Friday, 15 February 2008

I am sick and tired of you all

Just suppose for a moment that there is a God, who roughly approximates to the God of the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

( My bottom line on this is that I am “an agnostic in the Christian tradition” )

But suppose that there is a God such as we know of in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Just suppose also that this God is (as is claimed) the only God, and that she/he is the God of the entire Universe.

Imagine that Universe for a moment. And ask, “is it more likely that we are the only planet with beings (humans) which can respond to that God, or that there are other beings in other “parts of the Universe” which also “relate” to the one God?”

I would suppose the latter. But it is just a supposition.

Now, go to your imagination again and imagine a God who “says” this to earthlings:

“I am so sick and tired of you, so weary with you, so bored with you, that I am paying you no attention.

I am enjoying other beings in these Universes who seem to “get it” more than you.

But, with you, I have given it my best, to no avail.

You are polluting the air, fresh water and ocean water to such an extent that you are endangering your descendants. You simply don’t care about those who will be born fifty years hence.

You love war, and hate peace. You do your awful best to kill each other in my name.

And I have tried, good Lord I have tried. Oops, that’s me - the good Lord!

“Moses” gave you a law through which you could live in peace and harmony, and by which you could, if you’d wished, care for the poor and the oppressed. But you are obsesses with those laws which have to do with your wonderful bodies, and ignore the ones which tell you to care for the poor, the indigent and the immigrant; the ones that call you to fair trade.

And there were a ton of prophets. Always they called you to justice. Always they gave you a vision of peace and harmony. But you used but a few of their words to “proof text” your miserable preaching.

Please don’t take my Name in vain. That’s one of the “Moses” laws. But you wear your tee shirts, badges and bumper stickers talking of Jesus as if he were a soothing therapist serving camomile tea. Have you forgotten how he challenged the political and religious leaders. Did he, or did he not say “blessed are the poor”? And those feedings of the multitudes - you think that they were a bit of skilful magic to prove whomever he was. When he is hungry you do not feed him, you pray for him. When he is imprisoned you say that he deserves to be there.

I am sick and tired of your vain repetition of Jesus this and Jesus that.

In fact, I am sick and tired of you all together. You should know therefore that I have shoved off to some other part of the Universe, and I cannot hear a damn thing you say. And most of what you say is damnable”.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Jane Fonda and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Jane Fonda is in trouble again. In trouble with the right wing media, and the liberal pundits.

Despite all the bogus claims that “America is a Christian country”, or “we are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition” (whatever that means!) we are an unforgetting and unforgiving people.

(Our present fascistic administration is closer to Mussolini and General Franco than it ever was to Moses or Jesus).

So what Jane said in Vietnam can never be forgotten or forgiven. If she appeared on national television and said “I love Jesus, America, and George Bush” - she would be criticised.

They are out to get you Jane!

This morning Jane Fonda was a guest on the NBC “Today Show”.

(This show used to be a half-decent news programme. Now it is filled with show-biz puff pieces and facile political analysis).

Ms. Fonda was talking about a play in which she is acting in New York City “The Vagina Monologues”.

The “sometimes prude” in me has never liked that title, but be that as it may.

During the interview, Jane Fonda used a word which is a “no-no” in America. It’s not a word which we like - a slang term for the vagina, beginning with the letter c….

It’s a word that is used in the play, and Jane Fonda, in an apparently unguarded moment, used it.

So much for that, and within ten minutes, the co-host of the show, one Meredith Vieira, was back on air to issue an apology.

Whether or not the apology was necessary is a moot point. But what she said was revelatory.

Speaking of the “Today Show”, Ms. Vieira said “We would do nothing to offend the audience”.

How pitiful. A decent journalist, and worthwhile news programmes will always offend the audience.

That’s the point of journalism and news - to relate the truth, even if it offends! To tell the story, whatever the cost.

We have become this semi-dictator fascist State precisely because reporters, journalists and news editors have been unwilling to offend - not the masses - but the oligarchy.

Much of our public reporting, written press and television news is designed not to offend the ruling classes.

Of course that’s why the good Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is in hot water. He dared to offend in a wonderfully nuanced and brilliant lecture on Sharia. And the press did not get it. Of course it cannot get anything which is a notch or two above a sound bite.

Rowan Williams has been pilloried for asking the right questions. His chief attacker is one Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for the Times of London. I wonder sometimes if she ever read his lecture.

