Saturday, 5 January 2008

12th Night; All Angels, and some questions.

I hang around three parishes. St. David’s, Englewood; St. Boniface, Siesta Key Sarasota; and All Angels, Longboat Key. (A “Key” in Florida is a barrier island).

In very rough order by ascension I would describe the communities as middle income; rich; and richer. Or friendly; somewhat reserved; and very friendly. Or (theologically) moderate liberal, radical; and moderate conservative.

Tonight I was with the richer, very friendly and moderately conservative people at All Angels for Twelfth Night. I had a ball!

At 4:30 p.m. we enjoyed a concert with parish musicians Dale Hooey (Organ), Sylvia Thompson (Clavinova) and Joyce Hooey (Percussion). They entertained us delightfully with a great selection of music, ranging from Silent Night to Frosty the Snowman.

(A “Clavinova” is a digital piano).

They we adjourned to the Parish Hall for a fine pot-luck supper. Church food is usually good and tonight was no exception.

After supper Dale Hooey led us in spirited singing of Christmas songs (yes it’s still Christmas in the Church calendar) including a riotous rendition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in which each table was assigned one of the days to sing, and to enact. You should have seen the Lords a-leaping and the Maids a-milking. My table was the “Partridge in a pear Tree”, so we got to sing most.

Boy, these people know how to have a good time.

I was at Table with Rector David Danner (a colleague in Massachusetts); his wife Wafa (from Palestine) ; a naval widow who is the Regional Vice President for the Navy War College Foundation; a College professor and his wife; and two other retired couples. We had a lively an rich dinner conversation talking a lot about the intersection of the West and Islam, and noting that the West almost always gets it wrong. We are stubbornly and wilfully ignorant of Islam, or as we might rightly say “Islams”. Just as there are many expressions of Judaism and Christianity; so there are many expressions of Islam.

But we mostly want answers before we are ready to ask the questions.

Our conversation turned to Church matters, and one woman asked me “what do we mean by liberals and conservatives in the Church?” I muttered something inadequate about the place of woman and of gay and lesbian people in the Church, then I went outside for a smoke. There it came to me.

I came back to table and re-engaged the conversation. Here is my new definition which my questioner found satisfying. “Conservative Christians are sure that they have all the answers. Liberal Christians think that the questions are more important”.

This being 12th Night I went on to talk about the “Three Wise Men” (.a.,k.a. the Three Kings) and their appearance in the Gospel according to Matthew.

Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury shocked some, and delighted others when in a recent B.B.C. interview he stated that the whole Three Wise Men episode is a legend.

Conservative Christians got their knickers in a twist at the very thought.

Sceptics seized upon his statement as occasion to mock the Church.

Liberal Christians said “The Archbishop is right”, but there is an important question.

“Why is this legend in the Bible?” “What are its meanings?”

So there you have it on 12th Night from this liberal Christian. “What are the questions we should be asking: about Islam, about the Bible; about the Church; and about the world? The questions will be as important as any answers”.

Friday, 4 January 2008

"Hard times come again no more" (Stephen Foster)

Stephen Foster wrote "Hard Times Come Again No More" in 1859, on the cusp of the Civil War.

(I have a wonderful recording of Thomas Hampson singing this, with Jay Mason and Molly Ungar)

I've been thinking about the song today, dismayed as I am by Mike Huckabee's strong showing in the Iowa Caucuses; and angered by the negative reaction on the part of my "white liberal friends" to Barack Obama's "win" in Iowa.

(One said that he was certain Mr. Obama will be assassinated; another said that he has to "pay his dues" (whatever that means) and she related that a white democratic friend of hers has said that Mr. Obama "scares her" [Because he is a big black man?])

Prime Minister Harold Wilson of Great Britain famously said that "a week is a long time in politics", and we shall see what happens in New Hampshire next week.

But whatever the outcomes, the U.S.A. is at the edge of a recession (if we are not already there), and hard times will come again. Especially for the poor.

Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh Hard times come again no more.

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.

There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o'er:
Though her voice would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.

Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Folks I have known: Tom and Winifred Bees.

When I left Fairfield Grammar School (High School) at aged 16 in 1960 I found work with Her Majesty’s Stationery Office at their Government Bookstore. We were then located in the old Fry’s Chocolate Factory, a marvellous red brick building in the Pithay.

When that building was demolished in the name of urban renewal, we moved to a new store under an overpass in Fairfax Street.

