Saturday, 10 November 2007

Armistice Day

An armistice was called between the combatants in the Great War (later known as World War I) for the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month in 1918.

That day was long known by the victors as Armistice Day. Now it is called Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, and Veterans’ Day in these United States.

So many young men died in that war. Left behind in each of the warring countries were young widows, and women who would never be able to marry because the cream of males had perished.

Memorials were set up in small towns and on village greens throughout the United Kingdom (and doubtless also in the U.S.A..

In the U.K. they often bore this inscription - a lament to the young dead. It is from a longer poem by Lawrence Binyon.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

As well as being known as the Great War, or the 1914-18 war, people called it “The War to End All Wars”.

It was not be so. Within 21 years Europe was at war again, joined by the U.S.A. in 1941 after the Pearl Harbour attack.

Britain and France have had their post 1945 colonial wars; the United Nations in Korea; and the U.S.A. in Vietnam, and twice in the Persian Gulf.

40,000 “Brits” have died in combat since 1945.

In Vietnam the American toll was 58,209 killed in action, and 153,303 wounded in action.

Going on 4,000 American and British young men and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are flags all over Sarasota today. They will stay up through the weekend. I fly mine every day, my “little statement” that Liberals are patriots!

I noticed that it had torn so went off to ACE hardware to buy a new one. I am supposed to burn my old flag (one also should burn old Bibles), but since I do not have a fireplace I’ll take it to the American Legion.

It is a grand old flag. But it’s very hard for me to pledge allegiance to it. The problem for me is not the flag, but the idea of pledging allegiance to an inanimate object.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation under God, indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all.

The first version of the pledge was published in 1892 (The 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage). The words “under God” were not added until 1954.

Here is what I wish it said:

I pledge allegiance to the Constitution and Bill of Rights
of the United States America, symbolized in our flag.

One Nation, of many faiths and none, with liberty and justice for all.

That will not fly I know, but I will keep that two minutes of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 2007.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Memories of rationing

Rationing continued in Great Britain until well after the end of World War II. Clothing, foodstuffs, furniture - just about everything was rationed.

That great British standby “tea” was at a premium. Every leaf had to be imported.

Clothing was rationed, as was furniture under a national design known as Utility Furniture. People could purchase furniture only if they were newly weds, or if their home had been bombed.

Here is a typical ration allowance for 1948 - three years after the war’s end.

Bacon and Ham 2 oz. (57 gm) per person a fortnight

Cheese 1½ oz. (43 gm) a week

Butter/margarine 7 oz. (198 gm) a week

Cooking fats 2 oz. (57 gm) a week

Meat 1s. (5p) worth a week Sugar 8 oz. (227 gm) a week

Tea 2 oz. (57 gm) a week

Chocolates and sweets 4 oz. (113 gm) a week

Eggs No fixed ration: 1 egg for each ration book when available

Liquid milk 3 pints a week

Preserves 4 oz. (113 gm) a week

And these are the dates on which items came off ration.

July 1948 - Bread.
December 1948 - Jam.
October 1952 - Tea.
February 1953 - Sweets (Candy)
April 1953 - Cream.
March 1953 - Eggs.
September 1953 - Sugar.
May 1954 - Butter, cheese, margarine and cooking fats.
June 1954 - Meat and bacon.

So of course I remember some rationing, and ration books. It all seemed so normal at the time.

If my memory is correct sweets (candy) came off rationing for a while, and then was rationed again for a short while.

So I’ll take the February 1953 date (when I was 8, going on 9) for this memory.

It was a Sunday morning. My twin and I were walking to Eastville to visit Nanny Povey. We passed a “Newsagent, Confectionary and Tobacconist” shop on Bellevue Road. A sign outside said “Sweets off ration”. I had some pocket money.

But my family sternly forbade Sunday shopping. I discussed the matter with my twin, and with myself. Wisdom won and I entered the store to buy a Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate Bar.

But it was not for me. I was a people pleasing little bugger even then. It was for Mum. I remembered her stories about “Fry’s Five Boys”.

So after our visit with Nanny, I took the chocolate bar home to Mum. I was not chastised for shopping on a Sunday!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Gone fishin'

With all the wisdom of a 14 year old he told me “when I was young I used to fish here, and I used to catch 10lb basses”.

