Saturday, 22 December 2012

Winter musings


1. It was (by S.W. Florida standards) quite chilly this morning (46 f,/7.7 c).  For my 6:30 a.m. walk with Penne I donned a top coat, scarf , and gloves.

46f in Massachusetts on December 22nd would have seemed to be almost balmy.  After six and a half years in Florida it feels cold!

Is it true that our blood “thins”, (that’s the lore), or is there an alternative explanation as to why differing temperatures change our bodily reactions?

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2. The cooler weather has its upside.  I was able to walk five miles yesterday, and about four and a half miles today. Penne was so happy!

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3. She has been so happy that she dragged me out for a walk at about 4:45 p.m. today.

There was a method in her madness. Somehow she knew that my neighbour, the recently widowed Sophie would also be out and about. She was correct,

So Penne encountered Sophie this afternoon, and  Sophie met Penne.

Mutual joy abounded.

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4. It got better. Yesterday Penne and I came across Alison who was in the neighbourhood to visit with her parents for “the holidays”.  Alison was entranced with my entirely lovable dog.

Unbeknownst to me, Alison urged her mother to take a walk this afternoon, saying “maybe we’ll see that lovely dog again”.

The timing was right this afternoon. As we walked Penne countered Alison, and Alison met Penne.

 Mutual joy abounded.

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5. O.K. –  So I boast!  But the truth is that my Penne (I adopted her from the Sarasota Humane Society 4 ½ years ago) is truly a fabulously people friendly dog.

I love her to bits, and both friends and strangers respond with joy to her friendliness.

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6. Cooler weather calls for soups.

So today a made a mess of black bean soup.

Finely chopped sweet onion, garlic, red pepper and celery as a base – simmered in vegetable stock for ten minutes,

Half a can of undrained black beans added, with half teaspoons of salt and cumin, then simmered for about another five minutes, and  then pureed with an immersion blender.

1 ½ cans of black beans added, with a bit of cornstarch and the juice from half a lemon,  the  whole mess then  simmered again until it thickens.

Oh my!  Zesty and nutritious soup for the next four suppers!

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7. On the cusp of Christmas.

In my book I do not get too bothered that Christmas is a cultural as well as a religious holiday. I am glad for any religious/secular holiday which brings people together and helps to create loving community.

With that in mind I spent a few hours this afternoon in telephoning dear friends to “keep in touch”.

That’s as good a reason for the Christmas holiday as is the Christian celebration of the myths which surround the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Mass killings. Mental illness. Murder. (part two)

A follow up from yesterday's blog.

Mental illness is illness.  It is not a choice.

We in the United States have chosen to eviscerate (in the derivative meaning of that word) the medical, social and counselling services which are essential to mentally ill people.  

Thus we have hundreds of thousands of ill people who are on the streets or in prison. (Incidentally in both places they are frequently the objects  not the perpetrators of violent behaviour). It is a national scandal – one amongst many.

Once in a while  a mentally ill person will rampage. Because of another of our other national scandals -  e.g. the widespread availability of fire arms – including weapons which were designed for military usage,- those rampages can result in cruel and horrid murders –  shocking us to the core (for a week or two) when the murders take place in schools, and bringing us to despair when those killed are six and seven year olds.

We are shocked for "a week or two" 

But only those who have lost a child through sudden and accidental death, 

or by murder, 

or because of unexpected and baffling illnesses, 

or because of premature birth or sudden crib/cot death 

understand that there are mums and dads, brothers and sisters, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles and cousins, playmates whose grief is unimaginable and will never be completely assuaged.

In the face of the Sandy Hook Massacre, our President did a more than creditable job in being present to the mourners.  But not every response has been helpful. There have been fails.



FAIL # 1:  The despicable response by Wayne Pierre, President of the National Rifle Association, that every school should have volunteer armed security “guards”.

