Saturday, 28 November 2009

Life together

If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times.

From the lips of older parishioners I heard: “I don’t want to be a burden to my children”.

I’d try to unpack those words. “What do you mean by ‘burden’?” I would ask.

Then I’d try another tack. “Were your children a burden as you raised them?” would be my next question.

The older parishioner would inevitably say, “but of course not”.

But try as I might to assure the senior that her/his children would be honoured to care for her/him in the event of incapacity; that senior would counter “but I don’t want to be a burden”.

I suspect that behind those words rested a fear of “dependence”. It is indeed tough for we rugged individualists to acknowledge that in senior years we may have to be dependent on others for our health and survival.

Wise ones know that life is not simply a matter of independence, nor yet of dependence.

They also know that in our personal, family, community and national lives we are all truly interdependent.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Sermon for Thanksgiving 2009

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

How would you define an Englishman?  Try this:

“An Englishman is a self made man, who worships his creator.”

I can tell you that one liner in good heart, for I am English born and raised.  There is more than enough truth in the joke.

We are surrounded by “self-made” citizens who proudly affirm “I got all I have by good old fashioned hard work and no one is going to take it away from me”.

There is a common belief that good old fashioned hard work is a sign of virtue, and that virtue is rewarded by wealth. Somewhere, deep in the secret part of my heart I believe that too.

That belief flies in the face of the facts. 

First: There are millions of good hard working Americans, many of whom have two or three jobs, and yet  are barely scraping by. 

And there are other millions who would welcome good old fashioned hard work – if such work were available.

Those of us who work with homeless people hear time and time again “I want to work, but there’s no jobs out there”.

That belief flies in the face of the facts.  

 Second: A wee bit of reflection would lead us all to acknowledge that there was much “good luck” involved in our success and prosperity. 

There was the teacher who inspired and encouraged us.
There was the prospective employer who took a chance on us. 
There was the good friend who was gutsy enough to challenge us into healthier ways of thinking and living.
There was the spouse who both tended the home fires and worked outside of the home so that we could go through college. 
The list goes on.

So much good luck.  The truth is that we did not do it all by ourselves.

The obverse of the coin of good luck is that many of the poorest and or homeless Americans are poor and homeless because of a string of bad luck.

We are the lucky ones.  We, and I mean those of us who are in this Church tonight, are in the top 5% of the world’s most fortunate people. But none of us are here by merit and virtue alone.

Lest we should forget that, as we often do; or deny that because it is an inconvenient truth, the holiday called Thanksgiving plops itself in our path as a temporary road block designed to make us reflect.

That reflection might lead us to three sentiments.

First: to a kind of giddy and joyous humility.
Second: to a renewal of our glad commitment to deep stewardship.
Third:  to the exhilarating thought and emotion of utter gratitude.

The Boston Globe columnist James Carroll suggests these sentiments can also lead religious believers into worship.  His column last Monday inspired some of what I have said tonight, so I will leave the last words with him.   Carroll writes:

“What do we talk about, …………., when we talk about thanks? Awareness begins when a person grasps the single-most basic fact of existence, which is that existence is given.

The most important aspects of each human’s condition, from physical makeup to intelligence to family connections to cultural legacy, are accidents of birth.

  The givens of life do not begin with us. How we make use of what we are given is something else, but givenness is the starting point. 

Self-consciousness is the recognition that we ourselves are not the source of our most precious selfhood. A religious view makes the instinctive leap from the given to the giver, calls it “God,’’ and offers gratitude as the essential form of worship”

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A dog speaks to God


Dear God: Why do humans smell the flowers, but seldom, if ever, smell one another?

Dear God: When we get to heaven, can we sit on your couch? Or is it still the same old story?

Dear God: Why are there cars named after the jaguar, the cougar, the mustang, the colt, the stingray, and the rabbit, but not ONE named for a dog? How often do you see a cougar riding around? We do love a nice ride! Would it be so hard to rename the "Chrysler Eagle" the Chrysler Beagle"?

Dear God: If a dog barks his head off in the forest and no human hears him, is he still a bad dog?

Dear God: We dogs can understand human verbal instructions, hand signals, whistles, horns, clickers, beeper s, scent ID's, electromagnetic energy fields, and Frisbee flight paths What do humans understand?

Dear God: More meatballs, less spaghetti, please.

Dear God: Are there mailmen in Heaven? If there are, will I have to apologize?

Dear God: Let me give you a list of just some of the things I must remember to be a good dog.

