Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Psalm 201: Let Them Praise Eric

Here's us having a little fun at the Choir/Chancel Guild Christmas party this year. Betsy and I wrote a little psalm to honour Eric. He took it well.

Psalm 201: "Quam decorus es vestri induviae"

For Eric
Tone 2.1

Antiphon: Let the peoples sing praises,
let them präise Eric.

How beauteous are thy vests,
with buttons and brocade they sparkle.

In colors liturgical and festive,
the gaudate is so gay.

Music by Marilynn, harmonies by Howells,
so hard to teach,
a–vert thine eyes.

All things bright and Anglican,
all music right and li–be–ral

No ornament meets your ire,
nor doth the zimbestern offend.

Thy stomach is so sensitive,
it cannot abideth Lad–y Gaga.

Thy status ever changeth on Facebook,
yet thy repertoire var–i–eth not.

The church rolls from generation to gener–a–tion,
yet the Golden Girls di–eth off.

Blanche no more goeth forth,
nor does Dorothy go–eth out.

Thy library is so large,
yet thy librarian is so dwarfish.

The canticles of thy prayers are numbered,
beyond the days of thy life.

Thy cassock fits so snug,
God mistaketh thee for a curate.

Principle, chimney flute, trumpet, super octave, clarion, vox céleste,
the churches foundations shaketh much.

Thy phrasing is so sound,
no comma goeth un–noticed.

Let the peoples sing praises,
let them präise Eric.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Christmas is done, and I am mostly recovered. Still, I think getting away for a week and a half to the tropics is about what I need to return all the way back from the brink of madness.

The church had a very charming Christmas Pageant as the Liturgy of the Word on Advent IV (the last Sunday before Christmas). We've taken to calling it the "chaos pageant" to reflect the just-in-time nature of how we put it together. We tried, in past years, to do more sophisticated pageants with memorized lines or, at least, blocking. But we can never get nearly enough rehearsal time with our kids. So last year we created a format that would allow us to plug in the kids with as much flexibility and as little preparation as possible.

So, this year, we started off with the chairs in the square format we have been using for a few weeks, now. In the centre, on the rug, was the wooden coffee table from my office. Upstage and to one side was a rocking chair, a reading lamp, and one of those fake electric hearths.

As the pageant started, one of the grownups with a good reading voice comes out and sits down in the rocking chairs and starts reading the story of Christmas from a children's book. As he does so, the kids come out in costume to listen and sometime pantomime the action. The story is cut up with a series of thematically appropriate carols.

Henry, now twelve months old, got to play baby Jesus. We put a Moses-basket style cradle on top of the coffee table and he managed to lie in it for a few minutes. When he got squirmier the kids held onto him, which is he quite used to by now.

When the story was complete we announced the peace and cleared most of the set away. But instead of using hip-high altar to celebrate the Eucharist, I simply sat on a stool and used the coffee table. That way, the kids could gather around like we do for baptisms. Someone later noted that it was remarkable how comfortable the Messiah kids are surrounding me at the altar when I'm singing the preface and doing all those priesty things. It's a very "Messiah" style way to do things. I loved it.

Because I was sitting and the Deacon and Sub-deacon were sitting and the kids were sitting, it only made sense to have the congregation seated as well. On person said that really opened his eyes to an entirely new set of perspections of the sacrament. Cool.

That afternoon we had the annual Lessons and Carols service. Very nicely done, as always. I especially appreciated that it was all Messiah talent--to outside performers this year. It's a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Christmas Eve, itself, was intense as you would expect. Christmas Day had a light feeling. We had decided to do a BCP (that is, Canadian BCP) Traditional Communion Service. The language is beautiful, but there is a lot of it. It's also strange to get used to having the Creed before the sermon and some of the other idiosyncratic pieces. Still, I was pleased to note that Eric and I are perfectly capable of doing a well-executed, polished BCP Traditional Eucharist (with hymns, of course). Too bad attendance was so low.

The Sunday after Christmas also had sparse attendance. We anticipated this, but it still can be discouraging.

Meanwhile, at chez Moss, I was cooking up a storm. For Henry's birthday it was lobster (it's a Moss tradition to have lobster on your birthday). For Christmas Day we had goose, and Sunday Supper was cassoulet.

I was particularly proud of my first cooked goose. A little trickier than turkey, but it's a nice change of pace. I think I might actually prefer the meat of goose to turkey, anyway. Green beans, salad, and one of the best gravies I've made served as sides for this Christmas day feast. Sparkling white to drink. Creme Brulee for dessert.

Sunday afternoon we had Cassoulet. I made Anthony Bourdain's version--which is an epic undertaking. First off, I had to find a butcher with all the pieces. Grace Meats turned out to be perfect. Then, you have to prepare the dish over three days! The first of these is just to make a simple Duck Confit. That is a cool trick. There is a moment when you pour four cups or so of rendered hot duck fat into a dish with duck legs and rosemary and it all sizzles in the most appetizing way. Then you cook it in the oven for a long time, then it goes into the fridge where all that fat solidifies around the duck lucks to preserve them. Very cool.

Making the Cassoulet itself involved sauteing sausages in duck fat, cooking beans with pork belly, making a very cool paste from onions sauteed in duck fat and then pureed, and then layering these various meats and beans into a casserole dish for a long cook in the oven. Like I said, epic.

I might try doing this recipe again a few times and then posting it here with my modifications, as I did for the boeuf bourguignon recipe. But considering the time involved, I'd be curious how many people would try it when there are much simpler versions of Cassoulet available.

The beneficiaries of all this cooking were my wife's parents. They came up for the Christmas holidays and had a good time playing with Henry and eating. Henry's favourite Chistmas gift this year was probably the crawling tunnel they gave him.

Henry is finally getting over his bug. For a while he simply wasn't very interesting in food, but over the last few days his appetite has improved. I could hardly believe how much he packed away at lunch today. So then I offered him a bottle of big-boy milk for the first time, and he gobbled it right up without a blink. I've heard of people having trouble switching over to cow's milk from formula, but Henry has always been an adventurous eater.

Now... we rest.... some work, but mostly rest!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pasta with Ham and Mornay

Ever have leftover baked ham? This is a fantastic dish--fast, tasty, and mostly composed of ingredients you should have on hand. The nutmeg is a fantastic touch, but I would also consider playing around with a little white wine. Another direction would be to try mustard.

Pasta with Ham and Mornay Sauce

Serves 2

kosher salt
1 handful of spaghetti or fettuccine pasta
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2 Cups hot milk
1-2 Cups cubed ham, cooked
1/2 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 Cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese
kosher salt
pinch white pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Bring a big pot of water with plenty of salt to a boil for the pasta. Put in the pasta around the same time you start the sauce. Keep checking the pasta as you make the sauce. Just before the pasta gets to al dente, drain it (but DON'T RINSE) and set it aside.

In a medium saucier or sauté pan melt butter on medium heat. As it begins to bubble, add the garlic. As the bubbling begins to subside and just as butter begins to change color, sprinkle on flour and whisk continuously to form a roux.

After about 2-3 minutes, but before the roux becomes too dark, slowly add the warm milk, still whisking constantly. (Hint, to make your hot milk, just microwave it in a pyrex measuring cup.) Once all the milk is incorporated, add ham cubes and bring back to simmer.

Once the sauce is simmering, take it off the heat and add the cheeses. Whisk continuously as the cheese melts. Once the cheese is melted, put back on medium heat and add salt, white pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

Add the almost-cooked pasta to the pan and stir to coat pasta thoroughly. Bring to a simmer and heat until the pasta is finished cooking. Serve.

Optional garnish--freshly cooked bacon bits sprinkled on top.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas 2.0

An amusing video about how the nativity would be experienced in our own time.


Tay's Chicken Noodle Soup

This is an extremely adaptable and forgiving recipe. I improvised it based on what I had at hand, but you could adapt it. For example, by using dark meat or a whole chicken rather than white meat. And using Turkey stock was totally a product of necessity--we had some leftover in the fridge. So think of it more as a guideline...

Tay's Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4
2 Quarts Turkey stock
1 Quart Chicken stock
Bouquet Garni
Garlic Clove
2 Medium skinless bone-in chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
3 Medium carrots
3 Celery stalks
1 Small to medium onion
3 Tbs. Butter (in three slices)
1 Tbs. All purpose flour
12 Oz. package of egg noodles

Put you meat out on the counter so that it is room temperature before you get to the stage of prepping it.

Get the stocks simmering in a large pot on the stove over medium low heat. Add the Bouquet garni and garlic. If the stock is thin, allow a long time to reduce, otherwise, reduce to taste, adding salt and other seasonings to taste as it develops over the course of the following steps.

Preheat over to 400 degrees F. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts and place them breast-side-down in a 10" to 12" stainless steel (oven-proof) skillet. Put in oven.

