Friday, November 30, 2012

Various and Sundry: Andrew, Advent, Aid, and Autism, among others

"I'm not barking at YOU."
Happy end of November! It's the feast of St. Andrew who, to my astonishment, I've never written about. This is especially egregious since we have a dog named Andrew who's registered name is Tollwest Quack Come and See. Did you know that according to legend, "young women should note the location of barking dogs on Saint Andrew’s Eve: their future husbands will come from that direction"? Too late now. You'll have to wait until next November 29th. I wonder if Andrew is the patron saint of single women because he was a fisher of men...

Of course the feast of St. Andrew means Advent is nigh, and I loved this collection of the 42 worst nativity sets, some of which I admit I like, and one of which I bought for my mother. It's not this one, though.

This spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette looks delicious, doesn't it? And it contains an actual vegetable! (And lots of bacon.)

In other food and wine news, I appreciated this post about teaching people to appreciate the pleasure in wine with flavors that sound awful: minerals, barnyard aromas. And it goes beyond that to talk about appreciating those things that challenge us -- in food, in art, in life.
[I]f we think more deeply about pleasure, we realize it isn’t always so straightforward or even comfortable. After all, why do so many of us love sad poems, disturbing horror films, or intense, subtitled psychological dramas. Why am I capable of loving Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” or The Smith’s “Meat Is Murder” or Elliott Smith’s “From a Basement on the Hill” — while at the same time I can enjoy T. Pain, Taylor Swift, and dancing with my kids to Psy’s “Gangnam Style”?
Here's a really touching story from Bill Murray about Gilda Radner.

In obituary news, I have two impressive as hell women to bring to your attention. First is Vladka Meed, "who with her flawless Polish and Aryan good looks was able to smuggle pistols, gasoline for firebombs and even dynamite to the Jewish fighters inside the Warsaw Ghetto," who died this week at the age of 90.

The other is a woman named Maria Santos Gorrostieta who was found dead on November 17 at the age of 36. She "was a former mayor of the small Mexican town of Tiquicheo and became famous for her refusal to be cowed by the drug gangs battling for control of the western state of Michoacan."
A doctor and mother of three, Maria Santos Gorrostieta served as mayor from 2008 to 2011. Over that time she survived at least two assassination attempts, including one that killed her husband Jose and another that left her body peppered with bullet holes and scars.
May she rest in peace. My prayers are with her family.

You may recall that last week I posted the parody video of Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway. As a follow-up, here's a terrific interview with the people who created the project, explaining why and how they did it and what they want it to accomplish. Good stuff.

Finally, on the Confirm not Conform blog, I hope you'll check out this interview I got to do with my friend Emily LeBlanc, talking about how the church can better work with people with autism. Really helpful stuff.

Have a great weekend!

World in Prayer prayers

It was my week to write the prayers for World In Prayer, and of course Advent set the tone. Two other things colored these prayers: first, I did a service at a rehab facility -- 7 elderly women in wheelchairs and one aide -- and I realized how often in church I hear us urging people to go out and do when there are times when it is appropriate simply to sit and receive. And to follow that up, Internet Monk had a great post this week entitled Tis Easier to Give than Receive that I thought was lovely and so true. I was also reminded of T.S. Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday in which he writes "Teach us to care and not to care/teach us to sit still".

So that's where these prayers came from.

Here you go.

Perhaps we do not need to do any more. Perhaps we need to learn to wait. Perhaps we need to sit in silence, listening, without an answer at the ready, without the need to spring into action.

Perhaps we need to welcome Advent once again, O Lord, as the antidote for all our striving, as a time when we leave the world to your care.

O God, if you want us to act, we will act. But if in this season, you want us to wait, to watch, to listen, then we will wait, we will watch, we will listen.

As we pray for the world, may we sit still in your presence, waiting for your guidance, and watching for your return.

