Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent I: Do you believe in miracles?

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake." Mark 13:24-37
Advent I – November 30, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Do you believe in miracles?

Well, I suppose one might ask, “What do you mean by a miracle?” And, that would be a most excellent question.

Philosophers like Aristotle and Maimonides dismissed the idea of miracles and rejected the notion that God could or would intervene in the order of the natural world. However, Spinoza claimed that miracles are merely law-like events whose causes we are ignorant of, and Kierkegaard agreed with Hume that a miracle is “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interpretation of some invisible agent.”

Do you believe in that kind of miracle?

There are supernatural miracles and miracles of science or medicine. We take some of these ‘miracles’ for granted today. Our own Ms. Conroy had a diabetic aunt who died just months before the discovery / invention of insulin. Surely, had her life been spared, she would have seen that a miracle.

Are miracles things that are, but are yet to be discovered or invented?

There are religious miracles, those known in Hebrew and Christian scriptural tradition, many of which are well known to members of this congregation. There are, as well, miracles in the ancient texts of those who are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and many of the other major religions of the world.

In preparing for this sermon, I even used a little modern miracle known as ‘Cha Cha’. Do you know about this little miracle? Well, you can only call ‘Cha Cha’ with you cell phone – another little modern miracle without which no one seems to be able to do anything anymore. You simply dial 800 224 2242 and ask ‘Cha Cha’ your question. Then, you hang up and, within a few minutes, she will text message you an answer.

It’s like having your own grandmother around whenever you need her. I say this having just recently discovered that the miracle of becoming a grandmother comes with the miracle of knowing all sorts of stuff that is endlessly fascinating to your grandkids while your own kids roll their eyes. It's great.

Of course, I called ‘Cha Cha’ and this is what she said, “A miracle is an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers.” Then, she gave me a website were I could learn more about miracles. It wasn’t exactly an entire course in miracles, but it did tell me more than I knew before, which, I suppose, is sort of a little miracle all in itself.

Some say that it will take a miracle to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Others say it will take nothing short of a miracle to end the financial crisis we are in. Interesting, isn’t it, that when we lack creativity, imagination, or will, we say it will take ‘an extraordinary event that surpasses all known human or natural powers’ to get us out of a crisis?

Well, I suppose, there are miracles and then there are miracles.

Today is the day when we begin our new Liturgical Year. Today, the first Sunday in the Season of Advent, marks the day we enter into the Season of Signs and Wonders as we approach the Great Christian Miracle of the Birth of Jesus.

My Grandmother believed in miracles. She thought her life was – indeed our whole lives are – miracles. “Miracles upon miracles,” she would say, if we but open our eyes and look around, or open our ears and listen. She said that God is trying to tell you something every time you hear a sound in the world around you.

I remember lying on my bed on a cold night in early winter, after one of my Grandmother’s Advent stories, and listening to the wind blow through the hard, barren branches of the tree outside my bedroom window. ‘Clack, clack, clack’ it went, over and over, in an undeniable pattern.

I became convinced that the ‘clack, clack, clack’ of the branches on my windowpane was a message God was trying to send me. Excited at this revelation, I went to the library to get out a book on Morse code. I was certain that if I could learn Morse code, I could understand this important message God was trying to give to me. I studied hard at school, on the walk home from school, and while the other children were playing kick ball or riding their bikes.

After a few weeks, I finally mastered it, and took to my bed with a pad of paper and a pencil, trembling with excitement. After a few minutes, however, I was crying inconsolably.

I just couldn’t get it. I was getting the letters all right, but they weren’t combining to make words that made any sense. I began to get hysterical because I just knew God was trying to get a message to me that was Very Important. I couldn’t understand. I had studied. I knew this stuff cold.

Why couldn’t I get it?

My parents, unable to provide any solace or calm, finally awakened my Grandmother, who came upstairs to our apartment and sat at my bedside. She carefully looked over all of the scraps of paper on which I had written columns of letters which made up words that made no sense to me.

She studied them solemnly and silently as I sobbed huge sobs which wracked my body and shook the bed. So intent was she in studying my scribbles and scrawl that I believe even my parents came to believe that she actually knew what she was doing. I know I did.

Finally, she smiled at the paper. Then, she smiled at me. She looked up and smiled at my parents. We all sucked in our breath, waiting for her to tell us this message from God. “My dear Isabella,” she began, “God has a very important message for you.”

“He does?” I asked, my sobs breaking up those two words into almost undecipherable sounds.

“Yes,” she said, “and you don’t need Horse code to understand. My dear child,” she said softly, tenderly, “God has been trying to tell you that He loves you very, very much.”

“Oh, VaVoa,” I sobbed, “I already know that. That can’t be the message.”

“Oh yes, child,” she said, “it is. The thing is, you just don’t know how much. God loves you so much that even the dry, barren trees come to life in the middle of the cold night just to tell you how much God loves you. So, now, when you hear the clack, clack, clack on your window at night, you mustn’t be afraid or worried. It is the miracle of God sending you a message, so you can feel safe and secure.”

I believed her then. I believe her even now.

To this day, when I hear the ‘clack, clack, clack’ of the trees blowing in the winter wind – whether I’m asleep or awake – I know God is sending me a message of the miracle of God’s love for me. I also hear it in the crackle of dry leaves under my feet, or the way the trees smell when they are beginning to bloom in spring, or the way the moonlight feels on my arm in the fall, or the way the sun feels hot on my face in the middle of summer.

And, despite what some in the world want me to believe, I feel loved – beyond my wildest imaginings. And, that gives me the confidence to do what some have told me is impossible. I know that probably doesn’t make any sense to you. It doesn’t to me, either. But, even ‘Cha Cha’ knows that miracles don’t have to make sense.

There are miracles all around us – things we can’t fully understand, things that appear beyond our natural powers. In the words of Jesus, “Keep watch.”

The signs are all around us. We have seen great things, but things even greater than these will be seen, and things even greater than these are waiting to be done. Our God is a God who works miracles and wonders through ordinary people like a young unmarried woman and an older carpenter from Galilee. And, shepherds and innkeepers from Bethlehem.

But our God is not a God who is frozen in time. God is still working miracles through ordinary people like you and like me – in our day and in our time.

God believes in the miracle that is your life. God’s love is dying to be born in the miracle of our lives today. I believe there is a message of a miracle waiting for you hear or see today.

You don’t have to learn Morse code, or study quantum physics to understand it. And if, like the philosopher, you dismiss it as a transgression of the law of nature, miracles can still happen. And, do.

When you begin to believe in the miracle that is your life, the miracle of God’s love for you, a whole world of miracles will open up for you, and you’ll want to make that miracle of life and love happen for others.

Here’s an idea to begin your Christmas miracle: Instead of worrying about giving Christmas presents, think instead of giving your presence. Like calling a relative and having a Christmas conversation instead of sending a card or a gift certificate.

Like, calling your mother. Call her anyway. She won’t always be here to annoy you and when she’s gone, you’ll be surprised how you miss her annoyance. Same thing with your father. Call him, too. Yeah, I know. Call him, anyway.

Spend less money on people and more time with people. Like making gifts together with your family. Like sharing the gift of laughter with someone has been sad or a hug with someone who has been alone. Like sharing a story about the miracle of God’s love with a frightened child.

Oh, or how about this: How about adding up the money you saved on postage for the cards you didn’t send and the presents you didn’t buy and give it instead to someone who is hungry or thirsty or needs clothing or for someone you don't even know who is in prison whose life you think is worthless but God knows better?

You know, some will cringe when I say this, but I believe that there isn’t a church in the world that needs more money. What churches need are more people with imagination and intelligence and faith to do the things God wants done in the world. And, if we did that, the miracle is that we’d have all the money in the world we’d need to do God’s work.