That is a cynical counsel of despair.  (And Wayne Pierre showed his coward’s heart by refusing to take any questions as his so-called “press conference”).

(Just wait until one of those armed volunteers misfires and kills a school child).

FAIL # 2:  President Obama has created a “task force” to look into the issue of gun control.

Bold leaders do not create task forces.

 Bold leaders speak the truth without fear.

(Weak leaders form committees and task forces – I know that from many years of leadership in Churches).

President Obama knows the truth about  our national policy of “no gun control”,  and about the tyranny of the National Rifle Association.  To my mind he failed the test of bold and assertive leadership.  At the very least he should have headed this task force and not passed that buck to Vice-president Biden.

FAIL #3: In the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown there was a spike in the sales and purchases of weapons.

Our coins and bill declare “in God we trust”. Our wallets and credit cards say “in guns we trust”.

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There is a culture of violence in the history and at the heart of the United States (and to be fair in many other nations).

Maybe I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Mass killings.Mental illness. Murder. (more tomorrow)


1. Last Sunday, December 16th 2012 I was in another town and at another Church.

I arrived early because my host is a choir member who needed to attend rehearsal.

Wandering the huge campus of this church I came across a room named “The Other Cup”.  From outside I noticed that coffee and snacks were available, so supposing that this was a place for a pre-service cup of java I entered the room.

There were twelve or fourteen people in the room - not one of whom greeted me. I poured a cup of coffee and took my seat.

The others began an un-focussed discussion. Their chat meandered from here to there, and eventually settled on the murders of so many in Sandy Hook, CT on Friday 14th.

Of course there were genuine expressions of shock and grief.  But the group easily came to their conclusion that the shooter Adam Lanza was mentally ill, and that “therapy” would have prevented this massacre. I am not so sure.

I wanted to ask “what about evil"”,  but as a guest I refrained.  It was disconcerting to be in a Christian Church that (apparently) refused to countenance evil.

2. I truly like and enjoy the “Diane Rehm Show” on National Public Radio.  But it sometimes falls short.

Today the guests prattled about the shootings by: 

Erik Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School, CO in 1999; 
by Jared Loughner in Tuscon AZ  in 2011; 
by James Holmes in Aurora CO in 2012; 
and by Adam Lanza in Sandy Hook CT a week ago.

This radio panel was all but unanimous in asserting that these killers were mentally ill.

3. This disturbed me for several reasons.

a. None of the panelists had talked with any of the “offenders”.  Their analyses  were “at a distance”

b. Their views cast a pall on mental illnesses – equating them with violence.

c. These views “excuse” mass murder by evil persons.



4. Here’s the rub.

a. First: we in the USA have been willfully negligent in our care for mentally ill people. If a person has cancer he/she will receive superb medical/hospital care.  If a person has a mental illness she/he will most likely be jailed. This is shameful.

BUT...........

b. We wimp out when we equate mass murder with mental illness.

c. We  wimp out when we ignore the possibility of human evil.

MORE TOMORROW

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Penne in heaven


“Kate is coming today”.  That’s what I told Penne earlier today.  Kate is the great woman who cleans my house (she retired last summer but has “un-retired”).

Penne likes Kate, and Kate adores Penne.  When Kate arrived Penne gave her many “kisses”.

Whilst Kate worked I went off to have a haircut, to return a book to the library, and to lead the weekly prayer service at Resurrections House.

That being done I walked with Penne, had lunch, and walked again.

Then I drove over to Sarasota’s fabulous Asolo Theatre for a matinee performance of the musical 1776 (which premiered in 1969).

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1776_(musical)
 (cut and paste if necessary)


My guests were the wonderful Ron and Charlotte Thompson. We enjoyed every minute of the show – with its historical accuracy, humour, lively music and superb acting.

Post-show, Ron and Char headed towards the home of my good friend Ben, for a pre-dinner gathering.

I drove home, fed the cats, and then walked Penne over to Ben’s home.  Our mutual friend Bob was also there.

