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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How To Get Ahead

Last week we met Rachel and dealt with her issue of perfectionism.  This week we meet Rachel and Jacob’s son, Joseph.  See Genesis 37:3.  This verse tells us that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son probably because Rachel was his favorite wife.

Many of us are familiar with the story, “Joseph and Technicolor Dream Coat.”  Think Donny Osmond.  If you don’t know the story, you can read about it in Genesis 37.  To make a long story short, Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him and sell him into slavery in Egypt.

Eventually Joseph becomes the attendant of a high Egyptian official.  The official’s wife frames Joseph for rape and he winds up in prison.

Joseph fares well in prison.  He is able to interpret dreams and gets released by Pharaoh.  In fact, Pharaoh likes him so much he puts him in charge of all of Egypt.  Joseph’s own brothers come back to him, begging for food.  Joseph helps them out.  Eventually, Joseph is reunited with his family and we get a happy ending.

What could Joseph’s issue be?  Promotion.  The dictionary describes promotion as “the act of being raised in position or rank.  Ascend, elevate, rise.”

Joseph did not self promote.  Look at Genesis 39:2-3, 5b and 20b-21.  It tells us “since the Lord was with him, Joseph got on very well.  The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake.  But even while he was in prison, the Lord remained with him.”

Our culture is obsessed with self-promotion.  Look at the Kardashians.  This is the opposite of God’s idea of promotion.  God promotes those who wait on His timing.  This is the waiting that actually landed Joseph in jail.  Yet it was reversed!  He was placed in charge of all of Egypt.

The key to Joseph’s promotion was that he used it to help others.  Joseph saved Egypt from famine and his family from starvation.

We should allow God to promote us and then use our promotion to help others.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I try to “one up” others in all I do?

Am I always talking about myself?

Do I step on those I feel are in my way?

Am I out for myself?

What can I learn from Joseph?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

She Wants To Be In That Number

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to see this week's webstrip.  To see all of the strips, visit:

Tuesday Table Talk

Ask your child:

What does Gracie want to be?  Why?

Is there really an application process to being a saint?

What does delusional thinking mean?

Why does Anthony think Gracie can’t be a saint?  

What would you like to be the patron saint of?

Monday, February 27, 2012

How To Get Ahead

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast on Joseph and his issue. Check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ask Ellen: Conclusion of Catholic Social Teachings for Middle School Students

Theme 7:  Care of God’s Creation

We have talked a great deal about caring for each other as part of God’s family.  Students also need to be aware of this requirement of our faith: to care for creation.  I would take the opportunity to ask students what environmental issues plague us today.  Answers could include: global warming, drilling for oil, protection of wildlife etc.

I would make students aware of the need to protect the resources God has given us.  I would brainstorm ways the class could become involved with protecting their school environment.

The last thing I would address before concluding the series on Catholic Social Teachings is the responsibility of voting with an informed conscience.  Students should realize through this study of the Church’s position that no candidate lines up perfectly with the Church’s standards.  I would encourage them to ask their parents why they choose to vote the way they do.  I would explain to them that this is a life-long responsibility: to vote for people who align themselves as closely as possible to the Church’s teachings.  I would leave them with the realization of how fortunate they are to belong to a Church that doesn’t change its policies to reflect public opinion or to align itself with a  particular candidate.  They have been given access to Truth and should measure all they do and support against this Truth.  That is truly a gift.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You Can't Have It All

Last week we met Leah and dealt with her issue of rejection.  This week we will focus on Jacob’s second wife, the sister of Leah, Rachel.  The minute Jacob met Rachel he fell in love with her.  Genesis 29:11 tells us Jacob immediately kissed Rachel and burst into tears.  A definite case of love at first sight.

Genesis 29:18 tells us Jacob asked for Rachel and was clearly in love with her.  In verse 20 we learn that to Jacob seven years seemed but a few days.  Isn’t that how it is when you are in love?

We have already talked about how Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah.  (see Jacob and Deceit and Leah and Rejection.)

We also found out last week (see Gen 29:30) that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.

