Saturday, January 17, 2015


I am close to despair, not so much at the level of racism in this country (although that is tragic enough), but the lack of recognition of racism and how damaging it is, not only to its victims but the very fabric of our society.

The latest is this story of Miami Police using mug shots of African American youth for target practice.   And if the fact they were doing this was not bad enough, they are not embarrassed or ashamed but in fact, are defending this practice.

Thanks to Pastor Lura Groen who created a Facebook Event  for clergy in clerical collar  to invite the North Miami police to use our photos instead of African American youth.  It is a recognition of our privilege.  I can afford to invite them to shoot at me because I have very little fear of being shot by police.  It is a way to invite police to see the people they are shooting at as human beings which I fear, when they use mug shots of people of any race, they do not.  I think you almost have to dehumanize a person before you shoot at them.

It's a symbol, it's a gimmick.  It's not going to change the world.  But when I see all the photos of  people inviting police to shoot at their image, it's very powerful.  I hope it gets some attention and traction.

But I really hope we find a way to recognize the worth of all human beings.

If you would like to participate, send your photos to this address.  The more polite and Christlike the message, the better

North Miami Police

16901 Ne 19th Ave, North Miami Beach, FL 33162.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Here's what you do with leftover turkey -- Turkey Gumbo!

It’s probably too late this year because this starts with simmering the carcass for a few hours.  Throw in some onion and left over veggies if you like.  When it’s done just put the whole pot in the fridge.  Or if there is no room and if you live where I live, by the basement door where it’s cold.  You can skip this step but I think it adds richness to the stock.

The next morning, take the carcass out of the pot and pick off the meat.  I’m a terrible carver so there’s always plenty left on the carcass but there’s always something.  You can also use leftover turkey you carved.  Save that for later.  Strain the liquid and save that.  Freeze it in quart bags.   Keep a pint out.  It should be very gelatinous.

What makes a gumbo is the roux.  It’s all about the roux.  This takes time. You need to stand by the pan and watch and stir your roux.  You don’t want it to burn.

A roux is equal parts fat and flour.  I had fried up a bunch of bacon for loaded mashed potatoes so I used a quarter cup bacon fat and a quarter cup flour.  You can use butter, olive oil, lard, any fat.   Melt the fat, and add the flour and mix it well.  Then cook on low heat until it is a dark caramel color. It takes about 40-45 minutes.  Don’t rush it.  Stir it and don’t let it stick to the pan.

Then add 1 chopped onion and one chopped red bell pepper, a few cloves garlic, chopped and stir it up so that it is all covered in the roux.  

This is when I add the spices.  Salt, pepper. You can add cayenne pepper if you like heat.  I use Penzey’s Cajun mixture.  And sage, since sage is good with turkey.  Stir it up and cook low for about 5 minutes.  

Add about a half cup wine.  Red wine, white wine, whatever.  It will become a big sticky glob.  That’s what you want.  Cook that on low for about 10 minutes.  

Add your pint of turkey stock.  Depending on how thick and rich that stock is, you can add water (or wine) to thin it to your taste.  I like it thick.  I also add about a tablespoon of brown sugar.

Add the turkey.  You could add some carrots. Turn up the heat and bring that to a slow boil. Then dump it in the slow cooker (or turn heat down again) and cook it for about two hours. Eat it with rice.  It’s rich and tasty. 

You will want to make sure you have enough left over turkey to make this every year.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Enough with the Black Friday Shaming Already!

Hey remember me?? 

I used to blog.  For myself.  Now I blog for the Northeastern Iowa Synod.

But I got something to say about Black Friday shaming.  I think we should stop it.  Because while you think it’s all about fighting anti-consumerism and commercialism and everything that is wrong with our economic system, it’s not.  It’s just making people who like to shop on Good Friday feel bad.  And making you feel superior because you don’t do it. 

This is the thing.  We have a crazy economic system that depends on people buying stuff.  I don’t think that is a good thing.  I don’t even understand how it can be sustainable.  And you don’t have to tell me about how bad people in retail are paid and treated.  Hello??? I worked at Staples last summer.  I went 5 hours on my feet without any breaks.  I was expected to be kind of smart about figuring out stuff, be fast on the cash register, know where to find the blue #3 sharpie, smile and take grief all for a little over minimum wage. 

I get it.  There is something wrong with our economic system. 

But we ALL participate in it.  Some of us benefit from it more than others; some of us suffer from it more than others.  But nobody gets a pass.  You don’t get to be all superior for not shopping on Black Friday. 