Slice carrots, celery, and onion into relatively small (1/8") slices.

After about 15 minutes, beginning checking the chicken frequently. If you are uncertain, use a kitchen thermometer to check doneness--you want to take them out of the oven just this side of 175 degrees F at the thickest point. It's easy to over cook a chicken breast, so beware. When it's finished, remove and set aside for a few minutes (at least 5-10) before carving meat off the bone. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces and set aside. Put leftover carcasses and any pan juices in the simmering stock.

Put 1 Tbsp. butter into the skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter begins to bubble, add the carrots and saute until the carrots begin to brown slightly on edges. Pour them (and whatever liquid is left in the skillet) into the pot.

Put the next Tbsp. pat of butter into the skillet over medium-high heat to saute the celery and onion. When they become translucent, toss them and their juice into the pot.

Put the final Tbsp pat of butter in the skillet and turn heat down to medium-low. As the bubbling of the butter subsides and the color just begins to change, sprinkle flour onto the flour and begin to whisk. Cook this roux for about a minute, whisking continuously. Before it burns, laddle in a bit of the boiling broth and whisk it in. Incorporate another laddle-full of broth. You should see something like gravy in your skillet. Try to scrape off any of the charred bits from the pan.

Remove the two carcasses and the bouquet garni from the stock pot. The garlic clove can remain as a bonus for a guest. Pour the contents of the skillet into the stock pot. Add chicken pieces and egg noodles, too. Simmer for about 10 minutes until noodles are done. Correct spice balance of the soup as necessary.

Laddle into bowls and garnish with parsley.

Simmering your stocks long enough results in a ridiculously rich and delicious broth. Just be careful about ending up with something too salty. Salt should be added in increments throughout the development of the dish, not just all at once at the beginning or end.

Using turkey stock left over from Thanksgiving added an interest complexity to the dish, but was totally optional.

The roux added a little more thinkness and richness to the broth, but is also completely optional.
This was a good dish to serve on a blustering Toronto winter night with a sick kid in the house and a 24-hour fire in the living room!


Monday, December 13, 2010

Funeral II

Saturday there was another funeral. Although it was a member of my church, the family had a colleague from another parish do the funeral at a local funeral home. It was all rather strangely handled, but at the end of day I can't really go against the family's wishes. Still, I was invited to preach, at least. The service only lasted 20 minutes (the family didn't want any hymns or tributes/eulogies)--and liturgically was the diametric opposite of the funeral service we did for Daphne the week before.

It's quite remarkable to reflect on how varied funeral liturgies can be. They are probably the most contingent of all the liturgies we do regularly in church. Contingent on the family, contingent on the timing, contingent of the presider, contingent even on the weather! So much of what we do around death betrays our cultural location.

It was a pleasant enough funeral and the turnout from Church of The Messiah was strong. It was fine. My colleague was professional and polished, as was the funeral home staff (mostly).

I say mostly because of this odd thing that happened... After the reception Betsy and Henry and were poking around the showroom at the funeral home. We were looking at the caskets (yes, death is expensive) and the urns. Some of these are so cheesy I swear they are there as a kind of negative example to swing people towards a moderate, rather than budget, priced item. Anyway, we were poking around in there for a minute and one of the funeral directors walked in. "And who is this?" he asked looking at Henry.

"This is Henry," I said.

"Henry! Does Henry want to be a funeral director someday? Henry, do you want to see the basement? We have an operating room down there. But it's not very pretty, it's kind of old and yucky, actually...."

Betsy and I agreed, in the car, that this guy was just creepy. I had heard before that the "operating room" at this particular funeral home is a positively medieval affair that hasn't been modernized since the 1950's. Morgues and places like that are frankly creepier in person than they are in the movies and TV, and old ones are triply so.

Sidebar. Morgue sets are expensive to build, so a lot of the police shows you see on TV actually shoot those scenes in real morgues. Also, the morgues in the hospitals I've worked at aren't marked "morgue." Instead they usually have some innocuous title on the door like "Storage" or "Room B204." You could write an interesting paper about how the hospital architecture denies death.

Sidebar #2. Here is a counter example, however. At Yale-New Haven Hospital we also a "Bereavement Room" near the ER. When someone died up in the regular hospital rooms we would do viewings with the families up there, but if someone died in the ER we would move them to this room. The Emergency Department is a busy place with little privacy, and the hospital administrators would just as soon turn around the beds as fast as possible, anyway, and a proper viewing can take an hour or two. So YNHH had a special room where we could put the deceased and their families. It was great, we loved it. They something similar in Newborn ICU. This an example of a hospital really understanding how to handle death in a healthy way.

Anyway, that was the second Messiah funeral in as many weeks. I've told some of my leaders that I think we should have some notes set aside for each of our older members, just in case. We should have a list of whom to call, for instance.

After the funeral I visited a Messiah kid who is in the hospital. I found it more difficult than I usually do. Hard to see a kid in the hospital. My mind wanted to picture what I would do if Henry was in that bed. Ah, "Transference!" learning to deal with transference is a critical skill in pastoral care. Anyway, it was a good visit.

On Sunday I was struggling a bit. I was just off my game and making all kinds of mistakes. For example, I failed to remember or notice that this is the one Sunday a month when we do Anointing for healing during Communion. The Chancel Guild hadn't noticed, either. So I had just starting giving communion to the choir and when I got to Betsy she whispered, "Anointing?"

I briefly considered in my mind whether I should perhaps skip it this Sunday. Then I thought about all the people hurting in our community right now, including me, and decided to make it work. So I signaled to a priest who attends my church. He came up and took over giving communion like a pro. Meanwhile, I went to my office to grab my anointing oil (I had taken it with me to the hospital the day before). Back in the sanctuary, I went to a side area and began anointing people as they came up and knelt. More than usual. When it seemed that they were finished, and my two theological students were just doing the ablutions (cleaning up the dishes after the Eucharist), I signaled one of them to come over. "Have you ever anointed anybody?"

"No?" she replied as I kneeled in front of her.

"Ok, I'll be your first. Just makes the sign of the cross on my forehead with the oil and pray." Then I tried to remember the formula that I use for anointings. The formula I had just said about 15 times without hesitation, and it was gone. Just not in my head. Wow, I thought, I really am hanging out on the ragged edge. "Ok, I can't remember it. Just make something up." My student laughed. She then prayed over me just fine.

I needed it. I was struggling. What a weekend.

Today I did some Christmas shopping and some other errands. Made a stew for dinner. Also made a batch of Fish House Punch and did some Christmas decorating. Henry had to come home from Daycare early because of a fever, so Betsy and spent much of the evening caring for him. It's probably just a little cold.

Tomorrow it starts again!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Office Time

<----Begin Rant

The last two days I've been getting some static from folks outside the church community about the degree to which I am in the office at church.

So here's the deal.... I'm in the church office a lot. About 40 hours a week, in fact, NOT including work done off site. In truth I'm probably working 50-60 hour weeks, easily. But just because I'm not there on Mondays (my only day off, and even then I still work it sometimes against my better judgment), and Friday mornings (I have a standing meeting on Friday mornings), doesn't mean I'm hard to get a hold of. I'm on Facebook, Twitter, and email pretty much constantly. I have my cell phone on my hip (and the number is on the church's voice mail, website, my business card, and the bulletin), and I usually answer it unless I'm in the middle of meeting, one of my 3 or 4 weekly services, or am praying. If you stop by and my office door is closed but the light is on, it means I'm probably either meeting with someone about something important or working on something that requires my complete attention. Respect the closed door, please.

So I was pretty annoyed today when when one guy told me I was "a hard man to reach" and another was surprised that when he showed up at the church randomly and I wasn't there.

I said to the first guy, "Did you try my cell phone? The number is on the message of the church answering machine." He said, "I don't know what my associate tried." Sigh. You know that part on a church's voice mail where it says, "In case of pastoral emergency Father Tay can be reached at ....." Perhaps DEATH is such a case? Of course, I didn't point that out. Instead I went with the more pastorally appropriate response, "I'm disappointed that you proceeded without speaking with me...."

In the case of the second guy, a tradesman who needed to repair something, I simply had him wait five minutes so that I could walk back to the church to let him in. I had just walked home after already working seven hours without lunch and feeling ill from a cold. I had settled into a project in my office and home but dutifully put my shoes back on and trudged back to the church because he couldn't be bothered to call me before he showed up.

Some people (not parishioners, let me be clear) seem to think that clergy should keep banker's hours. That we should sit passively in our studies just waiting by the phone and our desks for someone to come by.

In fact, I should be spending less time in my office. I should be taking more meetings and having more coffees and lunches with people. Ministry is about ministry, not about being around in the office. Most of the time I'm in my office I'm by myself, doing e-mail and reading and either cleaning up from one event or preparing for another. I'm sorry, but stacking chairs and throwing out old bulletins is not the best use of my time, but I do it because it needs to be done. But the best parts of my day inevitably involve other people. Being a body available to let people in or answer phones is one of the least important things I do in a day.

