Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year End 2012

Has it been a good year for the greatest nation on earth? Well, maybe for Wall Street. Maybe not for many of the rest of us. We are ending our year with some big problems in the USA. I am more interested in ongoing big problems than in listing the top news stories of the year, although problems and news about them are related.

The economy. It’s about the unequal distribution of wealth, real estate still in trouble, meaningful jobs in short supply, and the role of government in taxation priorities. The US has the greatest income inequality in the world; one to two percent of Americans receive at least a quarter of the income generated. Money buys political power.  Corporate CEOs have huge salaries while the have-nots are struggling and the middle class is disappearing. Wall Street seems to being doing well even though we are in what is called the Great Recession. Greed wins.

The government could establish some policies that would help the majority of our people if it had the will to do it. It isn’t socialism; it’s good practice to love one’s neighbor at the policy level.

The medical scene. It’s not health care; it’s medical procedures. I think it is atrocious that people’s medical service is delivered for profit. We have a system that is dominated by drug companies and insurance companies, and both are enriched by operating for profit. It’s profit first, addressing disease  second, at whatever prices they set. Government policy has cooperated with them. The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is part of that system rather than being a reform of it. Chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease are costing huge amounts of money. High-tech procedures are very expensive and reportedly over-used, although they can be life savers. Many doctors prescribe drugs when natural solutions can be used. Drug companies encourage and advertise this. Why? They exist for profit. Natural remedies don’t make profits. Insurance companies decide what to cover and what to refuse. Their rates for coverage are becoming unaffordable, whether they are paid for by government, employers or individual payers.

Government had the opportunity to turn this around with the Affordable Care Act but didn’t do it. Medicare is forbidden by law to negotiate drug costs. Medicare pays huge medical expenses even when they are unjustified. We can have better health with lower costs. Our medical system costs more than that of any other nation on earth and we are nowhere near the top in outcomes.

Violence. Ours is a violent society. We have been hearing about mass shootings recently in addition to individual murders. A black teenager was shot in Florida, and his killer’s defense was a legal Stand Your Ground law. Many children were shot in an elementary school in Connecticut very recently. The National Rifle Association suggested that teachers in schools be armed. The conversation goes on and on about whether to ban assault weapons. The second amendment to the constitution is interpreted to justify individual people having guns. As I remember it, the second amendment existed originally for protection of Americans against the British army, as a guarantee for a militia. I don’t know of anyone who needs an assault weapon to shoot a deer. I don’t know of anyone who needs an assault weapon for anything except a gun collection or mass murder.  I believe that our government should regulate weapons in this country. Deer hunting, yes. Mass murder, no.

Education. I believe that universal education is a public good. I’m not sure everyone does.  I am seeing a movement that produces two tiers, private schools for people who can afford them and public schools for everyone else. Many school systems in our large cities are reportedly falling behind in achievement. Business has gotten behind school improvements, apparently using business models. Teachers’ unions are being criticized. Charter schools are proposed, although their track record is not universally wonderful.  As long as this dialog continues and the proponents of changes do not have constructive dialog together, and if education continues to be underfunded in many places, good education is not likely to happen. For example, why do we have to have charter schools with only non-union, lower paid teachers? Here in Madison we have some non-traditional schools (not charter schools) within the district. My granddaughter attended one and was able to graduate.

The cost for a college degree has become prohibitive; if our government is in favor of higher education, it should fund it at the level it did fifty years ago when my tuition at the University of Wisconsin was ninety-five dollars per semester. The high cost of a university education is crippling people with debt.

I do not think it was in the best interest of students of any age for our governor to cut education in Wisconsin by 2.5 million dollars. Any model of education should be adequate for the whole population. New ideas, yes. Egalitarian funding, too, yes.

