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Home Parish: Full House for Easter 2010

St. John's, Lafayette, Indiana, built in 1858. Nice view of the stoplights.

I did something fairly miraculous yesterday to finish up Lent and start celebrating Easter; I got up and went to church, 50 miles away on the other side of the international date line. (Actually, it’s just a time zone, Central to Eastern, but that invisible line makes it feel like the other one.)

I got up at 7 to make it to church at 10:15. It wasn’t too difficult, but since it takes three hours of prep time I don’t do it often.

I got there with a few minutes to spare and had to park farther away than usual, almost two blocks. I wasn’t surprised; we’re across the street from a big Methodist church and right next door to a big Disciples one. I stepped inside our door; the nave was pretty full and more people were coming. I stepped over a few folks and took a spot. Michael, the music director, had already started the organ prelude.

Soon we were singing “Jesus Christ Is Ris’n Today,” ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-lu-oo-yah. It’s one of my favorites, and also the one I picked for my Daily Office website (which is here). Besides the organ we had a brass quartet blasting away from a corner up front.

This was the third service of Easter, if you count the Vigil Saturday night at our student parish on the West Side (and you should). So having a full house was a pretty good deal, even if some of us came out like I did partly because of that brass band. The Final Four was on that night, Butler vs. Michigan State, and I wasn’t thinking holy thoughts, I was yelling and clapping for Butler. (They won!)

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat that far back in my parish church; I got a better look than I’ve had in years at the oldest stained glass window on the east side, which kind of stands out like a sore thumb, greens and golds, a plain Victorian angel, while all the others are blue, red and white, much more beautiful to my eye. The red and gold Resurrection window on the opposite side makes a good visual transition perhaps for the better windows toward the altar. It’s a fairly Protestant building (and parish); up front, behind the altar, is a Caucasian Jesus window flanked by Eucharistic side lights. At any rate, it’s home.

The priest for youth and young adult ministries celebrated; she sang well and I’m getting used to her. The first time I heard her sing was an unfortunately jarring experience for me, for no better reason than I grew up there and had never experienced a woman at the altar, though I’ve happily worshiped with female celebrants dozens of times elsewhere. That discombobulation taught me that I, too, have trouble with change at home, though I actively try to cause it for everyone else. Silly! I was glad I could just relax and enjoy it all.

The processional crosses were decorated with flowers, and I wanted to tell the acolytes, “Do you know that 40 years ago I did the same thing you’re doing?” Fortunately I did not give in to the impulse; whatever would they have said in reply? I was happy to see the old tools still in use.

One of the pews up front has been cut in half to accomodate wheelchairs and a piano; they did a nice job of sawing and refinishing. A few panels by the ceiling have been painted blue and edged with gilt; they look nice. An old familiar water spot above the chancel has been repaired, and the wooden beams now have tension cables to hold them in place to relieve pressure on the walls.

All these are the rector’s doing; so, for that matter, is the full house. (Doubtless the youth and young adult minister has a lot to do with it too, but he hired her.) I’m very grateful, after all The Church has been through these last few decades, to find St. John’s a viable, vibrant parish. I bet we had 30 kids on the Easter egg hunt after mass; I wonder how he did all this, considering that I don’t much care for the man.

I won’t trouble you with why, but he’s done me wrong a time or two, so when I return infrequently to the old home place I’ve always got a mixed feeling.

He preached today, a bit more rambling than usual, longer probably than most people wanted; but that’s Fr. Ed doing his thing. I usually enjoy his sermons, which are always extemporaneous but well prepared. So what if he doesn’t know when to quit? Such things happen in family life and you learn to not sweat the small stuff.

With the big stuff he’s done very well. The church is full, the physical plant (though always needing more) is sound and far more usable than when I was a kid, and the parish is healthy. What more can you ask of a priest?

I’ll be glad when he retires in a year or two (he’s been here almost 25), but I have to admit we are forward looking and that is great news.

The demographic changes in the congregation are subtle but noticeable. We have a few more people of color now; didn’t used to have any. The rich, reactionary snobs have either died or taken their old money somewhere else. We’re more professional class than anything else, and people with less money seem comfortable in their shoes.

