Saturday, December 24, 2011

Are we there yet? I think we are!

What an interesting Christmas Eve! After the children's Nativity Play we returned home to cook dinner, and realised that Moose (five-year-old black Labrador) was anything but well. To cut long story short dinner was abandoned and the family have taken him to the Emergency Room at Riverhead Animal Hospital. I await news, even as I prepare to return to church for the final preparations for the late mass. Not the best of starts for the celebration of the Incarnation. Poor Moosie!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bethlehem Minus One, and Counting ...

I began last Sunday’s sermon by asking: Does it feel like Christmas yet? And here in the Lewis house it certainly does. Even twenty-four hours makes a difference. Yes, the decorations have been up a week now (although yesterday I felt the need to hang more baubles on my Italian-style garland) and cards are being opened by the dozen every day. But now there are culinary signs: bottles of wine and cognac, lists of cheeses ordered for the morrow, the promise of fresh salmon for the Christmas Eve dinner (wrapped with béchamel sauce in filo pastry) and the delivery of flowers for Kate from her God-mother. Yes, it feels like Christmas today, even if tomorrow, liturgically, we go through the motions of the last day of Advent. And rightly so. The Offices will ground me in that tradition.

In the meantime I have spent three hours wrapping gifts and stocking-fillers (US: Stocking-stuffers) and, as I posted on Facebook, amazed myself in doing all of this before Christmas Eve, possibly for the first time ever!

And I am excited. Why. Because I am looking forward to tradition. And about that I will write a great deal more

Thursday, December 22, 2011

BETHLEHEM MINUS TWO, AND COUNTING … Leading to a Complaint Against Some Clergy

In accord with tradition and demand my shopping list for food and drink is on the way to being completed. Checked off. Done. Whatever word or phrase you choose to use. Yet it’s more than Christmas Day. For the second year we are gunning for a Boxing Day party. Last year we had invited some thirty people, but when we woke up on the morning of the 26th we took one look at the weather forecast and decided that we ought to tell those guests to stay at home. Notwithstanding, Messrs Fred and Bob showed up mid-afternoon, brushed a few inches of snow off their shoulders and declared, “It’s just a flurry!” They left three hours later, full and (very) happy.

No, this year’s intended party is bigger, and given both the benign weather forecast and the response to the invitations, it is live and huge. We expect over fifty people. I can’t wait! My cook and catering alter ego is already taking over. There is a battle plan, and it will be so much fun. I will write about the food in a later post.

With twenty-four hours to go until Christmas Eve, and the beginning of the princess of festivals (Easter being the Queen) I am personally content and spiritually happy about this celebration. Yet I have two subjects about which, before this season of goodwill truly kicks in, I wish to sound off.

The first is Christmas cards, and to be precise, photo-cards. Once upon a time I resisted these, thinking that they were too secular. But I have mellowed and adapted, and have grown to appreciate them. As a family we now embrace this form of Yuletide greeting. But! And it’s a serious “but” or objection. To all of those people who create and send these cards: May we please see a photo of all the family. Please? Christmas is not about our children but rather about all of us as a family.

My second bugaboo, which oscillates between irritation and actually being rather cross, is the class of clergy who, on Facebook or other social media, complain of being busy, even over-worked at Christmas. Those posts about the number of services, the production of service bulletins, and the “Oh! I can’t wait until Christmas afternoon, etc.”

Guess what, guys? Don’t be so bloody pathetic. It’s not only what we do – it’s what we are called to do. I may write and sound like an old ordained fart, but I still recall my curacy, twenty five years ago, and the twenty-plus services over three days, bringing carols and sacramental grace to old and young, churched and un-churched. Stop bleating and start posting stuff that doesn’t draw attention to you! No one, in the real world, is in the least bit interested!

Now, about this coming party…

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cutting Comments

Haircut day, and since Leo has completely disappeared into the Russian mists (or more likely permanently moved to his condominium in Miami Beach) I now drive to Sag Harbor, where April opened her barber shop some five years ago. She first cut my hair ten years ago when I had just moved to this area and she and her father ran the barbers in Jobs Lane, Southampton. Cruelly increasing rent forced them out, but eventually they found a new opportunity where they now are. Even in Sag Harbor they battle rent increases, interestingly enough by Chinese conglomerates who apparently own more and more commercial real estate in the East End of Long Island.

Today was a real treat in that the father, Charlie (the original “Choppin’ Charlie”) was there to cut my hair. April had decided to take a day off, and so her father had stepped in. The phrase is “slow precision.” With great conversation. Plus clergy discount. And the best of haircuts!

Bethlehem Minus Four, and Counting …

Hear we are, December 20th, and once again I have failed to pay attention to the traditional calendar of the Church. For we have already reached the mid-point of the O! Antiphons (which began on December 17th,) and I forgot all about them. Ancient sentiments, praising the names of Jesus and reflecting the messianic prophecies of the prophets of Israel, their origins are rooted in the Middle Ages but their words are none the less potent today. And today’s Antiphon is:

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens. Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Yet my mundane mind is cluttered with less prophetic things such as Kate’s school concert, the continuing basketball season, the re-wiring of some tree lights and the menu for our Boxing Day “open house.” And I have just read the Christmas Message from the Presiding Bishop and feel once again that the cosmic power and glories of the Incarnation have been reduced to a welfare and social action agenda.

O! Dear.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bethlehem Minus Five, and Counting…

I am exhausted today. Monday is usually my day off and today was no exception, but the final items necessary for this family feast called Christmas had to be addressed. Plus the routine tasks that every family demands. My weekly trip to the dump. (For UK readers that is the “skip.” The local recycling center for glass, cardboard, cans and paper.) Then the grocery shopping, and a visit to the vet to pick up some phenobarbitol for Bela, our epileptic, abandoned-adopted cat. How many other local clergy get to pick up a controlled substance every few weeks? I’d rather not know!

There is certainly a seasonal excitement in the air. While in the Bridgehampton Commons I called by the “bird store” to wish Michael Mackay a very happy Christmas. Michael not only is the morning presenter on WPPB, our local public radio station, but also a devout Roman Catholic and a cantor at the Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary in Southampton. We mused for a while that apart from the obvious fact that Mary and Joseph were there, the primary witnesses to the birth of our Lord were animals. Yet let’s be realistic. Even the Victorian carol In the Bleak Mid-winter’s line, “The ox and ass and camel which adore,” was only two-thirds correct. There were no camels in Bethlehem.

I have baked a cake with five dried fruits and mixed spices. It is only seven inches in diameter (unlike my mother’s huge Christmas cakes) but now drenched in a certain holy spirit and wrapped, I will ice it on Christmas Eve and maybe find a traditional decoration or two. A snowman or candy holly sprig. Who knows?

And I have learned a new word today. “Giftables.” Heard in a conference call in a local retail store. Hmm. What does that actually mean? Can it improve the Epiphany scriptures?

And they opened their giftables of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As if to balance the somewhat western expressions of the birth of Christ, I am reading All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer (Wiley 2003.) It was a gift to my late and dear friend, (U.S. Ambassador) Heyward Isham, and inscribed:

With admiration to another world citizen. Best wishes, Stephen Kinzer.

And it is a brilliant description of how the present stresses, strains and alleged threats in Iran are entirely of America’s making and engineering.

In the beginning was the word…

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thoughts Delivered on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2011

Does it feel like Christmas yet?

It does! Even though, as Andy Williams once sang and wished, there’s not yet much mistletoeing, hearts are not yet glowing, and loved ones are not yet near. Thank God! I hear some say.

It may feel like Christmas in the stores and on the streets, but in church? Can we be “of good cheer?” There are no signs of decorations, but the candle posts are a hint of things to come! So are the readings. The Gospel reading in particular.

For these verses from Luke’s Gospel, traditionally called the Annunciation, or Announcing. A divine message given to a young girl, and her response. It is a pivotal moment, and a poetic moment - a story that is both moving and mysterious.

A church hymn of the early fourth century sang:

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the God-bearer:
"Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!"

