Friday, March 30, 2007

My Favorite Spring Flowers

Ophelia's oft-quoted line, "There's pansies, that's for thoughts", in Hamlet (Act IV, Scene V) comes from this tradition: if a maiden found a honeyflower and a pansy left for her by an admirer, it would mean "I am thinking of our forbidden love" in symbol rather than in writing.

I love pansies. They come in a myriad of colors and they are the first plants I put out each spring. Bright and beautiful, pansies along with tulips and daffodils help to usher in spring.

Last night I paid a visit to my brother-in-law who is as much a garden enthusiast as I am. He was putting his pansies in the ground as I pulled in his drive!! After the visit I drove straight to the nursery and purchased my own.

When I finally got home last night I filled two planters out front with pansies and their close cousins, violas. I also filled three beds by the back door. Now both entrances are presentable.

I noticed the daffodils were starting to bloom last evening and the tulips are only a week or so behind.

I am grateful for this time of renewal. And as I observe each bulb breaking forth from the ground I am reminded that Jesus also broke forth from the ground never to die again and the hope that is offered in his life.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


I have led work projects where there have been millions of dollars on the line. I have played a crucial role in other projects where I started with little or no knowledge of the project itself and in short order worked out what I needed to do to assist.

So why am I so intimidated by my own building project?

We are headed to Vermont soon to meet with the architect and the builder to work out some of the details and I have to tell you I am a little freaked out.

We have had an old hunting cabin in the Northeast Kingdom for the last seven years and this year we are going to tear it down and build a place that we can visit year round and eventually move to on a semi-permanent basis.

I keep telling myself it will all be fine - that I have the skills to manage the project and convey our ideas/desires to the builder and that I have the skills to keep it within or under our budget.

But then there is that nagging sense of doubt in the back of my mind that sneaks out when no one is around.

Where does that come from?

“Go away!”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"The Cat Sat On The Mat"

How would churches deal with the statement "the cat sat on the mat" if it appeared in the Bible?

The liberal Protestants would point out that such a passage did not of course mean that the cat literally sat on the mat. Also, cat and mat had different meanings in those days from today, and anyway, the text should be interpreted according to the customs and practices of the period.

This would lead to an immediate response from the conservative Evangelicals. They would make it an essential condition of faith that a real physical, living cat, being a domestic pet of the species Domesticus, and having a whiskered head, a furry body, four legs and a tail, did physically place its whole body on a floor covering, designed for that purpose, and which is on the floor but not of the floor. The expression "on the floor but not of the floor" would be explained in a tract.

Meanwhile, the Catholics would have developed the Feast of the Sedentation of the Blessed Cat. This would teach that the cat was white, and majestically reclined on a mat of gold thread before its assumption to the Great Cat Basket of Heaven. This is commemorated by singing the "Magnificat" and "Felix namque", lighting three candles, and ringing a bell five times.

This would cause a schism with the Orthodox Church which believes tradition requires Holy Cats Days (as it is colloquially known), to be marked by lighting SIX candles and ringing the bell FOUR times. This would partly be resolved by the Cuckoo Land Declaration recognising the traditional validity of each.

Eventually the House of Bishops would issue a statement on the Doctrine of the Feline Sedentation. It would explain, traditionally the text describes a domestic feline quadruped superjacent to an unattached covering on a fundamental surface.

For determining its salvific and eschatological significations, we follow the heuristic analytical principles adopted in dealing with the Canine Fenestration Question (How much is that doggie in the window?) and the Affirmative Musaceous Paradox (Yes, we have no bananas). And so on, for another 210 pages.

A General Synod would then commend this report as helpful resource material for clergy to explain to the man in the pew the difficult doctrine of the cat sat on the mat.

– Author unknown

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Changing Values

I remember the first time I voted for a Democrat was in 1992 when I voted for Bill Clinton.

My politics were changing, evolving - moving in a different direction.

I was working with the Danbury Police Department in Danbury, Connecticut as their police chaplain. I rode along with officers on Thursday nights throughout our community. Sometimes it was to help officers and sometimes to help the people in the community.

What I saw as a police chaplain was that there were really two different worlds.

There was my world where I lived and the people in it were clean and had plenty. It was a happy world without a lot of real pain or fear or struggle.

There was also another world where people lived and in their world they struggled on a daily basis to eat, to stay warm, to pay rent and to make ends meet.

It was a real eye opener for me – and yet I was not ignorant of the plight of the homeless or downtrodden. I had helped them often as a minister with food and clothing. But I thought those folks were anomalies.

It wasn’t until 1992 that I realized that there was a world of fear and struggle out there that few people wanted to know about, a layer of society that needed our government’s assistance if it was ever going to get any better.

Besides the immediate needs of food and clothing - that world needed education, health care, affordable housing and job training.

And so I pulled the lever for the person I thought would do a better job at meeting those needs. And he did. And we did for a while. But the last six years have not been good ones for the poor. You can read Larry James’ blog and see that is the case.

Soon we will be faced with a choice again. I know that values are always mentioned as a part of any election.