People don’t dress up like they used to; children are indulged more and do not get told to sit up straight and pay attention. Certain minor rituals are less observed than before, but there’s also less conformity. I didn’t see any Gay couples this time but we’ve got some. St. John’s is chugging along, not speeding anywhere but not standing still.

The food pantry Ervin Faulkenberry started is still going strong. Thanks be to God and Fr. Ed.

Entrance for the St. John's/LUM food pantry.

We sang good hymns, and I was in decent voice. That’s important to me; I love singing the old stuff. We even closed with an Easter hymn you never hear anymore, “The Strife Is O’er” (Victory), which some people probably think is too militaristic now. But we used to sing it back in the good ol’ daze, and I loved hearing it again. We didn’t have to sing “Hail Thee, Festival Day!” or “Welcome, Happy Morning!” for me to feel at home.

We even got some modified Anglican chant (choir and congregational refrain) for the psalm. I mean, what’s not to like when you’re my age?

I made it through Lent, kept my discipline up, communed with Body and Blood, visited my mother’s spot in the burial garden (which had a plastic Easter egg on top) and ran my finger over her name on the plaque. Then out came a gaggle of kids with baskets and mister, get out the way!

It was a happy morning; everyone was there, even me.


On my way home I stopped at the Marsh supermarket in West Lafayette and bought two lamb chops and some sugar snap peas. I’d planned to bake a ham for Easter until I saw the lamb, which I’d much rather have with its Christian overtones. In lieu of hot-cross buns I bought a glazed doughnut and a chocolate Bismarck; enough with the fast already.

The sugar snaps package suggested eating them raw with guacamole, which I happened to have, so I tried it; delicious! The fresh ones don’t need to be cooked at all. But I did buy them as a side dish, so I looked online for recipes. One said to boil them for 10 minutes; why so long, if they’re great uncooked? Another suggested stir-frying for two minutes, and that made more sense to me. I marinated my chops, broiled them and used a little leftover marinade for the stir-fry. Welcome happy evening!

My marinade’s pretty simple; EVOO, lemon juice, oregano, parsley, rosemary, curry powder, S&P. I’ve got plenty of dried oregano from last year’s garden, but wait—I’ve got gorgeous fresh herb growing ten feet away! So out I went with my handy scissors, snip snip. (The rosemary is coming back too but it’s not as far along.) The chops were almost as good as when I grilled some outdoors when Peter and Scott were here last June.

Now, tonight in about five hours, the Butler Bulldogs of Indianapolis will take on the Duke Blue Devils for the National Championship in college basketball. My school Purdue didn’t make it all the way, but another great Indiana school did. I am trying not to pray for Butler to win it, because every Episcopalian knows that God does not care about sports. But now is as good a time as any for the Mighty One to take another whack at a bunch of devils in blue. I mean, punking devils is probably God’s idea of a really fun game.++

Two of these guys are Academic All-Americans.

It’s Pansy Time!

Today, March 31, is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 83.

This is also Wednesday in Holy Week. Some years her birthday fell on Easter Sunday. (Some years my birthday is the Day of Pentecost.)

But today is also the day I planted tomatoes—far earlier than ever before.

The rule of thumb with tomatoes is that the safest time to plant is after the last possibility of frost has passed. Around here, that’s approximately Mother’s Day, the 2nd Sunday in May.

Pansies can be planted as soon as they appear in stores; they like cold weather. So mine are now in. I bought yellow ones this year for my planters on the front porch. I usually mix colors but not this year.

I fantasize that tomorrow the mailman will come by and think, “Well, he’s got his pansies in.” I imagine this every year, because I get such a kick out of planting my annual flowers. I want someone to notice them!

The lady across the street has a nice window box. I used to admire and envy it, until I realized she sticks in plastic flowers and calls it a day. No watering that way, I guess.

While I’m excited about the pansies, I’m really psyched about the tomatoes. They’re my favorite food, and nothing tastes better than a homegrown tomato. The ideal way to eat them is out in the garden with a salt shaker, and juice running down your chin.

