Saturday, 11 December 2010

Never too late to learn

One of the great privileges of retirement is that I have time to read.  On most afternoons I am “lost” in my latest borrowing from our excellent Selby Library.

After a spate of histories and biographies I am taking a little time for fiction. Presently I am reading “There was a Time”, written in 1947 by Taylor Caldwell.  She was born in Manchester, U.K. in 1900, and died in Greenwich, CT in 1985.

The book begins with little Frank, aged two, who began to experience a mystical sense of wonder as he played in the walled-in back garden of his parents’ home somewhere near Leeds, Yorkshire in 1904.   I immediately “became” Frank, and I could imagine/remember myself as a two year old rather sensitive boy in a walled back garden in Bristol U.K.

My interest was aroused when, in the book, Frank’s ultra respectable and very judgmental grandmother instructs Frank’s father to “clout” him.

I’d not heard or used the word “clout” in oh so many years.  It means “to hit”.  A father or mother might be heard addressing a child with “if you don’t stop right this minute, I’ll give you a clout”.

Do people in Great Britain still use the word “clout”?   
Was it ever used in the United States?

In another passage Frank’s mother Maybelle says that he does not mither her. “Mither” is a regional English word meaning to bother or annoy.   

It was still used in the East Midlands when I was a theological student in Nottingham (1972-1976).  Perhaps it has died about by now, together with other regional words.  

(East Midlands’ folks used to pronounce the word “father” as “fay-theur”.  I hope that they still do so).

When little Frank’s grandmother emigrates to America most of her belongings are crated up for the sea passage, but she carries with her some “lares and penates”.  I had to look that up!

“Lares and penates” were household gods in the world of the Roman Empire.   

By derivation the words now refer to treasured household objects. They might be (for instance) those two candlesticks which have been in the family for many years. Although the candlesticks might not have any marketable value, they are treasures for the family. Thus, if the family were to move house, these candlesticks would not be packed up for the movers.  Instead they would be taken to the new home under the personal care of a family member.

Taylor Caldwell also used the word “crepuscular”, which to my shame I did not know!  It’s a fancy word for twilight.  Here is a picture of some crepuscular rays.

Friday, 10 December 2010

"The Great Gatsby"?

My bucket was empty yesterday because it was full!

I presided at the 10:00 a.m. Eucharist and Healing service at St. Boniface Church.

Then I rushed up to the Ringling Museums to meet Betsy, a friend from Pittsfield, who was in town for a couple of days.  She and I had lunch together alongside our mutual friend David
In the evening I went out for dinner with pals Ben, Gordon, John, Bob and Eric.

I rarely “eat out”, so lunch and dinner on the same day, and in two restaurants, seemed quite strange.

Nonetheless:  Pumpkin and Ginger Soup at “Station 400” made for an excellent lunch; and huge bowl of Mussels at the “Hillview Grill” satisfied me at dinner.

I’ve been more relaxed today.  Thus I have been able to indulge in my passion for reading.

I finished my reading of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, (first published in 1925).  It has often described as “THE great American Novel”, so I determined to read it in order to improve my American education.  

I enjoyed the tale, but never/ever will I think it to be great literature. I found it to be a bit dis-connected, and I bristled against Fitzgerald’s copious use of adjectives.

My American contemporaries were made to read the novel in High School.
Maybe many of them will remember that they read the book, but few of them will remember a darned thing about it!

So, to those who do remember I ask:  “Have I missed something?”, and “What is so great about The Great Gatsby?”

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Speaking. Listening. Reacting

I was at a party last night, given for two of my friends.  One celebrates his birthday on Dec 7th. The other celebrates her birthday on Dec 9th

There were ten guests.
1.       Male and female.
2.      Straight and gay.
3.      Partnered and single
4.      All aged 60+
5.      Protestant, Catholic, Episcopalian, and Atheist/Agnostic.
6.      No Black, Latino, Jewish, Muslim or other minorities (how dull!).

There we were. We were united in our love of the two who were celebrating birthdays.  We were all more or less liberal Democrats.

And yet, two of the guests got into a heated argument about a political/social issue.  Their voices grew stronger and more strident.

I felt like a stranger in the midst of friends, and I couldn’t stand the loud voices.  So I took myself out to the porch to escape the clamour (and “truth be told” to unwind with a cigarette).

I have been thinking all day about the argument. It was between two people whom I like, and greatly respect.  But they could find no middle ground; no points of agreement or commonality.

My thoughts have taken me this way:  I am a “died in the wool” liberal Democrat.  I am a convinced liberal Christian.  I have no shame or embarrassment with regard to my liberal convictions.I am proud of them.

But “woe is me” if I think that my tongue is more important than my ears.  I want to be a person who listens more than he speaks (and that will be very difficult for me!).

Difficult as it is, I need to listen to conservative Republicans and to conservative Christians.

Perhaps I will never agree with them.  But I owe them the respect of listening to what they have to say.

Monday, 6 December 2010


It was good to be at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Punta Gorda, FL yesterday. The parish buildings are superb, having been built after the 2006 hurricane which destroyed the older ones.

There is a very attractive exterior and the “Church space” itself is very traditional and non the worse for that.

The people of God at Good Shepherd gave me a warm and enthusiastic welcome. They are very fond of their new Priest in Charge Roy Huff, but glad that I could be with them in his absence.

As you know I found it tough sledding to prepare the sermon. I had the usual “nice sermon Father” comments, but a few people went beyond that to let me know that my words had registered with them in a deeper way.