Here’s what I believe about miracles: A miracle is a tiny seed of love, planted deep in the heart, which, when watered with imagination, intelligence and hope, becomes possibility. There are tiny seeds of miracles which have been planted in human hearts around the world. Great miracles have already come to pass, but I tell you that even greater works are yet to be for those who believe in the miracle of God’s love.

Did you hear me? I said, ‘even greater works are yet to be for those who believe in the miracle of God’s love.’ How do I know that? I heard it last night in the ‘clack, clack, clack’ of the trees. And, I heard it again this morning in the crunch of the icy-snow under my feet.

Do you believe in miracles?

Hear the words of Jesus, “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

A little Advent mood music

I don't usually like this kind of Christian music, but I find that Chris Tomlin's music is actually quite good. The kids in my youth group have been singing this one for weeks and, I confess, it has grown on me.

I found myself singing it in preparation for Advent. So, I share it with you to enjoy.

A bit of a warning: Once this song and this tune get into your head, it's hard to get it out. And then, you actually start believing it.

I think that's how miracles happen. Hannah had her song. Zachariah had his. Mary had her Magnificat. Why shouldn't we have ours?

"Greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city."

It has all the makings of a Christmas miracle.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!

Sometimes, even when I'm in a really good mood, the 'uber-Christians' on the Right pull my poor, last, tired nerve.

Especially the ones who love to harp about the "hemorrhage" of membership from The Episcopal Church because of our "apostate" beliefs which are "contrary to the faith first delivered to the saints".

Never mind that the hemorrhage is due to the knife they are sticking into the back of the Body of Christ, all in the name of Jesus, of course, and all to "save the soul of The Episcopal Church"

Funny how no one is stopping to take the knife out of her back before they leave the building. Oh, right. They don't have time. They are rushing to the attorney's office to see how they can retain the building once they've "hemorrhaged" the membership.

Of course, there's no hard data from the 'break away' churches about how many Christians are flocking to their new churches.

Oh, I think the numbers we'll get from the churches in The South will be impressive. Then again, everybody goes to church on Sunday in The South - even Episcopalians.

I remember the first time I went to church in cities like Atlanta, Memphis, or Dallas. I was blown away worshiping with THOUSANDS of other Episcopalians - and it wasn't even a holiday or there wasn't a bishop or famous person in the place.

There wasn't a screen up with the words to hymns I had never heard, everyone held a prayer book with both hands, there was no one playing a guitar or a percussion instrument, and no one started a prayer with, "Fathergod, I just wanna say . . .," said the name of 'Jeeeessssuuuuusss' or made one reference to 'Satan and his Evil Powers'.

What I'd like to know is what's happening in 'break away churches' in the North or Northeast - like Pennsylvania, or those six churches in Connecticut (Remember the AAC's pathetic attempt to create 'the CT six' as a counterpoint to 'the PA eleven'? Yeah, right!).

I'm also very curious about the two churches in Central New York (one has already left the building, the other will be in court in early December) where the three former Episcopal Clergy there have quite a visible, if not flat-out hostile, presence in cyberspace. I wonder if they will use the same formula as TEC parochial report so we can more accurately compare statistics and demographics.

It would actually be to their advantage, so they can prove their predictions and triumph their victories.

Goodness knows, the numbers for these two churches were not impressive before their clergy "turned" - even after the folks from the Billy Graham campaign came through their town a few years back. Then again, why would you stay as a member of a church when you know the heart and soul of your clergy is not completely with the people but, rather, with carrying on a messy divorce with the institution?

My hunch is that we'll never get accurate numbers, but the rhetoric will be thick with high expectations for churches that are chock full of new Christians, just waiting to be newly formed in the "orthodox / Calvinist / High Catholic" understanding of what it means to be "Anglican."

Bullhockey! (There's a new term for Maddy and the newly sanitized OCICBW). Neo-puritanism tinged with heterosexism and misogyny has never exactly been a booming market share - with or without incense.

Well, here's some data from Katie Sherrod's blog, "Wilderness Garden":

"The (Diocese of Fort Worth) Bishop's Report of Official Acts 11/11/07 - 11/1/08, distributed in the delegate packets and reported officially by the bishop at the diocesan convention, notes 25 baptisms, 254 confirmations, 43 receptions, and 12 reaffirmations.

"Even using these official diocesan numbers, the 5 parishes with established rectors that are remaining in the Episcopal Church (not including all the parishes in exile from their property and those others which will remain Episcopal parishes but do not yet have rectors and other parishes who will soon declare their allegiance) account for 98 of the 334 official acts, or 29.3% of the entire diocese of 56 parishes and missions in the past year.

"Note: This report does not include the 11 confirmands and two receptions that Bishop Iker confirmed at Trinity Fort Worth [my parish] on 11/1 (though the report says through 11/1), which if added in shows that the five parishes actually account for a whopping 32% of the entire diocese during the past year.

"Former diocesan leaders claim that giving and attendance is down because people have left because of the heretical Episcopal Church. Well, not in the parishes that are strongly and publicly Episcopalian. In fact, folks are by comparison flocking to the Episcopal parishes in this diocese, even though they have had to work very hard to avoid the parishes which actively and constantly denigrate and undermine the Episcopal Church and have had to overcome the steady diocesan-sponsored drumbeat of diatribe railing against the presiding bishop specifically and TEC in general.

"And if we add in only 1/2 of the confirmations, etc. reported from the additional parishes that remain, the continuing diocese as of today accounts for a whopping 40% of the official acts.

Read the whole thing at

I don't know about you, but I can't wait until this schism is finally over, until the last, unhappy Episcopalian has left and found her/his heart's delight in a place where everybody thinks (and looks) like them, the worship is "pure," the LGBT people are all 'healed and celibate' and the preaching is "biblical," lasts more than 15 minutes and everyone follows along in their own bible.

Oye! Don't make me clutch my pearls!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Theme from 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving'

A little one minute something to which to listen as an aid your digestion while you finish all those Thanksgiving leftovers.

No promises if you also eat left over pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Similar applications apply to left over apple pie and ice cream or a glass of eggnog.

Eat all the left over chocolate dinner mints you wish, however. They have to be out of the house by Sunday night.

It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it (and the mint is great for your digestion).

Extra points if you download this song to your iPod and take a long walk!

The day after - still very, very thankful

I love being with our family. They are bright, intelligent, articulate people who also happen to be generous and kind.

We never want for an opinion - and sometimes two or three from the same person on the same subject!

We played a few really hot rounds of UNO. The competition was fierce!

We played in Spanish to help Ms. Mackie do better with her mastery of the language - especially with colors and numbers. She's doing quite well, thank you very much.

We firmly believe that it is important for our kids to grow up bi- or mulit-lingual, especially in this multicultural, pluralistic world.

Two year old Ms. Abby, however, was confused by the game as well as the Spanish. At one point, she simply put her Beloved Blankie over her head and said, "No more funny talk."

"Oh," we said, "we're having fun."

"Have fun," she said, "No talk funny."

In the end, however, she was asking for the 'azul' sippy cup.

We also had a ballet lesson, Ms. Mackie showing her best form.

Of course, we also went around the front yard and collected sea shells and rocks for Ms. Mackie's growing . . ."collection." We did find the shell of a horseshoe crab that had washed up in the last storm. Mackie was so excited she squealed!

Oh, yeah, and the food was good. The vegetarian alternatives were particularly tasty - so good that everyone had some of the sweet potato and mixed mushroom stuffing and the winter butternut squash braised in cider.

Unfortunately, tofu still suffers from initial bad press - first impressions and all that - but it was really, really good.

So, if you have some vegetarians in your family or in the future of your family, here are some fabulous recipes which are now part of our family tradition.