It’s hard to decipher if Ruth is writing as a reporter, a columnist, or an erratic blogger. But she’s certainly been pissed off with Rowan Williams who “dared to offend”.

In about 1986 St. Stephen’s Parish, Pittsfield participated in a January “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” ecumenical service. The sermon was dreadful, a syrupy pablum.

Later that day I encountered a wonderful Roman Catholic Lawyer, George Crane, Esq. He had been at the service.

He asked me what I thought about the sermon. I muttered something innocuous - protective as I was of the preacher, a Congregationalist Minister.

“Let me tell you something” said George. “You preachers are always telling us that God loves us. When are you going to tell us what to do about it”.

From that moment I “dared to offend” in my preaching.

Some of this was rooted in my hubris.

Some in my attempt to be faithful to the Gospel.

And offend I did. But I have no regrets. I do not have a mind, mouth or tongue for pablum.

My brother Archbishop Rowan Williams is not Jesus. Neither am I.

But each of us is trying to follow the Jesus who dared to offend. He took on the religious and political oligarchies, and for that he died.

I admire Martin Luther, Mahatma Ghandi, Susan B Anthony, Mary McLeod Bethune, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Bishop Barbara Harris and so many others who dare to offend.

I despise the sycophantic American “news stars” who “would do nothing to offend the audience”.

The truth is offensive.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

My Day

My day can be summed up in parts of two biblical verses (I use the New Revised Standard translation, but you’ll get the gist from other translations).

John 19:14 (first seven words)

Acts 1:18 (last four words)

Guess what’s happening to me tomorrow!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

First of two blogs for today. "Sounds" Part II

Our local Public Radio Station WUSF in Tampa, Fl plays a lot of classical music.

But it has a very limited vision and repertoire. We hear tons and tons of baroque music; a whole lot of Mozart; a bit of Beethoven here and there: but not much else.

Except for a fixation on Vaughan Williams, and on two of his pieces. We hear his variations on a theme by Tallis (a lovely piece), over and over again. And we hear Vaughan Williams’ “A lark ascending” at least three times each month.

It’s a great piece, and I like it. But not so often please!

So, WUSF played it again today. Which reminded me of something I intended to add to yesterday’s blog on “sound”.

When I was 16, or 20, or 22 (darned if I can remember when) the young people of my Peeb (Plymouth Brethren) circle too a trip to Minchinhampton Common in the Gloucestershire (UK) Cotswolds. It’s a gorgeous space.

It was probably on “August Bank Holiday Monday” in England. The sun shone in all her glory.

Then we heard it. A Skylark. Up and up it ascended, It sang its song as if for the last time. I stretched out on the grassy Common, conscious that I was listening to a rare, beautiful and endangered song.

‘Twas the only time I ever heard a Skylark. Few there are who hear it now, for this master-singer bird is dying out.

It was a sound which I cannot recall or recreate. But I remember how lovely it was, and how it enriched my soul.

Second of two blog entries for today - Ruth Gledhill's awful journalism in the Times of London, and my response

