Saturday, 28 July 2012

Be careful when you criticise the British.

From today's London Guardian.

"...  Brits bitch and moan about everything all the time. They are characterologically piss-takers and doom-mongers, fearing (and predicting) national embarrassment always around the corner. But if a non-Brit joins in the doom chorus, the ranks will close, and the anger will be intense"

The "Guardian" has it right.

Smart-ass Americans should bear this in mind.

They should lay off we Brits....  we are not as dumb as many  Americans think we are.

In fact, as a mature people,  we are much more capable of self criticism than the  "Johnny come lately" Americans..

Friday, 27 July 2012

My friend Betty

I am not sure when I first met Betty.

She lives in the neighbouring community of Glen Oaks Manor, so it’s more than likely that we met on one of those days when I was walking my beloved dog Penne around the Glen Oaks Manor pond.

As I got to know her I also met one of her sons. His name was Stephen. He was a former Methodist Minister.  He died from cancer seven months ago. He was a sweet man.

Betty was born in 1924.  She and her deceased husband were Marines during WW II.

As Penne and I walk-about we often encounter Betty.  I have to announce our presence because Betty’s sight is all but gone.

Betty came to my home for lunch on July 3rd this year.   On that day she met my good friends Jack and Donna Chrisman.  We had a lovely visit.

Betty was at my home again this evening.  I had a “drinks party” for her, for my friend Bob Lewis, and for my neighbours Ed Green and Eddie Palmer.

We had such fun.

This was because my octogenarian friend Betty is such a hot ticket.

Her witty tongue, thoughtful insight, and clever humour enabled a fabulous evening.

I thank goodness for 88 year old folks such as Betty who live life to the fullest.

P.S. Betty is off by plane tomorrow to Biloxi MI to play the slots in a casino for a couple of days.  

Much as I despise gambling I adore her sprit. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Penn State University - "Non persons?" (2)

I have been preaching a bit this summer in various parishes in South West Florida.  (Three down, two to go).

It’s been my pleasure to preach from the (alternative) Old Testament readings which have been about the saga of ancient Israel’s monarchy, and more especially about King David.

Next Sunday I’ll be preaching about the time when David lusted after Bathsheba, had sexual intercourse with her, and then arranged for her husband to be killed in battle.

It’s a story of lust, lies and treachery, and it’s in the bible!.

It fascinates me that the chroniclers of ancient Israel were perfectly candid about the flaws of their leaders.

Those chroniclers never gild the lily.  Their stories of lust, violence, betrayal and double-dealing are remarkably contemporary!


One of the great benefactors of my home city (Bristol, U.K.) was a man names Edward Colston (1636-1721).  H made a ton of money. He was a Tory MP for Bristol.

Colston used his wealth to build an almshouse, to endow a school (it is called “Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital and is still functioning), and to found another school (once known as Colston’s Hospital – and now surviving in the form of two schools – viz Colston Girls School, and the Colston School for Boys).

Edward Colston was so generous a benefactor to Bristol. He is not forgotten. Our major concert hall is called “The Colston Hall”, and within the city there is a Colston Street, a Colston Road, and Colston Avenue.

Colston was a trader – a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers Society.

He made his fortune by trading in cloth, wine and sugar, and also via his shareholding in the “Royal African Society” –  in the despicable slave trade.

A statue of Edward Colston dominates the city centre.

Some have suggested that the Colston statue should be demolished, on account of his involvement in the slave trade.

But I am not so sure that we should remove the statue, or expunge his name from the history of Bristol.

Rather I wish that we, like ancient Israel, would tell the un-varnished truth.

Wouldn’t it be cool if the Bristol City Council added seven words to the inscription under Edward Colston’s statue? Those words would be “He was involved in the slave trade”.

Thus we would honour his philanthropy AND also be honest about one source of his wealth.


In that light I return to the story of the PSU coach Joe Paterno. You can read about this in my blog of July 24th 2012.

The PSU authorities had erected a statue of Mr. Paterno.

In the light of the PSU scandal that statue has been removed.

PSU has decided (alongside the NCAA) that Joe Paterno is now a non-person
I think that PSU is wrong.

I wish that the statue had been left alone -  as a tribute to the very great accomplishments of  Mr. Paterno as a coach, and as an historical reminder of his failure to act in the dreadful sex scandal.


How odd it is that ancient Israel was able to be more honest than modern America and Great Britain

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Penn State University - "Non persons?"