And so, given the beginning of a new story, and the expectation (literally!) that fills the air, I think it only right to announce that Christmas may now enter our hearts and lives.

Mary’s life had been quiet up to that moment. The moment when she received a message.

What was that scene really like? How did the angel Gabriel appear to Mary?

For two thousand years we have used our imaginations. We have painted, sculpted, engraved, carved and sung about the angel’s visit – and it’s all wonderful fun. So much interpretation and variety – but let’s not take any of it too seriously. Most of these images and ideas belong in Renaissance Europe and not in First Century Palestine. So let’s forget the wings and the haloes!

Mary had an encounter with an angel. An angelos. (Masculine, singular.) A messenger.

And that angelos/messenger would have looked quite normal, like you or me (if that is normal) – but his message was anything but normal.

You will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

All of a sudden normality has disappeared, for the significance of this meeting has now become apparent. This is now God’s act. God’s decision. God’s plan to enter into the world and change things forever. For life and faith would never be the same again.

Yet it took a human response to make all this happen. The response of an eighth grade girl who said “yes,” knowing the consequences of her decision. For she risked shame, humiliation and death by stoning.

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

This is the traditional image of a servant, echoing the verses of Psalm 123:

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the LORD our God,
until he show us his mercy.

There is so much to do these next seven days. For Christmas comes but once a year, but it always takes us by surprise! And in church and out of church we are preparing for a day, a time, a season of celebration – and yet a time of personal, thoughtful reflection.

For we do more than celebrate a birth of child in humble surroundings, powerful though this event was. We consider our response to God’s astonishing act.

For if an angel (an angelos/a messenger) gives us a message that we know to be divine and in need of an answer, and we are asked to do something that involves obedient risks - what answer do we give?

Will it be that of Mary?

Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess's
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do--
Let all God's glory through,
God's glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

As we now enter the Christmas season we are given the story, the question and the answer. That is why it is the most wonder-full time of the year!

Bethlehem Minus Six, and Counting ...

For reasons of time and family I’ve missed a couple of beats on this countdown. But does it really matter? My personal countdown to Christmas seems to be out of synch with most others anyway, the most authoritative being the Christmas tree stand in Bridgehampton whose sign today announced that there were seven days to Christmas. I suppose that in most ways they are correct. My stubborn calculations are founded on the Judaeo- Christian tradition that believes that a feast begins at sundown the evening before the actual date. But who am I to prevaricate?

I suppose that I am also guilty of supporting the belief that Jesus was born at night – the night of the Holy Family’s arrival at the City of David. The Gospel of Luke is unspecific, except to assert that they (Joseph and Mary) had been in Bethlehem for a while, maybe a week or two.

This idea of a late night arrival has created an entire culture in itself. Art , drama and music has echoes the romance of this scene down the ages. But our common and cultural enjoyment is not based on the scriptures but on a second century spiritual novel that goes by the name of the Gospel of James. It is there, and only there, that we read of Mary giving birth at night.

So the date of the actual birth celebration is moveable – especially if you are a Christian of the Orthodox spirituality. This column would therefore be entitled: Bethlehem Minus Nineteen.

I "like" this

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bethlehem Minus Eight, and Counting …

The forecast rain had held off, and so yesterday afternoon provided my with a chance to complete what has evolved into a family tradition since we first moved in to our house in 2002. The tradition of “Dad Putting up the Outdoor Lights.” The family laughs at me, they tease me – but then they put pressure on me when not so much as a single bulb has been set in place by the end of the first week of December.

It all began in December 2002 when we bought a large illuminated grazing deer which, on account of the motor and piston within, silently moved its head up and down as if feeding on vegetation. Perhaps we also bought a string or two of colored bulbs as well that year, I really can’t remember. What I do recall is that by the next year a second deer had appeared, and numerous strings and mats of many lighted colors were in place mid-way through Advent. Let’s now call it the “glittery slope!” Every year saw the stock of decorations increase. Snowmen, penguins, bears. Then a lobster in 2007. Striped candy canes, a Dickensian lamp post with flickering light; a spiral Christmas tree – and even another deer! And hundreds of yards more strings of all colors.

A rod for my own back? Perhaps, but once in the mood great fun – and a challenge to arrange them differently every year. This year’s addition is a cluster of flashing bells over the front door, and a star fixed on a tree at a height of fifteen feet. Problems have already occurred. Last night’s wind blew over a penguin, a candy cane has failed and stubbornly refuses diagnosis, and we have been reminded not to plug in the vacuum cleaner while the decorative lights are on. The fuse will blow!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gentle and Inspiring

Bethlehem Minus Nine, and Counting...

On a day such as today when the stores are not calling me to spend more, and the grey skies compel us to stay indoors, it would be an ideal opportunity to be creative and think on matters spiritual for the coming Sunday and the feast that is getting closer. But interrupting phone calls are stranger than usual; in a basement on the church campus there is a feral cat hiding, refusing to move; it is rumored that a person (nameless) is unscrewing the external light bulbs at night to prevent glare; the complaints about last Sunday’s music continue to flow (I find it hard to disagree) and still the odd requests of strangers are being heard. Is there a service Christmas afternoon? No, there never has been. Can I deliver Christmas leftovers to the Food Pantry after lunch? Are you kidding? Is there Sunday School at the Midnight Mass? What? No comment.

I would much rather turn my thoughts to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the distractions are humorously overwhelming. Those words will come in their own time. I am reminded of Gabriel’s message to Mary: For with God nothing will be impossible. Except, that is, a Christmas afternoon service, and ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bethlehem Minus Ten, and Counting ...

If the truth be known Advent calendars are a dangerous distraction this season. Decembers, certainly my Decembers, would not be the same without them, but they can lull the window-opener into a false sense of security. Because they, sorry – we – are counting up. Whereas we ought to be counting down. The dawning knowledge that there are only ten days until Christmas Eve is a stark reminder of how little time we, sorry – I – have left.

A distant Facebook friend commented this week that she wishes that there were more days in Advent in order to get the tasks done and the lists fulfilled. She was clearly born after her time, for there was once a six week Advent. In the fifth century the season of preparation began on the 11th of November, St Martin’s Day, and it was a time of abstinence and fasting. The four week Advent was not introduced until the following century, and by then the notion of fasting had been dropped. Still, even six weeks would produce a clutch of complainers that there aren’t enough Sundays in the season.

For many years I have organized my domestic Christmas tasks and intentions using two sheets of paper and a stub of a pencil. This may seem ridiculous when my Blackberry controls all other aspects of my calendar week, but I have learned that the pencil is mightier than the small keyboard when walking at speed between stores and car.

Today I am pleased. Over three-quarters of the items on the first piece of paper have been checked off. These are Christmas gifts and reminders. The second page is for Christmas food, but that is another subject for another day. Suffice to say I have today ordered a crown roast of lamb.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thoughts for Gaudete Sunday, Advent III, 2011

Like me, many this morning are thinking: O no, it’s John the Baptist again! And this happens every year on the second and third Sundays of Advent. Congregations are filled with kind forbearance as rectors and vicars all over the Anglican world grit their teeth and resist the temptation to repeat the theme or even the sermon - again and again.

And there’s no getting away from the fact that of all figures in Advent John the Baptist seems to occupy a disproportionate amount of time and space. Only the voice (and not the personality) of Isaiah takes up more page space. But Isaiah didn’t dress in wild animal skins tied with a leather belt (well, for all we know) so he doesn’t interest us that much as a person.

So what to do with the liturgical challenge that John the Baptist is still on our church calendar seven days after he first made an appearance? Perhaps we ought to approach this odd, prophetic figure in a different way.

The world of art may shed some new light on John, but apart from Caravaggio’s wonderful series of seven (or is it eight?) paintings of the Baptist (and I highly recommend that you try to stand in front of an original at some point. Most are in Italy but here is one in Kansas City!) … Apart from these works there is little of inspiration. And even Caravaggio paints himself into his work – just as many bible commentators write themselves into their work. So where are we to go next? Surely not Titian, whose portrayal of John the Baptist is the most camp I have ever seen him! And the head and shoulders of John by Leonardo de Vinci shows the baptizer making what appears to be a very rude gesture. I can’t and won’t show it in the pulpit but it is known on many streets as the Bronx Salute!