Baked Tofu with Roasted Vegetables
(Makes 4 servings)


1 block (14 oz.) extra firm tofu
4 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce)
2 tbsp canola or sesame oil
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 inch ginger root, peeled and smashed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
8 stalks fresh asparagus

hot pepper oil ** (optional)

optional: sliced green onions and /or black sesame seeds for garnish


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.

Drain the tofu of excess water. Cut the block of tofu in half horizontally, and in half again to make four “steaks”. Place between paper towels and press to get any remaining water out. (To do this well, press and drain and leave aside for a few minutes and then press and drain again.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and oil. Add mashed garlic and ginger. Place the tofu on the baking sheet and brush with the marinade. Let sit for at least twenty minutes or up to two hours in the fridge, letting the juices soak in.

Toss the asparagus and red pepper in 1/2 tbsp olive oil and arrange on the baking sheet next to the tofu slices. Season everything with a generous sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Bake in the oven for about one hour, turning once, until tofu is golden and crispy. The edges should look crispy and glazed and the vegetables should be caramelized. Brush any extra sauce over top if necessary.

Remove from the oven and plate the tofu slices with the vegetables. Serve with a drizzling of hot pepper oil or with ***creamy tahini-peanut dipping sauce.

** Make your own hot pepper oil by heating 5 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp crushed red pepper in a small saucepan until the oil starts to bubble and brown. Place in a lidded container and set aside for a few days so the infusion has time to really come alive and age. Use sparingly to add flavor and spice to any dish. But be careful, this is going to be spicy!

*** Tahini Sauce:
(Recipe makes enough sauce for several pounds of asparagus and tofu, but have fun thinking of other things it would taste great with.)
1/4 cup well-stirred Tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 cup warm water
2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp. agave nectar, preferably amber (can also use sugar or Splenda)
1/2 tsp. ground garlic puree from a jar (or use fresh garlic and grind in mortar and pestle)
2 tsp. soy sauce (I used Tamari)
2 T peanut butter (I use natural low-sugar peanut butter for South Beach Diet)

Mixed Mushrooms and Sweet Potato Stuffing

Adapted from Charlie Trotter of Charlie Trotter's, Chicago
Time: 45 minutes

4 medium sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and in large dice (4 cups)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped sage leaves
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grape seed oil (or any vegetable oil)
1 pound mixed wild mushrooms (shiitake, portobello or cremini) (4 cups), cleaned, stemmed and in large dice
1 small red onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 sprigs thyme, plus 1 tablespoon minced thyme
8 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 to 3 cups vegetable broth
8 cups day-old sourdough bread, in large dice (one 2-pound round loaf, trimmed of crust)
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley.

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. In roasting pan, place sweet potatoes, olive oil and 1 tablespoon sage leaves , sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Roast until golden brown and tender, tossing occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

2. In a large skillet, heat grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Saute mushrooms and red onions with thyme sprigs, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are caramelized, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat, stir 4 tablespoons butter into hot mushrooms and discard thyme. Set mushrooms aside.

3. Use remaining butter to coat a 3-quart baking dish. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, one cup cream and 2 cups chicken broth together. Add bread and stir until coated evenly. Fold in sweet potatoes, mushroom mixture and remaining herbs. If bread cubes seem dry, add more cream and vegetable broth. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon stuffing into baking dish and bake until golden brown and cooked through, about 45 minutes.

Yield: 10 - 12 servings.

Winter Squash Braised in Cider

Time: 15 - 25 minutes

3 pounds delicata or butternut squash
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
3 cups unfiltered apple or pear cider
1 teaspoon balsamic or apple cider vinegar, optional and to taste
Freshly ground black pepper.

1. Peel squash, halve lengthwise, and remove seeds with spoon. If using delicata, slice into half-moons 1/2-inch thick; if using butternut, dice into 1/2-inch chunks.

2. Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet over low heat until foamy. Add rosemary, and cook over medium heat to flavor butter, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add squash, cider, and 1 teaspoon salt. If squash is not covered by cider, add water to cover.

3. Bring to a simmer, and cook until squash is tender and cider has reduced to a glaze, stirring frequently, 30 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle with vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to warm serving bowl, and serve immediately.
Yield: 9 - 12 servings.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The New Old Thanksgiving Dinner

I'm taking a few quiet minutes to gather my thoughts before the madding crowd arrives and the kitchen becomes Chaos Central.

The turkey is stuffed with Ms. Conroy's Irish Sausage Stuffing and is in the oven (Who else but the Irish would stuff meat with meat?). We begin preparing vegetables in a few moments, and I still have to make the chocolate cream pie (our son-in-law's favorite).

The grandkids will arrive later this morning. The 100-piece, giant-shapes Rain Forrest floor puzzle is all set to put together (Ms. Mackie will LOVE this if Ms. Abby doesn't drive us mad by taking a puzzle piece, running away with it, screaming, "No, I do!" until we figure out a way to incorporate her into the activity without completely ruining the fun for everyone else.)

So far, all the traditions are intact. I'll even accidently-on-purpose burn the bottoms of a few of the dinner rolls because, well, how else would everyone laugh and proclaim, "NOW, it's a perfect Thanksgiving Dinner!"

Except that one member of our family will not be eating the turkey or the stuffing.

Our youngest daughter, Mia, has struggled with asthma for the past 5 - 7 years. She's been on an inhaler twice a day and had to use a 'rescue' inhaler several times a week.

A little miracle happened about 6 months ago. Her doctor suggested to her that she might be allergic to animal protein. Or, as she says, "Anything that comes from anything with a face and a mother."

I tell you that this is absolute truth: Within three weeks of becoming a vegetarian, she was completely off all inhalers. She takes absolutely nothing - NO THING - for her asthma. It's gone. Done.

It is truly miraculous.

We are deeply, deeply grateful.

So, back to Thanksgiving.

Mia was feeling very uncomfortable about sitting at the dinner table. She's the youngest and has always hated being "the baby" - i.e. "special or different." She's really an 'old soul' so I understand. So do her siblings, which is why they torment her. It's what siblings are supposed to do. Especially at holidays.

"I don't miss meat at all," she says. "I miss the memories."

There are some hungers that are stronger than physical ones.

It took a bit of research and a few weeks of testing in the kitchen, but we have come up with a few really wonderful alternatives.

The extra firm tofu is, as I write this, marinating in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. It will be baked with asparagus and sliced bell pepper and some wild mushrooms that have been brushed with ginger oil. The tofu will become crispy and the veggies will be served on top, with a side of tahini dip.

We'll also have sweet potato and mushroom stuffing along with butternut squash that has been cooked in pear and apple cider until the cider is caramelized.

My prediction is that while Mia and I will be the only ones eating the tofu, everyone will love the new stuffing and squash - along with the Irish Sausage Stuffing and Sweet Potato Casserole.

Mia is thrilled to think that others will be eating "her food" when she isn't almost overwhelmed with gratitude that she is being incorporated at the table without fanfare or fuss.

She has no idea how grateful we are that she is no longer prone to wheezing or dependent upon her inhalers.

It's a new old Thanksgiving Dinner in which we will quietly celebrate a little miracle even as we create new memories to cherish.

There's always room at the table for everyone and their particular favorite foods.

Isn't that what the First Thanksgiving was really all about?

Well, then, that will be enough quiet reflection for one morning. It's back into the kitchen for me. I'll emerge sometime later this afternoon.

Dinner is at 2 PM. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood. There's a few extra portions of turkey and stuffing, tons of vegetables, and lots and lots of dessert. I can especially recommend the Chocolate Cream Pie or the Pumpkin Pie which will be served with homemade ice cream. . .

. . . which reminds me. Off I go to make the ice cream . . .