Disclaimer:  Yes I have shopped on Black Friday.  Got up early, took my kids, got some deals, went to lunch, and came home and took a nap.  We did this even at the evil capitalistic center – Mall of America.  Nobody died.  Nobody even got punched.  Or trampled . Most people were very pleasant.   

But then again I never tried to buy a Plasma TV for $5. 

Frankly I’m tired of seeing memes comparing Black Friday to the Hunger Games.  And people trying to make me feel like I’m more greedy and consumerist than those who shop on say, Monday.  

And if I’m tired of it, trust me; the folks in the pews are tired of it.

And you know who else is tired of it?  The good people in your pews who own stores.  They are tired of being made to feel like they are responsible for taking Jesus out of Christmas cuz they sell stuff in December.  

So let’s just stop it.

I don’t know how to fix our broken economic system.  I don’t know how to make the world a more just, fair and kind place.  I just know that making people feel bad about going shopping is not working.

So if you are looking for a deal this Friday – Sin boldly!  AND remember the poor.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


A Mighty Fortress
Is not just brick and stone

A Mighty Fortress
Is the fierce loyalty of a friend
that defeats the cruelty
   we often impose upon ourselves
A Mighty Fortress
              is a shield of grace
                             against the spears of judgment this world hurls
A Mighty Fortress
              Is a tender love that provides a balm
                             which heals the scars this life can leave
A Mighty Fortress
              Is the place where love and grace can make us brave again.
A Mighty Fortress is our God.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Visiting Poverty

I know, I never post here anymore.  I keep it because of the old stuff I posted.  For those who are still following, this is from where I do most of my writing:  God's Work, Our Blog, our synod blog.

My sister & I

The past two weeks has been something of a roller coaster of emotions as I took personal time to first celebrate with joy and pride my son’s graduation from college and then flew to California for what is probably my last visit with my sister who is in the late stages of breast cancer.

My sister has worked hard her whole life in a variety of low paying jobs, mostly waitressing and factory work.  She always enjoyed her jobs and the people she met and made the most of life.  But now she lives only on her Social Security check, in Southern California where rent is so expensive she is left with $40 a month to live on.

She lives in a cockroach infested apartment on a busy street.  But she does have a place to live. There are many homeless who sleep in cars and under shopping carts on her street. She knows and speaks to many of them.

When you are poor you wait for hours in the clinic for care.  Even if you have cancer you can wait months to see a specialist.  She needs to give herself shots after her chemo treatments and one time the doctor forgot to include a prescription for the needles.  The doctor is only available on Wednesdays.  She needed to give herself the shots beginning on Thursday.  My sister is good at coming up with creative solutions to problems.  She walked down to the local homeless shelter which has a free needle exchange program for drug addicts and talked them into giving her some needles.

When you are poor you have to be clever to survive.  People who think the poor are lazy and dumb must not actually know any poor people.  One of my sister’s neighbors spent two days, 12 hours a day wearing a hot costume and dancing on the street to attract attention to a local business for a few hundred dollars.  Out of her $40, my sister gave him $10 to wash her floor for her.  

She gets food stamps.  A few times a week she has someone take her EBT card (they don’t use stamps anymore) to the Jack in the Box on the corner to buy her a hamburger.  A lot of people resent that the poor can use food stamps to buy fast food.   But remember she has 4th stage breast cancer and is undergoing chemo.  She doesn't always feel like cooking.

While I was visiting she bought us a couple of steaks with her food stamps.  People with money resent that too.  But she only gets a set amount of money for food each month.  If she spends $12 on steaks this week, it means she will eat rice and beans the rest of the month (which she likes).  But why should we begrudge her the ability to buy her sister a nice dinner?  Why should we insist she buy hamburger every week rather than steak one week and beans the next?

I went grocery shopping for her and she gave me her EBT card but I refused to use it.  Of course I had money and wanted to buy her groceries so her food stamps would last longer.  But there was a less noble and generous reason I refused to use the card.  I was ashamed and did not want to be seen using the card.  “Oh don’t worry about that,” she assured me “Everyone here uses that card.  You will fit right in”

The truth was, I did not want to fit in. I did not want to be seen as one of “those people”.  But as I spent the week with her and “those people” and saw how much they cared for and took care of my sister, how hard they worked for the little they had and how clever they were at surviving, and what positive attitudes they had, I realized I could do a lot worse than “fitting right in” with this crowd.