What more do we know of Rachel?  Back up to verse 17.  Here we learn that Rachel was beautiful and well formed.  Rachel seemed to have everything, which brings us to her issue.

Perfection.  Jacob certainly thought she was perfect.

Many of us struggle with perfection.  The dictionary tells us that perfections is “freedom from fault or defect, supreme excellence, superiority, worth.”

Many of us define our worth by how perfect we appear.  You and I both know that neither of us is perfect.  But man, do I wish I had the time back that I used trying to convince the other soccer moms that I was perfect.

Anyway, God weighs in on perfection pretty quickly here.  In verse 31 we find out that Rachel is barren.  This is a great example of no one has it all.  In ancient Hebrew culture, it was a public humiliation for Rachel and for Jacob.  This was compounded by the fact that Rachel’s sister, Leah, was a baby making machine.

The lesson I feel we can learn from Rachel can be found in Genesis 30:1.  “When Rachel saw that she failed to bear children to Jacob, she became envious of her sister.”

Perfectionism leads to envy.  When we want to appear perfect, we envy those who appear to have the pieces we lack.  Rachel envied Leah because of all those babies and it strained their relationship.  Eventually, Rachel dies giving birth to her son, Benjamin. (Gen 35:18)

Perfectionism is a lie.  A lie that leads to a life of envy.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I try to appear perfect?

Why does being perfect matter to me?

How has trying to appear perfect led me to be envious of others?

What faults am I willing to admit today?

What can I learn from Rachel?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Remember That You Are Dust and... Ok, Even We Know This One Is Weird

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the screen to see this week's webstrip.  To see all of the strips, visit:

Tuesday Table Talk

Ask your child:

What is Gracie doing?

What Ash Wednesday saying is she playing on?

What should we remember on Ash Wednesday?

What are you giving up or taking on for Lent?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rachel, Are you Perfect?

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast. This week we meet Rachel and deal with her issue of perfectionism. Check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Social Teachings For Middle School Students (Cont)

Theme 6: Solidarity

I would begin by explaining to students what solidarity means.  The dictionary describes it as “unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards”

I would ask students what groups they share solidarity with. (interests, goals, etc)  Some answers might include: families, school, class, sports teams.

I would ask them what makes them a part of these groups.  It would be great for students to focus on the fact that they contribute something to the larger group and that the group works together for the common good.

In this Social Teaching, the Church is asking us to see ourselves in union with the rest of the world, no matter our differences.  It calls us to love our neighbor on a global scale.  We do this by securing justice and peace whenever we go.  We are called, as Catholics, to work for peace in a violent and often cruel world.

I would conclude by asking students if they have ever thought of themselves in solidarity with the rest of the world.  How will this thought change their thinking?  What can you do as a class to promote peace and work for justice?  What can all of us do?  We can start with prayer and go from there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

He Loved Her More Than Leah

We have discussed Isaac and Rebekah and their issue of loyalty.  We have also met their son Jacob and grappled with his issue of deceit.  This week we meet Jacob’s first wife, Leah.

Leah’s problem is discovered early on in her story.  Look at Genesis 29:18.  Here we learn that Jacob is in love with Leah’s sister, Rachel.

What do we know of Leah?  She is older than Rachel and she has “lovely eyes.”  Some translations use “weak eyes.”  This is not a very flattering picture of our pal, Leah.

We next learn (in verse 23) that her father, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah.  Can you imagine a greater rejection than having to trick someone into marrying you?

Hold on!  The rejection gets worse!  Jacob agrees to work for Laban for a longer time to get the woman he really wants, Rachel.  Ouch!

Verse 30 tells us plainly, “he loved her more than Leah.”

Sit for a minute in Leah’s story..rejected.  Every day for the rest of your life…in favor of your sister.

Verse 31 tells us that God saw she was unloved and made her fruitful.  Leah gives Jacob the many he sons he desired.  This tells us that God sees our rejection too.  He longs to loves us even when no one seems to love us.

Leah’s issue is rejection.

The dictionary tells us that rejection is the "refusal to accept, consider or hear."  It is when we are cast off.  When we are rejected, we feel abandoned.

