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

Friday, September 16, 2016

In Memory of Her


I'm remembering and giving thanks that forty years ago today, on September 16, 1976, The Episcopal Church voted to change the canons to allow for the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy, effective January 1, 1977.

Many events led up to the making of this history.

I'm remembering and giving thanks for the eleven women who were ordained in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974 and the four women who were ordained in Washington, DC on September 7, 1975, as well as their courageous ordaining bishops and congregations that supported the ordinations.


I'm remembering and giving thanks for Charles Willie, who resigned as PHOD in protest of the Aug 15, 1974 decision of the HoB to decry the four ordaining bishops' "violation of collegiality," refuse to talk with women, and assert the ordinations were not valid.

I'm remembering and giving thanks for the Rev Peter Beebe who was charged with violating the canons for allowing two of the Philadelphia 11 (Cheek and Heyward) to preside at Eucharist and the Rev William Wendt who was charged, tried and disciplined for violating the canons when he invited Alison Cheek to preside at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in DC. (1974)

I'm remembering and giving thanks for all those men and women who declared that the theological sky was falling and that the world as we knew it would come to an end; who flew the Episcopal flag in front of their churches at half mast (signalling death) or upside down (signalling distress). They, too, made a public witness of their faith.

They, too, are part of our history and played their part faithfully, moving the ambivalent or undecided to take an uncomfortable stand for what they believed about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I'm remembering and giving thanks for all the women and men around the Anglican Communion whose faith and witness preceded and laid the foundation for this historic event in the life of our church; especially Florence Li Tim-Oi, ordained in Hong Kong in 1944, Deaconess Phyllis Edwards recognized as deacon in 1965, for the Anglican Provinces of Hong Kong, Kenya, Korea and Canada which begin ordaining women to diaconate in 1968, for the Anglican Church of Canada which changed their canons in 1975 and began ordaining women on November 30, 1976.


I'm giving thanks and praise for all the untold and unnamed numbers of saints whose witness and sacrifice allowed this historical change which we remember today. Without them, so many of us who are women and ordained in The Episcopal Church as deacons and priests and bishops would not have been able to be faithful to our vocational call.

Is it a coincidence that, in less than a decade the Union of Black Clergy and Laity (UBCL, now, UBE - Union of Black Episcopalians) was founded in 1968, the Episcopal Women's Caucus was founded in 1971 and Integrity was founded in 1975?

No, I don't think so.

Institutional change does not come without cost. It is always preceded by transformational change at the personal level. Please read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the history of this historical event.

And, when you do, do it in memory of her.

Click here for a full timeline of the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion. 

Many thanks to Mary Frances Schjonberg  for this interactive timeline

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fit to print?


Dear American Journalists,

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you have all, individually and collectively, 
Lost. Your. Minds.

I'd like to be able to blame "social media" as the source and circulation of conspiracy theories. but, baby, it's you. 

It's THE MEDIA. 

It's the once noble, admired and respected "Fourth Estate". 

You've all become 4th graders on a playground of information. "Mine, mine, mine!" You practically squeal. "I got the information first." "This is my news scoop. My take. My smart response. My snark. My snappy comeback. My QOTD. My wit. My personality."

It's suddenly not about the news.  It's the various news reporters and "TV personalities" who have become the news. It's a weird kind of narcissism, this writing about and reporting on yourselves and what you think about "the news" - which you have made "the news". Because you are, apparently, a "personality" and are allowed to do that. 

"The news" for days after The Commander In Chief Forum was less about what either of the candidates said, even though one may have overstated her case and made a promise she couldn't keep and the other did what that other candidate always does: lies. Bold face. Tight screen. 

No, the news story was all about how the moderator, the venerable daily television host, the mild and gentile Matt Lauer, totally blew it. That was the story. Not the forum. The story about the forum was the story about the journalist who was suppose to moderate the story of the forum. but, instead, had an epic fail - blatant, ugly sexism being only one of his many flaws.

Andrea Mitchell - Andrea Mitchell, for God's sake! - was actually reduced to playing five (5!!!) Very Long seconds of Hillary coughing on her MSNBC show yesterday. 

Coughing! Which was to prove... what? That Hillary has a cough??? That Hillary has not been - gasp! - "transparent"? About a cough???? 

Seriously?

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your standards have slipped. And they are showing. 
You now practice a kind of "tabloid journalism" which isn't concerned about facts and information, much less uncovering the truth. It's all about chasing whispers and rumor. 

You don't report facts, you repeat innuendo and conjecture. 

You practically salivate over it. 

And, you don't hold your colleagues accountable when they are blatantly prejudiced in their reporting (but, don't get me started on the whole Rachel Maddow, Matt Lauer thing). 

Here's a news flash: There's nothing in Hillary's damn emails. There's no "there" there. Stop talking like a first year law student in litigation class. It doesn't "go to the issue of transparency". Neither does it reveal "a pattern of behavior".  

That's not the news. The news is the content of her emails and whether or not she is involved in a "pay for play" scam or broke security. 

She isn't. She didn't. Report that. Move on.

And, stop with the "false equivalency" reporting. You don't justify the lies of one candidate by trying to find something wrong with the other. You don't repeat the lies and misinformation from quacks about one topic like climate change and then report what "other scientists" (who are the Real Scientists, the others being people who barely graduated 8th Grade Science Class but were the president of their Debate Team) say about what's really going on in the world. 

