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Tea Party? No. Fascist Backlash.

Margaret Hamilton, absolutely fabulous as the Wicked Witch of the West.

I woke up this morning thinking about the upcoming election, that what we’re seeing is a fascist backlash since the election of Barack Obama.

I’m not sure that “fascist” is the right word, but it’s as close as I can come right now. “Right-wing extremists”? “Jack-booted thugs”?

The point isn’t the name-calling; the point is the backlash, and finding the most accurate description of these self-named “tea partiers” who have nothing to do with the Boston Tea Party. Our country is not controlled by a foreign imperial power. The Boston Tea Party was about independence, which is no longer an issue.

Instead what we’re seeing is a very large resurgence of John Birch Society-type ideology. It’s strange, because Americans dismissed these folks as the lunatic fringe 60 years ago. Why are they back?

Why are there so many of them? And why are they so loony?

• Christine O’Donnell tells us she is not a witch. Claiming to have flirted with being a witch made her money ten years ago, but now it costs her, so she isn’t one. Never was; “I am you.”

• Rand Paul’s county coordinator stomps a young woman on the head – and then demands an apology.

• Sharron Angle, doing a fast walk away from a reporter asking about her foreign policy, says, “Yes, we have two wars.”

• Carl Paladino threatens to “take out” a reporter.

• Joe Miller hires active-duty soldiers for his security detail, and they handcuff a reporter who annoys them.

• Ken Buck says Gay people are born with a predisposition like alcoholics.

• Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, is incoherent and can’t even start an answer during a televised debate.

• Sarah Palin can’t tell Katie Couric what newspapers and magazines she reads – because she doesn’t read any.

Meanwhile the Democrats flounder too, unable to explain what’s going on in a simple pithy phrase.

Maybe that’s why I came up with “fascist backlash.” If you’ve got a better label, leave a comment. “Fascist” seems a little too strong to me, but I don’t know what else to call it. So focus on the backlash.

I just watched President Obama give a campaign speech in Bridgeport, Connecticut on behalf of Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic Senate nominee, whose opponent is Linda McMahon of phony wrestling and “Sexy Bitch” yacht fame.

The President spoke well, with all the fire and eloquence and truth-telling of his 2008 campaign.

I’ve been hugely critical of him, because he’s been the last person to understand the fascist backlash. But once again, listening to him today, I was drawn back into his vortex while it lasted.

He’s so talented, and so smart; he’s earning his increasingly gray hair, which he joked about today, then tore off a rip-roaring speech (without TelePrompters, as if that’s a serious issue).

He was heckled at one point by a sizable group of AIDS activists, and it was interesting to see how he dealt with them. George W. Bush would have manipulated the crowd to drown them out, and then had goons drag them off. Obama didn’t handle it that way.

He engaged them, answered them back, pointing out that Democrats are increasing funding for world AIDS treatment and research, not Republicans.

(President Bush did receive good marks on this issue – for Africa, not the U.S.)

From there Obama got back on message and roused the crowd; “If we turn out this year like we did two years ago, we will win.”

Fact is, I hate what he’s done/failed to do on Gay rights. When a politician starts hurting my people, as Obama has done with his “emergency” appeal on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I turn against that politician.

Still, this guy might actually be learning on the job, so I waver back and forth on supporting him. I definitely want to minimize Democratic losses next Tuesday; if the self-proclaimed tea partiers win – any of them – it will be bad for the country. The fact is, none of them are qualified for the offices they seek; none of them. And this isn’t just ideology on my part; a Senate candidate proclaims, “I am not a witch”?

Angle runs away, Palin runs away, Wilson runs away, Brewer runs away; this is a conscious strategy to keep from answering questions. Palin thinks Twitter and Facebook are all she needs – but she’s wrong. You can’t govern a country by 140-character tweets.

So let’s recognize what we’re actually dealing with here: Obama prevented a Great Depression.

He’s paying the price for the Great Recession. He’s done several things right and several things wrong, but I’m still in my house and so are most of you.

The banking system did not collapse; it’s seriously messed up, as the foreclosure scandal illustrates, but banks are open, still taking deposits, still clearing checks.

It would be nice if they also made loans, but even FDR didn’t fix everything in a week. (And Obama’s no FDR.)

Maybe Obama’s naivete is finally wearing off; today in Bridgeport he pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s #1 goal is defeating him in 2012 – not creating jobs, not returning America to world leadership in education, science, technology and manufacturing, but defeating the Dems at all costs.

Where is the patriotism of Republicans? They parade it at every chance, but they don’t act patriotically. It’s all about politics to them, it’s all about the next election.

Meanwhile Sharron Angle threatens “Second Amendment remedies” – armed rebellion, treason – if she doesn’t win.

So does some black Republican preacher/candidate in Texas; “nothing should be off the table.”

That’s why so-called “tea partiers” showed up with guns last summer at Obama speeches. That’s why they march through the streets with AK-47s.

They’re threatening to shoot their way to power. I say that’s fascist.

Obama isn’t a Nazi, isn’t a socialist, isn’t that old bugaboo, a Communist. He’s a cautious and moderate Democrat.

He’s also Black, and that’s what’s brought out these extremists.

I wish he were more of a fighter (as he was today in Bridgeport) and less of a philosopher. But he is what he is, a far better President than the last one. Despite all of his missteps on Gay rights, he still deserves our support. He’s an honest man with convictions – and he invoked Lincoln again today, which I appreciate.

He mentioned getting us out of Iraq today, a subject never mentioned by any other candidate, and people cheered.

I wish he’d get us out of Afghanistan too; I supported his initial push with more troops there, but now I think it’s hopeless. We can’t tie the USA to a crook like Karzai, when the real issue is Osama bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen is sending airbombs to synagogues in Chicago. Thank God, the Saudis and the Brits, they never got there.

We’re being battered on all sides, and so is our President. He sure isn’t perfect, nobody’s messiah, but the smart choice is to dance with the one who brung ya.

Angle, Palin, O’Donnell, Buck, Wilson? They’re Christian Dominionists; click the link. Palin is the worst; O’Donnell and Angle are the dumbest.

The shorthand way to understand them all is this guy. He sought total control, which is the opposite of human liberty celebrated in Boston.++

Garden Wrapup, and I’ve Got Broccoli!