Okay. 'Nough said.


End Rant---->

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Saturday was the funeral of a dearly beloved member of our congregation, Daphne Archer. Daphne was a spry 84 year old who loved to ring the church bell and tell anyone in ear shot what's-what. She had a thick accent betraying her Barbados roots, and loved to talk. She was surprisingly strong for her age, so it was a surprise when she died suddenly at home.

Everyone who thinks of Daphne thinks of her faithfulness, to family, to her work, and (naturally) to the church as well. So mother church returned the favour with a proper Anglican send-off. Funeral Mass and grave-side committal with lots of music and some high-church touches she would have appreciated.

I arranged the chairs "choir-style" in the church, rows facing each other across the nave. This has several advantages for a funeral. For one thing, people can see everything (particularly the coffin). Second, it provides more place for the coffin, whereas in many churches the chancel or crossing gets a little crowded when you put a casket in the space and gives the impression of imbalance. Third, because people are facing each other (across the casket, no less), it feels very warm.

The casket was processed into the centre of the space (sacred ministers leading the way). The Pascal Candle burned proudly by the her head. Moving liturgically-east is the ambo and then the altar. The sacred ministers sat behind the altar an bend set on a platform one step high. Because we had to accommodate so many (112), we put more chair rows on the open end of the rectangle, but these were angled in at 45 degrees. It was a nice, balance, comfortable affect over all.

When the casket first arrived I coordinated a few details with the funeral director. Then I met the body at the hearse and escorted it in while saying some prayers and psalms to the church lounge for a time of visitation.

I feel strongly, for myself, that I want to see the actual body of every person I bury. Part of this comes from the old-fashioned notion that you, as the presiding minister of the burial, are responsible for making sure the correct body is being buried. These days funeral homes rarely make that kind of mistake anymore, but it's not totally unheard of.

But the real reason I want to see the body is more existential or spiritual in character. One of the roles of the priest is to be the "secret keeper" for the congregation. And if the ceremony has a closed casket, then you have established a certain mystery or secret in the community. It's not a bad thing, but it is a power thing. The closed casket has a kind of gravity and power that functions. By peering into that mystery, you become a kind of witness on behalf of the community. I can assure anyone that we buried Daphne because I saw here, with my own eyes.

That said, this kind of approach isn't necessary. I certainly wouldn't tell a colleague or student that they must or even should view the body, merely that it is something to consider in developing one's pastoral ministry around death.

When I told the Funeral Director that I wanted to the see the body, he advised me against it. "I recommend that you remember her the way she was." That's funeral parlor code for, "It isn't pretty." I assured him that I had seen many dead bodies, even attended an autopsy once, and that I was okay with whatever might be in there. He was looking at my very straight... no doubt trying to assess what sort of man I am. He became a little more direct. "She had been dead a long time." "Yes," I said, "I realize that. But I feel that it is my responsibility to look at her before the funeral." Realizing that I was not to be dissuaded, the Funeral Director said that he would leave this up to the family.

That was fine with me. In fact, I had mentioned my desire to view the body during my planning meeting with the family. So they quickly gave permission without hesitation.

We created some privacy by closing the doors to the lounge. Then the Funeral Director opened the casket. It was Daphne, of course. And I could see that they had placed a prayerbook in with her. I would have asked them to place one inside if it hadn't been there already.

I only needed to give her a solid look, then I asked them to close it again. After that they opened the doors to the lounge and people came in to pay their respects. When it was time for the service itself, I met the coffin and the back of the church (which is also where the lounge is) and led the pall bearers down the aisle.

There were three sacred ministers for the service; myself, Father Mark from St. Thomas', and Rev'd Catherine, a Deacon who is also a Theological Intern assigned to be one of my students. The service itself was pretty much straight out of the BAS, with only a few minor variations. After a reading from Revelations and the singing of Psalm 23 and the Gospel reading ("I am the Good Shepherd"), a member of Daphne's family gave the Eulogy.

Eulogies at funerals are tricky. Many families wish to have a great many people come up and praise the deceased. But in my experience, it is far better to limit the number of eulogies. The problem with eulogies are, first off, that most people that give them aren't actually experienced with public speaking and the second problem is that eulogies often make a fond remembrance of the deceased, but don't really bring religion much into it. Susan, the eulogist for Daphne, however, was actually strong on both counts. She was a good speaker with a well written text, and she did bring in some nice spiritual content. It was one of the better funeral Eulogies I've ever heard, in fact, and I've heard quite a few!

My turn, next. The congregation wanted to applaud Susan, but restrained themselves. I understand their impulse to thank her, so I began my sermon by saying, "Let the people say, 'Amen.'" This being a mostly black congregation, I got an immediate and heart-felt "Amen!" Then I launched into my sermon.

A number of people have told that it was an excellent sermon. Certainly I felt "in the groove." It was mostly improvised based on a couple of land marks I knew I wanted to hit. But as I went along new rhetorical and theological avenues opened up to me. This is the most satisfying part of preaching extemporaneously, when you both know where you are going, are feeling your way to that place without labouring, and are also superbly aware that your congregation is with you all the way. I could feel the people with me. I looked at those I knew well, my parishioners, and I could tell they were listening with close attention. I looked at the people visiting and I could see them nodding and listening, as well. I even got a few muttered, "Amens" and "That's rights" that assured me that I was on the right track. I began by talking about Daphne's faithfulness and how it shows us a glimpse of God's faithfulness. But my real zinger was when when I said, "With Daphne, the conversation never stopped." Lots of nods. "She couldn't stop talking to us because she loved us." Then I talked about how with God, the conversation also continues, even through death. I felt great about that sermon, but the end of it my voice, already strained from a cold and several days of non-stop talking, was pretty much gone completely.

Luckily, I had already asked Mark to celebrate the Eucharist. Catherine and I deaconed for him. As Betsy said, "Mark gives a good Mass." Indeed, he was articulate in both word and gesture. Nice and clear and rich without being fussy at all. Perfect. It was also rewarding for me to note how my training of Catherine had paid off with her assisting another priest at the altar with high skill.

Many more people came up for communion than I expected. And after "the dishes were done," we had a liturgical dance piece done by one of Daphne's cousins. Originally the family had suggested we play the music for this dance over the speakers, but with Eric on piano and our cantor as vocal it was a far richer experience. The composition they chose started with Amazing Grace, but then added a few verses in a related, but different, melody composed by Chris Tomlin.

We took our places for the Commendation and listened the choir sing a Russian setting of the Kontakion ("Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints..."). More prayers, then we led the body out of the church. Fr. Mark and Catherine said their goodbyes. We shared a few comments of the sort priests and deacons share. "Good sermon." "Very nice sung preface." Thanks all around. I got a ride with the Funeral Director, and we had a nice talk on the way to the cemetery.

The worker at the Cemetery told me that although he was Roman Catholic, he had been to my church a few times as part of some ecumenical work he was doing at the time. It's a small world.

It was cold and very windy at the grave. They lowered the coffin and I said the committal service, which is blessedly brief. The Funeral Director kept trying to get me to use the little vial of sand he had for the ceremonial tossing of dirt on the grave. White sand. I'm not sure what that has to do with death. Dirt. A handful of dirt has a substance that is more than mere metaphor. We are actually burying this woman, not just making a gesture towards it.

While we sang favourite hymns from hymn sheets my music minister had helpfully prepared ahead of time, the workers prepared the grave and then people took turns with a real shovel putting real dirt on top of the coffin. When people had taken enough turns, a backhoe was brought in to complete the burial. By this time I was quite cold despite the Capa Negra (black cope) I borrowed from Fr. Mark. Capa Negras are a really great vestment to have, I must get one if I keep doing funerals in winter! The family, like Daphne, were from Barbados, and had no intention of leaving the grave until it was completely filled in. I appreciate this. In fact, I make it my custom to stay behind at committals until the grave it completely filled even when the family has gone on to the reception.

By this time my voice was completely shot. I sounded like a frog that had swallowed gravel. Nonetheless, I made a brief appearance at the reception and then accepted a ride from one of the funeral home's drivers. Before we parted company, the Funeral Director shook my hand and said, "You're a good man." I flashed back to his evaluative gaze a few hours before. Apparently I had passed his test.

As I relaxed on the car ride home I thanked my lucky stars, or perhaps God, that I had scheduled one of my parishioners to preach on Sunday many weeks before Daphne's death. Surely I could have preached today, but in all honesty I didn't have a lot left to give, and Brendan's sermon was excellent.

