Saturday, 23 February 2008

Just for me

(Second of two entries for today)

I awakened at 4:15 a.m. today (Saturday 23rd February). I knew that I’d not be able to get back to sleep for a while.

So I took myself, some coffee and cigarettes out to my Lanai. It was a lovely and balmy night.

Just across the pond was a Mocking Bird, singing her/his songs in the stillness of the night.

Of course she was singing for me. Lovely songs, just for me, in the early hours of the morning!

Years of service from an act of kindness

Years of service from an act of kindness
By Cathy Zollo
Published Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.

SARASOTA — The first time Bob and Elaine Kyllonen helped a homeless person was in 1985, when the sprinklers went on outside their church, drenching a woman who was sleeping in the bushes.


The 11th annual "Evening to Remember" on March 12 will be a special tribute to Resurrection House founders Bob and Elaine Kyllonen, who are retiring after 19 years of dedication to the homeless people of Sarasota.

Along with saluting the Kyllonens, the party will include dinner, an auction and entertainment by the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.

Tickets $150.

More information Jean Fulton, 365-3759.

The Kyllonens spotted the woman when they arrived for an evening meeting at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. They took her inside. Then they and other church members helped her dry off, gave her some food and pooled their money to pay for a hotel for her to stay in that night.

Within a few days the Kyllonens and other church members had started a campaign to help the homeless that ultimately resulted in Resurrection House, a daytime resource center funded by Church of the Redeemer and five other Sarasota churches.

The Kyllonens ran Resurrection House from the day it opened in October 1989, and are now preparing to step down after 19 years. Over that time, the agency has grown into a mainstay in the network of service providers for the homeless. It has a half-million dollar annual budget.

As close as he and his wife are to Resurrection House, Bob Kyllonen, 82, says he looks forward to handing over control to someone else.

"They need some new blood, some new ideas to see if they can take Resurrection House to another level of helping the poor and the homeless," he said.

They leave an agency with a stable foundation.

Resurrection House has a $500,000 endowment, a solid record of fundraising, and owns the 10,000 square-foot building where it is based free and clear.

The Kyllonens believe that God blessed the ministry with the historic Mediterranean Revival structure on Kumquat Court. A developer had bought the building and spent $300,000 renovating it in the hopes of renting to professionals. There were no takers. The building was foreclosed upon by the bank, which sold it to Resurrection House for $100,000.

Every so often, people show up at the building to thank the Kyllonens. Others stop coming because they no longer need help.

"Sometimes we just don't see our clients any more, but that's a success," says Elaine Kyllonen, 81.

The agency started offering services for a few hours each morning from a borrowed office at the headquarters of The Salvation Army. The Kyllonens were an unlikely pair going in.

He was a retired insurance agent; she had worked in a legal office for 20 years.

They had moved to Sarasota from Michigan in the 1950s, opened a building supply business and sold it when Bob went into insurance. They brought up three children in Sarasota and were active in their church, but not on the scale that would come with Resurrection House.

"Bob and Elaine really caught that vision and felt a calling from God to pursue it," says Father Fred Robinson, pastor of Church of the Redeemer.

"They wanted to do something that would not just meet the immediate needs of the homeless but that would help them to break out of that situation so that they could eventually become self-supporting people."

Last year, homeless people made 42,186 visits to Resurrection House.

Just off its sunny common room are three counseling offices where they get direction to social services or help finding a job or a chance, should they need it, at rehabilitation from addiction.

There is a continental breakfast for those who have not eaten and medical attention for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease as well as for injuries: cuts and scrapes from living in the woods and the occasional stab wound.

Clients can get their hair cut, take a shower, drop off laundry and use the ironing boards to clean up for a job interview.

People who work there say the Kyllonens set the tone at Resurrection House.

"I really thought I understood about compassion, about caring for people," says David Proch, who has worked at Resurrection House since 2000 and just took over as executive director. "I've really come to see what true caring and compassion really are all about."

In a garage out back, two men rework the gears and fix flats on donated bicycles. If a client gets a full-time job, he or she gets bike, a bike lock and work boots if needed, explains Jean Fulton, a long-time volunteer and board member at Resurrection House.

From their first contact with Resurrection House, though, they get the intangibles that can be a first step up from the bottom, things like being called by name, eye contact and a smile, a bit of respect.

"We treat them like they are people," Bob says. "We give them back some dignity."

Elaine Kyllonen says their 19 years of service was its own reward, in a way.

"You get more than you give," Elaine explains and shrugs. "You just do."

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Where I grew up

Not far from where I grew up in Bristol, U.K. is the Greenbank Cemetery. I walked alongside it twice a day for two years when I attended Eastville Junior Mixed School.

My four grand-parents are buried there, and by a nice bit of happenstance my cousin Janet now lives in a cottage within the cemetery. Her husband is the cemetery superintendent.

