October 21, 2009

Important Books

I was listening to a radio show about books that changed people’s lives. The interviews were funny, profound, moving, and interesting. It made me wonder whether there was a book that had changed my own life. I’m not sure I could name one but there are three books that have somehow have stayed with me from childhood.

One is a book I first heard when my mother read it to her fourth grade classroom after lunch. It was a small school with one teacher per grade so I was in her class, that year and the next in a different school. Every day, she read to us. Some of the kids listened, some put their heads down on the hard wooden desks and had a nap, some probably daydreamed about being somewhere other than school with its smell of banana oil, chalk dust, and warm sweaty children. But I listened to the stories. One of the books she read to us was On to Oregon by Honore Morrow. It is the story of a 12 or 13 year old boy and his family who set out to travel cross-country in a covered wagon. I can’t remember now if they were part of a wagon train or not, but at some point they ended up traveling alone, and both parents died. The boy, John, got his brothers and sisters over the mountains and finally to Oregon. It was a story of hardship and heroism, of stunning self-sufficiency. And I loved it.

The second book was one I read myself: The Boxcar Children. I don’t remember much about the specifics, except that a group of orphaned children basically lived on their own in an abandoned boxcar, foraging for food, furnishing the place, and supporting themselves. They made a home in the boxcar, cooked their food, and stayed together. It is the kind of thing that was perhaps plausible in the 1920s or 1930s when the book was written but certainly not now. I was fascinated by their self-reliance, their ability to function in a world with no adults. The story is kind of a precursor to Charlie Brown, where the children are the major characters and the adults are shadowy figures whose unintelligible words float over the children's heads while they live their own full and wonderful world with its own woes and drama.

The last book was one I kept checked out of the county library for weeks at a time. Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather (which I remember as Mrs. Ticklefeather and Puffin Paul) was a most unlikely book to catch the fancy of a child growing up on a farm. The lead character was “a very thin old lady with a good sized feather in her hat” who lived in a high-rise apartment – something I had never seen in my whole life. She had been married (Mrs.) but there was no Mr. Ticklefeather. Instead, she lived with a puffin – another thing I had never seen. “Mrs. Ticklefeather and Paul were very fond of each other.” And she was also very fond of sunflowers. So one day Paul set out to get her a sunflower. She was distressed about his absence and called the police to find him. The story is all about the search for Paul, culminating in his rescue from certain death – holding a sunflower in his puffin beak -- by the police officer. All is happy at the end is when Paul returns home with the sunflower, and he and Mrs. Ticklefeather are reunited.

What made me love this story so much that even today I am occasionally referred to in my family as “Mrs. Ticklefeather?” I’m not sure. It is interesting to me, in retrospect, that the woman lives on her own in a city (as I do), is closely connected to the police (as I am), cherishes a non-human creature (in my case, Mr. Manny), and considers herself very, very, very, very lucky. Maybe this little book is not one that changed my life so much as one that foretold important pieces of it. And it is especially wonderful that my mother searched for years for a copy for me so that now I can read it any time I want without having to check it our from the county library. Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather indeed!

October 18, 2009


It is cold and rainy, a dark and dreary day. But when I look out the window by the rocking chair where I pray, this is what I see. The maple seems to glow in the afternoon gloom. This must be what the poet meant when he wrote about "uncreated light." I know it is summer's last gasp, but what wonderful thing -- to go out in such a blaze of glory!

October 11, 2009

Rainbow Chard

There is a frost warning for tonight, but my little garden seems not to know that the summer is past. After a slow start, the veggies are thick and green. I have picked armfuls of rainbow chard today and packed it into the freezer. You are supposed to cut out the stems because they get tough but they are so lovely -- bright yellow, red and orange -- and I left some in. In January, when the snow is deep and the garden is covered, I will make sauteed greens from the summer bounty. Maybe this recipe from Tyler Florence and the Food Network:


  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 pint walnuts, for garnish
  • 3 bunches assorted winter greens (such as Swiss chard, radicchio, or escarole), washed, stemmed, and torn into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish
  • Parmesan shavings, for garnish
  • 1 shallot, chopped, for garnish


Cook honey and balsamic together over medium-high heat in a large saute pan, about 5 minutes. Toast walnuts in a small skillet; set aside to cool.

Pile greens on a platter. Stir mustard into balsamic-honey dressing, then whisk in about 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil; pour over greens. Season greens with salt and pepper and garnish with walnuts, pomegranate seeds, shavings of Parmesan, and shallot.

Or I will brown some onion and garlic in olive oil, mix in the chard and maybe a little spinach, add a few red pepper flakes and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

And maybe I won't wait until January to try this out!

October 4, 2009


This blog is two years old today, and what I wrote at the beginning is still true. Right now, I do not have a title or position or location that would commonly be considered a pastoral ministry. But even so, I do have that work; I am a minister. In these days when our community is so wounded, when relationships and trust are so shattered, when grief is overshadowed only by horror and disbelief, there are many who need a pastoral presence but do not know how or where to find it. It was this way after 9-11. Remember all those people who came to church those Sundays in September and October 2001, people who hadn't been in worship in years? They needed solace, care and community. Some of us need that now, too, and I encounter many who do not know where to go for help. So I go to them. I sit, I listen, I try to hear the fear that is under the words they speak. I do town meetings to talk about "security," but what I am really trying to do is to be a non-anxious presence.

In the eleven years since I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I have often worried about whether I would have a church. I don't worry about that today. Today, I know that my congregation is the world, that my calling is not to gather people in some Sunday morning sanctuary, but rather to go to the places of pain and confusion, fear and failure, sorrow and woe, to go where the people are in need and make a sanctuary there.

The prophet Isaiah (61:1-2) spoke words that found fulfillment in Jesus: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me....to bind up the brokenhearted,.... to comfort all who mourn." May these holy words, spoken to me at my ordination, continue to guide my work, my ministry, and give me strength and courage to be faithful to this odd calling that is mine.