When they tried to trick Jesus into revealing what he thought the greatest commandment or value was, he replied, that one should love Yahweh with one's entire heart, soul, mind, and strength and the second was like it; one should love one's neighbor as one would love oneself.

This is the greatest value – love.

Who will look at the world with eyes of love and administer what has been given to them with that value?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ed Bayliss

Did I ever tell you about my favorite elder?

Ed met Doonie (Nell) at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and thought she was a lot older than she was. He asked her out to the New Year’s Eve dance at the Peabody. He was 25 years old and had no idea she was 15.

They dated for the next 4 years and one day they eloped and got married. Doonie used to say it was because she did not want to take an English exam.

Ed, a former Presbyterian, became a member of the church of Christ and was devoted to it the rest of his life. He worked as a cotton salesman for the American Cotton Shippers Association and that brought him to the northeast in the early 60’s.

His work would bring him to Massachusetts where he and his wife would worship with the Natick church of Christ. When I arrived on the scene in 1986 Ed was one of two elders. He was in his 80’s when I met him.

I would spend the last three years of Ed’s life working with him and during all of that time he ministered to me.

Ed had a quiet way about him. He did not speak much but when he did his words were worth listening to. He seemed to be a man who understood how life had changed him through the years. He was always open to listen and was refreshingly honest.

He would often encourage me in regards to my work or a class I taught but his words were always few. I preached on the providence of God once and in an unusual display of appreciation he went on and on about how it was one of the best sermons he had ever heard on the subject.

He had a great woodworking shop in his basement and he helped me on a couple of woodworking projects.

When he was diagnosed with cancer he took the news in his usual stoic manner. And the cancer did not take long to necessitate home hospice. They set up a hospital bed in Ed’s room and to give Doonie a break I would go and sit with him through the night the last few weeks of his life.

The first few nights he knew I was there with his water and his medications but later as his condition worsened he had know idea who was next to his bed. He could not use a bedpan and so when he had to go I would pick him up like a child, cradled in my arms, and set him on the portable seat.

Once he’d finished I would clean him, lift him back into his bed, and comfort him by softly singing a hymn or reciting the Lord’s Prayer. This is not what I pictured ministry to be in “The Preacher and His Work” class in college.

One rough night near the end Ed was experiencing some discomfort because of his medication that required me to lift him and clean him almost a dozen times. During one of those times, heavily medicated, Ed whispered, “Jesus,” as I moved him back to his bed. I thought maybe I’d hurt him – but he was calm.

I remembered Jesus’ admonition that when you have “…done it for the least of these you have done it for me.”

Ed was being Jesus to me. Even in his dying Ed was teaching me, ministering to me, admonishing me and training me.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week I will be out of the office leading an Ethics Workshop for National City Management Trainees.

Each year NCC selects the best and the brightest from several MBA programs around the country and offer them opportunities to work in different areas around the bank in a rotation. Hopefully by the time they have finished their rotation they have found an area that suits them and a manager has taken an interest in them.

The workshop was designed to help them identify a sense of who they are as people and as National City Employees and what impact who they are has on their ethics. I first developed and taught this workshop in the fall of 2002 for lending managers. A year later I was approached to teach it once a year to these management trainees.

I enjoy these three days every year because this folks are bright and willing to learn. I also enjoy engaging them about ethics and ethical behaviors.

We still do not talk enough about ethics in the workplace and in our personal lives. How do I know? Just look at the headlines for the last few weeks…convictions, investigations and subpoenas.

When we lose track of who “we” are - our world can spiral out of control pretty quickly.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Richard Brautigan - Poet

Fifteen years ago my friend H.D. Bassett introduced me to a beat poet from the 60’s and 70’s I had never heard of by the name of Richard Brautigan. I became a fan and here are four of my favorites of his…


1. Get enough food to eat, and eat it.

2. Find a place to sleep where it is quiet, and sleep there.

3. Reduce intellectual and emotional noise until you arrive at the silence of
yourself, and listen to it.



I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.


I'll affect you slowly
as if you were having
a picnic in a dream.
There will be no ants.
It won't rain.


I live in the Twentieth Century

and you lie here beside me. You

were unhappy when you fell asleep.

There was nothing I could do about

it. I felt hopeless. Your face

is so beautiful that I cannot stop

to describe it, and there's nothing

I can do to make you happy while

you sleep.

Brautigan was probably more of an "off-beat" poet than a beat poet. His prespective on life and his humor really appeal to me.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Snow Day....

I stepped out the backdoor this morning to about 4 inches of snow on the walks and driveway. I knew it was supposed to snow a bit – but four inches is more than a bit.

I could not just head off to work because it is just too deep. So I shoveled my way to the garage and fired up the snow blower and spent thirty minutes cleaning off the drive around the garage and the apron and the sidewalk from the back porch.

While I was lamenting my fate I noticed that it was continuing to snow softly all around me. Big, fluffy snowflakes – the kind that I loved to see when I was a kid. I shut off the snow blower and just stood there in the dawn with the snow falling all around me.

It was a beautiful, peaceful morning.