War. What is the good of war unless we are genuinely attacked? Our nation has been on the empire track for quite a number of years. The Bush administration pushed pre-emptive war after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Bush wasn’t the first to promote pre-emptive war; we did it to the Native Americans as part of expansion of our nation in its early years. We love being an empire. It has been reported that the US spends more on our military establishment than all other nations combined. We have no reason that I know of to have military bases in many countries in the world, and we are fighting an ongoing war in Afghanistan for no reason that I know of other than the so-called terrorist threat. It has been reported that the US is not well liked for its arrogant military action. Our military budget is huge. We don’t need this. I would like to have our military actions and killing end.

Maybe we would be the greatest nation on earth if we would stop imposing ourselves on everyone else. I think we need to have the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu as our generals. Save the military money; give it to the struggling economy at home.

The environment.  Corporate interests are killing our planet.  Now we are fracking. It takes large amounts of water and imported sand to produce natural gas to fire our insatiable appetite for power, heat, transportation, and the economy in general. That is one example. We blow up mountains to harvest coal. We have a transportation system that encourages the automobile with its pollution, while some countries continue to use mass transit and fewer cars. In the USA, it’s profit first, good environmental practices second.

Related to our misuse of our resources is climate change. Are we surprised at our weather extremes? Do we notice that the ice cap in Greenland is shrinking? Is it too late? Conservation is needed. Regulation is needed.

And the news…  I think the three biggest news stories of the year were the presidential election, hurricane Sandy, and the recall elections in Wisconsin.  The two deaths that I cared about were in the arts: Maurice Sendak, writer/illustrator of children’s books, and Dave Brubeck, great jazz musician.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas and Cookies

The Christmas season reminds me of family, and that reminds me of cookies. My grandmothers were the champions of cookies. My mother was perpetually fighting the battle against weight gain, so I have few memories of her making cookies at any time. She specialized in other dishes.

My maternal grandmother, whom we called Sweetie Pie, made the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, and she had a batch ready almost every time we went to see her when she lived in Chicago. Late in her life she tried to give us cookies made from grocery store cookie dough, but we immediately noticed the difference and let her know about it. After she realized that we weren’t fooled, she went back to the originals.

My paternal grandmother, known as Grandma, produced many cookies for us, but the ones I remember best were pinwheel cookies. Pinwheel cookies are small cookies with chocolate and vanilla spirals. They melt in your mouth. It was impossible to eat just one. I learned to make them after Grandma became old and stopped making them. Now my daughter Libby makes them every Christmas and brings them to the family gathering.

Pinwheel cookies are easy to make. Just find a refrigerator cookie recipe in your big fat cookbook. You say your big fat cookbook doesn’t tell you how to make refrigerator cookies?  It seems to me that some of the best concoctions get forgotten by cookbook writers. That’s why we have public libraries and the Internet. But don’t despair. Here is my recipe, revised from my old Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1953 edition:

Pinwheel Cookies

½ cup shortening or butter
½ cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
1- 1 ounce square unsweetened chocolate, melted

Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg yolk, milk and vanilla. Mix flour, baking powder and salt; add to shortening/sugar mixture and mix. Divide the dough in half. To one half add chocolate; mix thoroughly. Chill both halves. Roll each half into a long rectangle 1/8 inch thick on waxed paper. Turn the white half onto the chocolate half. Let chocolate extend a half inch beyond the white part on the edge toward which you roll. Remove paper and roll as for jelly roll, into a long tube. The size of the cookies will depend on the shape of the rectangles you roll together. Wrap in waxed paper. Chill for several hours or overnight. Cut the tubes into thin slices, about ¼ inch thick. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees about ten minutes. Makes about 4 dozen small cookies.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sermon - Christ the King Sunday

The Rev. Michael Ramsey-Musolf delivered this sermon at St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, Sunday, November 25, 2012. It is passed on with his permission.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. Now, I don’t know about you, but for me the notion of Jesus as a monarch needs some “up-dating”.

