Saturday, 9 February 2008

The shame of our Church. (by Giles Fraser)

“Gene Robinson has not been invited to the Lambeth Conference. It is proving extremely difficult to see under what heading he might be invited to be around,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury at the preview press conference for Lambeth 2008 (News, 25 January).

How can it be difficult to know “under what heading” the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, ought to be invited? The heading is simple: diocesan bishop — duly elected, consented to, and all the rest if it.

At the moment, much attention is being directed towards the noisy Evangelicals who will not come to Lambeth. This gives the impression that the conference is going to be full of dangerous gay-friendly liberalism. How ridiculous: this Lambeth Conference will be remembered for only one thing — the formal institutionalisation of Anglican homophobia. This is the point where all that guff about welcoming gay people will be exposed for the lie that it is.

Some years ago, the Rt Revd Walter Makhulu — the retired Archbishop of Central Africa — gave a sermon to Inclusive Church in which he compared the Church’s take on homosexuality to the racism that resulted in apartheid. He spoke of gay people as being kept out of the Church by bouncers.

It was a metaphor. But, come July, it will be a metaphor no longer. If the Bishop of New Hampshire turned up at the Lambeth Conference and attempted to gain entry, he would be forced away by security guards. Can you imagine the message such a scene would send to the rest of the word?

Look at it this way: you are hosting a children’s party for all the members of your child’s school class. You receive a delegation from a number of mothers who say that their child won’t be coming to the party if the black kid in the class is going to be there as well. Do you really not invite the black child?

Even asking the question is morally revolting — let alone acceding to it. This is why many of us think that the Lambeth Conference 2008 will be a conference of shame.

Earlier this week, Ruth Gledhill of The Times reported an interview with the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, who is deeply conservative. She described him as “urging all Anglican bishops to attend the Lambeth Conference this year”. Yet, of course, he didn’t mean all at all. In Anglican double-speak, “all” now means “all — except gays”.

Some will rub their hands together in angst, and bleat about how terribly difficult the whole thing is. Actually, no, it is not difficult. When Jesus says that he seeks to draw all people to himself, all means all.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney in London.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Classic insults

Thanks to my friend Pam Bradshaw for these.


The exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison," and he said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about." - Winston Churchill

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."
Clarence Darrow

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
- Moses Hadas

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." -
Abraham Lincoln

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."
- Mark Twain

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." - Oscar Wilde

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one."
- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one." -
Winston Churchill, in response.

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial" - Irvin S. Cobb

"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating

"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure."- Jack E. Leonard

"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt." - Robert Redford

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." - Thomas Brackett Reed

"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." -
Charles, Count Talleyrand

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?"
- Mark Twain

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." - Oscar Wilde

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination."
- Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music"
- Billy Wilder

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening But this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx

Thursday, 7 February 2008

It's been quite a day

The Diocese of South West Florida, (in which I am licenced to minister) had a “Clergy and Bishop Day” today at nearby St. Boniface Church.

As a retired Priest I was under no obligation to attend, but decided to scope it out and get a free lunch.

There was a time of black comedy as the Bishop arrived two and a half hours late. There had been a nasty accident on Interstate 75 (which is in some ways the “spine” of the Diocese), and as he related it, he was making friends on an Interstate parking lot for two and a half hours.

So we began the Eucharist without him, and he preached his “O.K” sermon when he arrived, half way through the service.

That was all very fine as I was chatting with the nine Priests whom I’ve already gotten to know, and the whole gang was nicely relaxed in lovely warm weather.

The (good) free lunch was served and I sat at table with three women including Pat Powers (a good friend of my Cambridge parishioner Mary Caulfield), and Andi Taylor, formerly a colleague in Massachusetts, and now the Assistant at St. Boniface.

The Bishop - his name is Dabney Smith - addressed us. He is a genial and humorous man who is very comfortable in his own skin. He talked a bit about how it felt after being in his Office for a year.

He made it clear that he is a theological conservative. And he added that he loves the Episcopal Church and intends to stay. (Important, as his very conservative predecessor became a Roman Catholic shortly after retiring). Perhaps most importantly, he emphasised that he wants to be Bishop for all of the Diocese, and affirmed the place of conservatives (like him) and liberals (like me?).

Then came “question the Bishop” time.

There were the usual brown-nosing questions/statements from the predictably brown-nosing clerics.

