Saturday, 9 August 2014

Oh silly me - and the Sarasota County Library System.

I recently took out two books from the Sarasota County Library System.

One was "And there was Light" -  the book about the young and blind Frenchman who became an incredible leader in the French Resistance.  (I wrote about this book on my blog).

The other was a novel  by Iris Murdoch titled "Jackson's Dilemma".

Having read it, I took "And there was Light" back to the Library on Aug 6th.

That day I also borrowed "Nothing Less Than War -  a new history of America's entry into World War  I"  -  a fabulous book written by a man I happened to know and like - Justus Doenecke.  Justus is a retired Professor of History at New College, Sarasota, FL - and a faithful worshipper at All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church on Longboat Key, FL

Yesterday I looked at the Library receipt for the Iris Murdoch book (which I had not begun to read).   Lord above, it was due back at the Library on July 29th.

In a trice I became that "anxious to please and  good little boy"who I knew some sixty years ago.

 That "anxious to please and  good little boy" drove himself to the Fruitville Branch of the library system soon after it opened for business this morning.

Cap in hand, and with a quiver on my lips I confessed my malfeasance to the librarian on duty , all the while clutching a few dollar bills in my left hand, ready to pay the fine without complaint.

She was bemused.(and maybe secretly amused).  She knew that I was confused.

With grace and care she pointed out that July 29th was the date on which I borrowed the book, not the date for its return.  Oh silly me.

With a view to my confusion, and with compassion for the forgetful elderly, she extended the "due back" date until August 30th.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Bush 43 / Obama 44 / Bush 41

I thought that I was right when I spoke against the invasion  of Iraq under President Dick Cheney -  ooops I meant President George W Bush.

That invasion was based upon manifest lies. It was supported by a supine press which toted the administration's propaganda as if it were the wisdom of the gods.

I still think that I was right.

I thought that I was right when I spoke in favour of President Obama's withdrawal of the American military presence in Iraq.

I know think that I was wrong.


Bush 43's neo-con inspired invasion, together with his arrogant post invasion policies (what's good for America is good for Iraq) led to the utter de-stabilization of Iraq.

Obama 44's premature withdrawal of the military, together with his na├»ve and apparently unconditional support of Nouri al-Maliki (who is "running" the country to the almost exclusive benefit of Shia Muslims), has led to yet more de-stabilization, cantonisation, and civil war. 

Did the political calculus never lead Bush 43 and Obama 44 to  have even a half-understanding that their policies would lead to Christian (and other religious minorities) being in peril of their lives.

I held no brief for Sadaam Hussein, who was no friend to the Shia and Kurdish populations. Yet under his iron fist the smaller religious minorities had a certain amount of protection and freedom to worship (provided that they toe'd the Baathist line).

In a like manner I hold no brief for the ghastly Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad.  But, like it or not the Christian minority in Syria felt relatively safe under his miserable Pax-Syria.


George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush 41) was mocked and vilified when, after assembling a true coalition which led to the Iraqi army being expelled from Kuwait, he (and General Colin Powell) refused to "chase the Iraqi Army all the way to Baghdad".

That decision was wise and smart. I think that Bush 41 was right.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Gadzooks - NO MORE MORBIER (tears) / FOOLED by a TAZO label

One of my favourite cheeses comes from France.  It is called Morbier
It is usually available at Whole Foods Market.
But not any more. 
According to the "Cheese Man" at Sarasota's Whole Foods  the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the importation of Morbier Cheese on the grounds that there are too many pathogens on the surface of this cheese. (I liked those pathogens!)
But a web search suggests that the makers of Morbier voluntarily recalled their cheeses.
"Whatever!"   I  miss my Morbier.
Said "Cheese Man" suggested an alternative - a Vermont made un-pasteurized cheese (name unknown) from Springbrook Farm:   see
It's a wonderful cheese - and I bought  a fifth of a pound.  That's all I could splurge on a Vermont Cheese which sells for $15.99 per lb.
I did so today.
I was at our local "Fresh Market" this afternoon and in my thirst I bought a 13.8 fluid oz. bottle of the TAZO brand  "brambleberry" drink for $1. (It was on sale). 
It looked so good.
Back at home I drank it, but I was strangely un-refreshed.
That's when I looked at the label.  'Twas  then that I realised that only 24% of this product was from "juice" and that the remaining fluid was mostly flavoured water. 
I also noted that the product contained 34 grams of sugars.
I thought that I was buying good juice.
 I discovered that in fact I had bought some "juiced up" water.
The label revealed just a wee bit of  "Brambleberry" (a.k.a. "Blackberry") concentrate which in part was mixed with Apple concentrate
Caveat Emptor

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

"And There Was Light" A remarkable book.

