Thursday, 31 December 2009

Her name is Marlene

Her name is Marlene. We first met about three years ago, in a supermarket. It’s one of those upscale places with over-priced organic produce, dairy products and meats, but also with an amazingly good selection of cheeses. I was the customer. She is a check out cashier.

Marlene’s accent sounded vaguely English, but as we began to chat she told me that she is from Malta. Marlene is the only Maltese person I’ve ever met. She lives in SRQ with her husband.

Her presence radiates with happiness. She has a ready smile which she is always glad to share. I’ll wait in line at her till even if other lines are empty, this for the sheer pleasure of seeing her.

There was a period when I thought that she had left the store. It turns out that she had tried her hand in the store’s kitchen. It was to my immense relief that she decided that the kitchen was no place for her, and she returned to the check-out.

I saw Marlene today, and waited in her line despite the “shipping order” which was being rung up for the customer in front of me.

We enjoyed as much “visiting” as was possible on a busy store day. Then she came out from her till, wished me a “Happy New Year” - and then hugged me.

That was a wonderful way in which to say good bye to 2009.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Once in a blue moon

I understand that “blue moon” is what we call the second full moon in a calendar month. So tomorrow’s full moon will be a “blue” moon, and it will be on New Year’s Eve. What fun: “once in a blue moon” on December 31st 2009.

The “almost blue moon” was spectacular tonight as I walked with my dog. It was twilight. The air was crisp. Sister moon shone so brightly in the eastern sky.

Looking west, the sky was golden yellow, with a string of off-white clouds. The trees were in silhouette.

The mallards were already resting at pond-edge. Eight restless muscovy ducks waddled towards us with all due speed, hoping for handouts from the human and canine walkers: - ducks doomed for disappointment.

“G-d’s” creation was indeed beautiful, leaving me to “give thanks to him – the Giver good”.

And yet - I could not but forget that “G-d” is an artist who does not finish her work.

So much of the beauty that I enjoyed was the work of human hands:- the human made pond, the silhouetted roof tops, and the Christmas lights outside many homes. That led me to be deeply grateful for those human endeavors which lead to so much beauty: - paintings, music, fine buildings, gorgeous bridges, and exciting skylines.

“Praise G-d” is often on the tongue of religious believers.

“O.K”, I suppose, “but praise humans too”!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Dr. (Samuel) Johnson

“On Point” is a rather good radio programme which emanates from station WBUR in Boston. I often listen to the programme from  my car radio.

The topic today was a new biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson, by Jeffrey Meyers.  The programme may be accessed at:

It put me in mind of some of the pithy and wise “sayings” of Samuel Johnson.  Here are some of them.  (The final one is my favourite).


One of the disadvantages of wine is that is makes a man mistake words for thoughts.

None but a fool worries about things he cannot influence.

The future is purchased by the present.

I deny the lawfulness of telling a lie to a sick man for fear of alarming him; you have no business with consequences, you are to tell the truth.

It is unjust to claim the privileges of age and retain the playthings of childhood.

It is better to live rich than to die rich

Pleasure is very seldom found where it is sought. Our brightest blazes are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.

If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone.

Nothing at all will be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.

When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.

We would spend a lot less time worrying about what people thought about us, if we realised how little time they spent doing it.

Monday, 28 December 2009


Doritos -   oh how I want some Doritos!

I have forsaken my favourite unhealthy snack for more than six weeks, in favour of some weight loss.

I am munching celery, and grapes.

  oh how I want some Doritos!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Jane Williams

I am either blessed or cursed with the ability to remember the slightest details – details of events/incidents/conversations which reach back for at least 60 years.

Such memories are often triggered when some song or other surfaces in my mind, and then in my voice.

As I was walking Penne today, a song from the pen of an iconoclast, William S Gilbert (he of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) came to mind. It’s from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “The Sorcerer” (1877). In that operetta the song is assigned to the ageing clergyman Dr. Daly, who reflects on his days as a young Curate. The lyrics are reproduced below. As you read them, do remember that W.S. Gilbert was poking fun at the Clergy. The song is known as “A pale young curate”.

The memory of the song took me back to the time when I was a theological college student in England.

Soon after Christmas (1973 or 1974) I was selected, together with other students from St. John’s College, Nottingham U.K. to attend a conference at the lovely “Lee Abbey” near Lynton in north Devon, England. ( At that time, Lee Abbey offered gentle and refreshing conferences post Christmas each year, for British theological students.