You're a JOURNALIST. Act like one. Report the news.  

This is basic stuff, people. Journalism 101.

Has anyone asked why we need to know that Hillary has pneumonia? Well, only because the "conspiracy theorists" over at Breitbart ... um... "news"  have been saying she has much worse. 

"Syphilis," I heard one man say authoritatively, "she got it from Bill."

Ah, see! That's a great 'twofer" Stick it to Bill AND Hillary in a one sentence, all purpose, handy-dandy conspiracy theory that provides evidence of her not being fit for public office by reason of association with a man who - unlike you - was only caught with his pants down. 

Hey, maybe what if there's some truth to that. I mean, he was such a philanderer, right? Could it be? Roll that film of Monica and Bill again, would you? The one of her in that beret and them hugging in a crowd? Hmmm.... maybe there's something to these conspiracy theories????

Hey, people of the media! Here's a news flash: No. There. Isn't. The only "something" to conspiracy theories is what you already know: Conspiracy. Oh, and Theory.

We used to have a word for that when I was in school. We called it GOSSIP. Indeed, we were encouraged not to engage in it. "Shows weakness of character," I remember Sr. Mary Aloysius saying, adding "which is a sin you'll have to confess. And, repent. Father will give you at least five 'Hail Mary's and one Our Father' which, if you ask The Virgin to help you, will remove the stain of gossip on your weak souls."

Oh, and it's also about this: Money. "If it bleeds, it leads". Isn't that what some of your editors say? 
But, this is not even about money. It's more than that. It's about greed. Which is an addiction, all on its own. You are all binging and purging on information and mis-information which passes for news which keeps the cash register humming. And, your bosses happy. 

Say, didn't your bosses used to be called "editors"? Now they're called "news executives," right? Hmm . . . wonder what that's all about ....... 

Here's another question: What about 'right to privacy'? Where are the lines for "public officials"? If we have a right to ask if men if they wear 'boxers or briefs' do we have a right to ask Hillary if she wears panties or thongs? Do the American people really need to know?

Can Hillary - or any candidate for - or holder of - public office - be allowed a few shreds of privacy about her own damn health? Without having her integrity questioned?  

Unless, of course, you are Donald J. Trump and have no integrity. Then again, like so many other men, he also has "magical testicles" which apparently prevents him from getting tired or getting sick or having any real criticism against him stick and have any effect.

I mean, did you even READ your colleague David Fahrenthold's article in the Washington Post about the FACTUAL, DOCUMENTED CORRUPTION in the Donald Trump Foundation? 

Apparently, when some of your colleagues in print journalism actually do the work of journalism, you don't even have respect for that. 

What is wrong with you????

Men and women of the Fourth Estate, PLEASE, get a grip!!!

Snap out of it!!

We deserve more.

We demand more.

We want more than "All the news that's fit to print."

We want "ONLY the news that's FIT to report."

Thank you. Now, back to work, the lot of you. This is serious. We've got a President of the United States of America to elect.

The whole rest of the world is watching.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Never forget.


I have my own private memories of the horrors of 9/11.

I've shared them on this blog before. Several times. No need to rehash them.

No, seriously. There is no need to rehash those images. Again. And, again. And, again.  Like some addiction that can never seem to be satisfied because it's never acknowledged.

And then, there's the rehearsal of the timeline of that day. Some folks need to rehearse and cling to every second, every event that happened every minute, every story and every image associated with what happened and then, what happened next.

And, after that. And, after that. Again and again and again.

Interestingly enough, the people who seem to have the greatest need to do this are not the people who lost anyone they knew or loved on that day 15 years ago.

Some folks in this country seem to be on a continuous loop of those images and those facts, not just today but every day. We just don't televise it every day. Except, we do, in more subtle ways.

It's like a slow IV drip which feeds the human need for revenge.

Drip: USA! Drip: USA! Drip: USA!

Almost 3,000 people (2,996) from many races, ethnicities, creeds and "walks of life," were killed in New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania that day.

As of August 2013, medical authorities concluded that 1,140 people who worked, lived, or studied in Lower Manhattan at the time of the attack have been diagnosed with cancer as a result of "exposure to toxins at Ground Zero".

An unofficial count is that least eleven pregnancies were abruptly terminated (miscarried or stillborn) on 9/11.

So it just stands to reason, then - Right? - that we have killed more than 300,000 of "them" - innocent men, women and children - in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Right?

Of the 775 initial prisoners suspected in the planning of the 9/11 attacks, 61 continue to be detained in a military prison known as GTMO (pronounced "gitmo"), part of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Although most of these have been released without charge, the United States government continues to classify many of these released detainees as "enemy combatants". 

God only knows how many of those prisoners were subjected to torture, like waterboarding and force feeding (well, we know 106 prisoners on a hunger strike were ordered to be force fed), deprived of sleep, forced to listen to rock music at deafening levels of sound, forced to defy their religious beliefs (to view images of naked women and touch women who they were later told were menstruating), suffered sexual abuse and torture, and other things described in a report by Amnesty International as "brutal and un-American".    

Ali Shallal al-Qaisi, tortured at Abu Ghraib
That was GTMO. You might also remember an American prison camp in Iraq called Abu Ghraib

USA! USA! USA!

And then, there are the more than 8,000 American soldiers who came home in body bags.

