Big Changes Coming to Mustard Seed Training!


Hello, loyal friends! It’s been 10 years since I started Farrell Ink! Wow!

In the past decade, I have encountered thousands of adult education students and teachers working hard to advance their career and educational goals. I saw administrators, teachers, and students become advocates for themselves to improve HSE exams, career prep curricula, and adult education programs.

Reading Out Loud

As a teacher myself, I enjoyed researching solutions to some of our stickiest educational issues, and sharing them on this blog! This website has been the core of my digital presence for the past decade, so I plan to leave my existing posts as a reference for adult learners and educators.

However, my new business, Mustard Seed Training, is going in a different direction and I need to switch web platforms to accommodate.

All posts will stay up, but by next year, this site will revert to a basic, free WordPress blog.

In addition to my career in adult literacy, for the past 10 years I have also been volunteering as a catechist, i.e. teaching religious education. It started with formation in a Montessori-based method called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS). This method teaches adults how listen to God with children.

So… what is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS)?

Catechesis = Latin for “the process of forming disciples of Christ”

CGS was developed in Italy by Sofia Cavaletti and Gianna Gobbi over many years of teaching and observing children. It is based on the Montessori method with a multi-level classroom environment called the “Atrium.” Cavaletti and Gobbi identified key scripture verses, prayers, and elements of worship that connect with children’s spirituality at various developmental stages, and then created hands-on materials that allow children to “work” at their own pace.

Though it all started in an Italian, Roman Catholic setting 50 years ago, the method has been translated to languages and cultures around the world. It has also been adapted to various Christian denominations, as it highlights the key elements of faith that we share even though some of our practices are different.

My favorite part is the way the Montessori method in general emphasizes empathy and social-emotional learning, which builds a strong moral foundation for life.

I hope you see why I love it so much!

Mustard Seed Training formed two years ago to serve fellow CGS catechists and turn a ministry into a career. However, it has taken me this long to figure out: What does that look like, specifically?

At a formation this past summer, the National Association for CGS shared two big needs of fellow catechists: crafting custom wooden materials, and adult faith formation.

What are the materials needed for CGS?

Um, it varies… based on the catechist and location.

CGS is not like other curricula. It’s not a kit you can buy in a store or implement by reading a teacher’s guide.

It requires physical work and mental decisions on the part of the catechist about what objects are most essential and available in their context. It is intentionally this way, to force adults to develop themselves and their space in preparation for encountering the child.

The method is also extremely adaptable to various budget and size restrictions. You can put together a DIY program with found objects and donations, or you can buy individual sets for hundreds of dollars. Even with the cost of buying materials, over the long term this approach actually saves money over the annual textbook or app subscription costs.

Let’s take, for example, the Good Shepherd parable which young children find so attractive. Here is one version of the Good Shepherd materials:


The children love when the shepherd finds the lost sheep and carries it home on his shoulders, rejoicing. Children will repeat this activity over and over again with great focus and joy. As they deepen their abstract thinking, they are able to enter in to some of the more challenging questions posed by the parable:

  • Who is the Good Shepherd?
  • Why did the sheep get lost?
  • Could this parable be talking about me?

The method involves dozens of such standardized activities for children ranging from 3-12 years old. Many catechists are continuing experimentation and observation with 0-3 year olds and 12-18 year olds. My long-term goal is to extend this into standardized materials for adults, particularly those new to a parish community (called RCIA or “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults”).

When I moved from Cleveland to Jefferson, Ohio, I helped my new parish get started with this method for 3-6 year olds. During the process, I got to use some of my woodworking skills (thank you, shop class!) to create materials we needed. Thinking I would save time, I also ordered some materials online, and experienced long wait lists from the few woodworkers who serve this growing national market.

Being in process of creating materials for my own local program, I realized that I am fortunate enough to already have the tools and skills to serve other catechists who need materials. So basically, I’m going to become a carpenter!

Where can you find me?

I’ll be building my new online blog/shop at (currently redirects here)

Please join my “Catechists’ Corner” Facebook group or follow my Facebook page.

I’ll start off by recommending high quality materials that can be used for CGS and are readily available on Amazon. For example, you can find beeswax candles for a model altar, lovely writing paper for prayer cards, or a shepherd reacting to an angel by Fontanini.

In addition to recommending materials, I plan to make wooden sets as well. In the level 1 curriculum for 3-6 year olds, there are 24 standardized, unique-to-CGS wooden sets that you won’t find at WalMart or Amazon. The demand for CGS materials is only growing, and I am eager to pray over materials as I build them. It would be a blessing to turn my ministry into a career.

So what’s next?

Over the next few months, I plan to figure out sources for wood, create templates, develop a process for manufacturing and shipping, and build up some initial inventory. I’m also doing market research on which custom CGS materials are in highest demand. If you have an opinion on which materials YOU need, please let me know! I’m happy to take requests.

Thank you!! I greatly value your friendship, interest, and support for advancing adult education, and hope many of you will be interested in staying connected through this transition.

