Wednesday, December 24, 2008

AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Warning, this post will only make partial sense)

There are times when the world arranges things absolutely perfectly. The sunrise as you drive over the brow of the hill, the rainbow in the midst of depression. The bird call as you stare out into the ocean.

At other times, the world sucks.

Christmas is not always 'the most wonderful time of the year'.

I'm sitting here this afternoon, grieving my parents, wearing the Christmas Sweater my mother knitted for me before she died.

I'm a little bit angry because circumstances point to the fact that I have been misled, and I'm little scared because the future has suddenly gotten more fuzzy and uncertain.

It took a little animation to pull me out of myself.



Life will all work out o.k.

Between the 'Appearance of the Angels' and the 'Shepherds Kneeling at the Manger', there is a dark and scary moonlight walk down a mountainside, leaving your livelihood and only source of income (the sheep) unguarded.

It's a bit dark right now, but somehow I will make it to the manger tonight.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

A Party? Not this year

I wonder if Jesus ever says-

You know what Dad? I think I want a quiet birthday this year. I don't want a lot of fuss. I'll just have a few close friends over, just the disciples and their wives. We'll munch our way through some hors d'oeuvres and I'll make some of my special red wine. I don't need a big celebration with lots of candles and music....

...oh and make sure you invite Judas, for some reason he thinks I don't like him.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The sting in the tale of Christmas

Last Christmas I wrote a blog entry about a part of the Nativity story we often miss (click here).
But there is another section of the story we tend to skip - probably because it's not nice.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (Matt:2 :16)


Herod, acting on a perceived threat from Jesus responds in out of his megalomania by ordering the massacre of all male children 2 years old and under.


I remember when I was a child in Sunday school, our teacher was showing us the t.v. series 'Jesus of Nazareth'. We watched with joy as Shepherds and Wise Men visited the Stable and 'paid homage to the Christ Child' - and then the teacher stopped the tape at a place that was obviously not the end of the episode.

When we complained, we were informed that the next section 'was not suitable for children'.

It was the Slaughter of the Innocents.

It's out of place with the fuzzy nostalgic Christmas story. It doesn't look good on a Christmas Card and we definitely can't have our young children acting it out as part of the yearly Nativity Play.

The Brick Testament which is a website that the publishes bible stories interpreted visually with Lego, and is an excellent site to waste some time, published a book of the Nativity Story which sells on Amazon. I was reading a review that criticized the book for showing this scene in Lego.

The reviewer felt that the picture was inappropriate in a children's Christmas book - not that the Lego Nativity market's itself as a children's book in any way.

The story makes us feel uncomfortable, we wish it wasn't part of the Christmas Story, and so we deal with it by ignoring it. The trouble is we reduce the story when we do that. We create a sanitized version that is age-appropriate, and in doing so remove part of what drives the narrative along. Without the Slaughter of the Innocents, Mary, Joseph's and Jesus escape to Egypt makes no sense.

We 'tidy up' the story of Christmas to somehow make it 'more acceptable'. We remove from the story anything that may give offense to us.

I 'tidy up' the story of my life to somehow make it 'more acceptable' too. There are parts of my past that make me uncomfortable. There are parts of my past that I wish I could travel back in time and erase. But those parts of my past have shaped me and formed me, I would be less of a person without them.

Another theme that I see in myself in this story is the response of Herod to the news of the Wise men.

Herod's worldview certainly doesn't have room in it for a new King, even one as young as Jesus is a threat to him. And so Herod does what he knows, he lashes out in and orgy of violence out of all proportion to the event itself. He is so intent on clinging on to the status quo that blood is shed.

I can get like that, I have a framework that I call 'Christian', and when a person, or a theology comes along to shake that framework I resist change. It's sad when I do that to others, but it is dangerous when I do it to myself. I find something within me that is so at odds with what I consider 'Christian' that I am left with 2 choices. Either deny and destroy what is within me or enlarge my 'framework'.

And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. (Matthew 12:25)

It is amazing to me the energy that I have wasted slaughtering innocent parts of myself because they do no fit into some preconceived idea of what 'Christianity' looks like. I'm not perfect, my theology is not perfect, and yet somehow I would rather enslave myself to a faulty framework than allow myself to change.

I am the innocent slaughtered, and I am the slaughterer of thousands.

It's time the killing should stop.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Coating the Pork

After my previous success with Pan-Frying Stuffed Coated Chicken (click here)
I decided to have another go with a slightly different recipe.
First get some boneless, skinless thin pork loin chops and set up your coating station.
Bowl 1 is seasoned flour.
Bowl 2 is two egg whites with a tablespoon of mustard whipped in.
Bowl 3 is 1 cup breadcrumbs. 1/4 cup Parmesan. Sage, salt and pepper.
Dip the pork into the three bowls in order, alternating your hands so you don't get covered in a total icky mess (see the chicken post for full details)
When all 4 pieces are coated, shallow fry them in a skillet for about 3 minutes a side. Don't disturb them too quickly or the coating will fall off in the pan!

I served them with broccoli, cauliflower, shallots and red peppers that I had all sauteed and steamed in a skillet. And then just grated some Parmesan over the top.

Another yummy concoction!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pastry Problems

Last night I had a party to attend. I signed up to bring Chips and Dip, but in a fit of creativity yesterday I decided to bake.

There is something about Christmas that makes me long for Mince Pies, even though they are not my fave Christmas Fare.

A mince pie (sometimes also minced, minced meat, or mincemeat pie) is a British festive sweet pastry, traditionally consumed during the Christmas and New Year period. Mince pies normally have a pastry top, but versions may also be found without the top in which case they are known as mince tarts. Mince pies are filled with mincemeat – a preserve typically containing apple, dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas, spices, and either suet or vegetable shortening.[1]

Modern mince pies typically do not contain any meat, but because suet is raw beef or mutton fat, mince pies made with suet are not suitable for vegetarians. Individual mince pies are usually 6–7.5 cm in diameter, although larger mince pies, suitable for slicing, may also be baked.

Original mince pies are just pastry and filling - and are a bit of an acquired taste.

I was looking through 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess' and found a version of them topped with Frangipane instead of pastry - they sounded nice. So I thought I would make these individual pies as the cookbook suggested.

I forgot about the humidity!

The sweet shortcrust butter pastry - which is a nightmare to work with on dry days, did not fare well in 120% humidity. It bound together into a sticky mess after adding just 1 tablespoon of fluid!!! I added more flour and put it in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes, but the instant I tried to roll it out and put it in my pan, it just all fell apart.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I grabbed a large flan case and made one big tart and just wodged the pastry in with my fingers before pouring the frangipane over it!

It looked yummy, and the pastry stayed light and flaky.

The only problem was convincing the Americans at the party that something called a mincemeat pie, was actually a sweet tart rather than a savory meat pie! The Frangipane actually worked well with the mince and made the whole thing a pleasant culinary experience.

Just as well really - I still have half of it in the Fridge!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fighting With Holst

The English composer Gustav Holst is probably best known for his work The Planets, but one of his melodies is sung nearly every Christmas, the melody to 'In The Bleak Midwinter'. True, there is another famous setting by the English Composer Harold Darke, but it is not so well known.

This year I set the lyrics of 'In The Bleak Midwinter' - written by Christina Rossetti, to a new tune, composed by myself.

You can see and hear my setting here.

I did not receive much response from the choir last night over the piece.

Comparing my setting to the familiar Holst setting, my melody is more interesting. It uses some interesting rhythmic devices and changes time signature. Holst stays in 4 beats to the measure.

Harmonically, I have some interesting chord progressions and some mini-modulations. I even more the entire melody into the Major Key for one stanza. Holst has one solitary note that isn't in the basic scale of the key of his melody. His melody is 4 lines long, and two of those are practically identical.