Penne was in heaven!  She rejoiced in the presence of her favourite people: Ben, Bob, Charlotte and Ron (and me!). She is such a good dog in other folk’s homes.  After enjoying their attention for a minute or two she settles down, relaxes, and stretches out on the floor in perfect bliss.

On our way home we encountered two regular walkers (I do not know their names) who are also very fond of Penne.  Of course she basked in their attention.

I had a good day.

Penne had a great day!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

In the face of evil


I was on holiday in Greece at the time of the Columbine High School murders.  I read a paragraph or two about that massacre in an English language newspaper for tourists, but it all seemed so remote, so far away.

I was flying from Tampa to Denver when the news first broke about the slaughters of the innocents in Newtown CT. A passenger in the row before me had paid to use the in-flight T.V., and as he flipped channels I heard no more than “killings in Connecticut”.  And that was all I knew until Sunday morning, when I read about this horror as I went on line to print a boarding pass.

Back in my hotel room in Tampa I switched on CNN and began to get more of the story.  I had a sense of irritation with CNN and the scores of other T.V. stations who had their vans, their cameras, and their reporters in that small town.  I thought that such a huge presence was less than helpful and more than harmful to the residents of Newtown in their awful grief.

“If only” the television media moguls could agree to “pool” their reportage of such tragedies so that (say) no more than three broadcasters and their accouterments were assigned to places of tragedy, disaster and evil.

At home again on Monday my Facebook page was flooded with comments.  I was glad that I had been “Facebook-less” for a few days, and that I had not been tempted to add my two cents worth.

I noted two comments from friends which I believe are worth reading. My guess is that both authors are “sorta centrist” in their politics.  They are each in their mid to late twenties.

I knew S.S. as a worshipper at St. James’s, Cambridge, MA when he was a student at Harvard College.

M.S. was a member of St. Stephen’s Parish, Pittsfield, MA. I knew him as a young child, and as a teenager.



How unloved must one feel to be driven to such evil? We may never know what was raging within his mind and soul, but I think our biggest failing was in allowing one among us to slip through the cracks and fall to such depths of despair. We never know what those around us may be silently struggling through - we must *genuinely* love our neighbors, our brothers, our sons, and our selves, to nurture respect for the dignity of human life.
S.S.


I'm sure I'm not the only one that, when some sort of a tragedy or a major incident/situation/event occurs, I need to write in order to find some sort of psychological and spiritual release. The recent catastrophe that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut -- a small New England town that provides flashbacks to my upbringing in Massachusetts -- would certainly justify an appropriate circumstance for me -- and many others -- to write and reflect upon in order to attempt to physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually process what exactly happened and to attempt to make some sort of sense out of everything.

This is highlighted on the heels of a very powerful, emotional, and appropriate interfaith memorial service remembering those children, educators, and a mother that have been murdered, and also for those law enforcement, fire department, emergency medical services, and other public safety personnel that fought through the numbness and indescribable grief in order to do what they needed to do (or were brave enough to admit when they couldn't). 

I've been reading some comments and cheap political shots about how the United States is a "Godless country." Quite bluntly, I am engaged by this pompous arrogance, and I would appreciate an explanation about how this is an accurate and realistic portrayal of our nation. Is it because of who we elect as President? Is it because we were founded and mandated as a country to be tolerant and "politically correct"? Our country was NOT perfect, and is NOT perfect, but we have come A LONG WAYS in over two hundred years in regards to individuality, community, and society. 

Do you want to know where God is in this country?? God was present when we said that no, people can't be enslaved to other people as property. No, people can't be denied basic HUMAN rights and dignity because of the color of their skin, how old they are, who/what they choose to worship/believe in or not worship/believe in, what private and personal choices they decide to make, and who they love. 

God has been present in every tragedy, situation, disaster, and incident that this country has endured, suffered through, and prevailed throughout its history in and through God's people -- be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Democratic, Republican, Independent, EVERYONE! 