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

True Colors

I am grateful for the world-wide civil rights movement for LGBT people.

No one is free unless we are all free.

You can view this 1 minute film in better resolution here It shatters every stereotype.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Brick of the Day

I am thankful for a wonderful article on a member of our congregation, Bill Schatzabel, in today's 'Daily Record'

You can view the entire article online:

Here's an excerpt:

Schatzabel's Red Cross training also came into play last January, when a fellow parishioner at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham was non-responsive during Mass.

"The rector, Elizabeth (Kaeton), had just finished her sermon during the 8 a.m. Mass. Tom asked if I could look at his father, who was slumped over in the pew. He was gray and cold to the touch and was not breathing. Two people called 9-1-1, and three of us picked him to move him to the center aisle. In the process of moving him, we probably compressed his lungs and he gasped, so I knew his heart was beating again.

"With the paramedics on the way, I treated him for shock. So we raised his legs onto a stack of Bibles and winter coats, which got the blood flowing back to the center of the body and warmed him up. He had been bleeding internally, but three weeks later, returned to Mass.

"Interestingly, I had just given a class to the Sunday school teachers two weeks prior. We do our best to prepare people, but you cannot imagine the feeling that you get to see the training you got and then you taught someone else gets used right in front of you."

Bill is also quite a poet. Check out his poetry blog here

I am deeply grateful for his membership at St. Paul's.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, let's all give Bill a round of applause.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

'Breaking the Silence'

Today, November 25th, has been named United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Un Secretary-General Bani Ki-Moon said, "Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women's lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence - yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned."

Right. But that only happens in "other" countries. Not in America.

Certainly not in America!

According to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association for practitioners and advocates in their arguments to the courts, approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States.

Intimate partner violence made up 20% of all nonfatal violent crime experienced by women in 2001.

According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence than men: 78% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are women and 22% are men.

Most perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Among acts of sexual violence committed against women since the age of 18, 100% of rapes, 92% of physical assaults, and 97% of stalking acts were perpetrated by men.

Sexual violence against men is also mainly male violence: 70% of rapes, 86% of physical assaults, and 65% of stalking acts were perpetrated by men.

In 8 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knows the perpetrator.

Let me repeat that so you can take that in: In 8 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knows the perpetrator.

Of people who report sexual violence, 64% of women and 16% of men were raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner. This includes a current or former spouse, cohabitating partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, or date.

Another national survey found that 34% of women were victims of sexual coercion by a husband or intimate partner in their lifetime.

The National Women's Study, a three-year longitudinal study of a national probability sample of 4,008 adult women (2,008 of whom represent a cross section of all adult women and 2,000 of whom are an over sample of younger women between the ages of 18 and 34), found:

13% of adult women had been victims of completed rape during their lifetime
22% of rape victims were assaulted by someone they had never seen before or did not know well.
9% of victims were raped by husbands or ex-husbands.
11% were raped by fathers or stepfathers.
10% were raped by boyfriends or ex-boyfriends.
16% were raped by other relatives.
29% were raped by other non-relatives, such as friends and neighbors.

The other silent epidemic of violence in this country has to do with our participation in human trafficking.

The UN defines trafficking as "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."

"Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs."

An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international boarders each year, and approximately 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls.

U.S. State Dep't, 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report (June 2005), available at

Of the 45,000 to 50,000 that are brought to the U.S., 30,000 come from Asia, 10,000 from Latin America and 5,000 from other regions e.g., the former Soviet Union. The primary Asian source countries to the U.S. are China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Although trafficking into the U.S. and Europe has gained a lot of attention in recent years, anti-trafficking advocates in Asia have been addressing these issues on the continent for decades.

If you missed the Episcopal Life on line bulletin inserts for this week, you may still find the one on Domestic Violence here.

You will find listed there a number of Domestic Violence Resource Organizations which, in addition to assisting victims of violence in their homes to become survivors in the community, can also help raise the awareness of domestic violence in your communities of faith.

You'll also find this prayer, by Anne O. Weatherhold, author of 'Breaking the Silence':

Gracious God, like a mother hen you shelter us under your wings. Bring your truth and love into homes where domestic violence has shattered the peace. Provide sustenance for the victims and accountability for the abusers. Send wise and courageous friends who can offer alternatives, and bring your healing power into broken relationships. May your church provide a haven of safety and peace for the abused and reach out to support all who serve the needs of the abused in our communities; through Jesus Christ, or Lord. Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leite do mar

Yesterday was a whirl. After our Oxfam Thanksgiving Lunch - which included an exercise in world hunger, led by Deacon Diane Reilly, that was simply eye-opening - I made a pastoral call, then raced to the gym and stopped off at the market on my way home to make my Grandmother's Leite do mar.

Roughly translated, that means "Milk of the Sea" - an incredible seafood chowder.

Our Christmas Bazaar is December 6th. Last year, we sold 800 quarts of soup. Actually, we sold out two hours before the end of the bazaar. That was even better than our "Cookie Walk" which is a pretty amazing assortment of confections. It was incredible. So, I'm making double what I made last year.

The thing of it is, the ingredients vary depending on what my grandfather uncles ("the boys" as my grandmother called them) caught. Later, after my grandfather died, it depended on what was on sale at the fish market.

My grandmother also used whole milk and light cream (I use fat free half and half - it makes me feel better about the bacon and all that butter) and the best cream sherry she had in her pantry. I use Lustau, lacing it in two heavy dollops on the top of the soup shortly before it is served.

She also would save some of the summer corn, shaving the kernels from the cob, and toss that in as well. I have never found canned corn satisfactory, so if I don't have any summer corn in my freezer, I don't add it. She also garnished with some fresh parsley from her garden.

The key is freshness. Don't skimp on this point. It really makes all the difference.

So, here's my grandmother's recipe. It makes a huge pot and freezes very well. Ms. Conroy and I had a bowl for supper last night. Yum, yum, yum.

Leite do mar (VaVoa's Portuguese Seafood Chowder)

1 pound bacon
1/2 pound butter
one large onion, finely chopped
one head of garlic (yes, that much), finely chopped
1 pound each of five to seven kinds of seafood. (I prefer the combination of:
shrimp (I like the colossal, cut in half) , scallops (I prefer bay to sea), minced clams (canned are fine), and salmon or pollock or some other 'meaty' fish, crab meat, flounder, oysters, muscles.
1 and a 1/2 quarts of fat free half and half (or whole milk and light cream)
1 (14.5 ounce) can vegetable or chicken broth
6 medium new or red potatoes
1/2 cup fresh corn (optional)
Cream sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

In a very large soup pot on low flame, put the vegetable or chicken broth along with two small or one large cans of minced clams, with the clam broth. If you are using fresh frozen corn, add it to the pot. Keep it simmering. Don't let it boil. Stir the pot from time to time (like all good revolutionaries do).

In a small pan, boil the potatoes in water until fork-tender.

In a very large skillet, fry bacon until very crisp. Drain, cool, crumble and set aside. Into that same skillet, add one stick of butter and saute the finely chopped onions and garlic until translucent. When done, transfer with a slotted spatula into the large soup pot.

In that same skillet, begin to saute the fish and shellfish, one ingredient at a time. I usually start with the salmon or fish, then the shrimp, then the scallops. Cook them each just until done. Do not overcook. As each is done, drain and put into the soup pot.

When the potatoes are fork tender (a little resistance is not a bad thing), remove from heat, drain, cool, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add to the skillet to brown slightly. (You may need another 1/2 stick of butter). Salt and pepper to taste while they are browning.

Add the cubed potatoes and crumbled bacon to the pot. Stir well.