Ruth Gledhill’s article

February 11, 2008
The intellectual arrogance that pervades the heart of Lambeth Palace wisdom
Ruth Gledhill: Analysis
The Archbishop of Canterbury rarely lets anyone amend his speeches. Unlike his predecessor, George Carey, Rowan Williams is confident enough of his intellectual gifts to consider that he does not need the wisdom of others in guiding the public expression of his thoughts.
This illustrates the divergent backgrounds of the two men — one is working-class, self-taught, rooted in the simplicity of an evangelical faith, the other is Oxbridge to the depths of his complicated soul, espousing a Christianity at once liberal, catholic and ascetic. Lord Carey reads the News of the World, and likes to write for the paper. Dr Williams prefers Dostoevsky, and is writing a book about him.
Dr Williams was advised before his speech on Thursday evening that the content could prove controversial. He heeded the warnings but went ahead anyway. He was “taken aback” by just how controversial it then proved but remains “chirpy” and unrepentant about his comments because he believes that they needed to be made.
Although he is a holy and spiritual man, danger lies in the appearance of the kind of intellectual arrogance common to many of Britain’s liberal elite. It is an arrogance that affords no credibility or respect to the popular voice. And although this arrogance, with the assumed superiority of the Oxbridge rationalist, is not shared by his staff at Lambeth Palace, it is by some of those outside Lambeth from whom he regularly seeks counsel.
Neither the Archbishop nor his staff regard his speech as mistaken. They are merely concerned that it has been misunderstood. This characterises the otherworldliness that still pervades the inner sanctums of the Church of England.
Last December, nearly two months before he delivered the lecture, his key adviser on interfaith relations, Canon Guy Wilkinson, wrote to the Jewish academic Irene Lancaster, in Israel, about the planned content of the speech. Canon Wilkinson said that the lecture would be “a response to rising concerns about the extent to which Sharia is compatible with English civil law, especially in the extensive Muslim neighbourhoods where informal Sharia councils are widely in operation. In areas such as marriage and divorce, there is evidence that there is no proper connection with the civil courts and that women in particular are suffering.”
Canon Wilkinson summed up in two sentences what Dr Williams was trying but somehow failed to get across in twenty times as many. For the past decade and more, both Buckingham Palace and Downing Street have mastered the black arts of spin and media control, to the point where they have a high degree of influence over how they are presented, but in a way that panders to the populism that is necessary for the modern media age.
Dr Williams holds such populist tendencies in disdain. His staff respect his office and his personal qualities too much to argue otherwise. The Archbishop’s lack of regard for the popular press in particular is indicated by the fact that his press secretary, the Rev Jonathan Jennings, is leaving in the next few months to return to parish work and insiders say that there are no plans to replace him. The present press officer, Marie Papworth, is expected to take on Mr Jennings’s duties.
The irony is that, at the highest level, Dr Williams has advisers equal to, if not superior to, those of Lord Carey. Chief among these is Tim Livesey, his secretary for public affairs. A father of five and a Roman Catholic, Mr Livesey succeeded Jeremy Harris, a man who shared the contempt for many journalists that they had for him, and who went on to work in a similar role at Oxford University.
Mr Livesey worked previously as public affairs adviser to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and before that served in Tony Blair’s Government, working in information and public diplomacy policy. He unquestionably has the abilities, contacts and intellect to extract Dr Williams from the hole into which he has cheerfully dug himself. The difficulty he and the Archbishop’s other advisers face is that Dr Williams does not believe he is in a hole, or that if he is, it is a false hole, one dug for him by the media.
His staff respect his right to be correct on this, as in everything else. As his predecessor was fond of reminding journalists who stepped out of line, he is, after all, the Archbishop of Canterbury.


My response (not yet published by the London Times)

From Ruth's article

"Although he is a holy and spiritual man, danger lies in the appearance of the kind of intellectual arrogance common to many of Britain’s liberal elite"

Talk about damning with faint praise!

And who is Ruth if she is not also a part of Britain's Liberal elite?

+ George Leonard Carey was the most dim-witted and inept Archbishop of Canterbury in the 20th/21st Century. His great problem is that he "believes his own propaganda". And with none of the grace which former Archbishops have displayed in retirement, he panders to an audience which prefers simplistic statements and answers.

+ Rowan Williams is in the great theologically acute and deeply prayerful succession of modern Archbishops, notably William Temple and Michael Ramsey.

He, with they, knows that raising the appropriate questions is more important that providing the "pat" answers".

(The Revd). J. Michael Povey,
Sarasota, FL

Monday, 11 February 2008


Memories can be triggered by each of our senses - sight, smell, sound, touch and taste.

We catch the smell of roasting beef and we are back in childhood.

We see a person, who immediately reminds us of a friend about whom we have not thought for months.

We taste a drop of gravy, and memory takes us back to a family Sunday dinner, 30 or 40 years ago.

We touch a hand, and remember the many hands we’ve held with tenderness, or the hands which have been raised against us.

Every morning, soon after 6:00 a.m. I hear a ‘plane overhead. It’s the first flight of the day, Delta Airlines from SRQ to Atlanta. That makes me remember being in our back kitchen, aged 10 or so, when a train would chug up the line from Bristol to Bath (UK), and Dad or my sister Maureen would say “there’s the 7:45, it’s on time today”

Last Thursday I was at a Diocesan Clergy day conference with our Bishop. We sat in the Church, listening to an organ prelude, and waiting for the beginning of the Eucharist. A Priest made her way to the Sacristy. Her heels clip/clocked down the aisle and across the front of the Church.