As Christians we know we are obligated to help the poor.  But I know we can be awfully judgmental about the poor and we don’t often actually get to know them.   Jesus was about more than just "helping" the poor.  He was about abolishing the barriers we put between “us” and “them”. This past week has challenged me to think about ways we can move beyond charity to expanding our notions of who our neighbor is.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Review of the New Noah Movie

I do all my blog writing over  on the Synod Blog now.  Mostly newsy stuff but once in awhile I get to have an opinion.  This week I review the new Noah Movie. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lent is Coming

And really if I were still in the parish I'd get this Lenten Devotional for my congregation even if I didn't write part  of it.

Honestly this gig helped me pay for my insurance when I was doing my time at Staples this summer.  

Too Deep for Words:

This pocket-sized, full-color devotional takes you through Lent with daily readings from Romans. Each reading is accompanied by a photo, quote, reflection, and prayer.

And if you miss my blogging - I do all my blogging over here these days:

God's Work Our Blog

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm Still Here. Making Fruitcake and Remembering to be Thankful

My Swanky Office

I make fruitcake when things are going well.  It's time consuming and expensive so it's a good sign when I make fruitcake.

This is the thing.  I write a blog for a living now.  So it's just not so pressing to do it on my own anymore.  In case you missed the news, I'm the new Director for Evangelical Mission for the Northeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA.

It's a strange but wonderful position. As I described in my Staples post, I work for the ELCA but am deployed in the SYnod Office.  And I am doing stuff no other DEM is doing.  

Most DEMs are all about new starts and mission congregations.  Well we don't have many of those so my job description was written to include helping congregations use Social Media for outreach.  It's kind of scary because I keep getting introduced as the "Expert in Social Media" when I'm really not all that expert.  I've just tried some stuff that works, read some stuff and know where to find answers,.  Usually.

I'm doing stuff I love.  I work with a Bishop I admire and other incredibly hardworking, knowledgeable, talented and downright pleasant to be around staff.  I wake up in the morning thinking "Yea I get to go into work today"  I travel around to different churches to preach and people are happy to see me.  People listen to me.  It is for me, anyway, the Best Job in the World.

But this is the thing.  There are parts I don't like. Sometimes I have to do things I don't want to do.  And even though just a few short months ago I couldn't breath I was so grateful and excited to get this job, there are times now when all I do is think and grouse about those silly things I have to do that I don't like.  

What the hell is wrong with me?  I guess that is what sin is.  Because this is the thing:  Gratitude does not come easy to us.  And when it does, it doesn't stick around.  You have to work at Gratitude.  You have to make an effort.  Get lazy and you will default to bitchin and moaning about those things you don't have you wish you did or the things you do have and wish you didn't.

Don't get lazy.  It's Thanksgiving time for crying out loud. Maybe things are not going as well for you as they are for me.  Let me tell you in the darkest of my times, I have found gratitude to be all the more important.  Thinking about what I did have that was good in my life has kept me out of some deep wells of despair I could have easily plunged into. 

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"  I Thess. 5:17-18

Yea, what he said. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Landing on My Feet or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I really wanted to do interim ministry. I knew I would be good at it for a lot of reasons. I got the training and completed a successful two year interim.

But this is the thing with interim ministry. There is this thing called "downtime" when there are no churches needing an interim and so there is no work. And if you are a single mother who has lived paycheck to paycheck your entire career, well down time can be pretty terrifying.

So this summer I went to work at Staples for my "down time". I came to hate hearing this time referred to as "down time". Down time sounds so relaxing and refreshing. There was nothing relaxing or refreshing about this time. They would often "forget" to give me my break and it was not unusual for me to be on my feet for five hours at a stretch without a break. Funny story. As part of my "Training" I had to watch a video about how bad unions are and how everyone gets along we don't need no stinkin union. All I know is that if I had a union rep, I'd sure as heck get my breaks when I was supposed to!

But back the term "Downtime” --Here are some other things pastors said to me during this time (and after) that I did not appreciate:

I worked at Staples at a relatively large town with a lot of ELCA churches and pastors around. Apparently a lot of ELCA pastors shop at Staples. Who knew? So a very strange dynamic would take place when they saw me. They would seem a little uncomfortable. It reminded me of right after my husband died and the couples our age we hung out with didn't really want to be around me. Because I reminded them of what could happen to them.

