The Story of Onceupona Time...(still continued)

{Mercy, the spirit was willing but the flesh has been rather frazzled these last few days...I'll still plug away with this story because these characters deserve it, but we might extend it out to New Years, okay by you? Thanks! From here on, the story will probably be bite-sized...think of it as handfuls of Chex mix or something.}


Liberty’s first day of class was early in January, so early that the Foster Retirement Center was still ablaze in Christmas décor. An old plastic crèche sat just to the left of the front doors, the three main characters weathered but determined. The Christ-child looked stable enough, but someone or something had rendered Mary and Joseph flat; the blessed Virgin flat on her face and righteous Joseph flat on his back. As man and boy carefully reset the scene, Davis Walton spoke in pastoral tones: ‘Most of the people here are like this, Onceuponatime…they’re old but beautiful, life keeps knocking them over…we’ll just try to help them back up.’ The smile and nod of his grandson’s face was sufficient, a word the good reverend had learned to live by. Davis Walton offered his hand to the little boy he loved the most and in they went.  

Jenny Parker, Foster’s 'Activities Architect', was on the front desk phone as they walked in. She waved them past, silently mouthing ‘they’re waiting for you.’ The words were not lost on Onceuponatime. Some mothers would have overcoached this experience, trying to prepare their child for any and all contingencies. But not Liberty. She believed her son belonged to these Fridays with his grandfather as sure as rain is wet. Liberty had read stories to her son since his birth; she knew now he would begin living them. Before driving away earlier that morning, she kissed her son’s forehead once and nose twice, then simply said ‘its waiting for you.’  

The Story of Onceupona Time...(continued)

You may be wondering who I am and how I know so much about the life of Onceuponatime Walton. At this point in the story all I can say is that I was a firsthand witness to the life of this boy, maybe like no one else, even Liberty. I believe it will become clear along the way, but if not, I’ll tell you when we near the end of this particular chapter in his life. I promise.

You might anticipate Onceuponatime was born with special powers, like he could talk to ravens or his arms wouldn’t break or his singing made it snow. Those would be false hopes, for Liberty Walton’s son was as normal as normal. But every once in a while a baby is born who is, as they say, ‘a carrier.’ This child has no unique powers of his own but rather carries the collective power of the people around him, like their dreams or fears or sadness. So in a sense, yes, Onceuponatime was valiantly special, but it took the people around him to make him so. As you will see, he needed them, just like they needed him.

For the first three years of his life, Liberty Walton and Onceuponatime did everything together. If you saw one, you saw the other. Franny Withers, the postmistress, said ‘a goose and her gosling, I tell ya, goose and gosling.’ Folks in Delight would see them out walking mid-morning, which they had a habit of doing, and ask Liberty how things were going and she’d say ‘oh, oh these are halcyon days.’ Not everyone knew what halcyon meant, in fact practically no one did, but they loved to hear Liberty say it. If you sorta had a hunch, you were right; yes, Liberty was a carrier too.

The halcyon days of Onceuponatime’s life did not end when he celebrated his fourth birthday that unseasonably warm Christmas, but they did change. Liberty had decided to take a class at the nearby community college, a class that would meet all day on Fridays for the duration of the spring semester. The question on the heels of this decision, one that Liberty’s mother and the entire town of Delight wondered was, ‘but what will you do with Onceuponatime?’ Come to find out, Liberty and her father had been in, as they say, ‘cahoots’, they were already one step ahead.

Every Friday, as had been his habit for years, Rev. Davis Walton spent the morning with the old folks of the Foster Retirement Center. They’d gather in the common room and he’d always share a story, just almost a homily but not quite a sermon. After that, the remainder of the time was filled with singing, everything from ‘Amazing Grace’ to ‘Stardust.’ The folks there were of a variety, not so much a box of chocolates as a can of mixed nuts. Some, like Eva Simpson, were still mentally a razor’s edge. Others, like Chet Waller, were always lost somewhere in the past. Make no mistake, Chet knew where he was, its just no one else was quite sure. After his time with these tender souls, Rev. Walton would stop by The Net for their fish basket lunch special, then he’d head to the park to saunter, feed squirrels, skip rocks, think…he called it praying.

The two cahoots had agreed that for at least the time being of Liberty’s class, Onceuponatime would join his grandfather for the Friday usual. Rev. Davis Walton was so excited he thought he might, as they say, ‘pop.’

