Saturday, 12 September 2015

Oh those chips! (french fries).

 I had lunch today with my friends Betty, Ben and Bob at our local secret gem "Alma's Kouzine".

Alma and her husband Benny are from Albania.  They are amongst the most friendly and welcoming restaurants you could hope to meet (as are their daughters, who work at weekend).

Alma's specialises in whole wheat Crepes -  with sweet or savoury fillings (all superb).

The menu also includes a wide array of Mediterranean dishes (wonderful Spinach pie), and some  all-American favourites.

Today I chose a Fish sandwich, with Chips.  It was a well seasoned bit of fish (of what species I do not know), about twice as long as the Hamburger bun on which it was served (with lettuce, tomato and onion).

But oh those chips!  You will remember then  from the olden days -  crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle.

I've not eaten chips since I was in the U.K. last year.   But I could not have broken my "chips/french fries fast" in any better way.  Oh those chips! 

Alma's Kouzine is open Tuesday through Sunday for breakfast and lunch.  Come October when the snow birds return,  the place will also be open for dinner.

It's BYOB, but there is no corkage charge.


http://www.almasrestaurant.com


In deference to my lunch time companions I sign off as

Bichael

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

On being welcomed (or not) by a Congregation (following up on my 360 Church experience)


I wrote this piece for  "The Vıntage Voice"  a newsletter which serves  The Church Pension Fund’s Family of Beneficiaries in  ■ April 2009  (I have edited it a bit for clarity)

I Was a Stranger 


 “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25: 35b)


In 1991, I was blessed to take a sabbatical leave from St. Stephen’s in Pittsfield, MA, where I was the rector. I hung my hat at St. Luke’s on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, GA, there to learn much about urban ministry. I also took three courses at the Interdenominational Centre at Atlanta University, a consortium of seminaries of historic black churches. My studies included courses on “Black People in the Bible” and “An Overview of Historic Black Churches,” as well as a terrific course on preaching taught by Dr. Henry Mitchell.

Dr. Mitchell was slated to preach one Sunday at Beulah Baptist Church in Decatur, so I took myself there to hear him. I arrived a bit late, wearing a clerical collar, as I had presided at the 8:00 a.m. Eucharist at St. Luke’s earlier that morning. We latecomers were held in a foyer whilst the minister prayed the long Pastoral Prayer. A member of the church approached me and said, “When this prayer is ended, you will go up onto the platform and join the other ministers.” I protested, saying that I’d be happy to sit with the congregation. She fixed me with “a look” and said, “When this prayer is over, you will go up to the platform and join the other ministers.” I knew better than to fight with a “mother of the Church.”

The senior pastor welcomed me and found out a little bit about me during the hymn which followed the Pastoral Prayer. At announcement time, he introduced me as if I were a long-lost friend of the church, which was true so far as he was concerned. And, of course, I was smothered with welcomes at the fellowship hour after service.

As I drove home, all I could think was, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” I resolved to “go and do likewise.”

Thereafter, whenever I spotted a cleric during the Eucharist, I would, at the Peace, ask her or him to join me and the other ministers at the Lord’s Table for the Great Thanksgiving.

I never asked once about denominational affiliation, for that seemed irrelevant. The late Bishop Alexander Stewart of Western Massachusetts was once asked if a Presbyterian minister might join in the laying on of hands at the ordination of a priest. “Certainly” he said. “He cannot take anything away, and he will probably add something.” I felt that way when Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostal ministers joined me at the altar.

In June 2006, I retired from my cure at St. James’s, Cambridge, MA, and moved to Sarasota in southwest Florida. With the admonition of Bishop Gayle Harris of Massachusetts not to “re-engage too quickly” in my mind, I remained anonymous for the first year. I would “do the 8:00 creep” and slip into a parish at 7:59 a.m., leaving immediately after receiving communion. But the time came when I was refreshed and ready to engage in some more parish ministry.

I knew that the Diocese of Southwest Florida is awash with retired clerics, and I also suspected that this is not always good news for “retirement dioceses.” So I was joyfully surprised when Bishop Dabney T. Smith welcomed me with open arms and a warm heart, and promptly licensed me to officiate. I was also greatly surprised by the warmth of the welcome I received from local rectors.

There is a wonderful spirit of welcoming collegiality in this neck of the Episcopal woods. That welcoming spirit is generally present in congregations where I have been asked to supply.