Is Hallowe’en a Christian Holiday?

Short answer: It can be.


The word “Hallowe’en” comes from “All Hallows Eve.”

Hallowed means holy, as in “hallowed be thy name.”
Thus “All Hallows” is another way to say “All the Holies” aka “All Saints Day” which is celebrated on November 1st.
Since we can’t possibly know all of the people who are in heaven, we lump them all together into All Saints Day.

But why All Hallows’ EVE?

Just like Star Wars and Apple fans like to line up on the night before the actual release date, Catholics just can’t wait for the actual day of something. We have all these “Vigil” days where we celebrate the evening before, often with crazy outfits and candles and sometimes even prayers, hence “All Hallows’ Eve.”
But we don’t just remember all the holy people!
There’s evil in the world, too.
Just turn on the news and it’s in your face.
On the Eve of All Hallows, we remember that everyone–saint or otherwise–has a choice between good and evil.

And obviously, the best way to purge your evil desires is to dress like a demon and scare people, right?

(Side note: there’s a psychological and sociological benefit to “purging” rituals where you create a safe space to vent your undesired urgings. Another great Christian example of this purging is “Carnival” or “Fat Tuesday” where you party before Ash Wednesday and Lent.)
Thus beyond the superficial “trick or treat” of Halloween is the potential for a real spiritual message.
Each of us has a very real choice of being “tricked” into hatred, vice and death or choosing to “treat” one another as loving neighbors.
Some folks claim Hallowe’en is not a Christian holiday because it was intentionally celebrated at the same time as the pagan fall harvest festivals.
There is truth to that claim.
But if you can’t celebrate Hallowe’en, then you need to remember that every single Christian holiday has the same problem.
  • Easter was originally during the Jewish liberation feast of Passover. As Christianity spread it co-opted the eggs and rabbits from the Babylonian goddess of the Sun, Ishtar, among other traditions.
  • Christmas was celebrated during the Roman feast of Saturnalia. As Christianity spread, it co-opted various winter solstice traditions from around the Northern hemisphere.

You see, Christianity is in many ways the least original religion of all time. It comes in to new spaces, and says, “Oh hey, tell me more about that. That’s pretty cool. Here’s how I would do that in light of my relationship with Jesus…”

Christianity tends to be counter-cultural…

…but that doesn’t mean culture-destroying.

Not all Christians have been gentle, but I would argue that Christianity has largely spread as an organic force, just as Jesus described: a seed that grows, a yeast that rises within. Organic cultural contact is an irrevocable element of being human, and an inevitable part of being religious.

Still, there are limits when “organic” turns to “toxic.” Christianity can only grow as long as it values and redeems the lives and symbols and societies it touches.

Following Jesus does change everything!

But that change comes by transforming our lives with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, not merely by external traditions (or their rejection).

I get this idea from the way Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven as:

  • yeast in the dough
  • salt (a preservative)
  • a seed that grows hidden in the earth
  • a treasure hidden in a field
In light of this “hidden treasure,” how would Jesus view Halloween as it is practiced today?
I imagine He would chide some of its excesses (I mean, do we really need to make every female costume “sexy”?).
But would He declare every last decoration and celebration as inherently evil? I don’t think so. He might even turn some apple juice into hard cider.
Jesus could have created armies from his followers, but He did not choose to dominate and conquer Herod or Pilate or Caesar. Instead He asks us to repent of our own free will. He asks us to choose to return to the path of forgiveness and mercy.
Sometimes the people in authority listen, sometimes not, and all the time imperfectly. That’s why He reminds us not just to follow outer laws, but to reform our inner law and motivations:

Love God with all your mind, heart and strength.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

But we struggle to live that out in our every day choices.
Which explains why All Souls’ Day (or Dia de los Muertos) follows All Saints Day and All Hallows’ Eve (aka Hallowe’en).

Because not all the dead are holy.

On Oct 31st we remember evil,

on Nov 1st we revere holiness,

and on Nov 2nd we remember all our beloved dead.

We remember the Most of Humanity who left this world somewhere in between, those who made good and bad choices in this life.
These three holidays challenge us to remember and pray for All Souls, known and unknown.

So is Hallowe’en a Christian holiday? It can be.

Like any day of the year, it can be thoroughly secular: lived only for the material goods of costumes and candy and decorations.
But if you want to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve as a Christian holiday, then I say “Trick or Treat,” friends.

Avoid the tricks of evil, and treat each other well.

Christians have many hundreds of years of Hallowe’en traditions to draw from, so enjoy wearing costumes, purging inner demons, and sharing the sweetness of neighborly hospitality.
As you enjoy, I also invite you to join me in the challenge of remembering the central Christian message of this day, and passing it on to our children:

YOU have the choice between good or evil, between love or hatred of neighbor, between worship or mockery of God.

When we remember the dead, holy or not, we remember our own mortality, that we have one brief and beautiful life in which to choose our path.
May you have a Blessed All Hallows’ Eve. And may all your days be blessed.

