20 September 2015

Musing on Domesticity

It really does not matter very much what should be the highest priority, when any group of campers gets to a campsite, you can be fairly sure that the first thing they will turn to is setting up the tents and sleeping gear. The exception is a military unit in a hostile countryside mode. For the soldiers, establishing the perimeter, and setting guards comes first. When horses moved fighters, second was the rub down and feeding of those partners in war.

But today, when campers are likely to be Scout units or tourists, tents and sleeping gear are just naturally the first things. We humans may not be birds, but we like our nests. Kitchen gear, fires, grills, and the like are often second.

This is true, even when the logical choices might be different. Arrive at a campsite near dusk, and a search for fuel, or bear-resistant food storage locations might make more sense, (Nothing is bear-proof.) Canoe or raft to a site, and securing the boats might be more important. But up come the tents.

This afternoon there were probably six things more urgent than hanging lace curtains over the door to our parking area. Except, I finally had assembled the needed tools (trivial unless you had to get them from boxes packed in indecent haste as the foreclosure date drew near) and I knew where the drapes and rods were. So, finally, months after the move, we have some privacy. Our new neighbors are not snoops, we have been behind in some of our domestic chores.

I feel a perhaps undeserved sense of achievement. I know my sons think we should be farther along in our nesting activities. We still have dozens of boxes, some to be unloaded into furniture standing empty awaiting our glass and china, others probably headed to either Goodwill Industries or a dumpster. No one would accuse of us of being settled.

But the basics are largely done. I can more or less cook, even if we cannot afford much in the way of groceries. I recently located my hiking boots, important when the snow comes. We negotiated an improved parking space, no small thing with my spinal issues and Sue's ankles facing a Chicago Winter. I think I actually know where a good deal of that glass and china is going.

So, for someone pushing 70 with a bad back, a damaged heart, and a family of critics, I am think Sue and I can feel something like well done this evening. Now all I have to do is figure out dinner!

Update: Dinner was late, but actually rather good too.

15 September 2015

Tests, and Paths

David Weber, one of the most readable science fiction writers I have discovered in a long, long time, posits a planet, "Greyson" where the dominant religion believes in something he calls, "the test of life." The idea being that all of our lives are in some way faced wth divinely sent tests of our ability to use our gifts, and express our faith.

There are some interesting issues there if we treat the proposition seriously. And I think that worth doing.

From the viewpoint of a traditional Christian, the first problem is that we do not earn our way. Life itself, and redemption of both our world and ourselves is a free gift from God.

But then we have to ask what we are doing here? God could simply announce the free gift and take us all wherever that takes us. He does not seem to do that: so be it for our benefit, creation's redemption, our refining, here we are. Facing trials and tribulations as the hymnists have it. In short facing for ourselves, not for God, a test.

While I am not an expert, but to the extent I know at least, several of other major religions could accommodate the idea of a test too. The idea is not all that odd, albeit Christians are not perhaps, used to the terminology.

If indeed we are facing a test, not because God needs to know us, but perhaps because we need to know ourselves, not because God needs us refined, but because God gives us the opportunity to become refined, improved, or perhaps, the best we can achieve; we should perhaps take stock. On a clear, calm, cool September night, I face this question: am I, answering my test? Are you?

I cannot speak for myself, so I certainly won't try to speak for my (few) readers. I hope I am facing my test confident in God's eventual aproval, or at least something like, "good try." One thing about being nearly 70, is I know that conversation is not all that far ahead.

g I do think the question worth facing. I hope you are confident you are facing your trials and tribulations as well as God wants.

Note: I have never met Mr. Weber, and I am mentioning his fictitious religion merely as a way to set the frame. It is entirely possible that I have miss-stated the concepts in his fiction, and if I have I apologize to both him and you. I do highly recommend his books. Here is a link to his site Again, I am a mere fan, not an expert!

30 August 2015

customer service and truth

OK, confession first. Sue-z and I are broke. We have been so short, I had to deliberately choose to not fill some prescriptionslast month, and without the food pantries and pastoral support from our faith communities, we would have run out of food. We did almost run out

We are better off now, albeit not much. It is our expectation that shortly, with a bit of good fortune, we will be more nearly financially functional. So, yes we have been having issues.

One of our creditors is ComCast. Comcast has an effective monopoly in our apartment complex. Yes I know that is illegal, we should be able to get Direct TV, or AT&T, but for on reason or another, they simply are not available.

So, when we moved in, we got the minimum tv and internet packages. Even that, when I could not pay for insulin, was too much. Yes I owe them some money. And I will be paying it later today. The conduct of Comcast personnel, however, is amazing. Several weeks ago, when I knew I could not pay, I called them. I told them I would pay when our social security came. I offered a predated check internet transaction. Not to maintain the service, that I knew was probably impossible. But at least to make them whole.