At one, I posed as a stranger and attended a week early “in civvies” to spy out the land.
With a bit of reverse class prejudice, I had thought that this congregation in the wealthiest area near Sarasota would be cold and stuffy. Not a bit of it. I discovered instead a warm, joyous, and welcoming people.

There have been a couple of exceptions. In one parish, the usher was engaged in conversation with two parishioners and handed me a bulletin without even looking at me.

In another, a woman grabbed my arm and steered me to the guest book with the words, “Our Rector tells us that we must get visitors to sign this.”  ( I was being welcomed because of the fiat of the Rector, not because of the hospitality of the congregation!)

This stranger has mostly been welcomed indeed.

But, of course, hospitality is about more than the friendliness of the congregation and rector. There are other ways in which we offer visitors the gift of welcome.

It does not help when the bulletin announces something such as, “If you want to help with the chicken barbecue, please see Fred.” A visitor doesn't know a thing about Fred, and the absence of a last name and phone number makes it clear that the announcement is for the “in crowd.”

And I have found that congregations have their own little ceremonies, e.g., holding hands when singing a favorite song, which means nothing to strangers and will leave them feeling left out.

It’s good to explain these ceremonies for the benefit of visitors. And I’ll be didactic by adding, “Don’t tell people where coffee hour takes place. Nominate a parishioner each week to take visitors to coffee.”

Welcome does not end after the service has begun.

It also helps to create a spirit of welcome if preachers do not launch into their sermon before the congregation has had a chance to be seated. There is no hurry, and it’s so comforting to members and visitors alike to be given a moment to settle into the pew before the sermon begins.

The same holds true regarding the administration of Communion. Sometimes the lines lag, and some good person will rush to the rail sensing that the Communion ministers are in a hurry. In one parish, a Sunday or two ago, an older parishioner using a walker was trying to walk full tilt to the rail. I whispered, “Don’t hurry; I’m not going anywhere.” I wanted him to be as relaxed at the Lord’s Table as I am.

 I conclude by noting that I've driven home from four of the five parishes that I have visited in Southwest Florida with Jesus’ words in my ears and heart. For that, Bishop Smith should be glad. ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧


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Since 2009 when I wrote the above I have come to understand two other ways by which visitors may feel less than welcomed.

1.  When we (in the Episcopal Church) greet one another at what we call "The Peace", many parishioners skitter around the Church to greet their "best friends" and favourite parishioners.  

This sends out a subliminal message to our guests, viz:  "The in-group is more important to us than are our guests and visitors".  ( I felt this way when I was all but ignored at the 360 Church last Sunday).

2.  When the ministers at Communion offer the bread and wine to a parishioner and use that person's first name ( e,g.  "Michael, the Body of Christ", or "Michael, the Blood of Christ") it may well be a personalised "good feeling" moment;  but it is hardly welcoming to the first time visitor whose name is unknown to the minister. (Once again it gives the subliminal message that "we know our friends, so we use their first name, but we do not know you".  That's not good welcoming.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Two timing on the Episcopal Church (attending a 360 Church)

 I goofed off from the Episcopal Church yesterday (6th September 2015) and attended the 360 Church in Sarasota.

This Church meets in a warehouse building at the intersection of McIntosh and Ashton Roads in SRQ

I wanted to find out more about one of the many new and growing  non-denominational congregations which are present throughout the United States (and most likely in countries such as the U.K., Canada, Australia etc)

You can read about 360 Church here   http://www.the360church.com

The 360 Church movement is an outgrowth of YWAM  (Youth With A Mission) an organisation which is well known amongst fundamentalist and evangelical Christians  in the U.S.A.

360 Church believes that relationships should be at the heart of the Christian life. It is a congregation with many small groups, known (in this Twitter age)  as @groups, small groups in which relationships in Christ can be fostered and grown.

The service began with music led by a praise band (they were good), and words projected on to two large screens.  The first two songs had texts which were repetitious and not very engaging. (such is the case with many "praise songs").  The thirds song was one which I recognised from my Evangelical up-bringing

"Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow".

(That song has been my ear worm du jour).

There were no bibles or hymn books on the seats, every text was projected.

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The Pastor (Steve) was away, so the service was led by the youth Pastor (Clay). No other person spoke. The only woman on the platform was a singer in the Praise Band.

Pastor Clay's sermon was accompanied by many visuals, which we could see on the screen.  His "message" was about "Identity Theft", based on the biblical  story in which Jacob stole his brother Esau's birthright.

He had a folksy/funky style, with some self-deprecating humour, but  with  too many reference to his wife for  my liking (his wife was in the congregation with no right of reply), (and a frequent use of the word "weird"). 