“He” was at the back of my house today, fishing in our pond with a friend who was maybe 10 years old.

I watched as the younger boy landed a fish. It looked big to me, and I rushed to get my camera.

By the time I returned, the fish had already been returned to the pond.

“How big was it?”, I asked. “About five pounds” the older boy replied.

Was it a Tilapia?” I asked - (rumour has it that our pond is filled with such fish).

“Oh no”, he replied, “it was a Bass. We are just catching and releasing”.

“When I was young”, he said, “I used to fish here, and catch 10lb basses”.

Thank God for young boys who still go fishing.

Thank God for 14 year olds who say: “when I was young”!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Yesterday's election in SRQ

Yesterday we had an election in Sarasota County and in the City of Sarasota.

For the first time we used optical scanning machines rather than touch screen voting. Somehow it felt more satisfying to put pen to paper on the large ballot sheet, rather than touching a computer screen. And now we have a paper trail in the event of disputed votes. Yeah for delayed progress - we were using optical scanners years ago in Massachusetts.

I remember the first time I was able to vote. The voting age was 21 in England at the time, so I would have cast my first ballot in the General Election of March 1966. My constituency, Bristol Central, was solidly Labour, and a Mr. Palmer (Arthur?) won the seat for Labour. The turnout was 69%. We voted on a paper ballot marking it in pencil with a large “X” for our preferred candidate.

I’ve voted in every election since then (including in American primaries) except for the period 1976 - 1984 when I lived in these United States but was not yet a citizen. The day after I became a citizen I registered to vote.

There were no candidates on our ballot yesterday. Instead we were responding (in the City) to 12 referendum questions.

The City and the County voted quite decisively to slow down development. The newspaper this morning described the voters as “angry”, but I disagree.

We voted in favour of a “super-majority ( 4 out of 5 ) votes by County Commissioners to approve certain changes in land use density. Similarly in the City we voted in favour of such a super-majority in order for changes to our Comprehensive Plan to take effect.

We voted in favour of a maximum $200 individual limit for contributions to City Commission candidates, and that those candidates should hand deliver a list of their contributors not later than 5:00 p.m. on the sixth day before elections. A good call for transparency.

We also voted that only natural persons, and not corporations or business entities could make contributions to City Commission candidates. (I voted against this - I don’t mind businesses giving political money, just so long as I know who they are!)

And there was an interesting vote in favour of election practices for City Commissioner elections. We shall henceforth vote for our candidates in order of preference.

That means that if my first choice does not get enough votes to be elected, my vote is transferred to my second choice. Good stuff this - they’ve been doing it in Australia for years!

And then there were two fascinating votes. In the County election we voted to continue an additional 1% in sales tax for the next 15 years. This revenue is devoted to school building and renovation, road improvements, public transit, park, beaches, libraries, and the history shows that it has been used for those purposes and not diverted to other projects.

So in effect, we voted NOT to reduce a tax. Wow!

But we turned down a $16 million City Bond issue to partly finance a new Stadium to be used, amongst others, by the Cincinnati Reds as a Spring Training facility. This proposed bond issue failed by the narrowest of margins (225 votes I believe).

So, were we angry voters yesterday? No, we were thoughtful, and I believe wise!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Don't call me Father

Soon after I was ordained Priest in December 1976 I had business cards made which identified me as Father Michael Povey. I relished that “Father” bit! No longer.

The whole business of names and titles for the ordained often causes confusion or merriment. ‘Tis all very silly stuff, except when it is taken seriously. And I was once a “serious Father”!

A wee bit of history.

The old appellation for a Minister in the Church of England was “Clerk in Holy Orders”. He (and it was always “he”) was a “Clerk” because he was literate. He was in Holy Orders since he was ordained.

There were also un-ordained “lay Clerks” - often the only literate man in the parish, who could therefore lead the congregational responses in the Liturgy.

Ordained Clerks became known as “Clerics” (the word is the same).

I am a Cleric. When with my sister and brother Priests we are Clerics - but we are never “Clergy” “Clergy” is a collective noun. We should speak of “the Clergy”.