For one, the whole institution of a monarch as the focal point of a society seems just a bit passé. When I think of a king or queen, the first person that comes to mind is Elizabeth II. Granted, she is probably the most popular political figure just about anywhere in the world, but somehow I don’t think her role as a benevolent, parent-like figurehead fits with how we think about Jesus. Nor do I think that her 16th century predecessor, Elizabeth I – perhaps one of the most powerful women in human history who very shrewdly used her sexuality to maintain authority in an otherwise male-dominated political society – encapsulates the notion of Christ as King either.

Does Jesus resemble any other kings from the past? How about Louis XIV of France, the so-called “Sun-King”. Many years ago I visited Versailles, his not-so-modest “home” outside of Paris, and I was astounded by the signs of wealth and power dripping from its walls. The same could be said about the imposing and impressive Hapsburg palace in Vienna, built from the wealth born of this royal family’s conquests of much of Europe.

Is this how we should think of Christ the King? Apparently, some of our brethren (and I do mean only one gender here) in the Roman Catholic tradition have this interpretation. You only need to walk through the halls of the Vatican with its gold, tapestries, and neoclassical art and notice the resemblance with the interior of Versailles to reach this conclusion.

OK, so if not Louis and the Hapsburgs, how about Charlemagne – the first anointed “Emperor” of the Holy Roman Empire in the Medieval era who very effectively “evangelized” his ever growing realm through military means. Or for that matter, we could try the various popes and minor rulers who lead the Crusades against the Muslims in the 11th-13th centuries. Is that how the refrain from the hymn “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war” is encouraging us to think of Christ the King?

It seems to me that none of this works very well when it comes to Jesus, so I’ve been wracking my brain these last days to come up with an alternative – one that is more fitting for 21st century Christians in the middle of America. Here’s what I’ve tried so far:

Christ the CEO: Since it’s all about the economy these days, why not a metaphor that epitomizes the height of economic success. Unfortunately, when I tried this one I just could not get around the notion of Jeffrey Skilling, head of Enron during its “death star” days or the more recent discussion of Bain Capital. Really, I don’t want to even go there.

Christ the Five Star General: Granted a bit militaristic, but we are accustomed to holding our military leaders in particularly high regard (think of Colin Powell). However, we have the little problem of a recently resigned director of the CIA to contend with…

Christ the Champion: Great. Works very well in Wisconsin, I think. Before he abandoned the Packers, Brett “Gunslinger” Favre was the closest this state has come to having a patron saint. So why not kick it up a notch and celebrate Christ the Champion one Sunday a year? We’d have to try and forget about Lance Armstrong…but perhaps a challenge like this can be overcome.

OK so I’m not doing so well. In one last try, I reached for a figure who is quintessentially American, who doesn’t come with some form of baggage, who calls us to be our better selves or at least makes is feel better about how we are, yet can also challenge us to look beyond our current preset notions. And I think I found the answer:

Christ the Talk Show Host: Think Oprah. Think Letterman and Leno. Think Conan, Ellen, or Jon Stewart. Though I would have gone with Oprah as my personal favorite, we should probably stick with Ellen, who rates number one in impact according to the blog “”. Is anyone here with me on this one?

Well, it appears that I have not come up with a universally acceptable, viable alternative. So we are more or less stuck with “Christ the King”. What to do?  

Perhaps, we should start by thinking about what it meant to call Jesus King of the Jews as we read in today’s Gospel and what it meant for Jesus to admit that yes, he was a king, but that his “kingdom is not of this world”?

To set the stage, imagine the ancient Palestinian world as being somewhat akin to the modern-day Middle East. You know the saying: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Like today’s Middle East, the ancient near east was characterized by political domination maintained by iron-clad military rule, periodic revolts by minority factions, sectarian violence, and the near-complete absence of anything resembling self-determination. If we wanted a modern-day setting for the Incarnation, Bethlehem might do just as well as it did when Jesus was born. But so might Ramallah on the West Bank, Gaza City, or even Aleppo in Syria. Change the names of the players – trading Herod, Pilate, and Augustus for Meshal, Netanyahu, or Assad – and update the tools of violence, and you’d have to conclude there are more than a few similarities.

