Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Tienhaara Boys

Back in about 1978 the Tienhaara Boys began to attend the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fitchburg, MA, with their father Richard, and step-mother Barbara.


The family never became Episcopalians, but the Church of the Good Shepherd was a good “way station” for them at that time. 

The “Tienhaara Boys” of 1978-ish were Richard who was aged about 18 or 19, Sean (maybe 17), and Bryan – a wee bit younger. Each of them was (and is) over 6’ tall.  They delighted in giving this 5’8” Michael Povey a group hug at “The Peace” – dwarfing him in the middle of their hugging triangle.


I left Fitchburg, but have stayed in touch with Richard (jr).  He was a basketball star at the University of Lowell (now U.Mass Lowell), and later at Clark University in Worcester, MA.  There he met his future wife Elizabeth.  I co-officiated at their wedding on Long Island in 1984.


(Richard is the only one of the three who met my late mother.  It was on one of her visits to Pittsfield.  R is about 6’7” and he and I will never forget that Mum said “you should come to England and paint my kitchen ceiling without using a ladder”!) 


Richard and I were able to get together for breakfast last year when I was in Connecticut and Massachusetts at the time of the consecration of my friend Ian Douglas (another Fitchburg native) to be the Bishop of Connecticut.


But I had not seen Sean in about fifteen years.  Nor had I seen Bryan or Richard Sr.  since 1980.


Thanks to Facebook (don’t knock it) I re-connected with Bryan (who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale) earlier this week.  He alerted me to a family reunion which was to take place at the wonderful Fort De Soto County Park (Pinellas County FL) and was scheduled for today.


So I hoved over there today (taking Penne [my dog] who travels well and who charmed everyone with her gentle nature).


Forgive my teary eyes.  It was so wonderful to be with these guys and their wives and children, together with their dad (long since divorced from Barbara, and married to a super woman named Betty for 25 years). 


Oh how I value these old connections.


 I add one more thing.  I got to chat with Elizabeth (Richard Jr’s wife).  We agreed that he is a man of utter integrity, and total purity of heart.

Thank God that a man to whom I ministered “way back then” is now a source of inspiration to me


Richard, Michael, Sean and Bryan.

Richard, Michael, Sean, Bryan and Richard Sr.

Friday, 1 April 2011

I am utterly opposed to tolerance

I’ve come to dislike the idea that the cardinal christian and/or human value is “tolerance”.

I find it dangerous to be tolerant of my own sins, weaknesses, pride, and prejudice.

I find it very hard to be tolerant of bigotry, of greed, of nationalism, of violence.

But I am utterly opposed to tolerance when  it comes to my encounters with people of ethnicities, religions, sexualities which are not the same as mine.

For it is often the “majority” which states: “we are very tolerant”. But many minorities feel very patronised when they are told that they are tolerated.

So, at least in terms of inter-personal relationships and interactions with those whose ethnicity, religion or non-religion, background, and life experience are not the same as mine, I refuse to be simply tolerant.

Instead in these interactions I want to cultivate two other values.  The first is an attitude of respect. The second is the ability and willingness to listen. 

My hope is that these interactions will prod me towards becoming a better and wiser human being. I hope that they will teach me.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

A priest "parties" in Lent

We are still in the Church season of Lent, a time for prayer, reflection, and fasting. 

 I used to be horribly pious about this. Not just pious, but also quite self righteous.  Forgive me please!  

 Now that I am growing up I am also “letting go”.  So I was pleased to accept an invitation to a party which took place last night. 

 (“A party in Lent?”:-   please do not tell anyone of the four Bishop to whom I report [three in Massachusetts, one in Florida]  of my abject failure!). 

 The party was for Jerry who was celebrating his 75th birthday.  I like Jerry and his (male) partner Dell very much.  But we are not close friends so I was tickled pink to be on the guest list.

 Jerry and Dell live on Tanglewood Drive, here in Sarasota.  I had always thought that this was a plain and ordinary road, filled with plain and ordinary houses. But as I drove south on Tanglewood  Drive,  from Webber Street  I discovered a most delightful part of Sarasota. 

