Sunday, August 31, 2008

Padre Mickey's Slow-burn Saag

I ALWAYS wear a big plastic head when cookifying!

As promised, this is my Saag recipe. I think I found it on the intertubes several years back, but I've been tweaking the recipe ever since. I like bold, in-your-face flavors, so if you prefer a more mild version, cut the spices by third. Last night was its most perfect manifestation.

Here's what ya need:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
a pinch of cumin seeds
4 cardamom seeds (green cardamom)
2 large sticks of cinnamon
4 bay leaves
5 or 6 whole cloves
2 teaspoons ginger and garlic
2 small tomatoes, sliced
2 teaspoons black pepper (whole peppercorns)
2 teaspoons salt
2.5 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2.5 teaspoons garam masala*
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons tomato puree
1/2 pound fresh spinach, chopped (since I can't find decent fresh spinach here in Panamá, I use two boxes of frozen spinach. It's already chopped! Don't use that stuff with butter sauce. Okay, you already knew that).
2 pints cups whipping cream
handful of fresh cilantro (I use culantro, which is growing in my yard)

I have a slight case of OCD, and for me, it's all about the process. I use these little Japanese rice bowls in which I mix my spices. I mix the cumin seed, cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks (I break up the cinnamon into small, half-inch pieces) bay leaves, cloves, and black pepper in one bowl and the salt, cumin, tumeric, coriander, garam masala, and cayenne in the other bowl. As far as the two teaspoons of garlic and ginger is concerned, that is just an estimate for those who like measurements. What I actually do is grate about six large cloves of garlic and grate about a two-inch piece of ginger root. I like lots of garlic and ginger, and by grating the ginger you cut back a bit on the debris (what with all them sticks and seeds in the mix). Chop up them onions, slice them 'maters, chop that spinach (unless using the frozen like me, then make sure it's defrosted). I like letting that grated garlic sit a while as it seems to gain strength.

I use a great big pot for this, 'cuz that's how I likesta cook. Heat the cooking oil and add the chopped onions. Saute the onion until it's light brown, about ten to fifteen minutes, on a medium/low heat. Come on, you've been cooking long enough to know when the onions are sauteed. Then add the first bowl of spices (cumin seed, cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks,bay leaves, cloves, and black pepper), the tomato slices, and the garlic and ginger. Stir it around with the onions for about one minute, enjoying the divine aroma. Watch for the peppercorns; they like to pop out of the pot and into your eyes! Then add the spinach. If using fresh spinach, saute until it changes color to a dark green, which means it is half-cooked but still crunchy. If using the frozen spinach, saute for about ten minutes. Then add the second bowl of spices (salt, cumin, tumeric, coriander, garam masala and cayenne), mixing it into the spinach as it sautes. Once again, enjoy the aroma. I usually cook it for another five minutes or more. Now add the tomato puree and mix it in, constantly stirring, for about a minute. Now, here's the fun part: pour the whipping cream into the spinach (please note the change in the amount of whipping cream: 2 CUPS not 2 pints. Thanks, Doxy!). I love watching the cream change from white to light green. Then add the culantro and stir it all up. Don't let the cream scorch. When the cream begins to boil, cook for another two minutes over high heat. Add the meat. Add another couple of teaspoons of garam masala and mix in just before serving, if you want a really hot version.

Now, I prefer to use lamb, but I've used pork or boneless chicken. If using lamb or pork, I like to roast it on a very low heat (about 150 F) for about twenty minutes, then add it to the saag. Let it cook in the saag at your lowest heat for about twenty minutes or even more. The longer the meat cooks in the saag, the more of its flavor will be absorbed by the meat. Serve it over basmati rice, or use the Bert Leigh method of pouring it over a big piece of naan.

If you don't like spicy foods, don't use this recipe. The combination of spices creates what I call a slow burn which sneaks up on you. But it is great.