The lady I talked to told me to wait a week, then call in the prepaid check. She told me we could avoid a service interruption. So I did that. The person whom I now spoke to changed the deal. She demanded a double payment, when I had $12 in my checking account, and no cash. Clearly this was impossible. So is speaking to a supervisor. So I said, "No, you or the person I spoke to last week lied. I do not care which." I hung up.

This week, we have our only income, our social security check. So, I planned to pay off the account. But wait! Now a marketing person calls to sell us Comcast! I was driving, so Sue took the call on my phone. After some discussion (and my parking,) Ms. Springfield told me that if I paid the due amount, and re-ordered the service, we could avoid service charges and installation fees, with a first payment date based on our social security. Finding as we have, the absence of wi-fi a real problem, and having found ways to both pay out less cash and slightly increase income, I agreed. Ms. Springfield read me her notes on our file, and put me on hold for the individual who could both accept the payment and activate the orders.

He came on the line a timed 25 minutes later, told me there were no notes on the file, and demanded more money! I was stunned, had Ms. Springdfield lied? Was he lying? I finally told him I would pay off the past due, and as his employer has already claimed their equipment I hoped never do business with them again.

Which leads to a question: does anyone marginally competent, and passingly honest work for Comcast?

If you can get your internet and / or tv from anyone else, my advice is do!

31 July 2015

"Christian" Paranoia

Long ago, in a country far away, the evil men who wanted to destroy the republic found that they could not win elections, nor sieze power. Their leader found another way to power. He began claiming that he and his followers were victims of a minority that had recently been granted full civil rights. Suddenly, his speeches were listened to by those in the society who were failures.

The tactic worked so well, it was expanded. Now, instead of a conspiracy of minority people destroying the country from the inside, the completely fictional conspiracy was expanded to involve supposedly sinister international co-conspirators. The claim of being a victim resonated so much with the losers, they began to join organizations devoted to the leader, and become violent.
The conspiracy succeeded. Claiming victimhood all the way, the leader eventually took over the government. Suddenly there were prison camps where members of the minority, forced to wear special identity badges were gathered, and systematically killed. Elections were discontinued. The leader, now the "Ruler," did not need a legislature or elections. The republic died, a victim of the paranoia common in the looser class, and the refusal to consider a mirror when wondering why a person failed.

The other political parties were outlawed. Opposition became treason.

Those who have ears, let them hear.

30 July 2015

My Latest Recipe

Ok, so we are flat broke, and grateful that our area has several food banks. I have been trying to keep the level of cooking up. This is an example. It has a sort of twist. The day I had described what I thought I would do, Rachel Ray did something similar on her show. I am thinking I should claim she stole my idea, but I think it is merely a matter of simultaneous inspiration.

I make this in a cast iron pan but any 10 or 12-inch oven proof skillet will work. I serve it from the pan. I suppose you could use a buttered 9 x 13 casserole or baing pan with the ragu spooned down the center
  • 1# pork breakfast sausage. (I plan to try Italian sausage soon)
  • 1 large sweet or white onion
  • 1# "baby bella" mushrooms
  • 1# carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic - minced
  • 1 Tbl dried Basil, or 2Tbl fresh leaves, chopped
  • 2 Tbl tomato paste
  • 2 Tbl ketchup
  • 1 C. Cottage Cheese (plain or chives added)
  • 2 C. polenta or yellow grits
  • 8 C. stock (chicken, miso, or vegetable, in a pinch substitute water.)
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 3 Tbl unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup (or more) freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese plus more for finishing.
  • olive oil for frying
  • Salt
  • Pepper
First make the meat sauce - ragu.

  • Chop onion into 1/2" pieces.
  • Cut carrots into 1/8# slices.
  • Over medium-high heat, add olive 1 - 2 Tbl olive oil, add sausage, and break into small pieces as it browns. Use a slotted spoon to remove from pan, leaving any rendered oil.
  • Add onions, carrots and mushrooms. Cook stirring gently until the mushrooms dry (they will release liquid) and the onions are clear. Add a little olive oil if they want to stick.
  • Add tomato paste, and garlic stir until the sauce has lost its red color, is light brown and coats the veggies.
  • Add meat, and any accumulated juices. Stir together to combine, remove from pan, stir in basil, and set aside.

Drain the Cheese
  • pour the cottage cheese into a fine mesh strainer or a colander lined with a coffee filter. Set over a bowl to drain.

