Saturday, 22 January 2011

Come fly with me

I always enjoy watching the flight path of aero planes as they pass overhead on their way to Sarasota Airport  (SRQ).  It’s a seven mile road drive from chez moi to the airport -  but  it is  probably about four miles “as the jet flies”.

The dip of the wing; the height of the plane; the line of approach - all these vary from plane to plane, depending I suppose on such factors as the prevailing winds; the origin of the flight; the type and weight of the plane etc., etc.

But it is always a lovely sight.  And as I look up I still ask myself “how the heck do these behemoths get off the ground!”.  There is a wonder in airplane flight.

As I rubber-necked at some in-coming flights today my memory bank was triggered.

1. I clearly remember that as a little boy I was at the intersection of Johnson’s Road and Johnson’s Lane, just a quarter of a mile from my home, in the district of Whitehall in Bristol, U.K.  I am sure that I remember the sight of many planes flying above.  Many planes.   “Were these planes”, I’ve often wondered, “part of the Berlin airlift?”. ‘Tis not altogether unlikely since Bristol is an aviation City.   That would have been in 1948/49 when I was four or five. 

2. A couple of years later I was in the back garden of Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Dyte, who were members at Chelsea Gospel Hall where I was sent to Sunday School.  The Dytes lived on Colston Road near to my home.  “Lord knows why” I was at their home.  On that day I noticed a plane overhead  (an un-common event in about 1950/51). Mrs Dyte told me that it was a “Guinea Pig” (i.e. a prototype).  That makes sense to me now since Bristol is a home for the aviation industry.    But “back then”  the six or seven years old “jmp”  thought that “Guinea Pig”   was the word/s for an aero-plane.  Even today when I hear or see the word “Plane” my mind says “Guinea Pig”.

3. My very first flight was from Southampton in the  U.K.  to Jersey in the Channel Islands.  I’ll take a stab at the year and guess that it was in 1968, give or take a year or two.

I was on my way to visit with my twin sister Elizabeth who then worked as a nurse in St. Helier, Jersey C.I.

The plane was an old propeller driven Dakota.  I tried so hard to be “cool” - as if I did this sort of thing every day of my life.  But deep down I was thrilled beyond all words.

Friday, 21 January 2011

It’s been a darn good day! I am grateful.

Mary C. is a parishioner at St. James’s Episcopal Church in Cambridge, MA.  I grew to respect and admire her during my tenure there (2000-2006).  Mary’s parents live in Redington Beach, FL - a 60 minute drive from my home in Sarasota.

Mary came to visit her parents the other day. She got in touch with me on Thursday evening via Skype.

Thus it was that I was able to hook up with Mary and her mother (Sally) today.

The three of us gathered at the Salvador Dali Museum at its new building in St. Petersburg, FL.   


It’s a fabulous museum in a gorgeous new building. 

Salvador Dali was a Spanish artist.


I think of him as a mystic.  Thanks to a fabulous head-set and player I was able to listen to some fabulous recorded commentary about his major works.

This commentary helped me to perceive and begin to understand the deeper “meaning” of Dali’s work. 

It reminded me that that deeper task of we the preachers is to help other Christians to perceive and understand the “meanings” in Holy Scripture.

After our museum visit, Mary, Sally and I had lunch in a very pleasant restaurant “just down the road”.

Thus three ingredients for a blessedly good day all came together:

1.  Reunion  with friends  (Mary and Sally).
2.  Encountering something new (Dali’s art).
3.  A  simple meal.

It’s been a darn good day!  I am grateful.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


There used to be a desk plaque which one might see in the office of a priest or pastor.  It read  “God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee”. AMEN to that!

Ah those committees - the bane of the life of many a leader.

“Let’s form a committee”  -  words which strike terror into the heart of a good pastor.

You may be gathering that I am no great fan of committees.  So much so that when I retired I said,  “no more committees for me!”.

I suppose that Committees  have their place.  It is hard to imagine that the U.S. Congress or the U.K. Parliament would “work” without the many and sundry committees which do the leg work before the matter (whatever it may be) is brought before the body as a whole.  But doubtless there are too many of these legislative committees, and to be sure they provide useful “cover” for lazy or stupid Representatives, Senators and Member of Parliament.

I am less certain that they are useful in enhancing the life of a local congregation. I say this for a number of reasons:

1. Church Committees are often formed because the Pastor and/or  Lay leaders lack the courage of their convictions, and therefore scurry to hide behind the formula which says: “our diverse and experienced committee recommends that….”.

2. Church Committees are frequently stacked with either (a) volunteers or (b) folks with an axe to grind. 

(a) I have a very dim view of the concept of volunteerism in the Body of Christ.  As Christians we believe that we are called by the Holy Spirit to be ministers in the Body of Christ for the sake of the world.  Jesus did not say “volunteer for this”, he said “follow me” .

(b) Folks with an axe to grind will always have an axe to grind, no matter how many times they serve on committees.   Like Sarah Palin they are obsessed with self. Like Sarah Palin they are experts at self promotion.

3. Committees are almost never the sources of vision. The greatest leaders this world has ever known were women and men of vision.  They forged ahead despite all odds.  Committees could never have produced a “Moses”; an Einstein; a Michelangelo; a Sojourner Truth; an Aung San Suu Kyi; or an Anne Hutchinson.  (To be fair, neither could a Committee produce an evil visionary such as Herr Hi-ler. There is indeed a narrow boundary which separates visionaries from demagogues).

4. Committees rarely have a discrete and well defined “mission”.  All to often their one and only task is to support or improve the institution, and/or the leader.  Thus their very mission is protective and defensive.

Enough for now.  Save to say that I agreed to join a Committee which has to do with religious ministry in some of our local Colleges.    My first meeting took place last evening.  Within 29 minutes of the meeting I heard my inner groans. “Why, oh why did I agree to join this Committee?”

My best answer was this:  “To please (n) [a fabulous person who recruited me]”. 

That was a crummy answer, for it had more to do with me and my needs than with the task at hand.  Now I will have to do my best to be a "good Committee person"

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Vultures are so very beautiful when they are on the wing.  I watched a pair this afternoon as they soared and glided in the powder blue sky.  It was a lovely sight.

And we need them!  Without vultures (and crows, and ants, and insects) our woodlands would be filled with rotting animal corpses.

Vultures identify their carrion by smell.  From way up in the sky they can detect gases from decaying animals, gases which we mere humans could not even detect.

The following pictures are not mine -  I lifted them from Google images.

Monday, 17 January 2011

On Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: a confession

It was near to The Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr  Day  (never  “M.L.K. DAY  please!) back in say 1988 that I took myself to Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield, MA for an inter-faith service to honour Dr. King. It was, after all, “the right thing to do”.

The attendance was poor; the content of service was a bit pretentious; and due to poor communication on the part of the sponsors of the service, the Black Church gospel choir which was to have led our singing was not present.

We were enjoined to sing a song.  I did not know it.  The pianist was unfamiliar with it.  The singing was dismal.

I fulminated and muttered: “who in the world chose this awful song?”

Even now, some 23 years later, I blush at the memory of my arrogance.  

For the song was the great “Lift every voice and sing”.    It is a powerful text rooted deeply in the biblical call to justice.  It is known as the “Negro National Anthem”.  

I am ashamed and embarrassed that I once “dissed” this song.  We sang it at Church yesterday with great verve and spiritual power.  But even as I belted it out I was reminded of my own ignorance back then in say 1988.

Here is the text:

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

Here is a bit about the author, James Weldon Johnson  (whose brother wrote the tune).

And you can enjoy it and sing along here.