Thursday, 30 December 2010

. Of making many books there is no end

Our fabulous Sarasota County (FL) Libraries uses an automated checkout system by which receipts are issued when book are borrowed.

I kept all my receipts for 2010 and thereby discovered that I borrowed and read 54 books during the year.  One a week is not too shabby!

I major in history and biography.  This year I’ve read some biographies of fabulous women whose lives inspire me.  They include Catherine the Great of Russia, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Queen Anne (legally the first Queen of the United Kingdom).

Equally if not more inspiring have been the biographies of Anne Hutchinson (a woman who defied the male leadership of the Massachusetts Bay Colony);  of Ida Tarbell, a remarkable investigative journalist;  and of Dorothy Parker – an American ”wit” but much, much more than simply a “wit”.

In fiction I have been engrossed with the works of the great Willa Cather. I enjoyed “Death comes to the Archbishop”, (it is one of her finest novels), but her “My Antonia” charmed me even more.

I learned a great deal from a biography of the one and only Confederate States of America President – Jefferson Davis; and of the ghastly English fascist and H-tler sycophant Diane Mosley.

One a lighter side I giggled my way through “The finer points of sausage dogs”, and “Portuguese irregular verbs”, together with “At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances”: each by Alexander McCall Smith.

(I purchased but one book this year, using a Barnes and Noble gift card which had been given me at Christmas 2009.  It was a sweet book, also by Alexander McCall Smith, entitled “La’s Orchestra Saves the World”. Having enjoyed this book immensely I sent it  to my Pittsfield friend Gwen Sears, asking that she would read it and then pass it on to yet another person.  My hope was that person after person would read the book, write her or his name on the title page, and then “pass it on again”.  I wonder if this has happened.)

Earlier this month I read the story of an Iranian dissident, Zarah Ghanramani.  It’s an astonishing and haunting tale of a young woman who defied the current and ghastly Iranian regime.  The book is entitled “My life as a traitor”. It should be a “must read” for those who, like I, are deeply committed to progressive feminism.

Back in September I was browsing the library shelves for some fiction by Taylor Caldwell.   I selected “God’s Little Acre”. ‘Twas  only when I got home that I realised that  I’d selected the wrong Caldwell.   My book was by Erskine Caldwell.  It’s searing novel (published in 1933) about the industrialisation of the “South”. 

This 77 year old novel is at the top of my 2010 “favourite reading” list.
Despite the warning of the biblical book “Ecclesiastes” (see the above  title for this entry), 

I will be back at the Library in early 2011.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages.

My pal Ben and I, together with Ben’s friend Claudette (visiting from Stephentown, New York) took ourselves this afternoon to Sarasota’s “PAL Sailor Circus”.  More about that in a minute.

Before the performance we had lunch at the wonderful “Panera Bread” (just across the road from the Big Top on Bahia Vista Street).  “Panera Bread” is a fabulous franchised cafe at which the soups, salads and sandwiches are superb.  The place was mobbed, but we eventually found a table for two, around which we made room for three.  This table was alongside a wall.

Once seated, I looked to my left.  At the very next table were two women from St. Boniface Church.  We chatted for a bit.  Then I looked back, and immediately behind me were two women from All Angels Church.  We also chatted.  Next, a husband and wife took the table immediately in front of ours. “Gosh and golly” – they were also from St. B’s.

I try not to be paranoid, but it felt odd that I was surrounded by six people from the two parishes at which I serve!  (Were they there to check up on me?!). 

Sarasota has a great Circus heritage.  It was for many years the winter home of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus.  (My home is built where the circus used to winter).

In keeping with that heritage we have the “Sailor Circus”, which is a fabulous organisation for children.  

(I am told that it was at one time a part of the Sarasota High School whose sports teams have the nickname of “Sailor” – hence the title of the circus).

These days it is sponsored by the Police Athletic League -  hence the name “PAL Sailor Circus”.  It is a year round activity for children and youth, drawing school children from at least 38 local schools.

This afternoon’s performance was entirely terrific.  It involved at least ninety-eight school-children, ranging in age from (say) 8 to 18.   