*You can buy garam masala, but I prefer to make my own. I use this recipe by Neelam Batra from her book The Indian Vegetarian: 25 black cardamon pods, 3 tablespoons ground cloves, 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons ground black pepper. Grind the cardamom pods with their skin in a spice or coffee grinder until powdered. Pass through a sieve and discard the husk. Place all four ingredients in a small, non-stick skillet and roast over medium heat until heated through, 30 to 40 seconds. Shake the skillet to stir the spices. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

So, if you try the recipe, let me know how it worked out!

Today at Parroquia San Cristóbal

Today we had our (kinda) Mid-year Parish Meeting. We had a single bilingual service at 7:30 am, and went straight into the meeting after the post-communion prayer. I presented our new Parish Administrator, Mrs. Choroland McQueen. We were to hold elections for delegates to Diocesan Convention (which takes place in January or February), but the congregation voted unanimously to keep the same delegates as last year, so that saved some time. The Vestry and I presented our project for a new Community Center.

Our main outreach program are the classes we teach to members of the community. These classes teach employable skills: cooking, sewing, beautician stuff, how to make Christmas decorations, catering, and cake baking and decorating. The classes are well attended, and some folks have even been able to start their own small businesses as a result.

For many years we had a building next to the church we called Casa Amarilla. We held all our classes in that building, as it was also used by the people of the neighborhood for Wakes, Wedding receptions, and other celebrations. It was an old, wooden building, and two years ago became structurally unsound. We had to close it down before it fell down! Then it became an attractive nuisance, and the last thing one wants next door to the church is a Crack House, so we tore it down. We've been holding classes on the patio and using the former rectory kitchen for the cooking classes. The kitchen is way too small for the classes. We need room for our classes, we need more classrooms for the Sunday School, and we need meeting places for the Parish guilds and organizations. We need a Community Center.

This morning the Vestry and I presented drawings and plans for converting the former rectory into a two-story Community Center. Costs are estimated at $300,000.00. It will be a challenge to raise these funds but we believe that we can do it. We'll be setting up a website with information on the project and giving everyone an opportunity to participate in the project. Our plans are for a two-story building, with the teaching kitchen, Sunday School classrooms, and two bathrooms on the first floor and a parish hall (with two bathrooms) on the second floor. We are hoping to hold events such as Prayer Breakfasts and luncheons in this building and have our cooking and catering students cater the events. This gives them an opportunity to put those skills into practice.

The congregation had a very open conversation about this project, and many ideas were offered. But it was a long conversation, and people were getting hungry. I suggested that I give the benediction and we take a break for breakfast, but folks didn't want to stop, so, I gave the benediction and members of the ECW and Men's Fellowship served breakfast to us as we sat in the church. I was very happy with the conversation: No one questioned the need for such a building, but they had different ideas of how to approach the problem. I am looking forward to getting this project moving.

The Lovely Mona took some photos:

The Choir

Ricky Staples is back behind the drums!

Padre presents the Project

Norma Blackman talks about the Project

Patricia Lewis talks about the Project


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tonight's Dinner

A glimpse into Padre's cookin' pot

I know this is usually jonnieb's shtick and I shouldn't brag, but I just made the best Saag with Lamb that I have ever made. I've been making this for a while and everyone who has ever eaten it has loved it, but tonight's is the best. The texture is perfect, just enough cream, and the lamb was slow cooked and so tender. And I got my spices exactly right tonight: it has an incredible slow burn which sneaks up on you and knocks you on the floor.

I'm also serving a Purani Dilli Ke Choley (from a can) and some basmati rice and tandoori naan, and the Lovely Mona made one of her famous Ensaladas Gigantes.
Bert and John Leigh will be here for dinner tonight. Lizzie is improving but still in Intensive Care, so keep her in your prayers.

Maybe I'll make my Saag for you someday. If you're good.

A Glimpse of the Future

Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, John McCain

Nicked from

Friday Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalito Blogging

Barrack Obama on T.V. It's not because John McCain doesn't care; it's because John McCain doesn't get it. (APPLAUSE) For over two decades -- for over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy: Give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.