"And There Was Light" is the superb auto-memoir of Jacques Lusseyran's short (1924-1971) life.  I happened upon this book at my local Fruitville branch of the Sarasota County Library system, and read it with awe.  (It had been re-printed and re-issued by the New World Library in  March 2014).

Jacques was born to loving and intellectual Parisian parents. He sight was always poor and as a result of a tragic accident in school he was left blind at the age of eight.

This physical blindness led him to an almost mystical inner sight  (insight?) which was profound at spiritual, intellectual, and practical levels.

His book muses on life, on love, on loyalty, and on his sense of  God: all which led him to be an amazing, yeah even great,  leader in the French Resistance. 

It also tells of his betrayal (by  a devious collaborator who had joined the Resistance) and of the hell Lusseyran endured in the Buchenwald Concentration camp.

I am glad that I "happened" upon this moving and un-settling memoir which I finished yesterday, and I commend it to you. It is not easy reading

In another bit of happenstance I tuned into the 11:00 a.m. part of the Diane Rehm radio  show this morning.  (Diane is one of the few remaining American broadcasters who has integrity).

This morning she was having a conversation with the Amherst College (Amherst MA) Professor Ronald Rosbottom about his new book "When Paris Went Dark" - a stellar account of Paris during the WWII German occupation.

In the course of the programme Diane asked him about heroes of the Resistance.  Guess what?  He talked about Jacques Lusseyran - a man of whom I had never  heard until a few days ago when I read "And There Was Light". 

The colour green is significant as you will discover when you read the book.

Here is a "blurb" about Lusseyran's book:

Here is what Wikipedia says about him:

And here is your vital link to Diane Rehm's conversation with Ronald Rosbottom this morning.  Please take time out to listen to it.

(If you have never listened to Diane you will have questions about her voice, as I once did) .  Here is the scoop:

In 1998, Rehm’s career nearly ended because of spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological voice disorder that causes strained, difficult speech. Rehm sought treatment, returned to the show, and called attention to the condition. The National Council on Communicative Disorders recognized her work with a Communication Award, and ABC’s Nightline devoted an entire program to a conversation with Rehm about her disorder. Recently, she has been consuming a drink that has eased her symptoms, the recipe for which was recommended by her voice coach, Gary Catona.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

70 years on.

How things looked in 1944 and how they look today.  Hard to believe that it has been 70 years.
To get this link to work.  Left click, hold and drag your mouse gently from right to left on the original photo and it will become the exact same location today. Repeat the motion to take it back to the original.


Monday, 4 August 2014

A fatuous statement at a forum made my blood heat up (but not immediately boil)

Some time ago we were at one of those Church forums at which we heard a report about "life in the parish" - viz the parts of  congregational life which parishioners like and value; and the parts of that congregational life which give pause for thought.

We learned that on the whole roughly 80+% of our congregants value the music, the preaching, the liturgy and the outreach highly or very highly  -  and that they think that we do those things well.

(The pity was that the one hundred or so  parishioners who had  contributed their views had evidently  not been asked why they thought highly about these aspects of parish life. If they had been asked this it was not reported at the Forum).

None of these figures surprised me.  I think that they are typical for most congregations of whatever ilk.

In fact when I was the parish rector in four different congregations I had a theory which went like this:

  "In each of these congregations as many as 90% of the active worshippers would be more or less satisfied with my ministry. 

About 5% would think that I was the "best Rector ever" (these were the most dangerous. Their frustration and ire reached epic proportions when I failed go live up to their unrealistic expectations. They were often the first to leave the parish, but their initial praise had been  incredibly seductive!)

And about 5% believed that I was an utter disaster as their Rector, but they were ornery or stubborn or wise enough to stick it out, knowing that I would move on long before they did!"

So the reports I heard yesterday did not surprise me. Most congregations will fall into the 80/10/10% or 90/5/5% range.

The congregation in question is also proud of its self perception as being "inclusive". This perception was called into question at the Forum.  We were able to be honest and acknowledge  that this "so-called" inclusivity had simply to do with the fact that we have some gay and lesbian members who feel at home in the congregation.

That may be all  well and good, but as was pointed out by the Rector, this inclusivity is very narrow. In truth the congregation has very few congregants who are poor,  and next to none ( maybe five or six individuals) who are from racial or ethnic minorities, e.g  African American people,  Hispanic people,   Asian People, or Native American people.

We should have left it there!  We should have acknowledged that our primary ministry is with prosperous and middle class white people.  (They too need to hear the gospel message of repentance and faith!)

But we did not leave it there.  One  parishioner went on to say this (in so many words):

"Most of them (African Americans, Hispanics, Asians) do not have cars, so they cannot get to us".

As he said this my blood began to warm up. He was asserting that the parish has few minority members because "most of them do not have cars".

This is friggin' baloney. It's the kind of baloney which raises my blood temperature, for these and other reasons.