In terms of text setting, my melody is in the minor key, and tries to feel bleak and sparse to conjure up musically the feeling of 'bleak midwinter'. When the choir sings about 'frosty wind made moan', the melodic phrases sets up a 'musical wind swirl'. Holst's melody seems at odds to most of the lyrics.

None of that matters.

The problem is, mine is not the familiar tune the choir is used too.

Singing lyrics to a new tune creates culture shock (just imagine if somebody did the unthinkable and set the lyrics of 'The Star Spangled Banner' to a new melody!)

It's like learning to drive on the other side of the road - it feels different, it feels wrong, and suddenly you have to concentrate on the act of driving.

By putting the lyrics to a new tune, I'm fighting against tradition. The new tune isn't a big deal to me, I know other settings of this carol beyond the three I've listed here. When I moved to the U.S. I discovered other Christmas Carols that are sung to different tunes than to the ones I grew up loving in the U.K. I've dealt with my culture shock.

I still remember though how weird it felt.

And now my melody is causing the choir to experience that 'weirdness' for themselves.

I've taken something that is beloved - and altered it!

For many people Christmas is a time of nostalgia and tradition. I have certain foods that I want to eat, and certain things I want to sing - If a candlelight service didn't end with singing 'Silent Night' whilst holding your candles aloft I think there would be uproar.

In the midst of that, I'm fighting with Holst. A fight that most people don't see as necessary. Why does 'In The Bleak Midwinter' need a new tune? It doesn't. But I wrote one simply because I could and I wanted to be creative.

As I said I did not receive much response from the choir over the piece. That lack of response has reminded me that I didn't compose the piece for the response it might get. Writing new tunes to Christmas Carols has become a Christmas tradition for me.

It's ok to let Holst win.

It's not a fight.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In The Pink


Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. It's the Sunday when we light the Pink Candle, the candle of Joy. But why is it pink when all the others are Purple or sometimes Blue?

The earliest Feast Day to be celebrated in the Christian Church was Easter. The season of Lent was viewed as a time of Preparation for this Feast. Every Sunday in Lent a candle would be lit as a symbol of the hope of Resurrection. Some churches would begin with seven lit candles and extinguish one each of the Sundays of Lent.

During Lent people were encouraged to fast and reflect on their own lives. The problem was that many people became more caught up in how bad they were rather than on focusing on how good God is. People began to wallow in their sins and misery and instead of Lent leading them closer to God it became a time of separation. To counter this, the Pope would hand out Pink Roses on the Third Sunday of Lent, a symbol of coming Joy and the goodness of God. (Some sources say that the roses are handed out on the Fourth Sunday which is Laetare Sunday in the Catholic Church, and is when the Pope used to hand out golden roses to Catholic Sovereigns. Whether the roses of the commoners were given the same sunday as the roses for the Sovereigns is a matter of debate.)

When the church began to celebrate the feast of Christmas, they wanted to have a time of preparation before it, and so Advent was instituted. They kept the candle lighting, and they wanted to also keep the hope of Joy with the roses, but of course before the age of cultivated flowers that was a challenge. And so the Rose Colored candle for Advent became the solution. The other candles were purple because that was the color of Penitence that was used during Lent. Some traditions now use Blue Candles instead of purple, to distinguish Advent from Lent.

Bible Verses You Never Hear Preached On

1 Kings 14:10

Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.

This preacher's interpretation of the bible is so off base it's sad and funny at the same time.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Candy Quiz

The Answers to all these clues are the names of candy. How many can you get?

  1. Swashbuckling trio
  2. Indian burial grounds
  3. Galaxy
  4. What bees make
  5. Flotation device
  6. Twin letters
  7. Red planet
  8. Sarcastic laugh
  9. Greasy digits
  10. Famous author
  11. Famous baseball player
  12. Elite street in New York
  13. Sign of affection
  14. What a worker looks forward to
  15. Nut happiness
  16. Pleasantly plump
  17. Two female pronouns
  18. Feline
  19. Single women look for him
  20. Sun explosion
  21. Crunch noise
  22. Children of the cane
  23. Lottery amount
  24. Lactic flops
  25. Determines who wins the game
  26. Home of movie stars
  27. Superman's favorite hangout
  28. Opposite of bad and few
  29. What Elmer Fudd calls pranks
  30. Sticky teddies

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Keeping Your Coating On!

One cooking technique that I've never really tried before is pan frying items that have been coated in some way. For example Chicken Fried Steak. I've heard that one of the top questions that cooks ask is 'How do I keep the coating on the steak?'. Visions of burnt crispy bits floating around in a skillet of hot oil had deterred me from attempting this feat. Plus I could claim that I was trying to eat healthy as a way of avoidance.

Well Cooking Light arrived with an article devoted to pan frying so I really had no more excuses. One of the recipes that sounded really yummy was chicken stuffed with Pancetta and Fontina.

One problem - I didn't have Pancetta or Fontina and I didn't want to get out of my comfy clothes to go to the store! I rummaged around in my fridge and mixed up a stuffing of chopped deli ham, cheddar, garlic and rosemary.

As you can see from the pic I go through a lot of garlic so I but it in bulk :)

The next step was probably the fiddliest. Cutting a pocket in the side of the chicken and making a cavity for the stuffing. The trick is to use a small knife and to make sure you don't make a hole in the other side of the meat in your zeal for maximum stuffing containment. Then all it takes is a teaspoon and some judicious poking with your fingers to get the chicken stuffed.

Now it starts to get really fun. You set up three dishes with coatings on them. The first one had 1/2 cup of flour. The second, 2 egg whites lightly beaten, and the third had saltine crumbs in it. (Take a sleeve of saltines and run them through the processor for 2 minutes.)


You cat the chicken with flour, then with egg white and then with the cracker crumbs. Why the flour? Why not just dip in the egg white and the crumbs? Well The egg white won't stick to raw chicken without something for it to bind too. And the cracker crumbs are too dense to stick to the chicken without some form of glue. So the Crumbs stick to the egg white which sticks to the flour which sticks to the chicken! Do it this way and your coating shouldn't fall off!


The one trick I learned is to designate a 'Wet hand' and a 'Dry Hand'. Otherwise the mixture gets all over you and makes a real mess.

  1. Use the wet hand to pick up the chicken and place it in the flour.
  2. Use the dry hand to coat it in the flour.
  3. Using the dry hand, shake off the excess and place the chicken in the egg white.
  4. Using the wet hand make sure the chicken is coated in the egg white.
  5. Using the wet hand shake off the excess and place the chicken in the crumbs.
  6. Using the dry hand coat the chicken in the crumbs.
  7. Using the dry hand shake off the excess chicken and place it on your board.

It's as easy as that. Repeat with all your chicken pieces and then you are ready to cook!

Put the chicken in the oil and fry one side for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes flip it over carefully with some tongs and give the other side 10 minutes.


And there's the finished deal :)

The coating stayed on the chicken and the chicken is crispy without being drenched in oil.

Yummo!!!!!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

On Your Mark. Get Set. Wait.

(Random thoughts for the Contemplative Service this Sunday)

Those of you who have heard me speak before know that I love to cook. I can be a month away from a dinner party and already be searching through cookbooks, planning the perfect menu. Organizing my shopping list under various subcategories and even drawing up a time plan to coordinate the cooking of multiple dishes.

I love the running around on the day, putting the finishing touches on everything, making sure every dish is ready to go when the time for the start of the party rolls around, and then just waiting for the doorbell to ring.

...and waiting....

...and waiting...

...and waiting...

Being English I was raised that being 'on time' meant being 10 minutes early. There's something about waiting beyond the length of time I was expecting that sucks the joy out of all my preparation.