The Story of Onceupona Time

{Its hard to adequately express my gratitude for your regular or even sporadic stopping by to read the popcorn thoughts strung together at The Dirty Shame. I wrote a story a couple of Christmases ago as a gift to you, the readers, my friends. You liked it, or at least you said you did. So today begins another story...a present for you, unwrapped a little every few days or so, concluding on Christmas Eve. Just know this tale is unfolding itself for me too, I have no idea where these lives will take us. But if there's anything I've learned thus far as a writer, its this - trust the story. So here we go.}

He was born on December 25th. It was the happiest day of single-mother Liberty Walton's life. But the ache in her bones told her it would be easy for his birth to be overshadowed, what with sharing a birthday with Jesus and all. She knew how the town loved to do Christmas. So she willed herself to give him an inimitable name, something to level the field a bit. His birth announcement in the local paper read

Onceupona Time Walton, 7lbs 12 oz, 19 inches

The truth is Liberty Walton could've named that boy Judas and the folks of Delight (pronounced Dee-lite) would've loved him just the same. The reason is every breathing soul in that town adored Liberty, she was native, 'a born and raised delight' as they say. In many ways the girl and the town grew up together. Liberty's parents were both beloved fixtures, her mother the school superintendent for years and her father the founding pastor of the Congregational church. Upon graduation from high school, Liberty received a prestigious scholarship to an Ivy League school. Delight was agog.

But something happened that first spring semester. Of course folks knew what happened, but they never really knew what happened. Liberty came home for the summer showing signs of life in her belly. The town all tiptoed around for awhile, trying to give her some space. Then one July Sunday morning, just prior to the benediction, Liberty stood before her father's congregation, hands resting on her abdomen, and said 'I'm so, so sorry. Please, please forgive me.' Jess McCandles, the church's tenured crosspatch, rose to his feet, wiped his eyes, and declared 'you'll always be a delight to us, Liberty Walton, you and that baby.' A hearty amen followed and from then on, as they say, 'that was that.' Delight was agog once more.

Per Liberty's request, folks took to calling her boy by his first and middle names, running them together sorta like you'd expect - Onceuponatime. Liberty would read to him at bedtime from a book of fairy tales, legends and myths, always beginning with that magic phrase - 'Once upon a time.' She would say those four words, then pause and look deep in her firstborn's life. This quotidian ritual was such that Liberty's son soon began to associate one thing with another; in other words, he began, even at an early age, to know why he was here.


Another Parson Brown question - Why So Serious?

A friend alerted me to a 'discussion starter' in Christianity Today last week. The last four words of that sentence sound sorta funny, huh? I don't read the magazine because I've never found anything in there that made me snicker, giggle, or hunker over and belly-laugh and the only kind of Christianity I desire today and any day is one that allows for the thunderous guffaw. As the Joker pined - why so serious? Anyway, the article was centered around the lyrics of our traditional Christmas carols. Some churches are being very selective about which carols they sing this season...some churches apparently considering banning certain carols - for example 'Away In A Manger' - because of questionable lines/theology like 'no crying he makes' which seems to run counter to the get-down-and-dirty-in-our-messy, a.k.a, the incarnation.

Have I already used the line why so serious? Yep, I have, well let's go ahead and make it two.

There were other voices in the piece, like my friend's, that lobbied for some yuletide sanity, but the fact that someone felt compelled to start such a discussion speaks volumes about a Christianity that today often needs to make much ado about something. But dear, dear Parson Brown, the flag waving bravely above it all is the banner of orthodoxy and that's important, right?  Well, dear, the lyrics I've always boogied to in the shower are His banner over us is love. That other banner, orthodoxy, has flown above many a corpse on many a battlefield as heaven wept.

I'm not a theologian nor do I play one on tv. I am, at least for these Advent days, a lowly parson. I will say this about 'Away In A Manger' - I sincerely believe there were moments when no crying he made, slivers of nanoseconds when the swaddled Son of God was still, still, still. These were spots of time when Mary and Joseph looked at each other and said mercy, all is calm, all is bright. And then, wouldn'tcha know it, the little drummer boy dropped his sticks and Melchior stumbled knocking over the frankincense and the One born to die let loose with a squeal to make humanity proud as the mother of God and her man sighed the sigh of joyous exhaustion and took, once more, to tending the little lord Jesus awake in the hay. Joseph looked up and noticed Clarence the angel standing in the corner, leaning forward in grinning adoration humming it really is a wonderful life...and the ox and lamb kept time.  

A Reckoning at Eventide

[This poem arose from a meditation on today's scripture reading concerning John the Baptist. I wondered what he might have heard or done after a day waist-deep in the Jordan. The poem points toward contrition - an important facet of Advent.]