1 Who are "they/them"?  I believe that any statement that refers to others as they or them is inherently dangerous, and most often leads to a false , denigrating or dangerous stereotyping of any particular groups of people.

2 "Most of them do not have cars"   - this is utter nonsense, it is not true. I wish that the parishioner who made this fatuous statement could visit two churches within walking distance of my home. 

(a) The  "The Word of Life"  Church attracts very many African Americans. The parking lot is filled to overflowing most Sundays.

(b)  St. Jude's Catholic Church has a Mass in Spanish every Sunday afternoon. The parking lot is also  filled to overflowing most Sundays.

3.   Most African Americans live in Newtown - Sarasota's de-facto "Black district" (segregation lives). Newtown is 8.3 miles from the white, prosperous and middle class Church which was holding the forum..   If you  believe that "most of them do not have cars" - that might explain why African Americans are not flooding to worship with us!

4. Many Hispanic Americans live in the Kensington Park area of town. Kensington Park is about 10.3 miles from my parish Church.   If you  believe that "most of them do not have cars" - that might explain why Hispanics  are not flooding to worship with us.

Please enjoy my sarcasm. And please recognize the unconscious or ill-informed prejudices which lead to statements such as "most of them do not have cars".


So now I will allow my blood to boil in response to the fatuous statement at the forum.

It boils to the point where I assert this: "African Americans, and Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans, (and poor White Americans)  are not absent from the congregation because  most of them do not have cars".

Maybe this is why

 because our particular Episcopal form of worship is deeply rooted in an Anglo-American  culture which often has no vision beyond itself, and is mostly unwilling to learn from other cultures.

 because our parish membership (for good or ill) is utterly white and middle-class, and mostly wealthy.

 because few of we well meaning white liberals have dear and trusted friends from outside our safety zones: friends who we would invite to join us for dinner, or to a movie, or (gosh darn it)  to Church.

because they would never see people like themselves in the pews, or  in leadership ministries in our congregations.

because of our unconscious and ill-informed prejudices.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Fear of "The Homeless"


There are no homeless in Sarasota. But we have some homeless people.


I enjoyed a late lunch with good friends on Saturday.  We were in downtown Bradenton FL., alongside the Manatee River.  That part of town has been  renewed thanks to what is known as the River walk.  It's a very pleasant area, with some grand old buildings, good restaurants, and super views of the river.

We (four of us from Sarasota FL) commented favourably not only about the restaurant, but also about the pleasant neighbourhood.

One of our table party (a good friend who lives in Bradenton) said that she no longer visits downtown Sarasota because (in her mind)  it is not safe.

"Why is it not safe?" you may ask. My table friend (I like her very much) told us that on one occasion, after being at a Cinema on Main St. Sarasota,  she had been "pan-handled" by an aggressive vagrant -  therefore in her mind the area was unsafe.

(I held my tongue and forwent the opportunity to remind her that less than two weeks ago  a wonderful young eighteen years old woman had been shot and killed by a "drive-by" shooter as she left a Cinema in Bradenton).

My good friend went on to say that she will not use "your" (i.e. Sarasota's) parking garages because the homeless might be camped out there.

There is no evidence that this might be the case.

But "there is nothing to fear but fear itself", especially fear of the homeless.


I have a bias, based on a conviction, and rooted in knowledge and experience. It is this:

There are no "homeless".  There are some "homeless people".  I pray with some of them every week.


I chose not to enter into debate with my good friend.  That would not have been a good idea in a public place after a vodka and tonic and a fine meal.


I awoke this morning (Aug 3rd) with the Saturday conversation on my mind.

I recalled that in eight years I have been pan-handled only four times in downtown Sarasota. Two of these times the pan-handling was by a man ("Pops") who I knew from my ministry at Resurrection House (Sarasota's day-shelter for homeless people).  He was a charming rogue who knew that he was pushing his luck with me.

I also remembered my one and only unpleasant encounter in a Sarasota  parking garage (the one First Street),  after my visit to the Opera. 

This multistory garage is not well lit.   

As I was backing out of my parking space I heard the tooting of a car horn.  I  moved forward, even though I could not see another vehicle whose way I might have been blocking.

After a few seconds I began to back-out again. I heard the tooting car horn once more.

In order to be safe and not sorry I drove back into the parking space.

Evidently my "backing out" had interfered with the progress of another car which I had not seen.

Despite my caution, a well dressed (and seemingly middle class) man began to bang on my wind-shield and to yell at me.  (No harm had been done).

I opened my window and said (in a very soft voice) "yelling at me will not do any good".  The man an his partner (wife?) moved away.

My obvious conclusion is to say that:  "I am afraid of prosperous middle class people, so I will not  use  any of "our" parking garages". (lol).


Perception must be regularly checked, lest it become reality.

I am sorry that my good friend's perceptions of the dangers in downtown Sarasota have become her reality.