The trapeze acts were delightful, as were the jugglers, the clowns, and the four feet high children on six feet stilts.  It was great to see the fourteen youngsters who were tumblers.  And the sight of forty children on unicycles brought smiles and cheers all round.

Most impressive were the four young women and one young man who “flew through the air with the greatest of ease - such magnificent youths on the flying trapeze”!

The highlight for me was to see and enjoy four children from St. Boniface Church as members of the Circus.  Congratulations Hannah, Jacob, Logan and Skailar!

The lowlight was that there were no Hispanic or Black children in the show.

Above all else, it was an immense joy to see these ninety-eight children give of their very best with incredible skill and athleticism. 
 It was heartening to note that this skill and athleticism was rooted in cooperation, rather than in competition

There’s a concept for us!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Resisting the Alleluia creep

There’s a story that sometime around 1980 a Pentecostal Christian attended an Episcopal Church with her friend from work.  During the sermon, the visitor began to utter a few fervent “Alleluias” in accordance with her heritage. 

 A frosty man seated in front of her turned around and glared.  “We don’t say “Alleluia” in the Episcopal Church”, he hissed.

Her Episcopalian friend squeezed her hand and said in a loud whisper “Oh yes we do, it’s on page 366 in the Prayer Book”.

Indeed the 1976/79 Book of Common Prayer offers Episcopalians the chance to express fervent alleluias; indeed “double alleluias”.  We do so between Easter Day and the Day of Pentecost (The Great Fifty Days), at the dismissal. At that point the Deacon exclaims: “Alleluia. Alleluia. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”.  Then the congregation responds with “Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia”.

 It’s an exciting affirmation of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus it is a powerful liturgical moment which  the Prayer Book reserves  to those “Great Fifty Days”, which we observe as “Extraordinary Time”.

Many congregations are now, (aided and abetted in many cases by their Cleric) extending that “double alleluia” to “Ordinary Time”.  In some places the double alleluia is becoming the year round norm. 

The alleluias are often shrieked out, in a manner which Alan Greenspan might describe as irrational exuberance, or which I would call congregational self-congratulation.

This bothers me. So I was heartened to learn that a friend of mine, a Priest who lives in Maine is similarly bothered.

I suspect that we each would say that our “botheration” is rooted in this: “If the extra-ordinary becomes ordinary, then that “extra-ordinary” is sadly diminished.

That concept is not reserved to matters liturgical.  Most Americans enjoy our Thanksgiving holiday as an extra-ordinary day marked in particular by the foods we eat.  But if on every Thursday of the year we feasted on  turkey with chestnut dressing, sweet potatoes, peas with onions, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and pumpkin or pecan pie (etc, etc) then the fourth Thursday of November (in the U.S.A.)  will cease to have its particular meaning.

And so it is in the matter of the “Alleluia creep”.

In some places the “irrational exuberance” leads to the congregational recitation of a triple alleluia, each one being uttered louder than the previous.  

The American Prayer Book wisely reserves a triple alleluia to only one liturgy (so far as I am aware).  It is in the Liturgy for Christian Burial. There we hear these faith filled words “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia”. We are thereby  “thumbing our noses at death” – so to speak.

I respect and honour the biblical wisdom of the American Prayer book which restricts double Alleluias to  Easter, and triple Alleluias to Burials. That prayer book wisdom is meet and right.  

Indeed it is meet and right to resist the “Alleluia creep”.  What do you think?

Monday, 27 December 2010

Back in the saddle

I have been back in the saddle in recent days. It was my privilege to preside at five celebrations of the Eucharist, and to preach three sermons.

Thursday 23rd Dec.  At the weekly Healing Eucharist and Sermon at St. Boniface on Siesta Key, FL.

Friday 24th Dec. As Presider on Christmas Eve at St. Boniface Midnight Mass. (The Rector, Ted Copland had laryngitis).  I arrived home at 12:45 a.m. Christmas Day.  I had forgotten how I used to get so “wound up” after Midnight Mass that I could not sleep for a while!  So it was 2:00 a.m. afore I went to bed  (my usual bedtime is 9:00 p.m.!)