After I got home I spent some time with Betsy and Henry and baked up 200 chocolate chip cookies for the church's bake sale. Yeah, 200! Supper, a few pages of a Patrick O'Brien novel set in the 19th Century English Navy, then sleep. Blessed sleep. I dreamed about church, but they weren't anxious dreams. Just me working on different projects with different people. I would have rather dreamed of being on a Frigate in Indian Ocean chasing a French Squadron, but one doesn't get to choose one's dreams!

Woke up this morning feeling pretty good. Church went well--and now I'm going home to watch football!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Betsy and I are starting to think about our next trip--a long overdue trip to Hawai'i to see my dad, his wife, and the chickens, pigs, mongooses, coffee plants, and general green-stuff that is their home. To get in the mood, here's a brief video my sister shot of her son playing with a chicken at the farm:


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tidbit about Bipartinanship in US Congress

As we all know, the US Congress is more ideologically now than in living memory. There has simply been far less cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. But there is one shining exception, the Food Safety Bill. In response to all the recent food safety problems (recalls, deaths, etc.) both sides of the aisle decided it was time to strengthen the FDA and put some more regulation in place to ensure safety. The article about this in the NYTimes includes this amusing paragraph:
Despite Mr. Coburn’s opposition, the bill is one of the only major pieces of bipartisan legislation to emerge from this Congress. Some Republican and Democratic Senate staff members — who in previous terms would have seen each other routinely — met for the first time during the food negotiations. The group bonded over snacks: specifically, Starburst candies from a staff member of Senator Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, and jelly beans from a staff member of Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. And in the midst of negotiations, the negotiators — nearly all women — took a field trip to a nearby food market so that a Republican staff member could teach the Democrats how to buy high-quality steaks. (source)

At least we all agree that steak is yum.


Friday, November 19, 2010

The Problem of Openness

I've been fretting about this post for several days. It's about the problem of openness.

You see, many (perhaps most?) of us in parish ministry would say that "openness" or "transparency" is an important value in Christian leadership. We might encourage people to come to us and say we have an "open door" policy. That's all good and great, until people ask us inconvenient questions.

You see, in parish ministry leaders are exposed to all kinds of classified information. You might imagine the sort of dirty secrets that come up in pastoral relationships: affairs and past crimes and current vices. But actually that's not nearly as much a problem as the petty conflicts and foibles that drive a lot of decision making in parish life. People ask me about decisions that staff members or the corporation (the lay leadership of the parish) and I or even the bishop have made, and I simply can't give them the reasons. And I don't want to lie, and so I end up saying something really lame. "That person went on other opportunities" is a terrible, terrible line, but usually it's pretty much the only thing I can say when we have staff turnover. Even if the reasons for the change are quite positive, I usually can't share them.

Then, things get very complicated because people often have heard rumours or have fantasies about the decision in question. Typically they've heard or figured out enough truth to be wet their curiosity even further, but then there is usually enough falsehood mixed in there too to tempt you to correct them.

Sometimes, I really wish I could say more. I see how some people are hurt by things that have happened, and I want to sit them down and explain what happened. I'm sure they would feel better knowing the truth. But, of course, this would be bad, very bad. In fact, I knew a priest once that got sued for talking publicly about a parishioner-to-parishioner conflict happening in parish. Even if what he said was factually correct, in was also embarrassing to at least one of the people involved. I totally understand why he did it, but, yikes!

So "openness" turns out to be a great principle, but it has nothing to do with disclosing the "truth" about "what happened." What else could it mean? Is it something about the emotional honesty of the leader? Maybe. Is it about sharing as much as you can about the non-classified stuff? Of course. But this explanation doesn't help the way I feel when people ask me about important things that I can't talk about....


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The St. Paul's Water Project

Here is a good example of a church turning a fairly prosaic repair problem--redoing a parking lot--and making into a fantastic ministry. Note how embedded into the city this project is. Note also how slow and deliberative was the discernment work that went into creating this project.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Provoking the Liturgy

A rainy, cool day here in Toronto. Low attendance at church. I take encouragement, however, in the fact that more and more people feel like they need to tell me when they aren't going to be in church. It shows the level of commitment as well as their sensitivity to the fact that I care whether they are there or not.

It was an unusual Sunday. For one thing, we were recognizing Remembrance Day. We have a tradition at Church of The Messiah of reading the names of the parish war dead and ringing the church bell once for each name. We also sang "O Canada" and "God Save the Queen." A more emotional inclusion was a short, one verse hymn written by a parishioner's brother-in-law shortly before his death over the skies of Europe.

We changed service music, too. We are doing a new Gloria and very cool and funky paperless setting of the Nicene Creed written by Marilyn Haskel. It has a wicked syncopated rhythm in the melody that makes it very catchy--especially for a Creed. For the past few weeks we have been saying "Affirmations of Faith" instead of the historic creeds. There is nothing wrong with the Apostle's or Nicene Creed, but we think they can become pretty repetitive and rote when they are repeated Sunday after Sunday. What's the alternative? The alternates provided by Common Worship 2000 (the Modern-language liturgy collection authorized for use in the Church of England) is a place to start. Bishop Yu is okay with this, though he has warned people not to be making up their own Creeds of questionably theology. The Affirmations of Faith we use are paraphrases of scripture, so they are pretty orthodox, and help ground the faith in scripture.

Anyway, we've noticed that the spoken Creeds sometimes bring down the energy. Everything just kind of grinds to a halt for some reason at Messiah when we say the Nicene/Apostles Creed. So... having a nice music setting is a way to deal with this challenge. Today was encouraging.

The sermon was challenging. Luke 21:5-19 is about Jesus forewarning about the destruction of the Temple. As Richard Swanson points out in his Provoking the Gospel commentary, you really can't understand this passage from Luke without realizing that it was written only about 30 years after the fall of Jerusalem and the Destruction of the Temple in the Great Jewish Revolt. The Romans were trying to put down the Jews by striking as the spiritual and cultural heart of the Jews. It was a horrendous massacre. Josephus, who is generally apologetic for the Roman Empire, describes the fall of the Temple this way:
Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), [Titus] Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind. ....

And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again. But though he [a foreigner] were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it. (source)

The carnage was massive. Indeed, the commander of the Roman army (Titus) refused to accept a victory wreath because, he said, there was no honor in defeating a people abandoned by their own God. Yikes.

Swanson says that he you need play this scene as though the backdrop was the funeral of a child. Yeah, it's that bad. When I preached, I told the story of the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the Bar Kokhba revolt. The Bar Kokhba revolt had a pretty nasty ending. The Romans killed the last of the rebels at a fortress called Betar, and then, according to the Talmud tradition, used the blood to fertilize their vineyards for the next seven years. It would seventeen years before they would allow the dead of the fortress to be buried. What can we compare this to? I mentioned the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo, and the Holocaust, and 9/11. "Not one stone will remain on another..."

So how to get this back to a place of hope? I re-read the Isaiah passage appointed for the day: Isaiah 65:17-25. It's a wonderful vision of the promise of the restoration of Jerusalem. Then I talked about resurrection and the meaning of resurrection. How Jesus didn't come to give us less death--He came to give us more life. That means that the wounds are still there. The stones will still fall. But the wounds will be transformed--made glorious.

A complicated sermon, to be sure. Difficult to pull off this kind of emotional turn, but worth it if you can do it. As I explained to Nancy (my student), on Remembrance Sunday... the week after we did Holocaust Education Week... with these texts.... you just can't ignore the bad stuff, all you can do is redeem it.

For the Eucharist we are using Common Worship 2000 Prayer F. Nothing wrong with the BAS prayers, but Prayer F is excellent. Beautiful and vibrant imagery. I'm singing the Preface (really nice music, too), and then speaking the prayers. The congregational responses after each paragraph are sung with a simple echo (I sing it, the congregation sings it back).

Anyway, those are a few of my reflections post-Sunday!


Friday, November 12, 2010

Go Fish

I bought a fish tank today for my office. It's just a little book-shelf sized guy. I have to let it sit and circulate the pump for about a week before I can actually buy the fish for it. I'm thinking I'll start with some cheap, but pretty goldfish. Eventually I'd like to graduate to Koi, but we'll see how I do with these little guys, first.

Why now? I dunno. Probably for the same reason that last week I put up a ledge for icons along a formerly bare brick wall. It's the same reason I finally got around to making some other minor improvements and clean-ups in my office. It's a pastoral version of fung shui. The icons invite the presence of the figures they speak. The books connect me with discipline of my studies. The fish.... the fish are about surrounding myself with life. On Sundays this place is teeming with kids and activity of all kinds, but sometimes mid-week it can feel a little dry when I'm alone. The fish will keep me company.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Days Off

One of the critical skills in pastoral ministry is figuring out how to deal with unlimited expectations, unmeasurable outcomes, and finite resources. The demands of ministry are simply bottomless, and the job will take as many hours and as much energy as you are willing to give it. Indeed, I have met plenty of martyrs to parish ministry that burned themselves out doing what they thought they were expected to do.

