Saturday, 11 February 2012

You can't go back home again

Penne (my dog) had to be with Ron and Lee (her “day” dog sitters) today.  We got to their home and as soon as Penne jumped out of my car she began to walk back to home!  (Don’t worry, once she was inside with Ron and Lee she settled down and was very comfortable).

This reminded me of the phrase “you can’t go back home”.  Thanks to Wikipedia I discovered that it originated in a novel by Thomas Wolfe (“You can’t go home again”, pub 1940).

Here are a couple of quotations from Wolfe’s novel. (George Webber is the protagonist in this novel.)

1.     “Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox in America--that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement. At any rate, this is how it seemed to young George Webber, who was never so assured of his purpose as when he was going somewhere on a train. And he never had the sense of home so much as when he felt that he was going there. It was only when he got there that his homelessness began.”

2.     “You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time - back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Chef Povey?

I took myself down to the Sarasota County Technical Institute this afternoon for a programme at their Adult and Community Enrichment (ACE) programme.

I was there for a “Hands on Culinary Arts Lab” -  i.e. a cooking lesson. 

The facilitator was Chef Brian Knecht.  

There were about sixteen of us in his “class”.

We students worked in pairs (my partner was Joyce – a very pleasant “snow bird” from Montreal, Quebec).

Chef Brian led us as we prepared two dishes –

Firstly:  an entree (main course) dish called “Chicken Chorizo Basquaise” (from the Basque regions of France and Spain).

Secondly: “Toasted Israeli Couscous” (with Pine Nuts, Raisins and Parsley).

We were in a very hi-tech kitchen.  Brian was a good instructor.  Joyce was an extremely companionable partner.

And we got to take our dishes home!

We’ll all be together again next week for a second lesson in which we will prepare a vegetarian dish, and Baba Ghanoush.

I enjoyed the “buzz” of the class.

 I learned some good skills from Chef Brian. 

I liked my cooking partner.

The modest fee for the two classes (including all the ingredients) was $59.

The ACE programmes are a great example of our tax dollars at work (with a little help from our fees).

I had fun.

I cooked some "pretty good" food.

 I experienced the fruits of local government at their best.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

I'm a Yankee doodle dandy.

I have a good life here in Sarasota FL.

My life includes good friends, fabulous weather, a nice home (with three gorgeous pets), and membership and ministry in an excellent Episcopal church.

I am grateful.

But I miss New England.  I miss the four distinct seasons. I miss the hills and the mountains, the valleys and the streams.

Mostly I miss thoe wonderful parts of New England life  which include:

 a generally  liberal outlook on life;

a deep appreciation of education and of culture, 

and a lack of ostentation.

It’s not that New England is better than Florida.

It’s more that I am a “Yankee” at heart.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dinner at the Bistro Charron.

My pals Ben, Bob and I went down to the Bistro Charron for dinner last evening. Bistro Charron is a friendly little eating place in the Gulf Gate area of Sarasota.  Our dinner was outstanding.

First there was prosciutto with melon.  That was followed by a modified caesar salad – lots of very crisp lettuce with crunchy croutons and a flavour-filled dressing.

The main course was angel-hair spaghetti – cooked al dente – with shrimp, scallops, broccoli - and just the right amount of garlic.

Dessert included fresh strawberries, served with sour cream and brown sugar - yummy!

It was a fabulous meal.

We were happy to meet the chef and to be able to compliment him on a first class dinner.  And we were impressed with the hostess who made us feel “at home” within seconds of our arrival.

I don’t eat out very often.  To my mind most restaurants are over-priced, and most of them serve indifferent food. I can do better at home.

The “wait-staff”, or servers (whatever we call them these days) are either harried or hovering.  (“tis not their fault – they are doing their best against the many adversities of restaurant life – viz: greedy or careless owners, and impatient and cheapskate customers).

In addition – I cannot abide the noises of impatient customers and ghastly muzak.

I can do better at home.  But once on a while I need to eat-out. For there is something about sharing a meal with others (as I did last evening with Ben and Bob) which transcends eating alone.

By the way.  There is no “Bistro Charron”.  Bob, Ben and I had a fabulous dinner last evening at the home of our friends Charlotte and Ron Thompson, who indeed live in Gulf Gate.

Charlotte is a caring and careful hostess. Ron's food was utterly delicious. 

With gratitude for the gifts of fabulous food and gracious hospitality. 

And with delight in Char and Ron's friendship.

There was no excess of noise, nor did we have to endure muzak.  

There was simply good food and good table fellowship.

Thanks Ron.  Thanks Charlotte.

Monday, 6 February 2012

I'll be burned at the stake.

I was seven years old, going on eight, when the Headmistress at Greenbank Infants' School in Bristol, U.K. called us all into the assembly hall on February 6th 1952.

She told us that the King (George VI) had died.

I cried.  Not because of the King's death.  But because I knew that we now had a Queen, and that was scary.

For the only other Queen I could think of was Mary I, and I knew that she had "burned all the Protestants".

I thought that now that we had another Queen, I, as a little Protestant, would be burned at the stake.