Imagine, then, the entry into the present-day Middle East of a religious figure hailed by some of the populace as a new king, and try to visualize what the response might be by various parties. How would folks in the West Bank respond to this “King of the Jews”? How would this figure fare with Likud or Hamas? What message, what new political-religious-economic reality would he be trying to establish? Yes, his kingdom would most certainly NOT be of this world of violence, domination, mutual fear, oppression, assassination, AK 47’s, and the like. But what is it – this kingdom, and who is this “King”?

In reflecting on Jesus Christ the King, I have been re-reading small parts of a book I read in seminary called “Jesus and the Spiral of Violence”. In a sense, the title itself already says it all when we try to conceive of what Christ the King truly means. But let me try to break it all down for you a bit more explicitly.

First of all, the meaning of violence is not simply that of military or police actions, armed rebellion, or murder and assassination. It’s much broader, having political, economic, social, religious, and cultural dimensions.

The way I think of it is like a vice. Imagine that the ordinary folks in ancient Palestine – mostly peasant farmers – were like a piece of material squeezed between two plates of a vice. One plate was the Roman government (Herod, Pilate, Augustus) who required that the locals pay a tax called “tribute” to help fund imperial projects that were designed largely for the benefit of the upper classes.

The other plate was the Jewish religious aristocracy (Pharisees, Sadducees) who maintained their security by doing the bidding of the Roman government and keeping the local populace under control. They also exacted a tax, called the “temple tax”, to help fund the operations of the Jerusalem temple and the bureaucracy associated with it.

Over time, the squeeze of the two taxes – the two plates of the vice – became increasingly intense, putting more and more economic pressure on the famers. It became more difficult for them to afford the basics to maintain their way of life (things like seed or animals for farming). Some went into debts that they could not repay. Others lost the lease on their land. Still others became indentured servants, or slaves.

Imagine the stress and the impact this tighter and tighter squeeze of the vice exerted. Imagine the impact on family life and marriages. Imagine the toll it took on self-esteem, the feelings of increasing helplessness because there was no political process through which to change the situation. Imagine the growing sense of anger, the breakdown of normal life in the village, the effect on community and friendships. Not even Jewish religious life was untouched, as the Roman government required daily sacrifice to the emperor in the temple.

This squeezing economic, political, social, cultural, and religions vice is the spiral of violence, and its outward manifestation -- armed rebellions and the repressive responses of the authorities – was like the periodic eruptions of a volcano that results from growing pressure of a cauldron that can no longer be contained by a mountain’s walls.

And so into the middle of this spiral comes Jesus, King of the Jews who announces the arrival of a new realm, who preaches that the people in the middle of the two plates of the vice are blessed, and who tells them to pray to their Father in Heaven, Abba, daddy for relief:

Give us today our daily bread, since we don’t know if we will have the means to afford it.

Forgive us our debts before our debtors separate us from our spouses and children and force us into slavery.

Save us from the time of trial, from this spiral of violence, from this pressure we cannot escape.

Because we need you as our king. Because we want your will to be done. And because only your power can save us.

Hail Jesus, King of the Jews. Christ the King.

My friends, as you and I consider the world about us; as we think about the situation in our country, in our state, here in Dane county, in our communities and workplaces: where do we see or experience the spiral of violence, the squeezing plates of various vices that – to quote our baptismal covenant – corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?

Where can we, as followers of Christ the King, confront those dehumanizing economic, political, social, cultural and – yes – religious structures and announce a new realm of justice and wholeness for all?

Where can we, following in the footsteps of Jesus before Pilate and the angry mobs, witness to a kingdom that is truly not of this world and put ourselves, perhaps, a bit more on the line to make it a reality?