When all the ingredients are in, add the half and half (best to have left it at room temperature before adding. Salt and pepper to taste. Careful here: you can always adjust the seasonings 'up' rather than 'down' according to your own tastes preference. I think it tastes best with lots of fresh ground black pepper, but that's just me. Let it all simmer together for about 20 minutes so that the different tastes can "marry" each other.

Add two very heavy dollops of cream sherry, stir gently but well, and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. My grandmother always made the sign of the cross with the sherry and said a little prayer of thanksgiving for the "milk of the sea". Actually, that may have been the secret ingredient.

Stir together gently and taste again for seasonings. You may want to add an additional dollop of cream sherry immediately before serving. Serve in a deep bowl, sprinkled with a few sprigs of parsley, with a side of light salad, hot, crusty, buttered bread and the wine of your choice.

Calories? Fuggedeboutit! It's winter. My grandmother always said you need more calories in the winter. You gonna argue with my grandmother? Even from the grave, she'd be a formidable opponent. Just hit the gym for an additional 30 minutes the next day or do an additional hour at the gym that week. Trust me. It's worth it.

Freeze whatever is left over in tightly sealed quart containers. The only thing better than fresh chowder is days old chowder.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Family Values and The Great Imperative

The Feast of Christ the King – Matthew 25: 31-46
Proper 29A – November 23, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Did you get the point of today’s gospel?

You might have missed it buried under all the wrinkles and folds of all that repetition.

The homiletic professors of old used to teach the tried and true method of a three-point sermon. That’s all you were allowed. The best advice I got from one of my professors was to never preach a sermon like the “Old Man River.” You know the song, from the Broadway play, “Show Boat”: ‘Old man river, he must know somethin’, he don’t say nothin’, he just keeps rollin’ along.’

At first blush, St. Matthew’s sermon on the teachings of Jesus appears to take one point and make it not three but four times . . .’for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’.

Oh, when was that, Lord, that we saw you hungry . . . thirsty . . . etc.? The litany is repeated, this time in the negative . . . ‘for I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not feed me’ – just in case we didn’t get it.

So, what about the “it”?

What is the point of this little sermonic device that comes perilously close to sounding like the Old Man River? Well, the easy answer is this: when you did – or did not do – all these acts of justice for the “least of these” you are doing it for – or denying it to – Jesus himself.

Well, there it is, then. Well done. We all feel better now, don’t we? We all got the point of the gospel, the Old Man River Preacher can close her gospel book and we can all get on with the day.

Somebody say ‘Amen,’ before it’s too late and she changes her mind.

Hang on! Not so fast. Turns out, the preacher does have more to say.

The more subtle point to this gospel story lies in a word hidden deep in the repetition of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus says this, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Did you catch that?

Jesus said, “ . . .one of the least of these who are members of my family.”

This time, it’s personal with Jesus. We’re not talking about ‘neighbors’ as in ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’ We’re talking ‘family’, here. The original ‘family values’ of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the narrow, strict, culturally imposed ‘family values’ defined by and imposed upon us by the Religious Right.

Jesus is calling us to a higher sense of justice, not just the good feelings that come from helping ‘the least of these.’ While there is nothing in the world wrong with feeling good because you have helped someone in need, that’s not the point of doing good.

Jesus is saying something about ‘the least of these’ that speaks directly to his sense of family values – which has little to do with policing people in their bedrooms and everything with understanding the interconnected web of human relationships.

Jesus is telling us that everyone – even‘the least of these’ – is part of his family. The Greek word that’s used is ‘adelphoi’ or ‘brothers and sisters’. To be in relationship with Jesus is to be in relationship with God AND to be in relationship with others in community – those who are young and those who are old, those who are male and those who are female.

And . . and . . and, ‘the least of these’: those who are in need of food, clothing, and shelter; those who are sick; those who are in prison, and – get this – even those whom we have never met.

We have learned through our children who have been on Mission Trips that doing works of justice not only brings a sense of deep satisfaction, but as Gregory Solomon and Jeffrey San Filippo said so eloquently last week, that ‘good feeling’ of helping to raise the status of those who were strangers to you is so ennobling that you are inspired to continue to do the work in small ways with people you do know. There are often little miracles to be found in the little wrinkles of the fabric of our lives.

However, a hidden danger may also lurk on the inner crease of that wrinkle – of not doing a work of justice to ‘the least of these’.

In his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Douglass, a runaway slave and abolitionist activist, used today’s gospel to argue that injustice damages the perpetrator as well as the victim.

Douglass tells the story of Mrs. Sophie Auld, a woman who made her own living until she married, and had never had a slave until young Frederick came to live in her household. When he first met her, she was the very model of the Christian ideal, insisting that he look her in the face when they talk – something that was seen as a sign of disrespect and was severely punished in the south.

She even began to teach him the alphabet until her husband forbade her from doing so. He argued that teaching a slave to read was not only against the law and to do so will not only endanger the household, it will also “put ideas in his head” that will lead him to want things he can never have.

Douglass describes these simple acts of withholding human kindness from him as her descent from the pinnacle of Christian ideal into the outer darkness of hell. He writes, "When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach." That is, she obeys the gospel imperatives as we hear them in today’s gospel, and, of course, our baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons.

Douglass continues, “The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work.... Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness."

The point Douglass is trying to make is the same one Jesus is making in this morning’s gospel. Yes, we ought to do these works of justice for ‘the least of these’ because when we do them, we do them for Jesus. And yes, when we don’t do these things, we place our souls in peril of the ‘outer darkness’ – our hearts turn to stone and our inclination to generosity shrivels up and dies under a mean-spirited impulse of avarice.

More to the point of Jesus, we do these things – or we don’t do these things – not only for Jesus and to Jesus, but also “to one of the least of these who are members of my family.” See? You mess with ‘the least of these’ and you’re not only messing with Jesus, you’re messing with his family. And – here’s the bottom line – if you mess with one of Jesus’ family, you’re messing with one of your own.

I remember reading somewhere that St. Vincent DePaul taught the men and women in his religious society to expect and accept the anger they received as they distributed food and clothing to the poor.

He said something like, “Who do you think you are, giving them their daily bread which comes from God? No wonder they get angry at you! It’s not your Bread. More importantly, who do you think they are? They are not “the poor”. They are your sisters and brothers in Christ. ”

I have learned, over time, that whenever I put the article “the” in front of a particular demographic, I seriously diminish my ability to do effective ministry. I do not minister to ‘the poor’, or ‘the homeless’, or ‘the elderly’ or ‘the youth.’ Those terms are handy, I suppose, for social scientists and social workers and those whose professions are based in a problem-solution perspective.

I minister with people who live in poverty and with people who do not have homes of their own. I say ‘with’ because I am always more richly ministered to by people who have less than I than I fear I do to them. That’s not the point. At least, that’s not the point Jesus is trying to make.

This is the Feast of Christ the King – the last Sunday of the Season of Creation and the last Sunday of this liturgical year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. As unbelievable as it seems, Thanksgiving is less than a week away. Christmas is right around the corner.

Next week, we begin to prepare for the coming of Christ the King. But this is the King who does not lord his power over us; rather, this is the King who reigns over our hearts and minds and empowers us to do the work of justice and mercy. It is through his birth, and our baptism into his life, death and resurrection that a new world order – The Realm of God – is established.

We are all sisters and brothers in his name, and heirs through him of hope. Through King Jesus we are become a ‘royal priesthood of believers’, destined for the greatness of servant leadership.

You see, when we reach outside ourselves, doing the work we misname ‘outreach’ we are really reaching out to touch part of our own selves. By elevating the status of another, we ennoble ourselves.

We serve a sister or brother in need not because of their need or ours, but because all good things come from God. We seek to be in relationship with a stranger because we have this relationship with God in Christ, and every stranger is simply a friend we have not yet met.