It couldn't have been easy being Israel. Imagine hearing the promise:

"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel."

and having to wait over 400 years for it to come to fruition. I get angry enough when someone is 30 minutes late!

400 years feels like along time.

I read the Magnificat - Mary's incredible song of Praise that she sang in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth, and I wonder. I wonder if she was still singing about how blessed she was when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant and riding a donkey.

9 months feels like a long time.

I sit in Advent - this season of Preparation and Waiting. And I get frustrated. Even when I've done everything that I can to Prepare I still have to wait. Preparation can fill up the time, but it cannot make the time move any quicker.

4 weeks feels like a long time.

I sit in the Contemplative service. We've finished a song. I look down at the bulletin and I know that a liturgical reading is coming next. I look up to see who is leading it, but nobody has stepped forward. Have they forgotten? Is there some miscommunication that I am unaware of?

2 minutes feels like a long time.

I sit in stillness, I pray and ask God to speak, I talk to others about whatever it is God is 'birthing' in my life...

...and I wait...

...and I wait...

...and I wait...

The waiting teaches me that I'm part of something much larger than just myself with my own calendar and my own agenda.

The waiting teaches me that I'm not the center of the Universe.

The waiting teaches me to trust God's timing whenever I think God is moving too slowly.

The waiting teaches me that God cannot be manipulated. It's not just about me putting my quarters in the cosmic coke machine and pushing the right button.

The waiting teaches me that just because I'm prepared doesn't mean I'm ready.

On your mark. Get set. Wait.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fun with iTunes

Most of this is just ridiculous, but some of them are pretty funny.

1. Put your iTunes on shuffle.
2. For each question below, press the next button to get your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS.
4. Tag 10 friends.


IF SOMEONE SAYS "Is this okay?" YOU SAY?
"Cop Song" (Urinetown Soundtrack)

WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
"My Little Girl" (tim McGraw)

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?
"When Tomorrow Comes" (Eurythmics)

HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?
"Selig sind, die da leid tragen" (Brahms German Requiem) -
translates as 'Blessed are those that suffer'


WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE?
"Candle in the Wind" (Elton John)

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?
"Coming Around Again" (Carly Simon)

WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK ABOUT YOU?
"Careless Whisper" (Wham)

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?
"Where is the Love?" (Shirley Bassey)

WHAT IS 2+2?
"I Can Do Better Than That" ('The Last Five Years' Soundtrack)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?"
Metamorphosis 2: Danae " (Paul Schwartz)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
"And Then There Were None" ('Spring Awakening' Soundtrack)

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?
"Aiutami" ('The Light in the Piazza' Soundtrack)
Aiutami means 'Help Me!' in Italian.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
"The Bitch of Living" ('Spring Awakening' Soundtrack)

WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
"The Look of Love" (ABC)

WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?
"Knowing When to Leave" (Burt Bacharach)

WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING?
"Seven Seas of Rhye" (Queen)

WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?"
Eclipse" (Pink Floyd)

WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?
"Strawberry Fields for Ever" (Beatles)

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?
"Musica Dei Donum" (Rutter)
Translates as 'Music is God's Gift'

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?
"The Hills of Greenmore" (Steeleye Span)

WHAT'S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN?
"Kiss Me" ('Sweeney Todd' Soundtrack)

HOW WILL YOU DIE?
"Wanted Dead or Alive" (Bon Jovi)

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU REGRET?
"Octupus's Garden" (Beatles)

WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
"Acension" (Paul Schwartz)

WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
"In Old Mexico" (Tom Lehrer)

WILL YOU EVER GET MARRIED?
"No More Lonely Nights" (Paul McCartney)

WHAT SCARES YOU THE MOST?
"Saturday Night" (Bay City Rollers)

DOES ANYONE LIKE YOU?
"Blaze of Glory" (The Alarm)

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
"No No Never" (Texas Lightning)

WHAT HURTS RIGHT NOW?
"Begin the Beguine" ('DeLovely' Soundtrack)

WHAT WILL YOU POST THIS AS?
"Time Heals Everything" (Bernadette Peters)

IF YOU READ TO THE BOTTOM AND YOU USE ITUNES CONSIDER YOURSELF TAGGED!

A New First!


Through the miracles of the Internet I received an anonymous piece of hate mail today for something I wrote on my blog!

It doesn't matter what you write, there is always someone ready to burn you at the stake for it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ultimate Chocolate Cookie Recipe

I've been asked to give out this recipe so many times I thought I'd post it here. It comes from The New Best Recipe - published by Cook's Illustrated, an awesome cookbook.

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa (dutch processed if possible)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 16 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat.

3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla lightly with a fork, sprinkle the coffee powder over to dissolve, and set aside.

4. Beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 5 seconds. Beat in the sugars until combined, about 45 seconds; the mixture will look granular. At a slow speed beat in the egg mixture until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Add the chocolate in a steady stream and beat to combine, about 40 seconds. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer at a low speed add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and mix until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the consistency is scoopable and fudge-like, about 30 minutes.

5. Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and preheat the oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

6. Scoop the dough onto the prepared sheets with a 1 1/2 inch ice cream scoop, setting the mounds of dough about 1 1/2 inches apart.

7. Bake until the edges of the cookies have just begun to set but the centers are still very soft, about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through the cooking time.

8. Cool the cookies on their baking sheets for 10 minutes and then slide the parchment with the cookies onto wire racks and cool to room temperature.

The recipe makes about 48 cookies.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Appropriate Cocktail Talk - World Aids Day

Today is World AIDS Day. I was reading an article about whether the Global AIDS crisis is overblown. It's an interesting thought provoking article, but one line just made me smile -

"Everybody talks about AIDS at cocktail parties," Oldfield said. "But nobody wants to hear about diarrhea."


Ewww!

Back in the 90s Churches in the U.K. did special services on World Aids Day, today it just seems to slip by almost unnoticed. I remember attending a service in Nottingham - I attended because a friend of mine was speaking. I recall sitting there and being aware that some of the people who were sitting across the aisle from me were living with AIDS. It was the first time I'd seen someone with the disease. It put a face to something I'd just heard talk about. Suddenly AIDS became much more real to me.

After the sermon they played the song 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' from the musical Les Miserables, they played it in memory of people who had died from the disease.



As the song echoed around the church I began to see people sobbing over friends, colleagues and partners they had lost. I did not know anyone who had died from the disease, but the grief was so palpable I began to weep too.

It was at that point that AIDS ceased to be a 'homosexual problem' or a 'third world problem' instead it was simply a 'Human Problem'.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bibles and Rifles

The English poet Steve Turner writes about bibles and rifles and about how they are both deadly in the hands of untrained amateurs. (When I find a copy of his poem I'll post it.)

We would never knowingly put a deadly weapon in the hands of a child, but we hand out bibles, without any training or guidelines on how they are to be read and interpreted. Some of the bible is incredibly violent - it's the stuff of war movies. Other parts are incredibly erotic - do we really want a young child wandering into the book of Song of Solomon unaccompanied?

I remember catching half an episode of 'Dr Quinn Medicine Woman' once (shocking I know). A library had opened in the town and although people were enjoying the books the town Reverend decided that the books were harmful to the people's spiritual well being and stirred up the townsfolk to get the library closed. In the stirring climax, a fiery Jane Seymour told the townspeople of a book that featured Murder, Rape, Incest, Human Sacrifice, witchcraft and many other wrongs. As the congregation roared for this book to be burned, the resourceful Jane wandered up to the front of the church and picked up the Reverend's bible.

Needless to say the crowd was hushed and the Library was allowed to remain open.

