Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Cold Winter

on cold winter days
a soft light and a warm hearth
bring peace to the world

Photo by Bill Munson: a view of downtown downtown Franklin, TN taken from the Public Square (found on Facebook)


Friday, January 29, 2016

Interfaith Dialogue

I am always glad when I see interfaith dialogue taking place in the city. The way I see it, all of the world's major religions are here to stay, they are not going away (despite the claims of some strident voices). All religions serve an important purpose in providing a sense of community, personal grounding, a way to make sense of the world and a place to belong. It is unfortunate when we allow our own personal faith, or another individual's faith, to become a wall of separation. 

Sometimes it is a discussion group, sometimes it is a particular charitable function that brings people of different faiths together. We should rejoice whenever that happens, because the world is getting smaller and we all need one another. It was with great joy that I saw the following video of Pope Francis urging us toward interfaith dialogue in our work for peace and justice, proclaiming that "we are all children of God." 


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Recommended Recipes: The Perfect Ratatouille

I have posted Betty Crocker’s basic recipe for ratatouille before on my blog, but ratatouille is something that I usually play by ear rather than by recipe, always keeping in mind that the basic ingredients are eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, bell pepper, and onion. Last weekend I made ratatouille that my wife declared to be perfect, so I am sharing last weekend’s version.
Vegetables for ratatouille
by Floortje (Getty Images)

We will begin with Betty Crocker’s recipe and go from there:

(From the 1983 edition of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, ninth edition)

  • 1 medium eggplant (about 1½ pounds)
  • 2 small zucchini (about ½ pound)
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup) 
  • 4 medium tomatoes, each cut into fourths
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
Cook and stir all ingredients until heated through. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. 

Now here is how I augmented it:

First, I omitted the garlic, since my wife is allergic to garlic, you may choose to keep it in. Second, I added 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning. Third, for the tomatoes, instead of 4 medium tomatoes, I used 8 Roma tomatoes. For one thing, I find Roma tomatoes to be much better tasting in the winter than other tomatoes, and for another, I figure Italian tomatoes are a better fit for an Italian dish.

For the vegetable oil, I used olive oil. I added a splash of sherry, about ¼ cup (I don’t use cooking sherry because that has salt added, I just keep a bottle of sherry on the kitchen counter to add flavor to a number of dishes).

Another slight variation was to add 1 yellow neck squash just for the added color (and nutritionists will tell you that the greater the variety of colors in your vegetables, the greater the variety of nutrients).

I usually cook my ratatouille longer than the Betty Crocker recipe recommends because I like is a little softer than “crisp-tender.” The thing that I did differently this time was that instead of using a big stew pot on top of the stove, I decided to use a slow cooker crock pot.  My reasoning was that this way I could just leave it to cook on its own without having to constantly hover over the stove stirring the pot (and I usually still end up with some burning on the bottom of the pot, no matter how diligent I am with the stirring).

The next big thing was in the presentation of the dish. I chose to serve the ratatouille over bow-tie pasta and to top it with grated Gruyère cheese. This is an unbeatable combination.

So here is a recap of my Perfect Ratatouille:

  • 1 medium eggplant (about 1½ pounds)
  • 2 small zucchini (about ½ pound)
  • 1 small yellow neck squash
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about ½ cup) 
  • 4 medium tomatoes, each cut into fourths
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup sherry
  • 1 box of bow-tie pasta
  • a small block of Gruyère cheese

Rinse all vegetables before preparation. Peel the eggplant, slice and cut into 1-inch cubes. Slice the zucchini and the yellow neck squash. Remove the seeds from the bell pepper and chop the pepper (there is no need to chop it into small pieces -- another thing that nutritionists tell us is that when you cut a vegetable, you lose vitamins and nutrients, so larger chunks is better that finely chopped). Peel the outer skin from the onion and chop (again, I don’t bother to finely chop the onion, I cut it into wedges about ½ to 1 inch in width). 

Place vegetables in a large bowl, add ¼ cup of olive oil, salt and pepper, and Italian seasoning. Stir all ingredients together and pour into a 4 quart crock-pot slow cooker (it will probably fill the crock-pot to the rim, but it will cook down some). Add the sherry, cover and cook on the high setting for about four hours (if you use cooking sherry, omit the salt above since cooking sherry has salt added).

