Interview with Author Karina Glaser


Karina Yan Glaser is a writer.  Her delightful middle grade book The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street came out this fall and was chosen as one of the New York Times Notable Books of 2017. For a great review, see the New York Times (10/27/17).

What inspired you to write the Vanderbeekers? 

I was inspired by children’s books that were written in the 1940s where New York City was a different place in a lot of ways. Bigger families could still live here, and these stories show kids are having a lot of freedom in New York City. There was that sense of community.  I loved those stories growing up, which was a lot of the reason why I wanted to move to New York.   

When I was first walking around Harlem, I had this intense love for Harlem.  I’ve lived in a lot of places in New York, and I love different aspects of them.  But raising my kids in Harlem is great because people are very open in a way that I haven’t necessarily seen in other neighborhoods.  People still say hi to you even if you’re a stranger.  The crossing guards are not solitary; they are very interactive and they love my kids and watch them grow up.   

When I was writing the Vanderbeekers I wanted to capture these best parts of Harlem.  And of course there are challenges to living here, and we sometimes think wouldn’t be nice to live in Maine or somewhere calm?  But part of having community is staying in a community and not leaving.  It takes work to cultivate that.  In the Vanderbeekers you know the father has lived there his whole life. And there’s this sense that the community belongs to him and he belongs to them.   By leaving it would break this relationship he has with everyone.  And I wanted to show that in NYC you could have this place where  you belong, even though there 8 million people living here and it can still be a place where neighborhoods are flourishing and it’s not always what people think about urban areas and urban decay. 

As I was reading your book I had this experience of longing – to live in a community that has more of those rich interpersonal connections.  And we can usually only find that only in little bits and pieces. How do you find that in your own life?

It was a criticism of the book that it wasn’t realistic.  And that’s true in a lot of ways, but it also is real in a lot of ways.  The feeling of when you belong somewhere, and how important that place is.  Especially when New York is so transient.  Why was it so important for that family to stay in that one place vs we could move away and have more space?   

I don’t feel like I’m just creating a castle in the cloud with this book.  For our family it has truly been a great experience living in Harlem and there’s something special about that neighborhood and that community where we can feel welcome and we feel like we can contribute and it feels like home.

We were very lucky because our building was new construction, an HPD program in Harlem where they were putting up new buildings and trying to encourage home ownership and people staying in the city.  Everyone moved into this building at the same time, 73 units. And there was something special about that.  Mostly first time homeowners with similar incomes, but a wide range of people there. 

A special community formed because we were all in the boat together.  And it’s been really fun to watch the kids grow up there.  One of the things about me is I am relentlessly optimistic, and I just want the girls to grow up somewhere they are known.  We pursue that really aggressively, by starting things in our building, like a Halloween pumpkin decorating contest. We started a garden in the courtyard where people have plots, there’s a tradition of a garden clean up every spring, and people are out there socializing.  We also started a little free library in front of our building where people can take a book and leave a book in what looks like a birdhouse, and we make sure the library is full all the time. We want community, and in New York you have to chase after that.

Another moving theme in your book is the power of the kids, who are able to come together and do something that the adults in their life couldn’t do. 

One thing that’s wonderful about being a children’s book author is that we can speak that truth into kids’ lives that they have the power to change.  I think it’s an amazing part of being part of that children’s book community, because we all strongly believe that kids have this incredible power. Sometimes as adults we don’t fully understand the power the kids have or don’t allow them to do things that we think are maybe beyond what we think they can do. Reading back to the older children’s literature that inspired me, there are these things that kids do that are amazing that I don’t think is too beyond what I think kids can really do.   

Kids need to see not only that, but also they need to see themselves in these stories.  In the story the kids are biracial,  and how many books can you name off the top of your head that the kids are biracial?  I see a lot of that happening now in children’s literature. We’re seeing all these different types of kids, not just white kids but all different types of kids making change in their communities.   

Where do you find inspirations for your characters?