And, there are the more than 27,000 American soldiers left seriously wounded with visible, disfiguring, disabling losses of arms, legs, eyes, ears, and parts of the skull, as well as the not-so-visible emotional scars like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addiction to drugs and alcohol. And, let's not forget those women and men who were raped by their fellow soldiers.

And then there is the staggering figure of twenty - 20 - military veterans who commit suicide every day. That's one every 65 minutes, but, who's counting?

But, we killed Bin Laden, right?  The old man's bullet-ridden body is rotting somewhere out on the floor of the ocean right now, deprived of a proper religious or state funeral to honor his life and remember his deeds. 

Got him! Vengeance at last! The US nailed the bastard!

USA! USA! USA!

Have we gotten our revenge yet? How will we know? Will someone tell us when it's finally over? 

It seems to me that the only thing the images and stories of 9/11 are useful for these days is the political gain of those who want to keep us angry and afraid.

That there is a "them" and an "us" and "they" only mean to do us harm.  And we know that because "they" are not like "us".

That the only way we can tell "them" from "us" - despite the color of their skin or texture of their hair or the language they speak - is to develop "extreme vetting" of those immigrants whom we first kick out and then only let back in to our country if they pass an as yet unknown but decidedly "extreme" ("And, I mean EXTREME") test of loyalty and allegiance and citizenship. 

There are those who are so angry and afraid, they actually believe there ought to be "extreme vetting" even though they don't really know what that means and even though they probably wouldn't pass the test themselves. 

As long as we are angry and afraid, we can be paralyzed into believing in heroes.

That there is only one person ("I, alone") who can save us from the terror manufactured by pathetically weak men (and women) not strong enough to lead any other way.

That, despite all historical and contemporary evidence to the contrary, a wall - "a great, big YUGE, beautiful wall" that we get someone else to pay for - is the way to keep us safe from our perceived enemies who take our business and bring in drugs and rape our women, even though some of them, we suppose are also good people.  (Except, of course, a certain judge who is American but of Mexican heritage).

That this super rich (we think but don't really know because we haven't yet seen his tax returns) self-proclaimed super hero "knows more than the military generals about ISIS" and actually has a "secret plan to end ISIS".

But, see? Here's the deal: He's going to fire all the existing generals the first hour in office (I guess he missed that 6th grade civics class and doesn't quite understand the separation of powers in the US government), hire his own and charge them with coming up with their own "secret plan" in 30 days.

But, no, that's not his "secret plan" which has to remain secret because - you scared, stupid little fool! - you can't talk about a secret plan because then - DUH! - it wouldn't be secret.

So, he'll just keep his secret plan hidden in his secret decoder ring. Or, wherever it is that super heroes hide things from the poor, stupid, scared, little people they're trying to save.

No, see? His Really Secret, "secret plan" is to keep his plan a secret then take some of the things the new generals came up with in 30 days - or not, unless maybe he'll like that plan even better and he'll use all of their plan - and that will be his secret plan.

People who are angry and afraid and filled with the need for revenge really believe stuff like that.

As long as we are angry and afraid, we will destroy enough brain cells to believe the unbelievable pronouncement of a certain mayor of New York City - who was most certainly present on that fateful day in September - who recently claimed that there had not been "any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States" in the eight years before President Barack Obama took office.

Even though that was almost 8 years BEFORE President Obama took office. 

USA! USA! USA!

Yes, we should never forget the lives of those who were killed and died that day, 15 years ago.  But, that's different from allowing the images of that day to feed anger and hatred and revenge.

That's different from allowing those images to fuel the nationalism and populism and jingoism which, (okay, I'll say it) has allowed the rise of trumpism - which is more than just a nonsensical, untrue (or, in his words, "truthful exaggeration") statement made by Donald, J. Trump - but a potent, toxic, most deadly political cocktail of celebrity, nativism, "the outsider" and populism.

Want to know what really gave rise to ISIS/ISIL? 

Want to know how we got here, in the present political climate of half-truths and outright lies, suspicion and distrust, muckraking and mudslinging, hatred, prejudice and bigotry?

Look no more than to the events that happened 15 years ago. Then, look again at the images you have seen all day today - and, in some way,  every day for the last 15 years -  which have exhorted you to remember and never forget what happened on this date.

We have - quite literally - made ourselves sick over never forgetting 9/11.

Here's what I've learned to do, 15 years later.

I've let go of the images of burning buildings and planes. I've let go of the images of dust and ashes.

I choose to see, instead, people.  Dead people. All the 2, 996 people who died on this day 15 years ago. And, 1,400 residents and first responders who died of complications from the toxins in the air that day. And the 11 pregnancies that never made it to term.

And, all the 8,000 American soldiers who came home from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in body bags. And, all the 300,000 innocent men, women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan who lost their lives to revenge.

I remember people. Ordinary dead people who once lived ordinary lives and loved other ordinary people with ordinary hopes and dreams.

I will never forget them.

And, I will never forget the ordinary people who did extraordinary, amazing acts of kindness and generosity.

People who rose above the ashes and dust and chaos and brought food and water and clothing and boots and mopped brows and washed feet and clipped toenails and gave out hugs like the lifelines they are to the human heart and soul.

All these are the people I remember on this day. I try to remember them every day, but I remember them most this day.

They remind me of being human. And that life is too short. And that there is no time for hate.

