and to laugh. It will hurt for a while dad, but the pain will subside and, while there will always be a hole in your heart where mom lived, your grief, our grief, will bring a depth and richness to life such as you have never known. I know this is true dad, because I have seen it happen over and over again. You can choose but you have to stop drinking and start living. I want you to choose life.”

There was a foreboding silence as he contemplated what I said, and the shame he now felt at being found out as an addict and as a proud man. He said “OK. But I never want to see that doctor again.”  “That’s fine Dad, that’s fine. I will find you another doctor.”

I tell you this story, because I know that almost everyone in this room has been touched by addiction.  As Gerald May in his book Addiction and Grace wrote, “We all suffer from addictions: addiction to ideas, work, relationships, power, moods like depression, shyness, cynicism, people can become addicted to an illness, success, control and fantasies.” (From Addiction and Grace) And any number of substances and behaviors that mask the pain and stress of living: food, sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling, the list is long. So I believe that all of us have addictive natures, by virtue of having to both cope with life and to the power of substance and behavior to mask the pain. All of us are addicted, yet some become more so, for reasons that have as much to do with chemistry in our brains as behaviors in our life.  Addictions become a problem when they interfere with our lives which leads to a ruin of life and it is then we need the most help. 

Hope in a Time of Addiction, not only because of the opioid crisis, but for the addiction to media that made this election possible, the tweets, the 24 hour news cycle, fake news, and our addiction to it. We try to convince ourselves that this craziness is not normal but what if this addiction to it is normal. Yes, our addiction to it: How many of you have MSNBC on almost all the time? Waiting for the next and latest outrage and our primarily liberal response to it. How many of you beloveds, think Rachel Maddow is a saint? 


Gerald May writes that ‘Spiritual, addiction is a deep seated form of idolatry. The objects of our addictions become our false gods. These are what we worship, what we attend to, where we give our time and energy, instead of love. Addiction displaces and supplants God’s love as the source and object of our deepest true desire. It contravenes the first commandment, you shall have no other gods before me, the god of love….it is in effect a counterfeit spiritual presence. As it is written in Ecclesiastes “I denied my eyes nothing that they desired, refused my heart no pleasure…What futility it all was, what chasing after the wind.” The Grace of one another is our hope, the only power that can vanquish addiction’s destructive power.’ (Adapted May)

 My father recovered from his illness and stopped drinking cold turkey. He never attended a 12 step program. And he went on to live a rich and full life. He married again, he wrote, he protested, he laughed, he danced. And he had one glass of wine on his 80th birthday.

With Grace and Grit, John


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Observing Abundance

Why is it that when we are at the end of our life we regret what we didn’t do?  Couldn’t we try instead to appreciate what we did do. Abundance and gratitude are sisters. One is possible through the other. Studies have been done on happiness and aging. Apparently we, as a population, are happiest in our sixties and seventies.  Why?   Time changes as we age. We all know that time is slower when we are young and faster as we age, which is likely due to the fact that we have so many more memories to compare time to. So while we have more time when we are younger it’s full of anxiety. As we grow older we can let go of the worry about the future, in part because there is less of it to worry about.  Our time is less but more abundant in quality. When people are asked about meeting new people when they are young the answer is often “sure, why not?” because there is plenty of time to try that out. But as we age we don’t really have time for that. We want to develop and cherish the relationships we have. These are the deeper wells of our humanity from which we draw our living water.

Once we realize that all of us – all of us – are blessed with this divine abundance, this essential wholeness, than the sooner we can get on with the task of living lives that are integrated with our hopes and aspirations. Let me give you an example. I used to be a real penny pincher. I could make the Indian ride the back of the Buffalo. I would never give money to a panhandler. Until I met a messenger.  A panhandler I passed on the street who when I ignored him and walked on by said to me, ‘bless you anyway sir’. I turned around and saw a young man, a man my age at the time, and something went click; a moment of grace. “There but for the grace of God go I.” I realized our essential interconnection and I reached into my pocket and gave him all the money I had. Becoming whole will cost you. And it might just help you observe the abundance of love that resides in your own heart. 

With Grace and Grit, John

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Call of the Open Road

I begin with this from Walt Whitman:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.
Here the profound lesson of reception, nor preference nor denial,
The black with his woolly head, the felon, the diseas’d, the illiterate person, are not denied;
The birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar’s tramp, the drunkard’s stagger, the laughing party of mechanics,
The escaped youth, the rich person’s carriage, the fop, the eloping couple,
The early market-man, the hearse, the moving of furniture into the town, the return back from the town,
They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be interdicted,
None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me."
(From the "Song of the Open Road")
The more I serve others, the more convinced I am that all of us need a time to be away, to follow the call of the open road and restore our souls, whether across the country or down the street. So that we might in Whitman’s words: “Be Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, Strong and content I travel to the open road.”

For what is to continue must find time to roam and return. I hold to this as dearly as my calling. I know that only by journeying out from you each resplendent summer can we find meaning once again in our return. People often ask why ministers have most of the summer out of their pulpits or away from their pianos. When you work 60 – 70 hours a week, you must have some time to recharge in order to serve again. This call to the open road, is more than just a much appreciated sabbatical, it is a spiritual practice. For only with it, are we able to serve again with new ideas, fresh energy and what wisdom we garner along the way.

Perched here on the edge of summer, I recall the sort of excitement that we all felt as school was about to end, and we had that great expanse of the summer before us, endless it seemed.  Most of us, now living in the adult world think of summer differently, the possibility of a small vacation, sure but other tasks and the heat to be contended with.
Nevertheless, I still commend summer as the best time to do the work of the soul.  That time of year when we travel figuratively and physically to new horizons and new ideas to be tried.  It is a season of pause, a time to reconsider the future.  In its implied rest, the summer is the space between our heart beats.  I commend to you this journey of the soul, to reflect on our place in the cosmos and to bring back.

Follow your call, and find your way home again.

With Grace and Grit, John