To talk about, to think about John the Baptist for a second time involves returning to the text of scripture, and reading it carefully, noting not what we think it says but what it actually says.

Last Sunday we listened to the description of the Baptist’s and his words in Mark’s Gospel. It was primarily a message of repentance and preparation. But today we move to another set of words, another description, another insight. Today we are in John’s Gospel.

No mention of repentance. No judgmental words. Not even a graphic description of John. In fact in this gospel narrative John the Baptist is defined not by what he was – but by what he wasn’t.

He was not the light. (But came to bear witness to the light.)
He was not the Messiah.
He was not Elijah.
He was not the prophet.

And the professional clergy and theologians were puzzled but, giving him the benefit of the doubt, invited him to say who and what he was.

And then he quoted Isaiah. Not the judgment words of Isaiah but the clear call that something was about to happen. The statement that God was on the move. The clarion call to look put! Things were about to change.

A mystical, echoing pronouncement. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’

That’s no message of judgment. There’s no fire and brimstone. But there’s power and mystery and… the message of Advent has now changed.

The old Church traditions of preaching and prayer in Advent followed the guidelines of focusing on Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgment. Awkward and uncomfortable though these topics are in the build-up to Christmas, they also do not serve the seasonal bible readings very well.

Because the inspired scriptures and the story and teaching line that lead us through this season of Advent are much more nuanced and instructive than we may think.

We have now left behind the bumpy judgmental road. I hope that we have taken it to heart, difficult though it is. Now we enter something quite different. The Advent mood has changed. Now it’s ethereal. Enigmatic. Forward-looking, with a sense of celebration yet to come.

Although tradition allows, I am not wearing my rose-pink chasuble today, Advent 3, “Gaudete-Rejoice Sunday.” My vestment is looking too old, but the pink stole can be seen upon the altar. But the old, old custom of marking the change of Advent mood by a temporary change of church color makes so much sense. It reminds us that our journey continues. But now in a different way, and with a new idea.

We’ve spent two Advent Sunday’s being encouraged to look at ourselves. This John the Baptist is now telling us: Look away from me. Look away from your past. Look away even from yourselves. And see who is coming.

O come, O come, Emmanuel! Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts Delivered on Advent Sunday 2011

There are some places in my life that are very important to me. Places where I grew up. Places of which I have special memories. Places which are in themselves milestones along my journey of faith. And many of these places are churches.

The church of St Mary Magdalene, Himbleton, was the church of my rural boyhood and where my father was rector for many a year.

Worcester Cathedral was where I attended school.

St David’s Roman Catholic cathedral in Cardiff, Wales, was three minutes walk from my place of work, and there I would often go to read and pray at lunchtimes.

And there are others, in England, Wales and France. And when I return to these places I always revisit these churches out of a sense of reconnecting with the past and gaining a sense of assurance that these places are still there. And while they are still there then all is well with the world. Even the knowledge from afar that they remain, stone upon stone, can be a source of comfort.

I call these places emotional and traditional anchors. Places that have shaped me and supported me mentally and spiritually over the years, and without which my life would be poorer. And who knows, without them I may not be standing here today.

We all need these anchors, and this is a time of year when that need seems to grow and amplify. Those little traditions, those memories, those objects of solace that make the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas all the more poignant and special.

It may be a family ritual or activity; a food or drink; a card or letter received (I now must include email and text and tweets!) A thought, a piece of music, things shared or things deeply personal.

Should you ask: My favorite Christmas traditions are the putting up of the outdoor lights, and the tree. Always the tree. And sitting before that tree very late on Christmas Eve (or is it very early on Christmas Day?) musing. And my favorite Thanksgiving tradition, in between all that cooking, is watching the National Dog Show!

The power of these traditional anchors at this time of year cannot be under-estimated, and certainly never undervalued. Which is one reason the marketers and retailers bombard us with their own versions of a traditional holiday season. Yet theirs is a different set of values. And theirs is a different season.

We call this season Advent. Literally adventus. The Coming. Four weeks of anticipation when traditionally… Well, what tradition?

For approaching Advent with a fresh and open mind we may experience a shock to the system. For there are no notes of comfort here, neither gentle assurance and harmony – but rather a sense of disturbance and even discord.

Isaiah sets the tone this morning with a clear appeal for God to begin a campaign of volatile disruption.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…

Wait a second! There was no mention of that in the Macy’s Day Parade! And yet Isaiah continues:

We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Imagine writing that on the inside of a Christmas card!

St Mark’s Gospel takes up the very same theme:

The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Whatever happened to a White Christmas?

The scriptures that lead us from Advent Sunday through Christmas are always at variance with the holiday culture and expectations that we have created, and with which we have wrapped this most powerful of celebrations. Yet we protect our traditional anchors, forgetting that they are human products, not God’s. And they are temporary.

I began by mentioning a few churches that have nurtured me in different ways. The prelude to this morning’s gospel reading was the scene where one of Jesus’ disciples comments on the beauty of the temple building, and received a stinging reply:

Do you see these great buildings? They will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.

So much for Jesus and tradition!

Traditions and the rituals and ways that bind us together as communities and families, and which comfort us as individuals, have their place and value. Life would be a desolate experience without them, but with regard to the work of God they must be put into limited context. For God often chooses to act untraditionally and unconventionally. And the Incarnation is a prime example.

The prayer of Advent is the prayer of Isaiah. It is the prayer of St Paul. It is also the prayer of Jesus. I is a two-fold prayer.

We join in that two-fold prayer at this time of year. We pray for God to act and come among us. And we pray that we are ready when that happens.

This is a very untraditional season indeed!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What's in a word?

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the news that tomorrow, Advent Sunday, our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters will worship using the reformed Roman Missal. Now we Anglican Communion members are not strangers to liturgical reform (most of it ghastly) but this official policy from the other bank of the Tiber is more than interesting.

Returning to the original text of the (apparently previously hastily translated) Latin mass is the major sales pitch of the Vatican. OK. Good intention. And some of the product is, in the opinion of one who detests much of the bland Anglican rites, quite excellent. In particular, the response to the priestly greeting:

The Lord be with you.

Is now.

And with your spirit.

To me this is a far more attractive response than the bland 1970s line that we have suffered to this day:

And also with you.

And I know that there are rumours of rumours about the substitution of “consubstantial” for “of one being” (with the Father) but to be honest, as one of the tradition that still insists on singing “Lights abode, celestial Salem” I simply defer. But within this revised Eucharistic canon I have one huge objection.

In the re-translated prayer of consecration the Lord now takes the chalice. Not the cup or the cup of wine, but the chalice. Linguistically this is acceptable, and to satisfy purists, correct. The word we use in English has a Latin root: calicem. Parallel in Greek is kalyx. In common usage in Europe, primarily through old and middle French, the word continued. Its meaning. A drinking cup. Nothing more, nothing less.

The problem with literally bringing calicem into the modern mass revision is that for at least 1700 years it has culturally referred to a special, even bejeweled cup. Historical baggage. Certainly not the type and style of cup that lies at the root of the Eucharist, and which the Lord took in his hand that holy Thursday.

Drink this, all of you…

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

And like a thousand other commanders on a thousand other battlefields, I wait for the dawn. Jean-Luc Picard. Captain. USS Enterprise.

Heavens above! A Star Trek headline? Yet it is an excellent line, with more than a hint of Shakespeare from an undervalued Star Trek film, Nemesis (2002). The one that was made when, to be honest, the stories were tired.