Why Do Rainbows Remind Us of the Dead?

Like grass withers in circles in a field, sometimes we come to a season when it feels like people are dying all around us. In truth, people are dying every day. But in these past couple weeks, I feel the breeze from death’s scythe circling me as people I know are cut down in their prime.

On those days, clouds cover my heart.

Death and rainbows have been a theme of this week. After the spring storms flooding Northeast Ohio, social media is flooded with pictures of refracted light and attributions to the beloved deceased.

What is it about these bright, thin glimpses of color that remind us of our loved ones who have gone before us?

Monday, Memorial Day in the US, was a Rainbow Day. It’s already marked off as a day to barbeque and remember the dead. On top of that Ron Cramer of Jefferson fame had a fatal heart attack while running a 5K, an experience he survived exactly four years ago.

Ron leaning against a stone cross in a graveyard
Ron Cramer

The news added a litany of stories to our extended family gathering, and I just got quiet (which is very out of character!). That evening, our immediate family went cycling, training for a long distance bike ride. Rain was forecast, so we put on our raincoats.

Instead of asking not to bike, our boys wanted to get wet. They laughed about “getting skunked” by the water sprays that soaked their butts. We peddled through a sunshower, when the warmth was on our backs, but heavy drops still peppered our faces.

Then we came out the other side of the storm to a rainbow.

Double rainbow by Wikimedia user Lauri Kosonen

A rainbow by itself is just color, a distortion or mirage. We can’t touch it, but it reveals a hidden truth about the spectrum of light that is hidden from our eyes on ordinary days.

I believe it is the experience of a rainbow that reminds us of dying.

It is the experience of peddling hard through a storm, and being rewarded with beauty on the other side. It reminds us how to be grateful for things that can’t last.

The death of a friend reveals something to us that is usually hidden in our workaday world: that the spectrum of life is more than the sum of our works.

Simple drawing of a rainbow

It hints that there is something more, something deeper. There is something in a human life that disappears as soon as we try to touch it or put in in a box, but that stays with us long after the mirage has faded.

I found myself singing:

“Alleluia, the great storm is over,
Lift up your wings and fly.”

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes also put this experience into verse (12:1,5,7):

Remember your creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come,
when one is afraid of heights,
and terrors are in the road;
the almond tree blossoms,
the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails;
because all must go to their eternal home,
and the mourners will go about the streets,
and the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the breath returns to God who gave it.

Grief is a storm that comes in waves. But when mourners gather, we do so to remember the vanity of life with gratitude, and with a hope that at the end, there will be rainbows.

Daily Reading: Celebrating Our Adoption Day!

This morning, I got to read one of my favorite verses in scripture. The first reading is from Acts 15, when the early Christian communities have gathered in Jerusalem to deal with one of the biggest controversies in the early Church. As you may have figured out by now, I love to study controversy, and am particularly fascinated by peaceful ways to address them. Whenever I see a “success story” of people taking a topic head-on and growing together, I pick it apart.

I love this passage, because it tells us a lot about HOW the Apostles and early community dealt with controversy. Today we start with a debate. But what are they debating? Who is debating? And why?

They are:

  1. In Jerusalem. After Jesus’ death & resurrection, this became the center of activity for those who believed His Good News.
  2. The Apostles and presbyters. Presbyters are the first Christian priests, who are different from the temple priests, or hierus–although some of the temple priests have also joined this “Christian” movement.
  3. Representatives from all the churches. As the Apostles have gone out in the world to proclaim the Way, they all came together to debate and resolve this major conflict. These include what would latter become known as “deacons” and “lay-people,” and sets the precedent for the Ecumenical Councils that we now hold when worldwide controversies need to be addressed. I could say a lot more about this.
  4. Jews. All of the people who had gathered were either raised Jewish or converts to Judaism. Non-Jews were called “Gentiles,” and their status in the growing community is the topic of discussion.

So basically, more and more Gentiles (non-Jews) want to be baptized. Woohoo, right? Isn’t this what Jesus told them would happen? But those Gentiles are hoping they can opt out of full conversion to Judaism, which means being circumcision as adults, strict kosher laws, and other lifestyle obligations.

So we start this text by asking what we should always ask:

Who is “us”?


Peter addresses the group by saying that God “made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.”

“Us” here means Jews, who observe the ritual purity laws, and also believe and proclaim that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, living in the tradition of Moses, and raised from the line of David.

“Them” means everyone else who also has faith in Jesus.

Eventually, the group said “yes,” Gentiles can join the Family. But only after listening to all sides of the argument, to appeals from the prophets, and from lived experience. This process is what fostered agreement, and maintained unity.

The Apostles and presbyters and representatives from all the congregations remained in their Jewish traditions, which they loved and valued. They continued observing the Sabbath and eating kosher. But they decided at this point to allow others a simpler lifestyle, recognizing that the traditions of their ancestors were not the Way of salvation. And the missionary Apostles also would eat with these Gentiles, new to the faith, as a sign of unity.

