Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Unfortunately, I don't have any photos to show now, but I should be getting some from Julie Kimmel, the club photographer, soon. Check back to see Ian receiving his awards (and a picture of me receiving the sportsmanship award, too).
Monday, November 10, 2008
While churches, as 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, are not allowed to endorse political candidates, it has long been recongnized that it is entirely appropriate for churches to engage in the political process around issues, with the civil rights movement being a classic example.
The United Church of Christ has repeatedly voiced its support of the right of same-sex couples to marry, most explicitly at our General Synod in 2005 with the resolution In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All. It is important, however, to point out that General Synod speaks to our congregations, not for our congregations. Other denominations, such as the Episcopal Church and the Metropolitan Community Church, also have long histories of supporting equal rights for LGBT people. There are also strong equality movements within other mainline Protestant churches, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Reformed Church of America, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and many others.
Those of us who see the right to marry as a basic human right are, of course, disappointed by last Tuesday's ballot initiatives that have denied that right to same-sex couples. I am particularly disappointed by the passage California's Proposition 8, which is the first time that a state has revoked the rights of its citizens after those rights had already been recognized.
Despite the passage of the anti-gay ballot initiatives, I am encouraged by the exit polls, which show that those who favored eliminating the right to marriage were, overwhelmingly, aged 65 and older, while those who supported the right for all people to marry were overwhelmingly younger voters. Additionally, Proposition 8 passed by a smaller margin than did Proposition 22 (California's original anti-gay-marriage proposition that passed in 2000 and was overturned by the California Supreme Court). This gives me hope that, with the passage of only a short period of time, intolerance based on sexual orientation will no longer be socially acceptable and that these discriminatory ballot initiatives will be reversed.
While saddened by the states that have codified discrimination, I am pleased about the recent decision of the Connecticut State Supreme Court to recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry and the decision of Connecticut's voters to reject attempts to amend their state constitution to deny equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Flying rainbow flags at half-mast is a powerful symbol of sorrow over the discrimination that was written into law last Tuesday. I am always pleased to see churches that fly the rainbow flag as a visible symbol of the inclusion of all people in the church and I am hopeful that churches that have just started to fly the rainbow flag will continue to do so. While we mourn for a season, I look forward to the flags flying proudly at the top of their staves as churches continue speak out for justice and equality for all people.
In addition to my answer, I'd like to refer you to the pastoral letter from the UCC's Wider Church Ministries, the full-page ad that the UCC ran in three of California's largest gay community publications and an article about the ad in United Church News.
Ian enjoyed his "Dubliner" breakfast, noting that the omelette was good and devouring the potatoes, though he grudgingly let me try a bite of one of them. He liked the hamlike Irish bacon, but was too full to try the soda-bread toast, which I managed to snag off of his plate before our server cleared the table.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Kimberly has been sending me articles about pirates lately. She's sent me articles about real-life Somali pirates who have been raiding shipping in the Gulf of Aden. She has sent me an article about the controversy between historically accurate pirate reenactors and Jack Sparrow want-to-bes. I assume that sending me these pirate-related articles is a not-so-subtle attempt to keep my feet on terra firma instead of being out on the high seas, making her a schooner widow. Either that or she's trying to suggest that I turn in my clerical collar and stole for a cutlass and a brace of pistols, a trade-in that would almost certainly improve my family's bottom line.
This morning, though, Kimberly hadn't bothered to email the article du jour, but had simply left it up on the computer screen so I'd see it the minute I walked into the office. How could I miss such a photo?
The article, from the Arkansas Times, wasn't so much about pirates as it was about a creative response to bigotry. The pirates in question are "Pastafarians," adherents of the tongue-in-cheek "religious" group who worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Church of the FSM was originally started as a humorous response to the Kansas School Board's decision to teach creationism alongside evolution under the guise of "Intelligent Design." Pastafarians insisted, in the interests of the state not supporting one particular religion, that THEIR version of the creation story be taught alongside the Judeo-Christian version.