One place is with my own kids.  In our neighborhood there is a man who sells flowers named Mr. Sunny.   He has a van and sets up a table and puts the flowers out and also puts out tables for chess.  Every day in good weather he’s out there selling his flowers and there was this one day where he wasn’t there anymore and we wondered where did he go. And it turned out that he didn’t have a license to sell near park property. There was an article in the New York Times and our local paper.  My older daughter Kayla was six. She was so distraught because she loved this man, who was always so kind to her.  So she wrote a letter to the Parks Department. It took her two hours to write and then we made copies and sent to council members and even the mayor.  At the same time other people were doing things to try to help him get his spot. And it turned out he was able to come back. Kayla got a letter back from the Parks deputy, who said he was really touched by her letter and glad we were able to get Sunny his space back.   

And so in some ways it’s a little thing but we can stand up for what’s right, and it’s not hopeless.  In children’s stories you really do have to keep the parents out of it, otherwise it just becomes a story about how the parents did something to make the kids happy and it’s not very fun.   I think that is a reminder to me as well.  On my second book my editor kept on saying this is a story about what the kids are doing. The kids are the motivators.  

You’ve talked about the importance of writing partners to you, how has that worked?

Having a writing partner has been a blessing.  I met my first writing partner in a coffee shop when i was writing my first book.  When your kids are in preschool you get to write something like two days a week for three hours.  I would see this other woman there who was also writing.  One day we just started talking, she had two kids the same age as our kids and we were both taking different classes at the same writing workshop. It’s nice just to have someone there to interact with.  I saw her as my coworker.  She would read my work and I would read hers, and it was great.

Through a number of weird coincidences I met my current writing partner, and we just clicked immediately.  We work a lot together, at a private library or at her house.  She published her first book two years before my book.  She has a lot of insight and wisdom, really generous with her ideas and her advice.  She doesn’t read my work when I’m working on it, but there is moral support.. And she’s good at bringing me back to earth if I’m in my head or I’m worried about something.  I talk to her about it, and she’ll lay out that you need to do this and this.  

How could the All Angels’ community pray for your work?

Time is a big thing now, managing different books at different stages: promotion, editing, revising, and writing from scratch.  The steps require different parts of my brain. 

I really care about whether what I write will be something kids can really relate to and feel empowered by, and feel that they are valued.

– Interview by Kevin Oro-Hahn

Preparing for Lent


“Lent is springtime. It’s preparing for that great climax of springtime which is Easter – new life bursting through death…trying to sweep and clean the room of our own minds and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.” — Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

What I love about the church calendar and living within its rhythms is that it helps me reorient myself, to the Story of God, to the Person of Christ, and remind me what (or rather who) is at the center of all things. Every year, I know that whether I feel like it or not, Lent comes to ask me that question, “How have I gotten away from the Lord and how can I return to him with all my heart?”

It may involve giving up something that I’ve grown overly attached to; it may mean taking on a new spiritual practice; it may involve delving into devotional reading or saying confession or maybe learning how to not be so intense about my spiritual disciplines and just play more!

Below are some ideas or perhaps they will inspire something entirely new. Don’t let it overwhelm you! Read through it and perhaps one will resonate or stick with you as the one you feel drawn to commit to:
10 Questions to Ask: This comes from Rachel Held Evans. Take 20-30 minutes sometime before Ash Wednesday and journal about one or more of these questions. You may have a better sense of what Lenten practice would be helpful for you afterwards.

1. When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different?

2. From what do I need to repent?

3. Is there one particular sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? How do I address that sin over the next 40 days?

4. Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation?

5. What distractions most commonly interfere with my time in prayer/Scripture?

6. What spiritual discipline do I need to improve upon or want to try?

7. What are some things in my life that I tell myself I need but I don’t?

8. Why am I giving this particular thing up? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter?

9. What am I going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard?

10. Is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature my fast with others or should I keep it private?

Give Something Up: During Lent, we can choose to give up something that has become an attachment or source of comfort and dependence that we turn to: certain kinds of food and drink, social media, shopping, etc. as an expression of our desire to turn to God and depending on him more fully. We can choose to give up negative things that come out of our mouths (or our virtual mouth on social media): criticizing, gossiping, snapping at people, saying disparaging things about others.

