Musings From MacMahonAugust 2010 


Former Rector Father Jim’s summer chaplaincy at

St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church

MacMahan Island, Maine

August 24

It has been a busy week on the Island and in the Rectory. Family and
friends have filled the rooms with laughter and much good food has been prepared and consumed. It’s clear that even with all the walking the
Island demands, a diet and extra treadmill time are in the near future
of my life.

The weather has been cool and, in the last few days, damp. We had just a
little rain and most of it during the night. The days have been breezy and cool. Indeed a tree we view from our porch has begun to turn a brilliant red where it dares to stick its leaves above the other trees.
Undoubtedly there is some metaphor in its brilliant reds.  Today the house empties of everyone but Joan and me. We will have the remaining time on the Island to ourselves. We will be sad to see everyone leave and in particular Katie. We’ve enjoyed her visit and the things we’ve done together. We were
talking last night that
even on a return trip to the Island, we’ve done some very different things together. The three of us have missed Kari, Matt and Peyton but we’ve found time to keep up with them by phone over these days we’ve been together. We’ll all be together in Chicago when Joan and I visit in October.  This year I’ve asked three questions of everyone who has visited the Island. At first they felt like insignificant questions – indeed some might say not intelligent – but over time they’ve grown in some significance as I’ve listened to others answer them and my own answers. I thought I would leave them with you this week so that you, too, might ponder them. Next week I’ll offer some reflections on my own answers and on what I heard others add. So here they are:

1. Sitting by the sea, if you were to
segregate a distinct parcel of water from the body of water before you,
where has that parcel of water been in the last hour, day, week, month, etc. and how long before it’s gone from where you sit?

Why is it that the water of the seas don’t fall off the other side of the world as the world rotates? After you’ve stopped laughing at this
question – take a moment and put yourself the position of someone who might not know about gravity and centrifugal force.

As you look at the horizon of the sea (in our case the Gulf of Maine) is it any surprise that people once thought the world was flat? And a follow-up question. It took courage for someone to sail for the first time to the horizon, what horizons are you avoiding sailing towards in your life?

Ponder these questions for a time and I’ll take the opportunity to reflect upon them myself and write some in the coming week.


As with last year, it is hard to believe a month has nearly passed in this Island world. Families have come and gone and the season is now one month shorter than it was when I arrived. Yet there
is a constancy to the what I awake to each morning as though creation is there to assure us that there is a continuity to life and that when we can slow down enough to take a look around us with “joy and wonder,” as
our Prayer Book says, then we see the Divine presence not just in the
red tipped maple tree outside the porch but in our very lives. Joan and I are blessed with many good friends both far and near a few of whom we’ve enjoyed this setting with over these past weeks. We are blessed with a family whom we love and receive love from each of them.
And we’ve been blessed to be invited into the life of this wonderful
Island. This is the last of a two year commitment, but I hope not the last of our visits to MacMahan for there is something very special that happens here as the sky meets the sea. We will want to part of this experience again.

Joan and I plan to leave MacMahan Sunday afternoon. Joan flies from Portland to Atlanta that evening. After I’ve dropped her at the airport I plan to get on the road for the trip home.
I am hoping to stop in New Jersey to see my mentor and friend, Fr. Davis. I will then continue on to Marietta. My plan right now is to be in the office on Wednesday, September 1. I look forward to my return and to being with each of you.


August 18

It’s been a quiet week on MacMahan. After my sister and brother-in-law and the McGill’s left on Friday, August 6 I was alone until Saturday, August 14. The time went slowly and quickly depending on the hour and the day. It’s funny! I look forward to the alone time and the attention I can give to what I want to do or read, but there are times in the midst of it that I think I don’t want to be here alone.
For those who regularly place themselves into such situations, I wonder if they share similar feelings? Or does it “grow on you” the more you do
it. In any case, Tuesday of last week was a difficult day.

For whatever reason, I had promised myself I would not leave the island before the mid-way point between my first company leaving and the
second group arriving. That mid-way point was a Wednesday. The
day before, Tuesday, I had just about enough of the alone time.
It really took will power to stay on the island and not “escape” to the “big city.”
I can see that loneliness – wherever or whenever it may occur – could be
a force that might drive one to live more fully into those things that are what we might consider negative forces in our lives.
By Friday of last week I spent some time working around the rectory putting a new flag up, repairing some screening on the screened in porch, and some other minor repairs around the house. I’m not claiming some major feat here – but am
claiming to have come face to face with what I suspect many feel – especially those who live alone – and the challenges and decisions we might face in our lives.

