Friday, 12 June 2009

The Ouslem Bird (and other such nonsense)

Tired and bored with my own company I took myself to the Sarasota Mall on Thursday afternoon to lollygag and people watch. These are favourite activities of old farts such as I.

It was a sad mission. The Mall was “dead”. “Yes Virginia, there is a recession”.

There were few people to watch, and the four “anchor” stores (J.C. Penny, Sears, Macy’s and Dillards were devoid of customers).

I did see a middle aged couple testing a mattress in Sears. I hung around, hoping to witness something naughty, but they simply lay there, apparently bored with each other’s company.

Yes, they lay there for 20 minutes at least. The mattress salesman was nearby. I could tell that he was also bored. I also knew that he knew that there would be no sale. The couple were simply tired.

I too was bored and tired, but I had no-one with whom to share a mattress. (Well, there was that cute mobile ‘phone salesman .... but of that you do not wish to hear!)

Lollygagging over, I left the Mall. Still bored, I decided to find a new route home. I was close to Palmer Ranch, and I truly believed that one or other of the roads on the ranch would take me across to Clark Road.

Belief was not enough.

For I spent 15 minutes on Palmer Ranch behaving like the “Ouslem Bird”.

“The Ouslem Bird?” you ask. Yes indeed. My Dad told me about this bird. He told me that it flew around in ever decreasing circles until it flew up its own rear end.

( I did not fly up any rear end, but after a quarter of an hour I found myself back at the Mall!)

[Another version of the Ouslem Bird story is that it fed only on Mustard Seeds and Red Peppers, and so had to fly backwards to keep its rear end cool!]

Back to the story. I got lost on Palmer Ranch. And in that there is a tale.

Palmer Ranch consists of many gated communities. Each “community” is distinct, with gorgeous villas condos or apartments.

But there is no “there” there.

No corner stores, gas stations, restaurants or civic buildings.

Nothing at all, save gated communities.

I suspect that these communities are rife with regulations (rich republicans love regulation!). I would not dare fart if I lived on Palmer Ranch.

Palmer Ranch is named for Bertha Honore Palmer. I’ll tell you more about her tomorrow.

In the meantime, please do not fart, and whatever else you do, never fly backwards.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Kingdom of Savoy

Like many folks of my generation, I grew up to despise cabbage. In England (and probably in the U.S.A.) it was served limp and overcooked.

Truth to tell, it is a wonderful vegetable, and within the cabbage family “Savoy” is the tops.

I bought a Savoy cabbage today. I ate some of it stir-fried, with a wee bit of cut up shoulder steak and some mushrooms, together with some pre-made polenta, adding some low sodium soy sauce for flavour.

‘Twas not exactly gourmet cooking, but it was a feast fit for Kings, or for old Queens.

Let’s hear it for Savoy Cabbage.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Palms and Oaks

I had dinner this evening with my good neighbour Ed Green. We ate at a chain steak-house. Despite it being a chain I enjoyed a most delicious rib-eye. Good food indeed. Our waitress wanted to be our best friend, but we were more interested in good food than new friends!

Ed is the neighbour who told me that there is no such thing as a Palm Tree. He is almost right.

Palms are palms are palms, and not all of them grow to be as large as trees. They are members of the Arecaceae (palm family)

The Arecaceae, also known as the Palmae family, is comprised of about 200 genera and 2,500 species. Palms range from tiny understory plants to towering trees, and are found throughout the tropics and subtropics. Some commercially important palms include coconut (Cocos nucifera), date (Phoenix dactylifera) and oil palm (Elaeis guineensis).

Florida has many palms, but only one native – the “Sabal Palm”. It is featured in our State Seal. Also known as the Palmetto, it is also the state palm of South Carolina (the “Palmetto State” to give its nickname).

Florida (and much of the American South) abounds in Live Oaks. They are called “live” because they do not lose their leaves in autumn as do oaks in more northern climes.

Live Oaks are magnificent when fully grown. We have many in my Glen Oaks Ridge Community.

They are so grand (and often ancient) that they cannot be felled without government permission.

( There is one American Live Oak (not here at Glen Oaks Ridge) which is estimated to be 1,400 years old!).

Live Oaks look especially splendid when they are draped with “Spanish Moss” (which is neither Spanish, nor a Moss!) see

Do remember that Oaks are also a symbol of England, and that Palms grow in England too!