The sun was dying away
they had all gone by then
my day's work done
the water stilled.
I shook myself dry
a final time,
that's when the rocks
awoke with echoes
they'd pocketed all day -
repent, repent, repent.
Another man might think
himself crazy in that moment
but not me, not the baptizer.

I knew.
I knew of my anger flashed
at the whoring husband
who will never change.
I knew of my breathless disgust
at the shrewd lover of mammon
as he confessed for spectacle.
I knew of my lust stirred low
when she rose from the water,
yes I am a man.
I knew of my envy as I
watched them leave my wilderness for
settings of silver and beds of ease.
I knew of what shone as indignation
for that brood of vipers but
was actually my venom of hate.
I knew of what I am foremost.
I knew.

So I turned, like a dog to vomit,
stripped myself bare and broke the surface
scrubbing my weathered skin
pink then blood-red,
a reckoning at eventide.
And the stones,
the stones finally slept.

Parson Brown's Hebrew word for the day...

We spent Thanksgiving week in Arkansas. An author I like calls the state 'Crackeropolis.' I think that's rather funny. Two and a half days at my sister-in-law's house and two and a half days with my dad and was a Goldilocks week - not too much, not too little, just right. One morning, after pumpkin bread and Community coffee, I opened the decorative chest that holds my parents' photographs and sat down to, as the Hebrews say, zakar - to remember. In many ways that chest is an ark of family covenant, housing boxes upon envelopes upon folders, all filled with spots of time from our lives written on tablets of film. My dad plopped down, saying 'I like remembering too.' My brother joined us.

So the leader of the band and his sons did just that, zakar. We weren't gathered around a screen, charmed by a prepackaged soundtrack from Apple, but rather shoulder to shoulder, with the tick of the heater nearby, carefully passing the texture of sacred time back and forth between us saying 'gosh, look at this' and 'what was her name?' and 'hey, nice Members Only jacket' and 'I sure miss him.' There was the picture of the church where I prayed Jesus into my heart. There were poses of Christmas mornings past, us groggy-eyed in front of the trees love always decorated. Family reunions. Summer vacations. Bicentennial Sunday, where we were all dressed up in colonial garb, me wearing (are you ready?) a puffy shirt. And then there were the old ones, fragile glances into a world of black and white, a time when yes, things seemed simpler. One of the old ones was a large 8x10 of my parents holding a butterball - me. I looked up at my dad sitting nearby, seventy years old now, eyes greying, and I looked back at the picture and suddenly he's in the pride of life, dark-haired, eyes full of promise, young wife on his arm and firstborn son in his hands. One of us, I cannot remember who and it doesn't matter anyway, said 'our lives are precious, aren't they?' The answer was not spoken but written with water that pooled our eyes and wet our cheeks: 'Yes, yes they are.'

I realize one can get 'lost' in reverie or even live in the past, neither very beneficial for yourself and those around you. But I also realize that many of us, myself included, don't take the time to zakar and that sin of omission renders us a bunch of ingrates, a condition that seems to be rampant these days and, I believe, an aroma quite unbecoming for one who once prayed Jesus into his heart to stay. Advent is a time of looking ahead, no doubt, but it is also a time of raising the question - 'our lives are precious, aren't they?' and remembering, often with words not spoken, the answer - 'Yes, yes they are.'



Have you ever wondered about Mary's father? Scripture is silent in regard to him, tradition names him Joachim... 

Born under the moon’s nail,
long expected, carried low
as was my prayer.
Unto us a child was born,
yet not to carry my name.
But children are a gift from God,
what’s born is born.
She would smile at my voice,
stitching herself to me,
a hem of grace
to my half-lived life.
Oh, Mary.

Then it all unraveled,
the veil of promise torn.

Through tears we witnessed
her jubilant shriving:
a tale of angel
and favor and son.
She spoke as one changed,
not older, but larger, magnified.
But who could believe such things?
By day her mother murmured
all things are possible.
By night she paced.
Me? I wept alone.
Oh, Mary.

Whoever the father is,
I wrestle with him in dreams.

Parson's Prayer...

What if I'm not ready?
Not ready for December,
and carols and Rankin-Bass?
I'm no Scrooge, lord knows,
or a foolish virgin (actually, scratch the virgin part)
its just my ivy's
not feeling that holly...
at least not yet.
If someone said well ready or not, its coming
I'd be tempted to shoot their partridge
and that's not christian, lord knows.
So help me, help us get ready. Amen.