Barrack Obama on T.V. In Washington, they call this the "Ownership Society," but what it really means is that you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck, you're on your own. No health care? The market will fix it. You're on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don't have boots. You are on your own. (APPLAUSE)
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Hi boys! What are you doing?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Hello, Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love! We're watching Barrack Obama's acceptance speech.
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love You're right, Gallito Mescalito; he sure can speechify!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank And he makes sense.

BarrackObama on T.V. Well, it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America. And that's why I'm running for president of the United States. (APPLAUSE)
All three in one voice YAY!!!
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Hey dere, eviebuddy! 'sup?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank We're watching Obama's acceptance speech.
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Hi, cat. Please it keep down so we can hear!
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Barrack Obama on T.V. You see, you see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.
We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage, whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma.
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Wow! Dat guy's inspirin'!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank He certainly is!
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy I tink I'm gonna watch dis ting!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Then keep it down, please!
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!

Barrack Obama on T.V. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was president...(APPLAUSE)... when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of go down $2,000, like it has under George Bush. (APPLAUSE)
¡El Penguino! ¡Hola! Watcha doin'?
Mighty Moose of Vermont What's on teevee; another Bollywood movie?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank We're watching Obama's acceptance speech.
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love He's making a lot of sense, and he's a pleasure to listen to!
Barrack Obama on T.V. We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job, an economy that honors the dignity of work.
Mighty Moose of Vermont That's good stuff!
¡El Penguino! Yeah! I wanna hear the rest of this!
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Den shaddap so we's can heah it! Geez!!

Barrack Obama on T.V. The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great, a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight. Because, in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the G.I. Bill. In the face of that young student, who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree, who once turned to food stamps, but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships. (APPLAUSE)
Bunrab, the Filthiest and Raggediest Toy in the House Sigh, hi everyone. What are you all doing?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank We're watching Obama's acceptance speech.
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Bunrab, the Filthiest and Raggediest Toy in the House Gee, he sounds like he knows what he's talking about. That's something we haven't heard in a long time!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love And he's easy on the eyes.
Mighty Moose of Vermont He certainly keeps one's attention!
¡El Penguino! Hey, Bunrab. You're a mess! Whereya been?
Bunrab, the Filthiest and Raggediest Toy in the House One word: Chompita!
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Will youse guys shaddap? Da man is talkin'!!
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Bunrab, the Filthiest and Raggediest Toy in the House Sorry! Sheesh!

Barrack Obama on T.V. And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business or making her way in the world, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman.
She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight and that tonight is her night, as well. (APPLAUSE)

Barrack Obama on T.V. Now, I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. (APPLAUSE) These are my heroes; theirs are the stories that shaped my life. And it is on behalf of them that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president of the United States. (APPLAUSE) What -- what is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Barrack Obama on T.V. What -- what is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect. It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road. Ours -- ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.

Barrack Obama on T.V. Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work. That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now. (APPLAUSE)
¡El Penguino! Hey! What's goin' on? I feel kinda weird!
Mighty Moose of Vermont Yes. I certainly feel apprehensive all of the sudden.
Bunrab, the Filthiest and Raggediest Toy in the House I feel like hell all the time now, but you're right; there has been some sort of disturbance in The Force.

Barrack Obama on T.V. So -- so let me -- let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president. (APPLAUSE) Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it. (APPLAUSE) You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America. (APPLAUSE)
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, it had better not be that Crocagator or he will be very, very, sorry. I am in no mood for his shenanigans!
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Crocagator Heh. Heh. Oops!

Barrack Obama on T.V. (APPLAUSE) I've seen it -- I've seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day, even though they can't afford it, than see their friends lose their jobs; in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb; in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise. You know, this country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores. Instead, it is that American spirit, that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend. That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night and a promise that you make to yours, a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west, a promise that led workers to picket lines and women to reach for the ballot.

Barrack Obama on T.V. (APPLAUSE) And it is that promise that, 45 years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream. (APPLAUSE) The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustrations of so many dreams deferred. But what the people heard instead -- people of every creed and color, from every walk of life -- is that, in America, our destiny is inextricably linked, that together our dreams can be one. "We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."
America, we cannot turn back...