I especially like Oaks for as the old saying goes:

"Every majestic oak tree was once a nut who stood his ground."





Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Anti-religious prejudice (2)

Thanks for the comments on yesterday’s entry. They are well taken.

Since my blog is not a discussion board (thank goodness!) I’ll be sparing in my response.

First: Yes the Church has much to answer for in her failure to live the mind of Christ. But it is not only the Church. I too will stand before the judgement seat of Christ.

Second: I know that the Church has perpetuated horrors on some good people. She has been evil in the way that she has inflicted wounds, wounds which defy all attempts at healing.

Third: But not all who have been wounded by the Church have been mortally wounded. There are hurts which can be forgiven and forgotten. (I’ve had to do this with parents, family members and friends, and with the fundamentalist Church of my youth).

Sooner or later I knew that in hanging on to old hurts I was simply self hurting - there were many things which I could simple “let go”.

(I was whining about my fundamentalist past one day when a wise friend said “but that is but one of the rings in the tree of your life”. Point well taken!)

The friends who assailed my last Saturday at lunch were well educated, prosperous and intelligent folks.

Neither had been hurt by the Church. One was an atheist who decided when he was a little boy that religion was nonsense, and had only graced the doors of Churches or Synagogues for funerals, or to hear good music. The other was a non-religious Jew who seeks to live an ethical life in the spirit of Torah.

So I felt that it was rude (to say the least), or perhaps disrespectful when they launched into an attack on religion, but only on the Christian faith.

They employed that old “yellow journalism” tactic of referring to the extreme nonsenses in the Church (the Pope in Africa, Pentecostal preachers) – and thereby concluded that Christianity was all nonsense.

I protested their singling out of Christianity: it seemed to me to be a “cheap shot”, coming as it did from an atheist, and a member of another religion.

At this point, fearing that I would blow a gasket I excused myself and took solace in a cigarette!

When I returned it was to be told that my faith had been chosen for attack since it made such great claims for itself.

Indeed it does. And so do other faiths. It is true that many religious adherents fail to live up to the highest standards of their faith.

But it is also true that some lawyers fail to live up to the call to be agents of justice.

It is true that the “academy”, a place of learning, can also be a place of the vilest professional jealousies, and the abuse of students.

Medicine is an honourable calling, but doctors have been known to assist in cruel experimentation on other humans, (check what happened in Porton Down, England or Tuskegee, U.S.A.)

Psychiatry has brought untold goodness to many people, but it has also been practised in evil ways, to the detriment of mentally ill people.

The list could go on. But my point is simple. “Why”, I ask, “is religion one of the few human institutions against which it is fashionable to be prejudiced?” Should not all human institutions be subject to a common canon of critique.

And why is it that religious leaders can be verbally abused by even their closest friends?

Forgive me if my skin is too thin.

Understand my frustration at illiberal liberals!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Anti-religion prejudice (1)

As a retired Christian priest I am a sitting target for the “shots” fired by my atheist, agonistic, and semi-believing friends.

Sometimes their pot shots are so silly as to be laughable. Sometimes I think that their comments are simple rude or impolite. Sometimes I know that they are wrong, or stupid, or irrationally biased against religion.

For instance, I often hear “there have been more wars caused by religion than by any other thing”.

This is set forth as if it were a fact, and that the record of history would bear it out.

If this is so, where is that record of history? Show it to me please! I need data!

And as you search for that data, do please look into the history of wars, and find out how many have been caused by colonialism; by the expansions of empires; by the hatred of other tribes; by racism; by tribal conflict; or by non-religious ideologies ( e.g. Nazi-sm, Fascism, Communism, Nationalism, Monarchism and the like).

Do the math(s), and get back to me!

Of course, most wars are indefensible, and wars of religion are particularly horrid. But is it a fact that “there have been more wars caused by religion than by any other thing”?

Perhaps I am naive, but it still shocks me when my liberal friends who express the most wonderful sentiments of tolerance and acceptance regarding many social and political issues become quite intolerant with regard to religion.

I was most uncomfortably as a guest at a lunch the other day, when I was subjected to anti-religious, and specifically anti-Christian views from my host and from another guest.

At the very least I thought that they were disrespectful. At the most I thought that their prejudice had led them into stupidity. I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2009

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2009
The Revd. J. Michael Povey, at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key, FL.