War is an evil bird. It feeds upon anger and fear and vomits our hatred and revenge. It destroys the minds and hearts of good men and women. It lusts after the blood of the young and steals the hopes and dreams of children.

I will not let it do that. Not to me. Not to the nation I love. Not to the world God created and in which I am fortunate enough to live.

On this day, you have before you life and death.

Choose life.

As President Obama said, "Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11."

There's still time left in the day.  Even if it's not now 9/11 when you read this.

Go out and do something good.  Be kind. Err on the side of generosity.

Dare to hope. Be bold enough to dream.

Build bridges, not walls.

Choose love, not hate.

Never forget. 

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Will the real Christian please stand up?

A sermon preached at St. Philip's, Laurel, DE
September 4, 2016

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Are you a ‘real Christian’? Are you a ‘true believer’?

Believe it or not, I often get these questions. Sometimes, it happens in the grocery store when I’ve got my collar on. Other times, it’s a test of whether a patient will accept me as their Hospice Chaplain.

Interestingly enough, the question is often answered for me in one of two ways. 

First, I obviously can’t be a ‘true believer’ because I’m clearly a woman who doesn’t know her ‘biblical place’.  No woman can be ordained because a man is the head of the household, which means that only a man can be head of the household of God.  

Says so, right there in the “Bye-ble”.

The second piece of evidence that I can’t possibly be either a true believer or a real Christian is because I’m an Episcopalian. When some hear that, they don’t need another word. It’s “Case closed”. 

They won’t even let me pray my way out the door.

Have you noticed that some folks these days want to develop an ‘acid test’ for identity? 

That test can range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Like “You may be a redneck if you were shooting pool when any of your kids were born.”

Or, “Real men don’t eat quiche. They eat red meat.”

Or, “Real women don’t wear pantsuits. They wear dresses or skirts.”

Some folks have certain, set ideas about what it means to be a “Real American” – and you might be very surprised to learn that you and I probably don’t meet their standards.

I’ve actually had Hospice patients on their deathbed who want to confess that they once smoked or drank whiskey or – Gasp! – danced. They honestly believe that they won’t get into heaven because they did these things.  Once. When they were very young. Or, away at camp. Or, in the Army.

What’s that saying? “You have to be carefully taught.”

This black and white, either/or thinking gets reinforced by passages like the one we just read from Luke’s Gospel (14:25-33).  It’s part of a collection of “hard sayings” of Jesus.

"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Yes, Jesus said “hate”. (There's an explanation for this that we'll have to discuss some time in a Bible study or Christian Ed class.) Yes, he said, anyone who does not “hate” your family – even life, itself - Can. NOT. Be. My Disciple.

Not only that, he said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” 

Not a metaphorical or symbolic “cross”. “THE” cross.  As in, “Follow me to the cross and get yourself crucified as well.”

So, that thins the crowd a bit, right?

Hate your family and love only Jesus and follow him to your own crucifixion. 

That’s certainly a higher bar to reach than whether or not you’ve not smoked or sipped whiskey or danced or been able to memorize and recite specific pieces of scripture. Scriptural gymnastics, is what I call it.

Why did Jesus say these things? To whom was Jesus talking?

We don’t know exactly where Jesus was, but it’s a safe bet that he was continuing his journey to Jerusalem.  As this 14thchapter in Luke’s gospel opens, Jesus had been having a Sabbath dinner at the home of the “leading Pharisee” and, we are told, “the people had been watching him carefully.” 

Jesus had been asked a question about healing on the Sabbath and responded with questions about the Levitical codes that none of the Pharisees seemed able – or willing – to answer.

He also told them a parable about a Great Dinner and how the Master of the house invited the rich and wealthy and well dressed but they all had excuses about why they couldn’t come. So, the Master instructed his servants to go out and invite the “poor and the crippled, the lame and the blind,” those who lived in the “streets and alleys ....  the highways and the hedges” saying that those who accept the invitation, no matter their status in life, will be fed.

After he left the home of the “leading Pharisee,” large crowds followed Jesus as he traveled. I imagine Jesus walking along from one town to the next, encircled by his closest followers and then, trailing along for a great distance, an endless stream of curious people. 

Jesus turned around to address this great multitude and I imagine he literally stopped them in their tracks with these harsh words about hating your mother and father.

I imagine the crowd vaporizing after Jesus finished, perhaps discussing among themselves on their way back home just what he meant.

It’s just pure conjecture on my part – Hebrew scholars call this ‘midrash’ – but I’m thinking that Jesus was saying something like:

“You think all these Levitical codes are what’s important to God? You think this stuff about keeping the Sabbath will get you into heaven? You think THAT’s the ‘acid test’ of what it means to be a religious or holy person? You’re going to have to leave behind everything you once thought was sacred. You’re going to have to sacrifice everything you thought had worth. Come, follow me into a new way of thinking about God. Come, follow me and have a new relationship with God.”

Here’s what I think. (This is midrash, again, filling in the gaps) I think what Jesus really meant by these words is just what happened in this morning’s story from Luke’s gospel. 

I think Jesus meant to thin the crowd. 

I think he hoped people would stop following him around and go back home and THINK about all they had seen Jesus do and all they had heard Jesus say.

Jesus didn’t want people to FOLLOW HIM AROUND.

He wanted people to FOLLOW HIS TEACHINGS. 

Big difference. 