Barrack Obama on T.V. (APPLAUSE) ... not with so much work to be done; not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for; not with an economy to fix, and cities to rebuild, and farms to save; not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise, that American promise, and in the words of scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America. (APPLAUSE)
Everybody, all at once YAY!! YAY!! ¡SÍ SE PUEDE! ¡SÍ SE PUEDE!


The Management Yes, there IS a continuity problem in one photo, but that's life!

What The . . .?

Last night was great, and all Correct-Thinking Peoples™ are charged-up and ready to save the nation and then the world.

Today is John McCain's birthday, and he celebrated by naming his running mate, his vice-president: Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska. WTF? The rich, white, oligarchs Republicans have been going on about Obama's lack of experience, and McCain choses someone who has been Governor of one of the least populated states in the Union (not that there's anything wrong with that). Before that she was mayor of Wasilla, a town with a population of 7,738 people. Being a Republican politician in Alaska, she already has a scandal going, something about firing the public safety commissioner because the commissioner refused to fire her former brother-in-law, a state trooper who is in a dispute with the Palin family. I understand she supports teaching Creationism in schools, which automatically disqualifies her for any office. Perhaps after watching the Democratic National Convention for the past few days, and especially after hearing Barrack Obama's speech last night, none of the other Repug candidates wanted the position. Well, it should be an interesting election year!
UPDATE Our correspondent in Alaska, Padre Robert, 'splains it all for us here.

Hey, go read Matty Boy's post about some really, really stupid stuff coming out of Fox News.

Friday Random Top Ten

Ya pushes "shuffle" and ya takes yer chances. . .

1. I Can't Reach You The Who
2. Jockey Full Of Bourbon Tom Waits
3. Yesterday Is Here Tom Waits
4. Reconsidering Our Love The Wonders Of Science
5. Day In Day Out XTC
6. Missa Assumpta Est Maria (Palestrina) The Tallis Scholars
7. Get In The Swing Sparks
8. Back To Schooldays Graham Parker
9. Sisters Of Mercy Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris
10. She Talks To Rainbows RAMONES!!!

A great start! I loves the Who, well, the REAL WHO, with Keith Moon. I didn't buy any of their stuff after he died. Then the ol' shuffle got inna Tom Waits mood. I love both of these songs and the ambience in each recording. Jockey Full of Bourbon has an incredibly slimy feel to it, and Yesterday Is Here is quite spooky! I likes everything else on the list (not really. #8 is not his best work), but, really, why didn't the shuffle choose #6 two Fridays ago, on the actual Feast of the Assumption? THAT would have been impressive.

And now, our extremely random (and boring!) Friday Feature: Padre Mickey Reveals The Stories Behind the Recordings of The Wonders Of Science and A Cruel Hoax. Today's episode: Reconsidering Our Love. This is the final cut on our EP The Record Of The Same Name which has recently swept Scandinavia and the Teutonic states. In those days, Matty Boy was designing video games for Activision™ and I was a Buyer for TSI, a manufacturer of electronic devices for the Blind. We would do our recording after work, usually on a Friday evening. All the cool bands had gigs, so The Music Annex was available for our Recording Needs. We would show up around six, often with a Stromboli pizza (which we would share with our engineer, Russell Bond) and start recording. We would record long into the night, often leaving about six a.m. the next day. When I hear this cut, it always feels like three a.m. to me. When we started mixing this cut, we had nothing but trouble getting a mix we liked. I remember spending an entire evening, equipped with our "mixing juice" and still couldn't get anything worthwhile. Finally, Russell sent us home and did his own mix, which was great and was the one we used. Sometimes you need an outside ear to really hear the piece. Okay, you can wake up now; I'm done.

Hey, ya gotsta check out that Sparks video! And please, PLEASE, add your Top Ten lists in the comments. You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

¡Sí Se Puede! Yes We Can!