The underlying issue here was a question of purity. To approach God, one had to be without SIN, which are impurities. All the ritual acts of daily life (washing, eating) combined with the temple duties (circumcision, sacrifice) were designed to purify bodies and hearts to approach a God who is truly pure.

Some Christians interpret this passage as a total negation of everything that came before, as if the Apostles suddenly became Christians and denied any Jewish traditions or rituals. But the text doesn’t support that. Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James still went on to observe the Jewish holidays, attend the Synagogues and Temples, and follow their own traditions.

But they recognized that these practices are only good in-so-far as they accomplish their purpose of purifying our hearts. There is still a basic foundation of practices that the Ecumenical Councils proclaim as a “Christian lifestyle,” but it’s not as all-encompassing or strict as many would proclaim. One baptism for the forgiveness of sins, weekly worship, annual Confession and Eucharist, and chastity in singleness or marriage… Those are the big ones.

So what about the rest of the trappings? What about stuff like Bible studies, and Youth Groups, and what languages you speak, and the clothes you wear, and the hymns you sing? Do those need to be in conformity as well?

Indeed, in today’s reading, Psalm 96 answers that question:

“Sing to the LORD a new song,

Sing to the LORD all you lands,”

This decision to open up the Christian Way beyond the confines of Judaism is not a denial of Judaism and Jewish traditions. But nor does it elevate some other Tradition in its place. Every new culture and tradition that enters this Family offers a new song of praise. When I read these passages together, which is the purpose of the daily readings, I think they say something more than each passage on its own.

This pivotal moment, the moment of the Gentile adoption into the Jewish-Christian movement, offers non-Jews an opportunity to become part of a larger, global network and community. But it does not require total conformity to one global lifestyle. Beyond the basics, non-Jews have the option of following other cultural traditions, and to even branch out with creativity to “sing a new song.”

This decision challenges me not to grow complacent in my comfort zone. Like the Apostles, I need to be willing to commit to annual traditions and daily spiritual practices that I find life-giving. And I also need the courage to recognize the Holy Spirit at work in others, that my Way and their Way can work together. The true test of our unity is whether we can commit to each other, and support each other on the different task to purify our hearts. Then we will truly become “God’s people.”

Then “us” and “them” becomes just “us.”

Sister’s Secret: Victoria’s Got Nothing on Us!

Confession: This summer, I became known as “the underwear lady.”

Quick links:

Picture this:

700 people at round tables in a banquet room in Orlando, Florida. The tables are tastefully decorated with white tablecloths, seeds from around the country, and green and blue ribbons that matched the event logo projected on five giant screens. Muggy day outside, chilly air conditioning inside. 75% of the room are vowed Sisters of St Joseph, the rest are partners committed to their ministry of reconciliation between neighbors, and with God.

Each table is surrounded by 7-8 people mixed from congregations across the United States, with a few international partners sprinkled in, for the 50th anniversary CSSJ Federation Event.

They are all looking at a microphone set up in the middle of the room.

“Hi, I’m Meagen, an Associate from Cleveland, Ohio. I want to talk to you about underwear.”

We have just looked together at “a series of pictures” from Sister Mary Johnson, SND. As a sociologist, she used charts to describe the current generation of Roman Catholics in the U.S., particularly religious sisters.

How can we prepare ourselves to receive our new reality?

I propose we buy underwear.

Before I explain why, I should start with some history that I took for granted my audience already knew (and most of them lived).

Once upon a time, religious congregations bought underwear for all their members. Not just underwear… all their clothes! Habits were mandated.

But at this year’s U.S. Federation Event, we had 700 Sisters and partners who all bought clothes separately. I asked myself: How much buying power could we have by banding together again?

And would this room of religious sisters be willing? Some would consider such a move as “going backwards” towards an era of top-down conformity, into “uniforms” that unnecessarily separated Sisters from those they served.

After Sr Mary’s presentation on the history, we were challenged by panelist (and my friend) Erin McDonald, CSJ to pursue “holy recklessness” and follow the Holy Spirit into new places.


To take it a step further, I think some of those “new places” may mean revisiting “old places” with new eyes. Sr Mary Johnson also challenged the audience to look at “traditional” practices in fresh ways…through the perspective of young adults. 

Let’s take habits: Most of the Sisters of St Joseph do not wear them, and are not shy about explaining why. Senior sisters describe the physical and emotional discomfort caused by the layers of garb. They joke about their challenges with the once-a-year cleaning and weekly starching, often with a bitter laughter.

But many younger adults consider habits and other “traditional” liturgical garb as a way to serve in a visible way. One young habit-wearing woman at the conference wore a light and functional utili-skirt, pockets and all. Many young Christians and Catholics don’t want to blend in…we want to embrace the countercultural challenge of the Gospel! For some, they can do this in a very vidible way by wearing a habit. Unfortunately, the younger generation’s “return to the habit” is used by some commentators as a threat to chastise older sisters for their enthusiastic embrace of the reforms of Vatican II and shedding “the veil.”