(But tell that to the Marines! I am frequently asked “are you Clergy?”).

Strange too, that the English word “Cleric” - quite historic and appropriate for Church of England Ministers, is now almost only applied to leaders in Islam, as in “Muslim Clerics”.

“The Reverend” is an honorific not a title.

Other positions have their own honourifics. So we speak speak of a Judge as “The Honourable Judge Felicity Perkins”, but we would never think of greeting her as “Honourable”, or say that she is “an Honourable”. Similarly, I am not a “Reverend”.

A bit more about those honorifics later.

In the Episcopal/Anglican ordained world there are two sets of nouns.

Some state what we are, others describe what we do.

What we are: We are Deacons, Priests and Bishops by virtue of ordination.

So we are Deacons, Priests or Bishops even if we leave parish or diocesan ministry to open a bakery, or to retire. Those words have to do with “being” and not with “doing”.

What we do: This is described by a bewildering array of words.

Vicars, Rectors or Priests-in-charge, are most often Priests, but sometimes retired Bishops who have the “cure” or care of a local congregation. (Hence the word “Curate” - one who has care),

(If you ask me nicely, I’ll tell you the historic and linguistic different between Vicar and Rector. But here is a clue - think of the meaning of the words “Director“ and “Vicarious“).

Deans are clerics who are either

(1) The chief ordained priests/ministers of Cathedrals.

(2) Head honchos of Seminaries in the U.S.A. (in England they are called “Principals).

(3) Parish ministers/priests who have been appointed by the Bishop to have some additional oversight over other congregations in a local area.

Archdeacons are clerics who have been appointed by the Bishop to assume delegated responsibilities within the Diocese. They are members of Diocesan Staffs.

Archbishops are Bishops who have either

(1) Honorary leadership of a regional group of Dioceses (this is especially true in Canada, Australia and parts of Africa), or

(2) Leadership of an entire Church in a Country or a Region e.g. The Church in Wales, or the Church in Nigeria, or The Province of the Indian Ocean.

These latter Archbishops are known as Primates, for they have a Primacy of Honour (not necessarily or always of authority) in their Church.

Our wonderful Episcopal Church, reflecting an egalitarianism of earlier days, does not have an Archbishop. Our Primate is known as the Presiding Bishop. (And she is great!!!)

Back to those dreadful honourifics.

Priests are The Reverend.

Deans are The Very Reverend.

Archdeacons are The Venerable.

Bishops are The Right Reverend.

Archbishops/Primates are The Most Reverend.

At one time I thought that these titles and honourifics were of the greatest importance. Now I think that they are a crock. What the hell do they have to do with Jesus’ call to unconditional love? What the hell do they have to do with our call to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

And that’s one reason why I dropped and discouraged the “Father Michael” bit. I came to believe that it had more to do with my desire for status in the Church, rather than with my call to service.

(And it seemed so odd and even wrong that I would be called “Father Michael” whilst my sister Priest would be called “Molly”).

So I prefer the more gentle “Pastor”. Even better is the biblical “Brother” (or “Sister”).

And if I had my druthers we’d take a leaf out of the Quaker book and call each other “Friend”. (See John 15:15)

Monday, 5 November 2007

When I was horrible religious (4)

Futher adventures with Eric Hutchins”, and my downfall!

The “Eric Hutchins City Wide Crusade” ended in Bath, England. “Doctor Hutchins” as he liked to call himself (he had an Honorary Doctorate from a dubious American College) was about to leave with his team for South Africa. He was more than willing to preach to segregated congregations.

He summoned me to his home in Eastbourne, Sussex, and then offered me a new job. I was to visit Cities where he’d previously held crusades, and there peddle his monthly magazine (with a picture of him on every page).

I accepted the bait. He, his wife and I traveled back to London by train “First Class” on a Pullman car, on which we breakfasted in style with table linens, fine silverware and reasonably decent food. The Hutchins’ liked the finer things in life, and paid themselves well.

First I went to Brighton and stayed with a lovely host family. I visited Church after Church, but made few sales. The magazine was quite dreadful (and I knew it). In Brighton I watched the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill on T.V., that was in January 1964.