I may lose this crop; there’s a reason the experts say to wait. When I bought this house six years ago in May and planted my first tomatoes, my friend Mark came down from Chicago to help with a couple of tasks, and told me he’d lost his tomato plants a few days earlier. Frost got them, of course. “What’s up with that?” he asked.

I was so eager to learn how to grow a tomato that I let my mind get spooked by what happened to his. So for the past five years I’ve faithfully waited until all danger was past.

I have now repealed that law, for several reasons. First, the eight plants I stuck in the ground today cost me all of $2.78. If I have to replace them I won’t go bankrupt, so it’s time I got over my anxiety. Second, last year’s experience was not good. We had a cool, wet summer and the tomatoes took forever to ripen; I didn’t get any till August, and mine were earlier than some of my neighbors’.

Third, my pal Peter visited me in May last year, and helped stake up my plants. I felt terrible about it, because I started later than normal; he’s from Amsterdam, and I would so have liked to be able to feed him some of my own produce. God knows he’s heard me rave about my tomatoes this whole time. But there we were, trying to coax along a few forlorn-looking plants that he wouldn’t have a chance to enjoy unless he stayed all summer. He did get to eat some local sweet corn, and marveled that here in the exotic Midwest, we actually eat it off the cob! He probably included this bizarre factoid when he inflicted his Travels in America slide show on his parents once he got home. “What’s next,” they must have wondered, “do they wear grass skirts?”

The bottom line for me is this. As soon as Murphy’s has plants for sale, buy them and stick them in the ground. I may lose a few but so what; God made more. The gardening industry knows when to put plants on sale for a particular market; doubtless Wal-Mart has elaborate data on when to offer what at all ten gazillion stores.

Since I am going to spend every day this spring and summer checking to see if I’ve got a tomato yet, I want my juicies sooner, not later. (I’m not sophisticated enough to do grow-lights in the basement, the way the hardcore tomato people do. And I can’t afford to build a greenhouse off the kitchen.)

It was 78º today in Chicago; we may have hit 80 here, the ideal temperature for planting. Yes, it will get colder, but I’ll keep my eye peeled for frost warnings and buy a newspaper to cover up my crop. It’s worth the risk.

Tomatoes are one of the best foods a person can eat. Here are some nutrition facts from learninginfo.org.

The tomato not only thrills the taste buds and brightens the dinner table, it also helps fight disease.

A review of 72 different studies showed consistently that the more tomatoes and tomato products people eat, the lower their risks of many different kinds of cancer. The secret may lie in lycopene, the chemical that makes tomatoes red, said Dr. Edward Giovannucci, Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among the studies he reviewed, 57 showed that the more tomatoes one ate, the lower the risk of cancer. “The evidence for benefit was strongest for cancers of the prostate, lung, and stomach,” he reported.

Processed tomatoes (e.g. canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup) contain even more lycopene because cooking breaks down cell walls, releasing and concentrating carotenoids. Eating tomatoes with a small amount of fat enables lycopene to be better absorbed.

Even though eight plants is a lot for one person, there’s no such thing as too many tomatoes. I freeze them, I can them, I give them away; I can even sell my surplus back to Murphy’s. I could start my own farmer’s market!

My chives are coming back; I’ve harvested some already. The oregano is growing, too. Last week I planted onion sets as soon as I saw them at the grocery store. (Then I had to contend with my dog Luke, who naturally assumed that where I get to dig, he gets to dig too.)

My tulips, including some from Peter, are about 8 inches high; the crocuses are in bloom. The lilac bush is leafing out and will bloom in May. A few of the irises have sprouted, but they did very badly last year and I may have to replace them. The daylilies have new shoots. So far I can’t see any activity among the hostas, nor anything from the lilies-of-the-valley I planted last fall under the maple tree. But everything is coming along as it should; God, do I love spring.

And I haven’t even mentioned that the Butler Bulldogs are in the Final Four!

Butler's regional championship last week.

You know what I’m going to be doing Saturday, and it’s not thinking religious thoughts. The Easter Vigil begins at 6pm my time, but Butler tips off against Michigan State at 5:07. I’ll be going to church, all right, but not at Good Shepherd. Mass can wait until Sunday when there isn’t any basketball. I mean, first things first.++

Coach Brad Stevens of Butler.