On the east side of the cemetery is a road called Royate Hill, (pronounced “Roy-ut”). Royate Hill is really two hills. It descends from Fishponds Road to a valley with a stream, then it ascends towards Whitehall Road.

At one time a rail line linking the old London, Midland and Scottish Railway to the old Great Western Railway crossed this valley using a magnificent brick built viaduct with nine arches. (A bit west on the railway line were the similar thirteen arches, demolished in 1968 to make way for a Motorway).

Of Royate Hill is a little district called Clay Bottom. It once was a semi-rural enclave within the City. We would cycle or walk through, passing a small holding which had goats, and in season picking blackberries.

Clay Bottom now has Town Houses. My friends Colin and Lorraine Cooper were amongst the first owners, probably in about 1968. Later on my brother Stephen and his wife Angela owned a home there.

Somewhere around here was the “Atlas Engine Works” owned by Peckett and Sons. In business until 1968, they made smaller railway (steam) engines which were greatly valued for “shunting” work at coal mines and ship docks.

From Clay Bottom we would walk through “allotments” (“Victory gardens in American English) to Stonebridge Park, a residential street on a hill. We’d get up to an area which had at one time been a coal mine (open faced mining I believe). There were “mountains and valleys” of coal scree, a great place to ride our bikes (strictly forbidden by parental types - but a lot of fun).

And also nearby was “The Lido”, an old quarry which’d been flooded, and then operated as a swimming hole (but you had to pay to get in!).

My friend Jeffrey Davies and I were there one day, we were about thirteen years old. We saw a young woman changing in the bushes, and we approached her with pubescent glee.

“Bugger off”, she said. So we did!.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008


I am a total duffer at sports.

I cannot kick a ball, throw a ball, catch a ball, or hit a ball with a bat.

I cannot even dance at a ball.

For a short while I tried 5 - a - side football (soccer) with a Bank team. Later I attempted to play in a football (soccer) team with some buddies in the Bristol Downs’ League. I played (if that’s the word!) tennis one summer whilst working at the National Westminster Bank residential training College in Oxfordshire.

But it’s all hopeless. I cannot kick a ball, throw a ball, catch a ball, or hit a ball with a bat.

And I am not even very interested in sports or athletics. Except that for 31 years as a Pastor in Massachusetts I learned that I should be enthusiastic about the Boston Red Sox (Baseball); the New England Patriots (American Football); and the Boston Celtics (Basketball).

I needed to be enthusiastic about these teams in order to be a popular Pastor, even though I do not understand one whit about baseball, American football or basketball.

Go Sox, Patriots, and Celtics I say!

It was the same years ago.

I grew up in east Bristol, living less than a mile away from the Bristol Rovers Football Club Stadium in Eastville. My destiny was to become a Rovers’ fan. They were the local team. Their Supporters’ Club was known as the Pirates; the team’s nickname is “The Gas” (they played next to an old “plant” which made cooking and heating gas from coal); and their team song was and is “Goodnight Irene”.

But when I was about 11 years old I had a school chum whose last name was “Nairn”. I am not sure that I even ever knew his first name. He lived on Stapleton Road in Eastville, within sound of the Rovers’ Stadium, and but three or four doors away from the Supporters’ Club shop front office.

And he had the “balls” (excuse me please!) to be a supporter of the rival team, Bristol City Football Club who played across town in south Bristol at Ashton Gate.

I was “hooked”. If a boy who lived (literally) under the shadow of the Eastville Club could be a supporter of the cross town rival club, then so could I!

And since then “my” team has been Bristol City Football Club. They play at Ashton Gate; their nick-name is “The Robins” (they play in red); and their theme song is “When the red red Robin goes bob bob bobbing along”

My sister Maureen had the good sense to marry a man who is a City fan. So is their son, my nephew Nick.

My mother (after Dad’s death) married a Rovers Fan.

My younger brother Andrew is crazy for the Rovers. He tells me that I “forced” him to attend Bristol City matches; but that one day I took him to a Rovers’ game, and from then on he was a convinced Rovers fan.

He also tells me that he’d complained to Dad about my “forcing” him to attend the City games at Ashton Gate.

He reports that Dad said “you do not have to be stupid to go to Ashton Gate, but it helps“.

Thanks Dad!

But, GO Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bristol City, even though I cannot kick a ball, throw a ball, catch a ball, or hit a ball with a bat.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Danger" Here Be Dragons

A friend in Seminary hailed from Pinner in north London. His father was reluctant to travel far, imagining, as his wife said, that just north of Harrow there was a sign reading
“Danger: Here be Dragons”.

Last Saturday my pal Joe S and I went out to the wonderful Myakka River State Park. We rented a canoe, and paddled out into the lake which is populated by many alligators.

I was full of bravado, reasoning that the authorities would not rent canoes if the alligators were a danger to humans. Joe was not so sure.

Then, at one point, it seemed that we were being circled by six or eight alligators, with just their snouts and eyes visible above the water. Now it was my time to be nervous! “Danger: here be Alligators”.