On the final evening of the conference we were asked to participate in a “talent show”. The St. John’s students decided to sing - even by then the very dated Gilbert and Sullivan song - “A pale young curate”.

We did so, and the Warden of Lee Abbey glowered at us. After the talent show, we discovered that our song was in fact his “party piece”.

That Warden was not given to scowling. He was a gentle and loving Christian who had been a missionary in India. Following that he became a Canon of Bristol Cathedral, and was the Diocesan Director of Ordinands when I first began to explore ideas of ordained ministry.

In the midst of my explorations he hoved off to Lee Abbey, and I was shepherded by a new D.D.O.

That former missionary, Canon of Bristol Cathedral, and Warden of Lee Abbey was a Priest named Geoffrey Paul. After Lee Abbey he became Bishop of Hull (U.K.) but died suddenly and prematurely.

Geoffrey Paul and his wife had a daughter whom they named Jane. She became an excellent theologian.

These days she is known as Jane Williams, and has two children.

You may have heard of her husband. His name is Rowan, and he is the Archbishop of Canterbury!


The daft old song.

Time was when Love and I were well acquainted.
Time was when we walked ever hand in hand.
A saintly youth, with worldly thought untainted,
None better loved than I in all the land!
Time was, when maidens of the noblest station,
Forsaking even military men,
Would gaze upon me, rapt in adoration –
Ah me,
Ah me, I was a fair young curate then!

Had I a headache? sighed the maids assembled;
Had I a cold? welled forth the silent tear;
Did I look pale? then half a parish trembled;
And when I coughed all thought the end was near!
I had no care – no jealous doubts hung o’er me –
For I was loved beyond all other men.
Fled gilded dukes and belted earls before me –
Ah me,
Ah me, I was a pale young curate then!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

My best Christmas gift.

There were young triplets at St. Boniface Church on Siesta Key yesterday for the Christmas Day Eucharist. Two boys and one girl aged maybe 5 or 6.

They were at Church with Mummy and Daddy, and with their grandparents. I surmised that the family were at home for the holidays.

Two of these children, a boy and a girl were deliciously shy. The other boy was less inhibited.

As they knelt at the altar rail I could not see their faces. So I also knelt, so that I could give them God’s blessing, laying my hand upon each head and saying “the blessing of Christ, the bread of heaven”.

Before I could get back on my feet the less shy child looked me in the eyes. Then he reached out his hand and placed it on my head, in wordless blessing.

He had given me a wonderful Christmas gift, one which left me all teary eyed.

Friday, 25 December 2009

The work of Christmas

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
Howard Thurman

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Christmas Meditation by J. Michael Povey

In Willa Cather’s short story “A gold slipper”, (published in 1920) the author has introduced us to Marshall McKann, a straight-laced, dull and pedantic business man.

Cather tells us that McKann’s “religion was not very spiritual, certainly, but it was substantial and concrete, made up of good, hard convictions and opinions. It had something to do with citizenship, with whom one ought to marry, with the coal business (in which he own name was powerful), with the Republican party, and with all majorities and established precedents.”

In the story McKann has a conversation with Kitty Ayrshire, a famous singer. He had with great reluctance attended a recital she gave at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall, and now they find themselves to be riding the same train to New York City.

Kitty tries her best to shake his solid convictions about artists. He is certain that that they all are “light people….who have no depth”.  McKann confesses that he had been dragged to the concert. 

Kitty responds “I might have known”….. and  she goes on to say  “No, don’t give me any good reasons.(for his convictions)  Your morality seems to me the compromise of cowardice, apologetic and sneaking. When righteousness becomes alive and burning, you hate it as much as you do beauty. You want a little of each in your life, perhaps --- adulterated, sterilized, with the sting taken out. It’s true enough that they are both fearsome things when they get loose in the world; they don’t, often”.

Our celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God (a.k.a. “the birth of the baby Jesus”) is just that. It is righteousness and beauty let loose in the world, and it is fearsome. (jmp)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

O Holy Night. ( My re-blog from December 10th 2008)

O Holy Night

Episcopalians/Anglicans have been quite snobby about the Christmas Hymn “O Holy Night”. It’s been a bit too flashy for our culture.

I was introduced to it some 45 years ago when my friend Kitty Draper would play it for us, and for her daughters Yvonne and Marilyn. 
She loved the Nat King Cole version, and so do I.