The article that Kimberly had left for me was how the Pastafarians in Little Rock, Arkansas, had creatively rallied against the religiously-inspired hatred espoused by the members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, and its pastor, Fred Phelps. Westboro Baptist Church, which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is monitored by the Anti Defamation League, has become famous for picketing funerals of AIDS victims and military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The church's websites, godhatesfags.org and godhatesamerica.org (and, no, I'm not going to give you live links for them!), are full of vile hatred targeted at gays, Jews, blacks, liberals, the U.S. Military.
I first encountered Phelps, who is a disbarred attorney, back in the early 1990s when I was a seminary student in Missouri. He and his congregation, which is mostly composed of his family members, were picketing the Missouri Baptist Convention's annual meeting (because Southern Baptists aren't conservative enough for him!). I made the zealously youthful mistake of trying to engage him in dialogue and nearly got maced for my trouble. He's such a sweet guy...
The Pastafarians, however, seem to have figured out how to beat Phelps at his own game. Clad in piratical costume (one of the "requirements" for true Pastafarians), they waved their own signs declaring "God Hates Shrimp" and "God Hates Poly-Cotton Blends," citing the Book of Leviticus as their proof texts. By citing the same set of Biblical texts that Phelps cites to condemn homosexuality, the Pastafarians managed to successfully point out how Phelps (who was probably wearing a poly-cotton shirt) ignores the context of Biblical texts and how he centers his hate speech around his own personal prejudices.
Three cheers, along with a "Yo ho ho" and a couple bottles of rum for the Pastafarians for so creatively (and effectively!) standing up against hate!
Sunday, November 2, 2008
This morning, as I was returning home from church, I drove past an interesting thing: a giant inflatable panda holding a campaign sign. "A panda?" I asked myself, "Did I see that right?" Donkeys and elephants are no surprise, but what polical party uses a panda? Thoughts began to whiz through my brain. I whipped around the block and pulled out my cell phone for a quick picture, just so you would know that I'm wasn't hallucinating.
Sitting at the stop sign, I saw that this was the campaign headquarters for three borough council hopefuls who, it turns out, are Republicans. "Why, then, the panda?" I continued to wonder. Perhaps, because Dumont is a solidly "blue" town, these candidates didn't want to use the elephant out of concern that it might alienate democrats who might vote for them. Maybe, because the candidates are styling themselves as reformers, they didn't want to depict themselves as too closely allied with the party that has held the U.S. Presidency for the last eight years.
I have to admit that I don't know anything substantative about any of the Dumont First candidates or, for that matter, about their opponents. I am entirely ignorant of the local politics in Dumont. I couldn't care less who wins those borough council seats. Still, that panda bothered me. As I drove home, I began to free-associate.
- Pandas come from China, so maybe the Dumont First people were trying to suggest that the Chinese government was endorsing them. Probably not.
- Pandas are an endangered species. Could it be that the Dumont First group is trying to say that environmental protection is at the top of their agenda. I kind of doubt it.
- One of the Olympic mascots was a panda, so maybe they were using a panda to carry some of the Olympic spirit to their campaign. Could be.
- Maybe the campaign folks wanted to have a big, tacky inflatable thing on their lawn to attract attention, but weren't able to find much that wasn't an obvious Halloween or Christmas decoration. Bingo!
Then I began playing word games and that's where the panda poo really hit the fan, so to speak. Maybe this unfortunate political mascot wasn't a panda bear at all, but a "pander bear." Perhaps the group's slogan was "We'll panda to your special interest." Of course, no politican would actually be so brazen as to actually use a slogan like that -- even if it were true!
Still, the whole thing got me thinking. Symbols shouldn't be chosen lightly. Even though Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the United States' national bird, the bald eagle won out. The industrious beaver is Canada's national symbol. Russia has the bear. England's symbol is the lion. India uses a tiger. Even mythological creatures are represented by Scotland's unicorn and China's dragon. Those are all good choices.
Political party mascots should be chosen carefully, too. The origins of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant lay with political cartoonist Thomas Nast, rather than with the parties, themelves, but they are sturdy symbols. Teddy Roosevelt chose the bull moose as his party's symbol. The Libertarians use a penguin and the Independence Party of Missouri have a buffalo.
If I were to pick a mascot for a political party, what would I pick? I can think of a whole bunch of really bad choices: a weasel; a raccoon, with its bandit's mask; a flounder; a snake? My problem, though, is that I don't think I could find giant, inflatable varieties to put up in front of my campaign headquarters. I might end up with something like Snoopy flying his doghouse, but I certainly wouldn't pick a panda.
