Saturday, 3 July 2010

On the cusp of 4th July 2010 (2) It's not only the military

I have a great respect for the men and women of the American Armed Forces. I claim two U.S. Navy Captains (both retired) as my friends, and I pray for, and correspond with two of my friends who are serving in Afghanistan.

I honour our military. I do so especially on Memorial Day and on Veteran’s Day.

Now comes Independence Day. It’s a fabulous day for Americans, one on which we pause to give thanks (to God) for our independence and freedoms.

It’s a day on which I always read the Declaration of Independence.

But it irks me when I am told that the only defenders of liberty are the good women and men of our Armed Forces. I thank goodness for them...

... but I also thank goodness for the poets, preachers, philosophers, politicians (yes politicians), playwrights and publishers who have worked to secure our liberty.

I thank goodness for the union leaders, civil rights martyrs, and brave civic leaders who have fought and even died for freedom.

I thank goodness for school teachers, nurses, physicians, business leaders, and factory workers who have led us to increased liberty.
I thank goodness for courageous broadcasters, journalists, and newspaper editors.

I thank goodness for brave Judges.

I  thank goodness for suffragettes and feminists. And for the gay and lesbian citizens who refused to be silenced.

I thank goodness for remarkable and wise historians and authors.

I give thanks for the scientists whose quest for knowledge is also a quest for wisdom.

Finally I give thanks  this 4th July for the semi-anonymous old widows, and the brash young students who love liberty more than life.

On the cusp of 4th July 2010 (1) John Winthrop

John Winthrop’s address on the boat called “Arbella”, in 1630.   He was speaking to the would be colonists of New England.

Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, (the shipwreck of God’s judgement -  jmp) and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.

For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with.

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

And to shut this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30. "Beloved, there is now set before us life and death, good and evil," in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments and his ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with Him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it.

But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it. 

Therefore let us choose life,
that we and our seed may live,
by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him,
for He is our life and our prosperity. 

Friday, 2 July 2010

Jesus nominated the U.S. Supreme Court

A Democratic Party President nominated Jesus of Nazareth to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. 

Republican Senators were outraged. They complained that:

1. He consistently and constantly re-interpreted the law.
2. He had nothing to say against sodomy.
3. He was opposed to divorce (even for the rich).
4. He was soft on sin, and refused to condemn sinners.
5. He taught that people should care for the poor, the naked, the prisoners, the hungry etc.
6. He had little respect for family values, and was quite scathing about his birth family.
7. He fed the “unworthy” hungry.
8. He told folks to love their enemies.
9. He was unemployed for three years.
10. He was in favour of paying taxes.
11. He thought that foreigners were as worthy as were his native people.
12. He consorted with an enemy Roman Centurion.
13. .He said “let your yes be yes”, and “let your no be no”. (The Republicans at least liked the “no” bit).

Every Republican Senator thought that Jesus was unfit for the Supreme Court. 

The Prophet of Al-ah:- (i.e. M-ha-med) was much more to their liking, he was far more “sound” on the place of women and homosexuals.


How tough it must be to be a Republican in 2010. Republicans want to capture  the Christian vote, but they are much more at home with Isl-mic law.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The tragedy of the Confederate Flag.

From 1861 onwards 13 states seceded from the United States of America.  They were:

Alabama, Arkansas, FloridaGeorgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North CarolinaSouth CarolinaTennesseeTexas and Virginia.  Their reasons for succession were varied. 

For some it was a matter of property rights (e.g. if you moved from a slave state to a free state did your right to own slaves (property) move with you).

Others asserted that the U.S. was a “federation” of sovereign states which they had freely entered and could freely leave.  (That’s the big question for the European Union these days.  It is not clear whether it is a union of sovereign states, or a federation of like minded states).