The first link below will tell you something of the history of this song. Note please the abolitionist sentiments of the American translator. That's what makes the song so powerful.

READ all about it here:

Then, if you will, listen to the Nat King Cole version on YouTube
 (Google/Videos -  O Holy Night/ Nat King Cole)

Here is the text

 1. O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

2. Led by the light of faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend.


He knows our need, He guardeth us from danger
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

3. Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord, O praise His name forever!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!

Monday, 21 December 2009

President Obama - the best!

Those of us who are left of centre in our political convictions are often very idealistic. Our ideas are worthy and good, but often they will not fly in the real world of hard-nosed politics.

We were exultant when Barack Obama was elected to be our President. We expected great things of him. We were too starry eyed to see the world of real politics. So we are a bit discouraged, and far less exuberant about his Presidency.

The American contribution to the climate change conference in Copenhagen falls far short of our ideals, as do the likely changes to our health care system.

Nonetheless if John McCain had been elected...........?

It is all too easy for us to forget that the United States of America is an essentially “right of centre” country, and that any President must lead at least from the centre.

We also forget that the American Senate is innately conservative (note the lower case “c”), and is therefore very unlikely to vote in favour of truly radical measures.

In other words, President Obama’s options are strictly limited. He is in name the “Chief Executive”, but his Executive powers are circumscribed by the checks and balances of our Constitution.

We should also remember that, given his very brief tenure as a U.S. Senator, this President has a minimal stash of political clout. Unlike L.B.J. he does not have a host of “favours to be returned”.

Barack Obama is a consensus builder, whilst L.B.J. was a “wheeler-dealer par-excellence”.

It’s likely that those halcyon days of wheeling and dealing are far past gone.


Recognising that “politics is the art of the possible”, I am grateful for my President and his generous and wise understanding of our domestic and international realities.

Domestically he is a President who is on the “right side of history” unlike his opponent John McCain who was stuck in the 1970’s. (Better an Obama who governs from the centre that a McCain who would have been in hock to the far right!)

Internationally President Obama’s truthful and genuinely humble stances enable me to be “proud to be an American”.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Let down by a Mennonite.

In the England of my youth all but a few retail businesses were forbidden by law to do business on Sundays.
“Newsagents”   those little shops which sold newspapers, magazines, tobacco products and sweets (candy) were allowed to open at least on Sunday mornings.
Then there were the “Off Licences”.  These shops were those which were licenced by the local authority to sell beer and spirits for “consumption off the premises”.   
Off Licences” also carried a limited inventory of those other products which under law could be sold on Sundays.  I cannot remember the details, but I do remember that the list of “approved products” was entirely inconsistent.
Pubs were allowed to open for a few hours at lunch time, and for evening hours. 
Some of those pubs also had an additional door leading to a little counter at what was called a “jug and bottle”. There you could purchase beer or ale which was drawn from barrels in the cellar to the jug or bottle you bought with you!
These Sunday trading laws reflected the fact that the England of my youth was a nominally and predominately Christian (and Protestant) country.  The Churches had a vested interest in supporting the laws.    So did the Trades Unions who were firm in their support of a common day of rest. (I have a fond remembrance of the sense of peace and quiet which permeated the Sundays of my youth)
Much of the English Sunday trading law has been swept away, though there are still (I think) restrictions on the allowable Sunday hours of business for supermarkets, departmental stores and “big box” stores.
Sunday trading laws vary from State to State in these United States.  To this day in Florida, stores and restaurants may not sell beer, wine or liquor until Noon on Sundays.
 Civil law is one thing, but personal behaviours are another. 
So it was that my parents, for religious reasons, eschewed shopping on the “Lord’s Day”. 
Although that stance could easily lead into religious legalism, there was something good and wholesome about having one day each week during which “normal activity” ceased.
Such are the inheritances of my up-bringing that I still have a twinge of conscience regarding shopping on Sundays.  So it has been with a certain kind of nostalgic pleasure that I have noted that Amish and Mennonite businesses are closed on Sundays in Sarasota.  “Good for them” I have thought, “they hang on to some healthy counter-cultural traditions”.
I hoved up to “Sam’s Club” this afternoon, to buy some catfish (at a good price). (The store was out of stock!).
As I entered the store I saw a 70-something Mennonite woman (easily identifiable by her attire) as she left “Sam’s Club” with a full cart/trolley.
I felt betrayed. 
“Dammit”, I thought, “even if I do not desist from shopping on Sundays I wish that Mennonites did!”
True enough.  Many of us want “others” to uphold standards which we have long abandoned.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Washington D.C. and a blizzard

American eastern coast states from Virginia all the way up to New York are being assailed by an early and major blizzard. The storm is expected to hit Connecticut and New York tomorrow.