We pray for those who cannot worship in quiet and safety:

  • for Iraq where a string of bombings, including one at the Imam Abbas Shrine in Karbala, have killed 45 and left another 155 wounded. 
  • for Nigeria where at least 11 people were killed when a car bomb was detonated at a Protestant Church inside a military barracks and where continued fighting between Nigerian security forces and the Islamist group Boko Haram have forced thousands to flee their homes. 
  • for Zimbabwe where some Anglicans trying to enter the cathedral in Harare have been chased by thugs and beaten with chains. We give thanks that the worshipers were able to enter and hold services there. 
We pray for those living in areas of conflict or struggles for power:

  • for Syria where internet access has been shut down and battles between Syrian rebel forces and government troops have closed the main road leading to the Damascus Airport. 
  • for the Democratic Republic of Congo where rebels have started withdrawing from territory they captured from government troops. 
  • for Mali and for those seeking a peaceful solution to the end of months of fighting there. 
  • for Egypt where the National Assembly is voting on a draft constitution, and where people are protesting the actions of President Morsi who claimed extra powers for his office. 
We pray for those who are sick.

  • As we mark World AIDS Day on December 1st, we pray for all those who are affected by AIDS.
  • We pray for Russia where there has been a 12 percent rise in the rate of AIDS this year. 
We pray for those working for peace: 
  • for the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and the Latin American Council of Churches as they meet this weekend in Antigua, Guatemala to address issues of peace and security in Latin America. 
We pray for our communities and neighbors, for our families and friends, for those who are near to us. 

May we wait and watch and listen with them, and with all the world, rejoicing in your return and in your never-ending love for all of your creation. Amen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Various & Sundry: Gnawing on Leftover Knee-Jerk Reactions

Gromit had a good Thanksgiving.
Hello! Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone in the U.S. or American citizens celebrating abroad? How about Black Friday? Or otherwise, a good end of the week? Well, good. I've got a few leftovers all ready for you to take home and eat later. Ready?

If you're in a profession that requires fundraising, here's information that might help you as we enter the race to the end of tax deductible donation season: 5 things charities do that turn off young donors. And, I might add, middle aged donors as well.

While we're on the subject of donations: get that Donate button up on your website!

After posting my very vague thoughts on Black Friday yesterday, I found these articles that challenge my assumptions about the evils of WalMart. (h/t @PeterSuderman on Twitter who wrote Why Black Friday is My Favorite Holiday, also enlightening.)

Meanwhile, to appeal to the lefty-ness part of my nature, I thought this post on the Propaganda of Shared Sacrifice was powerful; and though I haven't finished watching it yet, this conversation between Infusion fave Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chris Hayes about Chris' book The Twilight of the Elites is extremely interesting. I'm going to have to add this book to my reading list.

And to finish up this compilation of Challenges to My Knee-Jerk Reactions, I loved this website for Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway. Set up by various aid organizations in Norway, the website asks, "Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway”-video, and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?"

What indeed? Watch the video and see what you think:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thoughts on Black Friday

I don't get Black Friday. I could object to it on moral grounds, I suppose, and post an easy rant on consumerism run amok.

But primarily, I don't understand what motivates people to be part of it. And it occurred to me today that perhaps the better thing to do, rather than wag my finger, is simply to ask: If you go to stores on Black Friday, why? What's the appeal? What do you get out of it?

Is it the very competitive nature of the shopping itself that appeals? Because you know you're being taken advantage of by the stores, right?

Or maybe "taken advantage of" is unfair; they're making money today. You're not beating the house at its own game.

But leaving any question of morality out of it, from a strictly monetary point of view, it doesn't make sense to shop today. There are better times to shop for bargains.

On the other side of the equation, I'd like to have a private chat with us moralists for a moment. Again, why? Why do we do this?

Every year we have a little chat with people about the terribleness of Black Friday. I suspect it makes us feel good about ourselves. But you could not pay me to go to one of the big box stores today, much less get up at 4 in the morning to do so.

So how moral am I, really? It's not like I'm not going to shop this holiday season. It's just that I'm mostly going to do it from the comfort of my desk, online, having others do the work of shlepping things to my door.