There was a confused and unfocused question/statement from a Priest who seems to think that our wonderful Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jeffords-Schori is an heretic.
Bishop Smith responded with a lovely endorsement of the Presiding Bishop, and exhorted us not to react to “what folks report about the Presiding Bishop”, but to check the web to see what in fact our P.B. said.

Wise advice in this “sound bite age”.

Then the wonderful Rector of St. Boniface Church Ted Copeland asked the leading question. “Bishop”, he said, (in so many words) “we have heard great things from you today. But we are always having to relate to parishioners what we think you said. How can you as Bishop get your own good words out to the wider audience?”

Bishop Smith replied in generalities. So I asked a follow up question - along these lines.

“Bishop Smith, I know that you are a conservative, and although you and I will have to disagree on certain matters, I respect your honesty. When I was interviewed by you I disclosed myself as a gay Priest, and your response was wonderfully affirming. I think that Ted was asking ‘will you say to the wider audience what you say to us in private’?’

I think that Bishop Smith heard me.

But I was heartened by the response (after the meeting) of other Clerics.

Some thanked me for “a good question”. A few hinted that they too were gay, but closeted within the Diocese.

And two Priests (with gratitude) told me that I was the first Priest ever to “come out” to her/his peers at a Diocesan Clergy gartering.

Good Lord, this is not the Diocese of Massachusetts!

And I am grateful for the holy/silly boldness which retirement affords!

And the day ended with fun. The former Secretary at St. James’s, Cambridge, Judy Beers, is in town. She is visiting her friends Ron and Charlotte Thompson who, thanks to her introduction, have become my friends.

I invited Judy, Ron and Charlotte to be my guests tonight for dinner at a local seafood restaurant - the “Lazy Lobster”. We had a good dinner and great conversations. Then the bill arrived. I could not pay it. I had left my bill-fold at home!

Much mirth and giggling all around. Ron met the bill with his credit card, and I will give him a cheque to cover it.

What a nice try on my part, to squirrel out of a bill!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Ash Wednesday 2008

I offered ashes to my friends at Resurrection House. Twenty or so people were glad to receive them.

Now, you do not “do” an elaborate Roman Catholic or Episcopalian liturgy at a shelter for homeless people. You simply respond to needs.

So we said no more than the Lord’s Prayer before I “imposed ashes” , marking each person with the sign of the cross.

Most of those who received ashes were Roman Catholics who were so happy to participate in this ancient ritual which they remembered from their youth.

Others were Protestants, who were intrigued with the whole idea of receiving ashes.

To them I explained that the ashes are a sign of our mortality, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

And, I added, we make the sign of the cross when we impose ashes on the forehead, to remind us of the eternal and all-embracing love of God: signalled most closely in the cross of Jesus.


We are, Ash Wednesday asserts:

(1) dusty creatures, each bound for the grave

(2) held in G-d’s eternal love, even in and through the grave.

My “Res House” friends are most sure of (1). They know that their lives hang by a thread.

And it is my task as Chaplain to remind them of (2). G-d’s all embracing love.
Many of them are not entirely certain of this.


“Isaiah” sums it up, and his are the words which I will try to take to heart this Lent.

"Is this not the fast which I choose… to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house..."

-- Isaiah 58:6-7

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

On being grumpy

I was in a crummy mood all day yesterday (February 4th). I needed to draw deep from my wells of bonhomie as I served at Resurrection House, and came up dry a couple of times.

It all started on Sunday morning. I imagined that I had been slighted by some friends. I was like the whining little boy in the play-ground - “they don’t want to play with me anymore”. I wanted to ream them out.

I nursed my resentment all day long instead of shrugging off what was no more than a m misunderstanding. And it stayed with me through most of Monday.

And, on Sunday night the New England Patriots did not win the Super Bowl. On the grand scale of things that matters not a whit. But even though I do not understand American Football, and never watch it on T.V. I wanted my “home team” to win and their unexpected loss increased my feelings of “grumptitude”.

Monday afternoon I stopped into see Ben Morse since his late partner Bruce Wirtz’s son Andrew, and Andrew’s wife Myra were visiting. It was a nice visit and we watched some of the DVD of their October 2007 wedding.

But I told Ben that I was not feeling well, and would not be attending a concert that evening for which we had tickets.

Back home I remembered the helpful acronym HALT. It suggests that when I am out of sorts I need to ask:

“am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired”.

Yes I was tired. Yes, I was hungry. I did not feel lonely, but I knew that my feelings of grumptitude could easily turn into anger.

