Is Your Pastor or Priest a Man of Action? Check Out Pastor Stephen Grant in, for example, WINE INTO WATER: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL, MURDERER'S ROW: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL and THE RIVER: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL by Ray Keating

Pastor Stephen Grant?

Stephen Grant is the pastor at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church on eastern Long Island. Grant is one of the more unique second-career clergy around, as he once worked for the CIA. Besides theology, his interests include archery, golf, writing, classic films, the beach, poker, baseball, and history. Grant also knows his wines, champagnes and brews. Oh yes, he generally dislikes politicians, and happens to be an expert marksman with a handgun and a rifle, while being pretty handy with a combat knife as well.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Kindle Sale - 40% Off Pastor Stephen Grant Novels

12 Days of Christmas and New Year’s Sale!

40% off Kindle price for each of Ray Keating’s Pastor Stephen Grant Novels – WARRIOR MONK, ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, AN ADVENT FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, and THE RIVER.

Get all four for less than $13.

Keating has been called “a great novelist” by the host of KFUO’s “BookTalk” radio, and Amazon.com reviewers have compared Keating’s thrillers to the works of Clancy, Ludlum, Grisham, Cussler, Griffin and Morrell.

In addition…

THE RIVER: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL has been nominated for KFUO’s BookTalk “Book of the Year” for 2014. Sale Price: $3.99 on the Kindle.

• 4.5 stars is the average Amazon review for AN ADVENT FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. Sale Price: $2.99 on the Kindle.

• About ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, best-selling novelist Paul L. Maier has observed, “Ray Keating writes brilliantly and convincingly.” Sale Price: $2.99 on the Kindle.

WARRIOR MONK ranked as a top 10 book on a WORLD magazine June 2013 list. Sale Price: $2.99 on the Kindle.

Sale will not last!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thriller for Advent and Christmas

Looking for a great thriller to read during the Advent and Christmas seasons?

The clear answer is Ray Keating's An Advent for Religious Liberty: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel.

Get the paperback or Kindle version at http://www.amazon.com/An-Advent-Religious-Liberty-Stephen/dp/1480174491/ref=pd_sim_b_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=0FPGXR5Z2BQ3DH09Z2WP

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Top 10 Christian Thrillers for Christmas and Beyond

Top Ten Christian Thrillers for Christmas and Beyond. Looking for exciting, fast-paced thrillers that also embrace the Christian worldview? Well, consider Ray Keating’s Pastor Stephen Grant novels for great reads and gifts.

• THE RIVER: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL is among 10 books nominated for the 2014 “Book of the Year” by KFUO Christian radio’s “BookTalk.”

• WARRIOR MONK: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL ranked as a top 10 book on a WORLD magazine June 2013 list.

• Finally, Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of WORLD magazine, lists Ray Keating among his top 10 Christian novelists.

Get all four Pastor Stephen Grant novels – WARRIOR MONK, ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, ADVENT FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, and THE RIVER – at Amazon.

Friday, December 12, 2014

CIA Interrogations: Excerpt from "Warrior Monk" by Ray Keating

With the release of a terribly biased report by Senate Democrats on CIA interrogation tactics used against terrorists, here is an interesting dinner discussion from Warrior Monk: A Pastor Stephen Grant by Ray Keating.