The Government Bookshop stocked printed copies of all Acts of Parliament, and the various Departmental documents which enforced those Acts; together with quasi-governmental publications, and ordnance survey maps. I had the “most responsible” (!) task of receiving mail and telephoned orders, and packing the books, pamphlets and leaflets to me mailed to our customers.

(On one occasion I forgot to put the telephone on hold, and proceeded to mimic the middle class “County Tory” with her “posh” accent. She heard the whole thing an complained bitterly to my Manager. I was given a reprimand, but the Manager could scarcely contain his own giggles as he “told me off”.)

Tom Bees was a colleague. He was married to Winifred, and they had one daughter, Lesley. Winifred was very ill and in the hospital - with an illness from which she might have died. I commiserated with Tom, and visited Winifred in the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Winifred recovered - at length - and she and Tom became firm friends. They lived in a “prefab” in the nice Bristol suburb of Whitchurch. One on occasion I trolled over there by ‘bus with Mum, Dad and my five younger siblings for tea. My brothers had great and wild fun in the garden, playing with Tom and Winifred’s dog. To this day I cannot fathom the generous hospitality which Tom and Winifred gave to 8 Poveys!

Tom was promoted to the Government Bookshop in Cardiff, Wales, and I visited them there a couple of times.

They returned to Bristol when Tom retired.

But now I get to the point. Tom and Winfred are still alive and live in Brislington, Bristol.

Lesley is married to Roger. They have one child and live in the village of Pill.

And Tom, Winifred and I stay in touch. I visit them when I am in Bristol, telephone them a couple of times each year, and we exchange Christmas Cards.

Both are in their 80’s and quite frail. I rejoice in this 47 year friendship, rooted in that one year when Tom and I were co-workers.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

News that does not "get out". Christian/Islam co-operation - Episcopal Church in Tripoli, Libya

The Islamic Call Society and the government of Libya donate a Church to the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt.

We rejoiced on receiving the news that the Islamic Call Society handed over to us a church building in the Old City of Tripoli. This church is called St. Mary, the Lady of Angels. It was built by the Roman Catholics in the 14th Century and the government has recently spent a large amount of money to restore it and use it as a museum.

After consultation and agreement with the Roman Catholic Archbishop in Tripoli, I made an appeal to the Islamic Call Society, with whom we have excellent relations and dialogue, to use this church instead of the flat we are using now. This has become too small for our growing congregations. They promised to take my appeal to the President and the relevant government officials. Fortunately the appeal was accepted and the Ministry of Tourism handed over the building to the Islamic Call Society who in turn handed over the Church to us on Sunday 29th January 2007.

The Old City is a beautiful area in the centre of Tripoli which also contains several historic buildings, a mosque, a Greek Orthodox Church, a Synagogue and some old Roman monuments. These buildings are a great expression of how people from different faiths have lived together in peace along the centuries. It is also worth mentioning that John Mark (the Apostle) wrote the Gospel of Mark in a place near Tripoli called Wadi el Engil (Gospel Valley) before he came over to Egypt and established the Church of Alexandria in 61 AD.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop is so happy with this news because he wished to celebrate the Feast of St. Mary in this church. His wish is going to be fulfilled. I am sure also that this is a great Ecumenical dialogue opportunity for all of us.

We praise the Lord for this great news and I also want to register my deep thanks and appreciation to the Islamic Call Society and the Libyan government for this great gift which is one of the fruits of Interfaith Dialogue. I am planning to visit Libya on the 6th of March to arrange for the official re-consecration of St Mary's Church and I will keep you informed about future developments.

Rt. Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis

Bishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt and North Africa with the Horn of Africa

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

A New Year

Now that I am in the South, I ate black eyed peas this January 1st - a Southern custom for “Good Luck” in a New Year.

Legend has it that when Union troops scoured the South at the end of the Civil War, they disdained black eyed peas as not worth eating; thus leaving them in the fields as a staple for Southerners.

Some people eat them with Collard or Turnip Greens - the peas representing coins, and the greens representing “green backs” (dollar bills).

I ate mine (for breakfast!) with ham. Not as sweet as an English Muffin with Jam, but rich in protein!

And as the day progressed I was reminded of a great Sidney Carter song (below). Perfect for the New Year.

One more step along the world I go,
One more step along the world I go;
From the old things to the new
Keep me travelling along with you.

And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me travelling along with you.

