Friday, October 22, 2021

Unity Is NOT an End in Itself

Like many of you, I am weary of the tidal wave of solicitations that daily jams my email inbox, my U.S. Mailbox and the voice mail on my telephone. It takes more and more time that I increasingly see as precious to wade through these unsolicited and largely unwanted attempts to separate me from my limited supply of money. And to make matters worse, more than half of these solicitations are scams. 

 A man’s house may be his castle, under English common law, but the right to privacy that traditional understanding points toward clearly no longer applies when it comes to a consumerist culture. Here all bets are off, apparently. When the market dominates all aspect of our lives, our homes are merely opportunities for ever more profit making. There is nothing sacred about them. And these solicitations for political campaigns will undoubtably increase as we approach next year’s elections.

 I can hardly wait. And I will not just get over it. This practice irritates me on two fronts.

 This is no way to run a republic

One, the constant stream of solicitations, inevitably labeled as “urgent,” is a constant reminder that our electoral system has devolved into an auction where offices are sold to the highest bidder rather than awarded to the winners whose better ideas and character have ultimately persuaded voters to elect them.

 In a world where even local offices can cost up to a million dollars to win, my meager retirement income is simply incapable of making even a small dent in such elections. And I say that with the knowledge that our household income is greater than perhaps a majority of American households today. But even if we had funds to spare to allow us to vote with our dollars, we could never match the dark money available from PACs whose contributors’ names we will never know even as we they represent the interests of corporations and the wealthy.

 This is no way to run a democratic republic. But it is the practice we Americans have acquiesced to.


The fact I am pummeled by these solicitations daily reminds me that even though the power to change this toxic arrangement has always been in our hands, my countrywomen and men have proven more than willing to avoid the discomfort of dealing with this festering wound on the body politic. They’re opted to escape social responsibility through binge watching streaming programming or engaging in addictive social media. As Erich Fromm so presciently foresaw 70 years ago, they have chosen to escape from freedom.

 The second aspect that irritates me about our current context is that this ongoing invasion of my private life is a constant reminder that the governments who should be protecting that privacy have completely abdicated their duties. As the saying social realist author Upton Sinclair popularized a century ago so succinctly observes, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

 And yet, government is all that stands between its people and a market fundamentalism that chooses profit over people every time.

 Given the changes in our campaign funding laws and the stacking of court systems increasingly beholden to corporate interests (e.g., Our SCOTUS has tried to sell us a bill of goods that the legal fictions we call corporations are actually people), our government has been almost completely coopted by the business sector. Thus its capacity to protect us has been nearly completely neutralized. As a result the burden has shifted to the individual resident to guard his/her privacy, blocking unwanted callers call after call, email after email, against voracious marketing that respects no boundaries.

 The individual American stands no chance in that matchup. It is a sad commentary on the country and the people we have devolved into.

 Appeals to Values in a Cynical Political World

 Occasionally I encounter people who give me reason to hope that this dismal status quo can change. Yesterday amidst the ton of emails I spend a half hour deleting each morning I came across a remarkable ad for a candidate for a state house of representatives seat in Kentucky. His ad never mentions his last name. Instead, he chooses to make his pitch to ideals, values and critical reflection on the country and the people we have become.

 I have to say, this really caught me off guard. It’s hardly what I’ve come to expect from electoral politics in a nation that auctions its offices of power off to the highest bidders. It was incredibly refreshing even as I recognize that part of its appeal is the fact it is an anomaly, the striking exception to the rule of today’s political world.

I did a little research to uncover who this enigmatic Derek might be. What I found surprised me. He’s hardly your typical politico.

Derek Penwell is a Christian Church pastor in Louisville, KY. He is a published author and earned two theological degrees, a Masters of Divinity and a Doctorate of Divinity from regional seminaries as well as a Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of Louisville.  He has also been a part-time lecturer in humanities and theology at two local  colleges.

