Saturday, September 29, 2012

Introducing...A Second Pair of Eyes, an Editorial Service for Professionals

 I hope you will check out my new editorial service, A Second Pair of Eyes!  I've been really shocked at the mistakes I am reading from professionals lately--especially attorneys.  No one seems to have the time to polish press releases these days.  As my client, I hope to be like...a second pair of eyes for you in order to relieve a little stress and make the quality of your work shine even more.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oregon Coast Clam Chowder (New & Imrpoved!)

If there's one dish I enjoy, it's a good bowl of clam chowder. We've sampled clam chowder in fine restaurants from Victoria to Monteray, and I really can honestly say that our recipe is hard to beat.  That said, my recipe owes a debt of gratitude to my own family. In fact, perhaps I should call it Eastern Washington Clam Chowder? No, I guess not.

Besides never scalding the milk, the central thing to bear in mind for this recipe is to keep experimenting and perfecting it. That's one aspect I enjoy--that each batch is slightly different than before. I usually add a one or two of a rotating list of seafood together with the clams: shrimp, crab, scallops, smoked salmon, etc. (Freshly caught seafood is particularly good, but make sure you have selected the right kind of clams if you've dug them yourself. Sadly...the Ericksons are not the best clam diggers; we buy them canned now.)

I also recommend making it correctly the first couple times before trying to concoct a healthy version. After all, this isn't a side dish, it's the meal. We almost never use real cream, for instance, but it does greatly improve the texture and flavor.  You may notice I use the word about a number of times in the recipe.  This is because either I have misplaced the precise measurements or I am encouraging some brave experimentation.  (I'll let you decide which is the case.)


about eight pounds of cut and peeled potatoes
about two cups of chicken broth
4-6 small cans of clams or 1 of the large can
3/4 to 1 stick of real butter
2 diced onions
1 diced stalk of celery
about a quart of whipping creme or half and half
four cups of whole milk
2-3 tbsp corn starch

Seasoning (to taste)

cracked pepper
dried parsley
basil (fresh preferred)
Be creative!

At the same time your boiling the potatoes in the chicken broth, begin to saute the cut onions in a skillet with some butter. Once the potatoes are sufficiently tender, remove from the heat. Cook the onions until they begin to become translucent. Just before removing from the heat, add the celery.  If the potatoes are too big, cut to smaller pieces. (You can cut them within the pot and save a little time.) Add sautéed onions to potatoes, followed by the rest of the seafood and any other desired ingredients. Don't add the milk or whipping creme yet!

Once everything has come to a gentle boil, add the milk and whipping creme last. Keep stirring and lower the heat. This prevents the milk from scalding. As the consistency will likely not be thick enough, withdraw half a cup of the liquid from the chowder and add two or three tablespoons of corn starch.  Mix well before adding to the chowder.  Bring to a boil again, stirring frequently, then remove from heat and serve hot.

Everyone (except me) in my household likes ice cold peas dropped on top of the chowder to help cool it down at serving time. I still believe that this is a great affront to the chowder gods. Consequently, you will not see peas in my chowder--unless, of course, my wife Kimberly has prepared it. :)

Suggested toppings: crumbled pepper bacon or oyster crackers.

PS.  You know what would go well with Oregon Clam chowder?  The answer is clearly...a copy of Tristan's Travels.  :)  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Islamic Offense, a Window to Religious Impotence?

I'd like to simply share an observation or two today concerning the wildfire of protests smoking across the Middle East.  I think it offers a fundamental insight into an erroneous way of thinking.  Besides the legitimate concern that the masses are so easily whipped into a religious frenzy by their manipulative leaders, there seems a fundamental disconnect or contradiction here with regards to Muhammad.  If any single person has the potential power to so easily enrage a people or culture as to incite murder(s), what essence of real truth can truly exist within the faith?  Even more important, however, if Muhammad is so easily and seriously blasphemed, to a level where its radicalized followers are compelled rise to violence to attack anyone or anything to which they are pointed, how weak a faith this would seem to be!