To harvest, you need a sharp knife.

The forecast low temperature for tomorrow night is 27º, so I was outside this afternoon doing the last harvesting of my garden – and lo and behold, I’ve finally got two heads of broccoli!

I couldn’t believe it, but they’re beautiful things. One is as big as you’d see in a store, one is smaller – and there’s a little bitty floret all on its own, cute as the dickens.

Took ’em long enough; I planted them months ago, and they didn’t seem to do anything. My cabbage never did form a head, and though I only planted it for decoraton, I yanked it out today and put it in the compost pile. But I have broccoli, plus three whole shopping bags full of produce.

I ended up with two dozen bell peppers, three dozen tomatoes (some green, but they’ll ripen indoors), a dozen or so onions (which didn’t grow as big as I’d hoped) and a whole huge mess of leeks.

I ran into my friend Jayne this evening at Murphy’s grocery, and she’s coming by tomorrow after school to get some leeks, peppers, fresh oregano and green tomatoes. I love her, but I’m not giving up my broccoli!

[Sidebar: Until now I’d have said I am “almost never” a selfish person. I know a lot of others like me, including my best friend Stephen; indeed, none of my friends is the least bit selfish. They’re kind, loving people, which is pretty much my criterion for who gets admitted into my circle of real friends. I have a lot of them.

[But when it comes to my own produce, I am both generous and self-interested. I’ve only got 2.1 heads of broccoli and dammit, them’s goin’ into my soup!

[So come to find out that regarding food, I am as greedy and protective as my dog Luke. He’s developed a habit lately at breakfast. He’ll go and look at his pellets, but he doesn’t start eating until I leave the kitchen and start opening up the blinds to let in the morning. At suppertime he’s entirely different; he knows that meat and veggies are his, and he races to dig in. But in the morning I have to prove that I’m not interested in his stuff.

[The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are very concerned about human selfishness; “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” That constant refrain and warning have never really made total sense to me; I was already brainwashed/in love with Jesus at a very young age, I got the message the first time. I’m a social worker, a Gay activist, a commissioned evangelist; I chose voluntary poverty when I was 14 and I’m glad I did. I also have the tremendous blessing I call the Shared Gay Personality™, which in my experience is wonderfully altruistic. But here I am guarding a dollar’s worth of broccoli. “That’s mine, dammit!”]

This evening I made my friend John’s recipe for potato-leek soup. It’s perfect in terms of technique, though naturally I tweaked it a bit. Mind you, as a smalltown Hoosier I’ve never eaten leeks before, much less grown them. First the recipe, plus my additions in parentheses, and then my reaction.

Puréeing is good, but leave some lumps in, I say.

John’s Potato-Leek Soup

5 leeks, sliced (mine were less than an inch in diameter)
1 onion, chopped coarsely
2 T oil (1 T butter, 1 T olive oil)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
14 oz can of chicken broth
4 C water
S&P to taste
(1 C whole milk)
(chopped parsley to taste)

Heat butter and oil; add leeks and onion and cook to opaque but not brown. Add broth, water and potatoes; bring to boil, then simmer 10-15 minutes until cooked through. Purée in blender (but only two-thirds; I want some lumps so you know I made this by hand). (Add milk, return to low heat; add parsley.) Serves 8 maybe.

The result? It’s very good and technically perfect, since you also get the flavor of the potato broth. And it’s very, very easy.

But the leeks are too mild for this to be as good a potato soup as you can make. For that you need onions, not leeks.

Mind you, I regard onions as a kitchen miracle; they add so much to so many things I cook. Stir-frys, meat loaf, spaghetti sauce, pot roast, omelets, pizza; when I’m chopping onions I know I’m cooking.

Yet I would never describe myself as an onion-lover, as if I can’t get enough of that taste. I use them in proportion, they’re seldom the stars in my cookery, any more than garlic is, another onion relative that adds depth and flavor.

But I guess I do love onions, and my Grandmother made a fabulous potato soup with them, better than this potato-and-leek version. Potato soup was one of the first dishes I mastered, when I was maybe 13.

Leeks are wonderful (and the leaves are so pretty), but so far to me they’re bland. Why would anyone eat this soup when they could eat Grandma’s?

Leeks are described as sweet and mild. But the pungency of an onion adds so much more flavor. Considering that potatoes themselves are bland, why add mild to bland? I did find out to add more black pepper than usual, a dozen twists on my little mill at least, when ordinarily I’m cautious with the peppercorns; I’m a Hoosier, we don’t do spicy food.

My big satisfaction this evening was, as it’s been all summer, growing some of my own food. And you can’t get fresher than just picked today. No fertilizer, no herbicides, just good old Indiana loam, some of the richest soil on earth.

This land is so fertile that my tomato plants bent their cages double. I’m used to the vines growing a yard tall and five feet wide, producing scores of fruits per plant, but this year they just went nuts. Tomatoes are my favorite food, but I let some of them rot on the vine after I’d put up all I thought I could use.

Still, as the season wanes, the last few tomatoes become ever dearer; when winter comes the ones for sale in the stores are pretty much worthless. So even though I had bags and bags of produce to clean and make decisions about, I had to eat one of my ripe tomatoes fresh over the sink with a salt shaker in my hand. You ain’t Hoosier till the tomato juice drips off your chin.

At season’s end I feel like I made great progress as a gardener this year; I had an actual vegetable garden for the first time, instead of my previous haphazard experiments. I cleared out and marked off a good large space with a southern exposure, instead of planting things in flowerbeds next to the house and seeing what worked. I grew several new species; it’s not good to just grow the same old things year after year. I had strawberries and broccoli and leeks, as well as the usual herbs, tomatoes and peppers. I tried new things; I don’t know why the cabbage didn’t work – or maybe I do.

Some people love to eat cabbage; I mostly like to look at it.

The biggest learnings come from failures, including that cabbage. I should have enclosed it, and the broccoli and peppers, in chickenwire to keep the rabbits out. I’m so unmechanical I don’t know how to build things, but I think next year I’ll try driving some sticks in the ground and wrapping plastic fencing around. This won’t entirely deter rabbits, who are happy to dig underground for free rabbit food, but it will slow them down and maybe give me a cabbage or two to look at. I have nothing against eating cabbage, it’s good for you, but I’m a single guy who can’t possibly eat the whole thing before it goes bad.