And that, my friends, is the point. For of such is the Realm of God, the dominion of Christ the King. And I am convinced that the Realm of God can most often be found in the inconvenient wrinkles in the fabric of our lives; indeed, it is there where Jesus reigns most gloriously. Amen.

Note: I am grateful for the information on Frederick Douglass from a 2006 article in The Witness: Justice for 'the Least of These", Salvation for All by Dr. Karen A Keely.

Picture of the Week

Here's what I'm thinking: The best thing that could have ever happened to the Liberation Movement for LGBT people is Prop 8.

Oh, and the election of Barack Obama.

Which wouldn't have happened until after 8 years of Dubya.

God works in mysterious ways.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What would YOU do?: Case Study II

I am so deeply grateful for the comments and information I got with the last post like this, that I thought I'd ask for your thoughts and feelings again - but on a different issue altogether.

I got an email this week from a woman who is a colleague in ordained ministry. For the past several years, she and two other ordained women have been leading a bible study in a prison.

It has been well attended and quite successful, but recently, some of the men have stopped coming. And, they have convinced the other men not to come.

My colleague has asked for a meeting with the Prison Chaplain, which she thinks will happen some time next week. She wrote asking me if I had any suggestions about what might be done so she could offer them as possible ideas when she meets with him.

Here's what I wrote, but I'd be interested in your thoughts. Thanks in advance for your contributions.


My dear Sister in Christ,

Well, ain't that just a kick in the back end of your Victoria Secrets! I'm so sorry for this. It must feel like a huge loss.

I suspect the men are basing their boycott on either 1 Cor. 14:34-35 “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

And possibly from 1 Tim. 2:11-12 “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

You could argue those scripture passages with the inmates, and "talk them down" - even make them feel bad/guilty, and do that without even breaking a sweat.

Not only is that not your style, that's really not the issue, is it? As we say in pastoral counseling, 'the thing is never really the thing; it's usually something else." In other words, the presenting issue is rarely the real issue.

Or, to quote May Sarton, there are 'crucial conversations' that happen underneath the social or polite conversation where the real conversation is happening. That's what you've got to listen for/to. If you get together with the other two women before you meet with the chaplain, you may want to go over interactions, body language and other clues about what might be the real issue.

Several possibilities - in no particular order of importance - include:

1. The guys are just asserting what little power they have - even the power to reject Bible Study - and strike a small victory within the system by getting them to get 'real men' to teach them.

2. They could really believe what they are saying to you b/c the another evangelical or RC prison ministry team of men are telling them that.

3. They could be real assholes. Some men (and women) are. Prison just intensifies their assholedness.

4. This may be symptomatic of another kind of power struggle going on in the prison population between Christians and Muslims. The Muslims may be laughing at them b/c they have women teaching them the bible! Imagine! Must be highly inferior to their "real" Koran teaching.

5. Another kind of power struggle in the prison population may involve prison rape - and these guys may actually make themselves more vulnerable to gang rape b/c they are seen as 'inferior' in terms of taking bible study in the first place, but, to boot, an 'inferior' brand b/c it is led by women. There are lots of gang members in prison and no place in gang hierarchy for women or weak men (read: those who are taught by women).

6. They may find you attractive (well, b/c you are) and they are having a hard time (as it were) concentrating on scripture b/c they can't get their minds out of what's going on in their pants.

7. It could be all of the above, in various permutations and in various manifestations among the individual men in the group. No doubt, they do not have the emotional maturity or the social skills to do this kind of self-assessment - but you do.

I strongly suspect that at the very bottom of this is a struggle about power - personal or institutional or both. That shouldn't come as a surprise, I suppose. They are men who are incarcerated for breaking the law. Understand the power dynamic here and you've got a key to unlock the possibilities of finding a solution.

So, what you do depends on your assessment of what's really going on, which you'll need to do among yourselves and with the Chaplain. You may need to face the fact that, if you are going to continue this work, you are going to have to involve men on your teaching team. That may mean someone from your church, the diocese or someone from the prison population who helps you lead the bible study.

You may also need to face the stone cold fact that the solution may be out of your hands. It may even be out of the Prison Chaplain's hands. There may be power dynamics at play here that are symptomatic of another, bigger problem that is unknown to you presently, or may be at the initial stages of brewing.

Whatever you do, I hope you don't give up. That would be a shame. You may need to take a bit of a sabbatical for a while and then try to start it up again in the early spring. If you have to give up with the men, then I hope you consider transferring your energies to the women's side of the prison, if that's possible.

I'll keep you in my prayers. If I think of anything else, I'll write again.

May God continue to bless you and this important ministry.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Antidote to Recession/Depression

Change is coming.

Change we can believe in.

But first, change will bring with it sacrifice and trials and tribulation.

Our son was laid off today. He was working in the finance department of a major auto dealership. He and his wife have three children ages 9, 4 and 4 months.

It's going to be rough, but change is coming.

Be the change you seek.

Yes, we can!

Sign of the Times?

Recession? What recession?

You can "google" this information from lots of sources, but Bill sent me this one from here, which seems most consistent with other sources.

I know my "Christmas Wish List" has been seriously cut. My family is, likewise, looking at gifts that are more "practical" as well as homemade.

That being said, it's also a sign of the times to be more generous with others whose "practical needs" are much more serious than our own.

What to get for that 'person who has everything'? How about a generous contribution in her/his name to an agency that helps those in need - at home or around the world?

Anyway, looks like too many of us will have too many places left to do our Christmas Shopping. Pray for all those who have or will lose their jobs. Pray for the leadership of this country. Pray for an end to the greed in our own hearts which equates getting "more stuff" with greater happiness that the greed in human hearts will be transformed into generosity.

Circuit City
155 stores closing
6 in NE Ohio
2 will remain open in NE Ohio

Ann Taylor

117 Stores to close nationwide
Closings planned over the next 3 years
No specifics announced

Lane Bryant

40 Stores closing nationwide

Fashion Bug

100 stores closing nationwide


10 stores closing nationwide

KB Toys

150 stores closing nationwide
Akron location remains open

Eddie Bauer

27 stores closing nationwide


14 stores closed but several others open


All stores closed


Closed Middletown, Ohio store in April

Disney Store

98 stores closed nationwide

Home Depot

15 stores closed nationwide
2 in Ohio – Findley & Lima
Won’t open 50 stores planned for 2009
Hurt specifically byeal estate crisis


78 men's and children's stores closed by September

Fifteen furniture chains
closed last year, up from 10 in 2006 and five in 2005, according to Furniture/Today, a trade publication. Two of the largest, Wickes and Domain, closed this year.

Pacific Sunwear

154 remaining Demo stores closing

Foot Locker

140 stores closing by end of 2008

Linens N’ Things

371 stores liquidating
All set to be closed by Jan. 1


Already Closed: Rolling Acres Mall
Akron Canton Centre, Canton
Randall Park Mall, North Randall

Movie Gallery

160 stores as part of reorganization plan to exit bankruptcy


100 Stores

J. C. Penney, Lowe’s and Office Depot
are scaling back or delaying expansion. Office Depot had planned to open 150 stores this year, but will now open 75.

Sprint Nextel
125 retail locations

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Great Cloud of Great Cyberwitnesses

This time, Clumber, that brilliant cyberpup, has absolutely outdone himself.

This is the fourth and last in his series.

Fifty days off your time in Purgatory if you can name all the Cyberwitnesses.

Go and visit his artwork.

Be inspired. And remember:

Pray THROUGH the icon, not TO the icon.

What would YOU do?

Now that I have your attention . . .

I often get emails from colleagues around the country, asking for my opinion/advice about difficult situations which arise from time to time in the parish. I am always honored, but truth be told, it is more often the case that I seek the advice of my colleagues when I get into a situation I feel completely unprepared to address with any sense of confidence or knowledge.