Make the Polenta

  • Using the same pan, stir two cups of polenta into 6 cups of broth. Bring to a simmer. Add 2 tsp salt, and as much as 1/4 tsp pepper.
  • Using a separate sauce pan, or in a microwave, bring another 2 cups of broth, and the whey drained from the cottage cheese to a simmer.
  • Bring to a simmer, and cook, slowly, until the liquid is nearly absorbed, about 25 minutes.
  • Stir in the 2 cups of broth,1/2 cup at a time, cooking until the broth is invisible after each addition..
  • Stir in cream cheese, butter, and grated cheese. Stir to mix completely.
  • Remove from heat. 
  • Let the polenta rest 5 minutes.
  • Carefully spoon the warm ragu into the center of the pan. As you do this, the level of the polenta around the pan will rise. Spoon it all in.
  • Spoon cottage cheese over the ragu.
  • Generously grate Parmesan or Romano cheese over the entire dish.
  • Warm in oven or broiler until the cheese melts and slightly browns.
  • Serve

17 July 2015

Symbols Matter

In the wake of the removal of the Virginia battle flag in South Carolina, and the publication of the photos of the apparent killer using that flag as a symbol of his views, it is perhaps time to think about symbols. The battle flag is only one of several symbols we should be considering.

Consider the white robes and pseudo-hoods of the KKK. In a somewhat amusing (OK, I have an odd sense of humor) event, white idiots wearing those get-ups, will be demonstrating in favor of the Virginia battle flag. Ah, but what is amusing? When the civil rights movement was ending Jim Crow, we were told, over and over, that there would be no issue were in not for (wait for it!) "out of State agitators." Yup, you guessed it, it is the NORTH Carolina bigots who are demonstrating in South Carolina's capitol. Outside agitators indeed.

We might also think of other symbolic acts and items. In the wake of the South Carolina murders, symbols celebrating Confederate victories, soldiers, and other heroes are being reconsidered, and in some cases removed from public properties, and some religious institutions. I am fairly sure that when he set out to kill innocents, he did not expect this response. But the gunman has set off an avalanche of change. The symbols of racism are failing.

07 July 2015

Independence Day 2015

Sue-z and I have a dear friend who is dying. He is very calm about that fact, his life-bonded partner died a few months ago, and his cancer leaves no doubt that his time is come. We are sad to lose him, at the same time we are inspired by the calm confidence that he brings to his imminent departure.

This amazing week, he and I have talked about the changes in our world. Marriage equality has come, finally, to the entire country, the revulsion we have shared at the traitorous display of the Virginia battle flag, is rolling through the country, making us ever more one country.

For Episcopalians, the week also was when, finally after more than 40 years of effort, marriage equality came to the church. The last barriers to equality for lesbian/gay Christians have gone. As of the first Sunday in Advent, all of our marriage liturgies will be applied as gender neutral. That is two men, two women, and one of each will be precisely equal.

In one sense, equality comes too late for our friend. His love is dead. But as we talked about the changes, he shouted, Hallelujah! I joined him in the shout. He has lived to see this victory. And if he will not participate in sacramental marriage, he knows that 40 years of advocating, demonstrating, and praying have come to this moment. We can celebrate that achievement of those who put themselves and their careers on the line. We can remember joining to picket Archbishop Akinola, and we can see the gates of heaven opening and Louie and Julian waiting with Jesus, and his family.

Justice flows like water. Freedom comes with justice, and now, finally, it has come for a minority still widely oppressed, especially in Central Africa. "It is still a long hard and damn hard and bitter ride"1 for many there.

Archbishop Welby, ever the pro-bully figure, expressed his concern that the Gafecon schismatics might not be comfortable. Here in the diocese of Chicago, we have something called, "fierce conversation." We are not good at it yet, but we are working on it. One thing we have learned is that confronted by evil, one must name it. Conflict avoidance is evil. Sometimes, one must do the moral thing even if it upsets people. We might wish this simple idea were not so hard for primates to understand. General Convention did a lot of good, but continuing to invest in companies that facilitate the subjugation of Palestinians is simply wrong. Attempting to justify discrimination against LGBT Christians as a price for a false sense of unity is wrong. Justin Welby is wrong, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori is wrong on divestment.

But this week, Lady Liberty's torch shines a bit more brightly. This week we are praying for his passing, in triumph. His faithfulness is secure, and the reconciliation of God's creation is a bit more visible. Receive him oh Lord who places his trust in you. Enter not into judgement with him, but regard him with mercy, a child of your adoption, a faithful lamb of your flock. Grant that the hosts of heaven protect and guide him; the choir of angels sing for him; and the holy martyrs greet him. Let your light perpetual shine on him, and may his soul, with all the faithful rest in peace.

1 From the wonderful poem, "Hey Nellie, Nellie" by Shell Silversteen
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