1. I will not eat the cats' food before they eat it or after they throw it up.

2.. I will not roll on dead seagulls, fish, crabs, etc., just because I like the way they smell.

3 I will not munch on "leftovers" in the kitty litter box, although they are tasty.

4. The diaper pail is not a cookie jar.

5. The sofa is not a 'face towel'. Neither are Mom and Dad's laps.

6. The garbage collector is not stealing our stuff.

7. My head does not belong in the refrigerator.

8. I will not bite the officer's hand when he reaches in for Mom's driver's license and registration.

9. I will not play tug-of-war with Dad's underwear when he's on the toilet.

10. Sticking my nose into someone's crotch is an unacceptable way of saying "hello".

11. I don't need to suddenly stand straight up when I'm under the coffee table.

12.. I must shake the rainwater out of my fur before entering the house - not after.

13. I will not throw up in the car.

14. I will not come in from outside and immediately drag my butt.

15. I will not sit in the middle of the living room and lick my crotch when we have company.

16. The cat is not a 'squeaky toy' so when I play with him and he makes that noise, it's usually not a good thing.

And, finally, my last question...

Dear God: When I get to Heaven may I have my testicles back?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf - my mentors

I sometimes fear that I will lose my passion.

It’s a passion for justice, for the under-dog, for the poor and homeless, for battered women and for abused children.

It’s a passion which despises racism.

It’s a passion for the scandalous message of Jesus - e.g. “Blessed are the poor”

I am a passionate person. My passions  lead me to anger and to tears.

BUT - I sometimes fear that I will lose my passion.

I refresh it from various and sundry sources.

Oft times it’s from Edith Piaf (1915 – 1963), and Billie Holiday (1915-1959). It’s strange indeed that they were born in the same year. And that their lives had so many similar tragic dimensions.

I phantasise that they are both in my home for dinner - and that their conversation dumbfounds, teaches, and re-inspires me. What a conversation that would be!

YouTube helps me to re-connect with Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday. Check these YouTube links (you may have to cut and paste them).

(Note how Billie Holiday’s minimal facial movements convey as much as do the words she sings.)

Monday, 23 November 2009

Fish Soup

Keith H. became a new friend of mine when I moved to SRQ in 2006.  Since then, Keith has been gathered to his ancestors.

He used to make a fantastic fish soup.  Matter of fact, I’d never eaten fish soup until that first and enticing bowl at Keith’s home.

I’ve since made it, and my version has been good, but not great.

I started a fresh batch this morning in a slow cooker. The recipe was “in my mind”.  I used some “store boughten” (as we say in England) fish stock.  Then I tossed in what I had at hand:  carrots, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and black beans.  I let it simmer all morning.

Soon after noon I turned the slow cooker off for a while. Then mid-afternoon, I cranked it up again and added some leftover raw fish, straight from the freezer.  There were three chunks of mackerel and two of tilapia.

By 4:00 p.m. it smelled and tasted so good that I was confident enough to call my pal David F., and invite him for dinner.

I am sure that it will not be “dreadful”.  And I believe that it will be a pretty healthy dinner.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Two Trees and Jim Crow

I continue in my reading of “Trouble in Mind – Black Southerners in the age of Jim Crow” (Leon F. Litwack/Alfred A Knopf/ 1998). 

Litwack reveals that “Jim Crow” was frequently enforced by lynchings.

For instance he  records that in Sabine County, Texas, the Harkrider Drug Company published a postcard depicting the lynching of five blacks on June 15th 1908. This “poem” appeared under the picture.

This is only the branch of a Dogwood tree; An emblem of WHITE SUPREMACY.
A lesson once taught in the Pioneer's school, That this is a land of WHITE MAN'S RULE.
The Red Man once in an early day, Was told by the Whites to mend his way.
The negro, now, by eternal grace, Must learn to stay in the negro's place.
In the Sunny South, the Land of the Free, Let the WHITE SUPREME forever be.
Let this a warning to all negroes be, Or they'll suffer the fate of the DOGWOOD TREE.

In 1937 a New York school teacher, Abe Meeropol, saw a photo of another lynching. It led him, in 1939, to write this poem known as  Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

I have often wondered if Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit” was a conscious counterpoint to “The Dogwood Tree”.

Be that as it may, Meeropol’s poem was set to music and sung by Billie Holiday, to a haunting tune. I hope that you will be able to listen to it here

Lynching was not just “way back then”. See, for instance this story about the lynching of James Byrd in 1998

“Jim Crow” was also enforced by “law” 

That enforcement was also  not only “way back then”. The current Sherriff of Maricopa County in Arizona has honed it well. See