Another state seceded on the basis that the election of Abraham Lincoln would lead to tyranny (not unrealistic given the fact that in due course Lincoln partly suspended “Habeas Corpus”.)
The 13 States eventually came together in a Federation, known as the “Confederate States of America”, with Jefferson Davis as the President.  That Confederacy was defeated in battle by the troops of the Union Army.  It had also sown the seeds of its own destruction, for within it “States Rights” frequently trumped the needs of the Confederacy itself.
The C.S.A. rallied around a new flag, known as the “Stars and Bars”, or the “Rebel Flag”, or the “Confederate Flag”.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that Flag in it historical context. 
But sadly, after the failure of the (ill advised) post- civil war Union programme called “reconstruction”, the Confederate flag became a symbol for racial segregation; for ghastly lynchings; and for “Jim Crow” laws. It became a symbol of violence and oppression for African Americans.  It became a polarising and divisive symbol.
That is why those of us who live and work for the civil rights of all Americans get sad when the “Stars and Bars” is used by racists and bigots; and also by those with a sentimental view of history.   
Thus it was that I grew very angry when I visited my local Mennonite owned farm stand today and saw the owner’s son (aged 19) wearing a Tee shirt bearing a Confederate Flag decal and the words “If you do not like this flag, you do not understand history”.  I sent the following letter to the owner:
3901 Glen Oaks Drive East, Sarasota FL 34232

 Farm Market
Sarasota, FL 34232
1st July 2010

Dear Mr D
I am a faithful customer at your Sarasota Farm Stand, one who was chagrined when you were forced out of your former Fruitville Road location, and delighted when you opened up again on Palmer Blvd.
I am also a Christian, and a great admirer of the Mennonite movement and its history. Mennonites have been so faithful in their witness to Jesus Christ, and in their loyalty to the Gospel, a loyalty which surpasses all human and political loyalties.  For this they have paid the price of persecution and martyrdom.
So I was disappointed when at your Palmer Blvd. Store this afternoon I saw that your son Hwas wearing a “tee shirt” with a message in support of the “Confederate Flag”. 
That flag may well have been an appropriate Southern symbol in 1861, at the beginning of the Confederacy.
But after the Union victory and reconstruction it became a symbol not of Confederate pride, but of  white racial pride, of “Jim Crow” laws, of segregation, and of the abomination of lynchings.
In short it became a symbol of the persecution, victimisation, and martyrdom of African American former slaves, many of whom were Christians.
I told young H that I was unhappy at the message which he “tee shirt” conveyed.  He replied “this is America” - an astonishing reply for a Mennonite! 
I reminded him that we are Christians who are called to unity and that his “tee shirt” was a symbol of disunity. I added that I could not, in all conscience, do business at the Farm Stand should he continue to wear and defend the Confederate Flag.
Your son was unmoved by my words. I left the Farm Stand immediately, without making purchases. Nor will I return unless you can assure me that your family and staff will not support political messages such as the one I saw on young H's tee-shirt.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Honest to goodness - I am almost perfectly comfortable with aging. It is irresistible!

But I do miss my hair and its colour! Photo’ dates from circa 1964

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

"I spy" --- danger

Who would have guessed it?  “They” are all around us.  “They” are those dangerous spies.
That nice Mr. Cook lives just a few doors away.  We all believed that he was a retired piano teacher.  It turns out that he is a Latvian spy.  He has spent the past 15 years snooping out all the local restaurants, and then sending facsimiles of their menus to his masters in Riga.
Then there is Mr. Marlin who has a fine fish market here in Sarasota, on North-East Osprey Street. I could always buy the very best haddock or cod at his place.
Believe it or not, Mr. Marlin has been exposed as a spy from the Canadian Province of Newfoundland. His spy-masters have been told about every pound/half kilo of haddock and cod which I have bought.
I blame myself. I did not pay attention.
Mr. Cook’s first name is Joshua.  Mr. Marlin is actually Caleb Marlin.
The bible should have warned me. 
Now I have to worry about Mr. Pope who lives but a few blocks away. He attends an Episcopal Church, but always takes his holidays in Italy.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Racism and the World Cup

I believe that my loyalty to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as reported in the four gospels of the Christian tradition is prior to other loyalties. Indeed it is superior to them.

Thus my immediate loyalties are

1. To the wonderful Nation of my birth, the United Kingdom.
2. To the fabulous Nation of my citizenship, the United States of America.
3. To the amorphous and international peoples known as the Christian Church.

I love all three and I am grateful for them. But when “push comes to shove”, my sense of loyalty to Christian brothers and sisters of many nations (#3) trumps my loyalty to the nations of my birth and citizenship. This is why I believe that nationalism and racial pride are so silly and un-productive.

My Dad and Mum taught me some of this.

Dad worked in the building trade as a skilled plumber. There he encountered many unskilled Irish labourers. He thought that they were great. So Dad could not countenance any anti-Irish attitudes or jokes. He knew that people were more important than attitudes.