Toward the end of the cook time for the ratatouille, prepare the bow-tie pasta as directed on the package. Drain the pasta but do not rinse. Grate the Gruyère cheese.
Serve the ratatouille over the pasta and top with grated cheese.

Photo by Diana Miller (Getty Images)


Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Music: Most of the Time

Bob Dylan has a song, "Most of the Time," from the album Oh Mercy (1989).  If you didn't know Dylan could be wistful and romantic, just listen to the music on the video. You can scroll down to read the lyrics.

Most of the Time
By Bob Dylan

Most of the time
I'm clear fo
cused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path
I can read the sign
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever
I stumble upon
I don't even notice she's gone
Most of the time.

Most of the time it's well understood
Most of the time I wouldn't change it if I could
I can make it all match up
I can hold my own
I can deal with the situation right down to the bone
I can survive and I can endure
And I don't even think about her
Most of the time.

Most of the time my head is on straight
Most of the time I'm strong enough not to hate
I don't build up illusion 'til it makes me sick
I ain't afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind
Don't even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time.

Most of the time she ain't even in my mind
I wouldn't know her if I saw her
She's that far behind
Most of the time I can even be sure
If she was ever with me
Or if I was ever with her
Most of the time I'm halfway content
Most of the time I know exactly where it went
I don't cheat on myself I don't run and hide
Hide from the feelings that are buried inside
I don't compromise and I don't pretend
I don't even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Haiku: The River

flood waters rising
in the ancient river banks
calm, clear skies above

Photo by Doug Nurnberger
Ocmulgee River @ Highway 16, Macon Georgia


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Namaste: To Truly See Another

I do not know where the photo above originated. A friend shared it on Facebook, but the site identified neither the photographer nor the subject of the photograph*. The picture is heartwarming and engaging, as I think anyone would agree. When I saw it, my first impression was that this is a true greeting toward a sentient being. The boy is taking delight in meeting another creature, bowing in honor of the life made manifest in the dog. Likewise, the dog seems to be returning the honor. The picture speaks to me of namaste: the divine in me recognizes the divine in you.

A Dog's Blessing

The day after I saw this photo, Mr. Higgins came to me in a dream. He looked me in the eye as I reached down to scratch the back of his ear. Mr. Higgins was a shepherd-border collie mix who graced my life almost thirty years ago. He and I spent our first day together getting to know one another when he was a pup. We actually picked one another out when I went to choose from the litter of pups. His choosing me was as important as my choosing him. We spent our last day together 14 years later, taking one last walk after I carried him down the steps (he could no longer get up on his own or maneuver steps, but could walk once he was aided to a standing position).

Walking at my side on a lead had always been the proudest of moments for Higgins when we walked through the neighborhood or down to Flora Johnston Park on Shades Creek. On that final day, we took one more walk around the backyard, and though it was a short walk, he held his head up and mustered that same pride while we made our way around the yard. I could see that he was thrilled to be on a walk! We also spent time together in the living room. I sat down on the floor beside him where we could be present to one another for a while before making that ride to the veterinarian's office.

I wrote an essay, Living with Virtue, recounting some of my life with Mr. Higgins. My wife told me, and has told others the same thing, that when she saw how I raised Higgins, she was reassured that I could do a good job as father to a child and that it would be okay to get pregnant. So in a way, Mr. Higgins was instrumental in bringing our greatest joy into the world, assuring us that we could be parents. Little wonder that I would have an ever so brief dream about him all these years later.

Respect for All of Life

When I see the boy and the dog in the photo, I am reminded of the respect that we should accord our fellow sentient creatures. I am reminded of the blessing that our creature companions can bring us. I am also reminded of our duty to offer love and care to the world around us and the creatures therein.  

Today, I offer the example of this young boy – whoever he is, wherever he lives – as a beacon to us all to greet one another with honor and love, and to offer that same grateful greeting to our creature companions.

And thanks again, Mr. Higgins, for a life well-lived and for all the times well-spent. Namaste.