It’s been tough for those who live in northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. Driving is dangerous, and many airports have been closed. Annapolis, MD reported 20 inches.

There is some humour here. A friend in Maryland wrote (with affection) that her cross-dressing neighbour was shoveling snow in his cheer leader outfit.

‘Tis fortunate for most that this is a weekend storm.

Fortunate for most, but not for all.

Spare a thought for those retailers who have counted on sales during this weekend before Christmas to come out even. The paucity of shoppers will affect them deeply.

Some will go out of business. Others will lay off workers. A “winter wonderland” is lovely enough, but it will spell desolation for some owners of retail businesses and their employees.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The foolish piety of a loner

In the days when I was much more self-righteous and snotty than I am now (it’s not all gone), I would take pious delight in refusing invitations to parties during advent.
That piety helped to mask the fact that my gregarious outer man masks a truly inner loner.
I am a loner, but I have already been to two holiday parties this year. In both cases, right up until the moment I had leave my home I yearned for a sneeze which could be translated into a cold, and thus provide a great excuse not to attend.
Today’s party was down in Venice and it was for the out gay men at my Church a.k.a.  “The Belles of St. Boniface”.   
I’d hoped that my car would not start, or that it had a flat tyre. “No such luck” I muttered as I began the 25 mile ride to my hosts’ home in south Venice.
Once there, I had a lovely time.  The hospitality was gracious, and the food was good.  
 (Not to rub it in for those of you who live in colder climes, but it is nice to be able to eat outdoors by a swimming pool in mid December!).
I had a long conversation with one of the other retired Priests at St. B’s and his wife. (They were there as gay-friendly parishioners).  I’d never before done anything more than shake their hands, so it was good to get to know them a little better.
Most of all, it was great to enjoy the sociability of a party, and who cares if it is still advent.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Santa, and being nice.

The recorded music which is broadcast at one of the local supermarkets has been telling me since mid-November that “Santa Claus is coming to town”, and that “he knows when you’ve been naughty and he knows when you’ve been nice”.

Santa has not yet arrived, and frankly, I am tired of being nice!

What is it with cats?

My junior cat Adelaide consistently ignores me. But she demands attention the moment I sit down in an armchair to read a book.

On the other hand, my senior cat Ada will seek attention only when, (a) I am trying to nap on the sofa, or (b) when I am enthroned on the toilet.

My next door neighbour is a very angry and hostile woman. I hear her frequently when she is yelling (and cursing) at the mail man, the landscapers, the UPS man, or the trash collectors --- or me. And I mean frequently.

I can hear these angry diatribes from inside my house.

Yesterday it was the turn of her care-giver who had done something wrong, or failed to do something right. My neighbour told the care-giver that she was “stupid”; that she “never listened”; and that it “was her fault”.

This excoriation was launched before that care-giver had gotten out of her vehicle.

I try to believe that my neighbour has a great deal of self hatred which gets projected onto others.

Whether or not that is so, she certainly demands attention.

But I wish that she believed in Santa, and/or chose to be nice.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Anxiety in the face of abundance

The First United Methodist Church in Sarasota hosted its 7th annual Christmas Banquet for homeless and needy people.
It’s a classy affair. The tables are set with linen table cloths and good cutlery etc.  Each table has a magnificent and seasonal centre-piece –  a different one on each table -  made by church members in a friendly competition.
Church members wait on tables, and the food is more than excellent:  turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, dressing (stuffing) and good vegetables – followed by excellent homemade desserts.
The whole event runs like a well oiled machine. I estimate that there were close to 200 guests, served by about 50 volunteers.
Congratulations to the members of First United Methodist Church, for this extraordinary hospitality. The event is as far from a “soup kitchen” as you could imagine. It is truly a banquet.
My role was to “work the crowd” as folks lined up outside the Church.  Many arrived more than an hour before the Banquet began.  I knew about 70% of the guests, and they knew me.
Some asked me to pray with them.  I joshed and wise-cracked with others.  I tried to shake every hand, as a sign that “you are welcome”. Mostly I tried to be a non-anxious presence in the lives of those guests who were concerned in case there would not be enough room or food for them.  I also had to fend off the bull sh-t of those people who assured me that they had a special and unique reason to be placed at the head of the line.  I said to one of them -  “you cannot bull sh-t a bull sh-tter”  -  in other words “I know your game, for I too have played it”.
As I drove home I mused on the theme of “anxiety in the face of abundance”.
That’s a common enough feeling not only for homeless people, but also for those of us who are relatively well heeled. 