This is as big a problem for paid, ordained ministry as it is for unpaid volunteers. One of my parishioners is fond of saying that the nicely lettered wall listing past Wardens is a record of burnout. I would say that the list is is a stark rebuke to the whole parish--a sign of our failure as a community to nourish leadership. Harsh, I know, but I don't how else to interpret the pattern of leaders leaving. Of course, none of my former wardens have left the parish, but it is telling that the NCD survey revealed a low score on the question labeled "Our leaders are a spiritual example to me." We have work to do.

Mondays are my day off. Saturdays are a half-day, and every other day is basically a full-day. But lately (the past several days) I have spent a significant amount of time on Mondays doing church work. Usually it's doing the kind of projects and errands on behalf of the church that might be considered extra credit. The problem, though, is that it's on the margins of "extra-credit" where excellence lies. In other words, the difference between putting in four hours of bonus hours on a Monday and not putting into those four hours could very well be a tipping point for the parish. It means having a well-organized maintenance closet or sending people birthday and anniversary cards or reviewing a grant application written by one of my staff.

I find the work I do incredibly rewarding and invigorating. The other day I was meeting with someone who knows little of church culture. He asked me what I enjoy about my work and I told him about the sheer diversity of it. One minute I'm doing one-on-one pastoral care with someone in serious emotional distress. The next I'm rewiring a light switch or cleaning out a closet that hasn't been emptied in ten years. Sometimes I'm writing my column for "The Anglican" and other times I'm teaching a student how to walk in liturgy. Yeah, I spent fifteen or twenty minutes the other day teaching someone how to walk. I write sermons. I pick up trash. I pray the Office and practice chanting psalms. I make coffee (always adding a pinch of salt) and talk to the restaurant owner across the street about vandalism in the neighbourhood. I coach my staff on how to work with volunteers and I plan complex liturgies. It's a fascinating job that requires constantly mastering new skills.

Therein lies the problem--a seductive vocation promises personal fulfillment. It promises increased self-worth and the satisfaction of building something with superior craft. But like all idols, the "uber-pastor" idol demands sacrifice. Time spent in the evenings and mornings checking email or (yes) blogging often means leaving Betsy to feed or take care of Henry.

Work is important, sure, but how important is it? Hard to gauge. It's always a judgment call. For example, imagine it's 7 pm and I'm feeding Henry and my phone rings. It's a parishioner. Do I answer, or do I let it go to voice mail? Honestly, often when I answer it turns out to be less than an emergency, other times, it is! But I can't tell the difference by the caller-ID. So, in truth my willingness to answer the phone at night is an intuitive, snap-decision based mostly on my own sense of exhaustion. Honestly, if I'm tired and I've had a drink or two and it's late I'm far less likely to answer that late-night call. Can that be okay? I know people that think that you should be ready to be a priest at all times. You should be ready to take that call and "be there" for your people no matter what. But as I mature in ministry I have come to question that uber-pastor myth.

When I was young in ministry I fantasized about having a "go-bag" with prayer book, stole, and anointing oil by the door and another in my car. Nine months of being a hospital chaplain cured me of that particular fantasy right-quick! Sure, you can be prepared for your first emergency, and maybe your second. But when your beeper goes off the third or fifth or seventh time in an on-call period, you quickly realize that God's grace isn't about you and your pitiful attempts to "be ready." If you are going to be an effective conduit of God's grace, it ain't gonna be because you had a pretty kit. Either you are the sort of person that can help someone cry at 3 a.m. with their dead mother, or you can learn to be, or you can't: those are your three choices. However, nothing you can imagine will prepare you for the challenges of pastoral ministry. Trust me. You cannot anticipate the stuff that is going to come at you.

Consider this scenario... a priest I knew was called at 8.20 P.M. because one of his parishioners died. It was one of his Wardens that called him and asked him to visit the widow. The man that died (and his wife) were pillars of the church. The priest said he couldn't go. Why? Because, he said, he had been drinking. Harsh. Imagine having to tell someone that. "I can't take care of this person because I've been drinking." Yet many professions have exactly that danger. I'm sure most doctors and lawyers, for example, could tell a story like that. When I heard this story, before I knew what the ministry was really about, I had a hard time not being judgmental. I think I said something like, "Well, put on a pot of coffee and tell them you'll be there in an hour!" Now I'm wiser. I see that sometimes "no" is a good answer. Harsh. But if you don't bend you are gonna break.

Self-giving in ministry (and I do mean "ministry" broadly) is more complex than the extremes of enthusiasm would suggest. Give everything of yourself away and the demons will eat you for breakfast. Give nothing and you are like the walking dead, floating along and changing nothing. And most of us Christians answer in the ambiguous middle.

I know, this all seems pretty obvious. But this razor thin margin--between working a couple of hours on Monday or not--is where transformation happens. Something about that decision is a fractal that describes your relationship with God, the world, and yourself. It's a microcosm. And it's not an obvious choice. Sometimes, it's Godly to put in those extra hours. Sometimes it's not!

And that's what I'm thinking about as I think about what I'm going to do tomorrow.

Footnote--I've noticed that my parishioners are stepping up their commitment to the church to match mine. The head of my chancel guild snatched my alb away with a zeal for washing it that made me realize that something quite important had happened. Sweet!


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pot au Feu

Pot-au-Feu, "Pot on the Fire," is one of those classic dishes in world cuisine that takes many forms with regional variations. This is winter food that reminds you of home and hearth. Essentially, it's just the French way to do a basic beef stew. Usually it's made with cheap cuts of meat like oxtail. This is a relatively easy recipe, but like all good stews and soups it takes time to develop and simmer.


from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook
(thanks Meg and Seb)

1 lb. paleron of beef or "chicken steak" or brisket
6 pieces of oxtail, cut 1 1/2 inches thick
6 beef short ribs*
1 veal shank**
8 whole cloves
2 Onions, cut in half
6 leeks, white part only
2 small celery roots (celeriac), cut into quarters
4 carrots, cut into 4-inch lengths
1 bouquet garni
salt and pepper
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 head of cabbage, cored and cut into 6 to 8 wedges
1/2 lb cornichons
1 Cup large-grained sea salt
1 Cup hot prepared mustard

a really big pot
3 medium ramekins
marrow spoon (you can use the back end of an iced-tea spoon)
serving platter (a bloody big one)
soup terrine

Serves 6***

In the huge pot, combine the steak, oxtail, short ribs, and veal shank and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and as soon as the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Set the meats aside and throw out the water. Clean the pot. Seriously, do it. Then put the meat right back inside. Push 2 cloves into each onion half and add the onions to the pot, along with the leeks, celery roots, carrots, and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper and cover with cold water.

Bring the pot to a slow simmer, gradually, and let cook over medium-low heat for around 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Skim the cooking liquid with a ladle periodically to remove scum and foam. Add the potatoes and cabbage and cook for an additional 30 minutes, until soft. You want to maintain the structural integrity of the meat and vegetables. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Put the cornichons, sea salt, and mustard in the ramekins and set on the table. Remove the chicken seat (or brisket) from the pot and cut into 6 pieces. Remove the veal shank from the pot and cut the meat off the bone, again into 6 to 8 pieces. Using the marrow spoon, dig out all that lovely marrow from the inside of the veal bone. Arrange the oxtails, the meats, the marrow, and the vegetables in an attractively disheveled fashion on the serving platter and spoon some of the cooking liquid over and around it. Serve the rest of the liquid is a soup terrine.

Alternatively, you can arrange the meats uncarved, with the vegetables around them, swimming in broth in a big, beautiful pile in a deep serving platter, and let your friends just tear at it like the savage animals they are. (I'm getting hungry just writing this recipe.)

Tay's Notes
Bourdain call this "comfort food for socialists"--I understand why. This is home-food. You can easily imagine a winter home where the only heat is the kitchen stove with a pot continuously boiling. Like I said, a relatively easy recipe to make. Nice for a dinner party since most of the work is front-loaded. Once you have everything stewing in the pot you can either focus on other dishes or simply be entertaining your guests.

I served this with Gratin Dauphinois, which is a nice creamy potato gratin. I rounded out the meat-and-starch by serving a leek vinaigrette salad course (Blanched the leeks, then plated and drizzled on a generous helping of sauce gribiche.) I paired all of it with a Pinot Noir. We had our guests bring dessert, but if that was my responsibility I would have probably gone for Crème brûlée. You make it the day before and just do the caramelized-sugar topping before you serve. In fact, you could even do this at the table with a propane torch if you want to delight your guests. BTW, if you are trying to make an impression, why not use a full-size plumbers torch instead of one of those little "kitchen torches"?

Consider serving this with a crusty french bread to sop up some of that goodness.