My other big failure was not watering the garden when I should have. From spring to midsummer we had plenty of rain here, but by mid-August we went into a mild drought, and I should have been faster on the uptake; tomatoes are nothing but sunshine and water. Instead of huge and perfect juicy fruits as I had in early summer, in time they started to split, which invites bugs and then it’s all over. A good gardener keeps track of the rain.

I am not a good gardener yet, but I’m getting there. Most of my strawberry plants survived, but a few of them died, probably because I neglected to water them. That’s okay; instead of planting the ever-bearing variety as I did this year, I’ll plant the spring-bearing “ohmygod it’s a strawberry festival” ones next year, and make jam with the surplus like I used to for my mother.

I doubt I plant leeks. I don’t dislike them but I wasn’t that impressed, and I think I’ll put down onions instead, and maybe some radishes again. Planting leeks as seedlings, which is how Murphy’s offers them, is a pain in the ass. They are tiny little things, 400 to a four-compartment plastic container, and I didn’t find any good advice online about how to deal with them; all the articles from state extension services discuss planting from seed only. I separated my seedlings as seemed best at the time, planting 20 or 30 of them in a hole instead of one by one, but what that gave me was a clump of 30 ingrown leeks. Why would I want 400, especially when they’re “sweet and mild?”

Nope, I want onions instead.

This year I tried out a new type of triangular tomato cage made of plastic, where you can put the crossbars where the plant needs them, instead of where the stamped-out wire happens to go. That plastic cage is the only one still standing; the wire ones I’ve had for some years proved worthless in this rich and juicy rivermuck. In very fertile soil it’s much better to build a modular structure as needed, knowing the vine’s going to grow five feet wide and spill all over everywhere if you don’t control it.

Tomatoes supported on a cage don’t get down in the dirt where they can be attacked by bugs. I’m tellin’ ya, I had a tomato jungle again this year. Leonardo thinks Guatemala’s wild; he should see what grows in my loam.

One last thing: a very old woman who’s an expert gardener lives four doors down at the end of my block. I’m told she’s a farmer’s wife who moved into town with her husband when they retired; that’s common here, because life in town is more convenient. When old age stops tying you to the land, you move to town.

I’ve never met her, a widow now, though I’ve seen her hobbling along on occasional walks, a little old lady in Reeboks. Her home, lawn and vegetable garden are impeccable. She already has her garden cleared for next year; has had for a couple of weeks.

Today I learned that there has to come a time when you say about a garden, “That’s it, I’m done for the year, this is the best I can do.” She gets a head start on next spring by preparing her land this fall. For the first time I emulated her today, as I finished my harvest and started ripping things out.

Every year she builds her own rabbit fence; does her weeding in the morning before it gets hot. Doubtless she measures the rain day by day and waters her garden as needed; it’s always lush. I envy her for knowing so much more than I do, and doing her work instead of getting lazy once the thrill of planting fades away. Anyone can get excited about growing things in the springtime; the key to a garden is regular maintenance.

I did a better job of weeding this year than ever before, and I cleared that land, marked it off and planted new species. My marigold terrace is still half-fabulous, at least until tomorrow night; I had chives and oregano and parsley and tomatoes and tarragon to beat the band. My impatiens and dill, lilies and peonies gave me enormous pleasure. I grilled out on the side porch all summer, and taught my dog to stay there with me.

But there’s no substitute for experience; for trying and failing, for learning by doing. Grow some leeks, see what they’re like; switch to onions next year if you like, or petunias or pumpkins. Keep the water steady and the weeds under control.

The rules are pretty basic but you have to pay attention.

I hope I get to meet Mrs. Voglund someday; maybe we’ll talk about leeks, and why onions are really much better. Maybe we’ll talk about controlling rabbits.

Maybe I’ll tell her how fabulous Grandma’s potato soup was; how she chopped and cooked everything by hand, and never puréed.++

The only image on the internet of a simple potato soup, without garnishes, toppings, machinery or fanciness.

Morning Prayer 10.24.10, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25

Painful news: Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary was severely damaged by fire Friday. Meanwhile in Sacramento, the offices of the Diocese of Northern California also caught fire, destroying a busy food bank next door. No injuries were reported in the blazes.

Give thanks to the Lord, and call upon his Name; make known his deeds among the peoples. Psalm 105:1


Lord, open our lips,
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.

Psalm 100

Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands;
serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.

Know this: The Lord himself is God;
he himself has made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

For the Lord is good;
his mercy is everlasting;
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

Psalm 63:1-8

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.

Psalm 98

Sing unto the LORD a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
Sing to the LORD with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those that dwell therein.
Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.
In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Ecclesiasticus 18:19-33 (NRSV)

The number of days in their life is great if they reach one hundred years. Like a drop of water from the sea and a grain of sand, so are a few years among the days of eternity. That is why the Lord is patient with them and pours out his mercy upon them. He sees and recognizes that their end is miserable; therefore he grants them forgiveness all the more. The compassion of human beings is for their neighbors, but the compassion of the Lord is for every living thing. He rebukes and trains and teaches them, and turns them back, as a shepherd his flock. He has compassion on those who accept his discipline and who are eager for his precepts.

My child, do not mix reproach with your good deeds, or spoil your gift by harsh words. Does not the dew give relief from the scorching heat? So a word is better than a gift. Indeed, does not a word surpass a good gift? Both are to be found in a gracious person. A fool is ungracious and abusive, and the gift of a grudging giver makes the eyes dim.

Before you speak, learn; and before you fall ill, take care of your health. Before judgment comes, examine yourself; and at the time of scrutiny you will find forgiveness. Before falling ill, humble yourself; and when you have sinned, repent. Let nothing hinder you from paying a vow promptly, and do not wait until death to be released from it. Before making a vow, prepare yourself; do not be like one who puts the Lord to the test. Think of his wrath on the day of death, and of the moment of vengeance when he turns away his face. In the time of plenty think of the time of hunger; in days of wealth think of poverty and need. From morning to evening conditions change; all things move swiftly before the Lord.