For centuries the only people allowed to read and interpret scripture were trained priests. Nowadays it seems that we think people will be drawn to God if a copy of his bestseller gets left in their hotel room. It's almost as if the 'book' has become an idol in its own right...

...and everyone has their own way of interpreting it. Even the people who say 'I just read it and do what it says', actually make complex judgements about what they read, otherwise they would all be gouging their eyes out (Matthew 5: 29), and throwing all the Sopranos and Altos out of the church choir (1 Cor 13:34-35).


A friend of mine on Facebook recently posted the following video.




Depending on who you are you might find the above video offensive, distasteful, irrelevant, beautiful, romantic. A lot of it depends on how you were raised and what you believe about Humanity and God. For some of you how you interpret the bible will affect your emotional response to that video clip.

From my upbringing in the Fundamentalist church there is a lot to be offended by here. 2 gay men! Both of them Gay Ministers!! Being married by a Female Minister!!!

The friend who posted the video also posted this picture.

This billboard made me smile - I don't know whether it's a real picture, or someone being creative with Photoshop though.

There's so much in the press about the 'God Hates Fags' group that are based out of Topeka, Kansas. I read all the hate about Proposition 8 in California.

In the midst of seeing groups on both sides of the debate, injuring each other and themselves by handling the Bible as an offensive weapon, it's nice to see this photo - even if it is fake.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Talking Turkey

A friend asked me to give him my 'recipe' for Roasting Turkey. Rather than type it out I figured I could make a blog post on all my turkey advice!!! I cooked my turkey this way last Christmas, and it was the most flavorful, moist turkey I've ever eaten. This instructions are from Cook's Illustrated, and they researched carefully!

What Turkey should I buy?
I prefer to cook a small turkey - about 12-14lbs, they cook more evenly.That size should be enough for 10-12 people. If you are cooking one larger or smaller than that, then don't follow these instructions.
I recommend brining the turkey before roasting it, but be warned, some turkeys you buy are 'pre-brined' (they will sometimes say 'injected with a saline solution') do not brine one of these or you will have a salt overdose.
I must confess though usually I just by a frozen Butterball Turkey that is pre-brined.

Is there anything else you suggest buying?
A sturdy roasting pan - you don't want your expensive turkey dumped on the floor because your disposable foil pan collapsed! If you must use a foil pan PUT A COOKIE SHEET UNDER IT
A V shaped roasting rack - this lifts the meat up out of its juices (preventing a soggy bottom) and allows the heat to circulate all the way around.
A meat thermometer - by far the safest way to tell if the turkey is cooked.

Defrosting the Turkey
I tend to do a slow defrost in the fridge. I average out 24 hours of defrost for every 4lbs of turkey. After it is defrosted I like to place the turkey on a metal rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and place, uncovered back in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight to air dry. IT makes the skin extra crispy.

Help it's too late to defrost? Is there something I can try?
Either go and buy a fresh turkey, or try the following:
Place the turkey, still in it's original wrapper in a bucket of cold water for approximately 10 hours (about 30 mins per pound). CHANGE THE WATER EVERY 30 MINUTES. Yes every 30 minutes you'll have to handle the huge bird while you change the water. The water change is to guard against bacteria growth. If that sounds like a chore, it is. Next time remember to start defrosting earlier or buy a fresh bird!!!

What next?
Check AT LEAST THREE TIMES that you remove the plastic bag with all the giblets in it (you can keep them to help make gravy if you so desire). Everyone has heard horror stories of turkey's roasted with the bag still in them. Don't become the butt of humor for your family for every holiday for eternity. REMOVE THE BAG - some turkeys come with the giblets in 2 BAGS rather than one...TRIPLE CHECK!!!!!

How do I brine the turkey? (only if not already brined)
Dissolve 2 cups of table salt in 2 gallons of cold water in a large bucket or stock pot. Add the turkey and refrigerate or set in a cold spot for 4 hours. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE KOSHER SALT FOR TABLE SALT, IT DISSOLVES AT A DIFFERENT RATE.
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cool running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the turkey on a metal rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and place, uncovered in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight to air dry.

How do I cook this mighty bird?
1. Put the oven rack in the lowest position and pre-heat the oven to 400F.
2. Put a coarsely chopped onion, 1/2 medium chopped carrot and 1/2 celery rib in the turkey cavity with 1 tablespoon of melted butter.
3. Use a piece of kitchen twine to tie the legs together at the ankles and then truss the bird.


4. Brush the breast of the turkey with 1 tablespoon of melted butter and then place the turkey BREAST SIDE DOWN in the V - rack sitting in the roasting tray. Brush the back of the turkey with another tablespoon of melted butter. Put 1 cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan and some 2 chopped onions, 2 ribs of celery and some chopped carrots if you so desire.
5. Roast the turkey breast side down for 45 minutes.
6. Remove the turkey from the oven. Baste with the juices from the pan. Then, CAREFULLY, using using either pot holders or wadded paper towels, rotate the bird 90 degrees until one leg/thigh is uppermost. If the roasting pan has run out of water add another 1/2 cup.
7. Return the turkey to the oven for 15 minutes.
8. Remove the turkey, baste it again and then rotate it until the other leg/thigh is uppermost (that's a 180 degree rotation for you math geeks).
9. Return the turkey to the oven for 15 minutes.
10. Remove the turkey from the oven one last time, baste, and the turn it breast side up.
11. Return it to the oven and roast until the breast registers 165 degrees and the thigh registers 170-175 degrees. This will take about 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your bird.
12. Remove the turkey from the oven, cover it with foil and let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving.

Is all this rotating really necessary?
Trust me (and Cook's Illustrated on this). The main fat deposits on a turkey are on its back. So buy roasting it upside down the fat runs through the meat keeping it moist rather than dripping straight into the roasting pan.

Why do you not stuff the turkey?
Stuffing a turkey changes it's density. It slows the interior cooking (lowering the temperature in the cavity by nearly 30 degrees). Stuffing means longer cooking times which can translate to bone-dry surface meat. You also have to be certain the stuffing cooks all the way through. Do yourself a favor and cook the stuffing separately!

Yes it can be done!
From Christmas 2007

Revenge of the Literary Meme

The meme's rules are as follows:
Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
Turn to page 56. Find the fifth sentence.
Post that sentence along with these instructions.
Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the closest.


'Ave, ave, plena gracia, ave, Dei mater Maria, ave, ave, plena gracia, ave Dei mater Maria, ave.'

Taken from 100 Carols for Choirs.


oh - and if you read this, consider yourself tagged.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A LIturgy of Avoidance

Reader 1: When the carpet is clean and the dishwasher is empty

Reader 2: When the garage is tidy enough that the car can fit in

Reader 3: When the bathroom grout is free from mold

1+2+3: Then I’ll rest in You Lord.


Reader 3: When I’ve trained enough to run a half-marathon

Reader 1: When the promotion comes through and I get the corner office

Reader 2: When I can fit back into the clothes in my closet

1+2+3: Then I’ll rest in You Lord.


Reader 2: When I’ve taken Disciple Bible study and done all the reading

Reader 3: When I can go a month without skipping a quiet time

Reader 1: When I’ve been on a mission trip and led someone to the Jesus

1+2+3: Then I’ll rest in You Lord.


Reader 3: When my wife and I go a week without fighting

Reader 1: When my doctor takes me off the meds

Reader 2: When I can look in the mirror and like what I see

1+2+3: Then I’ll rest in You Lord.


Reader 3: When my life has changed

Reader 1: When my world has changed

Reader 2: When my excuses have changed

1+2+3: Then I’ll rest in You Lord.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Celebrating a non-event?

On Friday I celebrated something that probably didn't happen.