When the first autumn of our married life rolled around, Kimberly and I went apple picking and, of course, that involved buying plenty of freshly pressed apple cider. We drank cider until you could just about see the delicious, rich, thick, brown liquid sloshing around in our eyes . All fall, we would buy locally produced cider in the grocery store, drinking it straight or mulled it and drinking it hot.
All that cider put me in mind of a vacation that my family had taken to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, back when I was a teenager. One of the fond memories of that trip was buying cider from an Amish family that were selling it at a roadside stand. We were staying in a pop-up camper that had a tiny refrigerator, so the cider never got refrigerated as it would have if we had been at home. A couple days after we had purchased the cider, the plastic jugs containing it had gotten a bit distended from carbon dioxide given off by the wee beasties that were doing their divinely ordained work of fermentation. When we drank that cider, it was extra-crisp and delightfully fizzy. (For those of you who might be shaking your heads and saying "tisk, tisk," at the notion of a teenage boy drinking this cider, the alcohol content was also very low, probably less than one percent.)
Anyhow, during that New England fall when Kimberly and I were newlyweds, I decided to make some hard cider, adding a bit of yeast to one of the cider jugs and replacing the screw-cap with a balloon, so that I could monitor the level of fermentation and allow the gas to escape. Each day, the balloon would magically inflate and each night, I would let the carbon dioxide to escape, until, one day, the process stopped. The alcohol content was high enough and/or the sugar content was low enough that the yeast just gave up and died. Now, I had hard cider that was worth the name.
I filtered the cider through an old t-shirt and put the clear, amber liquid back in a clean jug, but the process was only partway finished. During the colonial era, hard cider was often distilled into applejack by the process of freeze distilling, rather than by the better-known evaporation method. In freeze distilling, the water in the hard cider freezes before then alcohol, so the spirit can be drained off. Fortunately, the weather was cooperating that the temperatures had dropped below freezing, so I wrote my name and apartment number on the jug with a sharpie marker and set it outside to freeze during the night.
In the morning, I went out and found just what I had hoped for: slush at the top of the jug, with liquid below. I brought the jug in, poked a hole in the bottom with a knife, and caught the liquor in another container. With great anticipation, I tasted the applejack. It was definitely appley and certainly had a kick, but the flavor was a bit off, probably because I had used regular bread yeast instead of a brewer's or winemaker's yeast. The rest of the applejack went down the sink and I never got around to trying to make it again.
Fast forward to the present.
Just a few weeks ago, my family went apple picking at Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton, NY. It was a warm, sunny day and we quickly filled our buckets with enough apples for our family plus several buckets full of apples for my wife to give away at the Shade Tree Commission's table at the borough's "River Edge Day." We drank apple cider and enjoyed cider doughnuts before coming back home.
When I began planning the menu for the week, I knew that I wanted to cook with some of our fresh-picked apples. Having gotten somewhat tired of the salmon and potatoes recipe that is one of our regular grocery-night dinners, I decided to reprise a French fish recipe that I haven't made in years.
The recipe couldn't be easier and tastes great with flaky-yet-crisp fish and tangy-sweet apples:
French Fish with Apples
4 firm white fish fillets (I used tilapia, which worked well. Sole is too flimsy.)
6 apples of your favorite variety (I used six different kinds, just on principle.)
2 eggs, beaten
flour for dredging
panko (Japanese bread crumbs) for dredging
juice of one lemon
2T apple brandy (Calvados is typical. I used Laird's Applejack, which made in New Jersey and is the original colonial era producer of the product.)
Peel and core the apples. In a large skillet, melt 2-3T butter over medium heat. Add apples and cook, turning occasionally, until apples begin to brown, approximately 15 minutes. Transfer pan to warm oven.
Rinse and pat dry the fish fillets. In second skillet, melt 2-3T butter over medium-high heat. Add salt and pepper, to taste, to flour and dredge fish filets in mixture, then in egg, then in panko. Place in pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, until fish is mostly cooked. Turn and cook for a few minutes more until fish is done.
Remove apples from oven and mix in lemon juice and brandy. Spoon apples over fish and serve immediately.