In the 1970s, our now-senior sisters embraced their “active” vocation when asked to research and return to their roots. Sisters of St Joseph are called to the streets! Their mission is to spread out and “divide the city,” to love the dear neighbor without distinction, to promote union of neighbor with God, and reconciliation of neighbor with neighbor.

You can see the change in clothing, along with the recovery of the unique SSJ mission and spirituality, in the 50 year retrospective video played at the closing banquet:

Our panelists pointed out that the charism of unity does not necessarily mean uniformity. But…they challenged the audience to give ourselves permission to be visible when it’s appropriate. We don’t have to erase our differences to embrace the dear neighbor.

“Please don’t tell me you don’t see color when you look at me,” asked the panelist Meyer Chambers. “My mother and father gave me this beautiful color.”


To rephrase Meyer’s words…it was Jesus and the Holy Spirit that gave the Sisters their beautiful vows and charism! Listening to the entering generation of women religious, the SSJs are being challenged to stand out at times, especially to be loud and proud about the countercultural nature of their vows. Religious women combat society’s worship of money, sex, and power with the threefold vows of poverty (simple living), chastity, and obedience (mutual self-giving). That’s pretty cool!

“Women religious…are being challenged…to be loud and proud about the countercultural nature of their vows.”

Guess what, Sisters of St Joseph! I want to see your beautiful vocation when I look at you! It’s a gift from God. And when I see another partner in mission, I want to see a connection. Visibility, whether it is from the color of your skin or the clothes you wear, does not have to be uncomfortable…if it is a sign of relationship and connection.

In the spirit of unity, how do we embrace both realities? How do we encourage a new generation of Sisters and Associates, many of whom feel called to be more visible? Who see themselves as committing to a countercultural community? Who long for justice, prayer…and comfortable clothes?

My idea is simple: Let us pursue justice by paying attention to our clothes.

Let’s use our buying power to promote fair labor and sustainable materials! Let’s promote our countercultural charism of unity by branding ourselves at the same time.

It’s easier these days to find fair trade gifts, coffee, and t-shirts… but what about everyday purchases like underwear? What about church clothes? I am a lector at my parish, and would love to wear a dress or business casual in liturgical colors when I read. I have yet to find a simple, appropriate green dress that I am also sure is made with fair labor and sustainable material. Or a fair trade, feminine, purple polo shirt!

That’s the long form version of my mildly silly, hopefully practical, and perhaps bigger-than-my-britches idea. Someone called it “Sisters’ Secret: Victoria’s Got Nothing on Us!”

“Let’s use our buying power to promote fair labor and sustainable materials!”

My assigned small group, Table 56, laughed appreciatively and encouraged me to share at the open mic. (Look for “undie 56” in my upcoming clothing line! Just kidding) I tried to briefly suggest to 700 people that we should make our charism visible by branding ourselves with fair trade, eco-friendly clothing.

I suggested taking the lovely swirling blue and green logo for the 50th anniversary Federation event as branding, and to allow partners in ministry like myself to identify ourselves as committed to the SSJ mission. But we probably need to ensure that the Sisters can maintain their unique identity, to be loud and proud about their vows. Because vows are special and valuable for all of us.

CSSJ event logo 2016

I was not so eloquent at the mic as I’ve had the time to be in this article. 700 people in the banquet hall quietly, politely, looked at me blankly, many of them wondering why I was still at the mic talking about underwear. So I quietly, politely, went back to my table.

But that’s not the end!

In line for dinner, I was approached by someone who was told she had to talk to me. She’s in charge of creating a social enterprise for clothing manufacturing for the Sisters of St Joseph in Concordia, Kansas. They are currently teaching local, underemployed women to sew (they’re starting with scrubs). Next step is to teach their job seekers sewing manufacturing, to be eligible for jobs in local factories. The third stage will be to develop their own facility to employ their graduates, and are talking to some of the health systems run by the Sisters about selling scrubs in bulk.


Adult literacy, workforce development, fair labor, and faith-based social justice, all in one place! I love the Sisters of St Joseph!

See how this stuff all intersects?

By day 3 of the conference, everybody was talking about labor trafficking, and how to promote fair food in solidarity with workers.

Throughout the conference, more people in conversations shared their ideas, suggestions, and stories with me. Some funny clips:

  • “The Holy Sock”: when you do good deeds, don’t let the left foot know what your right foot is doing!
  • Lace-making retreats bring folks back to the Sisters’ roots as contemplative lace-makers… maybe a lace underwear retreat should be next?!
  • A Sister in West Virginia is advocating for pilots to grow hemp to repair the land after strip mining. She is excited about (agricultural) hemp because it requires fewer resources than cotton.