Suddenly, I was not lamenting the snow but the fact that I now had to go to work! There were snow angels to be made, hot chocolate to be savored, and blog entries craft.


In a line from a Cheryl Crow tune: “It’s not getting what you want – it’s wanting what you’ve got.”

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12, 13

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sea bass 4 2

I love fresh fish and I love the taste of sea bass. After looking at several recipes I concocted one of my own. This can be on the table in 30 minutes!

I made this last week – it was quick and easy and my tester (Christine) said it was delicious, a keeper. Don’t let the fact that it is sea bass scare you…

Prepare one cooked cup of (Jasmine is my favorite) rice

The Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon of butter
1/2 large onion
1/4 cup Marsala wine
14 oz can of chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons of capers
1/2 lemon juiced

Salt and Pepper to taste

I highly recommend getting all the ingredients ready before you start (Mise en place).

- Preheating your oven to 450°.
- Heat the olive oil in your pan over medium high heat and sauté the chopped onion until it's translucent.
- Add the Marsala wine. Be careful to remove the pan from the stove when doing this to prevent the wine from igniting in your face.
- When most of the alcohol has cooked off (2 – 3 minutes) add the tomatoes and capers.
- Take half the lemon and squeeze the juice into the skillet.

- Reduce the heat to medium. Check the flavors, add a little salt and pepper, and let the sauce cook down until it thickens a bit. Just before serving add and incorporate the butter.

The Fish:

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
2 8oz fillets of sea bass (approx. 1 lb.) with skin, if possible
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

In an oven proof sauté pan heat the olive oil until it’s very hot.

Season the sea bass with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Start cooking them skin side down for approximately 5 minutes until the skin was nice and crispy. Then flip them over for 30 seconds, transfer them into a 450° oven and roast them for 3-4 minutes.

Putting It All Together:

Fill the bottom of two warm shallow bowls with some Jasmine rice, top with the pan roasted sea bass and then spoon the sauce over the fish and rice. Garnish with lemon slices.

This Note:

I have heard that Chilean Sea Bass is being over fished and if the catching of this fish from Antarctica is not stopped, it may be commercially extinct. I was given the web site, Endangered Fish Alliance to learn more about why we all need to stop buying this fish.

So I went to the National Marine Fisheries Service (a division of the Department of Commerce) which regulates commercial fishing to see what it had to say. After searching for sea bass, I found an article saying Chilean sea bass is not an endangered species but there are a lot of unreported catches from illegal fishing.

Who do you believe? I'll leave that up to you.


Friday, March 02, 2007

One of My Hangouts…

I am a foodie. I am just letting you know up front that I like food – I like being around people who know food and I like being with people who make good food.

One of my hang outs is Cleveland’s Westside Market. For some it's just a market for me it is a cathedral dedicated to food worshippers. Built in 1902, this market's "old world" look and feel helps to draw shoppers from all over the region.

Imagine being able to find the most obscure spice, any cut of any meat (beef, goat, lamb, buffalo, and all manner of poultry), fresh pastry, fresh vegetables, and fresh fish from nearly every sea all under the same roof.

There are stands with prepared foods including Mexican, Greek, Thai, Irish, Japanese and Lebanese. There are four stands that sell nothing but cheese and dairy products!

My friend Dion has his Urban Herbs retail stand there. But some of my other favorite merchants are: Pinzone Meats, Kaufmann’s Poultry, Irene Dever’s, Kate’s Fish and K&K Bakery.

I have a Saturday routine that seldom varies.

I show up at the market around 7:00 am and get a vanilla latte at City Roast Coffee. The market is still kind of quiet – lots of vendors still arranging their products. So I kibitz with Dion about the restaurant scene, how to cook the sea bass I am going to buy that morning, or about whatever he is working on.

Then I swing by the stands that are my favorite, eye their wares and make my selections. Perhaps try some pastry, sample some cheese, maybe a piece of apple wood smoked turkey or some fresh salsa made with sweet corn and black beans. Last week at the Dever’s stand I got to sample a boiled quail egg! It was creamy good!

So if you ever come to town – I will take you to the market… but you’ll have to get up early!

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Cultural Sensitivity

For the last few weeks I have been working on some cultural sensitivity training. It’s an area that I am somewhat familiar but needed to come to speed on so, as a result, I have been doing some research in this arena.

What are some of our American cultural assumptions? Assumptions that affect the way we look at the rest of the world and the way we interact with the rest of the world?

What are some of our cultural assumptions around the expression of our identity – Does our culture encourage us to express our identity primarily as individuals or as a collective community?

What about around equality? Would our culture suggest that all are equal or would it suggest that some are more equal than others?

How good are we with dealing with ambiguity vs. certainty with our culture? Do we insist on having all the rules and structure in place or can we be comfortable in dealing with the unknown?

Does it ever occur to us that other cultures have completely different assumptions surrounding these issues and how that affects the way we communicate and ability to cooperate with other cultures?

A bit closer to home – what are some of our American cultural assumptions around these issues that are at odds with a Christian culture revealed to us in our New Testaments?