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.