I think seeing me in my bright red staples shirt made pastors uncomfortable because I reminded them of just how insecure our jobs really are. They could be wearing a red shirt themselves. Actually they would be lucky to get this job.

So in their discomfort they would say stupid things to me the way, in their discomfort, people say stupid things to people in grief. Pastors know better than to say stupid things to people in grief. But they don't really know what to say to other pastors in red Staples shirts.

"Oh I think I would enjoy a little down time like you are getting" No, I'm pretty sure you would not enjoy being on your feet 7 hours all day, then having to clean the bathrooms before you can go home at night (Speaking of which, there is nothing like cleaning a public men's bathroom to really destroy your faith in humanity.)

"Oh I bet you are collecting a lot of sermon material” Um, no. Not so much. Not much material in sorting pens. A couple of funny stories to tell at dinner about stupid rude angry customers, perhaps, but a sermon? Nope.

And the line that really annoys me the most... "Oh I think it is good for us [sic] to do work like this every once in a while so we [sic] can see how real people live.

Okay let me rant about this ridicules statement for a while. WE??? Someone with a call says to ME, on leave from call making 8.25 an hour says how good this is for US??? And secondly...I grew up poor with a single mother. I know how real people live; probably a lot better than the pastor telling me how good it is for "us" to have this experience. I did farm work, cutting asparagus in the early morning before going to school when I was 14 years old. I worked my way through college and seminary doing everything from cleaning houses, waitressing, and receptionist and was even a church secretary. My husband and I raised our kids on my far less than synod guidelines salary alone because we didn't want daycare workers raising our children. I know how "real people" live, thank you very much. I was very grateful to get the Staples job because it was a lot easier and more interesting than a lot of other jobs I could have had and it helped me pay my bills during my "down time" but no it was not a lark or Sabbatical to learn how the other half lives and it was really really difficult for me to keep temper when anyone said that to me.

This is what people said to me that I did appreciate. "Joelle I know you have a lot more to offer the church and I am praying that you will get that opportunity soon". I did have a lot of people praying for me and that meant and means a lot. I know many of you who are reading this were praying and I thank you for that.

All of this is not to say that I regret this past summer because I don't. It’s one of those experiences I would not care to relive or repeat but I a glad I had it. I especially appreciate it now that it is over. I have been called and begun to serve the Northeastern Iowa Synod as Director or Evangelical Mission. And I am very excited about the position. It's an odd position in that I am actually paid by the ELCA and am considered deployed staff but I work for and answer to my synod bishop. Our synod is doing a lot of cutting edge stuff. We have a great staff that I could not be more tickled to be part of. I am going to have to stop saying shit and damn and hell and pissed off. And forgitabout the f word. So I could still use some prayers in that transition.

So stay tuned as the adventure continues.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Corn & Black Bean Salad

I'm waiting until this particular episode of my life is over to write about it.  I hope that will be soon.

In the meantime I signed up for a Fuel-Saver card at Hy-Vee Grocery store.  You buy certain items and you get cents off gas at some gas stations.  I recently saved 23 cents a gallon.  After a while it can add up.  

So sweet corn and red bell peppers were fuel saver items this week.  I made black bean and corn salad to take to work with me this week. (I'll tell you about the work when I have a new job.  Which I hope will be soon.

1 Cup cooked black beans (I cooked them in chicken stock with cumin and garlic)
1 Cup sweet corn
1 Red bell pepper, chopped
1 Red onion, chopped
1/2 C Cilantro, chopped
2 Tb  Olive Oil
1  Tb   Balsamic Vinegar

Stir in all up and refrigerate a few hours.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Evelyn Underhill, Mystic, died 1941

You know sometimes how one goes to see a church which one is told has magnificent windows--and seen from from outside they all look alike--dull, thick, grubby....Then we open the door and go inside--leave the outer world, enter the inner world--and the universal light floods through the windows and bathes us in their colour and beauty and significance, shows us things of which we had never dreamed, a loveliness that lies beyond the fringe of speech.  And so in the same way we cannot realize God and all our Lord's lovely meaning as a revelation of God and His eternal Truth and Beauty from the outside....

It is from within the place of prayer, recollections, worship and love, where the altar is, where the sacrifice is made, where we are all bound together in a life of communion and self-giving to God, that we fully and truly receive the revelation which is made through Christ.

Light of Christ by Evelyn Underhill

Quoted in Philip H. Pfatteichers' New Book of Festivals & Commemorations