All of that shows up in his ad. I am struck by both the nobility of his thinking here as well as how jarring it will sound in the ordinary political discourse of our time driven by cynicism and soundbites. And yet, we badly need critical thinking visionaries like Penwell, Even so, I would guess the probabilities of his electoral success are at best limited.

 That said, his ideas are worth serious consideration.

 Unity Is Never an End in Itself


Norman Rockwell, Four Freedoms (1943) 

 Penwell makes this salient point worth your consideration. To wit:

            Unity isn’t an end in itself. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were largely unified.  

The southern states were unified in defying the federal government and in fighting for the enslavement of other human beings—and again for the next 100 years of Jim Crow in working to keep the ancestors of those same human beings out of power and “in their place.” Our country was mostly unified in thinking that pursuing a war in Iraq was in our national interest…. Any unity based only on the felt need to get along is merely a cease-fire. It doesn't address the underlying causes of division; it just promises to act as if there were no division

 A superficial unity which is ultimately nothing less than the  absence of immediate conflict is nothing more than a fragile façade overlying the conflicts that lurk below the surface awaiting their opportunity to surface and be heard.

 Demanding unity in the face of injustice is not virtue; it is an attempt to avoid the issues at hand. It is at heart a demand for the constant comfort to which the beneficiaries of our consumerist culture have been persuaded they are entitled. And in the end, it compounds injustice with a coerced dishonesty.


Hank Willis Thomas, Four Freedoms ( 2019)

Penwell is hardly the first to observe this. In 1972 Pope Paul VI told the world: “If you want peace, work for justice.” More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has put it even more succinctly: “No justice, no peace.”

An obsession with imposing a superficial unity at all costs seeks to preserve the comfort of those who are the beneficiaries of the status quo by stifling the dissent of those who bear the costs of that benefit. No one likes conflict. But living under a patina of “unity” when you are the target of injustice quickly becomes an unbearable burden. And in the end, no real unity exists in such a situations. It is merely conformity to the demands of those demanding comfort.

A Political Ad Actually Worth Reading

 Penwelll’s entire ad is worth considering and I offer it below. It will take about four minutes to read. I also provide his Facebook account link at the end of the ad.

I offer it with the awareness that this man is running as a Democrat in a state election in a very red state of Kentucky (represented by Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell). Thus his willingness to paint the Democratic Party in noble terms is hardly surprising. And it is not particularly difficult given the alternative the Republican Party increasingly manifests today.

I also readily admit that I am less sanguine these days about that Democratic Party in which I am still registered given its inclinations to be beholden to large corporate interests. (Yes, Joe Manchen, I am talking about you) When Democrats sell out to fundamentalist market forces, that only offers voters the choice of two corporate parties -  a Hobson’s Choice on a good day.  

I applaud Penwell’s idealism in pointing us in a new direction. If nothing else, it is a refreshing change from the tsunami of money driven campaigning we currently endure as we spend our mornings deleting these ads from our emails, phone mails and recycling them from our postal service.

As I always say, we can do better. But to do so we must end our willingness to acquiesce to a toxic status quo and dare to think differently. Derek Penwell offers us a good example of how that can happen. But let him tell you himself: 

The Unity We Really Need (Derek Penwell KY House ad)





Harry Scott Coverston


Orlando, Florida


If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.


Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi


For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures


Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)


© Harry Coverston, 2021



Monday, October 18, 2021

Scars in the Heart of Paradise

Image located online at Gold Wingnut, The Villages Construction Update #96 found at 

Last Friday I needed to travel across the state to visit an old friend whose husband is seriously ill. Used to be that such short daytrips were no big deal. I always enjoyed escaping from the city into the rolling hills north of Orlando and the pasturelands beyond. Google Maps said the trip to Inverness would only require an hour an 10 minutes by Turnpike. That’s pretty consistent with my experience in the past.

But it wasn’t what happened Friday.