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Jack Chrisman's sermon at St. Boniface, Siesta Key, FL on 13th December 2009

The Revd. John "Jack" Chrisman has enjoyed two careers.

The first was in the U.S. Navy from which he retired as a Captain.

The second was as a Priest in the Anglican Communion. He trained for the sacred ministry in England, then served parishes both there and in the U.S.A.

Jack and his wife Donna washed up in second retirement on the shores of Sarasota. We have become good friends.

Jack preached last Sunday at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key where both he and I are Priest Associates.

I was greatly "fed" by his sermon which is reproduced here (with his permission).




Holiness and madness -- like genius and insanity -- have traditionally been viewed as closely associated.

It does not take any stretch of the imagination to see John the Baptist take his rightful place among those religious leaders who, by their radical relationship with God and their unorthodox style of teaching, have been used by God to stir up faith. This is traditionally is called stir up Sunday from that phrase in the collect.

These Spirit-infused men and women come from all walks of life. Some, like the prophets of Israel, have back grounds an varied as sheepherder, priest, scribe and farmer. Yet they share a common trait in that they teach in ways designed to unsettle the conventional wisdom of the day.

They practice spiritual "Shock Therapy", they "deconstruct" the carefully constructed cultural reality to make way for the discovery or rediscovery of the reality of God. They are divine eccentrics, and they use their unself-conscious eccentricity to express God's alternative way of life as a summons to unfasten ourselves from the structures that penetrate and permeate and govern our ordinary lives.

By virtue of their very being, these "mad" people of God create conflict -- much more than they bring harmony or peacefulness. That is perhaps why they usually don't live too long.

Since they refuse to derive their living from the world, they can't be bought off, and they can say what God gives them to say.

They are fiercely independent -- making them opt for strange ways of subsistence, like eating grasshoppers and wild honey, and wearing scratchy camel-hair

Did you ever wonder why the Gospel writers felt it so important to point out what John ate and wore? I think he is the only man in scripture who gets this kind of treatment

Well, it was to point out that very apartness and independence. They are not big on compromise; they have no fondness for or toleration of politics, they aren't into making everyone feel good about themselves, about building collective self-esteem or any of the other psycho-babble we hear so much of these days.

Therefore, they are not just out of step with the world, they are "upside down" in it. That is why they can broadcast God with abandon and exercise their twofold ministry of protest and awakening, whether they are addressing royalty or public officials, large groups, or their closest followers.

In their untamed holiness -- in their "Holy Madness" -- they both fascinate and repel . They see that the cultures they address as people waiting at a railway station for a train that will never come, or for a train whose destination is death. And in their God-drunk, God-driving way, they jar their people out of their spiritual stupor, but always with the intent to bring them to faith through amendment of life.

When asked why she used images of the bizarre and grotesque in her writing, Flannery O'Connor, a woman who herself was possessed of "Spiritual madness"? replied, "To the hard of hearing you shout; to the blind you must draw large and startling figures." that sums up the ministry of the prophets in general and John the Baptist in particular. Often there is no softer, easier way to get across saving truth.

The eruption of John The Baptist into our lives during these weeks every year in Advent signals a necessary lesson that the Church insists we take in every year.

And this lesson does much to delineate "Holy madness" from just plain madness.

Unlike so many "anointed" people who have succumbed to excessive egoism, self-importance and self-promotion, and we know them don't we? -- the Jim Jones's, the Baker's or the Swaggart's of the world -- John reminds us that WE are to be instruments of the work of God in the world.

WE are meant to be servants, not sensations, WE are not the ends, but one of the many means. In other words we should be ever watchful that conviction does not evolve into conceit.

That is the hallmark of John's ministry. At what must have been the height of his popularity, when "the people of Jerusalem and all Judaea were going out to him, and all the region of the Jordon, and they were baptized by him .. confessing their sins" (Mt 3:56), John points to the One whose sandals he is not worthy to carry, the One who will baptize them with "the Holy Spirit and fire." (v.11).