I have nearly finished all the reading that I wanted to accomplish during the month. As more company comes and we enjoy the island together the pace of my reading
is slowing down – and so it is good to have accomplished so much by the middle of
the month. I am now working my way through I book I picked up after reading an online review. life is a verb by Patti Digh is an entertaining book with a serious objective: “living each individual, glorious, simple day with more intention.”
It is much more a workbook than a reading book – but I’ve to this point used it as
a reading book. I hope to find some way to use the book in our ministry together that together we might “work” our way through it. It the meantime I highly
recommend it because it’s one of those books that you find yourself reading
with laughter one minute and tears in your eyes the next simply because you
recognize the joys, struggles, grief, laughter, impossible situations, and challenges
that animate your life.  Over the weekend I had the opportunity to have lunch with
Mark Ranney and two of his three sons, Stephen and Wilson. Mark and his family moved to Maine from Marietta about eight years ago. Much has changed in their individual and family life since that time, but it was glorious to spend a couple hours catching up with one another. They seem very happy and, of course, the boys are at a much different place than when they left St. Catherine’s. I think the one thing that
struck me was what Mark had to say about St. Catherine’s.
The life we share together in this congregation is extraordinary. It isn’t unique – other congregations exhibit such gifts – but it is rare and therefore a gift to be cherished and
nurtured. I think we understand the gift we have been given and my perception is that we work hard to preserve it – but it is a challenge to each of us to continue to care for one another in the ways God has given us individually to be His presence in word and deed in other’s lives. As I write this reflection, I’m looking forward to lunch in Bath with Tim Braman who is in town on business.

We are more than half way through the month. I have two Sundays left with the good people of St. Cuthbert’s. They have been
welcoming and warm as they were last year. Even with having been here only a month and a half I can feel the roots being formed in this holy place. It is no surprise that many priests who come here, as I have, continue to return to the island year after year. As our family grows and vacation demands change I don’t know that a regular return to MacMahan is in our immediate future – but it is certain that a return to the island will be a part of our life.

I look forward visits with family and friends over the waning days of August. Joan and Katie are here and Joan will be through the end of the month including nearly a full week we will share together by ourselves – a gift to both of us that we rarely get in the midst of our vocations and resulting demands in Marietta. John and Liz Rea and Paul and Sharon Parisi are here as I write this reflection. It is good to share this time and this place with them. They will return to Atlanta tomorrow and
Ginny and Scott Lummus arrive the next day to spend a few days with us. The time will go quickly and before we know it the early days of September will be upon us. I see important work before us and have already begun to prioritize my work in the coming year. I pray that
this time and its refreshing influence will continue to call me back to
the need for regular quiet and alone time to renew and sustain my
relationship with God.


August 11

Where was I?!
yes, the ruptured sewage system. As you might imagine, MacMahan Island is a large outcropping of rock on the west side
of Sheepscot Bay. Early settlers tried their hand at farming and, indeed, there are some remaining traces of their effort on the north end of the island in the form of tired and ill kept orchards. But the land, to be truthful, is made for little more than forestation and summer settlements. It is not possible to put sewage systems
under the surface of the island as we would in Georgia or most other
places. To solve the problem they have installed two stage biological systems above ground. They use bacteria colonies to produce eco-friendly, safe effluent. And most are cleverly disguised so that they don’t take away from the beauty of the

Last Tuesday morning, Mike, my brother-in-law said, “Did you smell sewage last year while you were here?”
I said occasionally, but this was different. It was something more than an occasional whiff so to speak. Further exploration
showed the primary processing tank had failed and a six inch crack had appeared slightly above the bottom of the tank and in somewhat spectacular fashion the tank was emptying itself on the ground. A few phone calls later the island superintendent
confirmed what we’d discovered. Yet, by the next day he’d done a yeoman’s job of patching the tank and we were back in business except for a few whiffs of sewage which had since completely disappeared. The island is managed by a group of dedicated guys who, it seems, have become jacks of many trades simply out of necessity. They are welcoming and willing to respond to most any phone call. I respect them for what they do and they have been very welcoming and kind to me.