Christ the King calls us to this ministry. Let us pray for the grace, the courage, and the determination to answer faithfully the King’s call.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Giving to Church

I gave this short talk in church today, two days before the election for President, senate and other offices. It uses language heard in advertisements many times each day leading to the election in the “swing” state of Wisconsin. The primary message is not political. The congregation laughed and applauded.

I’m Kathy Whitt and I approve this message.

Is God more liberal than Nancy Pelosi?  You’re darn right!
It’s time to get out and vote (financially) for Jesus and for St. Dunstan’s.
Latest polls show that God is winning. The devil is not for you any more.

St. Dunstan’s supports one special interest – the church. Your donation to St. Dunstan’s helps with God’s way of delivering God’s love to you – via St. Dunstan’s.

You can support your church. Your money represents what you care about. Love for God means giving to God’s work.

Here is what I do. This is my way. I give by rule.
First, I make it a priority in how I use my income.  That means it isn’t about things like passing judgment on church activities I don’t like…such as sermons (which are all wonderful), the music (which is terrific), my amount of spare cash, or my feelings about anything. I take it off the top rather than giving from my surplus (if I ever have a surplus).
Second, I make my pledge a percentage of my income – the tithe principle. Biblically, the tithe is ten percent. I think the principle is to give whatever percentage is possible, depending on circumstances. Years ago Rick and I started with a small percentage and gradually increased over the years. We had five kids living at home. It was possible.

St. Dunstan’s needs your pledge. This church will not be outsourced to China. We have a lot of ways to bring us into God’s love here in Madison, and they require financial support.

The following theology is presented by the Episcopal Church.
Think about the offertory in the Eucharist. It’s in the Book of Common Prayer and the church tradition. In the offertory, our gifts to God are bread, wine and our money. The gospel says that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke the bread and shared it with his disciples. This is the Eucharist.
It was taking bread then. It’s bread, wine and money now. We all are participating in this ongoing Eucharist with our gifts.

I’m asking you to give early and often. Make your pledge today. Fill out your pledge card today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Another Apple Pancake

This is my world famous apple pancake. At least, if you are in my world, it is world famous. It is another way to use apples for breakfast or lunch. It is easy to make and very good. It requires a skillet that can be put into the oven.  I usually make half the recipe and use a 10-inch skillet. This is from A World of Breads, by Dolores Casella (David White Co., 1966).

German Apple Pancake (Apple Pfankuchen)

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon flour                    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking powder                         ¼ cup lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt                                           3 cups peeled and finely diced apple
6 large eggs, separated                                 ¼ cup butter
1 cup sugar                                                  1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat the egg whites until foamy and gradually beat in ¾ cup of the sugar. Continue beating until the whites are stiff. Beat the egg yolks until thickened and beat in the milk and vanilla extract. Pour the lemon juice over the apples. Beat the milk mixture into the flour, beating until smooth. Then fold in the egg whites and the apples. Melt the butter in a 12- or 14-inch skillet. Pour the pancake mixture in and sprinkle it with the remaining sugar and the cinnamon. Bake about 15 minutes until it is set and lightly browned. Cut it into wedges and serve immediately.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

German Apple Pancake

It’s apple season. We are finding good ripe Wisconsin apples at farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and growing in orchards or wherever apple cores may have landed and grown.

The most famous apple is in the Bible. Remember Adam and Eve? Just a bite of that apple brought about knowledge of good and evil along with eviction from the Garden of Eden, God’s first real estate relocation. Some other very famous apples are the result of Johnny Appleseed, who went through the USA at some time in American history. He was a salesman. He sold apples, or apple trees, to everyone who would buy. Sweet American lore.