Take Something OnWe can also take on spiritual practices to realign our hearts toward God such as daily Scripture reading; “giving alms” to the poor (e.g. one parishioner would keep twenty $1 bills in her purse and give them out to anyone on the street or subway asking for money. There’s a stack of small cards that list all of Community Ministries programs, and you can give them with the dollar); practicing a real 24-hour Sabbath; sharing a meal every week during Lent with someone you love or someone you don’t know well.

I loved one person’s Lenten practice of making their bed first thing every morning and then sitting in silence on that nicely made bed for five minutes before they started their day. Maybe it’s choosing to do one creative thing every day that brings you joy. Maybe it is deciding to always say “yes” to inner promptings instead of explaining them away.

One year, I decided that during Lent I would engage in conflict more often (I’m a terrible conflict-avoider). If I was bothered by something, instead of sweeping it under the rug, I would try to address it.

Join an Lenten initiative: If figuring out what to do feels overwhelming and solitary, consider joining a Lenten initiative like the 40 Acts Generosity Challenge, which is exactly what it sounds like: every day, you are sent a “generosity challenge” where there is one act you commit to doing that extends grace, generosity and love in some way.

Chelsea introduced me to The Common Rule that was started by her friend Justin Earley. Justin has put together a wonderful and thoughtful “rule” that helps you cultivate habits of the heart in loving God and your neighbor. Both of these initiatives will send reflections either daily or over the course of the season.

Scripture: Make a commitment to read Scripture daily. It’s not too late to join us in reading through the Bible in a year with the Bible Project’s Read Scripture app and videos. The videos are truly amazing in helping to make complex biblical themes simple and easy to understand. They’re entertaining too!

Emma Buck had a great suggestion, particularly for those who struggle with reading because of learning disabilities or getting overwhelmed, that a good Lenten discipline could be committing to watching their videos every day. There are 115 total and 3 a day would get you through their entire library.

You can check out their website here for more information. And sign up here so we know that you’re joining us!

Sabbath Did you know that remembering the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments? It strikes at the heart of our idolatry of work and putting ourselves in the place of God. Here is a short, really helpful guide to explaining and practicing the Sabbath during Lent by Pete Scazzero, founding pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens and author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

Lenten Reading (and Coloring!): Hearts and Minds is one of my favorite independent bookstores. Byron’s Booknotes blog could be a book in itself, so thoughtful, theologically rich and full of great recommendations. I usually get books from Amazon, but decided that if I want a book because of his review, I’ll purchase it from him. It may take a few days for it to get to you but again, it’s okay to start next week!

You can find Byron’s Lenten recommendations here.

I hope that this list can inspire you for your own Lenten practice and help this season to become a time of returning to the Lord with all your heart.

— Christine

Remembering Mama Jean


Last Saturday, we had a beautiful memorial service for Mama Jean Pannell, beloved member of our All Angels’ family since the 1980s. The gospel choir sang some of her favorites like “How I Got Over” and “O Happy Day,” imagining her singing and dancing her heart out right there with us. There were both tears and laughter as we shared stories about her. The Reverend Mark Swanson, former Director of Community Ministries, sent this precious remembrance of her from his days on staff at All Angels’:

My most prominent memory of my friend Jean comes from a winter’s day after a coat drive we had just completed at All Angel’s Church. Among the bags and bags of coats we received, someone had donated a beautiful fur. I can’t, for the life of me, understand what it was doing inside one of the black hefty bags I unloaded from the back of my father’s truck that day, along with the surplus army jackets and worn topcoats. I kept it in a closet in Palmer Hall and then, after the Pathways drop-in center closed its doors that Thursday afternoon, presented it to her as a gift from the Lord. Jean began to cry. And jump up and down. And hug me, as she cried, and jumped up and down. I don’t think I’d ever experienced such undiluted gratitude before, and I haven’t since.