It was the last day of Spiritual direction school and our morning worship was led by a nun who is a Presentation Sister. Nov 21st is their feast day. A day of celebration and renewal of vows. On that day they celebrate Mary's parent's Joachim and Anne taking their 3 yr old daughter Mary to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God. In the story, they place Mary on the third step of the temple and she dances joyfully up the stairs.

The story appears in a couple of apocryphal books such as Pseudo Matthew and the Gospel of James. It raised some tension for me. Here was an event that probably did not happen, there is no extant evidence that Jewish parents ever presented their daughters to the Jewish Temple, much less that Judaism has ever possessed a tradition of consecrated Temple virgins. The Feast was celebrated in the Catholic Calendar then removed, then reinstated.

My inner protestant was reeling. Here is an event that is not 'biblical', but has great meaning to the Nun who led us in worship that morning. The event may not have been 'biblical' but the truths and meanings she extracted from it truly were. Should I think less of this Nun for finding meaning in something that part of me said was 'not biblical'? Especially as her faith and love for God has led her to dedicate her life in Service with a level of dedication I can only aspire too?

How to reconcile this?

This morning in church they announced a special service we would be having Wednesday night. It's a service celebrating something that is not in the bible, it's also not in the Apocrypha either.

It's our annual Thanksgiving Service.

A Thanksgiving service is not 'biblical', but the truths we can learn from it truly are.

If I can celebrate and find meaning in one - I can find it in the other.

Tension resolved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Prayer For a Spiritual Director

An empty chair before me –
It will soon be filled with Your Image
I will honor the beauty of the Other
And will not recreate them to reflect me

An empty chair before me –
It will soon be filled with Your likeness
I will hear Your voice in their words
And I will honor Your silence as they share.

An empty chair before me –
It will soon be filled with Your creation
I will not fix or advise. I will not judge or assume.
I will walk through the garden of their soul with care.

An empty chair before me –
It will soon be filled with Your gift for me
I will honor the Giver as the gift is shared.
I will look for Your gift even in the most unlikeliest of packages.

The empty chair looks back at me-
Will you remember all who sat here?
Will you hold them in your prayers?
Will you journey with them, even to destinations unknown, or unsafe?

The empty chair looks back at me-
Will you love them enough to let them be?
Will you love them enough to let them fail?
Will you love them enough to let them go?

The empty chair looks back at me-
Will you tame your mind so it does not wander?
Will you bridle your curiosity so it does not control?
Will you train your soul to ask the question that echoes there?

The empty chair looks back at me-
Will you use them to make you feel holy?
Will you hold them to meet your needs?
Will you reject them instead of healing your life?

As I sit with an empty chair before me
May I always remember the invisible chair beside me.
And may I see it occupied with You.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Gift and Pain of the Other

Those who bear scars from intolerance should be the last to practice it. - Leonard Pitts Jr.

I read that statement on a friend's blog today after a full day of Classes and Practicum.

It got me thinking.

As with any group I'm in, I find myself naturally drawn to some people and wanting to distance myself from others. The people that I want to keep at arm's length are a real gift to me, as there is something in their behavior that is bringing something in me into the light for healing.

My pushing them away is about me not wanting to look at myself.

I hate it when I'm prejudged. When people make opinions about me because of something they've heard, I feel reduced. I am more than just a label. I am more than just the sum of my labels.

But oh how quickly I want to stick labels all over other people.

I reserve the right to do unto others what I hate being done to myself.

I think I 'stick labels' over others because I also 'stick them' over myself. Humans are complicated people. We can be overwhelming and tiring, especially after a long day of Learning, Debate, and Introspection. It's easier for me to attach a label than deal with the beautiful complexity that is me.

That is the gift of the Other. If I receive that gift, it enables me to remove labels I have affixed.

The pain of the Other is that removing labels hurts. I have successfully built up many layers of stickers over the years.

That is why sometimes, like today, I find myself getting defensive. I would rather label others than remove the label on myself.

Those who bear scars from intolerance should be the last to practice it.

Maybe one day, with God's Grace, I can throw my label maker away.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Leftaphobia.

The Preacher was incensed.

"Our doctrine has been this way for centuries. This is the way God wants it and this is the way it should be." He raised his bible in his hand and turned the pages. The entire congregation knew what verses he was going to read.

"The heart of the the wise inclines to the right. The heart of the fool to the left." Ecclesiastes 10:2

As he turned to the New Testament some of the members of the congregation fidgeted uncontrollably.

"Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep." 1 Corinthians 11:27 - 30

"This! This is why the church through the ages has decreed that the sacrament of communion is only for people who are right-handed. Scripture clearly teaches that anyone who is inclined to the Left is a fool. That person lacks the mental capacity to examine themselves before they take the elements. Anyone who is Left Handed or Ambidextrous" - he said the word with distaste and reluctance, "anyone who practices those perversions is excluded from the Sacrament for their own good - to protect them from further sin."

With that the congregation shuffled forward and came to the communion station. The first person handed them the bread - which they were careful to take with their right hand. At the second person they dipped their bread in the offered cup, and at the third they received a stamped medallion which they took home with them.

Why a medalion?

Back in the Middle Ages, when government and religion were much closer aligned than they are now. The government wanted to encourage participation in the Sacrament of Holy Communion and so the instigated the medallion. Everyone who took communion received the token, and if at the end of the year they had 50 tokens - one for each week with an allowance of 2 misses, they received a tax concession under the law.

No one questioned the exclusion of 'Left Handers', or ''Sinisters' as they were often called after the Latin Term for 'Left'. The Left hand was evil and satanic and clearly an abomination in scripture. Parents would frequently try and 'beat the left' out of their children if they suspected them of being so inclined.

Over the centuries society moved on, but the statutes and prejudices over handedness still remained.

As Government and Religion progressed, they separated. Governments felt that they could no longer endorse one particular religion with their policies. Many right handed atheists complained that they were forced to compromise their beliefs to get a government mandated tax break. To accommodate these people the Government set up 24 hour Communion Stations. You could go there, take the bread and wine without any reference to God, and then receive the medallion. They were very popular. At most of these stations there was a massive amount of paperwork to be done first, but some cities like Vegas had 24 hour Communion Chapels. You could walk up and walk out 10 minutes later with your medallion - no questions asked.

But the signs were still there - 'No Left Handers or Ambidextrous allowed'.

Needless to say the 'Sinisters' were incensed. So were many 'Righters' who had Sinister friends or Sinister children.

That's when the campaigns started.

Equal Rights for Sinisters.

Some of the Sinisters deeply followed God with their lives and felt that their exclusion from Communion was based on archaic interpretations of the Scripture. Others wanted the same tax breaks as as the Righters. All of them wanted the Prejudice to end.

They pointed to the fact that Atheists could get the tax breaks but they couldn't. They were confused that Governments were using religious arguments for their exclusion whilst declaring the separation of Church and State.

"We're not second class citizens. We are good people. We didn't chose to be Left-Handed, we were born this way. Why should we be punished and excluded for something we can't control?"

Some churches agreed with them.

Other churches campaigned vigorously against them.

"Sinisters are a danger to themselves, to society and to our children."

"If they spend time in prayer, meditation and surrender to God, then God will take away their desire to use their left hand."

Others claimed that if Sinisters were allowed to partake in Communion it would threaten the sanctity of the Sacrament. No one really explained how it would do this, but that didn't stop them shouting this loudly whenever the issue arose.

And so the campaigns began. Both sides fought a hard battle.

The Lefters spoke of prejudice and hate.

The Righters claimed they were not 'anti-lefters, just pro-communion'.

Churches became split.

Many famous people admitted they were Lefters.

People voted, but because only 1 in 10 people is a Lefter any ballot to give Lefters equal rights was always defeated.