Thursday Miss Bebé, The World's Most Beautiful Granchile™ Blogging

Photo by Anthony Angyriou

Hmmm, will Barrack be great, wonderful, marvelous, or simply mind-blowingly-terrific tonight?
Abuelo dice: "He was simply mind-blowingly terrific!" Damn! Was that a speech or what? And he took it right to the rich, white oligarchs Republican party and called them out!!! YAY!! Our long national nightmare will be over soon.

Last Night's Speeches

Wow! The Democratic speech-makers were kicking ass last night! Of course, we knew Bill Clinton was going to be great; he simply can't help it. My parents called in the middle of the speech with some bad news (a family friend passed away. Please keep Marylou, Stephen, and John Brooks in your prayers, and pray for the soul of Jack Brooks), and then my mom came on the phone and asked what we were doing. I said "We're watching the last decent president we ever had!" She said, "Who? The pervert?" I said, "No, the guy who brought us peace and prosperity and respect throughout the world." She said, "Why are you so angry?" We always have such lovely conversations. We loved Bill Clinton's line: People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power. The Lovely Mona and I were cheering along with the folks in Denver.

Joe Biden's story is amazing and his speech was inspiring, too. But the one who surprised me was John Kerry. Did you hear his speech? He was amazing! Why the hell didn't he give speeches like that when he was the candidate? It might not have prevented the Republicans from stealing the votes in Ohio to put their boy over the top, but it may have made it more difficult.

Some of the talking heads were saying that it was a lack-luster convention and that people are still unsure about Barrack Obama. I don't get that impression but, wadda I know? Did you notice that everyone who gave a speech last night (and Hillary did this, too) say nice things about John McCain before they point out the errors of his ways? How many nice comments do you think we'll hear about Barrack Obama and Joe Biden coming out of the rich, white, oligarch's Republican Convention next week? My buddy Matty Boy the Gambler should be taking bets!

Tonight's the Big Night and we'll be watching on la computadora here in Parque Lefevre. Should be exciting!

Feast of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

This is the same post as last year. It is a version of my sermon for Augustine's Feast Day. Even though many people don't like St. Augustine, he is one of my favorites.

There was a time when I didn’t like Augustine; I just knew him as the “inventor of the concept of original sin” so I figured he was really just a harsh man, but the more I studied his writings the more I was convinced that he was a compassionate man and one of the greatest early theologians. I was able to make connections between events in his own life and in mine, and this helped change my original impression of the man.