What do we get out of our little lectures? Do they do anything? How can we actually help?

Do we need to quit talking about it as a moral issue and talk about it as a monetary one? Or do we need to stop and listen first? Or do we need to change ourselves? I genuinely want to know, because I hate seeing this play out year after year.

e.g.: Washington Post article: Wal-Mart union protests fail to deter bargain-seeking crowds on Black Friday

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to cook a Thanksgiving turkey

At last, a cooking professional who dares to tell the truth!

Tante Marie's Thanksgiving Recipes, including roast turkey with pan gravy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Two books that made me laugh

I read these books a while ago and have been meaning to recommend them to you, if you're looking for something funny but with some real thought behind them.

First, an oldie but a goodie: Heartburn by Nora Ephron. I knew this was a novelized version of her divorce from Carl Bernstein. I had no idea it would make me laugh so much. I loved the protagonist's brutal honesty, which is most likely Nora Ephron's own. For example:
Every so often I contemplate suicide merely to remind myself of my complete lack of interest in it as a solution to anything at all. There was a time when I worried about this, when I thought galloping neurosis was wildly romantic, when I longed to be the sort of girl who knew the names of wildflowers and fed baby birds with eyedroppers and rescued bugs from swimming pools and wanted from time to time to end it all. Now, in my golden years, I have come to accept the fact that there is not a neurasthenic drop of blood i my body, and I have become very impatient with it in others. Show me a woman who cried when the trees lose their leaves in autumn and I'll show you a real asshole.
Love. Her. And whether "her" is Rachel Samstat or Nora Ephron, I really don't care. I'll be very curious to see the movie now.

I'd been meaning to read a book by John Scalzi for a while, and was reminded to do so when I saw a review for his latest novel, Redshirts. The name will mean something to Star Trek fans: Redshirts is the term for the ensigns who get assigned to away teams and are promptly killed. Scalzi writes from their perspective, as people scuttle around the great spaceship The Intrepid, trying to avoid the captain, and ultimately trying to figure out what is going on and how to stop it.

I don't know if this is one that will only appeal to Trekkies, but I'm not hard-core and I thought it was hilarious as well as thought-provoking. I'd say give it a shot. I'll be curious what you think.

Monday, November 19, 2012


I found this in the Interpreter's Bible when I was prepping for the sermon on Mark 13. It's from the Book of Common Prayer, I assume the 1928 book, since I didn't know it at all. I thought it was lovely and wanted to share it.
Eternal God, who committest to us the swift and solemn trust of life; since we do not know what a day may bring forth, but only that the hour for serving thee is always present, may we wake to the instant claims of thy holy will, not waiting for tomorrow, but yielding today.
As I tried to find the exact source of that prayer, I found the Pastor's Prayer Book from 1960, which includes this fabulous prayer For a Committee:
Bless, we beseech thee, O God, the work of this committee; grant to its members clarity of thought, evenness of temper, and willingness to persevere in thy service; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
That's a keeper.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Funnies, November 18

This is a video my sister made. In case you're wondering what's going on, "An elf and a mouse battle over a flower in a field of Xmas tinsel." Because that's what happens when you own a gift shop in Portland, Maine.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Various & Sundry: Clearing out the pantry, both virtual and actual

Isn't that beautiful?
As of yesterday, I finished (I think) all the edits for CnC for Adults and I've gone crazy with freedom! I cleaned out the pantry and put out a bunch of canned goods for the Boy Scout collection this morning, sorted the spices, and then, because as I say, I'd gone crazy, I tidied up the tupperware. Yes, that's the kind of life I'm leading.

And now it's time to clean out the virtual pantry. Are you ready?

Are election reactions past their sell-by date? Well, I'm willing to chance it. Here's one I think is worth reading: Letter to a future Republican strategist regarding white people from an official midwestern white person who explains why he did not vote for the Republican candidate, "purely for your education, such that you might be interested in winning an election on the national level at some point in the future." Hint: it's not because he wants free stuff.