American readers of this blog are doubtless familiar with the wretched, evil and sordid sexual abuse of boy children by an assistant football coach (Jerry Sandusky)  at Penn State University.  That man has been found guilty in a court of law.

A former Director of the FBI conducted a civil inquiry, and he concluded that the University was guilty of negligence and failure to act (perhaps even a desire to cover up) when the coach’s evil behaviour became known.

The Head Coach of Football at PSU for 45 years was a man called Joe Paterno. He died recently and cannot speak for himself.

 From what I have read it seems to be that he was at the very least “guilty” of myopia and negligence in the matter.

Into the picture comes the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), the “governing body” for college sports.

The NCAA has penalised Penn State.  As a result of this the University will pay a “fine” of $60 million, and the football team will be effectively closed down for four years.

Joe Paterno was a revered character at PSU.  During his tenure the football team won 114 games, and he was given the moniker of “winningist coach” in College Football.

Now comes (for me) the odd part.  The NCAA has “vacated” those wins and expunged them from the official records. Paterno is no longer the “winningist” coach in the NCAA record book.

This makes no sense to me.  (It would make sense if Paterno and his teams had been found guilty of cheating, or violating NCAA rules etc at Football).

But I fail to see (maybe I am also myopic) how expunging this record accomplishes any good.

Surely the record should stand  ---  with the understanding that Paterno was a great coach who tragically “didn’t get it” in the matter of child sexual abuse.

I cannot see any good purpose in making Paterno a “non-person”.

AND OF COURSE nothing I have written is in any way meant to mitigate or excuse the crimes of  Sandusky, and the failure of the University to exercise due diligence.

With you,  my heart, mind and prayers reach out to the boys (now men) who were violated by a man they trusted

Monday, 23 July 2012

The shortness and uncertainty of human life

The storm came out of nowhere yesterday afternoon soon after 3:30 p.m.  What had been an overcast sky became dark within minutes. Then there was an hour long deluge, with utterly fierce winds.

Parts of my lanai got flooded. Trees or parts of trees in the neighbourhood were felled. It was almost as dark as midnight.

I was not afraid.  Nor was I scared.  But I was apprehensive.

In a Movie house in Aurora, Colorado a storm came out of nowhere soon after midnight last Friday. Twelve people were killed.  Some fifty eight were injured.  What a ghastly horror.

The storm here in Sarasota was unexpected and fierce.

The storm on Aurora was fierce and deadly.

Here's the truth.

In the end none of us are safe.

Physical security is an illusion.

We live in a world in which a falling tree, or a suicide bomber, or a landslide, or a determined shooter, or a heart attack, or some other illness could triumph over our all too brief lives.

“It” could happen to anyone of us.

The Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church (and maybe of other Churches in the Anglican Communion) is refreshingly honest about this.

That’s why these words have been in my mind today.  They are from the Prayer Book, and they are so penetratingly true.

O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies
cannot be numbered: Make us, we pray, deeply aware of the
shortness and uncertainty of human life.

Wise people of any or no religious beliefs will become even wiser inasmuch as that they are deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sermon for 22nd July 2012. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea, Longboat Key, FL

2 Samuel 7:1-16

7Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” 3Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

4But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 8Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Ephesians 2:19b - 22

....members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

(On this particular Sunday we pause in silence to share the sorrows of the people of Aurora.)

The great and fabled King David of ancient Israel had, after years of guerrilla warfare and battles against war like neighbours, finally consolidated his kingdom.  The borders were relatively secure.  He lived in his fine cedar wood house in the newly established “City of David” – Jerusalem.  One of his greatest triumphs had had nothing to do with territory.  It had to do with an object.

The object was that magnificent bronze casket known as the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was supposed to contain Aaron’s rod that budded, the tablets of the law, and a piece of manna.  As far as the ancient Israelites were concerned that Ark was not merely a symbol of God’s presence -  it was God’s very presence itself.

The Ark had fallen into the hands of the old enemy the Philistines, who had found it too hot to handle. The story goes that they became afflicted with tumours because of their illicit possession of the Sacred Ark.

As we enter the story today the Ark is back where it belongs, with the people of Israel, and in the new Royal City. It rested under a tent like structure called the tabernacle (which means dwelling place).

David muses.  “I live in a fine cedar house.  Surely God deserves something better. I will build a great house for the Ark”.  

The wise old prophet Nathan comes to David with a message from God. God says “I never asked for a house, and I don’t want you to build one. That will be a task for your successor.  But I will make a house for you”.