We had what I called an apple core tree in our yard in Green Bay, and we enjoyed the apples. It seemed to produce no identifiable variety of apple, just the wild kind. In the parking lot at the library in Seymour where I worked, branches of the apple tree growing next door yielded plenty of apples for me to take home, with the blessing of Jim and Dan, who owned the tree. Today I brought home a bag of apples of a nondescript kind, from a couple of trees in a public space near my home in Madison. They are somewhat sour and very good. It’s my third harvest. Needless to say, apples like these require some work to remove suspicious black and brown spots, but it is worth the effort. No spray. Organically grown.

People who like apples have created many ways to eat them, including sauces and desserts. I made apple soup for my husband and me many years ago, and he refused to believe that apples could be made into soup. Such is life. Like many people, he believed that the natural habitat for apples is in a pie or some other dessert. Goodbye apple soup; hello apple dessert, or again, hello German apple pancake.

This recipe is adapted to serve one or two people, depending on appetites. It is a pancake that bakes in the oven until it puffs up. Once out of the oven it sinks quickly. It tastes very good, and probably isn’t very healthy even with apples in it. After all, it is made with flour, butter and sugar, which are not known to promote good health.  I adapted the recipe from Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook (General Mills, 1980). It is called Apfelpfannkuchen. It doesn’t make a lot of pancake and isn’t served with syrup.

German Apple Pancake

2 eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup milk
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup apple slices (or about 1 medium apple)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel, core and slice the apple(s). Find your round 9-inch cake pan and warm it up in the oven. In the small mixer bowl, beat eggs, flour, milk and salt at medium speed for one minute. Remove the cake pan from the oven and place 2 tablespoon margarine in it. Rotate the pan until the margarine is melted and coats the side of the pan. Place the apple slices in the pan. Pour the batter over the apples. Mix the sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle it over the batter evenly. Bake the pancake uncovered about 25 minutes, until it is puffed and golden brown. Cut it in quarters and serve without syrup.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

More Overused Words and Phrases

It’s time for an update on the year’s thesaurus-challenged words and expressions. Well, absolutely, there are plenty for everyone.  I am serving them up for you. If you don’t read my go-to list, I will be devastated. It’s a must-have.

1.       Good to go. I hear this on television, in stores and everywhere else. One would hope that people on television would be leaders in good usage, but they are just like everyone else. When something is finished for you, you are good to go. Even the highly educated Doctor Oz uses this expression.
2.       Absolutely. Why don’t people want to say “yes” when that is what they mean? On television interviews, I have heard people using “absolutely” instead of “yes” five times in one sentence. That’s not the only place.
3.       Go-to.  When something is good, it is a go-to thing. Woodman’s is the go-to place to buy food. Jesus is the go-to guy who will save your soul.  Go-to doesn’t seem to be restricted to a place. Sometimes go-to is related to must-have (see below).
4.       Way, shape or form. I hear it used with a negative thought. If we think something is incorrect or inappropriate, we reject it by saying we don’t agree with it in any way, shape or form. Come on, people. Think of another way to be emphatic.
5.       Devastated.  This word is used to express a spectrum of upset feelings. I am okay with people being devastated while in the middle of a hurricane or forest fire that takes away their homes, because destruction is part of devastation. However, other words exist to describe situations of destruction or heartbreak.  I don’t deny the emotion. I protest the one word used to describe them all.
6.       Back in the day. Many people use this word to describe the past. One of my daughters uses it.
7.       Must-have. Related to Go-to. Television commercials are especially guilty of using this expression. The must-have outfits and shoes are at the mall.
8.       Buzz and buzzword. Buzzwords are all around us, maybe even on this list. The buzz is like gossip, or things we don’t need to know about celebrities but are told anyway.
9.       Up.  This is a superfluous word. How many people are serving up dinner? Back in the day, dinner was served without “up.”  We hang up the phone when we disconnect. Not every use of “up” is suspect. It’s used when the sentence is complete without it, and it is superfluous.
10.   Some acronyms, especially LOL, WTF, FAQ. Nuff said.