Warrior Monk - Chapter 30



By 7:30, the two hosts and their nine guests were seated at a long, pine table in an airy dining room. The dinnerware was clay pottery with orange and tan swirled into the color mix.
Before the dinner began, Jennifer said, “Pastor Grant, would you mind saying grace?”
“Let us bow our heads.” All did so with folded hands, but for Arnie, Shane and Meri.
After a brief prayer, the waiter moved around the table filling wineglasses with Pindar’s “Spring Splendor,” an off-dry, light blush wine. Next came the appetizer – New Orleans style crab cakes with a remoulade sauce.
As the final appetizer plate was placed in front of Ted Brees, Brittney Gianelli broached the subject that most in the room probably would have liked to avoid.
“So, Fath…, I mean, Pastor Grant, how did you stop that wacko lady who was shooting up your church?”
“Brittney, what the hell!” said her husband. But after several glasses of champagne, and now downing large swigs of wine, Mrs. Gianelli did not seem to care very much about her husband’s scolding.
Ten sets of eyes came to rest on Stephen.
Oh, great.
“Well, I’m not sure how comfortable the others are.” He glanced at Jennifer, then at Joan and George Kraus.
The Krauses nodded.
Jennifer said, “It’s fine, Pastor. Not talking about it doesn’t help.”
Grant gave a brief rundown on that evening’s fatal events, sparing dinner guests the most bloody details. When he finished, there was an uncomfortable silence, with the sound of forks clinking on plates seemingly amplified.
Brittney finally said, “Crap, you must be some shot.” Then she laughed.
With a piece of crab cake resting precariously on her fork, Meri offered a statement with the inflection of a question: “I read in the newspaper that you were with the CIA?”
Grant swallowed some of his delicious appetizer. “That’s right. Before I became a pastor, I was an analyst with the CIA.”
“Quite a career change, that,” observed Shane Wilson.
Before Grant could reply, Meri added, “You must be very disturbed about the most recent news regarding your former employer?” Again, it was a statement in the form of a question.
“You’ll have to be more specific, Meri. Which bit of news was that?” Grant knew exactly what she had on her mind. He took a sip of the “Spring Splendor.”
Early in the week, The Washington Post had a lengthy front-page story about the CIA using – as one agency source called it – “aggressive interrogation tactics” in February with a terrorist leader apprehended along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The story offered fodder for both sides of the debate. On the one hand, there were gruesome details as to what exactly was done to the terrorist. He had been moved to a secret location in a friendly Arab nation. The CIA’s tactics included waterboarding, and the removal of two fingers.  On the other hand, the information gathered led to a terrorist cell being apprehended in Paris before it had the chance to carry out a planned assault on the city’s transit system, as well as the location of weapon caches in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ted Brees said, “Meri obviously is talking about the torture reports.” The congressman looked at Meri and continued, “I’m sure we’re all outraged by the CIA’s actions. I know I am.  Even the administration did not seem to be too pleased with its own agency. Torture can never be justified. It makes us just as bad as those we’re trying to stop.” He looked around the table. “Am I right?”
“Naturally,” volunteered Kerri Bratton.
“I should say so,” added Shane Wilson. “Those acts were nothing less than barbarism.”
“Well,” interjected Arnie Hackling, “then perhaps half the nation ranks as a bunch of barbarians, if you believe the polls. In the latest survey I saw on the topic, I think it was 45 percent approving of the CIA’s tactics, 43 percent opposed, and 12 percent basically having no clue what’s going on. Though, just because the others had an opinion doesn’t necessarily mean they have a clue either.”
“That does not surprise me,” said an indignant Meri. “Since 9-11, too many people think that this nation is free to do whatever it likes as long as it’s in the name of fighting terrorism.”
Jimmy Gianelli countered, “Damn right. After those bastards knocked down the Twin Towers, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy.”
Meri replied, “But, of course, those particular bastards you refer to died when flying planes into those buildings.”
“You know what I mean. One terrorist ain’t no different from the next. As they say, the only good terrorist is a dead terrorist. I think a lot of people in this country have let their guard down, and we’re gonna get popped in the mouth again if we don’t get serious,” Jimmy declared.
Ted stepped back into the conversation, apparently seeking to heal the growing rift at his dining room table by finding some kind of common ground. “I think Jimmy and Meri are both right, in their own ways.”
Jennifer appeared a bit exasperated with her husband’s comment, “How can they both be right, Ted? They hold opposing views.”
“First, we obviously cannot do whatever we like in the world,” Ted said. “Second, while staying within the rules of civilized societies, we also must confront the terrorists aggressively.”
Grant reflected that this was not the real difference between Meri and Jimmy, but no one looked enthused about contradicting the Congressman, who also was their host for the evening.
The waiter and waitress cleared away appetizer plates. Glasses were refilled. Then a poached pear salad was presented. It was drizzled with a port wine reduction, and served on a bed of baby arugula and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.
The discussion about torture and the CIA labored on, with George Kraus reporting on how vague the law actually was on such matters. Meanwhile, Stephen simply enjoyed the food.
The entrée came. It was grilled tuna – caught off Montauk Point, according to the servers – resting on a bed of endive and topped with herb butter. Grant took the first bite, closed his eyes, and chewed slowly. It was easy to overdo tuna, allowing it to become dry, but this tuna was grilled to perfection.
It had been quite some time since his pallet was treated this well. It would be easy to get used to this again.
But after a few more bites, Stephen was pulled away from his gastronomic splendor.
Joan Kraus was the guilty party. She said, “Pastor actually held a fascinating Bible study on this topic a couple of years ago.”
Ted Brees said, “Really? I assume the Bible doesn’t look kindly on torture.”
Joan responded, “Of course not. Well, not exactly.”
“Not exactly! What do you mean by that?” asked Meri.
Joan looked to Grant for help. “Pastor can explain better than me.”
Brees shifted his eyes to Stephen. “OK. Pastor Grant, you certainly are a man of surprises. Are you now going to become the first member of the clergy that I have ever heard of who defends government torturing prisoners?”
“That would be newsworthy,” added Meri.
This could be fun … or maybe not.
            “Well, before diving further into this heated topic, I just want to say thank you to Jennifer and Ted for this wonderful meal. It’s exquisite.”
            Jennifer responded, “You’re quite welcome. I’m just so pleased all of you could come.”
            Grant noted Jennifer’s genuineness, and how much of a contrast that was to her husband. Strange how some people wind up together.
            “Yes, you’re welcome,” added Ted. “But you’re not going to divert us from hearing about torture and the Bible.”
            “To some, perhaps the Bible itself is a bit torturous,” said Shane with an expectant smile that quickly faded when no one laughed.
            “Yes, well, where to begin so that this dinner party does not turn into a sermon that bores everyone to tears?” reflected Stephen.
            “I can’t imagine that, but we’ll interrupt if it gets deadly dull,” volunteered Ted.
            “The entire issue actually goes back to St. Augustine in the early fifth century. He gets credit for the Just War Theory,” Stephen began.
            “Can any war really be just?” asked Kerri Bratton.
            Grant was a bit surprised by Bratton’s question, as he did not expect her to even be listening. “That was the question many early Christians had. Could they in good conscience serve in the military? After all, Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek, and even pray for our enemies.”
            “That’s tough. But I remember hearing that in church. What about that?” said Jimmy.
            Grant chewed and swallowed another piece of tuna, and then took a sip of wine. Ironic. I’m getting more questions here than during Bible study at church. He continued, “Augustine wanted to make clear that Christians did not have to be pacifists, that as citizens they could serve in the military. Over the centuries, Christians have used the Just War criteria, rooted in Holy Scripture, to gauge the moral legitimacy – or illegitimacy, as the case may be – of war.”
            “Like a checklist to determine if a war is right or wrong?” asked George Kraus.
            “Well, it’s not exactly that simple. There’s plenty of room for debate. Some have interpreted the Bible and Augustine narrowly, and others more broadly. Just look at the deep disagreements among Christians over the Iraq War. But in a sense, you could look at it that way, as a checklist.”
George persisted, “So, what’s on this checklist?”
Stephen answered, “First, the Bible affirms the state’s right to wage war when necessary. St. Paul, for example, warns in Romans 13 that if you do wrong, the state bears the sword. The Just War Theory dictates that war should be in self-defense, to secure peace, to establish justice, to protect the innocent, etc. And it should be a last resort, with a formal declaration.”
“All that is based on the Bible?” asked Arnie Hackling in a skeptical tone.
“Actually, yes. I can e-mail you the exact verses, and a couple of articles that explain matters in detail, if you like?”
“No, that’s OK. Thanks anyway.”
Congressman Brees said, “Based on what you’ve laid out, Pastor Grant, all of us here can probably agree that the war on terror fits as a just war.”
Grant noticed that Meri looked like she wanted to disagree, but restrained the impulse to speak out.
Brees continued, “But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to torture terrorists.”
“Ted, you bring us to part two. The Just War Theory also governs how war is waged. There are two principles at work here. First is proportionality.”
Brittney chipped in, “Proportiona-what?” Her face was contorted in over-the-top fashion, as a child might when completely confused by what an adult just said.
“Proportionality,” Stephen responded gently. “War should be the lesser of two evils. It also means that the force being used should be appropriate to deal with the evil at hand. It should be what’s needed to establish peace and hopefully improve things, but not more than that.”
“And the second principle?” asked Ted.
“That would be discrimination.”
Brittney again emerged ever so briefly from what clearly had become a stupor. She said, “Oh, discrimination. That’s not good.”
“In this case,” Stephen said, “discrimination is good. Here it means that war should only be waged against enemy combatants and military targets. Civilians are supposed to be protected.”
Grant paused. He could tell that other than the Krauses and Jennifer, this was completely new ground for the rest of the dinner party. Stephen reflected that this was particularly disappointing, but not surprising, when it came to a member of Congress. Since he had been doing most of the talking, Grant was the last to finish his tuna.
As plates were cleared and the servers asked whether each diner wanted coffee or tea with dessert – and offered various flavors of each to pick from – the conversation continued.
Shane asked, “Now, Pastor, how could torture possibly fit into this theory?”
“Obviously, it generally doesn’t.”
“But Joan indicated that it could based on one of your Bible studies,” Ted pointed out.
“You asked earlier, Congressman …”
Ted held up a finger and shook his head at Stephen.
“Right, I’m sorry,” said Grant. “You wondered before, Ted, if I was the only member of the clergy who could justify torturing a terrorist. I don’t know if I’m the only one. But I’d go farther and assert that in the rarest of circumstances, it actually could be a moral imperative to, for lack of a better word, torture a terrorist.”
This generated a bit of buzz around the table just as fresh berry Napoleons were being served. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries were layered with crème anglaise, and sprinkled with dark chocolate.
Grant knew that the banter among the others wouldn’t last. He soon would be thrust back into the middle of the fray to explain his seemingly outrageous declaration. Therefore, he took the first opportunity to grab a forkful of the Napoleon. Again, it was delightful.
He managed two more mouthfuls before Meri demanded, “Reverend Grant, please explain yourself.”
Well, “Reverend.” 
Stephen said, “Let’s delve into a little Ethics 101. Consider the very rare cases of extracting information from the ticking time bomb or a terrorist leader who has information about various campaigns. The case can be made that in limited, grave circumstances where mass murder looms, aggressive interrogation tactics – yes, some kind of torture – is proportional in terms of being the lesser of two evils, in terms of the evil at hand, and as the way of furthering peace.  Also, it is specifically directed against an enemy combatant. And since it’s the job of terrorists to murder noncombatants, the purpose is to protect civilians.”
“That’s a little too neat and tidy. It’s rarely that simple,” said Meri.
“Indeed, I should say not,” added Shane.
“I would agree,” said Stephen. “And that’s why I’m talking about very unique circumstances. But there are such circumstances. What do you do when a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon attack is imminent, and the authorities have captured a terrorist who quite likely has information regarding the attack, but he isn’t talking? Is some kind of coercion, even torture, justified to get that information and save dozens, hundreds, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent lives?  Wouldn’t such action be morally justified? Some say no. In fact, many, perhaps most, Christian clergy would say no. I disagree. In fact, I would argue that the clergy, in this specific case, offer an answer that is reprehensible under any moral calculus, including the Just War Theory.”
It was Jennifer’s turn to ask a question. “I don’t necessarily disagree with you, Pastor, but how would you respond to those who say that human life is sacred, and that by sanctioning torture, we would be telling the world something quite different?”
Stephen replied, “Good thought. No doubt, this is dicey stuff. And in most instances, I would agree with that assessment. But it also is not a moral absolute. Again, I believe there are very grim instances when torture actually can become a moral imperative for a government. Remember, we are still talking about the state here. And with innocent lives on the line and the opportunity existing to extract information to stop some kind of WMD attack, then refraining from the use of torture in that unique circumstance would tell the world and one’s own people that human lives are not sacred.”
Other than Brittney, who was concentrating very hard on trying to get berries from her Napoleon onto a fork and then into her mouth, everyone else around the table was silent.
Finally, Joan Kraus said, “See, I told you he would do a better job explaining it than I ever could.”
“Yes,” said Ted. “I know I don’t agree with you, Pastor, but I’m not so clear as to why any more.”
“I’ll tell you why, Ted,” declared Meri. “You disagree because this is just another case of a right wing fundamentalist using God to justify war.” She looked at Grant barely hiding her disgust.
“I think Pastor makes some good points,” said Jennifer. “But while I’ve momentarily gained the floor, it looks like everyone is done with dessert. If you like, I thought we could take our coffee, tea or drinks out on the patio, and continue our conversation there. It looks like an ideal night, and the breeze should keep away the bugs.”
People broke into their expected groupings once outside. But Stephen was surprised as Arnie Hackling sought him out. Oh crap, not with the politicians.
“Pastor Grant, I noted what you said about Christians disagreeing, and I wanted to get your impressions about this letter that Pope Augustine sent out,” said Hackling.
But before Grant could say anything, Meri broke in, “You’re asking a Lutheran pastor what he thinks about the Pope? Lutherans have no use for popes. Why are you asking?”
Grant decided to listen.
“Is this off the record?” asked Arnie.
“Of course.”
“It’s not really a secret, or at least it won’t be next week. I’m helping to organize opposition to the Pope’s agenda when he arrives here in a few weeks.”
Well, well, this could be interesting.
“Really? What are you up to?” inquired Meri.
Thank you, good question, Meri.
“The Faith, Trust and Freedom Foundation is raising funds and organizing efforts so that assorted concerned groups have the ability to be heard.”
“And which groups would those be?”
You go, Meri.
“You’ll hear more details on Thursday, but it’s actually wide ranging. Some are focused on the environment and social justice. They’re worried that this could divert some Christians from their issues. Others are disconcerted by an unwarranted incursion by religion into politics. Many Democrats, in particular, are worried that this could worsen their God gap at the polls. The list is pretty long.”
“Sounds like it,” replied Meri. “Who else?”
Arnie said, “It’s interesting to see that both liberal and very conservative churches seem less than thrilled with the Pope’s call for ‘A Public Mission of Mere Christianity.’”
Mental note: Tell Ron he was absolutely right.
Meri added, “What’s the plan?”
“Again, without getting into specifics right now, extensive paid and earned media plans are being mapped out.”
Turning to Ted Brees, Meri asked, “Are you involved at all, Congressman?”
Ted said, “This is the first I’ve heard of Arnie’s undertakings, and I have no intention to weigh in. This is a religious matter, and it would be inappropriate for me, as an elected official, to be involved, other than to say that all sides obviously have the right to be heard.” He continued, “Just between us, this is a no-win in terms of the politics. If you engage, you’re bound to piss somebody off. It’s prudent to just keep something like this at arm’s length.”
Ah, profile in courage.
Grant drifted away from the group’s conversation as it wandered to Brees’s reelection strategy, and was quite pleased that he was not cornered to weigh in.
For the rest of the night, Grant spoke with the Krauses and Jennifer about various people and projects at St. Mary’s, including what could be done to heal the congregation after all that had happened recently.
When Stephen declared his intention to be the first to leave for the night, Meri said, “Pastor Grant, while I strongly disagree on the torture issue, you made your case well. I know you did not want to talk to us after the St. Mary’s shootings.”
“Don’t take it personally, Meri, I didn’t get back to The Today Show either.”
“Well, that’s good. But I’m wondering if you might consider being a guest on a weekly panel show we’re kicking off dealing with spiritual, justice and moral issues. It’s called ‘Long Island Spirituality.’ Wayne Walters, a local radio guy, will be the host. We’re hoping to get representatives from various faith traditions for each show. What about it? Care to be a panelist once in a while?”
Stephen replied, “That’s not really my thing.”
“I think you’d be ideal,” pressed Meri. “I really do. At least think about it some more before saying no. Here’s my card. Do you have one?”
Grant gave her a card.
“Thanks, I’ll be in touch.”
Jennifer escorted Grant to the front door. Just before he departed, she asked, “Pastor, if you could say a prayer for me on the way home tonight, I’d appreciate it.”
“Absolutely. Is everything okay?” Stupid question. “What happened at St. Mary’s is not something easily put aside.”
“You’d think that was the problem. But it’s actually something else that has me worried. It could just be my imagination. I hope so. But I won’t bother you with it.”
“Jennifer, I’m your pastor and a friend. You can’t bother me. Let me know how I can help.”
“Thanks. Hopefully, it’s nothing.” She shifted demeanor, appearing to push aside doubt, making a decision and summoning strength. “I appreciate you coming, and hope you enjoyed yourself.”
“Of course. I just hope I didn’t shock your dinner guests with my musings on torture and terrorists.”
Jennifer smiled. “I always welcome a lively discussion over dinner. Besides, you’re absolutely right. Nothing wrong with holding a terrorist’s head under water in order to stop the next attack. Anyway, good night, Pastor. See you on Sunday.”
“Good night, Jennifer.”
As he walked down the driveway, Grant thought about Jennifer’s sudden sadness and request for prayer. As they say in ‘Star Wars,” I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
He began praying for Jennifer Brees.



Give a "Great Novelist" for Christmas

Ray Keating has been called “a great novelist” by the host of KFUO’s “BookTalk” radio, and Amazon.com reviewers compare his thrillers to the works of Clancy, Ludlum, Grisham, Cussler, Griffin and Morrell.

Keating’s Pastor Stephen Grant Novels – WARRIOR MONK, ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, AN ADVENT FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, and THE RIVER – make for great reads, and wonderful gifts.

In The Washington Times, a former CIA operative and current pastor declared, “What Ian Fleming’s 007 series has probably done for ex-MI-6 agents and Tom Clancy has done for retired CIA officers, Mr. Keating has done for the minority of former CIA agents who have served their country by working in the intelligence community, but now wish to serve God.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"The River" Nominated for 2014 Book of the Year - Please Vote!

Ray Keating’s latest book – The River: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel – has been nominated for KFUO's BookTalk “Book of the Year” for 2014!!

You can vote, if you like, by emailing the name of the book to Mary.Schmidt@kfuo.org.

Voting ends January 1st. 

More information is at http://www.kfuoam.org/book-of-the-year/.

An Exciting Adventure ... Not Stuffy

Ray Keating’s Pastor Stephen Grant Novels – WARRIOR MONK, ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, AN ADVENT FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, and THE RIVER – make for exciting Christmas gifts.

They reach beyond the usual Christian fiction. One Amazon.com reviewer (also a pastor) declared: “It is a pleasure to recommend a book to my friends that promotes Christian virtues, is not stuffy, and is an exciting adventure.”

Best-selling novelist Paul L. Maier has observed, “Ray Keating writes brilliantly and convincingly. Violating all rules of physics, he can turn novels of paper into iron magnets that you cannot put down.”

Get all four thrillers at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving with Pastor Grant, Family and Friends - A Book Excerpt

Get a taste of Thanksgiving with Pastor Stephen Grant, and his family and friends, in Chapter 18 of An Advent for Religious Liberty: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel...


Chapter 18 


Thanksgiving Day had the potential to degrade into bedlam.
After all, in addition to Tom, Maggie, and their six children – three daughters and three sons – ranging from early teens to mid-twenties, the guests included a fiancée to the second oldest Stone daughter, two less serious dates brought by two Stone sons, Stephen and Jennifer Grant, Ron McDermott, Zack Charmichael, Joan and George Kraus with their two teenage daughters, and Michael Vanacore and his new girl friend, Melissa Ambler. Add in Maggie’s mother, Nancy Chandler, and it came to twenty-two in attendance.
Thanksgiving at the Stone home – a large stone-exterior rectory sitting next to the castle-like St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church – was a first for Stephen and Jennifer. Since arriving at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church years ago, Stephen had spent most Thanksgivings with his friends Hans and Flo Gunderson, until they were murdered not long after they had led the way building a new St. Mary’s church building.
On the large porch of the rectory, one of the Stone offspring, the youngest son, Paul, greeted each guest upon arrival with a sheet of paper. The ever-punctual Stephen was pleased. “Check this out, Jen. It’s a schedule for the day. Nice.”
Jennifer looked at her husband, smiled, and said, “Excited about a schedule. Sometimes, you’re so weird.”
Stephen replied, “Hey, this is impressive.”
Tom greeted his two friends. He looked at Jennifer, and said, “I missed it. Why is your husband weird?”
“Oh, it’s just odd that he’s getting excited about your schedule.”
Tom corrected, “Not my schedule. That’s my wife’s. And I agree, it’s a bit anal-retentive. But as you’ll see, it actually works.”
Stephen gave Jennifer and Tom a mock look of disapproval and said, “Well, at least, I will compliment Maggie on the schedule.” He read it over. “So, the Stone Bowl kicks off in about an hour. Dinner at 4:30. And topped off with a movie at 7:30. What are we watching?”
Tom said, “It’s a longtime tradition in the Stone household to watch Christmas in Connecticut on Thanksgiving.”
Jennifer shook her head. “Are you serious?”
Tom looked somewhat bewildered at Jennifer and Stephen, who flashed a broad smile. “Yes, what’s the deal? Problem with the movie?”
Stephen answered, “Quite the contrary. That’s a wonderful film with Barbara Stanwyck.”
Jennifer explained, “Stephen watches that movie every year. Has for … how long?”
Stephen thought. “Actually, since I was a kid. In recent years, at least when the schedule permitted.”
Jennifer added, “He was worried that we might not get home early enough tonight to watch his usual Thanksgiving movie, which is White Christmas. That kicks off about a month and a half of Christmas films for the movie buff I married.”
“I also happen to be a big fan of Bing Crosby, as you both know. But Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut works nicely, too.”
It was Tom’s turn to shake his head. “Your wife is right. You are weird. But I’ve known that for a while now.”
Stephen retorted, “Right, this from a guy who wears shorts and a Hawaiian shirt no matter what time of year it is as long as the temp is over 50. It’s supposed to be an unseasonable 60 today, so why not the typical Tom Stone attire?”
Stephen and Jennifer were in touch football attire, as instructed by their hosts. They wore sneakers, blue jeans and a polo shirt – Stephen’s a bright red with long sleeves, and Jennifer in Stephen’s favorite for her, a short-sleeve pink.
Tom said, “Not today. As I told you, this is the annual Stone Bowl.” Tom had sweatpants and sneakers on, but he seemed particularly proud of the blue jersey he wore, with “Stone Bowl” written across the front above a big number 1, and “Number One Dad” across the back above another big 1.
Behind Jennifer and Stephen came the Kraus family. None looked dressed for football. Joan wore brown boots, a tweed skirt and a cream-colored, lightweight, short-sleeve sweater. In his typical conservative, lawyer fashion, George was in a white, pinstriped, button-down shirt, gray pants, and black, wingtip shoes. Their daughters, Grace and Faith, who shared their mother’s bright red hair, fair skin and large eyes, didn’t look ready for tossing around the pigskin either in tight-fitting leggings and glittery flats. 
After hugs and pecks on cheeks were exchanged, Grace and Faith hurried off to find Tom’s daughters.
Stephen said, “George, you do not look dressed for touch football.”
“I’m not. Bad back does not allow for football.” He looked at Tom. “Not even for the Stone Bowl, Tom, sorry.”
“No worries, you’ll just have to eat and drink with the fans.”
George replied, “I’m well equipped to do that.”
Stephen turned to Joan, “And no Stone Bowl for you either, Joan?”
“Unlike Jen, I do not do football, even when it’s touch.”
Joan Kraus and Jennifer Grant were beyond close friends, being more like sisters. That being the case, Stephen and George claimed to be quasi-brothers-in-law.
Jennifer said, “But you do do wine.” She stopped and looked quizzically. “Does that sound right? Oh well, I have a crumb cake for Maggie, so let’s go see what we can do to help. She always has nice wines for the kitchen help.”
Joan added, “If I had more than 20 people over for Thanksgiving, I’d be well into my second bottle by now.”
As Jen and Joan moved toward the kitchen, Tom, Stephen and George followed. Eventually, Tom and Stephen moved out the backdoor and went down a few steps onto a patio. The yard behind the rectory and church was expansive, sloping gently down to a small lake.
With beers in hand, they headed in the direction of a group talking and casually tossing around a football.
This was another rare social occasion when Ron McDermott could be found in non-clerical attire, sporting tan work boots, brown pants and a long-sleeve, tan, cotton button down. Other than for golf, Stephen knew that this was about as casual as Ron got outside the St. Luke’s rectory – and sometimes within the rectory.
The other four people, however, were in the full spirit of the Stone Bowl.
Zack had his Seahawks jersey on, and Tom’s oldest daughter, Cara, also wore a “Stone Bowl” jersey. Cara, at 27 years old, was a younger version of her mother, including the strawberry-blond hair, but longer, bright blue eyes and smile. Stephen noticed that the two seemed more interested in each other than the football. Well, that’s intriguing.
Stephen had not seen Mike Vanacore in a while, noting that the young, billionaire video game entrepreneur, and leading supporter of parochial education, was still sporting thick blond hair and Clark Kent glasses. Vanacore was from, and still lived in California, but also had a house on Long Island, He was an active member at St. Bart’s. His football preferences were clear from his San Diego Chargers jersey.
But it was the fourth person in the group who drew Stephen’s attention. He whispered to Tom, “Who is that with Mike? She looks familiar.”
Stephen was referring to a tall, thin, beautiful woman with long, straight blond hair. She also had a Chargers jersey on, though cut to reveal her stomach and belly button, along with Capri-style jeans and white sneakers.
Tom answered, “Familiar? Really? Does Jen know that?”
Stephen said, “Meaning what?”
Tom continued, “That’s Melissa Ambler. I guess there’s no other way to put it: She’s a supermodel. She and Mike have been dating for a bit. I believe she was in the most recent SI swimsuit issue.”
Stephen retorted, “And how would you know that? And does Maggie know?”
“Touché. She’s also been in some cosmetics commercials.”
“Interesting.”
Tom added, “That’s not all. She’s got an MBA. Mike constantly mentions her business smarts.”
They stopped and looked at each other.
Stephen smirked and said, “Her business smarts. That’s what he talks about constantly?”
Tom replied, “Yes, and what are you possibly implying?” His fake outrage lasted mere seconds, when they laughed, clinked their bottles, and drank some beer.
Everyone greeted Stephen warmly.
The Stone Bowl was waged in good fun, but with more than just a light touch of competitiveness, between two teams of eight. The effective St. Bart’s home team – featuring the Stone family, along with Mike and Melissa – won a tight contest, with an interception by Mike returned for a touchdown to make it final.
Stephen threw the pick, and immediately knew he would not live that down with his friends – and his wife – for the entire coming year, until the next Stone Bowl.
Later, with a feast featuring two turkeys spread across two large tables arranged in a T, Tom stood and everyone fell silent.
“For those who have never been at a Stone family Thanksgiving, I officially welcome you, and thank God for your being with us. We don’t do anything like putting individuals on the spot saying what they’re thankful for. We leave that to each of you personally with the Lord. But I do take the opportunity to reflect a bit in our dinner prayer. So, please bow your heads.”
Everyone did so.
Tom continued:

“Dear Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we have so much to be thankful for, truly. We thank you for the family and dear friends you have brought together here today, and for the many hands that brought forth the bounty of which we are about to partake, from the farms and ranches, and every other point along the way, into our own kitchen.
“But what we are most thankful for is your sacrifice and atonement for our sins, your love, forgiveness and gifts of salvation and eternal life, and your coming to us through Word and sacrament. And we thank you for your Church. While it is broken and fragmented in so many ways due to man’s sin, it remains Your Church, and the place where believers can gather together to hear the Word, partake in the Lord’s supper, learn, and help, support and strengthen each other.
“Jesus, Your Church again has come under attack, with sin and the Evil One working to limit the reach of the Gospel. We pray for strength to have the courage to do what is right, to protect the Church, no matter what the price.
“Finally, sweet Jesus, we pray for those who gather on this Thanksgiving, but know not who they should be thanking for their families, their friends, their blessing and their very lives. We pray that through Your grace, through the Holy Spirit, through an awakening of faith, they will come to know You.
“And we pray all of this, in Your precious name. Amen.”

All around the table echoed, “Amen.”
Maggie looked at her husband, and squeezed his hand. She turned to her family and guests, and said, “Please, everyone, eat and enjoy.”
Stephen was seated on the other side of Tom, and whispered, “Nice prayer.”
Tom replied, “Thanks. All credit, of course, goes to Him.” After a short pause, as he spooned some au gratin potatoes onto his plate, he added, “Although, I pondered adding thanks for that pick you threw giving us the Stone Bowl. But I thought it might make the prayer go too long.”
Stephen smiled. “And so it starts. I’m never going to hear the end of this, am I?”
Tom replied, “Of course not. What are friends for?”