Walt and Gail McGill and their daughter Robin and her husband Andy visited on Thursday and Friday of last week. We had a wonderful time as we walked the southern end of the island in the fog. The greyness of the fog makes the island and surrounding waters somewhat
one dimensional and mysterious. You can make the faint outline of nearby islands that you know full well are just across the passage, but for the life of you it seems like they come and go on a minute to minute basis. We
ate a wonderful meal which they’d fixed and brought with them and enjoyed a cool evening at the cottage. At the end of the night the fog had lifted and we all sat on the porch and enjoyed the spectacular display of stars that delights the observer each evening. The next day was beautiful
with nary a cloud in the sky and we hiked to the north end of the island before everyone left on the noon boat. In one short 24 hour visit they got to see both island personalities – grey and solemn and bright and sunny.

I’ve been alone since last Friday at noon. In that time I’ve completed three books and have nearly completed another three as I write this reflection. Perhaps most of all this alone time recharges my soul with an occasional feeling of too much aloneness. As I’ve said, I don’t get
the uninterrupted reading time at home, but here I can read for an entire day with little or no interruptions. It is a joy and even as I leave the island this year and return not again – or at least for some time – I will need to work hard at establishing this kind of time in my life once per year. I anticipate Joan’s arrival this weekend along with Katie. In addition to Joan, Paul and Sharon Parisi and John and Liz Rea will be joining us over the weekend and into the early part of next week. The Nixon’s, Parisi’s, Rea’s anticipate seeing Mark Ranney (Mark was chair of the search committee when I was called to St. Catherine’s and
a member of the Emmaus Team) on Saturday for lunch. So things are about to get a bit more busy at the Rectory.  After I’d published the list of books I intended to read, someone said to me – “I detect a theme in your reading. Was that intentional?”
I can assure it was not intentional. I’d seen the movie Invictus when it was released earlier this year and enjoyed it.
Nelson Mandela has been for me a role model of the human spirit and the deep desire to do good. So it naturally
led to wanting to read more about him. It was a natural extension to read Desmond Tutu’s new book as well. And so I did find a theme in Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage and made for goodness: and why this makes all the difference.
It can be summarized in the word that was the theme of the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is best described as “the idea that people are empowered by other people, that we become our best selves through
unselfish interaction with others.” The idea is that we do nothing by ourselves; that we become fully who God has intended for us to be only through our interaction with the other in our lives. It is a concept that is poles apart from the way I was raised and most of you as well in a culture of rugged individualism.  Reading these two books and then reading To Kill a Mockingbird and having just read The Help that I spoke of last week, has been a powerful experience. In some way each raises up both the goodness and the ugliness of human interaction. To some how believe that there are people for whom we have no use or worst to see them as less than ourselves and thus justify dehumanizing them is a stain that plagues humankind. Of course, it is easy to read about South Africa and our own modern day south and believe (at least I would hope) that the way we treated black people was wrong. And it was. But what Mandela and Tutu point out is that we are still doing it. Yes, we’ve gotten far more sophisticated about it and we’ve learned the limits of acceptability, but there are countless examples of how we continue to turn our backs on the subjugation of the other and in some cases justify it as reasonable and required. And most importantly for me is to be confronted with my own prejudices and the deep call to confess them and to lead us as a people to acknowledge our own duplicity in not allowing people to live most fully into their created being. As Tutu says in the preface to his book, “We know all too well the cruelties, hurts, and hatreds that poison life on our planet. But my daughter and I have come together to
write this book because we know the catalogue of injuries that we can and do inflict on one another is not the whole story of humanity; not by a long measure. We are made for goodness.”  In the midst of this heavier reading I finished a book given
to me by Marlene Stuart, The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson. What a delightful book to read overlooking the bay where lobster men work every morning at the foot of the cliff on which the Rectory sits. It is a fascinating book that combines science, politics, and history with the sex life of a lobster. If you’ve never read of the rough and tumble world of lobster mating, all the passion that accompanies their sex life, and the scientific work that has gone into understanding their habits of mate selection – well this book is for you. For everyone who travels to the shores of Maine and intends to enjoy a lobster dinner this book should be required reading.

We get our lobsters from Captain Crunch right off the boat at the island float. I look forward to my second meal of lobster next week gathered around the table in this Rectory on this special island with family and friends. Bon appetite!