If you serve this with plates, it's not clear what to do with that terrine of soup. Peter Hertzmann says that the broth was served, traditionally, as a separate soup course before the meat and veggies, and that makes a lot of sense to me, especially if you allow the broth to cook down some more after you remove the meat and vegetables (perhaps keeping them warm in the over).

* For short ribs, I used 6 short rib pieces, rather than 6 actual short ribs.

** The the Veal Shank is lovely. An Ossobuco cut is fine, too.

***6 Guests? Baloney, Tony! This recipe just about filled my 12 quart pot, so I would say it easily feeds 8 to 12 guests! Seriously. Especially if you are serving it with side dishes.

This is an adaptable recipe. If you have a good relationship with a butcher you can work something out and use more morrow bones and scrap cuts, etc. Stews forgive many sins!

If you want more on the history of this dish, I suggest the excellent article on Peter Hertzmann's blog.

Next on my list of canonical french dishes to try--cassoulet!



All of a sudden, I'm feeling incredibly stressed out. A situation has arisen--the kind that arises frequently in my profession--the sort that I can't talk about. It has me pretty stressed out as I'm not entirely sure what to do about it. Last night we had had friends over and cooked up a nice feast, and that was a nice distraction. The only problem was that cooking a nice meal on a Friday meant that we had a hard time getting the house ship-shape and ready for company and the food ready. In the end we managed it, but not without some stressful moments.

Ah... stress... my old friend.... There is a very interesting line of connection between chronic stress and clinical depression. So chronic stress is probably not a sustainable state. Duh! And yet it seems difficult to avoid in leadership where the leader becomes the point of intersection between what is and what could be. There are many different responses to this dilemma. One is to cultivate a kind of detachment, but I'm afraid that will be misconstrued as as a lack of care.

In my fantasies I have more help--especially for the little details that seem like they are not the best use of my time. For example, we've had a problem with the internet in the church. It works fine in the office (except when it rains, but that's Bell's fault), but hasn't been reaching the daycare. So Friday I spent some time troubleshooting it. I think I fixed it, but that was about two hours of time that would be been better spent reading, writing, or even meeting with people.

The alternative, in this case, would have been to hire someone to come and fix it. We have done this in the past, but it's expensive. There are one or two members of the congregation with the technical expertise to fix a problem like this, but they are busy people, too. This is how it is with many things in a pastoral-sized church trying to grow.

Ah... stress!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tay PA - Round 2

Last night I "racked" five gallons of homebrew beer. "Racking" is just the brewing term for bottling. Five gallons yielded about 30 bottles. The specific gravity (a measure of a liquid's density) was on target, meaning that the sugars had all been converted into alcohol as expected. The taste was fine--it will be a lot better after a few weeks of aging. It's a nice, big-hearted IPA.

Brewing this batch was far easier than the first batch I made. I invested in a few odds and ends, equipment wise, that made a big difference. Even something as simple as a "bottle tree" made the step of sanitizing all the bottles much easier and faster. I also switched from using a diluted bleach solution to a product called "Star San," which is an industrial food equipment sanitizer. One of the beautiful things about this product is that you don't have to rinse the equipment once you soak it, just air dry. Also, you can reuse the product--so once you have a bucket going you can just use it over and over again until the PH rises to 3. (Which reminds me, I need to get some PH test strips.)

In truth, the set-up for brewing is more hassle than anything else about it, so I feel that in the future I should maybe do double batches and realize the increased return per work effort. It's like canning that way--the bigger the batches the less effort it takes per item.

Anyway, I think I'm in for another batch of good beer in three or four weeks!


Monday, October 25, 2010

Appreciative Inquiry in the Diocese of Toronto

Here is a quick video from last week's training session in Appreciative Inquiry...


Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Few Breakthroughs

I mentioned previously that I spent three days at the SSJD Convent Receiving the Appreciative Inquiry Training offered by the Clergy Leadership Institute. The instructor was Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle. Rob is psychologist with a great deal of clinical experience, as well an executive coach and even a former Cathedral Dean. He is an interesting guy whose life purpose is to be "Helpful, healing, and humorous."

Registration was limited to be about 25 people, and mostly that was composed of Senior Diocesan Leadership plus a dozen or so parish priests like myself. That made for an interesting dynamic, as when I was paired with Bishop Yu to do an interview designed to discover the deepest, most compelling personal motivations of the subject!

The "Appreciative Inquiry" framework has a lot to offer, and I've already had two opportunities to apply it. Last night I hosted a Stewardship Committee meeting in my home. We are prepared our fall Stewardship Campaign and are facing a substantial deficit as we do so. Raising the giving in the parish by about 30% would fix it and get us back to a balanced budget, but raising giving by that kind of level is going to take some real excellent leadership from everyone involved in the campaign.

So I started the meeting by asking people to go around the room and tell us about something they really, really enjoy doing. When they finished sharing, I explained that this was an easy way to get toward an understanding of people's core values and passions. Knowing that makes moving forward on a group project far easier because it means you can put the builders in charge of building and the deal makers in charge of deal making, etc. The meeting went on and accomplished many things, though not without a few moments that really challenged my skillfulness as a small-group leader. As they left, people said they felt encouraged and enthusiastic about the work ahead, which is great sign.

The second application of Appreciative Inquiry techniques happened in a one-on-one pastoral care situation. Obviously, I can't share much about that, but I will say I was able to resolve a long-standing stuck-ness that had defied several other interventions. One of the things I noticed right away was a large degree of consonance between the method I was employing and the parishioner's therapeutic instincts. In other words, it felt like the right approach to both of us. The energy of the whole dynamic shifted noticeably and I'm really happy about that.

So, there you have it, my endorsement of Appreciative Inquiry. It works, simple as that.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Chicken Slaughter

Very few people choose to think about the way their meat gets killed. Probably they believe that knowledge of what happens in butcher houses would make it difficult for them to enjoy meat, and they may be right. I think most people are pretty sheltered from this part of life, to tell the truth.

But it is a very big deal, ethically, to consider the massive amount of animal death and suffering that occurs so that we can eat meat. And so for those of us who still choose to eat meat, I think we owe to the animals to at least minimize the suffering involved.

There is a whole fascinating story about how Temple Grandin, revolutionized the practices around the slaughter of cows. Before her, the sort of people that love animals, as she does, simply couldn't talk with people who make a living turning them into food. But Temple was able able to do tremendous good by showing hard-nosed business-first types that being compassionate and humane to animals is simply the best way to do things.

So now chickens may be next. The New York Times reports that two large poultry producers, Bell & Evans of Pennsylvania and Mary's Chickens in California, are preparing to switch slaughter methods to one that appears much more humane. Instead of simply hanging the chickens upside down and slitting their throats, they are going to "gently" put them to sleep with Carbon Dioxide first.
Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a prominent livestock expert, consulted with Bell & Evans as the company worked with Anglia to design its system. She said it was better because the chickens were not aware of what was happening to them. “Birds don’t like being hung upside down,” Dr. Grandin said. “They get really stressed out by that.” (source)

Now they are trying to figure out how to market this concept. "Humanely Handled" seems like the best euphemism I've heard so far! Anyway, I see this as a sort of progress...


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Comings and Goings

What is Tay up to? Tay is pushing himself hard to get as much done as humanly possible on many simultaneous fronts. That means I am violating the very important spiritual principle of Sabbath (or, in Benedictine terms, "Holy Leisure"). It's not at all sustainable, but this seems like such a critical time in the life of my parish that I simply can't bear to let the opportunities pass.

On my mind: Natural Church Development. Our church did an NCD survey a few weeks ago to get a snapshot of the congregational dynamic. The parish's NCD leadership team got the first view of the results, and I have been processing that. The congregation will get to see the full results in a few weeks, in the mean time I've been studying and thinking about the profile. The biggest surprise so far, my people don't know how to relate the bible to their 6-day-a-week faith. So that gives me something to work on! Incarnating faith.

This past Saturday I went to the parish work day. Once upon a time, before I came to Messiah, they had a hard time getting volunteers to take care of the grounds around the church. Now we organize half-day work events two or three times a year. The main objective of this last weekend was to get the place ready for winter. I took charge of making sure the burned-out light bulbs were replaced.

A word about light bulbs for all you church nerds out there. You are far better off getting your light bulbs from the sort of place that sells to electricians and contractors than from a place meant for consumers like Rona or Home Depot or Canadian Tire. Electrical supply places have a much better selection and are much more informed about the products. I went ahead and replaced our "Par 38" Incandescents with the same, but I also got a CFL version to experiment with. But what I really have my eye on is an LED bulb. These are expensive, but last a long, long time. And after you've been on top of our mega-tall forty-foot ladder you begin to see the wisdom of LED! LED lighting is definitely the future.

In truth, I find the interior of my church too dark, especially at night, and I look forward to getting better lighting someday. It's right up there with getting the interior repainted.