Table 56 kept returning to the underwear idea. By the end of our event, the hilarious and wide-ranging possibilities for eco-friendly, fair labor, and branded clothing was spreading. The more we talked, the more the idea made sense! Well, maybe not to all 700 attendees, but to several dozen people, at least. Maybe you are one of them?

Now that you want to pay more attention to your everyday clothes, what can you do about it?

[Quick links: CSSJ Federation Event 2016, Event Banquet VideoEsperanza Threads, PACT women’s apparel, Fundraise with Spreadshirt, CIW’s Fair Food Shirts, Cruelty Free Clothing Guide]

A few suggestions:

Show support for Cleveland with Esperanza Threads!

You can get your Cleveland skyline t-shirt, show your love for Cleveland sports, or purchase a soft, cotton meditation robe. Esperanza Threads teaches employability and sewing skills and sells comfortable, organic cotton products. Since 2010, they have worked with Migration and Refugee Services to help new residents learn a trade.


Personally, I’m in the market for some new towels, and look forward to buying from Esperanza Threads.

Buy fair trade, organic cotton clothes from PACT

PACT is the only brand on Amazon I could find with consistently organic and fair trade cotton products. Note: links to Amazon are through the affiliate program.

They make socks, underwear, shirts, leggings, hoodies, and even a super-soft maxi dress. If you find this dress in forest green (for ordinary time), let me know. I’ll buy six!


Brand YOUR Religious Community or Social Enterprise with Spreadshirt

Coalition for Immokalee Workers promote their Fair Food campaign (more on that later) with an online t-shirt store through Spreadshirt. Since promoting fair labor is their mission, I tend to trust their judgment that at the shirts on their site meet their fair labor requirements. They offer several colors, but only the organic cotton and American Apparel tee shirts. I am curious to hear their appraisal of the other products offered by Spreadshirt.


So how can you get started? First, work with your skilled artists to create your branding logos and icons. Upload your artwork, and let Spreadshirt manage the money, production & shipping for you!

Spreadshirt also offers a responsibility statement that you can use to start discussions with your marketing/branding team.

Check Out the Guide to Cruelty-Free Clothing… and Those Who Aren’t

One Green Planet’s guide includes Esperanza Threads, and a whole lot more. Whether you are printing t-shirts for your sports team or shopping for a high class gala, you can find something in your size and price range on this list.

But what I really like is their list of those who should be added.

This week really drove home the power of consumer pressure in bringing about change. Years ago, I had heard that Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW) had a “boot the Bell” campaign. They convinced college students to stop buying from Taco Bell until the fast food chain agreed to purchase their tomatoes from fair labor farms. I also heard for many years that Taco Bell was dismissive and resistant.

What hadn’t made it back into my news feed was that eventually Taco Bell and their parent company, YUM! Foods, realized they were losing tens of thousands of dollars a year from a generation of boycotting students and graduates.


They agreed to participate in the Fair Foods program! CIW won! The Fair Food label now represents an award-winning workplace monitoring program that insures workers receive the “one penny more” bonus from participating purchasers and just working conditions. CIW is hoping to branch into strawberries and peppers next. They’re even in WalMart!

But WalMart is NOT on the list for sweat free clothing. And unfortunately, Fair Food tomatoes are not yet sold in ALDI, Giant Eagle, Wendy’s, or any number of stores where I have shopped and worked. We have work to do with our dollars!

Thankfully, I have relationships with employees and managers that I can approach with the question: “Did you know we have an opportunity to support fair labor?”

Hitting the pocketbook helps, but it’s not enough. We need to respectfully discuss and advocate for fair labor for everyday products in every store. The Federation is also investing in the companies that need to change, like Ohio-based Wendy’s, then using their stakeholder power to get worker-advocates to the table. To change social structures, you need people on the inside willing to open the door and listen.

With this list of shopping choices, you can help! As the song croons, do you “like a girl who wears Abercrombie and Fitch?” Let her know that she can ask for better from her retailer. Our supply chains should be channels for mutual compassion and resource exchange, not chains of modern day slavery.

How will you be loud & proud about your vocation today?

Back-to-school shopping? Support “Women Priests in Ireland”!

Back-to-school shopping? Support “Women Priests in Ireland”!

Like many of you, I have been doing a lot of last-minute back-to-school shopping for our family. While you shop for your textbooks (or anything else on Amazon), you can support my next exciting book-in-progress on the True Story of How Women Became Priests in Ireland. Just start your shopping on Amazon from a link at Farrell Ink and a small portion of your order will go towards developing the manuscript.

I returned a few weeks ago with a heap of exciting research from Dublin and can’t wait to start writing this fall…with your support, dear Farrell Scholars! Look for a white paper on women’s ordination due this coming October.

NOLA: Adult Education, Poor Boys & Beignets!