Mum was gracious. Sometime in the early 1970’s I was driving on the M5 in the U.K., from Birmingham to Bristol. I stopped to pick up two young men who were hitch-hiking (it was safe to do so “back then”). They were students from Germany - maybe in their late teens. I stopped at a motorway service area and called Mum. “Could” I asked, “these men camp out in our home for one night”. Mum agreed.

The “hitchers” slept on the floor in our downstairs “middle room”. Next morning my good Mum cooked them a hearty breakfast, after which I drove them into rural Somerset so that they could resume their hitch-hiking.

When I arrived back home my Mum had some words for me. She said “I never thought that I’d be able to listen to German voices after the War. But I realised that those two young men had not been even born during the War. And I am glad that you brought them to our home”.

Oh thank you Mum for your grace. It far surpasses the attitudes of those who think that an England v Germany football game in the 2010 World Cup has anything to do with WWII and the horrors of the Nazi regime.

That regime was ghastly. It ended 65 years ago.

The 2010 Germany is a fine and honourable Nation.

That the German team beat England has nothing to do with racial superiority. It has everything to do with football!

Grow up my beloved English folks!  Please learn from my Mum and Dad!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sermon for 27th June 2010, The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Sarasota, FL

Sermon for 27th June 2010, The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Sarasota, FL
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
The Church sound system played about 45 seconds’ worth of a recording of the bells at Taize from the C.D. “Ubi Caritas”: GIA recordings 1996, Then I said
The bells begin their clamour from atop a free standing belfry.  They sound very much like ours. There are five of them.  These are in France, in a lovely part of Burgundy.
The ringing bells sound an alert, calling people to prayer, calling them to a huge barn of a place called the Church of the Resurrection.  First a trickle, then a flood of people make their way to the Church.  There could be 8,000 of them.  Of that 8,000 at least 7,000 would be under the age of 35.
To enter into the Church as I did in 1999 is to enter into a great play, a wonderful drama. All eyes are focussed on the back-drop of huge sail like cloth, back lit and coloured red, orange, yellow, bright as the blazing sun. There is no platform, no pulpit, and during week days no altar.  There are a myriad of candles, and gorgeous icons.   
 A pageant is about to begin.  There are no actors, there is no audience. Everyone is a participant. It is a pageant of song - lots of songs in many languages.  It is a pageant of Scripture – one verse alone, or maybe two – read in ten or more languages.  It is a pageant of silence, long periods of shared silence, in which one is drawn into the mystery of God. There is no sermon save on one day each week when a teaching is given, a teaching which is simultaneously translated into oh so many languages, using a most sophisticated sound system.   
The pageant is repeated three times a day. In the morning for about an hour; at noontide for 45 minutes or so; and in the evening, for as long as participants wish to sing.
In 1940 just after the fall of France, a young Swiss man cycled from Geneva to Cluny in France. He knew that the towns and villages had been denuded of young males, and he thought that he might be able to help in some small way. Cluny seemed like a dead end.  But he met an old woman who said “why don’t you come to our village, we are so isolated”.    
 In that village he rented a home, and worked wherever he could, hoeing fields or weeding them, or harvesting crops.  The village is called Taize, and it is not very far south of the 1940 demarcation line between occupied France, and what became Vichy France.  
 This young man had decided to follow Jesus.  He had decided to follow Jesus without excuse. He had decided to follow Jesus - period.   He did what every Christian should have done, but few did.  He offered sanctuary and shelter to Jews who were desperate to escape the Nazi killing machines.
In 1942 the Gestapo came looking for him at a time when by God’s grace or sheer happenstance he was back in Geneva for a visit. Friends got word to him, so he remained at home in Geneva.  
 As soon as that part of France was liberated in 1944 he returned to Taize. This time he encountered not the dangers of the Gestapo, but the ire of villagers.  They were angered for he now offered gracious and radical hospitality to German soldiers prisoners of war.  Having put his hand to the plough this man did not look back.
The man’s name is Frere Roger or Brother Roger.  He strayed in Taize for the rest of his life.
In 1949 he was joined by seven other men and they formed a brotherhood, a community of faith.  What was amazing about this community is that the brothers were Protestant and Roman Catholic.  They worked with their hands to support themselves, and prayed together each day in the monastic way.  They asked the local Catholic Bishop if they might use the parish Church in Taize for their prayer.  He posed the question to a higher authority, and the word came from the papal representative in Lyons: “permission granted”. The prelate who gave that permission went on to become Pope John the 23rd.