Anyway, back to the work day. I was pleased by the turnout. We had lots of people and therefore made fast work out of everything we tackled. We were finished on time to have lunch at noon and then I did my usual services.

We did not have high hopes for Sunday. The Toronto Marathon was this Sunday and the route surrounds the church on three sides, making access very, very difficult. So we were pleasantly surprised that our attendance was relatively good. First time visitors made the difference, and I can't wait to see if they come back!

Indeed, the service had a great vibe. People have settled into the square layout nicely and it was used to full advantage. I even did an impromptu dramatized Gospel Reading to start my sermon that worked very, very well. (Yep, I'm already thinking of ways to deal with the scripture-relevance issue). Circumambulating around the altar as I preach feels natural, and I love the way the community sounds me for the Eucharist. Just brilliant.

The next challenge is to adapt this for the upcoming Holocaust Education Week event on November 7th. We won't be celebrating the Eucharist as part of the main service that day in deference to our Jewish guests (last year we had the disconcerting experience of seeing half of them leave at the Peace!). So having the altar in the centre just doesn't make a lot of sense. Instead we are doing Morning Prayer, adapted. Hmm.

I felt that my sermon was strong and all the other pieces, including the music, were just great. Thumbs up all around.

Monday I was running around doing church stuff most of the day, even though it is my day off. For instance, I bought a bunch of stuff at Home Depot to organize the maintenance closet at the church. Peg board, hangers, a tool box, etc. I know this seems like a strange thing for the Rector to be concerned with, but it's precisely this kind of detail that populates the positive edge of the bell curve of ministry excellence. That closet has been a mess for three years--enough with that!

Today (Monday) I got up early to head up to the SSJD Convent for training in Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry is a process for organizational development that fits into parish work and pastoral care quite well. Basically,
it gives practitioners a paradigm to structure dialogue in a way most conducive to the desired outcomes. Perhaps after I'm finished with the training (Thursday afternoon) I'll have time to write more about it.

So another day-and-a-half of training to go. Then back-to-back meetings on Friday. At least I was smart enough not to schedule myself to preach this Sunday!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Snapshot of Racing on the Pegrine

Our sailing season is over, but here is a quick video snapshot of what it look like on night where the winds were alternating between strong and "meh." Note how wet my shoes around two minutes into the video.

My thanks to skipper Dave the crew--we had a fun season.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sailing Anarchists

Here is an example of the sort of thing that makes me love sailing. True wildness and wanderlust are still possible in this world...

Hold Fast from Moxie Marlinspike on Vimeo.

I think my favourite moment is probably when they stun the Mahi Mahi fish with the winch handle against the floor of the cockpit.

BTW, Moxie, the author, is also a well-known "white-hat" hacker. Meaning, he uses his uber computer skills for good, rather than evil. But that also means that he can make plenty of cash in his day job. I am not saying that he does make money, necessarily, I'm just saying he could make lots of money. This lifestyle is a kind of asceticism--a deliberately chosen discipline, not the harsh result of fickle fortune. He would probably frame it in terms that relate to ethics or eco-justice, but I see it as a secular form of apostolic poverty. Poverty-as-ethical-choice is a really interesting and ancient tradition practiced by many ascetics. It's an admirable witness, and quite an interesting phenomenon for to those of looking for how God manifests in a post-Christian society.


Monday, October 11, 2010

The Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Holy Eucharist

I've been teaching priest-craft to two seminarians this semester. I'm covering a lot of ground, but that is no excuse for skipping important detail of the sort they won't learn in class. I'm talking about deep body knowledge. There is a way to hold your body as a priest or deacon, a way to move through a space. A way to sit with parishioners and sip coffee. Craft is truth, too.

So when teaching a student how to prepare the gifts on the altar I start with the empty table and invite them to appreciate the emptiness that is there. Then, as they begin to make gesture of prayer through movement in that space, I mention the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Move with purity of purpose, unrushed, focused, calm.

I know, for a fact, that I am not the first person to notice a connection between the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the "manual acts" made by priests and deacons during the Holy Eucharist. Both, afterall, are formalized rituals of hospitality.

As a kid I used to watch an obscure, sub-titled Japanese docudrama series about the life of Oda Nobunaga produced by the national television network of Japan. Nobunaga is a very intriguing figure from Japanese feudal history (we're talking 16th Century) and was the principle force behind the unification of the country under a strong Shogun. He also was very interested in European Culture and was a patron of the Jesuit missionaries to his country. He even let them built the first church in Japan in Kyoto in 1576. Nobunaga was a great patron of the arts, as well, and popularized the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Each episode of this series would start with a narrative historical preamble. One of these compared the traditional gesture of wiping the tea cup in the Tea Ceremony with a similar gesture made at the end of the Eucharist during the ablutions. The narrator then claimed that the Christians picked up this gesture from the Jesuit missionaries to Japan, who learned it by observing the Tea Ceremony. That claim sounds dubious to me, but I do think it makes sense that both ceremonies would arrive at similar gestures through independent evolutions.

It also follows that a priest looking to master the rituals of the Holy Table could learn much from the Japanese Tea Ceremony (and perhaps vice-versa). The aesthetic of the Tea Ceremony will be recognizable to anyone who has studied liturgy. The Japanese sought to embody harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity.

Every gesture--an expression of some truth. There is something true and worthy of our attention that happens when we prepare to celebrate the Eucharist. Whether we chose to do this in a very simple fashion or a complex one, we should do it with intention and meaning. This take years of diligent practice to master, and the effort to do so can inform any other priestly skill from pastoral counselling to preaching to volunteer management.

Here is a video of part of a Tea Ceremony. Enjoy!


Thursday, October 7, 2010

RIP Mrs. Patel

On Dupont Street, just a few blocks from the church and my home, there is a well-known Restaurant called "The Indian Rice Factory." Betsy and I have only been there once, but man did it make an impression! Some of the best Indian Food I ever had. Turns out the chef/owner, known as Mrs. Patel, is famous for basically introducing the city of Toronto to good Indian Food back in the 1960's and 70's. James Chatto has a wonderful telling of the story that he also related in his book, The Man Who Ate Toronto:
There were only two Indian restaurants in Toronto in 1967 (India House and Rajput) when Mrs. Patel arrived in Canada, a young nurse from Bombay. One afternoon, she decided to have lunch at the Inn on the Park hotel, at Eglinton and Leslie. The hotel’s restaurant, Café de 1’Auberge, was famous for sophisticated French cuisine, but it was the buffet of the day that aroused her curiosity – a culinary event entitled “From the Chafing Dishes of India.” In those dishes were examples of the curious travesty of Moghlai cooking that European chefs were trained to prepare: chicken, shrimp, or beef in a sort of bechamel sauce coloured with curry powder. Mrs. Patel called the manager and gently tried to explain that this was a little less than authentic.

When the conversation moved into the kitchen, executive chef Georges Chaignet listened politely and then invited Mrs. Patel to come back next day and cook him a meal. She obliged; he was stunned. As Stratford Chefs School instructor Jacques Marie, then Chaignet’s sous-chef, recalled: “She showed us what curry is really about. It was a new world to me.”

To the kitchen’s eternal credit, Mrs. Patel was hired to teach the team all that she knew. After a year, she moved on, first to Julie’s Mansion on Jarvis, working her magic in the casual upstairs dining room called the Bombay Bicycle Club, more famous in those days for the lissom beauty of its sari-clad waitresses than its buffet, and then to the Hyatt Regency.

In 1970 she opened her own place on Dupont Street, called Indian Rice Factory. The tiny room would be considered avant-garde even today. It seated barely a dozen customers who sat around an open cooking station, choosing from a short and frequently changing list of dishes on a blackboard tied to the back of the fridge. Slender, beautiful and always elegantly dressed, Mrs. Patel radiated a soft-spoken confidence as she worked, preparing many items à la minute, and explaining her recipes to anyone who asked. (Source)

By all accounts, she was a major force in the development of the Toronto Restaurant scene. She was generous with her time and recipes and something of an institution. You can find some of her recipes on the Indian Rice Factory's website.

It's telling that the website for the restaurant discusses the spiritual implications of Indian Cuisine. She had deep knowledge that craft to those places of art and truth. "Cooking is an art we savour and a ritual that we take seriously."

She died in August after a long battle with breast cancer. She had been the owner and chef of the Indian Rice Factory for 40 years. Her son had become increasingly involved over the years and now is taking her place.

A few days ago we had the planning team for the Music that Makes Community Conference at Church of The Messiah. I invited them over to the rectory, but had no intention of cooking for nine people on short notice, so I suggested that we order out. Many of the group were from San Francisco and complained that they can't find good Indian Food there.

I realized, then, that I didn't actually have any Indian takeout menus, so I googled the problem while Betsy got them drinks. As soon as I saw a reference to the Indian Rice Factory I knew it would be perfect, but it is not the kind of place that usually does delivery.