So I slept. And I ate a good dinner. Then I called Ben and said that I would, after all, attend the concert.

It was a piano recital by the brilliant Argentinian artist, Ingrid Filter. And in that concert, “Doctor Chopin” worked his cure. I came home refreshed and renewed, leaving my resentments in the Concert Hall.

Today I received a post-card from two of the people that I thought had slighted me. It was an invitation to a party at their home!

I am so glad that I kept my big mouth shut last Sunday!

Monday, 4 February 2008

Good for Cambridge, MA

Since being elected mayor of Cambridge by her city council peers, Denise Simmons has fielded a few questions from the three grandchildren she is raising: Can they enjoy watching the Super Bowl on the flat screen TV that hangs in the mayor’s office? Does this mean extra tickets to the high school graduation? Will they get an allowance now?

Simmons responds by reminding them that, "I’m not here to make your life different; I’m here because I worked to get here. Now let’s talk about the process." Her historic election as the country’s first African American, out lesbian mayor was the result of working her way up the ranks from ward committee member to school committee member to city councilor, which ultimately positioned her for her new post, she tells them.

"It’s an opportunity also to tell them it’s all about grit and determination that makes it happen for you," adds Simmons during a recent interview in her new office. "And grit and determination of an African American woman."

Simmons, a history buff who has researched her ancestry, then references the remarks she made upon being sworn into office on Jan. 14, in which she recounted the tale of her grandfather, Pompey Hines, who was born into slavery and later freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. His former owner, said Simmons, told Hines he could keep as much land as he could walk off. "Would he have believed when he was toiling in the fields that one day in a distant time that he would never see, not even in his dreams, that one of his own would be the mayor of a major city?" she says. "That’s what being here is all about."

In a similar vein, Simmons also asks if Bayard Rustin, the black civil rights activist who was relegated to a behind-the-scenes role in the movement because he was gay, could ever have imagined "that one of his own would ever be the mayor of a major city?

"And so it’s a sort of double reward, if you will, but I think back from whence I came and what I came through and let [my grandchildren] know it was never easy."

In an interesting twist, Simmons, who has served on the Cambridge City Council since 2001, is the city’s second consecutive African American, openly gay mayor: She succeeded Ken Reeves, who completed his third term as mayor last year.

Simmons said she was focused more on the nuts and bolts of the job than on the historic nature of her election when she decided to throw her hat in the mayoral ring. "You know, the mayor chairs the school committee so I was thinking of the job of chairing the school committee," she explains, noting that her grandchildren, who are 10, 14 and 16, attend city schools. "I came from the school committee to the city council, so I’ve always had an interest, an ongoing interest, keen interest, in public education."

In addition to education, Simmons says her priorities as mayor include crafting a "green jobs" policy that will serve the economic interests of local workers - particularly in minority and other traditionally disenfranchised communities - while also raising

Sunday, 3 February 2008

A very good boss

I did not blog yesterday. I wanted to see if you missed me! Strange isn’t it, that the new created noun “ blog” has also become a verb. That’s very American.

Having had my front porch tiled, I saw that it also needed repainting. It had white stuccoed walls and my friends and I decided that it needed some colour. So it is now a sunny lemony-yellow colour. Painting on stucco ain’t fun!

That’s what I was up-to yesterday morning. In the afternoon, Ben Morse and I went to the Circus Sarasota - a true old fashioned circus. It was great.

A local couple, Pedro Reis and Dolly Reis Jacobs are trying to restore Sarasota’s circus tradition. (We were the home to the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey circus for many years - in fact my home is built on the old circus winter quarters grounds.)

Dolly is the daughter of famed American clown Lou Jacobs. She and Pedro are true professionals, and they love circus as an art and theatre genre.

But I get to the point of my heading.

I patronise a local convenience store and gas station at which the staff are the friendliest and most helpful you could hope for. My favourite is Sandra, a 30-something store clerk.
She always has a friendly smile and time for some chit-chat.

On my recent visits I have not seen Sandra, so I asked her boss why she was not there.

He replied that the store was not as busy as usual, and that he’d had to give her reduced hours.

“That must be tough on Sandra” I said. “Yes”, he said, “I hate to do it, but all the staff are working reduced hours on a rotating basis. That way I do not have to lay-off any of them”

Good for him. He is a boss who clearly treats his staff well - I see the same staff after patronising this store for 20 months - when did you last encounter that in a convenience store?

Thanks goodness for ethical business leaders