There’s a lovely play on words.

Far from David building a house for God, God will establish a house for David.

The house that God will make will be a royal dynasty. Every subsequent King would be able to trace his ancestry back to King David.

[There are important undertones in the story.  They reflect the tensions which will play out in the life of Israel, tensions which arise from the question “what institutions will make our nation great and secure?” 

Will it be a wise and strong monarchy as exemplified by David? 

Will it be the role and authority of the Priests who will minister in and from the Temple which David’s son will build? 

Or will it be from those outside the power structures, the prophets such as Nathan who will speak their truth to Kings and Priests without fear, calling each back to fidelity to the Lord God?]

The two great institutions of monarchy and temple failed. 

 After David came Solomon.

After Solomon the kingdom divided.

 The subsequent nation of the northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians; and the southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians, at which time the Temple was destroyed and the Ark was carried off to Babylon, never to be seen again.

The historians would have it that the two Kingdoms were the victims of expansionist empires.

The prophets had it that they failed because they were unfaithful to the faithful God

Perhaps those are two side of the same truth.  Nonetheless the two great Institutions failed.

Humans love to create Institutions.  They help us to give shape and purpose to our common endeavours.

  And the human tendency is to keep those institutions on life support long after they have served their purposes.

We are in an institutional Church

 That is made manifest in various ways.

There are the ways in which we call Rectors, have committee meetings, elect Vestry members, have committee meetings, call men and women to ordained ministry, take care of buildings, and hold Diocesan and General Conventions, elect Bishops, have committee meetings etc, etc.

We convince ourselves that it is all terribly important, and maybe it is.

But we are in deadly peril if we believe that our most important task is to uphold the institution of the Church.  We must always be reminded that all of our Churchly institutions are our servants and not our masters.  And oh so many of them are on life support.

And unless we live in cloud cuckoo land we must be aware that institutional religion is fading in these United States. It is not only the Episcopal Church. All the major protestant denominations are recording lower attendances, including the once invincible Southern Baptists, and also including some of the mega-Churches.

The Roman Catholic Church shows some growth, but most of this is because of immigration.  In the former Catholic heartlands of states such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, and cities such as Chicago parish after parish has been closed.

* I served four Episcopalian congregations in Massachusetts between 1976 and 2000.  One of them has closed, and another is barely hanging on.

* I have been privileged to minister in six Episcopal parishes in south west Florida.  One thing is clear to me. We are an aging Church.

We will be faced by a demographic time bomb, since the next generations of retirees, the baby boomers and the one which followed are not natural church goers.

 Many of our congregations will fold – perhaps even this one.

That will not be a bad thing if we believe that our primary task is to keep the institutional Church chugging along as a society for the preservation of polite religion. 

But I dare to  believe that our myriad institutions will have to die so that  there can be new life, and fresh expressions of faith.

It happened in the history of Israel. For you see, after the failures of their institutions, the twin monarchies and the Temple,  (with a minor blip when a puppet monarchy was established under Rome and the Temple was rebuilt, only to be destroyed yet again by those same Romans) the people of Israel lived into a new vision of what it meant to be God’s Holy people.  This new way of thinking, believing and acting led to the emergence of what we call Rabbinic Judaism, a lively and vital faith.

 ( Editorial note: here for times’ sake I related a very potted history).

The death of our own institutions could be a marvellous opportunity to re-think and re-live what it means to be Christians, to be the people of God.

When we begin to think of Church as the people of God, then we will begin to understand that the primary reason for our existence is to give shape and witness to our relationships with the head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Church is not a building or an institution. It is not a forum for power plays or turf wars.  It is not an open space for whining and complaining.

Church is learning to be a disciple of Jesus, and with him having and a commitment to the others welfare before our own.  It is the community where the stranger is made welcome without question, for that stranger may be Christ.

It is a body for trust, for forgiveness, for encouragement.  It is a body where we delight in the success of others, and weep with the sorrows of all.  It is a body where we learn to love the poor, to pray for our enemies, to bless those who are mean or cruel to us.

It is a body where we acknowledge that we are sinners, and then, in repentance seek the mercy and forgiveness of God - which we do not deserve.

Above all, a fresh expression of faith will be to discover the dwelling place of God, not in an Ark nor in a Temple, but as the writer to the Ephesians puts it: (to be a part of the Church is to be) “members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God”.


N.B.  I edited this sermon for style (but not for substance)  following its preaching this morning  jmp)