Jesus doesn’t want ‘groupies’. He’s not a rock star. It’s not about just being a “follower”. 

Jesus wants disciples.  Disciplined students of a worthy teacher.

He doesn’t expect us all to live like monks and nuns – unless that’s what you feel you really want to do in order to be faithful. 

However you live your life, Jesus wants people to consider and follow his teachings, so we might have a better relationship with God and each other and make this world a better place for all of God’s creatures and creation.. 

After he said those harsh words, the crowd turned around and left, probably scratching their heads. I’m thinking they were talking about this Jesus and what he meant by some of his teachings and what it would mean for their lives to follow his teachings.

And, that’s the point, I think. That’s the point of the gospel story. That’s the point of sermons and coming to church. To get people talking about Jesus and what his teachings mean for us in our own lives of faith.  

My midrash understanding is that’s exactly what Jesus meant by these harsh words.  I think it's what he means for those of us who hear his words today.

I think he means to stop us dead in our tracks. I think he means to jolt our thoughts about our spiritual journey. I think he intends to send us back home to think – THINK, not simply memorize and recite – the teachings of Jesus – who, BTW, never said that anyone shouldn’t smoke or drink or dance.

I mean, I’m just sayin’.

I think Jesus is saying that WE are NOT the ones to set the standards by which we will be judged righteous or holy or religious, much less Christian. 

Only Jesus can do that.  

Or, as author Anne Lamott says, “You can be quite certain that you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

I think Jesus is saying “Just stop judging each other or trying to determine what it means to be holy or righteous or identified with me. That’s a zero-sum game. I did not come here to have you judge each other in my name. I came here to turn all of your expectations and assumptions about God upside down and right side up. I came so that you might have life and have it abundantly. So stop being so miserly with each other. Love God. Love one another as I love you. And, I love you. Unconditionally.”

And, you know, if we love God and love one another, we can change the world. 

I really believe that.

It’s really that simple. And, it’s really that hard.

Are you a ‘real Christian’? Are you a ‘true believer’?

I have come to believe that those are questions that ought not be asked by any one person of another.

These are questions that can only be asked by one person.

And, I believe, these questions are best asked and answered when that one person is standing in front of a mirror.

Amen.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Moroccan Apricot Chicken Stew


I love cooking for my family and friends.

No, really. It's not a "hobby". It's what I do. It's part of who I am. I seriously love it.

I love being in the kitchen and thinking about each one of the people coming over for the evening and the joy they have brought into my life.

I love to imagine their reaction to sitting down and sharing a meal together. I sometimes make adjustments to the recipe accordingly.

I call up the person who gave me the recipe - most often, my grandmother - and offer thanks and praise for the gift of her life and the gifts she has given me. 

I pour the love I have for each of my dinner guests into the food, laughing at some memories, weeping at others, talking with them - the unfinished conversations, the ones I know we still need to have - receiving the blessing of gratitude for all the memories we share and pouring that blessing back into the food.

In my mind, the food is an adjunct to - a way to support and build up - the relationships. It's the relationships that are primary. The food is a reflection of the quality of the relationships, a way to sustain the relationship, a vehicle to promote the relationship.

If, after the meal and dessert, people are sitting about, sipping coffee and sharing stories with each other on an even deeper level, well, I know that the meal has been successful.

I think I love that moment in the evening best.  There's a stillness in the air. A sense of contentment.  A deeper level to the questions and responses.  I can hear it all the way from the kitchen as I'm getting the dishes ready to go into the dishwasher.

Which is why I love recipes that can be mostly done before hand and allow me to be present to my family an friends, with the exception of a dash into the kitchen now and again to check on things.

In that way, for me, cooking and meal planning are ritual and the meal is liturgy. 

With a large dinner gathering (for me, anything over 6), the slow cooker or crock pot is a blessing. I can sometimes even get things started the night before, put the "crock" in the refrigerator over night and then start everything up on low first thing in the morning.

Here's one of my favorites for a gathering of family and friends. The seasonings blend nicely giving a slightly exotic flavor to a standard "chicken" dish.

Here's what you'll need:

12 chicken thighs (about 4 ½ pounds) or breast or tenders or mixture of thigh and breast.
            Your preference, bone-in, skin-on or skinless and boneless
Salt and ground black pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable (or coconut) oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
6-12 medium garlic gloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press, to taste
1-2 cinnamon sticks
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 ½ teaspoons hot paprika (or 1 ¼ regular paprika and ¼ cayenne pepper)
8 ounces dried apricot (about 1 cup) cut in half
3 cups chicken broth
1 (15.5 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed.
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Optional:
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 lemon, cut in wedges.

   Dry chicken thoroughly with paper towels, then season generously with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay 6 of the chicken thighs/breasts into the skillet, "skin side" down, cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Flip the chicken over and continue to cook until the second side is golden, about 3 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a slow cooker. Using paper towels, remove and discard the browned chicken skin (if you have used skin on). Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of the fat left in the skillet and return to the medium high heat until just smoking. Brown the remaining chicken, transfer it to the slow cooker, and discard the skin.
  
   Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of the fat left in the skillet and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, garlic and the salt; cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the skillet, until the onions are fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the apricots and 2 ½ cups of the chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. Add the cardamom, cinnamon sticks, and paprika. Turned the heat to high and bring to a boil. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker.
   