He related that in the biblical story Jacob's name meant "trickster", but his name was changed to Israel, meaning "Prince with God". (He stole an identity, but God gave him a new one).

The central point was that sin has robbed us of our identity, but that Jesus can change us from tricksters into princes. 

How is that possible?   Pastor Clay said "that it is on the cross that God's perfect justice was satisfied". 

So far, so good I suppose, but I was disturbed by the under-lying theme of his message that we are never good enough for God  even after we are "saved". We are always and ever God's naughty children.

(I grew up in the Evangelical tradition, and I will for ever be grateful that it introduced me to Jesus Christ.   But that tradition led me to believe that as a gay man I could never be good enough for God).

If it is true that in the Evangelical Church tradition we are always God's naughty children, it is also true that in the Liberal Church tradition we are always God's spoiled brats,  (always loved but never called to accountability for our sins and failures.)

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It is hard to enter a new Church for the first time.

 When I arrived at the parking lot for 360 Church my first instinct was to turn around and go home. 

I persisted.

As I entered the main door I was greeted with a smile, but without a handshake.

When I entered the Foyer I was shocked to encounter an off-duty Sarasota County Sheriff's Deputy, present for security. "Security in a Church?!"

I entered the "worship area. 

 The two screens proclaimed "sit with your @group". 

 That was a most unfriendly greeting for a visitor who was not a member of an @group.

 My question was "what is an @group, and were do I sit since I am not a member of such a group?"

 In the end I sat at the end of a row. Four people moved in front of me to take their places in my row, with never a word of greeting.

One young couple took their places in the row behind me.  As they passed the man squeezed my shoulder and said "hi there".  I was startled, thinking that maybe we had met before.  That was not the case.  He and his partner never spoke to me again.

At the 360 Church version of passing the peace Pastor Clay said "run towards someone you have met before".    A young woman who was seated to my right ran right by me to greet someone else!  Was I invisible?

At the end of his message Pastor Clay announced that we were about to enter a period of "worship". 
He said that the lights would be lowered and that the praise band would play.

He said that for this "worship"  we should gather together with our @groups. 

That's when I left.  How could I feel at home in this congregation when I was not part of an @group?

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We Episcopalians are often self critical about the ways in which we do or do not "welcome the stranger".  That self-criticism is valid and necessary.

We have no right to take ourselves off the hook, but neither should we kid ourselves into believing that Evangelical/Fundamentalist Churches have perfected the art of welcoming.

I felt very much left out at 360 Church in SRQ on 6th September 2015,






Sunday, 6 September 2015

When Churchill and Roosevelt betrayed a nation.

Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud are the authors of "A Question Of Honor  The Kosciuszko Squadron" *'Forgotten Heroes Of World War II *  (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).

It is a thrilling and disturbing book.

It was not only Britain which, according to Churchill "shall never surrender".

The Polish Government and Military never surrendered to N-zi Germany or Soviet Russia.

Poland was the only German occupied State where no citizen of any stripe was found to become a Quisling, a N-azi Puppet Ruler.

It was Polish cryptographers who had enabled and provided the initial information for cracking Enigma.

Scores of thousands of Polish soldiers, sailors and pilots escaped Poland to join the fight against tyranny.

The Polish fighter pilots in exile became renowned for their skill and bravery.  R.A.F. pilots had much to learn from them.

Of the "few" who defended my native Island in the Battle of Britain none were more valiant or successful than the Poles.  I quote from the book "The presence of 142 well trained,combat-experienced Poles - 76 of them in British Squadrons, 66 in the two all Polish Squadrons -- proved critical".

Hugh Dowding, former head of Fighter Command,  commented thus after the Battle of Britain: "Had it not been for the magnificent [work of] the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the battle would have been the same".

When the war in Europe began to turn in the Allies favour it was the Polish  Fighter Pilots who developed the most successful strategy to escort and defend the lumbering B-17 "Flying Fortresses" -  so much so the the U.S. Army Air Forces requested that all the R.A.F pilots should adopt the Polish ways.

Poles were no less courageous on the ground.  It was the Polish Infantry who "took"  (with great losses) the German defences on Monte Cassino.  It was the Polish infantry who liberated many of the towns and cities on Italy's east coast right up to Bologna.

Yet for all this, and despite all of Churchill's rhetoric, he and Roosevelt betrayed the Polish Nation and people at the Tehran and Yalta Conferences.

