Billy Penn looking out over his city

Billy Penn City Hall American flag, Sonesta corporate logo

Billy Penn is a bruiser. He stands 37 feet tall and weighs 27 tons. The days when the brim of the hat was by handshake agreement the highest thing in the city ended 30 years ago, but this bronze simulacrum of Philadelphia’s founder still cuts an imposing figure, peeking out between buildings wherever you go in Center City. Earlier this year, he was washed and buffed from top to toe. Even the solid symbols of our ideals need to be spruced up a bit from time to time.
And the thing is, the City of Brotherly Love was always more of an ideal than a reality. Penn’s “holy experiment,” the colony of Pennsylvania, has always been a work in progress. It must be so because, as they say, we are only human. We put a cross atop our steeple, but it doesn’t mean the church is perfect. The only statement it makes is that this is our ideal, the standard we aim for and try to live ever closer to, knowing it must always be a little out of reach. To say out loud that we’ve fallen short is a actually mark of commitment to the process.

I love being part of these grand experiments. I love my country because of what it stands for. I love living in a place that was founded as an experiment in tolerance. We need to take care in what we lift up, and courageously, honestly commit to bringing these ideals to life

In exhortation

If I had to, I’d want the job of the one on the right.

Sermon illustration for the next time Romans 12:6-8 comes up and we have to explain what an exhorter looks like: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: … the exhorter, in exhortation.”

The golden hour

The golden hour: toward the end of the day, toward the end of the season. There is strange beauty even in the dying.

The Guest House
By Jelaluddin Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Robert “King” Carter’s grave marker
(photo by Beverly Davis Valcovic)

My seventh great-grandfather owned hundreds of slaves in colonial Virginia. He was a man so rich and powerful that his nickname was “King.”

His accomplishments were many: acting governor of Virginia, speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, rector of William and Mary College. His descendants, according to the current website for the church he built in Lancaster County, Virginia, “include three signers of the Declaration of Independence, two presidents, eight Virginia governors, General Robert E. Lee, a Supreme Court justice, and more than 20,000 other descendants” – among them, of course, myself.

In addition to his civic achievements, he also served for more than 40 years as vestryman and church warden for Christ Church Parish, which still exists, but only as a museum. The epitaph on his tomb there, translated from the Latin, describes “an honorable man” of “noble endowments and pure murals,” who “upheld equally the regal dignity and the public freedom” and was “possessed of ample wealth, blameless acquired.”

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I don’t know much about tires. I do know that when you see a tire that’s very low on air and has a big bubble on the side, that is not a good thing. I also know that driving a long distance at highway speeds with two mismatched tires on the front of the car and a tire pressure indicator glowing bright orange on the dash is not a good feeling.

I’ll spare the details, but both of those things were part of our recent drive to Washington DC for lunch. Yes, I do know that people don’t ordinarily drive 360 miles round trip for lunch, but we had this opportunity for a brief visit with the daughter who lives in California, and we took it.

Now we’re back and we have new tires on order, to be installed tomorrow by our local service guy, who knows us by name, and whose family was taking care of my family’s cars long before I arrived on the scene. I anticipate that when I see the size of the bill for four new tires, I’m going to be asking myself why I didn’t just go ahead and buy a whole new car. But I trust him, and I feel well served.

Somewhere in South Jersey, there’s another tire guy who served us well. I know his first name only, because that’s the name of his business. He kicked us ahead of all the other cars in the shop to install the tire we needed so we could keep going and keep our lunch date. And his bill was unbelievably low. So maybe those two things balance each other out.

Plus time with someone you love so much: Priceless!

Clergy barista

Help wanted: Coffehouse, or church? 

“We Are Hiring! Are you a barista? Do you love making coffee? Can you work quickly under pressure & still be a nice person? Do you like working with people? Do you have impeccable customer service skills?”

I have a little Starbucks Verismo machine in my office, and I get hit up for coffee as often as I’m asked for spiritual advice. So this sounds like my job description pretty exactly. Maybe for my fifth career ..


At the heart of the city, in the midst of such busyness, a moment of quiet. What you can’t see in this picture is the little girl who’s quietly leaning against the woman on the bench. After they’d been sitting for a while a young couple arrived, and the girl jumped up to greet them. Caregiver? Grandma? Evening handoff? I only know that for a little while, they were at peace.

Big heart

Doctor’s office, medical history. I can trace the arc of my own life through the questions they ask, these chroniclers of my genetic inheritance. For a long time the main object of their interest was my mother and the benchmarks of women’s health. Over the years their focus shifted from childbearing to her bones: Did she lose height? Were there any hip fractures? Now the questions have shifted again, to my father: the early heart attack, his AFib, the valve that had to be replaced. I see that they’re wondering if I might have his heart.

My first thought: I hope not.

But no, that’s not true. My dad had a big, kind and loving heart; anyone who knew him would tell you that. So please, yes, let me have my father’s heart.

(I don’t, by the way. Have my father’s heart, at least in a medical sense. The other is something I’m working on.)

Which wolf do you feed?

Reminds me of the fable sometimes attributed to Cherokee tradition, that we each have two equally powerful wolves at war inside of us: one peaceable and good, the other evil and angry. Which one wins? The one you feed.

Wonder which this was.