It is an apt banner to describe how many must surely feel as the annual feast of Thanksgiving nears. In under less than forty–eight hours the majority of Americans, home and abroad, will sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, potatoes, pumpkin pie, and so on. Because it’s traditional, isn’t it? Yes it is, but not universally so. The accepted Thanksgiving traditions and foods may apply to the eastern seaboard and the mid-west, but try to apply that menu to Cajun Country, or better still, Southern California, and they would laugh in your face! What they consider to be tradition is so far removed from the east, as is the west. Obviously.

Whatever meals are planned for this coming Thursday seem to create a strong sense of stress and panic. Have I got this? And that? Will I have time for this? Will they like it? Don’t we have to..? How on earth do you …? And so on.

Over the last two days I’ve seen all of these deep and personal questions expressed, not only on the faces in my local supermarket, but also in the comments overheard. Such as:

So we do yams. What the hell do they look like?
These are raw. How do we get a cooked turkey?
Can someone in his store help me with my list?

I must stress that this sample of comments (and I have a dozen others) do not reflect local people, but those who dare to venture out of their urban environment (let the reader understand.)

Yet even the more balanced and educated members of our community are anxious about the Thanksgiving feast. They ought not to be. A meal prepared with care and served with love ought to be the theme of this extraordinary feast. Without stress. After all, what we endure in the kitchen is hardly the battlefield of survival that early settlers had to suffer. Yet they had hope. Why don’t we?

A New Bishop in New York!

But what is the Gregory Peck thing?!

Bishop Coadjutor-Elect the Rev. Canon Andrew Dietsche addresses convention delegates from Episcopal Diocese of New York on Vimeo.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So ascribed the older Books of Common Prayer to last Sunday. The words first appeared in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, translating directly from the Latin Missal, "Excita, quæsumus," and the 1662 rubric insisted, sorry - insists that this collect "shall always be used upon the Sunday next before Advent.” It is a prayer deeply engrained in countless generations of Anglicans the world over, but now, sadly being lost to posterity as we bow to other trends. In modern liturgy it is rare. It makes no appearance in the turgid and so unimaginative 1979 Prayer Book of the American Church. It has even been relegated to a post-communion prayer in the Church of England’s Common Worship. (Further note: Instructions state that this collect may be used on this Sunday at Morning or Evening Prayer. Really.)

I’m not suggesting that “Stir-up Sunday” can ever reclaim the cultural and culinary associations that it had in my boyhood and early stirrings of religious faith. To begin with, most people these days do not bake puddings or cakes for Christmas, and most of these most wouldn’t have a clue how to anyway! But surely, as Anglicans, we can reclaim our ground.

The seemingly concrete title now given to this Sunday, that of Christ the King, has a dubious and political pedigree. In 1925 Pope Pius the Eleventh (actually an excellent man, priest and thinker extraordinaire) decided to re-entitle the Sunday before All Saints’ Day as a piece of Church propaganda, to counter-act the growing fascism in Italy and Germany. It was a liturgical attempt to say: Christ is the one true authority. Yet few paid any attention.

It took two later Popes, John the Twenty-Third and Paul the Sixth, to move the intention to the Sunday before Advent, and so it remains.

If I had a problem with the notion of Christ the King (see previous post and sermon) then I would not be able to call myself a Christian. Yet I ask of my Church, that Catholic but reformed church that is called Anglican, that we do not abandon our liturgical roots too quickly. It seems that all too easily our rich heritage and continuity is being sacrificed in favour of a faux rapprochement with the Roman Church.

But I write as a hypocrite. I bought all my ingredients on Sunday, but they remain in the packets. They have not been stirred. Yet!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My thoughts delivered on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, 2011

It may not have happened exactly the way in which I tell it, but there is the story of a rich industrialist in 19th century northern England who literally bought his way up and into society. From nowhere and his own family poverty he built his textile business, and developed a vast even international business empire, trading in fine cloth and raw materials with Europe and the United States. Yet doing so at the expense of others.

Whereas a minority of English industrialists and entrepreneurs of that age were enlightened and respectful of their workforces, this man was in the majority. Conditions in his factories were dangerously appalling and the wages he paid were a pittance. And so his fortunes grew.

I said that he bought his way into society. He certainly did, buying a three hundred acre estate and country house complete with matching accessories. Stables, lakes, ornamental gardens and a chapel. A very old chapel which predated the main house by many centuries, and in need of repair.

He was not necessarily a religious man, but felt the need to restore this place of worship, and so the stonework and the roof were re-pointed as new. And he was told that the interior needed similar attention. An authority on medieval churches made a visit, and recommended that the recent whitewash be removed to expose the original stone. This man agreed to this, and slowly the work was carried out. Then one day the craftsmen called for the man, saying their work was completed. He came to the church and looked at the wall high above the chancel. There, now uncovered, was a fresco of the Last Judgment.

And the man’s instructions? Paint it over. I preferred the whitewash.

I wonder why he said that?

Paintings of the Last Judgment in churches normally date from the late Medieval period, say the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. They’re also referred to as Doom Paintings.

Each one is different, but most follow a distinct pattern and formula. Christ is central. And this is a regal Christ, an enthroned Christ. Sitting in judgment. And each hand is raised over two separate groups of people, left and right. Either to welcome them into the gates of Heaven, or dismiss them to the Hellsmouth.

These days we dismiss such graphic notions as being simplistic, and a product of their own generations. That they were, and how terrifying they must have been to the illiterate worshipper and passer-by. The perfect warning that unless a person behaved then they would be judged. And what a judgment it would be! The perfect way also of keeping religious order in the Church and political order in society at large.

One such doom painting was a part of my theological training in Salisbury, England. I would attend public speaking tutorials with a voice coach in the large parish church of St Thomas, about half a mile from the cathedral and the seminary. Those were the days when seminarians were put through the rigors of voice projection and elocution, disciplines nowadays sadly ignored. And as I would face east with my back to the imaginary congregation and read parts of the Eucharistic prayer, above my head Christ in glory was judging, to his left and right. And it became part of my prayer, because I knew that if my tutor judged me inaudible or lacking in diction, I would have to start all over again!

As an aside the Doom Painting was also capable of humor and politicization. That particular fresco in Salisbury reflected well the often bitter rivalry between the senior parish church of the town and the cathedral. Of those being welcomed into heaven numerous local townsmen and benefactors would have been identifiable, whereas in the line of those descending into hell there are three bishops!

On the Sunday now entitled Christ the King there is still a danger, still a temptation that we revert to such a medieval picture of the one we ordinarily worship as Lord and Savior. A Christ in glory, a Christus Rex who at the end of all ages will order us, left and right into our allocated places in eternity. And it is a neat and tidy faith, this one, of which there is not only a remnant of medievalism, but also a recent resurgence in belief among those who not only see everything in black and white, but also have found it necessary to bring the sentiments of the Doom Painting into the present day. They can’t wait for eternity, so they start the judgment process now.

But the other danger, the other temptation, is to dismiss completely the idea of judgment. For we are judged by Christ. Not by a Christ who sits on a decorated seat but by a Christ who is crucified.

Next Sunday, Advent Sunday, is the Church’s New Year. The seasons begin again, and we begin to prepare to celebrate the incarnation of God in the feast of Christmas.

What better time to remind ourselves that the king whom we worship and adore was the antithesis of the glorious messiah. Because Christ was crowned, reached his kingship, the moment he was nailed to a wooden cross. There was no golden throne, no mighty warrior, no conquering king - but there was judgment all right. Then and now.

For when we look at the crucifixion, we are judged. Do we see the Son of God hanging there? Or do we turn away. Paint it over. Perhaps the judgment is too strong. We therefore choose to whitewash over the way of the cross.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Of Iron Ladies, Time-Travellers and ...

A brief post after reading that the film industry of Hollywood intends to write produce, direct and publish movies on two subjects dear to my heart. Margaret Thatcher (now Baroness Thatcher) and Dr Who. Both are subjects that many people either love or hate.

The American movie cultus has a strong tradition of re-writing history for popularist reasons. Telling lies, in other words, to project onto screens in order to sell productions to an unworldly, and generally uneducated, mass market. The twisting of the events of the Second World War, and the blatant untruths created about Allied intelligence communities (the classic example being the story of the Enigma machine) might now be projected onto the depiction of 1980s Britain under (then) Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Much as I applaud the talents of Meryl Streep, I fear the worst when it comes to this film.

