Saturday, 9 July 2011

Chet who?

When I moved to these United States in 1976 I would utter a wry chuckle at the time of presidential elections.  It seemed that Americans were hoping to elect a new George Washington every four years.

Washington is of course at the top of most people’s list of “the greats”. (Not that he was without fierce critics in his own day.)

We've had very few great presidents.   We’ve also had some downright bad ones!

Most of our presidents have been “fair to middling”. 

With that in mind I have been reading a series of presidential biographies (from Times Books “The American Presidents” series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, JR.),  concentrating on the "lesser knowns"

I’ve just finished reading about Chester Arthur and Grover Cleveland.

Chester Arthur, born in Vermont in 1829 was a bon vivant, a gourmand and a (*) lover of fine things.  He became very wealthy as a result of his appointment as Collector of Custom in New York City ( 1871) 

He was the compromise choice of a divided republican party to run as vice-president on the ticket with James Garfield (in 1880).  Garfield was elected.  He was shot on July 2nd 1881, but lingered until September 20th 1881.  Upon his death Chester Arthur assumed the presidency.

(*) Arthur and his wife Ellen ( (she died from pneumonia in 1880) were early patrons of Louis Comfort Tiffany:  – and the White House was renovated and renewed by them  using some of Tiffany’s wonderful works.

Chester Arthur never enjoyed being president. Both the republican and democratic parties were divided into various factions, so little legalisation was carried.  Arthur was able to get congress to enact some mild civil service reform, but not much else of note. 

He strongly denounced the 1883 ruling by the Supreme Court that the 1875 Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional, but he did nothing to promote a new Act.  He vetoed the first Chinese Exclusion Act, but signed a later and less restrictive version of that same Act.

Arthur made very few enemies, but he never had had a base of deep support within the party. In consequence he was not re-nominated by his party in 1884.

He died of “Bright’s disease” at the age of 57.

He’s probably one of the C+ or B presidents. He was more of a follower than a leader. 

I put him in the same league in which I would also place George Herbert Walker Bush (the first Bush President).  I call that league “affable but ineffectual”

In 1884 the republicans nominated John Blaine rather than Arthur.  Blaine was roundly defeated by Grover Cleveland in the General Election. More about Cleveland tomorrow.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Out and about today

In between heavy rains I have been out and about today.  Here are some photo's from my neighbourhood.

We have ducks a plenty
We have fallen branches after and inch and a half of rain
"Grace Martial Arts" at Calvary Chapel seems odd to me.
We have fungi
We have more fungi
There is a Sherwin Williams paint store nearby.  I do not like the thought of covering the world with paint!
What a beautiful and "exotic" blossom
Unusual decoration in a nearby neighbourhood.  As I snapped the photo' the owner called out "do you want gas?"
A gorgeous hibiscus flower, just outside my lanai

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Hatched, Matched and Despatched. The privileges of ordained women and men

In the absence of a Rector at St. Boniface Church, Sarasota FL, (he retired) and with the vacation of St. Boniface’s wonderful Assistant Rector Andrea Taylor, it has fallen to my lot to officiate at a funeral on Sunday evening for Kathryn Stickney.

I have been privileged to get to know Kathy Stickney in the final months of her life, and to pray with her and her family as she moved towards death (which she welcomed).

It will also be my privilege to be “back in the saddle” for the service.  We’ll all pray together in St. Boniface’s Chapel, and then pray again as her cremated remains are lovingly placed in the parish columbarium.

Being a clergyman is not always great.  We, the ordained are a strange breed.  

But with all of my ordained friends I rejoice that we are able to be present with many people in the great turning points of their lives: births, marriages, divorces, graduations, illnesses and deaths, as well as the more mundane week by week tasks of praying and preaching at Sunday services.

My sense that the Holy One called me to ordained ministry back in 1972 leads me to gratitude and a certain sense of awe.

Here is Kathy’s obituary as published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Stickney, Kathryn
Sept. 16, 1926 - July 5, 2011

Kathryn "Kathy" Stickney, of Sarasota, formerly of Greenwich, Conn. died July 5, 2011.
Services will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Boniface Episcopal Church

Kathy graduated from Stephens College in Missouri. She had a wide variety of interests and held many positions including bringing displaced prisoners of WW11 back to their original homelands as well as bringing Rabbis to Israel. 

Kathy was most proud of her work with FEMA, especially during the L.A. riots in California. 

She also held numerous volunteer positions in Greenwich Ct. This included work at the Red Cross, Blue Cross, and Greenwich Hospital. in her children's schools and as the president of the community Chest. 

In Sarasota Florida, she worked at the homeless shelter, Resurrection House, and Sarasota Hospital. 

Kathy worked for many years as a real estate agent in both Sarasota and Greenwich.

Kathy was a loving mother and most proud of her surviving three children, Bob Stickney and his wife Alison, Susan Rohrer, and Robin Henry and her husband Rick. Kathy also has 4 beloved grand children and 3 step grand children. She will be profoundly missed by family and friends.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

As I walked out

Laurie Lee was a fabulous author from the village of Slad in Gloucestershire, U.K. 

The village of Slad is right next to the town of Stroud, which in turn is not far from my home City of Bristol.

You can read more about Laurie Lee at

His book “Cider with Rosie” is a minor classic - well worth the read. Do buy it, borrow it, or download it on “Kindle”.

Do the same for his other superb book “As I walked out”.

As “I walk out” (five or six times a day) with my beloved pooch “Penne” I pray.

I pray for so many folks whose lives are engaged with sickness, sadness, tragedy and joy.

I do not know how best to pray for them.  I am not that wise.

So I simply “lift their names” to the Holy One.  

I say “Lord be with (n) and (n) and (n)

That’s the best that I can do “as I walk out”.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Jim Crow lives again. From the words of a Mayor in Alabama

In a recent letter to our local paper I wrote that the recent immigration laws in AZ, AL, and GA, and the new voter registration laws in FL might be suggestive of three (loaded) words “Jim Crow Redivivus”

The public responded to my letter with a stunning silence!  

That’s all except for one reader of the paper who tracked down my e-mail address and offered his three words to me: “Stupid F-cking Preacher”.

My instincts regarding a revival of the “Jim Crow” sentiment may well be on beam.  This morning (5th July 2011) I listened to the B.B.C. World Service programme called “News Hour”.  

  The programme included a story from Albertville, Alabama, and the reactions of the local law enforcement leaders, and the Mayor – one Lindsey Lyons to the new “draconian” laws in Alabama regarding undocumented immigrants.

Albertville is the home of “several poultry plants”  (the B.B.C. words) which evidently hire undocumented and/or documented immigrants.

Of these plants Mayor Lyons said that they should “pay a living wage to white Americans”.

To “white Americans”?:-   That’s what he said. 

 I ask:-   are there no black, hispanic or native Americans in Albertville?

His comments bolster my case that “Jim Crow lives again”.
You can hear his words for yourself by first going to

Next click on Newshour.

Then go to the programme for 5th July 2011.  The Albertville story starts at about 36 minutes.

Monday, 4 July 2011

American Independence Day 2011

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;

may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

 (Lloyd Stone  1934)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

**Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel" Samuel Johnson

My grumpiness about this year’s Fourth of July celebrations got off the ground when, earlier in the week, I was at my local convenience store.
There I encountered a Budweiser Beer “promotion” for the Fourth. It's Budweiser Week! Get your drink on, and support our troops!   Yes indeed, if I bought some bottles of Bud and after drinking the contents I returned the bottle tops to the store, then Budweiser would donate 10c per top (big deal) “for the troops”.  How and when Budweiser would use this money to “support the troops” was not made clear.
I guess they wanted us feel patriotic by purchasing their beer. 
The next day I was at my preferred supermarket “Sweetbay”.  There, at the checkout I was asked if I wished to purchase some ground coffee to “support the troops”.
The deal was that if I bought two packs of coffee, then put one of them in a bin, “Sweetbay” would make sure that all the donated coffee was sent “to the troops”.  It was not made clear if these troops would be in Iraq or Illinois, in Afghanistan or Arkansas.
I guess they wanted us to feel patriotic by purchasing coffee.
Then on Friday I went into another supermarket – “Winn-Dixie” to get some canned food for my dog.  The store was decked out in the obligatory red, white, and blue.  The “muzak” featured a male singer whose militantly tuned song repeated (ad infinitum) that he was willing to die for our freedom.
My visits to these three stores made me realise that the propaganda machine is more than alive and well in the United States.  It is a machine which asserts that freedom is to be equated with war.  That’s an Orwellian message indeed.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a grand respect for the men and women of our armed forces, and I believe that the “officer class” in the military is second to none.
My problem is not with the military per se.  Rather it is with our political leaders (Democratic and Republican alike) who have created the neo-colonialist policies which our Armed Forces (subject to civilian authority) are ordered to enforce. 
Hence: our “wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. These wars have very little to do with political, economic, and social freedoms in the United States. 
They have everything to do with America’s misguided sense of “manifest destiny”- i.e. the idea that God/Nature/Evolution – call it what you will – has singled us out above all other nations to bring freedom to the world.
I have “been there and done that”.  Remember that I am British by birth, and that my people once believed that their Empire was a matter of divinely inspired “manifest destiny” - at the receiving end of a musket or rifle.
The truest freedom comes not from armed force, but from the human will when it is inspired by words.  Thus it was that America’s freedom was inspired not by weapons, but by the forceful and dissenting ideas of pastors, poets, preachers and pundits. 
Our ideals of freedom are rooted in the dissent of men such as Tom Paine, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (with many others.
That freedom has been preserved and enabled principally by words:- such as those of  Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary McLeod Bethune, James Weldon Johnson and Martin Luther King – each one a dissenter.  Not one of these “freedom fighters” ever used a gun or pistol! Neither did Jesus.
How I wish that local Churches would uphold Jesus’ non-violent dissent and protest as the norm for our July 4th celebrations.
Since I could not be sure of this I skipped Church today.

I knew that I would not be able to sing “America the Beautiful” without weeping for the African-Americans, Hispanics, Immigrants, Poor people, Trailer trash, Homeless, Muslims &c, &c:  all those who are excluded from the neo-colonialist vision of “America: the land of the brave and the home of the free”.


*** On the evening of 7 April 1775, Samuel Johnson made the famous statement, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."[8] This line was not, as widely believed, about patriotism in general, but the false use of the term "patriotism" by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (the patriot-minister) and his supporters; Johnson opposed "self-professed Patriots" in general, but valued what he considered "true" self-professed patriotism