Then to Nottingham where I stayed with a pious and working class “Peeb” couple. They were so proud that their daughter was a missionary. Nottingham had what the British call “Trolley ‘buses” - double deckers on rubber wheels, with an overhead gantry to receive electricity. That was rare in 1960’s England, and it was fun to ride them. (Cambridge, Mass still has single decker “electric ‘buses).

The magazine would not sell. One good Minister told me why. It was not a news magazine but a monthly hagiography for Eric Hutchins.

Then to Birmingham, where I stayed with one Mrs. Porter, an elderly crippled woman, in her cold, damp un-insulated “prefab”. She in turn was excessively proud of her son, a Dr. Lawrence Porter who was a noted “Peeb” Bible teacher.

Somehow I encountered the “Birmingham Bible Institute” with its wonderfully eccentric founder and Principal, Dr. Harry Brash Bonsall. He was an odd combination of being a Scots Presbyterian who spoke in tongues. He took me to the wildest Pentecostal services, presided over by two fiery women.

Of course the magazine would not sell. I confided my frustration and sense of failure to Harry Brash Bonsall, and he recommended that I should resign from the Hutchins organization and return home. It was good advice.

He also recommended that should I ever enter a Bible College it should be one which majored in “Systematic Theology”. “Systematics” he barked, “make sure that they are strong in “systematics.

So it was back to Bristol. The conquering hero returned with his tail between his legs! I consulted an friend, Hugh Thompson another “Peeb” Evangelist.

( I knew Hugh’s brother-in-law, Tim Burt, and had been best man at Tim’s wedding in Wishaw, Scotland. I have never seen Tim or his bride since their wedding day!).

Hugh was a “Peeb” who had been “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and like Harry Brash Bonsall spoke in tongues. The “Peebs” disapproved of this strongly, so Hugh was all set to create “new apostolic Churches”.

Hugh Thompson offered to take me under his wing, and to train me as an Evangelist. Off I went with him in his green “Austin” van, with bunk beds in the back.

First we went to stay with a couple who owned a Dairy Farm near Tewksbury, Gloucestershire. There I earned my keep by delivering milk.

Then we traveled up to Yorkshire where Hugh, and a Gamekeeper on a large country estate, planned to “plant” a new Church. We stayed in the van on this estate.

But “who I was”, began to emerge. I never acted on my desires, but Hugh “sussed me out”. He gave me a strict lecture. Either I was to allow him to “cast out my demons”, or I would have to leave.

Although the words “gay”, or “queer” or “homosexual” were never used, I knew what Hugh meant. And even though I hated my gay feelings, I knew that they were not caused by demons.

I would not submit to an exorcism.

So I was driven to the Railway Station in York, and given a one way ticket to Bristol.

But I was too ashamed to return home. So I got off the train in Birmingham, and got myself to the Birmingham Bible Institute. Harry Brash Bonsall and his wife offered me a room (for rent) in their home, and I found a job as a Carpet Cutter in Lewis’s Departmental Store.

There was another “draw” to Birmingham. There (despite my gay feelings) I had “fallen in love” with a wonderful woman named J.. C……… It was lovely to be with her. She was a part of my life, on and off for the next nine years. J.. was a nurse and in 1974 she stayed overnight a couple of times with my Dad when he was dying.

(In the end I treated J.. very badly. I simply walked out on her. In 1998 I traced her address and wrote a letter of apology and amends for the way I had treated her. She replied “of course you hurt me very much ……… but I forgave you years ago”. Such grace from a very wonderful woman. [Jan’s first very loving husband died, and she is in a second and equally happy marriage]).

I knew of course that being a carpet cutter in a Departmental Store was hardly the route to success, so after about five months I went back to Bristol again. This time with my tail firmly between my legs. I truly was a failure.

The Westminster Bank would not re-employ me, and I was “on the dole” for ten weeks. The unemployed had to register twice a week at the “Employment Exchange”, in order to receive dole. There we waited in long lines in order to meet a Clerk. Every man in those lines smoked, and that’s when I began.

In due course I found a job to be a low level Clerk as a Civil Servant at the “Inspectorate of Armaments” in Woodland Road, Clifton, Bristol.