This week will focus on rejection in our lives…when we have experienced it, when we have done it and how we have reacted to it.

Ask yourself the following questions:

When have I been rejected?  How did it make me feel?

When have I rejected someone?  Why?

How do I respond to rejection?

Have I allowed rejection to define me?

What can I do the next time I feel rejected?

What can I learn from Leah?

Who will never reject me?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why Do I Love Thee?

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home screen to see this week's webstrip celebrating Valentine's Day.  to see all of the strips, visit:

Tuesday Table Talk

Ask your child:

Why does Gracie feel badly?

What thing would you like to invent?

What is your favorite part of Valentine’s Day?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Leah's Rejection

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast about Leah and her issue of rejection.  Check back tomorrow for a new Greetings From Gracieland webstrip celebrating Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ask Ellen: Our Series on Catholic Social Teachings For Middle School Students Continues

Theme 5: Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers

Today I am pleased to welcome our first guest blogger. Karen Gownley.  Karen is the Assistant to Communications and Community Services, PA AFL-CIO.  She has agreed to lend her expertise on the subject with us today.  Thanks, Karen.

The Catholic church has a long history of supporting Labor Unions. The Church believes that all workers have the right to be paid fairly, treated well, and have safe working conditions. All workers should be able to support their families.

Labor Unions are formed when a group of workers stand together in unity. While one worker would likely be fired for standing up against a boss who is treating him or her unfairly, a group - union - of workers have power and a voice against unfair bosses.

Labor unions have stood up to fight for, and won, things like: the weekend, the 8-hour work day, and end to child labor.

For a quick, fun, history lesson on Unions:

Many more details, facts, & history on the relationship between Labor and the Catholic church can be found here:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jacob, The Joke Is On You

Last week we met Isaac and Rebekah and discussed their issue, loyalty.  They had twin sons, Esau and Jacob.  Let’s fast forward a little bit to Gen 25:19-34.  Jacob convinces Esau to give him his birthright for a bit of stew.  There are two things we need to know about this exchange.  First, it was a privilege of the first born of the family to have the birthright.  It was a place of honor within the family.  It entitled the oldest son to twice as many possessions of the father.  The first born birthright was highly esteemed.  The second thing we need to see here is that Esau couldn’t care less about it.  He trades all of that for some soup.

Jacob puts on an elaborate costume to look like hairy Esau and tricks our friend, Isaac, (who is practically blind) into giving him the first son’s birthright. (with help from our friend, Rebekah, not her most loyal moment to her spouse).  You can read about this in Genesis 27.

Biblical Scholar Alert- Once the birthright blessing is given, it cannot be revoked.

So, it appears that Jacob’s plan has worked.  However, notice he must flee the Promised Land, a sign of moving away from God’s covenant.  Let’s look ahead to Genesis 29.

Jacob is tricked into marrying Leah instead of his beloved, Rachel.  The family dressed Leah like Rachel and tricked Jacob, the very same thing Jacob did to Isaac.  The writer isn’t telling us, “what Jacob did was wrong,” He is showing us that what goes around comes around.  In fact, in verse 26 Laban tells Jacob, “in our country, the oldest goes first.”  Ouch!  Lesson learned.

Scripture doesn’t just tell us these moral lessons, it shows us.  But we have to know how to look.

What was Jacob’s issue?  Deceit.  When we are deceitful, we mislead others through lies.  We are two-faced.  Eventually we begin to believe our own lies.

This week will look at where we are deceiving ourselves and others.  As yourself the following questions:

What untruths am I telling others?

What “little” lies am I telling myself?

In what areas am I being two-faced?

Do I deceive people into thinking I am their friend, but then talk about them behind their back?

Have I begun to believe my own lies?

What can I learn from Jacob?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ladies Who (Hot) Lunch

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to see this week's Greetings From Gracieland.  To see all of the strips, visit:

Tuesday Table Talk

Ask your child:

What do you like or dislike about hot lunch?

Do you or someone you know have food allergies?

What is your favorite food?

What is your least favorite thing to eat?