You may have heard about people signing petitions about seceding from the union. A) Didn't we try that before? Didn't work out so good. And B), this post explains exactly what that would mean. Hint: no Social Security benefits.

One could almost call that passive-aggressive behavior. I thought this post offered an excellent primer in how to be passive-aggressive.

In other news, remember how I followed the Ivory Coast election about a while ago? Almost two years ago now--wow! Well, the new president dissolved his cabinet this week. Why, you ask?
"the decision came after a dispute Tuesday during a parliamentary committee debate over a possible amendment to the country’s marriage law. The change would make the husband and wife equal heads of a household. Under the current law, the husband is the head and makes decisions in the name of the family. Ouattara’s party supported the change, but other parties within the coalition opposed it."
I have to appreciate that the conflict came to a head over women's rights. Good luck, President Ouattara.

In the obituaries this week, David Durk gets his due. Remember Serpico? Well, it was really Durk and Serpico, testifying about police corruption in NYC in 1971. “It would be fair to say that without Durk, there would have been no police corruption exposé in The New York Times, no Knapp Commission investigations into the matter,” according to one source. Impressive and brave work, and boy were the rewards in heaven. He retired with a police pension of $17K a year in 1985.

I loved this story about a homeless boy taken in by a high school football coach. Very touching.

I am also often very moved by this blog from a contractor working in Afghanistan. A recent post answers the question, "So Ryan, what are most soldiers like?" Another explains The Best Phrase They Have in Afghanistan.

Here's a practical suggestion: Let's stop calling people leaders until they actually lead.
At the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, we use the simplest definition of leader that I have come across: people follow you. This definition intentionally omits any reference to rank or role. We see leadership as behavior-based. "Leader" is not a title you are handed just because you sit in a certain spot in a hierarchy; you have to earn it from those you aspire to have follow you.
Amen to that.

And finally, Ken Levine offers a reflection on his role model: Shari Lewis, in a wonderful story of generous professionalism. May we all be so good.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: Skyfall ***THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!***

For my dad's birthday, my parents and I went to see the new James Bond film, Skyfall, and I have things I want to say about it that involve HUGE spoilers! I'm warning you now! If you don't want to know, then don't keep reading.

Have you averted your eyes, you who do not wish to know?

All right then.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Funnies, November 11

Happy 75th birthday, Dad! You look a heck of a lot better than Sean Connery.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Various & Sundry: Can't Touch This

It's been a while since I've had a chance to do the random round-up. Let's see what I've got here...

In tea news, you'll be glad to hear that the London-based loose-leaf brew bar, "Bringing better cups of tea to the streets of London: loose leaf, custom-brewed and served from a 1974 Citroen H van," has already been oversubscribed on Kickstarter. I definitely plan to get a cuppa if and when I get to London.

I saw the movie Argo a couple of weeks ago, and really appreciated Lance Mannion's take on it. It's less a review and more a meditation on the lessons it may have to teach us in this day and age.
There are times when there really isn’t anything we can do. There are problems that can’t be solved. There are situations where even someone as powerful as the President of the United States has no control. Under those circumstances, when success isn’t an option, despair and surrender are temptations that must still be resisted. The best thing we can do is do our jobs, to exercise what little control we have in the little sphere in which we still have it, and instead of holing up by ourselves, reach out to those nearest whom we can help. We have to take care of each other.
One person who exercised what control he had in his sphere was James R. Dumpson, who died this week at the age of 103. The headline for his obituary was "defender of the poor," and what a wonderful accolade! He was the NYC Commissioner of Welfare in the early '60's, and had a message that still needs to be heard today: that "the only test for public assistance was a citizen’s need, not morals."

I almost always find something to love in David Lose's daily blog posts, but this one, entitled Theology as Conversation, I found particularly compelling. Probably because it's exactly what we're trying to do with Confirm not Conform. "True belief," he says, "grows only in the space created by the freedom to question." Amen to that.