One man said: “That was a very sophisticated sermon; you must have been educated at Harvard”. I am not sure if that was a compliment, or if he was telling me that he had not understood a word!

I had a nice chat a woman who’d been born in Fitchburg MA over 90 years ago.

Chris(topher) and Lisa Kelly came up to Church from their home in Fort Myers, FL - some 15 miles away. I officiated at their wedding at St. Stephen’s, Pittsfield in 1986, where Chris had grown up. 

It was just a few months ago that, by one of those odd “happenstances”, we discovered that we were “more or less” near neighbours.

Lisa and Chris treated me for lunch after service. It was a lovely time as we got caught up, and exchanged news and friendly gossip about our mutual friends.

Michael Cachat was a kid, a teenager, and then a young man during my years in Pittsfield MA (1984-2000). I always admired him.

Now he is serving as a Sergeant with the Army National Guard (Massachusetts 1-181st Infantry Regiment) in Afghanistan. 

I am not at all certain of the strategic necessity and wisdom of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, but as long as it is happening I am glad that young Infantrymen such Michael are there. I pray for him every morning.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sermon for 5th December 2010.

Sermon for 5th December 2010.  The Revd. J. Michael Povey at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Punta Gorda, FL

Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

 (Read the passages to make sense of the sermon!)

Thank you for inviting me to be with you today.  My name is Michael Povey and I live in Sarasota.  I retired there after thirty years of parish ministry in Massachusetts.  My very first parish was the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fitchburg, MA.  That’s not a bad name for a parish!

She could have been thirty years old, or she might have been fifty. It was hard to tell.  She had one of those well worn faces which we often see at Resurrection House, a day shelter for homeless people in Sarasota.  I am the Chaplain at Res. House and this woman came into the Chapel for a prayer service.  It was too hard for her to pray. She started on a long stream of consciousness monologue. The details were unconnected and it was clear that she was deeply disturbed.  This child of God was ill with a mental illness.  Her illness had led her to create a world of her own – a world which had few points of connection with what we call reality. She was living in a world of her own. 

One of the tragedies of some forms of mental illness is that the illness itself tells the sufferer that they are not sick, and that they do not need medication. Sans such medications it was simply impossible to engage the tragic woman in either prayer or conversation.

He was a prisoner of Taliban fighters for seven and a half months.  His name is David Rohde and he was a war correspondent for the New York Times.  As a prisoner he was shuffled between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, back in the United States his wife of two months, Kristen Mulville worked to secure his release. They have written a book about life as a prisoner of Taliban fighters, and life as an anxious wife.   

David talks of the bizarre world view which motivates these very young Taliban.  In their world the American Army is forcibly converting Afghan people to Christianity.  They believe that the wearing of a neck-tie is a secret symbol that the wearer is a Christian.  They think that Christians want to live for a thousand years.   These fighters are living in what we would call a make believe world, a world which is quite unconnected to reality.  It is their belief in that bizarre world that motivates them to fight.  And they pray five times a day.

Worlds of unreality on the streets of Sarasota, and in the Mountains of what we used to call the North West Frontier.  “How sad”, we think, or “how tragic”, or “how awful”.

And yet.... and yet we, who are neither mentally ill, nor Muslim fanatics, also find refuge in our private worlds in which we think too much of ourselves, or too little of ourselves.  We frequently live not only in, but from these worlds.  So who we are often depends on where we are. Thus we can present ourselves as one person in the work place, another at Church, yet another at home.  

 For instance, we all know the stories of Priests, who are saints to their congregations, but beasts with their families. We know of the folks who are constructive in their work world, but destructive on the Vestry; or those who are holy on the Altar Guild, but hellions with their colleagues.

It’s also most likely that many of us struggle with the incongruities of our inner thoughts which would shame or embarrass us were they to be made public. “If only”, we think, “they knew what I really am like”.

As we gather as God’s people each week, it is in part to undertake a reality check, because we know that we are capable of deep self-deception.  So we read what we call “The Word of God” in order to hear a Voice other than our own, a Voice which calls us to change.

That Voice is sometimes stern, and filled with warning. John the Baptiser uses such a stern voice to call people to repentance. 

Repentance is not penitence.  It is not our own change of heart and mind.  It is allowing God to change our hearts and minds.  

John’s sternest words are address to the religious leaders who see no need to allow that change.  He likens them to a snake pit. He says that all their religiosity is just like a rotten tree.  He asserts that the rotten tree must be axed, so that a fruitful tree may grow.  His is a word to those who think too highly of themselves.  

 In God’s Kingdom, those who think too highly of themselves are candidates for pruning.  (Of course I am not talking about self-esteem.  I am speaking of and to those of us who are impressed with our own religiosity and thereby see no need for repentance and the grace of God).

The Voice we come to hear is also a gracious and gentle voice. Isaiah says of the One who speaks in this gracious voice “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear”.   

This is a judgement which goes beyond the obvious. It is a loving judgment which moves beyond our innermost places of sadness, fear, and hopelessness, into the places of our deepest desires.  It addresses those places where we long to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and responds to those places with hope and healing.   

This is a judgement which is to be welcomed and not feared.  It is especially a word to those who think too little of themselves.

We are called through these judgments -  the pruning and the healing – so that our inner wolf may live in harmony with our inner lamb;  our inner leopard with our inner kid.  We are called away from all that hurts and destroys us – towards that way of living when the earth and we will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.