First on-island report

I arrived on MacMahan Island safely and without incident.  An unscientific survey suggests both more personal vehicles and long haul trucks on the road this year than last.  If either give any indication of the health of the economy then this year’s economy is stronger than last year’s.  The traffic, especially in the northeast corridor, was relentless and demanded extreme alertness during the trip.  It was a relief to be in Bath, Maine on Friday afternoon anticipating arrival at the island on Saturday morning. My sister Pat and her husband Michael arrived with me so the work of settling into the Rectory was made easier by an additional two sets of hands.  Not much has changed from last year which you might expect in a house that is used only two months out of the year.  Some of the supplies I left last year are still on the shelves as though eagerly awaiting my return.  It did make settling in a task not of discovery as
it was last year, but rather a re-acquaintance of some sort.  Some changes were noted however.  I found a king size rather than queen size bed in the master bedroom and since arriving we’ve added a new chair and disposed of one in such bad shape it required a sheet to make it appear somewhat acceptable.
A pleasant surprise awaiting me was a letter from the July chaplain.  Fr. Tim Elliot was in parish ministry in the Diocese of Toronto for 25 years and retired early to set up a ministry development consulting practice.  He’s an honorary assistant at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto.  With the population of Canadians at St. Catherine’s I found it both ironic and comforting to follow this priest in serving the people of St. Cuthbert’s.  In his note he did mention that his wife, Judy, “really appreciated reading [my] blog of last summer which gave [them] both a helpful and personal introduction to the island and its life and people.”  So, if Tim and Judy are following along – I wish you the very best and thank you for leaving the Rectory in such fine shape. Our first worship service together went well.  Katherine, the organist, had already selected hymns and I preached on the parable of the foolish rich man.  I worked on the skills of preaching
outside of
the pulpit last year while on MacMahan and I intend to continue to work on those skills during these five Sundays.  I enjoy this form of preaching but it takes a great deal of preparation to know what I want to say, to say it in the way I want, and to not take too long doing it.  Inevitably at the end of the sermon I’m feeling that there was something I wanted to say or a particular way I wanted to make my point that I missed in the preaching of the sermon – but that comes with work and time.
The weather is cool and we had a bit of rain early Tuesday morning.  It has been very pleasant after leaving the unrelenting heat
of Georgia.  July was a warm and wet month in Maine with one storm dumping some 7 inches of rain on the island in a couple of hours.  For a place that depends on dirt roads you can imagine the damage such a deluge did to the roads.  During February they had a very hard
storm that left a lot of tree damage and in hiking the island you can see downed trees everywhere.  The sound of chain saws can still be heard across the island.

I’ve begun my reading but its been interrupted by the setting up of a new computer.  I brought it with me so that I could spend my time getting the programs on it that I want for the office.  The biggest issue is not having internet.  Everything
so depends on a connection to the internet that it’s difficult to “simply” install software.  What is it about our lives that demands that we be connected at all times?  Shouldn’t we find some ways to be unconnected (not one to another) to the world of electronic reality?  There is something not very comforting about the necessity to always think at the other end of the computer is the internet?
I finished The Help by Kathyrn Stockett.  The novel is a look at
the relationship between white families and their black domestic help in Jackson, MS during the 60’s.  I found the book fascinating since I did not grow up in that environment (that is not to say I did not grow up in a racist environment).  There is just enough history in the book to keep it rooted in the dramatic changes in racial awareness and civil rights that was happening in the same time frame.  I sat on the square in Marietta the other day thinking about how much change the 60’s introduced into a culture that segregated people from one another by color while at the same time putting them into a situation that had the
power to create deep, lasting, and (in some cases) nurturing relationships.  It seems a juxtaposition that might be difficult to acknowledge or even to praise in the context of the evil of segregation – but it happened.  This book does a masterful job of raising up those relationships and exposing both the good and the evil that could come from them.  It has been in the top 10 of the New York Times bestseller list for 60+ weeks.  I can see why.
I look forward to sharing more reflections on my books, the island and its people, my visitors and just life in the slow lane over the coming weeks.  Stay tuned next week for the story of the ruptured septic system this morning.  Interesting!

July 26, 2010

This coming Wednesday, July 28, I leave for Maine. I will be the summer chaplain at St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church on MacMahan Island. Last year, I spent the month of August among these good people and I look forward to renewing friendships made last summer and making new ones this year. This will complete the second of a two year commitment to them.

As I anticipate my month away I have mixed feelings. Many things have changed in my life since last year and this month away will highlight them somewhat. The biggest change is the birth of Peyton. It is a profoundly gracious moment in our lives but the fact that Matt, Kari, and Peyton will not be able to gather with Joan, Katie and I will leave us all feeling somewhat fragmented.  Yet there will be other summers trips where we all will be together.