Sometimes I just call and sometimes we carry on a conversation in cyberspace. I'm always so grateful to know we have such wonderful, competent clergy in the Household of God. Yes, we have our 'clunkers' but for the most part, the ones who are stellar absolutely shine!

I have posted below my comments to a brother clergy who was about to have a couple from his congregation come visit him. Seems that this couple know a couple who have a young son. From the age of three, this young boy has identified as female.

The parents have supported that child in his gender identification, allowing him to wear feminine clothes and play with toys that are more typically embraced by the female gender of the species.

He's now off to elementary school and his parents have instructed his teachers to do likewise, including a feminine version of his name. Just for sake of conversation, let's say his name is 'Paul' and they've instructed the teachers to call him 'Paula'.

The parishioners who are friends of this couple find this distressing and have made an appointment with their rector to discuss it. My colleague wrote to ask for advice. Here's what I said.

A confession: I'm pretty much shooting from the hip here. I'm confident that I know what Jesus would do. The real reason for posting this is to ask, "What would YOU do?"

If there are those of you who read this blog who have information or access to information on this subject, I'd be deeply grateful to receive it.

Thanks to all of you in advance for what I know will be your brilliant information.

Oh wait. One last thing: The posters above are from the Would Jesus Discriminate? Campaign. You can find out more information and join the discussion here.

Okay, 0ff you go, then.

UPDATE: Today just happens to be Transgender Remembrance Day. You can find more information here.

My dear brother,

I have no doubt that others will have far better information than I and better access to appropriate resources - especially in your neighborhood. So, I'm a little hesitant to offer what little I know. I happen to have the evening off (thank you Jesus) so I have the time right now, and, because you know I adore you, I'm willing to give it my best shot.

Believe it or not, I've been in similar situations three times in the past 10 years. I have one kid in my congregation I've been watching for the past 6 years and I have no doubt that we're headed into "crisis" soon. He's now 10 and, well, I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect he has Klinefelter Syndrome - "genetically female, pragmatically male". (Ms. Conroy concurs, which is very important, as you know.)

This may be more information than you need or want, but very, very briefly this means that, instead of inheriting x chromosome from mom and y from dad, these men inherit an extra x chromosome from either mom or dad. They are either xx with an extra y or as xy with an extra x. At puberty, they do not develop facial or body hair or deep voices and heavy muscles and some experience breast growth.

So, for what it's worth, here's my best shot - not as a Transgender person but as a pastor - AND not knowing important particulars of your situation (neither, apparently, do you).

I'm going to give you some medical information, but please let it play as "background music" to your interactions with your parishioners. Your primary role is as their pastor. I don't have to remind you of that, but I don't want you to get too tied up in the medical information and lose your primary focus.

First: Forgive me, but I'm not clear: Is this a problem for your parishioners or for the affected family? You don't need to answer me, but get clear about this for yourself.

If it is not a problem for the "affected family", but it IS for your parishioners, then you begin, I think, with exploring with your parishioners their "problem" - their feelings - helping them work through the roots of their discomfort and offering some concrete suggestions about how they might be helpful to the parents and their child.

Be on the alert to see if this has touched something deeper in them and assess if you think they need to talk more about it with a professional in this field. Check beforehand to see what the appropriate referral resources are for them in your community. You might also want to check with those community resources in terms of booklets or recommended books you can provide them with.

If it is a problem for the affected family, which is a problem for your parishioners, then you are obviously on different path.

The first thing to remind yourself is that there is Sexual Identity and then there is Sexual Orientation.

Remember that there are four components to Sexual Identity

1. Biological Sex (various chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical factors)
2 His or her gender identification (sense of being male or female)
3. The person's social sex role (the cultural definition of being male or female)
4. The person's sexual orientation

It is important to remember that these four components are not isolated but interact with each other to form the whole, healthy human being.

There are, as you know, three components to Sexual Orientation

1. Arousal patterns (including fantasy)
2. Affective preferences
3. Behavior (patterns of physical contact with others)

In the interest of time, to put this very, very briefly and simplistically (understanding that it is a very complex issue), there are two possibilities of the cause of his gender identity "confusion" or "crisis."

(I apologize for those terms. They are not mine, but belong to the medical profession which, in Western medicine, has its basis in assumed pathology. They sound so judgmental, don't they? I'm sorry.)

1. Physical (chromosomes, hormones and anatomical factors)
2. Psychological (it's important to note that as a healthy term, not always indicating pathology)

1. Physical: We all learned in the 5th grade about chromosomes and that we "all" have an x = female and y = male chromosome. That's not exactly true. We don't "all" have xy chromosomes.

Some of us have xxy chromosomes, sometimes known as "Superwoman"

Some have xyy chromosomes, sometimes known, of course, as "Superman"

The interesting thing is that about one person in every 500 has a karyotype other than xx or xy. About one in 1,000 women has three x chromosomes instead of the usual two (me included, btw). Some have as many as 4 x plus two y's.

As recently as 1996, eight women in the Olympic Games tested as "not women" who had been observed while urinating and not disqualified on that basis - only after chromosomal analysis (Yes, one of the indignities of Olympic testing is that you have to be observed while urinating.)

To get right to the point: I would say that the first thing this kiddo needs is genetic analysis. If he hasn't been tested, your parishioners can be real friends in strongly urging the parents to speak to their pediatrician and get a referral to a pediatric genetic specialist. It's not the only answer, and the situation is much more complicated than a simple blood test, but it's an important place to begin to sort out the complex puzzle pieces to this child's identity.

2. Psychological

This has to do with this child's inherent and/or intuitive sense about being male or being female. He may have had a very early role identification 'crisis" or "confusion' which is not unusual but it is significant. From the copy of your parishioner's email to you I'm reading some negative judgment on his/her part in terms of how the parents have approached this (Of course, I could be wrong, but that's how I read it.).

There is no way of knowing - for them or us - whether or not the parent's approach to this was correct or incorrect, from a psychological standpoint. Which leads me to this piece of advice:

Along with the genetic testing, the child needs to be seen by a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist for further assessment and testing - preferably in concert with the pediatric genetic specialist. The best approach would be to find a 'team' that works on this issue. I know there are several clinics in NYC and Boston as well as one in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins, where some of the original work by John Money was done. I can't believe your local Medical Center or some equivalent teaching hospital doesn't have this resource.

Again, many people hear: "He needs a psychological or psychiatric evaluation" and immediately interpret it as judgment or a message of some sort of pathology. That is absolutely not the case. This is about acquiring information that will help put the puzzle pieces together to help make this child - this family - whole (if, in fact that is part of the "problem")

The important thing for you in your role as pastor is to reduce the anxiety and distress of your parishioners.

1. Allow them to express these feelings in the open, non-judgmental, non-anxious presence of their trusted and loving pastor.

2. Active listening - including check in and feedback at appropriate intervals like, "So, I'm hearing you say ____, is that right?"

3. Provide them with information that gives them the message that this is not "the end of the world," or "an abomination"; that this kiddo is a Child of God and not a "freak"; and that his parents, if they haven't already, need to seek out and secure the services of professionals who can help them help their child grow into a whole, healthy human being, with a positive gender identification that may differ (at least, right now), from his external, physical gender identification - whatever that might be.

4. Have some resources to give them to better educate themselves. I urge you to do that for yourself, as well. I have been helped enormously by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott's "Omnigender" - chock full of good information and stories. However, I don't know your parishioners so I don't know if that would be an appropriate place for them to start their own educational journey.

There are lots of other books and resources. You might want to visit the TransEpiscopal webpage and leave a message for some assistance and advice.