One who is wise is cautious in everything; when sin is all around, one guards against wrongdoing. Every intelligent person knows wisdom, and praises the one who finds her. Those who are skilled in words become wise themselves, and pour forth apt proverbs.

Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites. If you allow your soul to take pleasure in base desire, it will make you the laughingstock of your enemies. Do not revel in great luxury, or you may become impoverished by its expense. Do not become a beggar by feasting with borrowed money, when you have nothing in your purse.

A Song of the Wilderness
Isaiah 35:1-7, 10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, *
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
It shall blossom abundantly, *
and rejoice with joy and singing.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, *
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weary hands, *
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to the anxious, “Be strong, do not fear! *
Here is your God, coming with judgment to save you.”
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, *
and the ears of the deaf be unstopped.
Then shall the lame leap like a deer, *
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness *
and streams in the desert;
The burning sand shall become a pool *
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.
The ransomed of God shall return with singing, *
with everlasting joy upon their heads.
Joy and gladness shall be theirs, *
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Praise to the holy and undivided Trinity, one God: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 10:15-24 (NRSV)

I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.

Hymn: You are God
Te Deum laudamus

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord; we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not shun the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.


I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.


Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your Name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen.

Show us your mercy, O Lord;
And grant us your salvation.
Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
Let your people sing with joy.
Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
For only in you can we live in safety.
Lord, keep this nation under your care;
And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
Let your way be known upon earth;
Your saving health among all nations.
Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Create in us clean hearts, O God;
And sustain us by your Holy Spirit.

Collect of the Day: Proper 25

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for Sundays

O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Those We Love

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to your never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that you are doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for Mission

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

(Please offer your own prayers and supplications here.)

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen. 2 Corinthians 13:14++

New Art, New Computer, New Novel

Steve Tobin: River. It's 60 feet tall, made of glass.

I need to buy a new Macintosh. Some months ago my then-new Mac got fried in an electrical storm, and I got an insurance settlement (and a new surge protector). Up to now I’ve held up on buying the new Mac, making do with the older laptop I’m writing this on. But I’ll have to bite the bullet, because not having a new desktop unit is preventing me from completing my next novel.

In other words I’m being neurotic again. It’s very hard for me to spend $1100 on anything these days. My financial situation is very shaky and I feel a bit immobilized. It doesn’t help that my usual supplier MacMall has ripped me off in the past with rebate come-ons (though they’re prompt and accurate about shipping the main unit). I mean, rebates? All rebates are dishonest. Just give me the discount now, don’t make me mail something, wait and forget about the money you owe me.

(I once got a 23¢ rebate check, which promptly bounced and cost me $10 for depositing a bad check.)

There are other Mac resellers, of course, and I suppose I should go with the cheapest one. Still it takes a couple of leaps of faith, and I’ve been procrastinating.

But I’ve got to get this novel out; it’s pretty central to my identity, my mission, my vocation. The book’s about a Gay Christian marriage.

Gay marriage is a hot political issue, but this book goes farther than the headlines of the day, because it locates the relationship within a defined spiritual system (the Church) and a theology (mainstream Episcopalian).

One of my grooms is a nominal Methodist who goes to church weekly because “it’s a family thing; we go to church because, well, we always have.” Kent loves the Christmas holidays, but doesn’t think all that much about God or Jesus the rest of the year; he goes to church to see his cousins, aunts and uncles.

Jamie, the man he marries, doesn’t go to church as often, but thinks intensely about the fathersonandholyspirit. I hope you can see some conflict coming already!

This book, tentatively titled “The Centurion’s Boy” and available in blog form here, starts with a sex scene – or rather, it starts with a betrothal that leads to a sex scene.

This is because the book is a sequel to my 2001 novel “Murder at Willow Slough,” in which Jamie and Kent, a gorgeous young reporter and a hunky young cop, solve a serial murder and fall in love. “Slough” may be the first Gay novel ever written without a single sex scene. It does get steamy at points, but that book ends with declarations of love.

So it only makes sense that the next book should open with them tearing their clothes off. Even so, Jamie wants more than mere love, he wants commitment.

That’s why it’s a book about marriage; any marriage, Gay or Straight, Christian or atheist.

Jamie’s been married before, to a man who died young. (In some ways this tracks my own biography, but that was only a jumping-off point.)

Jamie’s the one who knows what marriage is. Kent just wants to get married because that’s what people do; his version of the normal family narrative.

Jamie has very little family, but Kent’s the center of a big, rich, even historic network of blood relatives.

Putting together two guys, two sets of expectations and two families is what the book is about – while also investigating another murder.

You can see already it’s a sprawling novel; that’s how I tend to write. I’ve got Civil War and Underground Railroad history in there, the whole thing could spin out of control if I let it – but I won’t.

In nearly every Gay male novel, the two protagonists are independent actors, footloose and fancy-free, living in a big glamorous city, having left behind their (homophobic) families in Costa Rica or South Africa or Utah.

I don’t blame those authors; real Gay life often happens just that way. But my characters are located in a particular place, smalltown Indiana, where one is very much involved with his relatives, who aren’t homophobic at all.

I like upending some of the usual conventions. I like that Kent is part of a big loving family for whom “church” is more habit than anything else.

And I like making him confront, through his lover, the reality of God. I think that’s a worthwhile thing to write about.

Meanwhile Jamie is stuck without a car, living in a giant old farmhouse that’s so historic it hasn’t been redone since it was built.

No matter how much today’s Gay people want to reinvent ourselves, we’re all tied to the families we grew up in, even if our relatives rejected us decades ago or we rejected them.

If your husband’s a family man, what can you do but join the family – and remake it according to your own understandings, needs and vision?

Do we have to reject all that came before us, including our religious background, because of idiotic things some profiteers of faith said and did on TV?

Do Gay Christians have boring sex lives, when the unofficial Gay religion is hedonism? Or does making a commitment and keeping it free up believers in surprising ways?

These are the questions I wrestle with. But I can’t come to any decision until I decide to buy a new Macintosh.

While I’ve sat here and stewed about this the past few months, my thoughts about Jamie and Kent have raced ahead. I’m constantly writing dialogue for them in my head, new scenes, disagreements, sexual episodes and religious ones too.