Round the corner of the world I turn,
More and more about the world I learn;
All the new things that I see
You’ll be looking at along with me:

As I travel through the bad and good,
Keep me travelling the way I should;
Where I see no way to go
You’ll be showing me the way I know.

Give me courage when the world is rough,
Keep me loving when the world is tough;
Leap and sing in all I do,
Keep me travelling along with you.

You are older than the world can be,
You are younger than the life in me;
Ever old and ever new,
Keep me travelling along with you.

Monday, 31 December 2007

DEc 31st/Jan 1st

Happy New Year

Feliz Año Nuevo

Bonne année

Glückliches Neues Jahr

Nuovo Anno Felice

Próspero Año Nuevo

Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Sermon forDecember 30th 2007 (St. David's, Englewood, FL)

Sermon for December 30th 2007
The Revd. J. Michel Povey at St. David’s, Englewood, FL

(Revised Common Lectionary)
Isaiah 63:7-9; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23


Matthew 2:13-23
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

“Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled”.

What a slap in the face. Six days after Christmas we read this dreadful passage from Matthew, with its chilling pivotal words. “Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled”.

Rachel was the daughter of Laban, for whom Jacob laboured fourteen years. Seven years in, and the trickster Jacob is tricked by his Uncle Laban. On Jacob’s wedding night he discovers that his bride is Laban’s weak eyed older daughter Leah, and not her sister for whom he longed.

His indentured servitude lasts for another seven years before he is able to claim this passion of his heart, Rachel, the younger sister.

Then Leah gives birth to child after child, whilst Rachel cannot conceive. Those who desire to conceive a child and cannot do so weep greatly. Finally Rachel gives birth to Joseph, and soon after to another son. But she dies in childbirth, and with her dying breath names her second son Benjamin “son of my tears”. Rachel dies with tears.

Rachel weeping. So many women weep for so many reasons. Oft times that weeping is almost silent, and in private. But Jeremiah knows how to weep. And as the leaders of the ten northern tribes of Israel are led into exile, he imagines that Rachel had risen from the dead to weep for her children yet again, refusing to be consoled. But there is a “kicker” here. The children for whom Rachel weeps in Jeremiah are the children of her sister Leah, those ten northern tribes. She weeps for children not her own.

And, figuratively speaking, Rachel rises again in the Matthew passage, that dreadful bit which we call “the massacre of the innocents”.

“Herod then with rage was filled,
“A Prince“, he said, “in Jewry”.
All the little boys he killed
At Beth’lem in his fury”.

Jesus is born into the real world. He is born into the world of Rachel weeping. He is born into the world of childless women such as his mother’s cousin Elizabeth. He is born into the world of Darfur, exiled children in hopeless camps. He himself is a refugee. He is born into the world in which children are massacred or murdered. That’s Jesus’ world, not the world of the domesticated Crèche.

And if Mary ever told Jesus the story of the slaughter of Bethlehem’s children, I hope that he wept for them, for I cannot conceive of a Jesus who refuses to weep with us. That old Christmas hymn has it dead wrong:

“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes”.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Every baby cries! I change the words and sing

“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
And little Lord Jesus, loud crying he makes”.

I believe in a Jesus who weeps with us.

I was on Hawaii on vacation some 20 years ago when I heard from England that my newest nephew , three month old Jack had died in his crib. I wept.

I wept again about 13 years ago. I had flown to London, and when I arrived at Heathrow Airport I was greeted with an urgent message. “Come to Bristol,, (my home City) right away. My friend and I raced down the M4 motorway, and I took myself to St. Michael’s Childrens’ Hospital where another nephew, Thomas was in neo-natal intensive care. I baptised him in that hospital unit, and said the prayers at his burial five days later. Baptism and burial with tears.

Rachel wept with me for Jack and for Tom. Please God, Jesus wept with me and many others for Jack and for Tom.

Last Sunday, and again on Christmas Eve, I was at the Church of the Advent in Lillian, Alabama, just over the state line from Pensacola, Florida. The Priest there is a godly woman, Martha. She preaches well from a sharp mind and a warm heart.

Some few years ago one of her two daughters was murdered by a boy friend. You never get over the death of a child. You cannot be consoled when a child is murdered.

And so I wonder “how in heaven’s name can Martha preach from the Gospel today?” Martha, her husband, and their other daughter weeping for a child, and unable to be consoled.

There are some griefs which cannot be consoled. That is also part of the Christmas story.

Rachel knows it all too well. I hope that Jesus also knows.

“Rachel weeping for her children. She refused to be consoled”