I think the same, yet differently about Dr Who. In the BBC cult science fiction series that began in November 1963, the anti-hero is an enigmatic, clumsy and awkward time-traveling character who nevertheless always manages to save a planet, a species or the very universe. How will Hollywood portray him and the half-century of television that nurtured generations? I truly dread to think. Only one word comes to mind.

(From behind the sofa, of course!)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Of local news is last evening’s damaging fire in the East Hampton Market, a grocery store with a fairly long pedigree under a few assorted kennel names! And it was about 7:00 pm. Sirens heard everywhere, even in our house some four miles away (but not in Kay’s kitchen, a block away, as she was concentrating on the cooking!)

A shame. A good source for quality meats and the sort of grocery items that come and go in more mainstream places. Bisto gravy granules, for example, dear to my pantry!

Yet reading the online reports from the East Hampton Star, the local rag, I am amazed. Quote:

East Hampton Fire Chief Ray Harden said in a press release that about 100 fire volunteers in all responded and that the fire was quickly brought under control.

One hundred volunteers. Quite amazing, possibly commendable, but sensational, considering that that is over half the number of firefighters that attended the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992. Yet the Market was more about produce than paintings, sausages not stained windows and antique staircases. Remarkable.

Of equal remark was the report that five of those volunteer firefighters were hospitalized for minor injuries, but thankfully released.

I am not writing as an armchair observer. I stake a claim as a qualified and suffering Royal Navy firefighter. Even as a Chaplain. I have lost count of the times when, before joining a ship or squadron, I have been cold, wet and tired while being a part of a (training) three-man hose team, or coordinating the same. I have fought exercise fires on decks, in and around aircraft, and in (often very) confined spaces. And those exercise fires were real and hot. I know how to put on a “Fearnought” suit wearing a blindfold, and help my buddy do the same. Then take it off and do it again. And again. I know about air tanks, regulators, the timing and why. And even in exercise I have felt fear before jets of flame.

What on earth was in the East Hampton Market?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I had the beginnings of an article on a 7-11 sandwich ready, but when the latest issue of Cucina Italiana arrived in the mail box this morning I knew immediately that was going to change. To begin with it provided the menu for this evening’s dinner, but it also reminded me of my great frustration when it comes to food and Christmas Eve. A beautifully illustrated series of pages suggesting a seven-course menu, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, was the highlight of the magazine. A series of courses that I would ordinarily drool over – until, that is reality kicks in.

Sadly, Christmas Eve for me is not a time to relax and enjoy food, no matter how excellent that food is. Returning home after the early children’s pageant I am mentally, and perhaps physically, preparing for the late Choral Eucharist. To put it crudely (and I’m fairly sure that Hippolytus, Cranmer or Dix never used this vernacular) it’s a “Big One.” A very traditional liturgy that satisfies the Christmas desires of a hundred and fifty people. Candles, carols, choir and communion. That’s a great combination in worship, and every year I hope and pray that the congregants, many of whom are satiated with much food and wine, take away something more than a nice piece of tradition. I trust that they do – and that the Lord works through the biblical stories and these marvelous church events! But anticipating this service does my anticipatory stomach no good at all!

Ah yes! Tonight’s rustic Italian menu. Linguine tossed with leek puree and pan-sautéed pancetta and braised asparagus and cherry tomatoes. A new recipe – one to be repeated.

On a different subject. I am slowly reading through a book dedicated to the most northern tip of Cape Cod, an area dear to my heart. In her work The Salt House, Cynthia Huntington describes the history of her relationship with a beach cottage, and one summer’s stay near Provincetown. Her writing, particularly with regard to describing the place and its fauna and flora, is unequalled in quality. Poetically detailed is a phrase that springs to mind. Yet I have a growing, nagging problem with this author. She may be at one with her adopted natural environment, but she shows no sign of relating to or identifying with the people who live in these communities all year, and who have done so for innumerable generations. In fact in places Ms. Huntington is quietly disparaging about the local market and economic needs. Her neighbors (and lover) are fellow-writers and tree sculptors, potters and painters, not store-keepers, farmers, scallop gatherers and tradesmen. She talks of fishermen and park rangers as if they were “little people” doing their job while she continues to write rhapsodically about the water’s edge. How limited. How dull. I see this version of summer visitor on the East End of Long Island. What a shame to know that the Outer Cape contains the same.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"... not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more

So wrote the author to the Letter to the Hebrews.

To use the tried and tested English description: I’m knackered. I have eaten a delicious meal of grilled steak, pan-roast potatoes, deep fried parsnip chips and portabella mushrooms cooked with feta cheese. A meal to invigorate even the most tired of armies, methinks. But not this soldier. I am sipping the last of a robust merlot, and am ready for a good night’s sleep.

My energy was at peak level when I arrived at the Diocesan Convention (members of the Church of England would refer to this as a Synod) meeting at noon on Friday. A generic hotel in Melville, a concrete corporate conglomerate (don’t you love that deliberate alliteration?) some seventy miles west of here that hosts some pretty big industrial names, and the bland business hotels that cluster around such centers. Our hotel was a Marriott, and enough said about that.

Now, the thing about Diocesan Conventions is that you have to learn to love them, but expect to be physically and emotionally drained when they’re done. The Diocese of Long Island, its delegates assembled under a faux art deco ceiling, convened at 2:00 pm last Friday. Without a present delegate of my own that day, I sat with others on a round table near the front of the huge room. With two, three, occasionally four priests, and their parish lieutenants. And with great conversation new, and strong friendships were forged.

And on the second day of this holy gathering, this Convention, this so un-English synod, we all gravitated to the same table. Without prompt or prior arrangement. When I returned to the hotel early on Saturday morning it was Debra, a diminutive, African-American priest, who greeted me saying, “I’ve reserved the same seats. I thought we needed to sit in the same places.” And she was so right!

Notwithstanding the deliberations and content of Diocesan Convention, I reached an ecclesiastical saturation point at noon on Saturday, hugged my new friends and drove home. And even behind the wheel of my car I felt a certain sadness that I was leaving such people. Persons with whom I had shared more than a table, but conversation, laughter, aside comments and glances, and (we all agreed, except one! Kim?! ) awful coffee. Yes! I was missing them!

Part of my reasoning with some at Convention (and to myself) was that I had to prepare for the parish Annual Meeting the next day. Today, that is, for it has come and gone. And the reaction to this was quietly surprising to me. With the exception of one parish (which will remain nameless. Hi! Christopher!) all people, both clergy and lay, expressed wishes of support that were negative in their roots. For they were effectively saying: So sorry. Good luck. Hope you win! Etc. I was taken aback. It was as if I was, in their estimation, a gladiator being blessed before walking out to face …

And this evening I know that I am blessed. St Ann’s Annual Meeting was, this morning, even despite the Rector, a most wonderful gathering.

Yet the whole series of events has left me… What was that word again? Oh yes. Knackered.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On The Dunes - a pictorial entry

Making the most of a gorgeous sunny afternoon, and the accessibility of top of the dunes (usually fenced off and out of reach) due to the tons of new sand deposited by recent storms, the rare views of Wainscott Pond were breathtaking!

Monday, October 31, 2011


And it is Halloween as I type. October 31st, when large populations, America and the United Kingdom leading the charge, behave irrationally and expressively, and even aggressively in the hedonistic persuit of partying and "trick or treating," and where costume manufacturers rub their hands in glee as millions take advantage of their vestments, sold either in superstores or else via catalogues advertising "More Boo For Your Buck!"

In my greying years I continue to think about this fete in an incredulous way. I don't worry about it, and neither do I condemn it. I leave that to the funless-mental branches of the Faith. If it's fun, and my teenage daughter will surely have fun at tonight's sleep-over with food and a "scary movie," then let people have fun. But why? For what reason? Even an impromptu party has a raison d'etre.