Jamie decides that if they have to live in the old family homestead, it’s got to be redone, even if that means criticism from the rest of the family. He’ll preserve the most historic features and not violate the spirit of the place, but everything else is up for grabs. He loves art, but the relatives never got past paint-by-number. They are Hoosiers, he respects that (and is one too), but since they’re rich it’s time to spend some money.

He’s also going to reform their sexual politics and replace the patriarchy all family relationships have been built on. Relatives who don’t like it can “blame the Gay guy,” which will leave Kent as popular as ever.

New generations have to renew the old ways of doing things; thesis, antithesis, synthesis. All while chasing after some bad guys.

The point of Jamie’s being religious isn’t so I can say, “This is how you’re supposed to be and do and believe,” but to illustrate which side God’s really on. It isn’t the side of the bogeymen who claim to speak for Christ on TV.

The fact that Kent and Jamie have a very sexual (and semi-kinky) relationship is also meant to make this point; God loves sexual love, that’s why s/he built it into our bodies. Gay or Straight, it’s all the same to her; what s/he cares about is the quality of the relationship – the faithfulness of it, which is a lot more than “who puts what in where.”

So these two guys set out to find ecstatic delight in each other.

All permanent, loving relationships are a new synthesis, even though as Tolstoy said, happy families are all alike. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…”

Steve Tobin’s art, which I’ve only recently discovered, makes me itchy to start writing again. Jamie’s going to fill that house with spectacular joy; that’s how he reflects the God of creative beauty, and how he loves his lover.++

Steve Tobin: Exploded Clay.

Life with Luke: One Great Year, One Fantastic Day

Luke on Day 2 at home.

One year ago I brought home a little 10-pound rat terrier/fox terrier mix from the wonderful Humane Society of Indianapolis and named him Luke.

He was three years old and had never had a home before. I could tell that he was shy around people, but that he had a good disposition, which in my limited experience is characteristic of the breed. But I didn’t know then what a great boy he was.

He wasn’t toilet-trained, so that became the first priority – and it took us quite awhile; I’d never trained a dog before. He was jealous of his food; I was the one who gave it to him, but he kept expecting me to steal it back.

Apparently he grew up on the streets, fending for himself. He wasn’t that friendly toward other dogs; I wouldn’t call him aggressive, but he’s certainly assertive, and he doesn’t care how big another dog is, Luke stands his ground.

He was good on a leash, though; I figure that was thanks to the Humane Society of Kokomo, where he was brought in after he was hit by a car. Kokomo patched him up, then transferred him to Indy for adoption.

When I got him he was used to living in a cage, being fed and treated nicely within the confines of life in a shelter. No doubt he felt the food supply was good, and he must have liked how the people treated him when it was his turn for some attention.

The day we met, he was stand-offish at first, but then he did take a chance on me, and I had no doubt from that moment that he was the one I was looking for.

Still, the first week he was here he trembled the whole time; it’s hard to get used to a new place and one primary human, especially one as ignorant as me. My family had a series of foxies when I was a kid, but I’ve never been the main caregiver before. I had to study all the training materials HSI gave me, and read a lot online. In a few days, instead of letting him sleep on a blanket in the dining room, I bought him a crate. That was a good move. He likes his house.

Still, his social development and even motor skills left a lot to be desired. He was afraid of stairs, and I live in a two-story house. He’s a little bitty guy, as you can imagine, but hardly the smallest of breeds; he could handle stairs physically, but he needed to learn. Then he got to where he’d run down, but not up!

He has made me laugh a lot this past year.

There are still things he can’t do; he has no interest in chasing a ball or wrestling over a tied-up sock; with him it’s either a squirrel or a rabbit, or no dice. He’s a hunter, though I don’t let him hunt. He doesn’t really know how to play, and maybe once they get a certain age you can’t teach them. I’ve never met a dog who wouldn’t go bounding after a tennis ball, but not this guy.

He’s learned a lot, though, this past year. One of the biggest lessons was Sit, but that only took a day or two. (Today when we visited the vet for his second annual physical, I saw him sit for the tech, then the doctor, which filled me with joy.)

He’s learned that at suppertime, he’s to sit quietly in the dining room while I get his food ready. I’ll be damned if I’m going to have a dog begging underfoot in my kitchen; I feed him canned food or some human food at night, which means I’m moving around, rinsing off utensils and putting them in the dishwasher, and he’s to sit and wait out of the way.

Considering that this is food, he doesn’t mind one bit.

But oh, the instant I’m done with the prep, he comes and sits on the little rug by the sink, still out of the way. We have a routine for this; he knows he’s not to move until I put the leftovers in the fridge. Once I pick up his dish, he used to try to follow me, but again that only took one time of being told to Sit for him to get the message. (I still reinforce it occasionally and pretend to give him the evil eye, with his dish in midair. He doesn’t move a muscle.)

Once he hears me set the dish down, though, on the other side of the breakfast island out of his sight, then he’s free to move. The first few times this meant we were getting our legs crossed up, and he quickly corrected that on his own; he politely waits for me to exit that little cramped corner – then he eats.

He never barks in the house, seldom whines (and only for a second) and isn’t as manipulative as some dogs are. Nor do I have to bribe him all the time; he gets treats, not bribes. He’s got his moves and isn’t a saint, but he knows who the alpha male is here and seems perfectly happy being #2. When my friend Bob visited a couple of weeks ago, Luke was even happier being #3.

That was a very good step forward in his socialization. Thank you, Uncle Bob.

Luke hasn’t “made a mistake in the house” in six months, and now we’re working on more freedom.

Every change in his routine is momentarily confusing to him, but he’s still young and flexible, and he thinks.

I’ve taught him one game: how we do Treats after our midnight walk around the perimeter.

1. He sits motionless on the kitchen rug by the sink.
2. I get out his treat, break it into pieces depending on the brand, put the extra piece in my pocket and keep one in my hand, then sit on the kitchen steps opposite the sink while he doesn’t move.
3. I show him the treat. I hide which hand it’s in, then put it on one knee and cover them both with my hands. Which side’s got it, Luke? (This is easy, I only have two knees.)
4. I count to three: “One. Two. Three.” But this is not sufficient, he doesn’t have permission to come yet; only when I lift up both hands is he allowed to race over.