John's way therefore is the way of instrumentality -- and his way is to be our way as well. Unless we are clear on the Source, we remain untransformed, and our spiritual experience inevitably becomes harmful -- a toxic side-effect from the cure the experience was meant to be.

An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, the celebrated composer and conductor, what was the most difficult instrument in the orchestra to play? The great maestro replied without hesitation, "Second Fiddle. I can always get plenty of First Violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm now that is a problem, and yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony."

This is one of the most significant Advent truths that John the Baptist brings to us, though "playing second fiddle" is often considered a step down in our culture, it is always the posture of the disciple of Christ Jesus. The way of self-promotion must give way to personal transparency, The desire to "be better than" must submit to the desire to "be the servant of".

It is the posture that I would recommend to you this Advent Season. It is the posture that Barrie Shepherd captured so very well in the marvelous prayer that reads:

"As I begin this day, become flesh again in me, Father. Let your timeless and everlasting love live out this sunrise to sunset within the possibilities and impossibilities of my own, very human life. Help me to become Christ to my neighbor, food to the hungry, health to the sick, friend to the lonely, freedom to the enslaved, all in my daily living." AMEN and AMEN

Monday, 14 December 2009

God is in his heaven?

I write at 9:40 p.m. on Monday 14th December 2009.
My home is so peaceful.  The cats, Adelaide and Ada are resting comfortably.  My dog, Penne has been a wonderful “friend” all day.
The Florida weather has been most favourable, enabling Penne and I to take some lovely walks.
I’ve done “normal” things - eating, shopping, laundering sheets and towels, visiting the library etc..
I also did some laundry and shopping for my good pal Ben (he is still relatively immobile following his ankle fracture).
Later in the day my good friends Ron and Charlotte brought dinner to Ben’s home, and we feasted on their excellent fish soup and fabulous salad. Bob, another friend, joined us.
I’ve wanted to say “God is in his heaven, all’s right with the world”.
But the restless part of me has also been present. 
Yes, it’s been a wonderful day. But it has also been a hellish day for so many people in so many places in our world.
So, on this good day I have also meditated on Bob Dylan’s song.  It is not great poetry, but it is a “thousand percent” more evocative than our dreary Episcopal hymns!
This song of the 60’s speaks to my agony as I angrily weep for the wars of our world.
It is a song for my “peeps” – the American and British troopers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is also a song for those Afghan and Iraqi children who are victims of the violence which they cannot understand.
Blowin’ in the wind

How many roads must a man walk down
Before they call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
How many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
How many deaths will it take 'til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Hymns at Church in Sarasota today (published Dec 13th and revised Dec 14th)

Soon after arriving at my parish Church this morning I scanned the service leaflet, and then let out a groan.

I wanted to leave right away.

That was not because of the congregation, or because of the ministers.

My parish has a more or less lively congregation.

It has superb ordained ministers.

The parish prides itself on being “progressive”, and I have no quarrel with that.

So, why did I want to leave?

It was on account of the hymns for the day, which were anything but progressive. That’s not the fault of the parish. It’s the fault of the Episcopal Church hymnal.

We opened with “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” (Episcopal Hymnal #76), and ended with “The King shall come” (Episcopal Hymnal # 73). These two (predictable) Advent hymns share banal, prosaic and pedestrian texts; and dreary tunes. Neither of them has a word or melody which might excite the imagination.

So we sing them on account of their familiarity. Indeed they are so familiar that we do not have to think about their miserable texts. (Were we to examine the texts we would be tempted to say “that’s crap which I do not believe”).

Truth to tell, we also sang a hymn which was new to the congregation “Who is this crying at Jordan?”, (Episcopal Hymnal # 69). It has an unexceptionable text, set to a good and challenging tune.

Here’s the problem.

The first hymn dates from the 18th century. The last dates from the 19th century. Only the middle hymn was from the 20th century – (but it is written as if World War II, and the Holocaust, and the age of nuclear weapons had never happened).

In other words, (with all due respect to the wisdom of earlier generations), we are compelled to sing words from previous times –words which do not speak to our present situations or to the mission of G-d in 2009/2010:  --  as ever mission of justice to the oppressed.

Through the exclusive use of the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, we are compelled to sing a theology which chiefly is sin and self focused, and has rarely a word about the justice of G-d, or the plight of the oppressed, or the goodness of creation.

We are also compelled to sing hymns which are almost invariably written in western Europe or north America,  Our hymnal all but ignores the rich hymnody which is the gift of African, South American and Asia Christians.