The Turnpike was almost at a standstill from the moment I got onto it at the terminus of the East-West Expressway coming out of Orlando. From there traffic was stop and go the entire 42 miles to Wildwood yesterday.

There were no accidents and no road construction in process to account for this. There was major construction in the areas beyond the right of way on both sides of the highway. But this was simply heavy traffic at 10 AM on a Friday. And increasingly, it is the norm for highways across our state.

It reminded me of my first visit to California in 1965. I had won a trip through the local IGA grocery store to visit Los Angeles. It was my first time on an airplane and the first visit to a major city.

I’d never seen traffic on freeways like that before. And I’d never experienced an acrid smog that caused tears to run down the faces of the young boys from Florida most of whom were experiencing a big city for the first time. Friday’s 42 mile crawling parking lot up the middle of our state could easily have been just one more day in the life of the LA metro area.

But it wasn’t. It was here.

Reminiscent of the Amazon Basin


If the traffic itself was troubling, the scarred scenery along the route made that stop and go journey sheer torture for this sixth generation Floridian. South of the US 27 interchange between Clermont and Leesburg, everything on both sides was under construction. The Orlando metro area, now approaching 3 million strong, continues to spill out into lands once covered by citrus groves whose rolling hills have now sprouted tract housing.


                                        Striking Resemblances – (L) The Villages (R) The Amazon Basin

Similarly, everything north of the SR 475 exit - which takes one to the Coleman Federal Correctional Institute to the west or the once small village of Okahumpka to the east – is being subjected to a bizarre terraforming. The images along the highway are reminiscent of the deep scars on the rainforests of the Amazon Basin, the lungs of our world, that one sees emerging from a corporatist Brasil these days. But this is not Brasil. It is a Florida in which the Villages and the “developments” like it have spread out with abandon choking a state many people once called paradise.


“Development” – a Self-Serving Deception

The use of the term “development” to rationalize this slash and burn destruction is questionable on a good day. An online etymology dictionary reports the following for the word “development”:

development (n.)

(1756) "a gradual unfolding, a full working out or disclosure of the details of something;" see develop + -ment.

Meaning "the internal process of expanding and growing" (1796); sense of                                 "advancement through progressive stages" (1836).

Of property, with a sense of "a bringing out of the latent possibilities" for use or profit (from 1885 Pickering's glossary of Americanisms);

(1816) betterments "The improvements made on new lands, by cultivation, and the erection of buildings, etc.").

Meaning "state of economic advancement" (1902).

Clearly the “development” occurring in places like The Villages and the Clermont area to its south is not “a gradual unfolding.” The Earth itself is being ripped asunder there by bulldozers and all living things are being scraped from its surface in the process. This is more akin to a rape than an “unfolding.” There is a name for uncontrolled growth that occurs in a manner endangering its host. That name is cancer.


Time Magazine cover, Nov. 23, 1981

Moreover, whether this is an “advancement through progressive stages” is highly questionable. More tract housing with increased traffic and demands on the watershed and air quality and more chemicals used to maintain golf courses and manicured lawns running down storm sewers into the aquifer are not by definition “advancements.” This vision of “progress” comes at enormous costs to the Earth and its existing inhabitants.

What is most telling in the etymology is the final definitive aspects of the word as it came to be understood in the 19th CE mid-Industrial Revolution. “Development” is used here as “bringing out latent possibilities…for profit.” By the turn of the 20th CE, the use of this term finally becomes candid – development is reduced to simply “a state of economic advancements.”

But advancements for whom? At whose expense? And at what cost to the biosphere?


Frankly, whether there is any “improvement” on land that once housed ancient live oaks, birds and other fauna, lakes full of fish and fields full of grazing animals that has been converted to strip shopping malls and soulless subdivisions is also highly debatable. The builders of these nearly identical tract houses with ever so slightly different color schemes to provide a façade of individuality add insult to injury as they seek to escape the banality of their endeavors by giving their projects noble names like “Osprey Landing.” These are places where every tree that an osprey could possibly have landed has long since been mowed down by a bulldozer. The only place one might spot an osprey in these middle-class housing projects is on their satellite dishes.