   Cover and cook on low until the chicken is almost tender, about 3-4 hours. Quickly stir in the chickpeas, replace the cover, and cook until the chicken is tender but not falling apart, about 1 hour longer.

   Transfer the chicken to a carving board and tent with foil (or a large bowl with cover) to keep warm. Discard the cinnamon stick. Set the slow cooker to high. Whisk the flour with ½ cup of chicken broth until smooth and then stir it into the slow cooker. Continue to cook on high until the sauce is thickened.

NOTE: Depending on your slow cooker, you may want to use a separate sauce pan for this instead of in your slow cooker. Once the sauce is thickened, you can return everything to the slow cooker, layering meat and sauce.

   OPTIONAL: stir in the cilantro and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken to the slow cooker and allow to heat through before serving. 

   OPTIONAL: serve with lemon wedges.
  
    SUGGESTION: Serve with (or over) Arborio rice or couscous and a light salad like romaine lettuce, pears, avocado and pistachio or a vegetable of your choice.  Serves 6. Add more chicken and adjust seasonings for more servings. (About ½ - ¾ pound meat per serving, depending on who's coming.)

The Best Big Chocolate Cake. Ever.

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The first thing you’ve got to know about this cake is that it is a labor of love. That’s not to say it’s difficult to make. It’s just that there are about four major steps to it, some information to keep in mind, and a certain level of experience – but not necessarily skill – in the kitchen. 

You’ve got to be able to lead with your heart in this one and pour as much love as you’ve got into the recipe. Which is what makes this the best, big, chocolate cake for a birthday or any festive occasion. Ever. But, you know, if you lead with your heart in the kitchen, everything comes out better.

The second thing you’ve got to know is that this cake stores best in a refrigerator. And, I’m not kidding when I mean it’s a BIG cake. Four layers. It’s really big enough to feed a small fishing village in Cambodia so unless you are planning to feed the masses – like a big birthday or anniversary or a holiday celebration) make sure you have room in your fridge to store this. 

I don’t know how it freezes. If you try it, let me know.

The third thing to know about this cake is that, like all food, it does best with the freshest ingredients. Don't skimp on quality. It’s got a lot of dairy in it: cream, butter, and buttermilk (which you can make, not to worry. I’ll give you the recipe.). If your flour has been sitting around for months in the bag you bought it in, throw it out and get a new bag. Same thing for the cocoa and baking soda. 

You’ll thank me for it later.

Finally, this recipe was adapted from Ree Drummond, the “Pioneer Woman” who cooks for her husband, the rancher, and growing kids. 

If you have a sedentary job and don’t exercise, or if your cholesterol level or blood pressure are boardline high, or if on your last Annual Physical Exam the doctor gave you some information about diet, exercise, heart condition, stroke, or diabetes, or, if you don’t really, really like chocolate, you may not want to make or eat this. 

Yes, it's all that. Just sayin'. But, you will do what you will do.

Okay, ready? Here we go.

For the cake, you’ll need:

4 sticks of butter, plus more for greasing the pans (See what I mean?)
8 heaping tablespoons cocoa, plus more for dusting
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 whole eggs, beaten

NOTE: I don’t grease my pans with butter. I have found that sometimes it can burn and cause the edges of the cake to burn. I use Pam Spray for baking. I love it. But, you’ll do what you do.

For the frosting, you’ll need:

3 cups heavy cream (See what I mean?)
24 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces (Or, chocolate morsels)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

INSTRUCTIONS:

I would bake this cake in the morning if I were planning to serve it that evening or the next evening. The cake frosts best if you cool each layer and then wrap them in clear plastic or wax paper and put them in the fridge. The frosting also has to cool and thicken in the fridge for a couple of hours. It really makes all the difference in frosting a four-layer cake.

You’re welcome. 

PREP: Set the oven at 350 degrees. Get the pans ready – grease or spray them. I only have 2 9-inch pans and this recipe calls for 4 layers. But, since it only takes 20-25 minutes to bake, I put one batch in, let them cool, wash out the pans and then bake the other two layers. You’ll do what you’ll do with what you’ve got.

If you don’t have Buttermilk, you can make your own. Do that now.

Mix together:

1 scant cup milk (whole, 2%, or heavy cream)
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar

Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. When it is ready, the milk will be slightly thickened and you may see small, curdled bits. Don’t worry about the small, curdled bits. You won’t notice them in your finished recipe. This substitute will not become quite as thick as regular buttermilk which is okay.

Other Buttermilk Substitutes
Yogurt: Mix 3/4 cup plain yogurt with 1/4 cup water to thin. Use as you would buttermilk.
Sour cream: Mix 3/4 cup sour cream with 1/4 cup plain water to thin. Use as you would buttermilk.
Kefir: Thin kefir as needed with milk or plain water until it reaches the consistency of buttermilk. Use as you would buttermilk.
Cream of tartar: Mix 1 cup of milk with 1 3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes until slightly thickened and curdled.

So, to continue: 

Have handy a Very Large mixing bowl, a couple of medium mixing bowls, a medium sauce pan, a couple of spatulas, a few measuring cups and spoons, a hand whisk and electric beaters. 

Here’s the “secret ingredient”: After you tie the back of your apron, call up the face of the person or faces of the people for whom you are baking this cake.   

Think of one or two gifts they have given you over the years – the laughter, the tears, the joy, the challenges, the things you’ve learned from them – and send out a thank you to the cosmos for them. That kind of gratitude and love has a way of finding its way back to you and infusing itself into the cake. 