How did it end?

Only time will tell.


For more information over Left-Handedness and Prejudice.
Click Here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Living it up in Tucson

I spent a fun Saturday night with some of the other Hesychia students at the home of Margaret and Ken. They are our hosts for the program and make sure we are well taken care of.

They live in an incredible house on the foothills of Mt. Lemmon with a fantastic view.


This was the view from their front door as we arrived for an evening of food, wine, music and stories.



Sunset over Tucson

The Desert Museum

The Desert Museum just outside of Tucson was well worth the price of admission.

Here are just a few pics - click on any of them to enlarge

Hesychia Week 3

Here is me and my fellow students (plus some staff) for week three of Spiritual Director Training.


Across the Denominational Divide.

Yesterday evening I travelled to St. Andrews in Chandler, AZ to lead a Taize service.

This was the first time I have ever lead music at a Catholic Church - in fact I think I've only ever been to one service at a Catholic Church and that was for a funeral.

I went at the invite of Fr Richard. He is one of the other students on the Hesychia program and is a 'Religious' in the order of the Crosiers.

I was a little apprehensive. I grew up in a church that spoke a lot of prejudice about Catholics. As a child, the first thing that came to mind when I thought of Catholics, was the trouble in Northern Ireland and bombing in London. As I've explored the realm of Contemplative Spirituality I've discovered a deep rich thread of spirituality within the catholic church and have had wonderful sacred conversations with Priests and Nuns.

But here I was, a little Protestant guy, going into 'enemy territory' to lead a very Catholic form of worship at a Catholic Church. Even though the community of Taize is ecumenical - it's worship style is much more prevalent in Catholic Churches than in Protestant. I think it's the Latin!

It was a wonderful experience. I had a group of musicians, 6 singers, a guitarist, a violinist and me on Piano. And we had about 45 minutes to rehearse all the music. It was a tad stressful but the musicians were all excellent so it eased my mind.

I was amazed at how many people showed up. When we do a Taize style service at Chapelwood, we're usually looking at about 40 people, esp. if it's not tied into a specific event on the church calendar. At St. Andrews I know we had over 125 people as we ran out of candles and had to go rummaging for the other batch!

There were a few little differences of religious practice that created a few moments of uncertainty in the congregation, but all in all it was a wonderful reflective service. I had to make some realtime 'course corrections' in the way I had specified we were going to sing certain songs. This was due to the larger number of attendees than I had expected and the length of time it consequently took to light candles or pray at the cross.

In the middle of the service we had 10 minutes of total silent prayer. The silence felt twice as long to me because I was leading. I was ready to bail after 3 minutes, but having experienced the agony of leading silence before I made sure I checked my cellphone to keep track of the time.

I was very much aware by the end of the service that I wasn't on 'Enemy Territory' at all. It was more like visiting in a friend in their home for the first time and being aware that everyone does things slightly differently - though I must confess it was rather amusing seeing people's faces when they discovered I wasn't Catholic. A look of surprise and amusement mostly.

We finished the evening with some awesome Italian food and then some great conversation in the car as we rode back to Tucson - woohoo.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On the Swing

Yesterday we spent the morning discussing different ways to use images in Spiritual Direction. One exercise that we did was to reflect back on our childhood's and remembering a place where we felt safe, secured, happy and loved.

I went to the old swing in our back garden.

It was very old and rusty. The orange paint was flaking off in places, but I used to spend hours on it. I would climb up the frame and sit on the crossbar, much to the chagrin of my mother, because I was about 14 feet off the ground when perched on the bar.

I was never content to gently swing. I would get the seat moving so fast and so high that the chains would creak in protest as I clung hard to prevent myself flying off into mum's roses. Sometimes my hands would be so strained after I'd spent time on the swing that it would hurt to open them.

I loved it.

When I got the swing up to full height I could see into our neighbors gardens. I could see the fire that before I could only smell. I could see the neighbors dog running around. I could see over our garage and watch people coming up and down our street.

All this, the sights, smells and feelings came rushing back to me as I reflected. I was sitting motionless in my chair, but inside I was soaring.

One thing really struck me. As some of the group shared their places, I noticed that most were passive. They would talk about lying underneath a tree or sitting on a rock. Mine was active. It was energetic, it was vibrant. This was my image of rest, of safety and security.

It's very evocative of my inner life. I may appear still, but my soul is energetic, swinging and swaying. Singing, dancing, leaping and swirling.

I practice stillness as a spiritual discipline. Spend times in breath prayer and centering prayer. But that stillness is fuel for my soul to soar.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Road to the Cathedral

Three brothers lived together with their elderly Father in a small farmstead in the middle of the forest. They had enough pasture to grow all they needed and the river gave them water. A couple of times a year a traveller through the forest would stop at their homestead with news from the city. They spent their days in farming and prayer. As they milked the cows they would praise God's provision. As they pulled weeds they would offer prayers of confession, as watched the sunset they would feel the love of God shining on their lives.

One day a traveller came with tales of a great building project.

"The monks have built a wonderful cathedral to the glory of God. Many people are making pilgrimage to have their sins forgiven and to gaze at the wonder of God's beauty. The windows have colored glass in them that light up with the sun and show wonderful stories from the bible. People go there and know they have met with God."

The brothers listened to the traveller and marvelled at the thought of a building taller than the forest and stronger than the winds.

After a week went by the eldest brother was no longer content to pray while milking and weeding.

"I desire to see this marvel for myself." and so he left his brothers and began to follow the trail towards the town. Now the brothers had never ventured along the forest trail before so he did not know what to expect.

After he had been travelling for a few hours he came across a tree limb lying across the path.

"How do I get around this?" The brother asked himself. He looked carefully at the limb and noticed its broken end sticking in the underbrush. With all his might he grasped the limb and he was able to drag it off the path and continue on his way.

Meanwhile the middle and the youngest brother worked the fields, took care of the cattle and prayed to God at sunset.

It was the tenth day after the eldest brother had left and they were repairing the fence to prevent the cows walking down into the flowing river. The eldest brother came running into the clearing. His face glowing with wonder and glory. He sang God's praise with such devotion and love that the middle brother began to think of visiting the cathedral for himself.

That night he asked his brother if he had any advice for him as he travelled to town.

"Do not be afraid" the brother said. "If you meet an obstacle in your way, know that you have the strength to pull it off the path."

The middle brother left early the next morning.

After he had been travelling for a few hours he came across a mighty tree trunk lying across the path.

"How do I get around this?" The brother asked himself. He looked carefully at the log and noticed its roots sticking in the underbrush. With all his might he grasped the roots and remembered what his brother had said.

He pulled.

Nothing moved.

He pulled again, the skin beginning to scrape on his palms.

Nothing happened.

"God give me the strength to move this" he cried. He gave one more heave and felt his muscles scream with agony.

Saddened he leaned against the trunk in despair. "My brother said I had the strength to move any obstacle but he was wrong. What can I do?"

In his misery he noticed where some of the limbs of the tree had broken off during its fall. He saw that they made easy places for his hands to hold and his feet to rest on. His misery left him as he clambered over the tree trunk and continued along the path to the cathedral.

After a week spent in the cloisters talking with the monks and worshipping in the cathedral he made his way back to the farmstead.

The brothers greeted him warmly and listened to him tell of his new found passion for God and devotion in prayer.

The youngest brother resolved to make pilgrimage for himself and so he asked the middle brother if he had any advice.

"Do not be afraid" the brother said. "If you meet an obstacle in your way, know that you have the agility to climb over it."

The youngest brother left early the next morning.

After he had been travelling for a few hours he came across a mighty lion sleeping across the path. "How do I get around this?" The brother asked himself. He was afraid to get near it but he wanted to get to town.