I was resigned to my fate, not to be a Preacher, but to be a pen-pusher. I was 21 years old, and faced a lowly future.

And I was questioning “fundamentalism” even more.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Message to readers of this blog re photographs

Please note two entries today - this, and also my sermon from this morning.

I have discovered how to include photo's within the text of my blog, rather than on the right hand side of the blog page.

This will help to clean up the look of the blog.

So on Tuesday 6th I will remove all the existing photo's (and perhaps at some time in the future attach them to the relevant "stories" - but this will be very labour intensive so don't count on it!).

(If you would like a copy of any of the existing photo's to "save" on your computer, please let me know before Tuesday)


Sermon for 4th November 2007

Sermon for November 4th 2007.
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. David’s, Englewood, FL

Isaiah 1:1-20; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12; Luke 19:1-10

The Biblical record loves to turn thinking on to its head; to upset our theological apple-carts.

Jerusalem and Judah is Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jesus desires the company of a hated little man

Earlier this week Pope Benedict beatified more than 400 priests and nuns who had been killed in the Spanish Civil War. It was a controversial act because of the politics involved, but politics are nothing new in the life of the Church.

We simply cannot live in a religious bubble, separated from the life of the world, nor is that what is required of us. If we are to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, many of our choices as disciples of Jesus will have political consequences.

To feed the hungry, and no one is opposed to that, is to raise an important question “but why are they hungry in a world of abundance?” And that question leads us to political thinking and choices. Not partisan politics I hasten to add. Thoughtful Christians are republicans and democrats and independents. But thoughtful believers will also ask “what are the political choices that lead to poverty, hunger and homelessness?”

A religious bubble:- religion apart from political consequence, (to which some would call us), can indeed be something which God hates.

For God hates any religiosity which is separated from justice. The Holy One tells the people of God in the words of Isaiah, that God is weary of their sacrifices, offerings, assemblies and festivals. Isaiah is bold enough to refer to the people of Jerusalem and Judah as “Sodom and Gomorrah”.

“Why this weariness?” The implication is clear. God is weary of injustice, human oppression and the lack of care for the most vulnerable.

We must, God says, turn from religiosity, and “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow“.

Note the verbs. They call for action. Learn. See. Rescue. Defend. Plead. Don’t just sit there. Do something.

For in fact when we do nothing, we are actually doing something.

That Roman Catholic practice of “making saints” often has a controversial political aspect. So be it. Anglicans have been wary of this practice for another reason. It is this: “we never truly know who are the saints, and who are not”.

The Red Sox victory parade wends its way down Boylston Street. Danny DeVito happens to be in town, but he is at the back of the crowd. So he shins up a telephone pole to get a better view. The Duck Boat stops right at that pole. David Ortiz calls out. “Hey Danny come on down and join me. We can get together for some munchies tonight”. And the “kicker” would be if Danny DeVito happened to be a Yankee fan!

I couldn’t resist that! And you get my drift. Zacchaeus up the tree, and Jesus calls him down, and invites himself to dinner at Zach’s home.

We are so familiar with the story, turned as it has been in to a cute story for children, that we can no longer be shocked. But it is shocking. An apparently wretched rascal is singled out for special treatment by Jesus.

And we’ve made a nice little moral out of the story. “Zacchaeus”, we say, “was so moved by his encounter with Jesus, that he immediately repented and gave half his good o the poor etc”.

But here, according to Episcopal Seminarian Sarah Dylan Breur, we may have been misled by the English translation of the Greek text.

Sarah maintains that it should be translated something like “Lord, half my possessions I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone, I pay back four times as much”.

It is something he is already doing - quite plausible as the text says that he is very rich.

In other words, the one whom the crowds decried as a sinner, is already the one who is doing justice and loving mercy. And he is doing it quietly, almost secretly.

To the crowd he is a sinner. To Jesus he is a son of Abraham.

Oh, we think that we know, and can identify the saints. And we are so sure that we can identify the sinners.

But even Popes can get that wrong.

The “know it all” me wishes that it could be simpler.

But very religious people can be Sodom and Gomorrah.

And the woman down the street whom I despise could be a saint.