You’ll see. It’s pretty amazing. And, the taste of love and gratitude is incredible.

So, in a Very Large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the cocoa. Stir together. Add the boiling water, allow the mixture to boil for 30 seconds - watch it like a hawk - and then turn off the heat.

Pour over the flour mixture and stir lightly to mix well and then let cool.

In a small bowl, beat the four eggs. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla. Add the beaten eggs.

Stir in the buttermilk mixture into the butter/chocolate / flour mixture. It will be on the thin side.

Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Cool completely before icing. Refrigerate the layers after cooling for best results.

THE FROSTING

Pour the broken pieces (or morsels) of chocolate into a mixing bowl.

Heat the cream until very hot. Watch this carefully. Little bubbles will form along the outside rim of the pan and wisps of steam will rise from the center. If you look away at this point, just like that, the whole thing will boil over into a mess. When you see the bubbles and wisps, remove from heat and use immediately.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted. It takes a good 7-10 minutes of stirring. Even then, you might end up with a very few small clumps. This is okay and makes for an interesting frosting. 

Put the whole bowl into the fridge and let cool until thick like pudding.

Add the vanilla extract and beat with an electric mixer until light and airy.

Frost the cake in between each layer, then on the top and finally around the sides. Don’t be afraid to be generous. This is the BEST chocolate frosting. You’ll make it for other cakes, and/or you’ll cut this entire recipe in half and make it again and again for other, smaller occasions. 

You can get fancy and put some pieces of shaved white and/or  dark chocolate on the top. Or, sprinkle with "jimmies". Or, decorate with a holiday or birthday or anniversary theme. You will do what you will do. But, the cake really is festive enough all on its own to convey whatever message you're trying to give.

Prepare yourself for gasps of wonder and delight as you bring out the cake to be served. It makes a very dramatic presentation. And then, oooh’s and aaah’s over the moistness of the cake and the rich chocolate goodness of the frosting will fill the air and people will corner you in the kitchen ask you for the recipe.

You are entirely welcome.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Oh, how I love Jesus!


A sermon preached at St. George's Chapel, Harbeson
      (the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton                  

Well, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a self-avowed, unrepentant, deeply committed, practicing “Jesus freak”. 

I do loves me some Jesus. 

You might have guessed that from all the hymns we’re singing today. Just humor me and sing that song we sang when came into church, will you?  Join in when you can, but especially on the chorus

There is a name I love to hear / I love to sing its worth
It sounds like music in mine ear / The sweetest name on earth.

Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus.
Oh, how I love Jesus, because he first loved me.

You know, I love Jesus especially in moments like this morning’s gospel lesson from Luke, when he’s getting down with the people and breaking rules, getting uppity with the religious leaders of his day.

So, let me put this particular piece of scripture in context for you. The last location-fix we got on Jesus was back at the end of Chapter 10 when he was visiting with Mary and Martha. We know that they lived in Bethany. 

So, it may be safe to assume that he was in that general location – just outside of Jerusalem, in Judea, in the Kingdom of Herod, not far from where he was born in Bethlehem but a little more than 70 miles south of his home in Nazareth in the province of Galilee in ancient Palestine.

Nazareth, by the way, is not far from the Syrian border where we are watching the horrors of war unfold – especially on the shocked, bloodied faces of little children like five year old Omran Daqneesh.

Jesus has been busy, preaching and teaching and healing. Scripture says he’s taught the disciples how to pray the prayer we know as “The Lord’s Prayer” – the “Our Father”. 

Jesus has also taught them using many parables, like the Good Samaritan, and he cast out demons in a man that was mute.

Probably because he was not far from Jerusalem, there seemed to be an abundance of Pharisees who always seemed to be lurking about, watching every step he took, listening to every little thing he taught, checking out every person he healed.  Jesus says to his disciples, 

“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1b).

“The yeast of the Pharisees is their hypocrisy.” 

That Jesus! He can really turn a phrase, can’t he? 

I’m thinking somebody wrote that sucker down ten minutes after it left his lips and embroidered it on a purificator or corporal in the sacristy somewhere.   

“The yeast of the Pharisees is their hypocrisy.” The man doesn’t mince words, right?  And, it’s still true today, isn’t it? We can all think of examples of religious leaders who, unfortunately, allow hypocrisy to be the yeast and the leaven in their lives.

In this morning’s gospel lesson, we get to see exactly what Jesus means. In the 13th Chapter of Luke’s gospel, beginning at verse 10, we find Jesus where we’d expect him to be on the Sabbath – he’s teaching in “one of the synagogues”. Suddenly and without any fanfare, a woman appeared before Jesus. Perhaps it’s just what she always did on the Sabbath. She had a “spirit” says scripture, which had crippled her for eighteen years. “She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight.”

Now, mind you, the woman did not bring attention to herself. She probably didn’t have to. I’m sure she was quite a sight. Scripture does not say that she cried out, though she must have been in some pain if not at least some discomfort. Indeed, she didn’t ask for anything.

It was Jesus, in fact, who called her to come over and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” And, scripture tells us, “When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

Now, remember what Jesus said about the Pharisees? Remember that thing about “The yeast of the Pharisees is their hypocrisy”? Right. Cue the Pharisee who, scripture says, was ‘indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath.”