Where's the reason, intellectual curiosity, or respect for life?  Where's the desire to build and create as opposed to destroy and kill?  Where's the desire to heal as opposed to harm and injure?  I have respect and admiration for those of the Islamic faith who follow a pathway of of peace and justice, but...those who pursue a radical agenda certainly do a grave disservice and dishonor to their Islamic faith.  If anyone in any place has the power to enrage many to such a grievous point of sin, where is the strength of faith and reason?

In Saint Augustine's City of God, he discusses how the evil persecution of the Christian faithful does not bring sin and impurity to its victims.  That is, for example, if a Christian virgin were raped, that does not bring sin upon the victim of rape.  This is a common sense view within the Western Tradition, and a similar logic would perhaps be put to sound use by the radicalized followers of the Islamic tradition.  If one person's obscure and unsupported blasphemy against Muhammad can incite such unbridled anger and unjust response, can the faith really be in the one true God at all, and why does a "nobody" with a video camera hold such a power over a people--except that that people want that power to be so held?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Moral Relativism in the Postmodern Church

I had an interesting experience recently to attend a diversity conference in Salem.  While diversity is not a term with which I am always at ease--primarily on account of its most vociferous supporters' proclivity for using it as a weapon with which to pound conservatives--my feelings on the topic have somewhat softened of late.  Someday I'll tell the whole account, but suffice to say that I have had a realization that sometimes it's important to lend support to a movement when it helps brings about the greater good.  While there may be elements of the diversity movement which strike me as unhealthy and cliche-ridden, the bottom line is that it draws attention to what many of us Christians either are doing already or should have been be doing all along: engaging our fellow man with respect and courtesy.  (The fact that many of its supporters exclude conservatives from all the other differences they are quick to praise is unfortunate.)

As I commented in another blog post recently concerning "Lost in Translation," I think I recognize now more than in the past that racism sometimes takes a more subtle and insidious grasp than we may realize.  So, even if some dimensions of the movement are troubling, I support it insofar as it helps bring respect and courtesy to communications with those of different ethnic or social backgrounds.  That's the Christian thing to do, after all.

Dr. Delman Coates
Returning to the previously mentioned conference, I was excited to have the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Dr. Delmar Coates, pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Maryland.  This is described as a "mega Church" with thousands of members.  I quickly realized in the session Dr. Coates was giving that he seemed more comfortable with the world than the relatively conservative positions with which the Baptist denomination is usually associated.  He began, for instance, in suggesting that the Golden Rule needed to be updated to the Platinum Rule where we do unto others as they want to be treated.  While this kind of thing wouldn't bother me so much from a "regular Joe," I find it troubling when a pastor explains in a secular setting how a section of Gospel could be updated.  Teachers, after all, are held to a higher standard.  When the good pastor began to praise the benefits of gay marriage, I lost hope in him entirely.  If a Christian minister can turn a blind eye to the sanctity of marriage, what will come next?

It raises the larger question, though, of why so many Christian denominations seem to be losing their way and surrendering to the siren call of moral relativism and confirming the spiritual law--if you will--of moral entropy.  We're used to hearing the old materialistic arguments from the secular world, but now pastors are rallying against important teachings of the Bible, seeking to undermine the very nature and meaning of marriage itself. Having been baptized in the Baptist Church as a child, I am keenly aware of how far some of its churches are now drifting away from the straight and narrow way of Christ--from Pastor Coates to Pastor Terry Jones.  While it's no secret that we have since made the journey home to the Catholic Church, the states of the Baptist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian denominations at present seem particularly saddening--especially when we recall Christ's call for unity.  Pastor Coates would apparently dismiss a good deal of the New Testament--especially perhaps the stern warnings of Saint Paul-- in his quest for peace with the world.  They would exchange it all for a peace with a passing age instead of embracing the timeless message of the Gospel.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Coming Soon from Oregon Author & Illustrator Team....Toupee Mice!

            This is an end-of-summer note to just share with readers that our next children’s book, Toupee Mice, will be coming later this year from Rafka Press!  Pre-order information should be available in the near future.  Be sure to check back for updates!

       In other news, we have a small number of signed copies of Tristan’s Travels still remaining after summer events.  If you’re interested in making a purchase, we’re charging $20 for one book or $35 for two.  (This includes standard US shipping.)  As they like to say...this offer is only available while supplies last!  Please e-mail me at either or, and I’d be happy to call you to facilitate the order.  We are fine with either check or credit card.  