I almost always lift up my hands at the count of three, but if not, he stays put. What he’s learned is One, Two, Three and Hands Up.

He grabs his treat, races back to the rug (where food jealousy is allowed), he chews – and sits back down for the rest of the pieces and the Game again.

I don’t know which of us is entertained more, him or me.

We might have a little petting afterward, then since it’s midnight and time for bed, I wave my hand and he runs back to his little house in the living room and curls up on a football blanket. I lock him in for the night and he has doggy dreams.

TODAY we had a fantastic day. All week I’ve been re-familiarizing him with Car Ride; to him it’s a big jump from the garage floor to the back seat, but he can do it. Today it was time to go see Dr. Kay again.

I knew from last year how good she and her staff are, but in October 2009 he peed 3-4 times; not this year. I rejoiced; he’s generalized the learning, no marking up indoors!

He got a blood test, shots, sat nicely around these new people he’s only seen once a year ago, didn’t bark and only trembled a little when we put him on the examination table. The doctor and staff of course are experts in loving care, they reinforce but don’t bribe, and he did great. He’s gained a pound and a half, but is still a lean little guy like a ratboy should be. Best of all the doctor spent 30 minutes with us, so I got to tell her all his progress, what his issues still are, and when we talked about his two runaway episodes, which were minor but worrisome the first time, that he doesn’t always come on command if I take a chance and let him loose, she found me some info about a dog park 45 miles away where he can run safely. Terriers need to run, and though I take him for regular walks on his leash, I want him to run freely and safely. I occasionally go to the city where the dog park’s located, and she also had an idea about the county fairgrounds, which are much closer.

All in all I felt she listened carefully to our story together for the past year, provided guidance and resources, and gave us both a great experience. Then he got a bath and a pedicure, like going to the doggy day spa!

Still, with this dog I worry about overstimulation, and when I got him home, instead of returning to his regular programming (outside in the sun on a longish tether), he wanted to go inside for a nap.

I fed him early, took him back out for an hour’s tether time in the sun, and as the day began to close I got his leash for our sunset walk around the neighborhood – where for the first time he did not come at the sound of the back door opening, nor when I called him. I went to fetch him and found two strangers plus a dog in my yard. No wonder he was yapping!

They were a grandma, a 12-year-old girl and an ugly little pugdog that Luke was being his usual assertive self with; not aggressive, but a little worrisome to me because I don’t want him in fights. Who were these people thinking they could come on my property? This is a small town, we don’t do that here. And he’d already had quite a day.

The grandma and the girl were very nice, and both aware that they were on my property with a foreign dog and apologizing, but we talked, I reassured them and kept an eye on Luke with the pugdog. They’d nose each other, then defend themselves with barking and growling, then quiet down and sniff each other’s butts before starting on another round of noisiness. (The smart little girl, who said she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up, said she couldn’t understand why dogs would want to sniff each other’s butts. I did not tell her why.)

It turns out grandma and little girl and pugdog often visit Luke in my yard, “because he always looks so lonely” on his tether. I didn’t take offense at that; he likes being outside and I give him plenty of attention. But this meant Luke and the pug weren’t confronting each other for the first time, and these okay humans were dogpeople. I still didn’t like how Luke was acting, which didn’t look happy to me, but grandma said, “Oh, he’s very friendly, always wags his tail, these two like each other.” I was fairly amazed.

Maybe I’ve misinterpreted Luke’s behavior when we’ve encountered other dogs; he’s always seemed to me on the verge of fighting, but here was grandma saying no, this is great.

It’s been a year of learning for me too.

After another few pleasant minutes, I put Luke on his leash and, after checking with grandma, we headed off in the opposite direction for our sunset walk. Everything was back to normal, just Josh and his buddy making our rounds in the village, stopping every 20 feet to sniff someone else’s scent or leave some.

Maybe I’ve just been a worrywart; it’s an adult’s job to worry about the kid. It’s taken him all year to warm up to people, and he still doesn’t like strangers to pet him; I saw that again with the little girl. Let him approach you.

But he was good with Bob, and he truly is starting to generalize his lessons as he needs to (didn’t pee at the vet’s this year), and the girl said he licked her hand once. When Bob was here, Luke even licked Mike the carpenter’s hand, after raising holy hell for “invading our space” like I hired him to.

Today was the first day, after a year of living here, that Luke licked my face.

That, and his five-star healthy reports from Dr. Kay, made it a fantastic day.

I freely admit, I’ve had a lot to learn this past year, and I’m not done yet.

But even a death row inmate can’t be all bad, if a dog’s willing to lick his face.++

Luke's face, with its little vanilla drip from his forehead to his nose.

“Inside Job”: They Got Away with It. And Obama Let Them.

A.O. Scott of The New York Times is out with a review of “Inside Job,” a documentary by Charles Ferguson of the Wall Street Meltdown of 2008. I’m going to quote from Scott’s review; you can read it all here.

Two years ago at this time, a month before the presidential election, my friends and I were wondering if we’d all lose our homes and end up sleeping in tents in the woods. (I’d head for the Iroquois River a few miles from my house, because the fairgrounds are public land.) People were buying guns and ammo, and I asked, “Will everyone have to have a gun?”

I’ve only fired a shotgun once in my life, and that was plenty. It had more kick than the Indianapolis Colts. I hate guns, but there I was, asking if the chaos to come would mean total lawlessness, a complete breakdown of society.

That did not come to pass. I credit the bank bailout known as TARP passed two years ago this week by Congress under President Bush.

Senator Barack Obama supported it; Senator John McCain “suspended his campaign” for President, then sat on the sidelines because he really had nothing to do with it. It took two tries in Congress before the bill went through.

It was of course the most politically unpalatable piece of legislative garbage any politician has ever swallowed. But we needed it to prevent a rerun of the Great Depression. Other countries also bailed out their banks, some were nationalized, some were sold for pennies on the dollar, and the whole world squeaked through.

Sen. Obama was elected President a month later, and then made the worst mistakes of his life, more disastrous than Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Obama will be entirely to blame for whatever losses Democrats suffer in the upcoming election.

Why? He let the crooks get away with it.

In doing so he followed standard political advice; but never were political advisers more wrong than the same folks – Axelrod, Plouffe, Emanuel – who carried out the most brilliant political campaign in history.