It is a particularly busy time in my life with the beginnings of the 50th anniversary at St. Catherine’s, the initial steps in the future planning process that we’re calling Holy Conversations, the chairmanship of the Master Planning Committee for Emmaus House, and chair of the Facilities Committee at MUST Ministries where we are in the midst of planning a new day service center in Cherokee County. All of this work cannot stop because I am in Maine.  On the other hand, the work is not about me only. There are many fine individuals at St. Catherine’s, Emmaus House, and MUST Ministries who will carry on this work with an occasional phone call to MacMahan Island.  It is hard to believe that just as I leave for a few weeks away our children will be returning to school. I wish each of them the very best in the coming academic year and I wish you parents the patience to deal with the pressures of the early weeks of school.  I look forward to hearing many great things about the Country Fair event at St. Cat’s on Sundays, August 15, 22, and 29. I thank the many people who are working hard behind the scenes to make these Sundays an extraordinary time—look for more information in the coming weeks, but most of all plan to participate, adults and children alike.

In the meantime, I wish each of you some rest and relaxation in these closing days of the summer imposed on us by school systems and hope that you will find time to delight in the time you spend with your family and friends. This is what I intend to do on MacMahan Island.

July 12, 2010

Father Jim’s reflections about his upcoming second tenure this August as summer chaplain at St. Cuthbert’s
Episcopal Church (right), on MacMahan Island, Maine:  

Among the many opportunities a month on an island provides is uninterrupted opportunity to read. I don’t get long stretches of time to read during the normal course of my private and vocational life. Usually my reading time boils down to 90 minutes here and an hour there. And the truth is that most of that reading is for
professional reasons and not simply for pleasure. So this year as last year, I intend to catch up on my reading. I thought you might like to know what I am reading or planning to read during this gift of quiet and time on MacMahan Island.

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett –
    Set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., a
    budding new writer and social activist recently graduated from Ole Mis
    collects the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts.
  • Life is a Verb by Patti Digh – 37 days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionally.
  • Ubuntu by Stephen Lundin – You may recognize this as the theme of the 2009 General Convention of the
    Episcopal Church. A powerful story about the African philosophy of teamwork and collaboration that has the power to reshape our workplaces, our relationships with coworkers, and our personal lives.
  • Mandela’s Way by Richard Stengel – The author, the editor of Time Magazine, has distilled countless hours of intimate conversation with Nelson Mandela into fifteen essential life lessons.
  • Made for Goodness (and why this makes all the difference) by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu – With his daughter Mpho, an Episcopal priest in Washington, D.C., the retired Anglican archbishop writes a relatively personal book about his
    fundamental, faith-based beliefs about human nature: people are basically good because they are made in God’s image. He maintains this in the face of the horrific events he has witnessed in his country and elsewhere, and he bases his belief in part on simple experiences throughout his life that have involved family and, significantly, his failures.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – “2010 is the 50th Anniversary of the publication of this beloved American classic. Celebrate by reading it again!” So reads the publicity. But the truth is I’ve never read the first time (saw the
    movie but never read the book). So I will read it this summer – or at least begin before I arrive back in Marietta.

June 21, 2010

Once again this year (and the second of a two year commitment) I will be at St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church on MacMahan
Island, Maine during August.  My first Sunday with St. Cuthbert’s will be August 1. I’ll be their preacher, pastor and chaplain until Sunday, August 29. I’ll return to St. Catherine’s on September 1st.

As I did last year, I plan to share with you a weekly article that we’re going to call “Musings from MacMahan.”

I know this sounds like a dream come true opportunity—-an island in Maine in August.  And it was and is! Last year I admitted to some apprehensions of being on a small island “at sea” with only three ferries a day to terra firma. Will I get bored? Will I enjoy it so much that…? Will there be a sense of  isolation and if so how might I respond?

Am I capable of slowing down and enjoying it, or will I pace back and forth over the island’s foot paths? Will I feel out of
touch with only a cell phone and a laptop but no internet? Am I planning to read too much; think too much; plan too much; pray too much; etc.? In some ways they are all questions that once again face me
as I anticipate my visit.

I look forward to this year because I know the “lay of the land.” In addition to time for reading and relaxation, I look forward to Joan being with me the majority of the month this year. In addition Katie, Kari, Matt and Peyton are planning to visit
the last half of the month. Joan and I look forward to a wonderful time of bonding with Peyton. We look forward to visits from good friends from St. Catherine’s during the early part of the month. In addition I’ll once again be able to test the theory that the world of MacMahan is more like the real world God has created where everyone has time to enjoy hospitality, worship with ease, read, and enjoy one another’s company.  So each week, as I did last year, I will try to reflect on what’s happening and capture some thoughts on paper and find some way to send them to you.