What can you tell about Lily from this strip?

Monday, February 6, 2012

You Can't Kid A Kidder

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast. This week we meet Jacob and deal with his issue of deceit. Check back tomorrow for a new Greetings from Gracieland webstrip. We will be introducing a new character.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ask Ellen: Our Continued Series On How To Explain Catholic Social Teachings To Middle School Students

Theme 4: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

This theme is a critical one for middle school students to understand.  The key word that stands out in my mind is “option.”  Students should understand that we have the right to choose to help.  We are not compelled to help the poor and vulnerable by our society.  In fact, society tells us just the opposite.  Society tells students every day that people must fend for themselves, taking what is theirs and using it for their own personal gain.

In this Social Teaching, the Catholic Church tells us the opposite.  As Catholics and Christians we ARE compelled to help the poor and vulnerable.  We are called to help and defend those that cannot do it for themselves.  The Church tells us that we are “only doing as well as our poorest member.”  Encourage students to think of this in terms of the Body of Christ.  We are all members of this same Body.  Like a body, society needs all parts to work together to be healthy.  I may have the strongest heart in the race, but if I break my foot, I cannot run.  Have students understand this important teaching in this light:  I may be a millionaire, but if I never help the poorest person I am not healthy.  I suffer as a person due to my selfishness.  The Church suffers as a whole when any member of her Body is neglected.

Explain to students that in our fast paced technological world the divide between rich and poor goes greater each day.  Today’s students are in a unique position to address this concern throughout their lives.  In this teaching, the Church reminds them to think of the poor and vulnerable first.

Ask students to think of people who fit in the category of poor and vulnerable.  Answers might include: the elderly, immigrants, the sick, the dying, the unborn, the homeless, the unemployed etc.  Brainstorm ways the students can make a tangible difference in the lives of these people.

Being Catholic is incredible because it teaches you to have a worldview.  It is so much bigger than our individual needs and desires.  Students need to understand this universal way of thinking.  Heck, we all do.  Do something for someone less fortunate….today.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Misplaced Loyalty

Biblical Scholar Alert- Last week we met Sarah and focused on her sense of humor.  This is sense of humor is best displayed in the name chosen for her only son, Isaac, meaning “God has given me cause to laugh.”

Also take a few minutes to focus on Genesis 22, The Testing of Abraham.  This is an essential part of our story and shouldn’t be missed.

As I said before, we have a lot of biblical ground to cover in just a few weeks so we will skip ahead to when Isaac is grown and meets his wife, Rebekah.

Focus on Genesis 24.  Isaac can be seen almost as a supporting actor in the story of the patriarchs.  But he is nonetheless important.  The story of Isaac and Rebekah is a love story plain and simple.

We are introduced to Rebekah at a well.  A Jewish reader would immediately think marriage based on this location.  It is important to understand this as we go forward because many important encounters happen at wells.

A beautiful story unfolds.  Focus on verse 67.  This is all that is said about Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage.  But we need to look at what isn’t said.  Isaac only had one wife throughout his life, Rebekah.  Because of his fidelity to her, he is the only patriarch that never leaves the Promised Land.  Think back to the covenant God made with His people.  When Israel was obedient, they were blessed with staying in the Promised Land, or within God’s covenant family.  The people we will meet later in the story are often led out of the Promised Land by their many wives.

Isaac was loyal.  That was his issue.

What is loyalty?  If you are loyal, you are constant, dedicated, devoted and unwavering.  Isaac remained faithful to Rebekah and to his covenant with God.

You can be loyal to many things and people.  Some examples include: the government, a cause, an idea, an institution or a product.

Unfortunately, we have people who are more loyal to the Apple brand than to their church.  Our loyalties are confused.  Isaac and Rebekah’s weren’t.  We can learn from them.  Loyalty leads to the Land of Promise.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Who/What am I loyal to?  Have they earned it?  Do they return it to me?

In what areas of my life am I not being loyal?

Am I loyal to God?  My Church?  My country?  My family?  My friends?

What products am I loyal to?  Why?

Do I value things more than people?