Saturday 25th Dec.  As Presider at the 11:00 a.m. St. Boniface Christmas Day Eucharist (the Rector still had laryngitis!).
(My good friend and colleague Andi Taylor the Assistant at St. B's  preached different sermons at Midnight Mass and on Christmas Day.  She was smoking hot each time! [She and I knew, liked, and respected each other in Massachusetts.]

Sunday 26th Dec. (Boxing Day).  I presided and preached at 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.  at my “other parish”,  All Angels by the Sea on Longboat Key, FL,  so that its good Rector David Danner could have a Sunday off.  I had one sermon for 8:00, and another for 10:00.

WOW!  I am grateful for the trust bestowed upon me by the two Rectors.  And I think, (as it has been said), that it is better to wear out than to rust away.

Here are Christmas Eve pics of me with Andi Taylor and with Ted Copland. (You'll see the St. B's Deacon, the Revd Alan Rogers in the mirror.  He was taking the photo'!)

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Rejoice and be merry!

Rejoice and be merry!   Soak up all the joys of Christmas.

This blog will take a rest for a few days.

Check in again on Monday 27th December 2010.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas memories

This season brings many memories.  

I spent one Christmas in Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham, England with my friend Marilyn Draper.  I cannot remember why I did that, nor do I remember our hosts.

My Mum came to the U.S.A. for my ordination to the priesthood in Dec 1976.    She was with me for my first American Christmas, spent in Fitchburg with the late (and sorely missed) Al and Doris Williams.

Two years ago I was in Beaufort, S.C. for Christmas.  It’s a lovely town.

One year long ago, (maybe 1982) I flew home to Bristol on Christmas Day to be with my family.  ‘Twas an overnight flight (Boston, to New York City, to London); thus I arrived in the U.K. on Boxing Day.  My family members had a delayed Christmas dinner at the home of my oldest sister Maureen.  I fell sound asleep at the dinner table.

Back in the fifties of the 20th Century, Mum and my oldest sister Maureen would make Christmas Puddings and Christmas cake in November.  

A silver sixpence, if available, would be hidden within the pudding.  So we each ate the pudding (smothered in custard) very carefully, hoping to encounter the riches of a “tanner” in the slice we happened to receive.

The Christmas cake would be covered in marzipan and hard icing. I always enjoyed the marzipan more than the cake or the icing.

Chicken was a luxury, so our Christmas meat was usually pork.  

I clearly remember my first sliver of chicken.  A neighbour named Cliff Witheredge gave Mum and Dad an old hen, way after her laying years, from the hen-house in his back garden on Gratitude Road.  Mum knew how to pluck and dress it (a dead skill these days).  So we each had a wee bit of chicken alongside the pork that Christmas).

“Father Christmas” (never “Santa Claus”) left our big gifts in a pillow case (not a stocking) at the foot of our beds in the wee hours.  I remember getting a child’s tricycle, and later a scooter.

But the best part was on Christmas Day at about 4:00 p.m.  The small gifts (and the childrens gifts to each other) were stacked under the Christmas tree in the “front room”.   

Dad would be “Father Christmas”, and would hand us each gift, (lots of socks, handkerchiefs, and underwear!) 

But that’s also when I received my first “Phillips” electric razor, and became a man!

A couple of years after I entered the work world I chose not to give individual gifts to my siblings.  

Instead I bought a family gift - viz four high stools (they were on metal tripod legs, with wooden seats), to supplement our insufficient store of dining table chairs.   

Those stools became part of our family life for very many years. I even remember that I bought them from a shop on Park Street, Bristol.

After Christmas Day we lucky English and Welsh people could look forward to Boxing Day (Dec 26th). 
Back then Boxing Day was not a holiday in Scotland.  Instead the Scots had New Years’ Day for their extra holiday, but   Jan 1st was not a holiday for  the English and Welsh.

In England I enjoyed Boxing Day even more than Christmas Day for the pressure was off.   

For “tea” (the evening meal) we would enjoy cold meats, pickled cabbage, pickled onions, beetroots, sausage dogs, and mashed spuds, with leftover mince pie or cold Christmas “pud” for “afters”.

Of course those were not necessarily better days than these.  But my memories are precious so I am glad to share them.

I also confess to teary eyes as I think about my Dad (who died in 1974), and my Mum (whose death was in 2001).