Weeeellllllll….. I mean! The nerve, right?  Healing. In the synagogue. On the Sabbath. 

Remember that hypocrisy thing? So, the Pharisee doesn’t get indignant at Jesus who did the healing. Well, not publicly. No, he’s quite indignant at the woman and says to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath.”

But Jesus called him out for what he was. “You hypocrites,” he said, reminding them that even the ox and the donkey are allowed to be unbound on the Sabbath. Ought not the woman, a daughter of Abraham and Sarah, be set free from bondage – even on the Sabbath – he asked.

Don’t you just love Jesus? Isn’t he just the best? It’s not just that he healed the woman. It’s not even that he healed the woman on the Sabbath. It’s that Jesus lives in our hearts through the breaking open of the stories in scripture and continues to heal us in our lives today.

That’s what happens when you let love be the leaven in your life.

We are all, in our own ways, very much like that bent over woman. So many of us have been carrying the weight of ‘oughts’ and shoulds’ for years and years – 18 at least. 

Some of us are emotionally crippled by a sense of inadequacy. Others of us are spiritually incapacitated by doubt. Still others of us have grown bitter with regrets and the dis-ease of the WCS: 

The “Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda’s”. Oh, we would have. . . . If we only could have. . . .  Still, we probably should have .. . .

If only I had been . . . (fill in the blank). . . . Better. Smarter. More handsome. Prettier. Thinner. Richer. Luckier. In the right place at the right time. 

The Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda’s of regret are lethal, shrinking the heart and crippling the soul, bending the human spirit and keeping us from standing in “the full stature of Christ” to which we were baptized.

The truth is that many of us in this church, like so many people in so many churches in so many places this very morning, may look physically fit and even physically strong, but underneath the exterior ‘optics’ are people who are emotionally and spiritually bent over.

We are not calling out to Jesus for attention. We’ve not come here this morning looking for healing.

Some of us may not even be sure why we came here this morning. Perhaps, like the woman in this morning’s scripture story, it’s just what we always do on the Sabbath.

Some of us may be absolutely soul-sick about what’s happening in the world. In Lebanon and Syria, Jerusalem and Palestine. And, right here in this country, in our own cities and towns where gun violence is epidemic and natural disasters of fire and flood and even pestilence (in the Zika virus) are in epic, biblical proportion.

And then, there’s the political campaign.

The weight of all of that is enough to bend us all over in pain. The miracle is that any of us got out of bed this morning, put our feet on the floor, got washed and dressed and actually came to church.

The good news is that Jesus has come to us this morning, in the breaking open of the scripture and the breaking of the bread to heal us and say to us: “You are set free from your ailment.”

Jesus has come here this morning to say to me, “You are set free from your ailment.” And yes, despite what you see before you, I do struggle with my own spiritual ailments that threaten to bend my spirit.

Jesus has come here this morning to say to YOU … and YOU… and YOU… “You are set free from your ailment.” Whatever it is – known or unknown, acknowledged or ignored – that keeps you from your full potential as a child of God, baptized of Jesus, and guided by the Spirit.

In the almost 30 years I’ve been ordained, I’ve been privileged to witness this sort of healing over and over again.  

When the spirit is set free, the infirmities of the body can no longer contain it. It’s a miracle I cannot explain. I just know this much to be true:

When the heart and mind and soul of a person are unbound, the infirmities of the body are healed.   This, I believe, is the mystery and miracle of the healing of Jesus.

Not “fixed”. Not “perfect”. Oh, no. What Jesus does is better than “fixed”. Even better than “perfect”.

This is what Jesus does: Heal. Jesus heals.

It’s a kind of healing that breaks all the rules of what we know about healing. I also know this much to be true: Sometimes, you’ve got to break a few rules in order to be healed.

As crazy and illogical as it sounds, sometimes, you’ve got to reach way down to find a star.

So, no matter what brought you to church this morning, no matter how healthy you think you are, no matter what your ailment is – whatever it is that is keeping you bent over – crippling your soul – incapacitating your heart – know this: there is healing. The wondrous love of Jesus can and will lift you and heal you – without your even asking for it or expecting it.

That’s the promise of scripture. That’s the hope of scripture. That’s the good news of Jesus.

It’s what happens when love is the leaven in your life. And, that love is Jesus.

Turn to your neighbor right now and say that. Say, “Love is the leaven in my life.”

Now, say, “Jesus is the center of the love in my life.”

I really do believe that if we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves we can change the world. 

No, I seriously believe that. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Change the world. I believe that can and will happen. We've just got to live like we believe it.

Which is why I am a self-avowed, unrepentant, deeply committed, practicing “Jesus freak”. And, trust me, it takes a lot of practice to be a Jesus freak. I’m sure that’s why God called me to the priesthood. This way, Jesus could keep me busy and out of trouble. Well, mostly.

So, let’s let love be the leaven in our lives.

Let’s be like the bent over woman in this morning’s scripture and stand up straight in our bodies and in our hearts and in our souls and let’s praise Jesus.

Please sing with me about Jesus, the sweetest name on earth:

It tells of one whose loving heart / Can feel my deepest woe
Who in each sorrow bears a part / That none can bear below

Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus.
Oh, how I love Jesus, because he first loved me.

Let love be the leaven in your life. And, let that love be Jesus. 

Now, go out and change the world!

Amen.