The loss of the lay of the land in these places is simply the first of several losses. The demands on the aquifer cause sinkholes to develop which swallow up the houses and businesses that have replaced the swamps and pastureland that preceded them. The addition of ever more traffic to an already overloaded highway system whose designers never anticipated this level of use guarantees that the parade-paced passage through the heart of our state that Friday’s turnpike required will soon become the rule and not the exception.


The Costs of Selling Your Soul

It is important to note at this point that I do not romanticize the culture of the 1950s and 60s Florida in which I grew up and I would not want to return to those days. I labor under no illusions about “good old days” now gone. It was a state ruled then, as now, by white male barons of power and privilege and marked by a vicious Jim Crow segregation. In the days before electronic animals entertained us in theme parks, roadside “attractions” selling pecan logs and orange blossom honey kept exotic animals in “zoos” with unspeakably foul conditions.

Florida was a state with enormous unrealized potential in those days. But even then the changes that would produce today’s state bloated with white retirees and run by white demagogues were already underway.

I also readily confess that while I will always be appreciative of the lessons I learned living in the country for 11 years of my childhood and for the farmers among whom we lived who produce our daily bread there, they knew and I knew even then I could not live there and I left the day I graduated from high school. One of the lessons they impressed upon me, however, was how to appreciate the incredible natural beauty of this place and to recognize its fragility in the face of a mindless juggernaut of profit driven “developers” armed with bulldozers and draglines. 

Finally, I need to be clear that I do not begrudge anyone a place to live who actually needs one. I am hardly oblivious to the fact that affordable housing is a real problem in this urban blue island called Orlando where I reside. But I am also clear that Florida does not owe a place to everyone who wants to live here anywhere they wish to live regardless of its impact on the social and natural ecologies. That is particularly true of those who came not only seeking to escape cold winters but also any kind of social responsibility in a state with no income or inheritance taxes as well.


Mexico Beach, FL after Hurricane Michael, 2018

Florida is under no obligation to accommodate ever more residents regardless of the impact their presence might make on this state and everyone already present. That includes state subsidized insurance to rebuild beach homes along our coasts in places that should never have been built upon in the first place and it includes permits with no restrictions for ever more tract housing and strip malls that threatens to clog up the very heart of our state with congestion and overpopulation. A state with conscious, effective leadership would have realized that long ago. Alas, such has rarely been the case in this state I have loved for 68 years now.


Florida has always had those willing to sell their souls for profit. It’s hardly an accident that the legends around our first Spanish explorers spoke of their ruthless pursuit of gold and a fountain of youth, pursuits that would within a century insure the end of all of the aboriginal peoples who first encountered the European conquistadors. And from post Civil War carpetbaggers to 20th CE theme park builders, Florida has been the destination for an endless flow of those seeking their fortunes in a state to which they would hold no allegiance and for whose natural beauty they exercised no consideration.

“Developers” and the state and local governments their money commands long ago sold their souls to profit. But there is a price to pay here that far exceeds whatever profits that sellers of land and sellers of real estate might have recouped in this process. It is a cost extracted from the Earth itself and the people closest to that land who produce our daily bread. In the end, it is a price on the very soul of our state. None of that is calculated in these transactions.


You can hear a version of this song at this location:

When I was a child in elementary school, we learned an adaptation of the 1917 Richard Whiting song, “Where the Morning Glories Grow.” The version we learned praised the citrus industry, then still king in a largely agricultural Florida. We sang, “I want to wake up in the morning where the orange blossoms grow…” ending with the words, “So make my home in Flo-ri-da…where the or-ange blossoms grow.”