There's lots. lots more to this, including all the components of the term 'Transgender', but I'll stop here. Don't hesitate to call me if you need to talk this through.

God has called you to do a mighty work of justice and peace with this family. I know you will be as much of a blessing to them as you are to us all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What did Phillip do?

I don't know, you tell me, but I think the look on the Queen's face in that last frame says it all.

Perhaps His Grace is making his own ungracious comment about the millinery fashion statements of his wife and daughter.

Somebody cue the Fab four:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Our Clumber has been a very busy pup. Painting icons, he is.

In this one, he reminds us, "Pray THROUGH the icon not TO the icon."

Good call, mate.

And THIS one leaves me speechless and unable to pray - save rolling my eyes to heaven and wishing it would go away.

He's quite a pious pup, that Clumber.

How many "Saints and Sinners" can you name?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Love Out Loud: Reflections on a Youth Mission Trip

Note: As I wrote yesterday, this past Sunday was our twice-a-year celebration of the ministry of our young people. The Confirmation Class, along with the High School and Middle School Youth Groups plan the liturgy, read the lessons, lead the prayers and the hymns they select, bring up the oblations and give the dismissal.

The process tests my patience, leads me to question my already questionable sanity, and the high energy of the service leaves me completely exhausted, but at the end, I'm delirious with joy.

This year, two kids gave the testimony in place of the homily. I am so proud of them I could simply burst.

I present them to you with joy and pride. They are gospel parables of how investing your blessings in unlikely places like two adolescent boys will return to you in double measure, pressed down, and overflowing. (See Matthew 25:14-30)

2008 Mission Trip Reflection
by Jeffrey

This summer started off perfectly for me, I hung out with friends, went to the pool and just relaxed. And then came the news that would cause a wrinkle in the fabric of my carefully laid out summer plains.

That wrinkle was the 2008 mission trip to Parsons KS. When my mom informed me that I would be going I complained, moaned and pestered her not to make me go. If you did not know what me and my mom are talking about, who would believe that she was about to violate the Eighth amendment preventing cruel and unusual punishment?

Well all of my complaining did little because I found myself on the morning of July 20th standing on line to weigh my bags at Newark liberty international airport. The trip to Kansas City Missouri took about three hours and once there we had to rent a minivan and two SUVs to carry us the rest of the way to Parsons, KS.

During the trip, I got to meet some of the people who would be leading the trip. There was Tim the master planer, John the talented musician, Suzy the person who kept every body real and Courtney the toy maker ( no really that what she dose).

The road portion of the trip confirmed what many people had told me to expect in Kansas and to sum it up in one word: corn, lots and lots and lots of corn.

Now Parsons proper is a lovely little town with small stores and quaint little shops and other nick-knack stores. However, the houses were in a much more dire shape. Many looked as though they had not been painted in well over fifteen years and some had roofs that where sagging. This was just a hint of what was to come.

We arrived at Parson’s middle school a little late due to the fact that we were one of the few groups to have flown. My notions about the trip soon began to dissipate. The school was air conditioned and the room that we would sleep in was quite comfortable. We ended up sharing the room with a Lutheran church group from Illinois.

Later on we were all assigned into different work crews with different tasks. My crew was assigned to fix up a house whose family had adopted seven, yes seven kids. The father was a minister and the mother was a teacher’s aid. They told me a few years back a terrible tornado had come through and wrecked havoc on the town. A tree had blown into there house and they had barley enough money to pay for the repairs. Since then they had not been able to paint their house or keep up with scheduled maintenance.

That is where we come in. We helped paint a whole side of a three story house. We replaced a section of the porch and then primed and painted the whole front of the house. After that, we sanded and painted the side of a toy house so that the family’s younger kids could once again play in it.

After the first day of work we received a pleasant surprise from our resident’s father. He brought us donuts and told us how long he had prayed and looked for help to come to this all but forgotten town. A few moments later, a van carrying cold water donated from the local newspaper came around and believe me this was very welcome in a climate of hot and humid weather.

These two events got me thinking about the theme of this trip which was “Love Out Loud”. All throughout the week we had heard this slogan “Love Out Loud”. The term had been discussed in detail at our nightly devotions, but I still did not understand what it means to “Love Out Loud”?

This was a question that had nagged at my thoughts throughout the week, but after the week was over, I believed I had finally understood what “Loving Out Loud” is. Mind you, different people may have completely different interpretations, but here is mine.

In Chatham, New Providence and Madison, we have only begun to be affected by this worsening economy, but this town of Parsons, KS had lingered on the brink for so long and finally pushed over by a devastating tornado. They had prayed for help to rebuild and to reenergize the community, but most of all, to not be forgotten. To know that people would hear about what happened to this community and come help.

That help came when 12 kids from Chatham and hundreds others from around the country gathered for a week of rebuilding houses, but more importantly, rebuilding lives and families. This is “Loving Out Loud”.

Showing people that you care and that they are not invisible and help is out there. “Loving Out Loud” is the volunteers from the local newspapers who came to the homes we were working on and gave us cold water on the hottest days. “Loving Out Loud” is the cafeteria ladies at the Parsons Middle School who prepared our meals and fed us.

Remember that wrinkle in the fabric of my carefully laid out summer plans I told you about in the beginning? Well that wrinkle was the best thing that happened to me over the summer! Amen.

2008 Mission Trip Reflection
by Gregory

Parsons, KS was my second mission trip and with each mission trip, I learn a little more about myself. I feel lucky to live in a town like Chatham and going to places like Belize and Parsons, KS and seeing how people live in other parts of the world makes me realize how fortunate I am.

My work crew for the week consisted of youth from Texas, Illinois and Minnesota. We worked hard everyday at our resident’s home and we would share stories about our home states. Our resident’s house we worked on was damaged six years ago in a tornado and the assignment we were given was to repaint the entire house. We worked hard and completed our project in four days and the family thought their house looks great!

Our family consisted of Colleen the Mom, who worked at the local paper, her daughter and her grandson. It felt so good helping this family and I know the people of Parsons were glad we were there.

The people of Parsons were very nice and would come up to us and thank us. One man even gave us money, which our work crew decided to use for the family. We bought a toy truck for Colleen’s grandson and also a picture frame with a picture of our work crew in it so Colleen would always remember us.

Every night after dinner, we would have evening program with everyone followed by devotions with our youth group. Devotions are a time when we would gather with our youth group and chaperones to reflect and share our day’s activities with one another.

Every night we were tired, but had such a feeling of accomplishment knowing we were helping people who needed us and giving of ourselves. We would then relate what we had done to bible passages and sing songs lead by John Mayer, one of our chaperones. Every night the St. Paul’s group would get together, play games and have bedtime stories. It was a great bonding experience for us.

Wednesday night is known as “cry night”, which lived up to its name. It was a time to reflect on your life and choices we’ve made and this made me realized how much my family meant to me. I’ll admit, I don’t always tell my family how much they mean to me, so I decided to call my Mom that evening to let her know…and of course I got her voicemail, but I left her a message which she received later that evening and she too cried!

As I reflected on my week, I thought of all the new friends I have made and still keep in touch with. The things I have learned about myself like being able to set my mind on a project and completing it. I realized how much faith plays in my everyday life and that giving of yourself makes you feel good. I also realized how much of a difference one person can make and that it really doesn’t take that much effort.

When I got home, I wanted to keep that feeling and spirit from the mission trip going, but I found it difficult as I adjusted back to “real life”. In an attempt to keep that feeling and spirit from the mission trip in my everyday life, I try to do something to help my Mom or grandparents every week, to give back to them what they have given to me… unconditional love.

I am looking forward to our next mission trip in June 2009 to West Virginia and all the new experiences that will bring. Amen!