The hymns we sing contradict or dilute the progressive and universal worlds of the bible, and of the life of faith of a world-wide Church.

But I am glad that I did not walk out of Church this morning, for boy-oh-boy we were fed and nurtured by a magnificent sermon. The preacher has promised to send it to me, and I will publish it soon.

Lord above – may we be fed 92% by the preaching and by the sharing of the bread and wine - but no more than 8% by our dried up hymns.

Irish Evangelical Statement - new link

Try this link, then go to Community alerts

Saturday, 12 December 2009

American evangelicals could/should learn from their Irish evangelical friends.

The Irish Evangelical Alliance has issued a statement about the proposal which is before the Irish Government regarding “Civil Unions”

I find this statement on behalf of Irish Evangelicals to be utterly refreshing, especially in the light of the angry voices we hear from American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.

There are three aspects which I like.

1. Irish Evangelicals are being totally faithful to their own understanding of the Gospel.

2. Their entire tone is irenic and gracious. There is not a single note of anger or judgment.

3. There is a clear recognition by the Irish Christians that they live in a post-Constantinian world.

Here is the link for the Irish Evangelical Alliance

Now click on “Community Alert” (on the right).

I’d love to know what you think.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Things that keep me awake at night

I purchase those easy to use disinfecting wipes.  The ones I use are a store brand, but they are most likely made by Lysol or Clorox.
I am not exactly certain that they are any more efficacious than hot water and a bit of dish detergent, but they are mightily handy.
I think that it’s the name that seduces me into the purchase.  “Disinfecting wipes” has an allure of safety.  After all, according to the label, they kill 99.9% of bacteria in 15 seconds. I try not to worry about the 00.01% of un-killed bacteria! 
And there is also the advertised “lemon scent”.  Who would ever doubt that “lemon scent” makes all the difference!  One of these days I will try to purchase some “lemon scented” lemons.
Today, in a fit of curiosity I read the “fine print” on the label.  It included these words:
“It is a violation of Federal Law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling”.
Having read  this I am terrified that the FEDS will soon be after me.   
True enough I have not tried to eat one of the wipes, or to build a tent with them, or to use one to write my shopping list.
But who knows which Federal Law I may have violated as I have used the wipes?
Please: offer some suggestions as to my possible misdemeanors or felonies in the use of them.
Pretty please: do not call the FBI. 

Thursday, 10 December 2009


There was a story today on N.P.R. (National Public Radio) about the possibility that President Obama will next year visit Indonesia, where he lived as a child.

The American Ambassador in Jakarta stated that our President would like to take his wife and children to the town and neighbourhood where he once lived.

The Ambassador said that President Obama would like to visit his “old haunting grounds” in Indonesia.

I have heard of “old hunting grounds”, and of “old haunts”.

I am not sure whether the Ambassador uttered a malapropism, or if he truly thinks that the  phrase is “old haunting grounds”. 

I am sure that I often regress to an  “old haunting ground” in which my memory takes me to the mistakes, sins, failures, and stupid acts of years gone by.

That memory often keep me awake at night. Damn it. I so wish that I could escape the haunting of my memory, despite the facts that ---

I cannot change the past.

My old haunts were mostly superb.

My old hunting grounds were fine.

 It is my “old haunting ground” which bothers  me most.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Too dreadful for words!

After my morning shower this day I grabbed the nearest shorts and shirt to head off to Resurrection House.

My appearance was greeted with amazement by the Res House guests, and with laughter by the staff and volunteers.

Plaid on plaid.

Oh my. I should either be more careful, or hire a dress consultant!

I am not proud of this photo', but I hope that it will make you giggle.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


In my sermon last Sunday I ventured to say that many folks say “I’m fine” when they really want to say “go to hell”.
One worshiper, as he exited, said:  “Thanks for your sermon Michael.  I am fine”
I replied: “go to hell”.
Then we both doubled over in laughter.
Before Church I chatted with an Acolyte.  She is in the fourth grade.  She told me about her weekend homework science project.  It involved checking the enzyme levels from a piece of raw liver when it is bathed in hydrogen peroxide.  For goodness sake - this is amazing. 
When I was in fourth grade I was just learning cursive (“joined-up”) writing, and had received absolutely no education in any of the sciences.
I have re-discovered parsnips. I am on the cusp of being obsessed with them. (I roasted some for dinner tonight -  together with carrots, onions and chicken thighs).
As I was checking out at a Publix Supermarket yesterday, the woman in line behind me saw the parsnips in my shopping basket and asked “are those some kind of carrot?”
I disabused her of that notion, and then I launched into a peroration on the virtues of parsnips, and gave her many suggestions regarding the ways to cook them.
With hindsight I’ll guess that I gave her too much information!  But those who are near and dear to my heart will never, ever “diss” parsnips.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Sermon for 6th December 2009.