He remembered what his brother had said, and so taking a deep breath he raised one leg over the lion and tried to clamber over it.

The lion awoke and immediately lifted the brother off the ground as he spun round trying to bite him.

The youngest brother held onto the lion's fur for his life. "My brother said I had the agility to climb over any obstacle but he was wrong. What can I do?"

The lion began charging along the path and the brother noticed a tree branch up ahead. With all his courage he threw his arms up into the air and grasped the limb and hauled himself onto it. The lion snapped at his heels and then returned to his place on the path and just stood there menacingly threatening the brother if he tried to get by him.

The brother despaired because the lion was blocking the path, but, as he hung there from the tree limb, he noticed another path just a little distance away in the clearing. Rejoicing he dropped from the branch and made his way to the path and eventually found his way to the cathedral.

After a week spent in the cloisters talking with the monks and worshipping in the cathedral he made his way back to the farmstead.

The Father was so impressed with the devotion of his sons that he asked all of them to tell him the tales of their pilgrimages.

The eldest told of the tree limb.

The middle spoke of the log.

The youngest scared them with the lion.

The Father sat and listened to his sons with much joy.

"Oh my sons, you will encounter many obstacles in your journey towards God. Always remember that everyone's journey is different. Their obstacles may not be your obstacles, and their solutions, are not your solutions."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quadrilaterals, Quakers, and errr.....something else that begins with Q?

Random Quotes of the day:

"I've never felt comfortable around alligators."
"Do Catholics pick up their socks?"

I'm back at the Hesychia School for my final 2 weeks of training.

This morning we discussed Key Principles in the Tradition of Discernment. I really enjoyed this presentation and I'm looking forward to the follow up on Quaker clearance committees. We examined various models of Discernment and we touched on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is basically a process for theological reflection and decision making. For anything you are evaluating you look at it from four angles:
1) Scripture, 2) Tradition, 3) Reason and 4) Experience.
The idea is that these four areas form 'four legs of a stool' you need all of them to sit comfortably.

I remember when I was first introduced to the Quadrilateral when I lived in Lubbock. I thought it was an incredible tool. I still think it is helpful, but I think it has some limitations that people don't always acknowledge. The first is that people tend to view the four areas as listed in descending order of importance. This means Scripture is pre-eminent and all 3 other areas are modified to conform to it. If your experience disagrees with Scripture then your experience must be faulty. This can create some series 'Religious Schizophrenia'- it did in my life. I refused to alter my view of scripture and denied my own experiences that spoke differently. I almost broke under the weight of the tension between the two.

The second problem is that the Quadrilateral is limited. Take for example Peter's Vision in Acts Ch 10. Peter has a vision asking him to eat foods that the Torah said were unclean. Three times he has the vision and three times he refuses to eat. As soon as it is over he receives messages from Cornelius' house. He goes to the house of a gentile Cornelius, preaches and then the Spirit descends on them.

This begins the movement of the church opening up to gentiles and becoming more than a Jewish sect. What would happen to the Quadrilateral here?

Scripture - The Jewish scriptures are definitely weighted towards separation from gentiles.
Tradition - Again definitely weighted towards separation and exclusion of anyone non-Jewish.
Reason - This is a tricky one, but I suspect conventional thinking would have reasoned that separation was a good thing to avoid 'contamination' from non-Jewish ways.
Experience - Peter's experience definitely points to the inclusion of Gentiles, but a) experience is often viewed as the weakest of the four areas and b) Peter's vision is in direct conflict to Scripture, and in the Quadrilateral scripture is pre-eminent.

As I reflected this morning I became comforted in the fact that God will use whatever is at his disposal to get our attention. I remember when I was trying to discern whether to go as an exchange student to Czechoslovakia. I fasted and prayed and told myself that I could '...determine God's will for my life by how much I didn't want to do it.' I seriously believed that. God wanted me to 'suffer' and 'carry my cross' for him and so if I really didn't want to do something it must be his will. (It's surprising I never carried that line of reasoning into house cleaning, I would have had the cleanest abode on the block!)

My reasoning and discernment was faulty, but God used whatever means in his disposal to get me to Czechoslovakia. That decision to go there was the start of a chain of events that led me to move to the U.S.

God works through faulty theology - he has too, it's the only sort available to him!

We also talked about Quaker Discernment, and we will be experiencing a Quaker Clearness Committee later this week.

The afternoon topic was on Spiritual Direction with Persons in Addiction Recovery. I was disappointed by this to be honest. It felt a little more like 'Addiction 101'. I don't feel anymore equipped to work with addicts. I want to know what it means to work with someone who has the concept of a 'Higher Power'. This could be as far removed from my concept of God as another religion. Are there any common experiences in the Spiritual Lives of Addicts? Are there any particular pitfalls when discussing spirituality with an Addict? I don't feel any closer to answers to those questions tonight, but fortunately I have resources in Houston who I know I can talk too.

Interesting Quote

The only thing that burns in hell
is the part of you that won't let go of your life:
Your memories, your attachments.
They burn them all away, but they're not punishing you,
they're freeing your soul.
If you're frightened of dying and you're holding on,
you'll see devils tearing your life away.
If you've made your peace,
then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth.


Meister Eckhart.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Becoming Imelda Marcos?

Imelda Marcos left behind 2,700 pairs of shoes when she fled the Philippines in exile.

Today I did the unthinkable.

I bought 3 pairs of shoes in the course of 1 hour.

If you've been around me you will know that I live in my Tevas. I wear close toed shoes for about 5 hours a week (when I lead worship on Sundays) and for the rest of the time I am either a) at home barefoot or b) in Tevas. This constant wear has taken its toll and the soles of my current pair are a mass of holes and rubber flaps.

I leave tomorrow for Tucson, so I reluctantly decided some shoe shopping was in order.

I went to REI and discovered that Tevas had gone up in price - you think I'd realize that as the last time I went shoe shopping was 3 years ago. Yes that's right ladies and gentlemen - 3 years with only owning 2 pairs of shoes.

I should add a caveat here that I do own i) a pair of black lace up boots I use for snowy weather (not much use in Houston), ii) a pair of close-toed sandals that I use when out biking (a rarity) and iii) a pair of black jazz dance shoes (just for rehearsals). All of them are worn very occasionally and with the exception of the dance shoes are all over 3 years old - but I digress.

I left REI without the said Tevas though I did buy some Flip Flops for wear around the house to stop the soles of my feet and the cushions of the couch from turning black.

I visited a couple of stores with no avail and then I decided on a whim to go into DSW.

I had never encountered the phenomenon of DSW before, row upon row of discounted shoes of all types and descriptions. This must be Imelda Marcus Heaven!

I quickly found some Clarks sandals and was ready to leave.

I do not know what draw me over to the Men's discount shoe section. Destiny? The Holy Spirit? Karma? After all I already had bought 2 pairs of shoes, I didn't need any more.

And there they were....gleaming like the Holy Grail.

My size, my style, my color and 50% off.

Birkenstocks.

When I lived in Lubbock I first encountered the bliss that is Birkenstocks. I bought a pair and wore them into rubble. I never replaced them because they were a marvelous expensive luxury for me. I replaced Birkenstocks with the cheaper comfort of Tevas. I abandoned them, but they remained faithful.

I swear I heard the swelling of strings and the brush of angel's wings as I lifted them from their box and slid my feet into them. As I paced the shop floor clad in them the emotions of first love came flooding back to me. I examined them in disbelief. How could anyone walk past Birkenstocks at 50% off? There was nothing wrong with them, no scratch or blemish that declared them unfit for human usage.

I was in love once again.

Three pairs of shoes in one day?

This is big. This is very big!!!