       Karl & Kimberly Erickson

The State of the States in Late 2012

I am posting this with very little commentary...except that I find it very interesting that 60% of the states with highest performing economies are headed by Republican administrations.

Please note that the data used below comes from individual state websites, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as Wikipedia.

High Rankings
Unemployment Rate
Political Party
Christine O'Grady Gregoire
John Kitzhaber
Richard Scott
Vincent Gray
Pat Quinn
Rick Snyder
Phil Bryant
Andrew Cuomo
Nathan Deal
Bev Perdue
Nikki Haley
Chris Christie
Jerry Brown
Lincoln Chafee
Brian Sandoval

Low Rankings
Unemployment Rate
Political Party
Jack Dalrymple 
Dave Heineman
Dennis Daugaard
Mary Fallin
Peter Shumlin
Terry Branstad
John Lynch
Matt Mead
Mark Dayton
Bob McDonnell
Gary Herbert
Deval Patrick
Sam Brownback
Neil Abercombie 
Brian Schweitzer

Data compiled by Karl Erickson.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fleeing Sin

The essay below was written a few years ago, and I am sharing today in response to a friend's question for me today.  (One of the people I quote I would not necessarily choose today, but I have left it mostly unchanged.)

Recently, I blundered into a Protestant attack while trying to converse with a friend on an online board.  There’s nothing quite like having a Protestant military chaplain dismissively declare, “As far as your friend's comments, well, what can one expect from a Roman Catholic?”  The minister went on to add that he had had two Catholics in a former congregation, and he found them quite spiritually deficient.  “One,” the minister recalled, “was a neo-platonic mystic, and the other was just a bitter elderly woman who had nothing but coldness and pride in her heart...”  

The vitriolic nature of these generalizations prompted reflection on the misguided way Catholics are so frequently characterized as being too focused on sin and unhappy in their lives.  Perhaps the negative assumptions are partly attributed to us Catholics being called to confess our mortal sins to a priest in order to be forgiven.  Some might argue that Christ freed us from sin, so we shouldn’t be so brutally introspective when it comes to our daily struggles and failings; Christ understands because He also suffered temptations.  It is true that He understands, yet, it was for these sins, too, that Christ suffered and died. If the Death and resurrection of the very Son of God were required in order that we might have even the choice to live for Him, then the true power of sin must be terrifying, something which can only be conquered through Christ and the Sacraments found within His Church. 

Christians understand that sin separates us: man from man and man from God.  It’s interesting that there seem to be two distinct views of sin and salvation held by most Catholics—with similar perspectives shared among Protestants.  Some subscribe to the view that a loving God will never permit anyone to go to hell.  There is an old British comedy about an Irish priest, played by Arthur Lowe, called “Bless Me Father.”  One particular episode entitled “Fire and Brimstone” concludes with Arthur Lowe’s character explaining the nature of hell to his new curate.  He remarks that hell most certainly exists, but no one but a “raving lunatic” would believe that there is actually anyone there.  An empty hell does seem to be what many good-natured Christians picture, something created (or, perhaps more accurately, a gulf of bitter separation allowed to exist) for reasons of apologetics alone.  Yet, if this were indeed the case, why would Christ’s sacrifice have been required at all?  Why would the Son of God have to bleed to death on a tree, if the danger of hell was not real?  Christ himself said in Luke 13:24 that we are to “strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”  Later, in verse 28, He warns that “there [hell] you will weep and gnash your teeth.”  If we say that there is no hell, what do we make of Christ’s words?

 On the other hand, many (rightly) believe that anyone who dies with unconfessed mortal sin(s) upon their hearts is bound for hell; Purgatory is even beyond the departed’s grasp.  Now, for the sake of argument, let us put aside the discussion over whether a particular act is a venial or a mortal sin. Let us assume if you will, that a good, lifelong Catholic is crossing a street when he catches sight of an attractive woman.  Let’s suppose that the sin of lust represents a constant battle for this particular man, and that he surrenders at times to related temptations.  Suppose a lustful thought passes through his mind, and he pauses some moments to dwell upon it.  For the sake of the argument, let’s call this act a mortal sin.  A moment later the man is struck and killed by a passing truck.  In a legalistic light, this man is condemned to an eternity in hell for the briefest and most seemingly inconsequential sin: a passing thought he consciously focused upon or “nurtured.”