Augustine was born in the year 354 in the city of Thagaste in North Africa. His father was a pagan but his mother, Monnica, was a devout Christian. Her tenacity regarding her faith resulted in the eventual baptism of her husband, although most folks doubted it would ever happen. Monnica made sure that Augustine had a Christian education although it didn’t seem to take during his youth and young adulthood. He attended the University at Carthage, where he studied rhetoric and considered becoming a lawyer, but he soon became most interested in literary pursuits. While in Carthage, he pretty much abandoned any Christian faith he may have had and he took a mistress, to whom he was faithful for fifteen years; they had a son together. He was a bit of a truth seeker, investigation various philosophies and the different religious disciplines popular in the era of Late Antiquity; he even cast horoscopes for a while. His experience with astrology led to his later denouncement of the so-called science. At the age of nineteen he joined the Manichees, a religion formed around the teachings of Mani, a third-century Persian who called himself “The Apostle of Jesus Christ.” Mani taught a dualistic form of Christianity which he claimed to have received in direct revelation from God. Peter Brown, in his biography of Augustine writes of them: The Manichees were a small sect with a sinister reputation. They were illegal; later, they would be savagely persecuted. They had the aura of a secret society: in foreign cities, Manichees would lodge only with members of their won sect; their leaders would travel around a network of ‘cells’ scattered all over the Roman world. Pagans regarded them with horror, orthodox Christians with fear and hatred. They were the Bolsheviks of the fourth century... Augustine was a hearer of the Manichees, a member of the outer circle. The Manichees required a celibate and vegetarian lifestyle, and Augustine wasn’t quite ready to give up his mistress yet (I don’t know how he felt about meat), but as a hearer he could subscribe to their teachings without giving up everything just yet. The Manichees lived harsh lives, and this is often attractive to young, spiritually inclined persons. I spent some three years in a cult, and I joined at the age of nineteen, and I was attracted to the group’s fierce spirituality, which seemed so much more authentic than the faith of my parents, and I think that Augustine was very much influenced in the same way. But there was a point when the teachings of Mani no longer appealed to him; he became disillusioned when he met one fo the great Manichean teachers, Faustus. Faustus was unable to answer Augustine’s questions about the faith. When Augustine finally finished his courses at University, he left the Manichees and Carthage, and moved to Rome to teach. But he was so disgusted with the actions and attitudes of his students, whom he considered dishonest, that he left Rome and moved to Milan to be the Teacher of Rhetoric for the city. Now during his time in Carthage his mother Monnica never stopped praying that he would become a Christian. While in Milan he fell under the influence of Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. Ambrose was a great preacher and orator, and Augustine enjoyed listening to him. Over time, the teachings of Ambrose began to take hold in Augustine, and one day, in a garden in Milan, Augustine, wrestling with the idea of giving up his present life and having that change of mind and heart which is repentance, sat under a fig tree, crying and wondering what to do. He heard the voice of a child from a nearby house chanting: “Pick up and read; pick up and read.” He picked up his friend’s Bible, opened it at random and read Romans 13:13-14: Let us live honorably in the day, not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lists. Augustine wrote about this event: I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled. And at that moment Augustine’s life changed. He was later baptized, and brought much joy to his mother’s heart. But he had many difficult decisions to make regarding his mistress, his teaching position, and his life in general. He left his position as Teacher of Rhetoric in Milan, and began to write essays on Christianity and philosophy and became a bit of a star in Christian circles.

Upon the death of his mother, he returned to Thagaste to take over the family estate. He and some friends decided to live lives of monastic discipline and start a monastery. Augustine went to the city of Hippo to see a friend and invite him to become part of their monastic community. The friend and Augustine attended services at the bishop's church; the bishop was preparing ot retire and was speaking of the needs of the Church. The people in the church saw Augustine and grabbed him and wanted to make him Bishop, very much like what happened to Ambrose in Milan so many years before. The bishop, Valerius, managed to get Augustine to agree to become a priest in Hippo, and many witnesses thought that when Augustine burst into tears, he was sad because eh wanted to be a bishop rather than a priest, but the truth was that Augustine didn’t want ordained ministry of any kind. He agreed to be a priest because he believed that this was God’s will, but it was not part of his desire.

There were two churches in North Africa in those days: the Catholic Church (not Roman Catholic) and the Party of Donatus, or the Donatists. During the Diocletian persecution the clergy were given a decision of whether to turn over the scriptures to the police and recant their faith or be executed. Some clergy gave up the scriptures and denounced their faith, but repented at the end of the persecution and returned to their churches. The Donatists believed that the sacraments administered by such clergy were not valid, since they had turned their backs on Christ and his Church. The Catholic church had reaccepted such clergy upon their repentance, but the Donatists refused them and fought with the Catholics. In many cities (much like today but unheard of in those days) there were two bishops: a Catholic bishop and a Donatist bishop, and the churches would fight and take over each other’s buildings, turning over the altars and trashing the place. Augustine preached against the Donatists, and when he became Bishop of Hippo he fought against them fiercely. Augustine taught that the bread and wine were a sacrament, not because of the worthiness of the priest, but because of an act of grace by God. The Donatists were harsh and unforgiving, but Augustine taught that God forgives all who repent, so the clergy who repented were still valid priests. Augustine became known as a great fighter of heresy. He waged war against the Donatists, the Manichees, and the Pelagians, because he desired that “no one be led astray.” Augustine wrote many volumes against the Donatist, the Manichees, and the Pelagians, and he also wrote many volumes on the scriptures and the Christian life. We could go on and on talking about his writings and many have, but we’ll move on to his final days. Augustine was a man who loved his books and his library. He spent the last three years of his life living in his library, editing and rewriting and organizing his papers. This library contained two-hundred thirty-two little books which made up ninety-three of his own works, not to mention many letters and copies of his sermons, which had been taken down by the stenographers of his admirers. He set about rezeroing his many works and produced Retractiones, a catalogue of titles, arranged in chronological order, with a brief note of the content of the work, along with Augustine’s comments. May of the remarks are self-criticisms, but quite often they were also attempts to explain himself. At the same time that he was organizing this library, he was also involved in a debate by correspondence with Bishop Julian of Eclanum, a defender of Pelagius. Augustine would spend his nights rezeroing his works and writing comments, and his days dictating letters and fighting with Julian. He was sad to see the decline of Rome and tis civilization and the military attacks of the Vandals which threatened Roman Africa. The Vandals were Christians, but Arian Christians, another group of heretics destroying the world in which Augustine lived.