Meanwhile, in a less...reverent part of the blogosphere, Lent Madness mastermind Tim Schenck prepared a wonderful Litany for Diocesan Conventions.
From those compelled to speak from any available microphone even with nothing to say,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From liturgies that include the clapping of hands and hymns no one knows,
Good Lord, deliver us.
Amen again.

Oh, there was an election this week, wasn't there? In President Obama's acceptance speech I appreciated his comment that "We are not as divided as our politics suggest." One scientific study, at least, tends to back him up on this sentiment.

It was a wonderful speech. I appreciated what he had to say about democracy, about debate, about patriotism.

Then there's this. I admit I like this too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Not By Bread Alone, continued

Earlier this year, I posted about a program proposed by the mother of a friend of mine. Called Not By Bread Alone, this program provided toiletries, beauty products, nylons, and other items for women at the local food pantry.

Today I heard a follow-up story about the program. A woman came to the food pantry and was beside herself - simply ecstatic - to be able to get...a hairbrush. Because she didn't have one, not in any real sense. It had completely fallen apart. And, she told my friend's mother, if she'd had the money to buy a hairbrush, she would have bought something else.

It was also a good thing because, she said to my friend's mother, she was running out of elastics to hold her hair back. And now she didn't need to worry about that.

Just thought you should know.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Giving post-Sandy

My parents asked me yesterday who I suggested giving to in the wake of Sandy's devastation of the eastern seaboard. I'd been thinking about that myself. I haven't yet decided where I'm going to put my money, but here are some of the principles I'm using to decide:

  • No stuff If it requires collection on this end, unloading and sorting on the other end, and transport in between, I don't think it's a good use of resources. As numerous people have pointed out, the time and energy required of volunteers to sort through gifts-in-kind donations - not to mention the need to dispose of unnecessary or unwanted stuff - in general makes this a bad call. Especially since I am on the other side of the country. Why use the fuel to ship stuff thousands of miles when a) resources are much closer to hand and b) one of the things they need is fuel? There's nothing wrong with giving money!
  • No new charities I am very leery of any charity that crops up specifically to respond to Hurricane Sandy. Especially in such a charity-rich environment as NY-NJ, the rest of the northeast, and  Haiti, why establish a new charity when there are so many already there with networks and systems in place?
  • Who do I know? Are there any charities in these areas with which I am already affiliated? Who do I know who lives there? What do they need? Which charities or organizations do they recommend?
  • Emergency response or long-term needs? First responders can always use an influx of cash, if not for this crisis, then to be ready for the next one. If what gets to you is wanting someone to be there at the outset, then it's not too late to give; your donation will be used for the next disaster, because there will be one. If, on the other hand, it's the devastation of this specific disaster that has touched you, then I would recommend considering how to contribute for the long haul, which means more thought on your part.
  • For long-term needs, what do I want to contribute towards? Spend a little time thinking specifically about the issue or issues that mean a lot to you: children's health? Animal welfare? Homelessness? The arts? Then start investigating who does a good job in those areas in the affected area. Charity Navigator can help you with this. Or again, get in touch with people you know in the area. 
  • One-time gift or ongoing? Is this something where I want to give an added influx of cash to a local organization to help them with a sudden increase in need? Or do I want to have an ongoing relationship with this organization? Do I have a plan for how much I want to give over how long a period of time? 
So there you go! I haven't helped you much, have I? Charity Navigator has a helpful post on responding to Hurricane Sandy that gives some specifics on organizations working in response to the hurricane. 

Here's the thing: it's so much easier when someone can tell you, "Give to this organization!" And it's easy to be overwhelmed by the need. But remember: it's OK not to fix everything! Because, to be honest with you, you're not going to.

You know what? There are people in need even in places that haven't been hit by a hurricane. Maybe, as you think about the long-term needs that you think should be addressed, you realize that you can make a far greater difference near your home. And that's OK. Be thoughtful. Be intentional. Be prayerful. And be kind to one another.