Mr. Higgins: 1987 - 2001

* The photo at the top was identified simply as “Weird world’s photo” on Facebook.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Music: Remembering David Bowie

David Bowie performs at the 2001 Concert for New York
photo by Scott Gries (Getty Images)

Last week David Bowie died after an 18-month battle with cancer. Many remembrances has been posted on line. My remembrance is a a re-post of a Monday Music feature from September 9, 2013:

David Bowie at The Concert for New York City gave the finest rendition of "America" that I have ever heard. The song was written by Paul Simon and recorded by Simon & Garfunkel in 1968. The Concert for New York City, held on October 20, 2001, was a benefit concert in response to the September 11 attack. Organized by Paul McCartney, the concert raised money for charity and honored the first responders from the NYC Fire Department and the NYC Police Department.

Unfortunately, the YouTube video below has been removed, but I found a copy of the same video at Daily Motion which you can watch at


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Rising Waters

the rising waters
ignore time-honored pathways
heed no boundaries 

Photo by Paula Claunch: Flooding at Greenway at Providence
(Posted by Leada Gore at


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Do We Mean when We Say “God?”

William Blake's "The Ancient of Days
setting a compass to the earth"
We hear a lot of talk these days about God. There is a current controversy in some circles as to whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Then there are the writings of the new atheists such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins  and Christopher Hitchens who doubt that God exists at all. What do all of these people mean when they use the term God? As people debate the topic, we may hear, in addition to atheism, such terms as theism, pantheism, and panentheism. Right away it becomes clear to some that we are not talking about an either/or argument between just two isms.

I just became acquainted with Nancy Abrams’ book A God that Could Be Real last month when she and I both participated in Matthew Fox’s “Blog Tour.” Each of us who participated wrote a review of Matthew Fox’s newly revised and updated autobiography, Confessions, with a new review posted each day (to see all of the reviews, go here). 

Interestingly enough, we all chose to take a personal approach, relating how our lives were enriched by contact with Matthew Fox and his writings. Abrams’ review, however, was one that really stood out, and prompted me to explore her website. Here is an excerpt from her review that I thought speaks to where many of us are and I think it is what many of us progressives need to hear:
Spirituality is the driving force of life to Matthew Fox, and he is convinced it’s not only accessible in the modern world but essential to our survival. Without healing the wounds of religion, he writes, no one can build an authentic political coalition. They need “fire in the belly about justice and compassion.”

Fire in the belly is what everyone who wants to save the world needs! The spiritual power that underlies religions belongs to us, not to the religions. If we disdain that, how are we to become a real force in changing the world and not just an esoteric group of scientists, philosophers, and philanthropists?

We need the experience of oneness that impassions the motivation to act collectively and that Fox calls the mystic. “When progressive thinkers and doers stay as far away from religion as they can, they turn over religious language and religious values to the very fundamentalists whom they oppose as political right-wingers (Fox’s italics).” (Read the entire review here)   

In reading Ms. Abrams’ review, she made reference to her book A God that Could Be Real. I have not read her book, but when I went to her website, I found some information about the book as well as a blog post she had written in response to a reviewer’s comments in the Los Angeles Review of Books. The reviewer apparently was an atheist who highlighted reasons why he and others of like mind have no need for any concept of God. Reading Abram’s response brought to mind many discussions I have had, in terms of what we mean when we say “God.” 

Objectionable Traits Attributed to God

Usually, when I hear or read one of the “new atheists” describe the god they do not believe in, my response is that I do not believe in that sort of god either, but that in no way makes me an atheist. So often they are targeting some “sky god” who keeps tally on human actions and zaps some people with plagues, floods and other punishments while demanding attention from human subjects. Such a petty god is far too small for divine status, and far too easy to discredit. (I elaborated on some of these god-concepts in another post, “Image and Likeness.”) 

Bertrand Russell has made the best argument for atheism in his book Why I am Not a Christian. In my opinion, no other atheist has been shown to be his equal. Even at that, however, Russell’s book does little more than to set up a paper tiger against which to make his argument. The “new atheists” do the same thing, just not as well as Russell did.