In August of the year 430, Augustine came down with a fever. He knew he would die, and he wanted to die alone. His first biographer, Possidius, described Augustine’s attitude: He had told his followers that even praiseworthy Christians and bishops, though baptized, should still not leave this life without having performed due and exacting penance. This is what he did with his own last illness: for he had ordered the four psalms of David that deal with penance to be copied out. From his sickbed he could see these sheets of paper every day, hanging on his walls, and would read them, crying constantly and deeply. And, lest his attention be distracted from this in any way, almost tend days before his death, he asked us that none should come in to see him, except at those hours when the doctors would come to examine him or his meals were brought. This was duly observed: and so he had all that stretch of time to pray...

Augustine died and was buried on August 28, 430. A year later Hippo was evacuated and partially burnt, but his library escaped the destruction, and that is why we know so much about him today. His experience in rhetoric and logic, and his studies as a Neo-Platonist, along with his powerful intellect, made him a most worthy adversary of Greek philosophy, and his many written works are still studied by theologians today. His two books The Confessions and The City of God are considered classics. Yet I think it his understanding of God’s love and grace, and his desire that no one be led astray that made Augustine the mighty warrior for Christ that he was. The faith which Augustine received and defended was strengthened by his gifts, and we, the Body of Christ, are very much blessed because of his great faith. The Manichees, the Donatists, and the Pelagians all believed that humans had the power to live perfect lives or that humans could stop the work of the Holy Spirit, but Augustine taught us that “man is but a little piece of God’s creation” and that God so loved this piece of creation that God would forgive us all our sins. Augustine believed strongly in God’s grace and love. May we, too, experience God’s love and grace.

Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Remember! The Republican Party Despises You!

McCain will continue to send your money to Saudi Arabia.

You know it's all true!

Tonight At The Democratic National Convention

Well, I gotsta admit that I enjoyed the speeches I heard last night, especially Hillary Clinton's. Them governor fellas were okay, too. But tonight we have two big speeches: Joseph Biden, and The Big Dog, former (and last decent) president William Jefferson Clinton!!

Now, I've never been a big fan of Joe Biden; well, actually, I've never cared one way or the other about him, so I'm gonna give him a chance to win me over tonight (I know he's concerned about this, too. Joe:, Jill, honey; what if Padre Mickey doesn't like my speech tonight? What will I do? Jill Biden: Oh, don't worry, dear; you'll be fine!). Democrats seem to pick decent folks, smart folks, for the position of Vice President, while the Republicans always try to choose someone worse than their presidential candidate. I believe this is because the Republicans see the vice-president as assassination insurance. I mean, seriously: who was going to shoot George H.W. Bush? No one wanted Dan Quail for president. Heck, they didn't even talk about impeaching Richard Nixon until after Spiro Agnew resigned. And, be serious, you know ol' Dubya been safe because no one wanted Dick Cheney officially in charge!! That's why I think McCain will choose Joe Lieberman. It just makes sense and is in the Republican Party tradition.