Canal Street, New Orleans
The late Sr Kathleen Bahlinger at St Vincent de Paul Adult Learning Center

This post is in memory of Kathleen Bahlinger, CSJ who just shocked the community with her sudden passing while in active, great health at the age of 75. I had the pleasure of meeting Sr Kathleen during a visit to New Orleans in March for the amazing 2013 COABE National Conference. One of my life goals is to visit all seven founding communities of the Congregation of St Joseph. So when I learned I’d be heading to NOLA, I reached out to the Mirabeau congregation in Baton Rouge to find a Sister involved in adult literacy in the area. Sr Kathleen eagerly responded.

The first stop on our tour was the St Vincent de Paul Adult Learning Center which Sr. Kathleen helped to found and where she continued to tutor. Like many women religious, she had a long career in education ranging from Catholic secondary teaching, Principal, math in public school, and finally the little-known but desperately needed field of adult literacy.

Two beautiful, smiling women
Sr Kathleen and Sr Pat Keefe, SND in their office, a.k.a. the computer lab.

Sr Kathleen gave me a tour, then put me right to work tutoring Tashanda who was studying for the GED Language Arts Test. We talked about the difference between verbs and adverbs, lay and lie. In the photo we are celebrating Regina, a recent graduate who has returned to tutor others.

Students at SVdP Adult Learning Center in New Orleans.
Students at SVdP Adult Learning Center.
Sign: Approved Clean Rest Rooms
Parkway Bakery and Tavern in New Orleans, a local staple.

Next stop was Parkway Bakery and Tavern, where I got an alligator po’boy, Barq’s root beer and Zapp’s Voodoo chips. This style of chips supposedly comes from a truck accident when all the spices got mixed up together.* I also discovered that the NOLA bishop had declared alligator as seafood for Lenten purposes, but also that the “alligator” contains pork. So I’m not really sure what I ate, but it was delicious.

Lunch at Parkway Bakery: Alligator poor boy, Barq’s root beer, and Zapp’s Voodoo chips.
Dog sitting
Also seen at Parkway’s: cute Catahoula Hound puppy, the state dog of Louisiana.

Next stop was a CSJ-sponsored ministry, the People Program, a very neat ministry where adults ages 50 and older sign up for a semester and can take as many courses as they want, from crafts to computers.

Meagen, palm trees and a sign
CSJ sponsored ministry to promote lifelong learning for active older adults.

This picture was taken to prove to my kids I was near real palm trees.

Stained Glass Window at the People Program.
Stained Glass Window at the People Program.

Next our drive led us to Mirabeau Avenue. We stopped where the Motherhouse used to be. It was flooded during Katrina in 2005, then struck by lightning in 2006 before the sisters decided to tear down the building. We met the groundskeeper, Thomas, who says he never works a day in his life because he loves taking care of the beautiful property. It still felt like a peaceful, prayerful place.

Grass and driveway
This driveway leads to where the CSJ motherhouse used to sit on Mirabeau Avenue.
Thomas the groundskeeper on his riding lawnmower.
Thomas the groundskeeper on his riding lawnmower.
Sr Kathleen Bahlinger and I with the lemon tree next to what used to be the kitchen. It still produces lemons each year.
Sr Kathleen Bahlinger and I with the lemon tree next to what used to be the kitchen. It still produces lemons each year.

Sr. Kathleen insisted that I couldn’t visit New Orleans without a coffee and beignet, so she treated me at Morning Call in City Park. We discussed some of the changes she’s seen in her lifetime, particularly after Vatican II. She said that the idea of obedience changed from blind obedience to a superior human to obedience to the Holy Spirit by discerning and responding to the needs in the community. For example, before Vatican II, the Sisters would all meet one day and be handed a slip of paper with their teaching appointment for the coming year, and sometimes they were assigned positions for which they did not feel equipped. In contrast, after Katrina there was a need for high school math teachers in New Orleans so Sr Kathleen asked to supply that need for a couple years, until she helped found the Adult Learning Center with Sister Lory Schaff.

Coffee, beignet, and spiritual reflection in City Park.
Coffee, beignet, and spiritual reflection in City Park.

I learned a lot from Sister Kathleen Bahlinger in our day together. I learned that while levies are preventing residential flooding, they are also washing out the barrier islands, therefore making New Orleans more vulnerable to natural disasters. She reflected on the practical and emotional connections that people feel to places that must be addressed in any change management process, like the Neighboring aNew initiative currently occurring in the Congregation of Saint Joseph. Like many sister-teachers I have met, she stressed the importance of clean, comfortable facilities to maintain the dignity of clients served in low resource communities.

It was a wonderful day with a sister in Christ who made a remarkable impact in her lifetime. She continues now as she lived: in the tender arms of God.

*Personal integrity note: I generally dislike the use of religious symbols for unrelated marketing, especially stuff like the stereotyped “Voodoo doll” imagery which misrepresents the religion, but I ordered the chips before seeing the packaging.