In today's Daily Telegraph, Christopher Howse wrote an brilliant essay entitled Halloween Simply Can't Be Tacky Enough. I enjoyed it, I agreed with it, but I wanted more. (Especially as he didn't say anything about the drunken Irish-American origins of modern "trick or treat." In the early 20th century when most communities were striving to improve themselves, that lot in Boston and New York were inventing ritual begging with real violence.) But I know that I will go unsatisfied.

It goes without saying that commercial festivals have, once created, an inertia of their own. Or rather that of the market forces that lie in the shadows (ooh! A Halloween flavor!) behind them. But is that it? If we accept that Halloween has no connection with Christianity (All Saints' Day), ancient Celtic culture (Samhain) or modern paganism (who falsely interpret Samhain), then what are we left with? Nothing. So a people who celebrate simply because a giant marketing culture snaps its fingers and announces, "Boo!" is in a very sorry state indeed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

There's nowt so queer as folk!

(Old saying. 1905 English Dialect Dictionary IV. 304)

Two overheard comments from two different people at the same farm stand within five minutes of each other. The first was from a man whose whose friend had picked out a bunch of carrots but had dropped them on the floor.

"Get another bunch. Those have now got dirt on them."

The second was by a woman who was getting into a very swish and shiny black Mercedes Benz with, I assume, her husband. "You are going to drive through some mud on the way home. I want people to know we've been to the country."

Hyacinth Bucket lives!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Let it blow, but please not snow!

Well! Not even All Hallows' Eve and we are in the grip of four Weather Warnings. High winds, torrential rain, high surf and coastal flooding. Thankfully the only one missing, as this early unseasonal storm makes its way up the east coast, is snow. We are too far out into the Atlantic for the white stuff to hit us - this time. Mainland New York and New England are already looking white and cold.

In recent years, I think as long as we have been living in this house, November the First is the day when the insect screen in the front screen door is removed and replaced with a glass window. Today, four days early, it is firmly in place!

Friday, October 28, 2011

'Tis The Season

No, not an endorsement of Halloween, or Samhaim as we ancient , rural Celts prefer to celebrate. Neither an invitation to start holiday, sorry – Christmas shopping even earlier than usual. This is a casual, perhaps flippant comment on the forthcoming local elections here on the east end of Long Island. I believe that the polling date is November 8th. What drives this scribble? The obvious fact that the eager politicos (candidates for Town Board, Justice this and that, Committee Member for that and this) choose to visually pollute the gorgeous autumn roads and lanes with their red, white and blue advertisements.

As an aside, it seems candidates from both Republican and Democrat sides, as well as those brave independents, are obliged by marketing need to adopt the colors of the flag. Simplistic, but true. Yet it does not include the poster for a “Conservative” candidate that I saw today. Pale orange and small. Moving on…

Please don’t paint me with a negative brush-stroke, for I am a clear supporter of an open, democratic society (except within the Church, I can hear some of your muttering and chortling!) but I have to ask a solid and sensible question: Do these pieces of electoral graffiti make any difference?

I think not, arguing this simple (and perhaps simplistic) reasoned sequence. Those who intend to vote are involved or educated in local issues, and may be even know the candidates. They know what’s what, and vote accordingly. Then there’s those who may vote. They aren’t too up on the local issues, so they will vote the way they’ve always voted – for a party. And as for the (actual majority of) people who know there’s an election but will not vote… You get the picture…

So the roadside mini-billboards, with smiling photographs of Anna Throne-Holst, Brigit Fleming and Brad Bender (now there’s a name to conjure with in the greater Anglo-Saxon world) are a complete waste of time and money, and with all of the rest of the roadside calling cards, complete eyesores.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Today we reached the end of the High School volleyball season, short in itself (a matter of ten weeks) but extremely competitive at both Varsity and Junior Varsity (JV) levels. For readers in the United Kingdom I best describe those levels in rugby terms: First fifteen and second fifteen. The latter, in a year or two hoping to step into the boots of the former.

As I had an earlier Archdeaconry meeting some twenty miles south, I made the trek to Port Jefferson late afternoon to support both teams. Kate plays in the JV team, but today sat on the bench with a slinged arm due to a shoulder injury after last evening’s match. And simply observing: Port Jefferson seems to be a most delightful town. It is one of the two sea ferry ports that connect Long Island to Connecticut, and around this maritime base has grown up all sorts of small shops, restaurants, and sundry businesses, and even in this evening’s atrocious weather I decided that I would have to return, snoop and explore.

The Varsity team lost 3-0, and so did the JV team. Now I’m not the sort of “Volleyball parent” who would insist that his daughter would have changed the score-line. I’m more restrained. British old school. Play up and play the game, and that sort of thing. But the kind comments and wonderful support of Kate by team parents, plus the single sentence of the coach “We missed her. We lost” brought the season to an end in a gentle, melancholy way.

The ninety-minute drive home was a complete nightmare in the face of a northeast wind and torrential rain. The road south (County Road 112) that connected us with the expressway was awash with rainwater, and even at 40 mph I was aquaplaning, yet staying in control using my skills honed in France on a long, stormy drive, nearly twenty five years ago. We returned home safe.

On opening my emails I read a number of comments, and followed links with regard to St Paul’s Cathedral, and the resignation of Canon Giles Fraser, a man with whom I occasionally correspond, and less occasionally disagree.

Even from a distance, and knowing of the shameful political leadership structures that underpin St Paul’s, it is accepted knowledge that Giles did not jump, but was pushed. But that is the outcome of accepting that finance committees, investment guidelines and various lay bodies have eventual control over the Church. God forbid that the priests get in the way!

I was going to write another essay about St Paul’s cathedral, but a more capable and authoritative priest, voicing my thoughts, got there before me.

I post it here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee..

So wrote John Donne in his Meditation XVII. What many forget is that Donne was installed as Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London in 1621, a position which he held until his death ten years later. Looking at images of the people encamped around that great building I wonder what Donne would have done.

I have just read this freelance blog which speaks of, and analyses the camp from direct experience. It makes for a refreshing break from the turgid and political journalism. which has recently assaulted our intelligence.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Picture perfect?

It is a bright and breezy day here on the east end of the Island after a day of torrential, even tropical rain and flooding. Now the temperature shows signs of dropping, as the unseasonal warmth and humidity of the past few weeks have denied the autumn its place. Even the large pumpkins, decorating the farm stands, have been baking in the heat!

The fall beauty (and for reasons deeply buried it remains my favorite time of the year) has been tainted this morning by the news emerging from Libya. Of course the slow, if violently uncoordinated advance of the National Transitional Council fighters is to be welcomed, and the eventual capture of the Gaddafi hometown of Sirte creates a huge milestone in the confused war of liberation. Then the major headlines. First the story that Gaddafi had been captured, and then the “read-all-about-it” announcement that he had been killed. A sense of the unreal, or is it surreal, colours everything. Is it true? After four decades of extraordinary rule and despotism is this man, call him Colonel or Muammar, really dead?

As if to prove the point certain media channels, the BBC and CNN being the prime international western outlets but Al-Arabiya TV and Al Jazeera must be included, have chosen to paste a head and shoulders photograph of a bloodstained, dead Gaddafi on their front pages. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I believe this to be unnecessary and even ghoulish. What is achieved other than sensationalism and disrespect, no matter how evil the man had been in his lifetime? There is also the affront to many Muslims, in particular those in the more conservative nations. Islamic teaching (ahadith) prohibits pictures being taken or displayed for reasons of hatred or mockery. If this pictorial journalism is not either of those motives then what is it? It is all rather uncalled for, disquieting, and unworthy of a self-styled civilized society.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Of communion, corn, and cooking...

Today has been a wonderful day of fellowship and fun in this small village parish. The weekend weather has been warm, if a little breezy. (Yesterday’s bride at the late afternoon wedding nearly had her veil blown into the traffic on Main Street!) And although leaves are late in changing color, there is a strong autumn hue to every aspect of the countryside.