I'm looking forward to hearing former president Bill Clinton tonight, because, even though he screwed-up, even when he screws-up he's a thousand times better than the current Super Screw-up. Has there ever been anyone as incompetent as George W. Bush? And he encourages incompetence in others! For cripes' sakes; what is wrong with that guy? But when Bill Clinton was president, the country was prosperous and folks were working and we were at peace. Who knew that The Onion was prescient when it wrote At long last, our long national nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is finally over! when Dubya was elected appointed.

So, I'm looking forward to this evening's broadcasts, and, believe me, I am going to avoid that dipsh*t Eminent Broadcaster Sam Donaldson and his little Ken Doll buddy like the plague!!

P.S. What the heck is wrong with the Repugs in Alaska? Stevens' won his primary? Just not corrupt enough for ya? Sheesh!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary Hits It Out Of The Park!!

Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Well, we just watched Hillary Clintion's speech on the ABC website. It was immediately followed by comments by Sam Donaldson and some other bland Ken doll. It's difficult to believe that they were watching the same speech as we were; they started right in with how "gee, parts of it were all about HER." Well, WTF were they expecting? Of course part of it was about her. But she stated her support of Barack Obama over and over again. I guess it wasn't enough for Sam the Republican Butt Kisser and friend. But anyone who is not a Republican Party Shill (which seems to eliminate everyone reporting for U.S. television networks) could see that Hillary knocked it out of the effin' park! She was kickin' ass and takin' names! I guess the glue on Sam's toupee was seeping into his brain because he sounded like an idiot (well, to be totally honest, I've always thought that Sam Donaldson was an idiot) as he spent his time trying to find fault with the speech. It's hard to decide what her best line was, but I really liked: "No way, no how, no McCain!"

Well, what did YOU think?

This Evening's Comical Drawings Of A Political Nature

Roll Away The Stone

I posted Rock of Ages by Jobriath over at the Madpriest Vacation site, and it made me think of this:

We loves Mott the Hoople at la Rectoría

Democratic National Convention

Photo: Damon Winter/NYT

The Lovely Mona and I listened to some of the Democratic National Convention last night. We listened to Ted Kennedy's speech and were inspired by him. Then I wandered about the internet, trying to find a video feed so that we could watch Michelle Obama give her speech. We tried to watch things on the CNN site, but it kept cutting out. These are the moments when I wonder if I should have made the choice for Cable T.V. (we can't afford Cable AND High Speed Internet, so we went with the internet. I still stand by the decision). We listened to Ted Kennedy on the Air America feed, which was okay, except that those Air America people, especially David Bender and Mark Green, won't STFU. They are really in love with their own voices! Blah blah blah over everything besides Ted Kennedy. The CNN feed was showing Michelle Obama's brother and the film, but we couldn't hear it because the CNN feed was inconsistent. But we also couldn't hear it because David Bender and Mark Green were too busy doing the blah-blah. We finally switched to KQED-FM, our home-town NPR station. That was great. The CNN feed still sucked and the video was intermittent, but at least NPR let us listen to the speech. And, of course, we loved Michelle. Dang, won't it be great to have articulate, sane, rational people who can string sentences together in the White House?

So we're gonna try again tonight, 'cuz we wantsta see Hillary. I heard some woman on the radio today who claimed to be a Democrat who supported Hillary and she's still angry about the primaries, so she's voting for John McCain. How can one be a Democrat (or a democrat, for that matter!) and vote for John McCain? Does she hate the country so much that we all must be punished because the person she wants for president isn't a candidate? I haven't heard of any Dennis Kucinich supporters pouting in the corner, promising to vote for John McCain, or even Bob Barr. How can someone who believes strongly in women's rights (I assume that a Hillary Clinton supporter believes in women's rights) support John McCain, a man who calls his wife "trollup" and "c**t" IN FRONT OF THE (docile) PRESS? It's time to get over it and support the Party for the good of the nation!!!

Remember, a vote for John McCain is a vote for a continuation of constant war, constant corruption, and the continuing dive into poverty for the rest of us. Oh, and David Bender and Mark Green: STFU and let us listen to the speeches!

I See You!

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