Immediately I was back at St. Stephen’s, Pittsfield, where in Lent we had the choir and clergy procession in silence, and the clattering footsteps reminded us that this was the season for quiet reflection. One woman in Pittsfield told me “I hate the silent procession, but I need it, to remind me that things are different in the Church at this time of the year”.

On Mondays and Wednesdays I get to Resurrection House for my volunteer ministry at about 7:30 or 7:45 a.m. One of the neighbours of Res. House (believe it or not), owns a rooster (deep in urban Sarasota), and I hear his “cocka-doodle-doo”. It reminds me of urban Bristol where I never heard a cockerel, and of a couple of visits to a farm near Devizes, Wilts, where the morning crowing intrigued and delighted me.

But it’s more than a reminder. When I hear the rooster, I am “way back there” - more than 50 years ago.

This afternoon I attended a quite remarkable and wonderful recital at the historic Asolo Theatre in Sarasota. My friend Orlando Gonzalez had three complimentary tickets, and so he and I attended, together with my Cambridge friend Judy Beers (in SRQ for a week)

This unbelievably wonderful recital was given by soprano Jennifer Zetlan.

Amongst other songs she gave us “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” by a composer of whom I had never heard “Hahn”.

This song, sung with rare skill, brought tears to my eyes.

I was glad that a piece of music could still make me teary eyed. But in memory I was back 55 years. Then, whenever I heard “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Handel’s Oratorio “Solomon” I would weep.

This 63 year old memory leap-frogged back 55 years, and was glad for an experience and memory of tears, brought about by sound.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sermon for February 10th 2008.

Sermon for February 10th 2008.
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. David’s Episcopal Church, Englewood, FL

Genesis 2:15 - 3:21; Romans 5:12-21; Matthew 4:1 - 11

So we sang the Great Litany. What we prayed is a direct descendant of the first bit of the first book of Common Prayer. Henry VIIIth allowed Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to issue a Litany in English in 1544, five years before the issuing of the first Book of Common Prayer.

It’s a wonderfully rich bit of praying. When else would we pray for our enemies and slanderers? When else have we prayed for woman in childbirth. How often would we pray for those who are in danger because of their labour? The Great Litany reminds us to pray for matters which we often forget.

A rich Litany, and three super-rich bible readings. Almost too much good Scripture for one Sunday.

I love the realism of the Genesis passage. The man and the woman hiding themselves from the presence of God - as if they or we could! And the passing of the buck. The man blames the woman, and the woman blames the serpent. It’s always someone else’s fault!

Do read this passage not as a bit of history or biology. Rather see it as a penetrating commentary on our human condition. Made for glory, we crawl around our knees.

The heart of the passage is in three words. “Did God say?” The serpent, later identified as the Satan or the Devil, is the one who encourages us to doubt the faithful goodness of God.
In fact, the very term “the Satan” - and it is a title, not a name, means “the deceiver”.

Sometimes that deceit comes from within our very own selves - we call that the flesh.

Sometimes that deceit comes from the ungodly environment in which we live - we call that the world.

Sometimes that deceit comes from cruel and lying spiritual sources - we call that the devil.

That’s why we used to be asked to renounce the world, the flesh and the devil.

Did God say?

Did God say that the meaning of life is to be solely found in satisfying our bodily needs, whether that be through food, through sex or through vanity? That’s the deception of the Satan.

No, for the truly human One, that second Adam whom we name as Jesus, knew that life is more than body. Our best humanity is to be found not just in food, but in our open-ness to the word of God. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.

Are we called to be foolish and reckless in the way we live our lives, trusting some other person or even God to clean up the mess? That’s what the deceiver would wish us to believe - throw yourself off the temple pinnacle Jesus.

No, the truly human One, that second Adam whom we know as Jesus, the one who would not be deceived, warns us against pushing God to the limits by our own unfaithfulness. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.

Are we to believe that life is a matter of power and prestige? That’s a particularly American belief, and we are paying a heavy price for that falsehood. The Satan, the Deceiver, wants to fool us into believing that we’ll be just fine and dandy if we have the right power and prestige. “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour”. (Any thoughts here about American military and economic might?)

No, the truly human One, that second and true Adam whom we know as the Lord Jesus is determined that God is the only object for worship. We may not worship power. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”.

“Did God say?”

We have a stark choice.

To live the lies of the deceiver.

Or to depend upon the loving faithfulness of God?

To be deceived, or to depend.