Even today, singing that song can bring tears of joy as I remember those more innocent times. But the tears that welled up Friday while crawling up a Florida Turnpike jammed with cars through a countryside scarred by bulldozers were very real. The very soul of this homeland where my family has lived for seven generations cried out in pain.


It would be easy to dismiss this lamentation as merely the anguish of a 68 year old native Floridian watching his state change. All things change and as the Buddhists have taught me, life is a series of lessons on letting go. The last thing we let go of is our Self. But there is more here than mere nostalgia.

As I saved this document to begin its workup for the blogsite, I needed a title for my file. What came to mind completely unbidden was “Desecration.” At its most fundamental level, that is what I lament here  - the loss of what is sacred – the land itself.

In Jesus Christ Superstar, the lyricists place these words in Jesus’ mouth: 

“If every tongue was still, the noise would still continue….the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing…”  

I think I understand those words today. The cries from a desecrated land in the heart of Florida can be heard by those with ears to hear. For those who don’t, I offer my words this day, speaking for this land that formed my soul, this land I love. These words erupt from the heart of a land desecrated by those who do not recognize its soul, voiced by one with a broken heart that can no longer be endured in silence.


Fortune Teller Road between Bushnell and Center Hill. The Villages permits for "development" include this road. 


Harry Scott Coverston

Orlando, Florida


If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

© Harry Coverston, 2021


Monday, October 11, 2021

The Sermon Your Animal Companions Are Preaching

Both here and in all your churches throughout the whole world; we adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. Because by your Holy Cross [+] you have redeemed the world. AMEN. 

(Franciscan prayer upon entering or departing from a holy place)


Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery, Naperville, IL 

Today we celebrate the feast day of the second most beloved saint in the Christian tradition. Behind Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Francis of Assisi has been the most widely venerated holy figure in western Christianity ever since his brief but tumultuous life in the north of Italy in the 13th CE. 

Perhaps the greatest example of such veneration came from the current Pope, a Jesuit who bypassed all the possible icons of his own religious community as well as many previous popes to choose the name Francis for his papacy. Given the radical nature by which Francis of Assisi sought to live out the humble life of Jesus, it is hardly surprising that in a hierarchy noted for its focus on power and prestige this would be the first time that Francis has been used as a papal name.


A Balance of Action and Contemplation


Francis and his companion Clare would become the founders of a world wide movement called Franciscanism. Francis represents the active side of the order, the folks in the soup kitchens and running the many Franciscan hospitals, many named after the Franciscan Saint, Elizabeth. Clare, on the other hand, represents the contemplative side of the order. She and her cloistered sisters spent their days praying for the world and their brothers and sisters who engage it. Franciscans recognized from the beginning that both the active and the contemplative are needed for spiritual balance and healthy faith communities.


Historically this movement has had two focuses. The first was on those Jesus called the anawim, the little ones. This term referred both to age as well as power. Jesus followed a long tradition of prophetic focus on the orphans, the widows, the aliens and the poor – the powerless in the lowest strata of the society. And for the Franciscans, this has played out in their work among those very same populations.

Paul Granlund, “Dancing Francis,” 

Viterbo University, LaCrosse, WI (1987)

 The second focus of Franciscanism has always been on the Good Creation. It was here that Francis insisted that the image of G-d could be seen all around us all the time if we were just willing to see it. Franciscans speak of the natural world as the First Testament that had been here for eons before the Second Testament of canonized scripture arrived. And contrary to the majority view within our theology, Franciscans have always been clear that Jesus did not come because of human sin, it was always G-d’s intent to send Jesus to us out of G_d’s deep love for the Creation.


The Stories That Reveal St. Francis


There are a number of stories about the life of Francis that have been collected over the years. Like the life of Jesus, those stories took on mythical and legendary qualities as they developed in the imaginations of the story tellers. The Little Flowers of Francis is the primary collection of those stories and there are two stories in particular that speak to us on this day we pronounce G-d’s blessings on our animal companions.