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


I got up at 3:00 a.m. today to look up into the heavens, and see the total eclipse of the moon.

It was a gorgeous and awesome sight.    The created and evolved universe,  as I experienced it in this eclipse, led me to awe.

My camera was inadequate to the task of photographing what I saw, but that did not matter.

For the enjoyment of  a moment of  beauty is important in and of itself, whether or not it can be encapsulated in a photo', a poem, a painting, a recording, a video, or a narrative.

By 3:15 a.m. I was back in bed, where I slept soundly until 5:15 a.m.

At 6:45 a.m. Penne and I took our early morning two mile walk. By 7:30 a.m. I was able to enjoy a mug of coffee out on my Lanai.    There I enjoyed a more local beauty as I looked out on the pond.  I will never tire of what I am privileged to see every day.  I hope to be ever grateful for this "human-made" glory.

Monday, 20 December 2010

A witty title

I am reading a book about “Bertie”, the Prince of Wales and the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

“Bertie” became King Edward VII of the United Kingdom (22 January 1901 - 6 May 1910).

The book is entitled “Edward the Caresser”

Those who remember anything about the English (and later the United Kingdom) monarchy will find that to be an extremely funny title.

For more about Edward VII  see

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Shame and honour

Last Friday night as I drove home from a party in Venice (Florida!), I tuned into the Public Radio Station which come out of Ft. Myers, FL.  I was all ears as I listened to a “World Vision” programme about women in Afghanistan.

I was glad to hear of the ways in which the gifts and abilities of women are being celebrated in Kabul.  

I could scarcely bear to listen to the fate of many young women outside of the capital.  They are girls really, who are married off at a very young age, and then become virtual slaves in the homes of their husbands.

  (Often the mother-in-law becomes the slave-master.   She is repeating her own experience from when she was a child bride).

Many of these girls can “take it no more” and they are led to suicide. The preferred method is by self-immolation.  These children will douse themselves with petrol, and then set themselves afire.

In the book “My life as a Traitor” by Zarah Ghanramani, the author relates that in Iran, one of her cousins did the same, and died after ten days of agonising pain.

Many girls are married off at a young age (maybe 9 or 10) for various reasons.   

Perhaps it is the lust of an older man. 

Maybe her very poor family needs the dowry money. 

Or a poor family might give their daughter to a richer man in order to acquire more honour within the clan or tribe. 

Far be it for the girl to resist.  

 Her resistance will shame her family.

“Honour and shame”:  These are concepts by which many tribal societies maintain a sense of stability and order.  They are day by day ways of living in lands such as Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.

It is easy from a western point of view to view this as a Muslim issue.  But “majority Christian” countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda (etc) also have their codes of honour and shame. The rape of virgin girls is a supposed cure for AIDS in some of these lands.  The “honour” of an AIDS infected male can be mitigated by the “shame” of the girl who has been raped, (or so the men say).

When I was a child, growing up in England, there was a clear sense of honour and shame.  We were supposed to “honour our betters” in a class based society.    Young un-wedded women who were pregnant were considered a “shame” to their families.  They often “disappeared” from public view. They had been taken off to a home for unwed mothers where they gave birth.  Then the baby was inevitably “given up” for adoption.

There was also a hidden “honour and shame” system regarding “funny Uncles”, i.e. those un-married men who were perceived to be “pansies” or “fairies”.

In recent years in countries such as the U.K. and the U.S.A., the idea of shaming continues. Thus the names and addresses of sex-offenders are made public, in the belief that we are thereby made safer.

I was led again to thoughts about honour and shame as I listened to the Gospel reading in Church today.  Here it is:

Matthew 1:18-25

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.

If Joseph had obeyed the law he would have “shamed” Mary.
Instead he relied on a dream, and “honoured” her.

Joseph shows us a way of rejecting the cruelty of shaming, and of rejoicing in the dream of honouring. 

God is with us (Emmanuel) in honour but  never in shame.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

“My Life as a Traitor” by the Persian/Iranian woman Zarah Ghahramani.

If you are ever tempted to think that the torture of human beings is justifiable:
               Read “My Life as a Traitor” by the Persian/Iranian woman Zarah Ghahramani.