Some four years ago a parishioner in Cambridge, MA asked me an odd question. “What” he enquired “would cause you to leave the Episcopal Church?” I think that he wanted me to say something about sex. I replied “I would leave the Episcopal Church only if we explicitly and deliberately denied the doctrine of the Holy Trinity”.

I believe that God the Holy Trinity is at the heart and core of who we want to be as Christians in the Episcopal Church. God the Holy Trinity is far more important and much more exciting than sex!

Back in my seminary days one of my co-students would have occasional melt-downs when, overwhelmed by sadness and despair, she would disappear and hide somewhere on the campus. We loved her and cared for her well being and one of the faculty members would be despatched to find her and to bring her home. One dark night the vice-Principal of our college sallied forth, flash light in hand to find her. His nocturnal exploration coincided with a rash of bicycle thefts from a bike rack on campus. A vigilant English bobby seized upon our vice-Principal, convinced that he had nabbed the bicycle thief. “No, no” protested the suspect “I am the vice-Principal of this College”. “Alright then” said the bobby “If you’re the vice-Principal, spell ‘feological’”.

I suspect that eyes glaze over and minds check out when we speak of the Trinity as we think of it as a bit of confusing “feology”. Far from that, I believe that the Trinity is to be enjoyed and experienced. It is as much a theology of the heart as of the mind.

The doctrine of the Trinity was formulated, to be sure, in the Councils of the Church. But it is not as though a group of Bishops got together one day and said “let’s make up a doctrine to confuse the faithful”. What they were about was to give expression to an experience of God which was both faithful to scripture, and to their experience.

Not fundamentalists by any chalk, they understood that Trinitarian belief was implicit in Scripture, but that it had to be teased out using their reason and their experience. Like the much later Puritan John Robinson, they knew that “God had yet more light to break forth from his holy Word”.

Having inherited a deep monotheism from their Jewish roots they sought to give voice to their conviction that total Godlikeness had been seen in Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit, present within them was also totally of God.

Their deepest conviction was that there was but one and only God who had been utterly manifest in Jesus, and was fully present in the Spirit.

But they also knew that Jesus was NOT God the father, and that the Holy Spirit was neither the father, nor the son.

They created new language to give expression to this belief and experience – language which was needed to make it clear that the Son and the Spirit were not created. For had they been created by God, then God could also destroy them.

So it is that that they refer to the Son as being “begotten”, and to the Spirit as “proceeding”. The Son and the Spirit are “of one substance with the Father”.

Here I add three “feological” caveats.

First, it is incorrect to refer to Jesus as God. We see and know the eternal God in Jesus, but we afford him the divine title of “Lord” to distinguish him from the eternal Father.

Second, the Nicene Creed is incorrect when it asserts that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The eternal Father is the source of God-head from whom the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds.

(Those three words “and the Son” were included in a later version of the Nicene Creed, a version which was never approved by the Eastern Orthodox Churches).

Thirdly, though I have used the traditional language of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – it is entirely congruent with scripture, tradition and reason to recognise the feminine in God. We may freely refer to God as Mother, and to the Spirit as “she”.

Our life in the Trinity is expressed in that same Nicene Creed which we rehearse at each Sunday Eucharist. Some folks have scruples about saying this, not wanting to say something that they do not believe.

But the Creed is not about what I believe, or you believe. It is a rehearsal of the faith of the Church as a whole. So we may all say it quite cheerfully as a poetic expression of something deeply valuable in our heritage and history. When we recite the creed we are saying “here I am, part of that great body of believers who down through the ages have expressed their faith in words such as these”.

I believe that “feology” is a good servant, but a bad master. The doctrine of the Trinity will serve us very well as we enter into the life of God.

It assures us that deep at the heart of the Universe is a God who is not single, lonely and isolated, but a God in whom there is an eternal dance of love. The Trinity is all about that dance: - giving, receiving, sharing, dancing and singing between father, son and holy spirit. In Christian experience we enter into that delicate and joyful dance.

And it assures us that community is the very nature of God. As Christians we say “a plague on rugged individualism”. “I did it my way” is a lonely and self-absorbed way of living. Instead we say – I am bound in love with a both irritating and fabulous community of faith which models its life in God the Holy Trinity - the community par excellence.

Dance with the Trinity today. Live in the Trinity in this irritating and fabulous parish!