While there seems to be something almost too mathematical or formulaic about this automatic sentence of eternal damnation of the soul in the situation described above, our personal speculation is not going to resolve this spiritual question.  Furthermore, while the earlier example is troubling, perhaps a more effective response to this type of scenario is to do our utmost to flee sin.  It should push us to a greater realization of the awful harm sin wrecks upon all of us.  Instead of worrying incessantly about this, however, we also need to remember that  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish.”  (John 3:16)  If we are friends of Christ, as our priest puts it, we are within His grace.  As I recently heard Father Corapi explain on an EWTN program, sin not only involves signing part of ourselves over to Satan (like in a contract), but it also begets sin as it begins to injure our own conscience and weaken our ability to discern good from evil.  I am reminded of the following powerful passage from James 1:13-15.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings death.”

There is yet another fascinating dimension of sin and the Catholic to consider.  It’s the understanding that more is expected of us as Catholics.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, teaches (paragraph 847) that salvation is a possibility for those not within the Church—those who don’t even know Christ by name, but whose lives reflect a connection with the true Creator.  So, the non-believer who has not heard the saving Word of God still has an opportunity for salvation through the profound grace of Christ, yet the Catholic who dies with mortal sin upon his heart may have, in effect, chosen hell in place of heaven.  On the surface, this seems unfair, but we must understand “that every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required.”  (Luke 12:48)  If we take a second look at the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20, one also catches a glimpse of a similar truth.  That is, God’s way is not man’s way; heaven, although it can be called a reward, is not earned like compensation for labor.  That initial grace is a gift freely made from God.  Our works and cooperation with the will of God, of course, demonstrate that the gift of grace is alive and well within us.  As we read in James 1:23, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”    

In regards to the earlier accusation of being unhappy or unfulfilled, I suspect that these stereotypes often originate in the serious nature of Mass itself.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t dance or wave our hands in the air that there is a false assumption by some that our solemn and reverent services mean that we are unhappy people at heart.  As any good Catholic knows, however, this is a dangerously spurious conclusion.  Reverence in worship does not mean that we are unhappy or dour in our lives.  The reverence simply signals that we understand whom we are coming before when we attend Mass; it’s not entertainment.  We believe, after all, that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.  As Saint Augustine wrote of the Eucharist in Confessions, “I am the food of full-grown men.  Grow and you shall feed on me.  But you shall not change me into your own substance, as you do with the food of your body.  Instead you shall be changed into me."  

As a child I recall hearing my grandmother making a passing comment about a relative’s prospects of salvation.  She commented, even though this relative was no longer a believer, that some Christians taught that once a person was saved, the person was always saved.  Unconsciously, this memory served as an encouragement—even long after I had consciously rejected Calvinism, or heretical predestinarianism as it’s called by one Catholic theologian.  It’s because of the nature of free will that “once saved always saved” simply does not work.  God gives us a choice, and we are responsible for our decisions—unless there are mitigating circumstances such as mental illness or a lack of understanding.  This is why we read in Philippians 2:12 that we are “to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” 

The primary difference between the Catholic and Protestant understanding of what it means to be "saved" is seen most vividly in the way a friend of ours puts it. We as Catholics have been saved.  This identifies a point of decision or "second conversion" where the first conversion is the Sacrament of baptism.  We are being saved.  This conveys the act of living daily as a friend of Christ.  And, lastly, we hope to be saved.  This reflects a trust that acknowledges the mystery of free will.  The Catholic concept of being saved emphasizes a work in progress, since anyone can decide to turn his back on his Savior and Lord. While we can’t have absolute certainty of our own salvation, because of this free will and our own inclination toward sin, we can have an assurance of salvation, a confidence in God to safeguard those who love Him and remain in Him.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, “At the same time this [salvation history] embraces the life of every man.  In a certain sense it is entirely contained in the parable of prodigal son, or in the words of Christ when he addresses the adulteress: ‘Neither do I condemn you.  Go [and] from now on do not sin anymore (jn 8:11).’”   This hope of salvation, if we remain true to Christ, should be enough to keep all of us singing and dancing like King David in the Psalms.