 I departed a bit from my prepared  text as I preached it yesterday.  I have included some of my ad-lib remarks, and though those inclusions might not be my exact word - they represent well what I was trying to day.

Sermon for 6th December 2009. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea Church, Longboat Key,FL
Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-6

“Go to hell!” I’ve often wanted to yell that at some person who has wronged, annoyed or hurt me. In fact, I have yelled it, usually from the safety of my car, when some idiot or other has cut me off, or forced me in to another lane. If the car that has cut me off has one of those “Jesus” symbols, then I want to call out “repent you hypocrite"

“Go to hell” is a fairly safe imprecation, for after all, we no longer believe in hell. Perhaps we believe that there is some dark corner of the universe reserved for serial murderers and rapists, or for monsters such as Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and their many acolytes. 

But on the whole we are optimistic universalists about what happens after death. We believe in a God of love who will welcome everyone into heaven.

Earlier generation of Christians were less starry eyed than we; less sentimental than we. For you see, they saw Advent simply not as the Christian way of getting ready for the birth of the baby Jesus, but as a Christian call to be prepared for what they called the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. 

So it is that advent scriptures call us to a way of life which anticipates both judgement and death. That way of life has to do with repentance. Luke tells us that John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance. We must be clear that repentance has little to do with remorse or guilt, or feeling sorry. Repentance in John the Baptist’s preaching is a call to a new way of living.

Repentance is all about the way we are walking through life. To live as if repentance did not matter is to be always walking away from God. The unrepentant state is to turn our backs on God. 

But to live in a repentant way is to have a desire and intention to walk towards God

But because of our understandable busyness; or because of our diversions through triviality; or because of the hubris which whispers that “it all depends on us”; or because of our wilful sin we sometimes find ourselves to be walking backwards. 

That is why Christian living is filled with necessary course corrections. These course corrections are rooted in our deep conviction that walking towards God is walking towards life. We call them repentance.

We are not always present to the need for these course corrections because we have convinced ourselves that everything is “fine”. Have you noticed that “I am fine” is now the preferred response when we ask another person “how are you?” That person may well be in the deepest turmoil, confusion or sadness, yet she or he will insist that “I’m fine”.

Truth to tell it is often some catastrophic event, or the threat of such an event, which force us to think about why we are not fine.

Just over a year ago our national economy and the world economic system seemed to be on the brink of collapse. Can you remember how it felt? Most of us were filled with anxiety and with foreboding. That crisis brought death and judgement to many of our lives. 

There was, and still is, the death of many of our cherished dreams and hopes which utterly depended on a buoyant and growing economy. 

Maybe there was also judgement. This judgement was not forced upon us from outside. Rather it was our own self judgment - perhaps better understood as “self critique”. 

That self judgment made us ask “who will I be and how will I act if the whole system goes belly-up?” It also raised the question “were the dreams which died worth having in the first place?”

That 2008 crisis is by no means resolved. It is still with us. Matters could yet get worse. We could have a field day were we to argue about the most desirable political and economic ways forward. I would argue with the best of us!

Yet that debate, however necessary, might deafen us to the call of scripture to repent. And it is never “they” who are called to repentance; it is always “we”.

The gospel last Sunday included these words from Luke chapter 21 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

In the context those words most likely had to do with the “end of the world” which occurred for the residents of Judaea and Jerusalem when the Romans wrought havoc on what had been a rebellious province, and tore Jerusalem to the ground.

Those scriptures have a renewed meaning for us. We too experience fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. But note what Luke does NOT say. He does not say “run and hide” in cataclysmic days. Instead he says “stand up and raise your heads for your redemption is drawing near”. Scripture is assuring us that when we “stand up and raise our heads” we are defiantly facing the unknown future, knowing that our future will be filled with God.

It’s another way of expressing repentance.

Non-repentance is to run and hide in the face of adversity – and in doing so to run and hide from God. 

Repentance is to stand up, raise our heads, and walk with confidence and hope towards the source of our life, which is God.