( Of course Mary Tudor [Queen Mary I] didn't burn all the Protestants -  but that's what I thought at that young age)

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sermon for 5th February 2012.

Sermon for 5th February 2012.  The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface, Siesta Key, FL
Mark 1:21-39

There are times when I am tempted to think that the bible is no more than a compendium of religious information – some of which is useless trivia, and some of which is more or less useful.   Or I will begin to use the bible as if it were a self-help manual, filled with inspirational snippets which will help me through life.

Of course, that is not what I said when I was ordained.  I avowed that the “Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, and contain all things necessary to salvation”.  That means, among other things, that within the bible we discover what God’s word and will is for life.

Indeed the bible is filled with accounts of human encounters with the Holy One, encounters which are more than the anecdotes of religious people.  They are encounters which are meant to move us towards the conversion of our lives to God. They are encounters through which are the templates by which we are led to god-like-ness.

Christians believe that the most reliable template is that which is created by the life, teaching, actions, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Indeed we believe that in Jesus we encounter the fullest and most complete revelation of God.  In him we see the image and likeness of God.  That image and likeness which was defaced by our mythical forebears Adam and Eve, is restored to us in the very humanity of Jesus.

Jesus is at one and the same time the complete and perfect image of God, and the complete and perfect expression of humanity.

We’ll be reading a lot from the gospel according to Mark this year.  

The Jesus we see in Mark is the one who resists all evil:

he resists all that keeps humans in bondage to self and sin.

he resists all that evil which destroys human “communion” or community with God and with others.

The casting out of unclean spirits is part and parcel of Jesus’ guerrilla warfare on evil.  

The Revd. Andrea Taylor pointed out to us earlier this week that these spirits are called “unclean” because they exclude people from the on-going life of the community. A person with leprosy would be deemed “unclean”, and would be shunned by family, friends and neighbours, and excluded from normal human social intercourse.  A person with an “unclean” spirit would be similarly cast out, and forced to live in the dark abyss of total loneliness.

So it is that the exorcisms of Jesus have more than a personal dimension.  They change the dynamic of social life.  The one excluded is now to be included, out of isolation into community

Are there dark, evil, or unclean spirits?  The prayer book teaches so! In baptism we “renounce satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness which rebel against God”. 

That’s uncomfortable language for we progressive Episcopalians, convinced as we are (despite all the evidence to the contrary) of the perfectibility of human nature. We act as if all the human condition needs is a little more information, and a little more inspiration.  We do not believe that we need to be saved -  after all – a wee bit of improvement here and there will be quite sufficient, thank you very much.

And yet.....  there are “spirits” which cut us off from communion with each other and with God. 

I give an example: - there is the spirit of criticism.  There are folks for whom everything is imperfect.  Their children, their co-workers, their neighbours, a cousin in a distant city -  all these are subject to a withering critique.  

Folks like this come to Church prepared to dislike the hymns, the sermon, the vestry, the coffee – and within minutes of the close of the service they launch into their whining critiques.  This spirit of criticism can “take over” people’s lives – and it is utterly destructive and isolating.

A colleague of mine up in Massachusetts observed the destructive power of the critical spirit.  The Eucharist would have been just fine, with lively music and thoughtful preaching.  Parishioners would leave the sanctuary possessed by a sense of the grace and goodness of God.  Then, at coffee hour, a particular parishioner  – possessed of a critical spirit – would “work the crowd”.  That person would move from individual to individual, and from group to group -  and within a short while many of the members of this congregation would be riled up and the Rector would be isolated as she became the focus of all that was supposedly wrong.  It was all extremely destructive. It was evil.  It led to the eventual demise and closing of that parish.

There are other dark spirits. Many of us have also encountered others who are possessed by anger, or self-loathing, or spiritual arrogance, or cynicism.  Their behaviours are self-destructive. Their behaviours spread dissension and disunity.

These are they for whom no amount of good advice, or helpful information, or liberal optimism can be effective. 

 It simply does not work to be “nice” in the face of evil. To paraphrase a New York Rabbi “Expecting evil to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian” (1)

But all is not hopeless, for there is the good news of God which we encounter in Jesus of Nazareth. He who rebuked an unclean spirit, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” is yet present with us in the presence of a Holy Spirit. 

Each week we pray “deliver us from evil”.  We are delivered through that gracious work of God in our lives which we call conversion.  The gospel never calls us to self-improvement. It calls us to surrender our wills and our lives to a power which is greater than ourselves.  The spirit of evil is always trumped by the Holy Spirit.

Recovering alcoholics know this well.  No amount of cajoling or good advice could talk them out of addiction.  No amount of self will could make them sober.  For that which they once thought they had controlled, now mastered them.  But by the grace of God alone they moved through spiritual renewal to conversion and newness of life, in three simple and yet profound steps.

1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable;

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity;

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

Should we come to believe that steps such as these are worth taking  - and at what better time or place than this -  in us will be restored the image and likeness of God.  And with Jesus we shall enjoy our true vocation -  to be human beings fully alive!

(1)             Adapted from “From Baghdad to Brooklyn- Growing up in a Jewish-Arabic family in Midcentury America”, Jack Marshall   (Coffee House Press 2005).