The other tactic that the “New Atheists” typically take is to enumerate all of the ills that religion has brought. Usually wars, violence, prejudice, The Inquisition, etc. are on the list of harmful traits of religion. The argument seems to insinuate that if we could rid ourselves of religion we would be free from those objectionable traits. The truth is that all of the ills they mention are human ills rather than specifically religious traits. Consequently, we will likely carry those ills with us wherever we go, whether we take  religion with us or not. They are indeed ills that we should seek to overcome, but scapegoating religion will not deliver us from our own evil.   

Two Responses to the Question of God

Now back to Nancy Abrams and her book. You can find information about A God that Could Be Real on her website. I like the way physicist Paul Davies summarizes the current debate as well as the value of Abram’s presentation in his comment about her book:   

“Over the past two decades a largely sterile dispute has raged between two diametrically opposing camps: atheists and religious fundamentalists. It is surely time to move on and elevate the discussion to a higher intellectual level. This ambitious and thought-provoking book by Nancy Abrams on the interface of science and religion is a timely and welcome contribution to a more productive discussion of the topic”

Her website also has a link to her blog where you can read “My Response to Marcelo Gleiser's review of A God That Could Be Real.”  You will find that post here

Roger Olson, professor and theologian, has a blog at Patheos wherein he presents his views as an Arminian Evangelical Christian. He is a very disciplined scholar (he says to his readers, “Before you can say 'I disagree,' you must first be able to say 'I understand'”).

Olson brings his scholarship to bear in a recent post in which he explains for us lay people the different views of God when he asks, “Do All Atheists Deny the Same God?” I would recommend his essay for anyone wanting an accessible overview of what different people have meant when they have referred to God. You can see that essay here.

And Don't Forget the Comedians

No discussion of God would be complete without input from the comic side. Comedians help us to not take ourselves too seriously, and they often serve as a safety valve of sorts to keep some of the pressures of society down a bit. Being able to joke about the unknown and incomprehensible can put a healthy balance to the subject of God. Cartoonist Gary Larson, in The Far Side comic strip offered many illustrations of God. This is one of my favorites, Acts of God.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday Music: "Cantata No. 140: Wachet auf"

Here's some smooth classical: Bach's Cantata No. 140, Wachet Auf (Sleepers Awake) performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Peter Kreeft, professor of  philosophy at Boston College has said, "There is the music of Bach, therefore there is God." One can always counter any "proof" for the existence of God, but beauty of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach abides beyond any discussion.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Distant Sun

on another world
the rays of the setting sun
are like an old friend

Photo: Martian sunset taken by the Curiosity rover
NASA photograph, courtesy of National Geographic:

Sunset on Mars

The rover caught this stunning view of the sun setting over the rim of Gale crater on April 15, 2015. Unlike our red-hued sunsets, Martian views are tinted blue thanks to fine particles that allow more blue light into the atmosphere.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Where Grace Abounds

Grace Episcopal Church, Woodlawn

Having been raised in the Baptist faith, I came to adopt a more ancient Christian tradition after I began to explore the liturgical heritage in the Episcopal Church and then in the Roman Catholic Church. While I have been a practicing Catholic for 15 years, there are still some days when I am more Anglican in my leanings. I am sure that is why for the past two years I have chosen to spend Advent at Grace Episcopal Church in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama.

A Long History in the City

Interior windows
Grace Episcopal Church is a small Anglo-Catholic parish in a part of town that has been declining for decades. It has a vibrant outreach to the community as it seeks to feed the hungry and offer clothing and assistance to the needy. One may encounter a panhandler or two while going to and from the worship service since the church is known for giving aid. Grace’s slogan is, after all, “Where Street and Altar Meet!”