Christians from all over Europe visited Taize to share in the life of this unique Protestant/Catholic community.  The community outgrew the little village, and moved up the hill to the present Campus.   
During the 1960’s the brothers began their ministry to young people.  They responded to the student riots in France, Germany and other places – those riots which challenged the old order of things - by making Taize a place of grace and hospitality to alienated youth.  
 The brothers realised that their traditional worship form with its Gregorian chant and long Bible readings was all well and good for them, but that it in no way addressed the spiritual needs of young people.  Thus began Taize worship as we know it, with those marvellous and accessible chants, and the pattern of thrice daily worship of which I spoke just now.  At the same time some brothers were sent to South America to live and pray with the urban poor. Others went incognito into eastern European communist countries, and formed subversive prayer groups whenever they could.
I spent a week in Taize in 1999.  There were maybe 2,000 of us there, mostly young. The accommodations are rudimentary – I slept in a room with three triple bunk-beds and six coat hooks – that’s all. The food was atrocious!  I was in an adult study group with Christians from France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. I learned so much from them. 
One afternoon at “snack time” I came across two young men, aged about 16 and 18, and we began to chat.  They were from Switzerland and had a Swiss father and a Vietnamese mother.  I wondered what drew such young men to Taize – was it perhaps for a free holiday, or to meet girls?  So I asked “why did you come to Taize?” They looked at me as if I were either mad or stupid. “To pray of course” replied the older brother.
I learned to pray again at Taize.  Those simple chants with their powerful words reintroduced me to awesome presence of God.  I often sing them as I walk with my dog each morning.
The chants have texts which are simple.  They are often taken from the bible or from one of the saints.  Most of the tunes were composed or adapted by Fr. Jacque Berthier who was a composer and musician at Taize until his death in 1994. 
It is good that we use the Taize chants at St. Boniface, but we do so in a very reserved and Episcopalian sort of way.  It is hard for us to enter into worship as pageant, as theatre, as dance.   
 One of our favourites is “Laudate Dominium”.  The tune has an ancient provenance.  Listen for a moment.   The Church sound system played about a minutes worth of Corelli’s “La Follia op 5 #12 from the Capriccio CD “TOP”  (1993) What we have heard is by the composer Arcangelo Corelli.  It was written in the late 17th or early 18th centuries.  But the tune dates back to the fifteen hundreds. It hails from Spain or Portugal.  It is known as “La Folia”.  That theme has been used by over 150 composers  during more than 339 years. “Folia” literally means “mad or empty-headed” and it most likely was a tune for a fertility dance.  “Oh my gosh - don’t tell the Bishop but we are singing fertility dance music at St. Boniface”.  We are singing: alas we are not dancing!
Pageant, dance, theatre, music all make for good Liturgy.  They are part of the human experience which reflect the dance of God, the song of the Universe, and the drama of our redemption. 
But of course it is not only in Church that dance, drama and pageant can be enjoyed as gifts of God.  I believe with all my heart that theatre, dance and drama can and will be ministries, ways in which folks who might never come to Church can be given a window into the beauty and truth of God.
On August 16th 2005 the 90 years Brother Roger was in his usual seat during the evening prayer service.  A Rumanian woman who was most likely suffering with mental illness crept up behind him and plunged a knife into his back and neck. He died almost immediately. 
1. He who had devoted his life to prayer died whilst praying.  
2. He who had devoted his life to community died surrounded by his brothers.  
3. He who had devoted his life to reconciliation was murdered by a poor woman who could be reconciled with her own illness. Surely he forgave her even as his life rushed away.
I went back to Taize in 2002.  I cheated a bit and stayed in a hotel, eating my meals in good restaurants.  It was not the same.  I could not relive the experience of 1999, nor should I have tried to do so.  I was looking back, not pressing forwards.
Brother Roger, having set his hand to the plough, never looked back in his desire to follow Jesus.  He never looked back when he was stabbed.
Pageant, dance, theatre, music all make for good Liturgy.  They are part of the human experience which reflect the dance of God, the song of the Universe, and the drama of our redemption
In a moment I will ask you to stand, and we shall sing “Laudate Dominum” again.  We’ll sing it with gratitude for all the men and women, of all peoples and nations, who like Brother Roger, have worked for reconciliation, and have given us glimpses of the beauty of God.
Let’s sing it through five times -  just in Latin, and if we dare, perhaps we could also dance a modest jig as we sing!