 Dell and Jerry’s home is on a part of Tanglewood Drive which “feels” as if it is in the countryside.  It is on the south side, and their back garden slopes down to the Phillipi Creek.  It is a lovely spot.

 The party was excellent, nay superb, even terrific. 

 It was a joy and blessing to help celebrate Jerry’s75th.  It was wonderful to be able to connect and re-connect with friends old and new.

 And the food was terrific – even “over the top”.   I ate more in one evening than I usually eat in two days.

 “So much for my pious intentions for Lent”.  May I be forgiven! 

 But maybe the Jesus of the Gospels does not give a fig for Lent.

 I like to think that he (my Jewish “Saviour”) is all in favour of such humanistic parties.

 To be certain – I had a blast last evening.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Collateral Damage

(Resurrection House is a day shelter for homeless people here in Sarasota.  I am the chaplain there.)


He sat next to me at the prayer service at Resurrection House this morning. 

He was a big man, probably in his fifties.


As we prayed he began to sob.  I placed my left hand on his shoulder.  He spoke through his tears.  “Can I ever be forgiven?” was his repeated question.


He had been a helicopter pilot in the U.S.A.F during the Vietnam War.  

His brother had been drafted, so he volunteered so that his brother would not have to serve.  (There was a policy not to have two people from the same family serving at the same time). 


“Can I ever be forgiven?”    He was haunted by the knowledge that his military actions had caused the deaths of young Vietnamese children. “I killed young innocent children” was his cry.


I listened carefully, and I assured him that he had already been forgiven.  I expressed the hope that he would meet those children in “heaven” and be able to tell them that he was sorry.  I encouraged him to get into a Vietnam era support group through the V.A.


I felt wimpy and inadequate as I ministered to this man.  The best I could do was to listen.


Strange isn’t it, that after I had written just the other day about “collateral damage” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, I was led to experience the American side of collateral damage today.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Silent Church (4) (and last for now)

This is my final post for now on the Silent  Church.


My mind has been alerted to this silence as I have recalled the heroes of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements.  

I have thought in particular about a Rabbi – Abraham Joseph Heschel, 

two Catholic Priests – Daniel and Philip Berrigan, 

and a Protestant Minister – William Sloane Coffin.  You can read more about them below.


Of course they are four white males.  There were next to no female Rabbis or Ministers in their day.  

And I am not ignoring the great Negro leaders – Martin Luther King, Jr, Ralph Abernathy etc.  

But many of my readers have never heard of Heschel, the Berrigan brothers, or Coffin.

These four men refused to be silent in the face of injustice.  And they were willing to put their money alongside their mouths, knowing that other religious leaders would disdain or despise them, and that the civil authority could imprison them.

It is not my purpose to argue whether or not they were right.  What is important to me is that they refused to be silent.

And that was vital for the health of the nation.  In their time, and in our time, we need to hear voices other than those of the politicians, the big-business leaders, the dominant right-wing media, and the scared and small minded tea party types.

If religious leaders do not speak out -  who will?

But there is silence.  A deathly silence.

I suggest some reasons for the muteness of religion.  I may well step on some toes. So let it be.

 The Catholic Church is both circling the wagons, and turning the clock back in the face of the ephebophile scandal.

2.    Judaism (which I deeply respect) has become chiefly concerned with the State of Israel.

3.   Mainstream Protestantism is dying, and is obsessed with survival.(If you are dying - please die.  Survival is fruitless!

4.   The Anglican Communion is a “leaky old ship” and its leaders are so busy patching the leaks that they fail to notice that the ship is sinking.

5.   The Episcopal Church (my beloved Episcopal Church) is filled with old and greying worshippers (such as I), who are tired and therefore long for the simple life.

6.    American Evangelicals (I like them!)  are caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of modernity and fear.

The one exception is American Fundamentalism which is lining up to lead the “Tea Party Charge”, with its insistence on “American Exceptionalism”.

I could go on.  But my point is that organised (American) Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, and Evangelicalism has turned away from the public market place of ideas to introspective navel gazing.

Only the Fundamentalists have a vision for our common life.  It is one which scares me.

So I will not shut up!