“Danger: here be ….. you name it”. We live in a dangerous world.

The semi-fascistic Governments in the U.S.A and U.K. warn us of the danger of “terrorists”, and have scared us into submission as they rip away our civil liberties.

The stinking press in both countries make it their business to create fear about their named Dragons - Gays, Muslims, Arabs, Immigrants, Homeless people, the Poor - etc, etc, etc.

We, lulled into a stupor induced by the “bread and circuses” of our modern culture, surrender to the illusory Dragons.

I’ve taken a few risks in my life - daring the face the Dragons.

I’ve avoided many risks - running away from “Dragons” and “Alligators”. But they always caught up.

I’ve always regretted the risks I did not take.

I’ve always celebrated those risks which I took. By God, it was worthwhile!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Sharia, from a Muslim Scholar

I've had a weekend guest, hence no blogs on Saturday and Sunday.

The following article is about Sharia, written by a Muslim scholar.

It's here with no comment or endorsement by me, but so that you can read what a Muslim has to say about Sharia.


What is Sharia?
Usama Hasan

The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah - the which We have sent by inspiration to thee - and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: To those who worship other than God, hard is the way to which thou callest them.
God chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn to Him.
(Koran, chapter: Consultation, 42, 13, translated by A.Y. Ali)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in his historic lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice last week, referred to “Abrahamic” verses such as the above, where “establishment” (Arabic: shar') of religion refers to the essence of all religion: the love and worship of the Divine. Related words, pregnant with meaning, are shari', meaning both “lawgiver” and “road” (road signs in the Arab world proclaim a shari' at every corner), and shari'a, a path or way; in classical Arabic this particularly meant a path to water in the desert and hence the Sacred Law of Islam, the moral code and ethical path to God, who alone quenches all thirst with mercy.

The Sharia is based on both universal and specific texts, principles and judgments from the Koran and the Sunnah, the example of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Far from being set in stone, the problem of specifically applying universal principles in Sacred Law has led to a vigorous debate throughout Islamic history and the complex evolution of an extremely diverse body of legal schools and opinions. Within three centuries of the founding of Islam, there were dozens of legal schools, of which about seven remain influential across the Islamic world, both Sunni and Shia. An important early debate that continues today was between traditionalists and rationalists over whether the universal principles of God's law were to be known by revelation or reason, or both. The four main areas covered by classical Sharia were: ibadat (ritual worship), mu'amalat (economics), munakahat (marriage, divorce and family) and jinayat (crime and punishment).

A significant development in Islamic law between the 11th and 14th centuries CE was the approach to legal purpose known as the Maqasid theory. Imam Ghazzali (died 1111) argued from a holistic reading of the Koran that the purpose of Sharia was fundamentally to preserve five matters: faith, life, wealth, intellect and family. This development occurred six centuries before John Locke's articulation of a similar approach to law in England. Over the next three centuries after Ghazzali, theologians such as Ibn Taymiyyah added a number of other “fundamental purposes” of law: preservation of reputations, neighbourhoods and communities; fulfilment of contracts; moral purity; trustworthiness; the love of God. The culmination of this theory came with Shatibi (of Jativa, Andalusia, died 1388), who explicitly synthesised traditionalist and rationalist approaches. But Islamic legal theory and practice, once centuries ahead of other civilisations, fell into relative decline for the next half-millennium.

The last century of Islamic legal thinking carries more hope, however. Recent thinkers such as Tariq Ramadan in Europe and Hashim Kamali in Malaysia have suggested that the following are “legal purposes” that must be protected and promoted by Sharia: fundamental human rights and liberties; public welfare; education; scientific and medical research; the environment.

Anyone familiar with this rich history of Sharia is left bemused by the ignorant and prejudiced notions that often dominate debates about it, especially the strange assumption that the last of the Abrahamic faiths has values that are somehow radically different from those of Judaism or Christianity.

Returning to the Archbishop's lecture, I'd like to illustrate one of his key points, that of cultural and faith loyalties, with the example of marriage. Many people in this country, perhaps the majority, will not be too excited about a register-office wedding, but would love to have their dream wedding in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple. It is only right and proper that the law of the land recognises all such marriages. Over the past few years mosques have finally begun to be registered as public buildings suitable for the solemnisation of marriages.

Within the past decade an aspect of Jewish divorce law was accommodated within UK civil law to protect the rights of Jewish women after lobbying by the Beths Din. An exactly analogous situation exists with Muslim women and Sharia councils, and this disparity between Jewish and Muslim communities must be rectified.

Because the principles of marriage and divorce are very similar in Sharia and English law, one procedure should cover both legal systems.

In the end, I do not believe in a distinction between the civil and religious, the secular and sacred, because we are always in the Divine Presence, and “to God do all matters return”.

Dr Usama Hasan is an imam at Tawhid Mosque, Leyton, and a senior lecturer at Middlesex University