Founded over 100 years ago in the early days of the iron industry boom, Grace ministered to families moving to the area to work in the mills and foundries of “The Magic City.” During the 1970s, the neighborhood shifted from being a middle class white neighborhood to predominantly African-American and Hispanic. Instead of fleeing to the suburbs, Grace shifted its focus to the needs of the neighborhood by starting a daily soup kitchen, a food pantry, and a clothes closet. They also offer emergency shelter and a summer camp for teens in the neighborhood. [1]

Altar in front of Christ the King stained glass window

The Anglo-Catholic Heritage

Grace Church offers a rich worship experience in the Anglo-Catholic liturgy. The Anglican tradition is said to be both Catholic and Protestant. While many parishes are more Protestant in appearance, with services that are somewhat sparse and plain in liturgical trappings ("Low Church"), a few embrace the full liturgical expressions of the historic faith: incense, bells, sung liturgy, etc., with the Mass being central to the worship service ("High Church"). (What many of my Catholic friends do not realize is that the Anglo-Catholic expression of worship is much more “Catholic” than most Catholic parishes these days.)

Advent wreaths at Grace
My Advent experience at Grace was one of re-connecting with some old friends, and a time of waiting in hope for the Christ event. Yes, there was the ancient liturgical witness that included the fragrant rising of incense and the tolling of the bells. There were white-robbed acolytes bearing torches, a cross, and a thurible. There was music from the organ and the choir. The Reverend Robyn Arnold, rector, effectively delivered thoughtful and heart-felt homilies (I found myself jotting notes in the margins of my church bulletin). Then there was the devotional recitation of the Angelus at each Mass during Advent as we honored the Incarnation and paid tribute to Mary’s role in the Incarnation. [2]

 Into the World

In addition to rich liturgical worship, there was the unavoidable connection to the world. For one thing, these people are wandering passers of the peace. That moment in the service in which we greet one another with the sign of peace is for Grace parishioners a time to leave their pews to greet everyone they can with handshakes, hugs (and even some kisses). It may have been a little bit past my introvert "comfort zone," yet I saw it as a sign that they were both a community and a family of faith.  The "sign of peace" is indeed an affirmation of our connection with one another.

The other unavoidable connection to the world was that while driving through the neighborhood, one is confronted with many who are in need. There are people who are not only in immediate need of food and shelter, but are also lacking in vision and prospects for the future. Grace Church dwells with the truth found in the Epistle of James, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2: 15,16)

So if you want to get closer to the liturgy, or closer to the street, Grace Episcopal Church in Woodlawn is the place to go.

Side street view

[All photos were taken from Grace Episcopal Church's website and Facebook site]

1. For more information about the outreach ministries at Grace, go to

2. To read more about the Angelus, go to


Monday, January 4, 2016

Monday Music: The World's Oldest "Christmas Carol"

We are still in the season of Christmastide (until Epiphany on January 6). Here is a hymn written by St. Romanos the Melodist, a 6th century Syrian poet. The song is known as the Christmas Kontakion. The first video is in Arabic (with English subtitles). In addition to the beautiful music, you will also see artwork and scenes form Christian sites in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. The second video is a shorter English version.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Moonrise

a full moon rising
bids joy to the quiet earth
and peace to the night


Photo by Jenna Greulich
"Christmas Eve Moon ~ taken in southern Indiana, 4:30 p.m., CST"


Friday, January 1, 2016

A Year of Mercy

Practicing Love During Times of Hate

After such a long season of single-issue voting, inhospitable behavior toward immigrants, and words of hate for those who are different, Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy. May we take this time to re-acquaint ourselves with the charitable works of mercy.  

We have seen too much hatred and even support of violence coming from people who in more settled times may have exhibited more decency toward others. Pope Francis admonished early on that we should not be obsessed with the issues of abortion and homosexuality – there is so much good news to tell that no one has been hearing because of this unhealthy obsession.

As a practicing Catholic, I see too many good things regarding social justice and the works of mercy that we are all called to practice. That is why I was so glad to see Pope Francis call his flock to a Jubilee Year of Mercy which began during Advent on December 8, and will continue until November 20, 2016. 

When Pope Francis issued the announcement of the Year of Mercy, he stated that he wanted to call us back to the work of Vatican II. The people at that Ecumenical Council, he said "strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. The walls which for too long had made the Church a fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way." Indeed, I was moved to tears to see our diocese as well as our local parish issuing a renewed call to practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. 

Taking heed to these traditional works of mercy provides us a more holistic view of practicing our faith than we typically have been seeing of late. May we engage more in acts of love and less in hateful diatribe in the year ahead.

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