If you are ever tempted to believe that women should be submissive to men (a common belief amongst Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, and Fundamentalist Christians):

               Read “My Life as a Traitor” by the Persian/Iranian woman Zarah Ghahramani.

If you are ever tempted to say that human rights are relative, and that a passion for them maybe fine in the western democracies, but is inapplicable in other cultures/countries:

               Read “My Life as a Traitor” by the Persian/Iranian woman Zarah Ghahramani.


If you accept without question the premise that each and every opinion, of each and every person, is equally valid:

               Read “My Life as a Traitor” by the Persian/Iranian woman Zarah Ghahramani.


“My life as a Traitor” by Zarah Ghanramani was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, in New York , 2008

Friday, 17 December 2010

An Eagle in sight

As I walked out this morning a neighbour pointed out the glorious sight of a Bald Eagle, perched high on a Pine tree, about half a mile from my home.  I walked back home, jumped in my car, and drove back to the tree, camera in hand.

She/he was still perched atop the tree.  What a wonder. ‘Tis the first time in my life that I’ve seen an Eagle!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Ike, Oscar and Diane

Amidst the wasteland which is American radio and television there is one programme which is ever worth hearing.  It is the Diane Rehm Show: see

You can read Diane’s own story on the website.  She is a remarkable woman.  Her programme is one which I enjoy in my car most mornings.  The first hour is usually devoted to politics (argh), but in the second hour Diane often features items from the broader cultural world: viz the arts, literature, poetry etc.

Yesterday, (Dec 15th 2010), her guests were David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. They talked about the Presidency and legacy of Dwight David Eisenhower (1953-1961).

President Eisenhower was always known as “Ike”.  There is no doubt that he is among the “greats” in the pantheon of American Presidents.  He was a Republican in those days before bitter partisanship took over.  He was a Republican for whom many Democrats would vote with enthusiasm.

(A personal note)  I was a politically precocious child who read newspapers from a very young age.  I can clearly remember reading English newspapers (it would have been in 1952 when I was 8 years old) which referenced the Eisenhower slogan “I Like Ike”.  The word “Ike” made no sense to me!  I had never before encountered it as a nick-name.

Diane’s show today (Dec 16th 2010) had to do with Oscar Hammerstein, the lyricist for the fabulous Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.  Hammerstein’s grandson, Oscar Andrew Hammerstein, was interviewed about his family legacy.  Amongst other things he reminded we listeners of the powerful lyrics from “South Pacific”:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Wow!   These are words which are as apt now as when they were first penned.

I am grateful that Diane Rehm re-introduced me to President Eisenhower and to Oscar Hammerstein.

The material below is from the Diane Rehm Show website.

He was the legendary commander of the allied forces of World War II and a two-term president during a time of peace and prosperity. Millions around the world knew him simply as Ike. Now, his only grandson offers a unique perspective on Dwight Eisenhower’s life after he left the White House in 1961 until his death at Walter Reed Hospital in 1969. Historian David Eisenhower reflects on the kind of person his grandfather was. With his wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, he has written a new book shedding light on the relationship between Ike and his successors, his influence on politics during his retirement and their personal reflections on one of the 20th century's great leaders.


David Eisenhower: Director of the Institute for Public Service at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "Eisenhower at War."
Julie Nixon Eisenhower: author of "Special People" and "Pat Nixon"

Oscar Andrew Hammerstein: "The Hammersteins"

Oscar Hammerstein was perhaps the most influential lyricist of the American theater. Together with collaborator Richard Rodgers, he helped define the modern musical, winning eight Tonys and two Academy Awards in the process.
Oscar Hammerstein was perhaps the most influential lyricist of the American theater. Together with collaborator Richard Rodgers, he helped define the modern musical, winning eight Tonys and two Academy Awards in the process. Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to some of the most enduring songs and shows in history -- from Showboat to Oklahoma! to South Pacific and The Sound of Music. Fifty years after his death, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals continue to pack houses on Broadway and throughout the world. But he was not the only Hammerstein to influence musical theater. Oscar Hammerstein’s grandson joins Diane to talk about how his family changed Broadway.


Oscar Andrew Hammerstein: a painter, writer, lecturer and Hammerstein family historian.