Both were very tired, and Roosevelt was very sick by the time of Yalta.  Both had  arrogant estimations of their own abilities, and both failed either to read, or to comprehend the briefings their staff had so carefully prepared.

Roosevelt cozied up to "Uncle Joe".  In their eyes there was no "big three" (Church, Stalin and Roosevelt)  -  they alone were the "Big Two".

In the Yalta talks F.D.R.conceded east Poland to the Soviets, accepting  a disgraceful boundary known as the * Curzon line.

He (F.D.R.)  trusted that Joseph Stalin, a comrade in arms, would be a man of his word: viz that Poland, east of the Curzon line would be incorporated into Russia,  and that Poland, west of the Curzon line would be a free and independent country.

Churchill concurred.

Surely he and FDR knew that Uncle Joe had designs on the whole of Poland. Surely they understood that Stalin's word was not to be trusted.  Surely they knew that they were abandoning Poland.

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Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia were also abandoned and betrayed.

But the most ignoble betrayal was that of Poland.

That nation and people deemed worthless by H-tler and Stalin;

that nation for whom Great Britain had declared war on Germany;

that nation of cultured and courageous citizens;

that nation which had given so much for the cause of the Allies was clearly and knowingly  handed into the violent and cruel hands of the Soviets.

On the V.E. day parade in London soldiers, sailors, airmen from the many nations of the western alliance marched past the King and Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

No Polish combatants were invited to join that parade, for fear of offending Josef Stalin. 

WSC and FDR had betrayed and abandoned Poland.


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*  I can understand why Churchill and Roosevelt would not wish to prolong the European War, with the Pacific War yet to be won. They and their peoples were war- weary.  


What I cannot fathom is why they put up no more than token resistance to Stalin's bullying, or why Churchill on February 27th 1945  said (of the Soviets)  to the House of Commons "I feel that their words is their bond" I know of no other government which stands to its obligations..more solidly than the Russian Soviet government". He knew that was not the case.


*  The most passionate defence of the Poles in the House of Commons that day came from a Conservative M.P. with the name of Lord Dunglass. (He was not a Peer, but  he held an honorary title since he had not  yet inherited his father's Peerage). Lord Dunglass later inherited the peerage, and then renounced it  so that he could   serve in the House of Commons as the Prime Minister. British people know him  best as Sir. Alec Douglas Hume. See *** (2)


* The post World War II Labour Government under Clement Atlee was of a mind to repatriate the Polish fighters to Soviet dominated Poland.  The R.A.F High Command interceded with very strong language. That intercession was at first rejected by the Labour  Government which placed great pressure on the Poles to go "home".  In the end less than 20% of the Polish military returned to Poland, and bowing to the inevitable, the Labour Government set up a Polish Resettlement Corps in mid-1946.


* We must thank N-zi propaganda for the notion that that Poles were poor fighters. The propagandists were given leverage when, early in the German invasion, a Polish Cavalry Unit, on routine patrol, "happened upon"  the advancing Panzer Divisions.  That gave birth to the myth, strongly promulgated by Herr Goebbels, (and believed by many in the west to this very day), that the Polish Military was inept and weak. 


*  Despite the vicious N-zi regime in Poland,  the underground created a Relief Council for Polish Jews. After the war this Council was one of only three organisations to be  recognised by the Holocaust Memorial ( Vad Vashem) in Israel for rescuing Jews.   Of the 19.000 individuals honoured by Israel for rescuing Jews, nearly a third are Poles. 


It is estimated that despite all odds, some 40,000 Jews were saved by Poles.  It's a tiny fraction of those who perished, but as a former Vad Vashem official said  (book page 209) "This is no doubt a tiny percentage of prewar Jewry..but nonetheless, it's a glorious human achievement.


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*  With all this in mind, please do not refer to "dumb Polaks", and do not tell Polish jokes. If you choose to so do I will hit you on the head with the 495 page book:-


 "A Question Of Honor  The Kosciuszko Squadron" *'Forgotten Heroes Of World War II *  (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).


* Don't risk being hit over the head.  Instead, buy the book (or borrow it from your local Library), and read it.

It will help you to:

1)  Gain a new and respectful understanding of the people of Poland.


2) Understand that Roosevelt and Churchill were great leaders - with feet of clay. Unrestrained hagiographies of these men are dangerous.


3) The true winner of WW II in eastern  Europe was none other than "Uncle Joe".








* See (1)  re Curzon line   http://www.polishgreatness.com/curzonline.html

*** (2)  See  re Lord Dunglass http://www.theguardian.com/politics/1995/oct/10/obituaries