Les Miserables: Adult Literacy & Electing a Pope

Les Miserables Book Cover
Get it now from Amazon

There are few books that give me as much perspective on TODAY’s world as it does on history. There are even fewer books on my must-read list, but Les Miserables is something I encourage EVERYONE to dig into at least once. Sure, you can be swept away by the movie or musical and be done in a few hours. The unabridged version of the book took me six months to get through. But it was worth every minute. It is a thousand short stories in one, each character in its own universe, each historical event described in lively detail that surrounds you with the grit and misery and hope. The musical adaptation barely even touches its depths.

For example, did you know that Jean Valjean was in an adult literacy program in his corrections facility? Those are the politically correct words we would use today, but Victor Hugo did not try to gloss over prison life in his portrait of the dirt cheap labor and unchecked violence pervading the only institution where slavery is still legal. (And the U.S. has enshrined this “permanent underclass” in our own constitution in the 13th amendment) Hugo has an interesting description of Valjean’s corrections education:

“At Toulon [the prison] there was a school for the prisoners conducted by some rather ignorant friars, where the essentials were taught to any of the men who were willing. He [Jean Valjean] was one. At forty he went to school and learned to read, write, and do arithmetic. He felt that to increase his knowledge was to strengthen his hatred. In certain cases, instruction and enlightenment can actually work to  underscore the wrong.”

So what’s the solution? Hugo actually calls several times for public education as a solution to grinding poverty, but he makes it clear that revolution or education without God and an ethical concern for the poor is no progress. You see Hugo’s vision very clearly in the first 100 pages of the book, mostly focused on the character of the Bishop of Digne. The movie has just one song from the pious Bishop Bienvenu [“Would you leave the best behind?”], but I can’t get him out of my head lately. I’d love his thoughts on current events, especially the election of a new Pope during March Madness (for example, you can participate by voting in the Sweet Sistine brackets). I just have to laugh to recall how Hugo described the Conclave contrasted with our saintly bishop’s ambitions:

“And as every there are the top brass, in the church there are rich miters. … And then there is Rome. A bishop who can become archbishop, an archbishop who can become a cardinal, leads you to the conclave; you enter into the rota, you have the pallium, there you are an auditor, you ate a chamberlain, you are a monseigneur, and from Grandeur to Eminence there is only one step, and between Eminence and Holiness there is nothing but the smoke of a ballot. Every cowl may dream of the tiara. In our day the priest is the only man who can regularly become a king, and what a king! The supreme king. So, what a nursery of aspirations is a seminary. … Who knows how easily ambition disguises itself under the name of a calling, possibly in good faith and deceiving itself, in sanctimonious confusion.

“Monseigneur Bienvenu, a humble, poor, private person, was not counted among the rich miters. This was plain by the complete absence of young priests around him. … We live in a sad society. Succeed-that is the advice that falls drop by drop from the overhanging corruption.”

Succeed at all costs. Is this the central, pounding drum beat of our education and our religion? Or is there something more to life, some higher calling that asks us to think differently about how society as a whole might progress, especially on behalf of those who are still enslaved in our midst?

Call for Blogs & Books About Women’s Vocations

December 21 Update: I have expanded my search to include women’s vocations as deacons & deaconesses, not just priests & bishops!

Hello Farrell Scholars!

In 2013-14 I will be exploring the intersection of gender, vocation, and human dignity in my Master’s essay for John Carroll University. To help me in my research I am looking for women’s first person accounts of their experiences discerning vocation to the diaconate or priesthood.

My inspiration has been Canon Ginnie Kennerly’s book Embracing Women: Making History in the Church of Ireland. Though I am primarily interested in women deacons, priests and bishops in the Church of Ireland, I am also seeking accounts (translated into English) from any woman who has experienced these vocations within the Anglican Communion. I’m also interested in women’s experiences in the Roman Catholic tradition as a counterpoint: what happens when the vocation is not officially recognized? This could take the form of books, blogs, stories, newspaper articles, films or videos, or just names of women with social media accounts.

My rough hypothesis at this point is that 1) woman are responding to God’s call to serve as deacons and presbyters, and 2) that women’s experience of human dignity is impacted by the rhetoric and tone of discussion about their ordination within their religious congregations. The Church of Ireland is a really interesting case precisely because Irish people are not world renown for excellence in non-violent conflict resolution, particular in matters of religion. However, in 1984 women were admitted to consideration for the diaconate, and in 1990 for the priesthood and episcopacy in the Church of Ireland with no resulting separation in the church. Women have been trained, ordained, and serve in these roles with dignity. In fact, the Church of Ireland has seen demographic growth in recent years. I am currently exploring the theological and rhetorical arguments used within the Anglican communion (and my own Roman Catholic Church since we have the same theology of Eucharistic transubstantiation) regarding women’s vocation & ordination to these roles. Though far from perfect, I think the story (or stories) of women’s ordination in the Church of Ireland would be interesting to compare to the experiences of other women who experience a call to specific vocations in their churches & request their consideration by the hierarchy.

Do you have any suggestions of books, blogs, videos, or people I should check out? Please comment below or email me, add links if possible, and please leave your email address so I can contact you if I need more information. Thanks for all your help, and please share with others!!!

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: