Friday, 20 January 2012

Fellowship of Believers in Sarasota. The lamest church sign ever

Many church signs are lame.
Some are lamer than others.
Today I saw the lamest ever.
It is at the “Fellowship of Believers” on nearby 10th St. here in SRQ.
(The “background” is the recent cold snap here in SRQ).
The sign reads:
“Too cold to change this sign.
The message is inside”


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Memories of the Devizes area

My "best friend" in olden days was Jeff Davies.  We never ceased to be friends, but we lost touch over the years.

Thanks to the Internet we have been back in contact. We have exchanged memories of our childhood and youth, and  for this blog, of the times when I went with him to a farm owned by his uncle and aunt in Wiltshire U.K.

Here are some photo's from way back then.  They are very precious to me.  You will see his Uncle George and Auntie May  (she was his father's sister). They lived at Marsh Farm, Lydeway ( a hamlet within Urchfont) in Wiltshire.

You will also see Uncle George and his tractor, and also a picture of the house at Marsh Farm.

And there is a picture of Salem Chapel. Devizes - the meeting house for the Plymouth Brethren - a "denomination" in which Jeff and I came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marsh Farmhouse

Uncle George Lancaster and his tractor

The Lancasters -  Uncle George and Auntie May

Salem Chapel, Devizes, Wiltshire

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Jewish and Arabic?

Jack Marshall is (was) a poet of great distinction.  He was born in Brooklyn in 1936.
His father Albert was an Arabic speaking Jewish man, who was born in Baghdad (Iraq), moved to Manchester (U.K.) and later migrated to the United States. His family anglicised their last name from its original Arabic to “Marshall”
Jack’s mother Grace (in Arabic it is Garaz) was also a migrant.  She was born to a prominent Jewish family in Aleppo (Syria), a family which ended up on these American shores.  She also spoke only Arabic, and refused to learn English when she arrived in the U.S.A.
Arabic was the in home-language of this Jewish couple.  Yes indeed - a Jewish couple whose most comfortable language was Arabic.  In fact they always referred to G-d as “Allah”.
Albert and Grace Marshall had an arranged marriage. Sadly it was also a very unhappy union. In the tight knit Syrian Jewish community in which they lived, divorce was out of the question.  Loveless marriages were not uncommon in that community
I have read all about this in Jack Marshall’s memoir “From Baghdad to Brooklyn- Growing up in a Jewish-Arabic family in Midcentury America”  (Coffee House Press 2005).
It’s a haunting tale about the Jewish-Arabic heritage as it was lived out in mid 20th century America.
Grace was an un-happy and pessimistic woman. Conscious of the former status of her family in Syria, and now reduced to a hard-scrabble life in Brooklyn, she was unable to love her husband and three children. 
Jack (her son, and the author) once asked her why she always expected the worst.  She replied “I don’t expect the worst, I expect the expected”.  (“These were her terms of engagement with a not-to-friendly future” comments her son Jack).
(From your blogger: At this point, whilst writing last night I fell sound asleep at the computer. I woke up two hours later!)

Blog resumed on Friday morning.
Albert Marshall never made much money.  He held various jobs, and owned a couple of businesses.  But he never became wealthy.  He withdrew into semi-silence, bitterly saddened by the misery of the marriage.
Jack remembered that his father often said: “Mind you, make money in due time, but don’t do time for making money”
Much of Jack’s time and that of his brother was spent at the shul.  Prayers were, or course in Hebrew, but the sermons were in Arabic.
Jack remembers their first English speaking (and preaching) Rabbi.  He was well versed in the Babylonian Talmud, and in the writings of the great Rabbis.
Once, when preaching against arrogance he said: “Adam was created last of all creatures on the eve of the Shabbat. Why?  So that if a person becomes too proud, he may be reminded, ‘the mosquito was created before you’”
And in another sermon: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian”.
Jack Marshall paints a vivid picture of life in Brooklyn in the 1940’s and 1950’s as a member of a minority within a minority (Jewish-Arabic amongst Jews from eastern Europe).  He spins of good yarn of home life, school, play, Hebrew school, and boyhood friendships. Having been lovingly critical of his parents he mourned them deeply when they passed. He speaks of his love for a sister, Renee, who died of cancer in her fifties, and for his brother Nat.
He also recounts his encounters with the big wide world of art, music, science and philosophy -  encounters which would lead him away from Judaism and into atheism.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Closing words on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Day

Via my friend Susan H

"Although the Church has been called to combat social evils,it
has often remained silent behind the anesthetizing security 
of stained-glass windows.... How often the Church has been an echo rather than a voice, a tail-light behind the Supreme 
Court and other secular agencies, rather than a headlight guiding men and women progressively and decisively to higher levels of understanding." - Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sermon for Sunday 15th January 2012.

Sermon for January 15th 2012.
The Revd. J. Michael Povey, at St. Boniface Church, Sarasota FL.
1 Samuel 3: 1-18

As women and men are ordained into various ministries in the Episcopal Church they are required to state that they believe “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation”.

“The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments”. Not just the New. We need to be reminded of this for a number of reasons.

First, because what we call the Old Testament is in fact the only “bible” which Jesus, the disciples, and the earliest Christians knew.  The teachings of Jesus and of the early Church leaders are dependent upon, and arise from, the Old Testament.

Second, because we cannot fully understand the New Testament unless we know the Old.  
So much of what we read in the epistles and gospels is rooted in that much older tradition.

Third, because we need to be delivered from the facile argument that the Old Testament God is a God of judgment and the New Testament God is a God of mercy.  There is an enormous amount of mercy in the Old Testament.  There is more than enough judgment in the New Testament. 
Both Testaments affirm that judgment is good, and that judgment is necessary.

In fact we shall never fully comprehend mercy unless we first understand and value judgment.

The bit we read from Samuel is part of a much larger story.  It is a story about judgment.

The big story is of a number of small clans or tribes, led by local chiefs (known as “judges”), who are consolidating and enlarging their territory. They are moving towards nationhood and monarchy.

Most of the clans had local shrines, places of sacrifice to God or to the gods.  Fertility rituals were practised in many of the shrines.

  But the chief shrine was the one in Shiloh.  Here rested the great tent, also known as the tabernacle, which had been a portable shrine as the people moved from Egypt to Canaan.  In common with many other shrines, there was an exclusive and holy place at its heart.  But in this holy place there was no idol, or sacred pole, or totem. Instead there was the ark, a large richly decorated wooden box.  

Within the ark (it was alleged) were the tablets of the law, Aaron’s rod which budded, and a piece of manna. This was the shrine of the one true and only God, the Holy One, who had delivered the people from slavery.  This was a God who could not be seen, nor should be represented in art or carving.  This shrine carried a message: “The Holy One of Israel is with us”.

But shrines have shrine-keepers, and shrine keepers can become corrupt.  At the Shiloh shrine it was the sons of the priest Eli, named Hophni and Phineas who were corrupt.

 People would bring meat to be offered in sacrifice. It was the rule that the whole piece of meat be offered. Then, whilst it was boiling or roasting, the priests were allowed to insert a three pronged fork, and whatever bit of meat came out on the fork they could use for their own food. But these two scoundrels insisted that the whole piece of meat be given to them before the sacrifice. They would then cut off the uncooked the fat to make the offering, whilst keeping the lean meat for them-selves. 

Hophni and Phineas also allowed ritual prostitution at the entrance to the shrine, and availed themselves of the prostitutes.

Their father, Eli the Priest, remonstrated with them, but they would not listen to the voice of their father. Eli did nothing to remedy the situation, even after a nameless man of God warned him that God’s judgment was at hand.

Hophni and Phineas cared more for their own needs than they cared for the worship of God.

In the process, Eli lost his vision. The text says that his eyesight had become dim. It’s a play on words, indicating that Eli had also lost his vision for God’s word and glory.

In the midst of all this, God speaks again, this time not through a man of God, but by a very unlikely source: - Eli’s go-fer, a young acolyte named Samuel. He is entirely reluctant to pass on God’s word, but Eli, perhaps with his last gasp of “vision” instructs the lad that he must speak God’s truth – even though it be a word of judgment.

This part of the saga ends, when in a fit of desperation, and in yet another battle with their coastal enemies the Philistines, the Israelites took the Ark with them into battle - as if it were a totem, a good luck charm.  Israel was defeated in this skirmish. Hophni and Phineas were killed in battle.  The Philistines captured the ark and took it away. The news reached Eli. He keeled over backwards and died at age 98.

The wife of Phineas was heavy with child.  When she heard of the death of her father-in-law and of her husband she gave birth to a son.

Upon hearing of the loss of the ark she named the child Ichabod – which means “the glory has departed from Israel”. Perhaps that was the ultimate judgment - that God’s very presence and glory was withdrawn from Israel.         
We shall never fully appreciate mercy unless we first understand and value judgment.

Congregations come under God’s judgment.

We shall be under the judgment of God if we, as a congregation, care for our own needs more than we care for the worship of God, (as did Hophni and Phineas).   We must be reminded that the Church was never meant to “meet our needs”.   It was meant to remind us is to remind us that the worship of God is paramount.

We shall be under the judgment of God if we, as a congregation, loose our vision, (as did Eli). Myopic self interest destroys congregations, and brings God’s judgment.

The vision is of not caring for our own needs, but of sharing in the work of bringing all things and peoples into reconciliation with God and God’s creation.  That’s the vision which will sustain and renew us. If we lose the vision we may lose God.

Athletes value judgement - they call it coaching.

Scientists know that they need judgment –they call it peer review.

Artists and musicians value judgment – they call it “perfecting their works”.     
A mature congregation, as is St. Boniface Church at its best, should with fear and trembling look for the judgment of God lest we should arrive here one day to discover that God has gone elsewhere, and we have become St. Ichabod’s Mausoleum.