Evita/Palin

In the musical 'Evita' our heroine rises from poor beginnings to the wife of the leader of Argentina. In the song 'Rainbow High' she gets a total style makeover.

Given Palin's $150,000 shopping spree at Zaks and Neiman Marcus comparisons were of course inevitable.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Give the U.S. a cup of tea

While there's tea there's hope.- Sir Arthur Pinero

If you have been around be any length of time you will have observed that I am a tea drinker. I like it hot with milk and sugar. Any other way just isn't 'British' to me. I can drink iced tea, but only if it has so many other ingredients combined with it that it bears little or no resemblance to the 'Hot Cuppa' I know and love.

If you have spent any time in the U.K. you will have no doubt been surprised by the amount of hot tea you are offered to consume. This is more than just a quirk. We British believe that Tea is imbued with Mythical Powers.

For example -

If you've never met and are struggling over conversation - offer a cup of tea.

If you are under extreme shock over a situation - offer a cup of tea (preferably sweet)

If you are grieving a loss - offer a cup of tea.

It's not just the act of drinking this ambrosial beverage of the gods either. Everyone has their own rituals on 'how to make a proper cup of tea'. The type of tea, bag or loose leaf, style of brewing, length of brewing, mug or cup etc are all factors for rigorous debate.

What is it about my Tea Rituals that I cling too so tenaciously, after all if I don't get my cup of tea after I emerge from the shower it feels that the day is already doomed.

1) Tea is a 'slowing down'.
I stop what I'm doing and I breathe as I brew. It's a 5 minute vacation for my soul. When I was at University writing Papers I would often drink 5 or 6 mugs of tea whilst working. It helped my Creative Process.

2) Tea is a 'clearing of the mind'.
As I engage in my tea ritual - whether formalized like the Chinese or not, the simple act of repetition becomes one of stillness and centering.

3) Tea is a 'connection to the past'.
The rituals, the taste and the smell brings memories of my childhood back.

4) Tea is a 'Perspective Bringer'.
I've heard it said "Come in and sit down, it will all look better after you've had a nice cup of tea." The act of slowing down and drinking causes some emotional distance between whatever is upsetting us. The concentration required to hold a hot steaming mug without spilling it on yourself is enough to focus your energies away from your immediate emotional reactions.

Maybe I should invite all of the U.S. over to my kitchen and give them a nice cup of tea - it really will make things look better.


The first bowl sleekly moistened throat and lips,
The second banished all my loneliness
The third expelled the dullness from my mind,
sharpening inspiration gained
from all the books I've read.
The fourth brought forth light perspiration,
dispersing a lifetimes troubles through my pores.
The fifth bowl cleansed every atom of my being.
The sixth has made me kin to the Immortals.
This seventh...I can take no more.

-Lu Tung,Chinese Poet


With each sip I taste
the fire that gives its heat.
The water that gives its wetness.
The leaf that gives its spell.
The pot that gives its emptiness.

With each lingering sip
I cannot help but see
all that makes tea
as well make me.

-The Minister of Leaves

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Vox Populi, Vox Dei?

(Warning, this is a long rambling blog post. For a while I found myself censoring what I was willing to blog about for fear of what others might say. I had to remind myself that I blog for myself, to help me process. The fact that I let other people in to my processing is a privilege I extend to others. So, please remember that if you read something you disagree with, it was written for me - not you.)

The Voice of the People is the Voice of God ~ well not always.

I've heard 'Vox Populi, vox Dei' quite a few times, it's a quote often wrongly attributed to William of Malmsbury. The basic premise is that you can know the will of the Divine by asking the people.

I'm sure Republicans would disagree with that right now, whereas the supporters of the Gay Marriage Ban in California would claim "Vox Populi, vox Dei" for themselves in a heartbeat.

The original quote is:

"Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit"

Which translates as:

"...And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness."

I'm sure Democrats would disagree with that opinion right now whereas the people challenging the Gay Marriage Ban in California would claim it for their own.

(To learn the full origins of the quote click here)

So, what is 'Vox Dei' over such divisive issues as Politics and Gay Marriage?

Well in Politics God is strangely silent. In the Old Testament though he does instruct the Israelites how they should govern themselves.

For example, every Seven years the Israelites were commanded to:

Let the land grow fallow instead of harvesting it - Exodus 23:20
Let grown crops be taken by anyone who is hungry, even slaves and foreigners - Leviticus 25:1-7
Cancel any financial debt you are owed - Deuteronomy 15:1-6
Release any Hebrews you had as slaves - Jeremiah 34:13

On the 50th year all the commands had to be followed with some additional commands as well. One of the most interesting is:

All land had to be returned to its original owner - Leviticus 25

Imagine what an economy based on these principles would look like. It strikes me that it would be very different from a form the form of 'Democracy' that some Christians claim is the Divine Will of God. Imagine returning property and cancelling debts, it would change the way businesses would operate. What would it accomplish:

It would prevent the accumulation of land on the part of a few to the detriment of the community at large.
It would render it impossible for any one to be born to absolute poverty, since every one had his hereditary land.
It would preclude those inequalities which are produced by extremes of riches and poverty, and which make one man domineer over another.
It would utterly do away with slavery.
It would afford a fresh opportunity to those who were reduced by adverse circumstances to begin again their career of industry, in the patrimony which they had temporarily forfeited.
It would periodically rectify the disorders which creep into the state in the course of time, preclude the division of the people into nobles and plebeians, and preserve the theocracy inviolate. (taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

Leviticus 25 is an interesting chapter, whilst reading it this time verse 35 struck me:

'If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.'

Sounds like some form of 'Welfare' to me.

So what about this whole 'Gay Marriage' thing?

There are 6 passages used by Conservatives to prove that all homosexual practice is condemned in scripture. The same passages are interpreted differently by liberals.
Denominations and Churches disagree.
Bible scholars disagree.

What should I believe in the midst of this?

Well one thing the bible is very articulate on is the treatment of 'strangers' - people who you differ from theologically, socially, ancestrally etc.

Exodus 22:21
Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 23:9
Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:33-34
And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But ... shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 10:19
Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Jeremiah 22:3
Do no violence to the stranger.

Zechariah 7:10
And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor.

Matthew 25:35
For I was an hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.

On Wednesday morning 18,000 couples woke up in the U.S. to discover that their marriages may no longer be legal. I find that astounding.

The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."

There are many churches that wish to be able to marry gay couples - the Metropolitan Community Church for example. Many people within the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and many other denominations wish to be able to marry gay couples.
This ban in California prohibits them from doing this.

America is a multi-cultural, multi-faith society. Our laws should reflect this. When one particular culture or faith is elevated over others and becomes the basis of legislation over every group, then government is no longer '...of the people, by the people, for the people', as some of the people are no longer represented.

Whatever your views on Homosexuality as a lifestyle are, we now have a group of 'strangers' that are being legally discriminated against in the U.S. It's no longer about homosexuality as a practice, it's an issue of Social Justice.

The minority always needs a constitution to protect them.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Poem and a Song

I wrote yesterday about the poem that I read at the All Saints Service Sunday night.

I'm still getting compliments. Today I received my first ever piece of 'Poetry Fan Mail'. I've had people comment on songs I've written before, but never poetry.

In other news, I have just posted a new choir anthem on my music website.

I wrote back in September about having difficulty writing lyrics. I was talking about it with my Spiritual Director and God made the connection between my inability to write lyrics and the death of my mother. You can read about that experience here.

To work through this, I sat down and consciously wrote a new Christmas Piece for the choir that is a simple lullaby. It seemed like the best way to process and honor my mother by writing a song that a mother could sing to her child - in this case Mary and Jesus.

You can listen to it and read the lyrics here.