But not necessarily every aspect of the people. This is the weekend of what is called the Hamptons Film Festival. I’m not absolutely sure of what this is, or where is takes place, but it certainly brings some rum folk into town. I am not one for generalizations, but they all seem to adopt a certain style or image. Within these fashion parameters include the wearing of sunglasses at all times (and no, they are not prescription glasses;) black clothing, and a totally lost expression. They are also on the hunt. The opportunity to sight film stars on Main Street is amplified beyond belief. There was a report that Robert De Niro was seen yesterday. Now with the deepest respect to Mr. De Niro, who I’m sure is a decent enough chap, I do not know what he looks like so I cannot contribute to this speculation. I wish Leo still had his perennial barber shop, forced out by a greedy landlord, and now occupied by a rather useful seasonal beach fashion boutique. Leo would know. Leo saw and knew everything. Perhaps that’s why the nuovo ricci and associated club members wanted him to leave.

This afternoon was the annual Sunday School trip to the local corn maze. (Non – U.S. readers: A maize maze!) We met at the usual venue, Fairview Farm in Bridgehampton. And we had fun. Some ate the delicious and freshly cooked potato fries and shot potatoes at a target with the pressured air guns. And a group of us eight went into the corn maze. And even walking the two sections were out within thirty minutes.

Forgive my traditionalism, but ought not a maze wall, corn or hedge, to be above head height? Well this one was about waist high, so it was comical to see other groups looking at us and probably thinking the same thing! And feeling a total sense of letdown.

Sorry, Fairview Farm, I know that your maze was hit by a tropical storm, but to continue to charge ten dollars per person to wander your wreckage? And two dollars for a five ounce cup of cider? Please stop ripping us off.

The evening was superb. Thanks to Doug and Kathryn, and a host of parents, children and others. What could be better than a gorgeous sunset, delicious food (did I mention the roast potatoes?) and great company? And plans for the parish! An up and coming well of people and ideas. We are blessed!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Only when I laugh...

In view of the fact that my Blackberry smartphone is proving rather dim this day, and doing nothing more than making and receiving calls of texts, and delivering yesterday's emails to me, perhaps a touch of humour is called for.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Three different yet linked thoughts came together earlier this evening as I made our way home from an away school volleyball match. Driving east on the Long Island Expressway I noticed the white lights, and flashing blue tail light of a helicopter hovering in the mid-distance, some five miles ahead of me, at an elevation of thirty degrees and thought: What are they doing? I then recalled a recent report on the BBC News website. I will put the link here:

But as the BBC will probably at some future moment delete this story I will quote from the headline in full:

A rescue search was carried out off the coast of Tynemouth Longsands after a member of the public mistook the planet Jupiter for a distress flare. (BBC Report October 4th, 2011.)

And then the personal thought, or rather memory. It’s one of my naval stories, so if you wish to climb on a chair and swing the lamp in your room I won’t blame you.

When I was… No, please let be begin again. I was serving in the Type 21 frigate, HMS ACTIVE. It was the late autumn of 1990, and we were heading west across the Atlantic Ocean to assume duties as the West Indies Guard Ship. Via Bermuda, where we would have to spend at least four days – necessary for reasons both operational and otherwise. And on night five of that transit, I was on watch on the bridge.

Not the Officer of the Watch, you have to understand, but as his (and it was masculine at the time) deputy. The Second Officer of the Watch. An understudy. A student. I was certainly that, yet studying hard in matters navigation and radar, hoping to gain my watch-keepers “ticket” within the next year. Those were the times when Chaplains were permitted, even encouraged to do such things. Such attitudes changed, however, and when the new Chaplaincy Services branch was created in 1996, their message to all priests and ministers was to stop such non –religious activity and participation. Whatever.

I was on watch on the bridge. The Officer of the Watch was one Perrin Towler. He and I had become good allies in many an occasion and run ashore, as well as matters pastoral, and developed a firm trust. And it was one-thirty in the morning. Both of us were perplexed at a yellow light that seemed to be flashing blue miles ahead of us, at an elevation of about thirty degrees. We peered at this sighting through binoculars, through the bridge window and out from the bridge wing. And there was nothing on the radar. Yet it seemed to be moving. An aircraft? Probably a helicopter. But this far out? Ten minutes passed, and eventually Reggie (that is Perrin) said, “I think we’d better alert the captain. “Captain, Sir, Officer of the Watch ….”

Captain Mike Johnson, Royal Navy arrived on the bridge two minutes later. He picked up a pair of binoculars and briefly examined that light. He looked at the compass, and then at his watch, and announced: That is the planet Jupiter. Good night, gentlemen!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Linking one’s blog to one’s parish website and bulletin is not without a certain degree of peril. No so much for content but for lack of new writing! A dear parishioner accosted me on Sunday morning complaining that I had not written anything new recently. (Recently being six days!) And it was no use me pointing out that I had been sermon-writing. No sir, she wanted more blogging.

In my humble defense I might comment that these last few days, this past weekend, has been positively “busy.” And how I dislike that word. Saturday as the day that we, as a parish, met and talked without boundaries about mission; Sunday brought the baptism of twin brothers during the Family Eucharist – and, doffing the cap to St Francis, whose day it is today, the Blessing of Animals. That was fun! The old favorites were there, with some new dogs. Plus I had the honor to bless a “snapping roach,” which is a first for me in nearly twenty-five years of priesthood. I apologise for my inexperience.

Yesterday, Monday, was my “day off.” What an awful phrase that is! Off from what? Work? I would hardly describe my sacerdotal calling as work, although in the Anglican, especially Church of England vows to which I am perpetually bound, my life is also inextricably linked to the word and work of the Gospel.

On that day I have an established, and some might say boring routine. I actually get to sleep in - until about 7.30. Kate’s school bus has left, and I can slowly drink coffee and then plan the day. This involves a trip to the dump (non-US readers: The “tip.”) followed by a major grocery shopping agenda. And then the post office.

Why the post office? Because in this neck of the woods they don’t deliver the mail. (That’s for reasons that I will not get into here.) So we have to go and get it ourselves. Anyway, that’s what I did last Monday. No real mail. No bills; seven pieces of junk; the diocesan newspaper (which probably belongs in the previous category); a Virginia peanut catalog (now we’re talking!) and a catalogue from the fashion house Anthropologie. And it is this about which I now wish to comment.

Comment, not about their products. The good Lord knows that I have no knowledge or interest in such things. No, rather about their presentation. For their catalog, the latest among many is full of young women who are posed in quite unnatural ways. On beaches, in fields, on fishing piers. And all of them seem to be either drugged or else suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Take your pick. I know the latter. An intense, seemingly focused stare at a non-existent object. (In the military we used to call it the “thousand yard stare.”) Either that, or they are extras, looking for work, from the remake of the Living Dead.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the catalogue or website. But be careful. They’re either crazy – or they're coming after you!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Matthew 7:12

It was one of those almost insignificant moments - those that occur all the time out here in our fragile community. I was driving home early evening. It was dark, and raining. I was in no hurry as I passed along Main Street, Bridgehampton. Yet I stood on my brakes as a man crossed the road some thirty feet in front of me. He was dressed in black. And as he slowly walked to the safety of the sidewalk outside of Bobby Van's restaurant I silently cursed the fact (and it is a cultural fact) that city people wear black when there is no funeral. And then, in my headlight, I caught a flash of white around his neck-line.

Damn it all. He was a priest!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Evening Musings

It was one of those things, saying something which brought back a flash of memories. Talking to Kate I said something along the lines of, “If you don’t eat now you might be hungry at midnight.” And immediately I was distracted by thoughts and memories of what we used to call the “Midnight Feast.”

Rewind some (oh my!) forty five years. I was in the third form at Kings, and a “day-bug.” We of the fifty percent of the school who were day boys would learn of the culture and traditions of the boarders, which included the time-honoured ritual of the Midnight Feast. It would involve secreted food from the school house pantry, augmented by crisps (U.S. Potato chips) and pop (U.S. Soda) bought at the tuck shop. We, us day-bugs, would hear of such feasts after the event, usually whispered with triumph by their participants at morning prayers or along the back row of the Latin class on Monday – always the first lesson.

So those of us who had the burden of living at home had to surely create our own version of this rebellious meal. Yet we could not do so together. Instead we depended on our own siblings. And our own resources.

Remember that for a schoolboy in those days, and how I hate that phrase (once I thought it the phrase of my parents’ generation,) midnight was late. And I mean late, seriously late. The hour almost took upon itself a aura of mysticism – plus the challenge of staying up so late, an act of rebellion in itself.

My younger brother David was not too sure, but the prospect of pop and crisps (and whatever else I had managed to procure. One time there was cheddar cheese, I think) would persuade him. And I would somehow stay awake until 11.55, and then wake him to sleepily drink and munch. The food was irrelevant. The act was deliciously subversive. And hiding the packets of Walker’s crisps and the empty bottle of Corona lemonade, I felt equal to those snotty boarders who boasted of their rites.


This is a quite beautiful part of the world at this time of year, but as always I am aware that different people appreciate our God-blessed portion of creation in ways that are (let’s just say) disconnected with reality. I was walking Labradors 2, 3 and 4 this afternoon when such neighbors drove past. They always admire the dogs, but ot this occasion they were rushing “To meet people. To squeeze the last drop out of the Hamptons before the season ends. And there's a chance we might get invited to join N club”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. But then Bertie dragged me into the woods to do his business, and reminded me that these social climbing people are full of the same.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Who?

Anyone who knows me can testify to the fact that my tastes in music are diverse and often eccentric. Setting aside my love of classical and choral music for a moment, and even country, let’s talk about rock and pop. I was moulded by the super-bands of the 1970s: Led Zeppelin, Yes, ELP and the like. Then I explored many musical directions except punk. I never liked punk. I still don’t. Come the 1980s and 90s I still somehow kept pace with the explosion of commercial music that was played on the radio. I was conscientiously challenged by U2. I puzzled over the Manic Street Preachers. I winced at Bjork and was bored by Neil Young. I was amazed that Genesis were still playing, and wondered whatever happened to Blondie?

Imagine my consternation therefore when I read this week that the American band R.E.M. were finally hanging up their instruments and retiring. Why was I concerned? Because with hand on heart I can honestly say that I had never heard of them. Not only that – the news networks and commentaries were constantly playing extracts from their more popular tracks, and I could not pretend that any of them, not even one, sounded familiar. They received Grammy and Brit awards, and released fifteen albums. How did I miss them? I really must stay in more…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

If the shoe fits, wear it. (Russian Proverb)

The last time I wore these shoes was in late July, 2001, at a ceremonial passing out parade at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK. I forget the guest of honour inspecting the young cadets, shortly to be commissioned naval officers. A Belgian royal I think, but it matters not. What mattered today was that for the first time in ten years I cleaned these shoes, buffing them until they gleamed, bulled the toe-caps, and wore them again. And how wonderfully comfortable they were!

The story of these shoes goes back a little further. They were one of three pairs of officers shoes issued to me in 1988 on joining the Royal Navy as the assistant chaplain in HMS RALEIGH, the place of entry and basic training for all ratings (US: Enlisted personnel.) I say three pairs. Two remain, and I must turn my attention, my polish, brushes and cloth to one other pair. The third pair, alas, is no longer in my possession. Together with sundry items of uniform, a camera, a radio and an inscribed Zippo lighter in a grip bag these shoes now live in the realm of Neptune at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea, following an incident during a helicopter transfer in 1992. Still, two out of three ain’t bad!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pictorial: Walking through Wetlands

After the heaviness of the weekend's remembrances, and all the liturgical preparation that that involved, it was good to take time on Monday to return to the wetland trail on the island of North Haven, about six miles to the north of home. A warm afternoon, with insects buzzing and cicadas singing - and fish surfacing in the larger tidal pools. Even with tree damage from the recent tropical storm, which meant I had to leave the path on many an occasion and detour through brambles and thick undergrowth (and in one place even walk through shallow water!) the walk only took a little over an hour. I'm planning a return visit to explore some of the less accessible parts - by kayak!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sermon Delivered on September 11th, 2011

On the TV, the radio, in the papers, on the internet and all over the blogosphere, at home, at mealtimes, in bars and offices, in coffee or water cooler conversations, the painful question is still asked:

Where were you on the morning of September 11th, 2001?

My story is very unexciting. I was on the beach that morning, ten years ago. With my family and two dogs. It was a beautiful morning, as most of us remember. Breathtaking, in fact. Things seemed to be going well. You recall I had begun parish ministry on September 1st, and it was very early days for me.

That was a morning when all seemed simple and at peace.

Where were you?

All of you have your story to tell. About where you were, what you were doing, and how you heard the news that day.

Some of you, I know, were in Manhattan, close at hand. Others at a distance. Still others, like me, heard the news on the radio, or saw it on TV.

And of course there are thousands who cannot answer the question – but we know where they were. They were in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or the four hijacked planes.

And they were also on the scene immediately after the attacks, and in the weeks and months that followed. How many first responders and rescue or recovery workers had their lives shortened by the toxic environment in which they toiled, and have subsequently died?

That morning ten years ago we witnessed catastrophic devastation, carried out by human beings on human beings. Countless lives were torn apart, and it has been said that the world will never be the same again. I don’t know about that, but it is natural enough to believe that no-one else has known the destruction and mutilation that we have experienced. How?

Because even a brief glance at the pages of history will make us realize that the attacks of September 11th 2001 are only unique because they are in recent memory. They are more real because we have seen them, and because we remember them.

And because of that living experience, one that was poisonously violent, we hurt even more, and we question even more.

Why? Why did it happen, and how do we respond ten years on as people of faith – Christians who somehow believe that God loves the world.

Our response is critical – not just as individuals, but as the Church. How do we respond in the face of raw evil?

A few weeks after the attacks I found myself at the site where the towers had stood. Beware the smell, people had warned me – but the most powerful smell that day was coming from the fried onions and hotdogs being served by countless vendors. And God bless them for being there!

It was an unexpectedly numbing experience, simply to stand there at a short distance from where recovery teams were working. I wanted to feel something, see mental images, hear words, be spiritual. But nothing came. I couldn’t be spiritual, such was the overwhelming sense of horror and death.

And it is at times such as that that traditional prayers, prayers committed to heart and memory since childhood, are at their best. For they speak when we cannot speak. They express what we cannot express, and they carry us when we cannot spiritually walk any further.

Thy kingdom come;
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

At one moment those words seemed tepid consolation in the face of such sacrilege, but the next moment, as I was walking away I knew that nothing could be further from the truth. You see, read the correct way, which I believe was the intention of Jesus when he taught his disciples that prayer, those words have the power to look evil in the face, and defeat it.

Oh, we can render the prayer passive and sentimental if we understand it to be some form of assurance that everything will be all right in the end because we have this vague notion that God will wave a magic wand and make it so.

But that prayer is not saying that at all. It is a prayer of engagement – engagement with God and engagement with the world. And it is within that relationship, that dynamic of faith, that evil can and will be defeated.

For if we say that we are praying for God’s will to be done, then we are the ones who have to make that happen. And that means confronting all those parts of creation that are clearly not in accord with God’s expressed purposes of love, justice and hope.

Our response must be spiritual, rooted in the scriptures in which this God has revealed a divine intention; our response must also be political, and economic, and where needs demand, use robust military force.

Faced with another great evil in another age, certainly a far greater evil, that of Nazi Germany, the imprisoned pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words when so many people felt deepest despair at what was happening to the world:

The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to hell.

Today we have remembered the dead of ten years ago. All over the nation, and in other nations, this is a day of grief for thousands as they are once again reminded of their loss.

But in faith and Christian optimism we have to do so much more than look back. In that faith we now look to tomorrow, and the day after, and the year after. In God’s name we cannot, we will not, abandon the future to hell.

Thy kingdom come.