God has been present in all of the "signs and symptoms" that God reveals to everyone, everyday. It is OUR responsibility to recognize, decipher, interpret, and utilize them in the service to our human community. In the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, a community that I and others on here can relate to because I/we grew up and experienced communities just like it, perhaps God has revealed a costly consequence of not discovering the "signs and symptoms" when we are indoctrinated to the ignorant concept that psychology, psychiatry, social work, and criminology are "quack professions" for only overly-dramatic people that just need to stop being babies and grow up and take responsibility for themselves. Are there overly-dramatic people out there? Of course there are, but for every five of these type of attention-seekers, there are at least one or two or three or more of people that genuinely and quite simply just need professional and qualified help. When we stereotype and generalize ALL people, we FAIL. 

God is also present in good people from ALL walks of life that own firearms, are educated well in them, and use them responsibly and with respect. We have been given numerous "signs and symptoms" -- the most recent have involved the innocent blood of children -- that perhaps we need to sit down and communicate with individuals from all political spectrums on how to approach firearm violence prevention without infringing on the fundamental rights under the Second Amendment. There is a way, and I know we can figure it out. We are Americans after all.

These are just a few examples of why we are NOT, and NEVER WILL BE, a "Godless country." The President, along with Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Atheists, Agnostics, Lutherans, the Jewish, Muslims, Congregationalists, the Baha'i, politicians, children, educators, friends, acquaintances, parents, and loved ones from ALL demographics reminded us of that common sense FACT tonight. 

For all the "Mike Huckabees" out there: grow up, open your eyes, and remember that you live in one of the most tolerant, compassionate, and diverse places in the world. Remember that....always...."We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..." This stems from a concept that was not originally embraced by everyone in our country, including our Founders and other historical figures; but, through compromise, civility, well-intentioned debate, "agreeing to disagree," and mutual respect and friendship for each other, this concept was eventually ratified as our Constitution. Those that sit in the chairs once occupied by our Founders and some of the greatest minds in history (from ALL political ideologies) should do well to reflect on this. The future of our country depends on it.

M.S.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Home, sweet home


Home, sweet home.

I am back at home after a brief vacation.

Last Friday I arrived in Phoenix to stay with my dear and beloved friend Joyce.  (She was a parishioner in Pittsfield MA)

We enjoyed two very relaxing days together, despite the unusual rainy and cold weather in Arizona.

We did not need to “do” anything, we simply enjoyed being together.

Michael and Joyce

















Nevertheless we took one trip:to the Museum of Musical Instruments:



http://mim.org/




There amongst many other things we viewed John Lennon’s piano - on which he composed “Imagine”.

John Lennon's piano





John Lennon apart,  Joyce and I enjoyed a bit of shopping, a lot of talking, and the worship of God at Joyce’s parish: “St Barnabas in the Desert” in Scottsdale/Paradise Valley.

See

http://www.saintbarnabas.org/




After Church and lunch with Joyce I took a flight from Phoenix AZ to Tampa FL (the flight arrived in Tampa 20 minutes early!!, and then I stayed overnight at a “La Quinta” Inn near TPA,


After a good night of sleep I drove up to Lutz, FL to connect with former Cambridge parishioners: - Dr. Michelle Holmes – a breast cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School, her husband Derrick  Z Jackson – a “Boston Globe” columnist;  and their younger son Tano, (who has just graduated from college, and is about to train as a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.)


Michelle, Tano, Derrick

















(Michelle, Derrick and Tano were in this neck of the woods to attend the ceremony at which Derrick’s nephew was awarded he “Eagle Scout” badge)
.
We enjoyed lunch at the Spanish inspired restaurant in Ybor City, FL The Columbia”  (see

http://www.columbiarestaurant.com/ybor.asp


Although I am very tired this evening, I am so glad that I can make and enjoy these connections!