I don’t want to punish the current president; I like him as a man. But gee whiz, how dumb can you get?

The standard political advice for an incoming administration is “turn the page.” Don’t go after George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, or you’ll have nothing but political warfare.

I agree with that, even though I hated every minute of Bush-Cheney; holding them accountable under the law would have led immediately to political gridlock.

So what do we have now? Political gridlock.

I agreed, very reluctantly, with Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, even though by rights he should have died in prison.

You simply cannot put an elected President of the United States in prison. You just can’t, no matter how much he may have trampled on the Constitution. An elected President has a democratic mandate no court but the elected Senate can remove. When Democrats didn’t impeach Bush and Cheney in 2007, it was Game Over. (That was Nancy Pelosi’s bad advice. Someone should have told her Bush’s illegal war is not Clinton’s blowjob. But she was scared of the media and more gridlock.)

There’s a big difference between indicting Dumb and Dumber, and indicting people who were never elected to anything but a cushy job at Goldman Sachs.

Obama should have sent U.S. Marshals to Wall Street to round them all up. If he’d done that, Democrats would win 80 more seats in the House next month. He’d be the most popular president ever.

Instead he leaves us with this mess.

Joe Biden can whine all he wants to about “whining liberals,” but I have no sympathy. Obama lost the liberals and the moderates because of his own stupid decisions.

He let Wall Street get away with it, while millions of people have lost their homes, their jobs and their retirement savings.

From A.O. Scott’s review:

As I was watching “Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson’s meticulous and infuriating documentary about the causes and consequences of the financial crisis of 2008, an odd, archaic sentence kept popping into my head. The words come from the second chapter of “The Scarlet Letter” and are spoken in frustration and disgust by an old Puritan woman who watches Hester Prynne, publicly disgraced but without any sign of remorse, making her way from Salem’s prison to a scaffold in its market square. She “has brought shame upon us all …” the anonymous woman remarks. “Is there not law for it?”

“Inside Job,” a sleek, briskly paced film whose title suggests a heist movie, is the story of a crime without punishment, of an outrage that has so far largely escaped legal sanction and societal stigma. The betrayal of public trust and collective values that Mr. Ferguson chronicles was far more brazen and damaging than the adultery in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, which treated Hester more as scapegoat than villain.

The gist of this movie, which begins in a mood of calm reflection and grows angrier and more incredulous as it goes on, is unmistakably punitive. The density of information and the complexity of the subject matter make “Inside Job” feel like a classroom lecture at times, but by the end Mr. Ferguson has summoned the scourging moral force of a pulpit-shaking sermon. That he delivers it with rigor, restraint and good humor makes his case all the more devastating.

Two years ago while I was wondering if I’d lose my house, my car and all my savings, I couldn’t help but remember that “the last time this happened,” (not true; it was 1920), somebody bombed J.P. Morgan’s headquarters at 23 Wall Street, injuring 400 and killing 38.

I don’t want anyone hurt, but why, I wondered, was public rage not directed at Wall Street’s self-described “geniuses” who nearly brought down the entire world financial system?

No arrests, no indictments, no nothing. Just complaints from Wall Street wives that they couldn’t be seen tramping around with bags from Tiffany’s and Bergdorf’s without getting nasty looks. Poor babies!

A.O. Scott in The Times wonders why so little rage has been directed at the Wall Street titans. Yes, there were a few chartered buses to scout out their mansions in Westchester, but nothing came of that. He writes about the movie:

This call to arms makes you wonder why anger of the kind so eloquently expressed in “Inside Job” has been so inchoate.

It’s a good observation, but it’s easy enough to answer; when the Hopey-Changey Democratic President doesn’t complain about Wall Street’s crimes and abuses, much less lead a raid on all their headquarters, what’s an ordinary person to do?

When Obama didn’t say anything, neither did the most prominent members of Congress. I guess they were expecting him to lead or somethin’.

Meanwhile there were Axelrod, Emanuel and Plouffe saying, “Turn the page. Work on your own agenda. Let bygones be bygones, get some watered-down bills passed.”

They squandered the greatest political advantage since the LBJ landslide of 1964.

So I have no sympathy for them. They made the worst imaginable miscalculation, by conflating Bad Elected Officials (Bush, Cheney et al.) with Bad Boys on Wall Street.

After all, Obama got a lot of help from Wall Street; for the first time that I can remember, the Democratic candidate got more donations from financiers than the Republican. Wall Street knows what a winner looks like; did they buy him off?

No, I don’t think so, though there’s no doubt their contributions were part of the calculus. I think Obama appointed Wall Streeters to the Treasury and the Fed because… “that’s where all the experts are.” Politicians always appoint insider-experts, right?

It’s one more example of the horrible advice this President has acted on. He isn’t nearly the “think-outside-the-box” intellectual he was portrayed as.

Meanwhile Lou Dobbs (remember him?) was excoriating Mexican immigrants as scapegoats (and Gay people are always available if that doesn’t work), Rush Limbaugh gave the Republicans their talking points and Fox “News” amplified and repeated them. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell decided to obstruct everything Obama tried to do (which was smart politics, but horrible governance), and the President ended up looking like an emasculated jerk, when he was such a stud candidate.

And there’s poor Joe Biden, telling all the Democrats this is all their fault. It’s halfway comical, but this is my country at stake!

• Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: still in place.
• Guantanamo: still open.
• Iraq War: still dying.
• Afghanistan: worse than ever.
• Jobs: sorry, not hiring.

And we’re all supposed to be thrilled because some time after I’m dead, Americans will finally get a small version of health care as a human right?

It’s your own damn fault, Barack; you blew it.

I guess you missed that lecture in PoliSci 102, which is also conventional wisdom: the pollsters and strategists who helped you get elected don’t know the first thing about running a government.

You’re the one who’s supposed to know – but you don’t.++

Bring back this guy, former Fed chairman Paul Volcker; he's the only one who makes any sense.

Everybody’s Favorite Vegetable

There are people who don’t like sweet corn; I think they’re nuts, but there’s no accounting for taste.

There are people who don’t like tomatoes; I encourage them in their hatred, because that leaves more ‘maters for me.