  William Sloane Coffin 1926-2006


2.     Rabbi Abraham Joseph Heschel 1907-1992



3.     Daniel Berrigan 1921 –

Philip Berrigan 1923-2002

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Silent Church (3)

My parents told us about the German V1 and V2 rockets which were launched against targets in England during World War II.  I can find no evidence for or against the idea that our home City of Bristol was hit by such rockets, but it seems unlikely since the V1 had a range of about 100 miles and the V2 a range of 200.   Such rockets were launched from France, though some V I’s were launched from aircraft flying over the channel or over southern England.

What I “got” from Mum and Dad was the idea that these rockets were somehow “unfair”.  It was one thing for “a plucky RAF fighter pilot to attack German bombers”, but another thing to be attacked by rockets against which there was no defence, ( except that RAF pilots could “tip the wings” of the slower VI, and I gather that they became adept at this).

But my parents were on to something important.  There was an idea, developed by philosophers and theologians that although war might be the inevitable last resort, there ought to be some sense of proportionality in any response to an aggressor.

That idea of “proportionality” might have made some sense when wars were fought on land between competing armies or on sea by competing navies.  It became impossible to sustain once wars were waged by aerial bombardment and hapless civilians became “sitting ducks”,  so to speak.  

(Not that civilians had always been immune – long before the modern age cities could be besieged and the inhabitants starved towards surrender).

We’ve come a long way from the dreaded V1 and V2 rockets.  Modern warfare has no boundaries and no possibility of proportionality.

1.From somewhere in the USA a man or woman at a computer “flies” a drone over Pakistan or Afghanistan.  
2.From deep in the Mediterranean missiles are launched against Libya.  
3.Rocket equipped fighters take off from an airfield in Italy and launch their rockets of death and doom from North African skies.  

There is no proportion.

But there is what is euphemistically called “collateral damage”, (such Orwellian words). 

Collateral damage means that an ordinary family going about its business in Pakistan is blasted out of this life by a rocket launched from a drone. It means that half a dozen shepherd boys are slaughtered in Afghanistan because of a similar “drone error”. It probably also means that some of God’s children in Libya are murdered by a missile even as they struggle to eke out a miserable existence.

Is this the price of war?  Some might say so.  

But I question why we are at war on three fronts in the first place. Not one politician or general has been able to give me a clear answer as to the anticipated “good outcomes” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya (and Pakistan).

I know that the Weapons of Mass Destruction rationale for our Iraq adventure was a lie.  

I know that the so-called War on Terror will most likely have the effect of radicalising many young men and women who perceive nothing but aggression from the Western powers. 

I expect to hear some sophisticated obfuscation from President Obama when he speaks to the nation tonight.

I do not believe that anything we have done, or plan to do will have long term and sustainable benefits for the peoples of the above countries. (Does anyone truly believe that in (say) twenty five years time the hoi polloi of these Arab or Muslim States will be grateful for our interventions?)

(To be fair, I  salute the women and men of the armed forces “on the ground” who are doing their best to help build schools, clinics, roads etc.  This is a worthy task which would have been possible without war! I have every respect for the soldiers and marines who are on the ground.  I have no respect for the Politicians, Generals and CIA “pooh bahs” who direct these efforts from a safe distance).

And I have a certain despair which arises from these conflicts.  That despair is rooted in the silence of the majority of the world’s religious leaders on these matters. Their silence equals complicity.

I move from despair to anger as I am deafened by the silence of the Christian Churches in these United States.  I have not heard one Cardinal, Bishop, Episcopal Priest or Protestant Minister raise any protest against our own indiscriminate use of our own weapons of mass destruction, *(with the sole exception of Jim Wallis of the Sojourners Community).

I hear very nice sermons from the very nice Priests who are my local colleagues.  

But I am tired of “nice”.  

I am ashamed of my own lack of courage from the pulpit.  

I am getting to the point at which I do not wish to preach anymore if my chief task is to be nice.

(More tomorrow – probably).

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Silent Church (2)

I have so much to say about the silent Church.

But I am too angry to be coherent

Watch this space!.

The Silent Church

I am so angry about the silence of the Church in the face of our aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.Why is the Church so obsessed with sex, but so unconcerned  with Euro/American militarism?There are days on which I want to abandon organised religion.