I called them, and they said they would make an exception since it was a relatively large order (9 people) and since the owner happened to be there with a car. The host helped me through the menu and made helpful suggestions about things that were particularly fresh or good that night. In the end, he also through in a few free dishes compliments of the house.

Forty-five minutes later or so Mrs. Patel's son, Aman, came to my door with a truly memorable meal. Our guests from San Francisco were impressed. Aman gave me a "Namaste" kind of bow after I thanked him profusely and complimented his restaurant. I didn't realize, yet, that his mother has passed on. I think I should send him a note saying that the meal we had was a great tribute to his mother.

I'll end this little obituary with one her recipes:

Butter Chicken in Three Easy Steps:

The Chicken

2 lbs boneless and skinless chicken

12 cloves garlic
2 inches ginger
2 tsp coriander powder
Lime juice – 2 limes
4 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp cumin whole or ground
½ cup yogurt
1 tbsp red chili powder
Salt to taste

— all Marinade ingredients except the salt into blender and puree. Add salt to taste such that Marinade has a salty tinge. Put chicken in bowl, add Marinade, mix to coat thoroughly and refrigerate for 4 hours.

2 tsp ghee
1 tsp dry fenugreek leaves
1 tsp dried mango or lime powder
1 tsp roasted black cumin powder
Salt to taste

Pinch of Garam Masala
½ fresh lime

— mix all ingredients together and have basting brush ready
— Prepare the marinated chicken either by grilling, broiling (cover with foil so as not to burn) or baking in a hot oven (350°F) until done. Baste regularly with Basting. Once done, set aside and garnish with sprinkle of Garam Masala and light drizzle of fresh lime juice.

The Butter Sauce

Butter Sauce
3 oz unsalted butter
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp fresh lime juice
4 green chilies – slit
6 tomatoes – cut into wedges
2 tbsp whipping cream – unwhipped
— in a pot, melt butter and sugar over a medium-high to high heat until brown (not burnt); add lime juice (watch out for splutters and splashes!!) and quickly follow with green chilies and let cook for a minute, add tomatoes and reduce to medium heat and cook until tomatoes break down, add cream and reduce to a slow simmer. Set aside.

The Chicken Goes Into the Butter Sauce

2 oz unsalted butter
1 tsp red chili powder
4-6 green chilies – fine cut
6 firm tomatoes – quartered
2 inches ginger – grated
— in a pot, melt butter over medium-high heat, add red chili powder and Butter Sauce, bring to boil, reduce to medium heat, add the chicken, tomatoes green chilies and ginger. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
— Remove to a serving dish, add small specks of butter, pinches of roasted cumin powder and finely chopped coriander as garnish.

Serve with plain Basmati rice or Naan (or both). (source)


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bath Time for Henry

Betsy and I both love giving our Henry a bath. We used to do this with a little plastic baby bathtub, but lately we've switched to using a full-size tub. In fact, I often take a bath with Henry, which is great fun. The little guy just loves the bubbles and toys we give him. Johnson's "Baby Bubble Bath & Wash" is awesome stuff. Works well on grownups, too! Tonight I even shaved in the tub while Henry played by my feet with some toys.

One of my favourite things to do is lie down in the the bath and put Henry on my chest, facing me. He likes to push up and arch his back so he can look around. Such a cuttie. Holding your baby like this makes it hard to think about anything else. It just makes everything right, you know?

Since we switched the full-sized tub he has a lot more room to move around and explore. Baths are lasting a lot longer.

After his bath Henry typically gets some skin lotion and then PJ's (with feet, of coure) and then milk and then bed. Sometimes he gets a story or I sing him Compline. Last night he slept for a whopping 12 hours! Go Henry!


Monday, October 4, 2010

Splitting Wood

A busy Monday. I tackled a couple of projects around the house--the most ambitious being to split and stack a bunch of wood left over from a tree that fell last year. It has been drying for the last year by the side the house since our landlord and his son-in-law cut up with a chainsaw. The landlord has been suggesting (for months and months) that I should split it up and use it for our fireplace. But, honestly, I've split wood by hand before, and it's one of those jobs that is best done with your shirt off to impress the Mrs. If your real purpose is to get wood ready for winter, than you ought to simply rent on buy a hydraulic wood splitter (IMHO).

The weather is turning in Ontario. Time to start packing up the deck furniture and get ready for the snow. If that wood is going to get split, I decided, it was doing to be me that does it! So I bit the bullet.

First stop, Canadian Tire. There I picked up a little 4-Ton Log Splitter. I don't think they sell many of these downtown in Toronto, but they managed to find one in the back! I took it home and was pleased with the performance--it had no trouble splitting everything I through at it. It has a little 1.74HP Electric Motor that runs a hydraulic pump that moves the ram. Bigger models are probably faster and can handle even bigger pieces, but this little guy is perfect for home use. But even with this little beauty it still took me about 3.5 hours to split the pile and stack it on the back deck. Ah, well.

I was inspired to tweet some Haiku:
A new power tool
Splitting wood in Autumn Air
Fall in Ontario

There is something very distinct about Fall in Ontario. I really need to get going on getting some apple cider fermenting in the basement. I also want to make some more apple sauce--I'm just using up the last of last year's batch and boy is it good stuff. And easy, too!

After I picked up Henry at the Daycare I got some take-out from my favourite Thai place: Flip Toss and Thai. Those of you living near the University should know about this place--terrific Thai food at a cheap price. The folks that work there are clearly a family, and enjoyed see Henry with me.


Tailgate Eucharist

The Rev'd Canon Dan Webster from the Diocese of Maryland has started doing a Eucharist in the parking lot before Ravens (NFL Football) games.

Our prayers follow the form on pages 400-401 of The Book of Common Prayer. It is similar to a Eucharist you might experience at an Episcopal camp but without the music. There was plenty of music coming from the stage at the Ravenswalk. Some of that music seemed to be particularly meaningful to those faithful gathered in the rain to break bread and pray before kickoff. ...

We weren't the only religious folks there that day. A local Chabad House of Lubavitcher Jews was celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Booths. They had rented a pickup truck and built a sukkah in the truck bed. They asked people at random if they were Jewish and if so then invited them into the sukkah to pray. (Source)

When this went out on e-mail among some clergy types, one of the bishops said that this be a great idea for Argos (CFL Football) games--perhaps we could get season tickets on the Diocesan Dime (not likely).

This is actually a great idea. Talk about putting the church into the world! I like the way it claims the festival, food-drenched atmosphere of tailgating and plants our sacred meal firmly in that ground. Reminds me a lot of battlefield Eucharists done by military chaplains.


Friday, October 1, 2010

RIP Greg Giraldo

Greg Giraldo, a well-known Comedian, died of an accidental prescription drug overdose a few days ago. Here is a clip in which he discusses, among other things, God and Gay Marriage. He was in Canada for this. Probably not safe for work or young ears, but very funny.

As a comic, one of the things to notice about Greg was that he was very disciplined in his delivery. The content is sharp and bit transgressive, but carefully honed. It seems like an improved rant, but it's not. Notice how carefully he controls his timing and rhythm.

Some other facts about Greg:
  • He was a graduate of Harvard Law, but only did one year of practice before becoming a stand up comic
  • Greg was married with three children
  • Greg gave up drinking in 2005

After he was found in a hotel room he was rushed to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He died four days later. I did my CPE Chaplaincy Summer Internship at that Hospital.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Possible Life Sustaining Planet?

Scientists are announcing that they've discovered a planet that appears to be the right distance from its star and the right mass to possibly support life. The NYTimes reports that Gliese 581g (that's pronounced GLEE-za) is about 20 light years from earth. One scientist estimated about a 90% chance it has water on it. Which sounds pretty good, except that you don't want to spent a bazillion dollars on a probe to a planet with only a 90% chance it will find water when it gets there. Just as important as the finding of this planet is that was found relatively easily, but astronomically standards, and they therefore expect to find a bunch more.

The whole thing reminds me of the Drake Equation, which is really an interesting thought expirement. I've blogged about it before, but here it is again:
The Drake Equation:

N is the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;


R* is the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
fp is the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne is the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fℓ is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

The Drake Equation, named after Astrophysicist Dr. Frank Drake, is an argument for the existence of life on other planets with whom we could communicate. The argument is based on probability, essentially arguing that if conscious, communicative life could develop on earth, than the probability is greater than zero that it could have developed elsewhere in our galaxy. While the parameters for the equation are somewhat speculative, we do have plausible value that yield a current estimate of....

N = 7 × 0.5 × 2 × 0.33 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10000 = 2.31

In other words, the best guess is that there are 2.31 civilizations in our neighbourhood of the universe capable of communication with us. Of course, if you give different values to the parameters you can make this number go up or down, but it can never be reduced to zero because, in fact, there are people to ask the question!

How cool is that?