There are people who do like Brussels sprouts; I contend there is nothing you can do to them to make them edible.

But there’s no one I know who doesn’t like green beans. People who never eat vegetables at all eat green beans. They’re abundant, inexpensive, they taste good and yes, they’re good for you (vitamin C, beta carotene, fiber).

Up to now I’ve had three or four ways to prepare them, but as of last night, I now have another method.

Man, are they good in a stir-fry!

I’ve been on a stir-fry kick for over a week now. Bob, Marcia and Ote were here last week; Bob’s an Episcopal priest, Marcia’s a Presbyterian minister and my spiritual director. Ote (short for Otis; pronounced Oatey) is Marcia’s hubby and maybe the most interesting of all of us. I invited everyone for a house Mass, followed by an agapé meal as the early Church used to do it.

It was very important to me, with these two clergy here, that we celebrate the Eucharist. I don’t get to go to it often enough, and one should always take advantage of the chance; plus this was a way for me to recognize Marcia’s ordination – her right to celebrate. That’s a real breakthrough for me theologically; I’ve never known a Presbyterian before, and my tendency is to consider Communion said by someone outside the Apostolic Succession as of doubtful validity. If I were present at a Presbyterian service and they said, “Take, eat,” I would, but I wouldn’t be sure what I was eating.

But it’s been nearly two years since I’ve been working with Marcia; she’s been a godsend, and I’m really clear that we are sister and brother in the faith. With Bob here concelebrating with her, there couldn’t be any doubt about the validity of the sacrament, and I wanted Marcia front and center.

It turned out great, and I was very, very pleased – spiritually happy, even though we were all so busy doing our parts and trying to follow the rubrics, which Marcia and Ote had never dealt with before, that the service was probably a little out of focus.

But no matter; we know what we did, and it meant a lot to all of us. Episcopal mass, celebrated right at my house, maybe the first time it’s ever been said in town history!

We got through it, then it was time to feed the hungry people, and for that I was ready with the stir-fry, which is all preparation and chopping beforehand, then the food’s done in ten minutes. (Bob did most of the chopping, then while I was cooking, they all stayed in the dining room and I missed out on the entire conversation! That’s never happened before; usually people congregate in my kitchen, since I have seating there. Next time I’ll say, “Won’t you bring your glasses into the kitchen so we can be together?”)

I made my standard chicken cashew, which they all raved about; Ote had three helpings and Bob had two. Ote’s a marathoner and I was glad to see him eat.

I may have written about this recipe before; I’ll reproduce it in a minute, but meanwhile here’s the news. Bob stayed another day and a half; the next night at his suggestion we did something different with the chicken breasts, grilled them outdoors with my scandalously simple lemon juice and Worcestershire marinade. He kind of hacked away at making twice-baked potatoes but they turned out good and we had a fine conversation. He left early the next morning, and when I got up (at 8:30, I’ll have you know), I couldn’t wait to eat the leftover stir-fry.

I never wake up with food on the brain, but I did that day. I ate those leftovers for the rest of the week, and then I made the whole dish again slightly differently.

That’s when I discovered how fabulous green beans are when you stir-fry them. I didn’t include them the first time around.

Until last night, these were my ways of making green beans: boil them frozen out of a poly bag and add some butter; steam them 5-8 minutes with fresh rosemary; simmer the crap out of them for an hour with some bacon (Southren Indiana Style); or cook them the standard way and throw them in with sauteéd mushrooms, a can of soup and French-fried onions, also out of a can, in Thanksgiving Cliché #1. They’re popular because they’re good.

But oh, honey, stir-fried, them babies is fabulous!

The key to stir-frying, of course, is using high heat and not overcooking anything, so veggies still have all their color and the crunch.

I would never eat a raw carrot; I just don’t like the taste. But two or three minutes in my wok, with some onion, red pepper, celery, mushrooms and whatever else I’ve got, and carrots are definitely in business.

But I never tried green beans before last night; not Chinese, any more than I am.

But when we imagine how Chinese mothers came to develop their national and regional cuisines, we can certainly visualize a cook surveying what she’s got, using rice as a staple protein, figuring out how to make a little bit of meat go a long way, then seasoning everything so the poor kids don’t know any better.

It’s an old culture and they’re brilliant about their food.

I think from now on, when I need to make a vegetable side dish, whatever it’s going with, I’ll probably just stir-fry whatever’s in my crisper. The sauce in the recipe below works with everything.

(With a roast, throw your vegetables in a pan, drizzle with olive oil, stick in the oven with the meat and forget about it.)

Josh’s Chicken Cashew

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 C rice, 2 C water, 1 T butter, 1 t salt
1-2 stalks celery, sliced diagnoally
1-2 carrots, the same
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
1/2 can water chestnuts, sliced
1 large onion, sliced haphazardly
1 head of broccoli, cut in florets OR
1/2 head of bok choy, chopped rough
2 T sesame oil (tolerates high heat)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/3 C roasted cashews
1/3 C chicken broth
1 T cornstarch
2 1/2 T soy sauce
1/2 t hot sauce, or more to taste
1 1/2 t fresh chopped gingerroot
(or 1/2 t ground ginger)
2 scallions, white part sliced, tops julienned

Cook rice. Chop vegetables. Chop chicken bite-sized. Heat wok to medium-high; add 1 T sesame oil and cover sides. In covered jar, mix broth, cornstarch, soy sauce and hot sauce; shake well.

Stir-fry chicken until cooked through, 5-7 minutes; remove and keep warm. Re-oil wok and let it heat up. Stir-fry veggies 3-5 minutes, just past raw. Add brown sauce and stir to thicken. Return chicken to wok, add cashews and heat through. Serve over rice; garnish with scallion.

With Ote, Marcia and Bob, I did something unusual for me; I spread the rice on a platter and served family-style; this keeps the rice hotter than using separate bowls. They ate it up.

And the best moment of the night: Ote reaching for more. Then Bob. Then Ote. Then Bob, just a little more. When you put the food in front of people they get themselves some more.

I think the next time I serve Joshua’s Patented Spaghetti, it’s also going to be family-style, one platter, not separate plates I bring in from the kitchen. We are not a restaurant.

A week ago Monday, when we had our Mass, we were family.++