Francis and the Wolf, Gubbio, Italy

 The first is about a wolf in the town of Gubbio an hour’s drive north of Assisi today. The wolf was terrorizing the town and had killed some of its inhabitants. The villagers were afraid of the wolf and asked Francis to save them. Francis came to Gubbio and quickly found the wolf. He confronted him, admonishing him for his terrible misdeeds. But in the process he discovered that the wolf had been abandoned by its pack and was hungry. He was simply trying to remain alive. In the end, Francis made the wolf promise he’d never attack the townspeople or their flocks again. In return, he required the townspeople to promise to feed the wolf and not harm him. It is perhaps one of history’s first examples of restorative justice

The second is about Francis preaching to the birds, something he loved to do. Many of us admire the beautiful fresco Giotto painted of this story on the upper walls of the basilica. Note, Francis presumed that the birds could understand him and that they, in turn, had something to communicate to Francis as well. Indeed, the birds would fly away only after Francis had blessed them. 

Note how different these behaviors are from that of our ordinary lives. We human animals tend to believe that it is only our fellow humans who have anything to say worth hearing. That, my Brothers and Sisters, is the sin of anthropocentrism. But what might we learn if we, like Francis, paid attention to the animals that grace our lives? What sermons might they have for us?


The Sermons Our Animal Companions Are Preaching


Saidy the Beagle

Our dogs are living lessons in loyalty. The common name Fido means I am faithful in Latin. They provide us companionship and protection. In return, they desire our attention, our care and, yes, our snacks. So what might our lives look like if we treated one another the way our dogs treat us?




 Magdalena and Willow

 Our cats are living lessons in independence. They have minds of their own and they are not shy about letting you know when you are violating their space. Autonomy and the willingness to think for oneself are treasures in a consumerist culture marked by group think with its tribalizing social media driven by algorithms. So what might our lives look like if we paid attention to the lessons our cats are offering us?


Anhinga, Lake Underhill

Our birds offer us lessons of fragility and a freedom those of us who are earth-bound can never quite attain. There is a reason that birds are so often associated with Spirit in the arts and in world religions. Birds require our care, particularly in assuring that the context in which they live is hospitable to life. So, what would the quality of our air be like if we lived there?


Gecko on the front porch

Our reptiles, amphibians and rodents are our most down to earth companions, quite literally. They remind us of the value of grounding ourselves daily, becoming aware of who we are, where we are and fostering a sense that we are OK here and now. Like birds, they, too, require habitats that permit them to survive. Many non-human animals around the world are now looking to their fellow animals, the human animals, to see if there will be a world for them on the other side of climate change. What lesson might these creatures offer a world facing mass extinctions?


Jerry the giant koi

Finally, our fish swim about in confined spaces containing water, oblivious of the world outside their immediate habitats. It is said that fish don’t understand the concept of water since without it, they simply would not exist. That is true of human animals, as well, as a number of our western states are discovering. Human caused climate change and fouling of water could render a number of places on our planet uninhabitable within our lifetimes. If our fish could talk, what sermon might they preach us this morning?    



A World Charged With the Grandeur of G-d


Lake Underhill Park, top of the street

Francis and his followers have always pointed us to what poet Gerald Manley Hopkins called a world “charged with the grandeur of God.” The question today is whether we will respond in gratitude and humility to that divine gift by listening to our fellow inhabitants of the natural world and heeding the alarm they are sending.

 Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may, for love of you, delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.      

(Collect, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi)


Note: All paintings are from the Basilica of St. Francis in Asissi; the animals are denizens of New Coverleigh

 [A Sermon preached on the Feast of St. Francis and Blessing of Animals, October 10, 2021, St. Richards Episcopal Parish, Winter Park, FL]


  Harry Scott Coverston

  Orlando, Florida

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

 Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

 For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

 Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

  © Harry Coverston, 2021