Another memory that comes to mind is her ability to take teasing and the occasional practical joke, especially from me. One of Jean’s greatest fears was of rats. She, for very understandable reasons, hated them more than you can imagine. One day, someone brought in a remote controlled rat- a fake rat pelt covering a toy car chassis with eyes that had a malignant red glow. Well, Jean was at the front security desk and so I sent the rat into her space from around the corner of the stairwell. As I followed it in a moment later, smiling ear to ear, Jean was standing up on top of the desk, looking for the heaviest object she could find to throw at the little beastie. And then she saw me, and that she had been had, and immediately collapsed into unbridled laughter, her eyes shut, tears rolling out of them. Jean was a good sport.

I have been away from New York for nearly ten years now, and when I think of my days at All Angels’, Mama Jean is among the best of all the people I had the pleasure to know. She was tough as nails, kind and giving, deeply loyal, and never one to put up with what she felt to be false or unjust. She was a force. She was, as I think about my life as I approach my fiftieth year, one of the few people who have every truly loved me. That’s a fact.

I miss her, but I now look forward to the day in Jesus’ presence when I will see her again, and she will hug me, and we will cry, and jump up and down together again.

-Rev. Mark Swanson, Vancouver British Columbia.

Getting On To God’s Agenda

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. – Acts 1:8

Dear All Angels’ Family,

We kicked off our Acts teaching series last Sunday with Jim’s challenge to us as a church to get off our own agendas and get on to God’s. He challenged us to:

  • Take a spiritual health check and ask ourselves, “If Jesus really alive to me? Am I walking with him as a friend or is he a character in a book?”
  • Ask, “What are the agendas I have for All Angels’?” and to bring them under the Lordship of Christ.
  • Commit ourselves to the task of prayer day and night as we await the
  • Holy Spirit’s leading for our lives and for All Angels’.
  • Be open to whatever the Spirit wants us to do: a new vision, new tasks, new worlds to reach, even to experiencing persecution for the gospel as we follow Jesus.

If you missed it and are wondering where it is on our sermon podcast, there were some technical difficulties and we are working on getting it re-recorded and posted as soon as possible.

We also launched the survey, an important first step in our self-study, seeking to learn more about who we are as a church and what we are looking for in a Rector who will lead us in this next life stage of our church. Jim shared the words of John Wesley, “God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it,” and exhorted us to make prayer our first priority: “Do not fill out the survey until you have been down on your knees.”

This Sunday, Christine will be preaching on Acts 2:1-11, the story of Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples to be Christ’s witnesses. May the same be true of us as we begin this new year and new season!


Jim & Christine

Launching Into 2018

Dear, All Angels’ Family,

Christmas 2017 seems a long time ago. There is a sense of energy and excitement as we head full throttle into our 2018 program. This week we are launching two new initiatives that we want to make sure you are aware of:

  • Our sermon series on the Book of Acts. From now until the end of June, we shall be looking at the Early Church and asking how the lessons they learned as they changed the world can be applied to All Angels’ in 2018. This will be a challenging series. We encourage you to commit to coming every week and, if you are unable, to listen to the sermon on our website or iTunes podcast.

There will also be opportunities to engage in action resulting from the teaching. This Sunday the Missions Committee will be sharing and inviting us to rethink our engagement with missions. We will pick this theme up again as we journey through Acts.

  • We launch the Self-Study survey which is part of our search for a new Rector. The Search Committee met for three and a half hours last week and agreed on a survey to be sent to all those actively engaged with All Angels’. More details are below.

In addition we encourage you to continue with or join the Bible Project’s excellent Read Scripture schedule, which includes 3-4 chapters of Scripture and a Psalm daily. It is very exciting. Things to note this week:

  • Cards with each day’s readings for the month will be available in the back of the sanctuary. Please feel free to take one.
  • David Larrabee will be leading a discussion on how the reading is going in the Whiting Room at 11:30 after Sunday morning worship. We invite you to join in.
  • We have started an All Angels’ blog where along with reflections on the readings, we will post follow-up thoughts on the Acts sermon series, share what we’re thinking about these days, give book recommendations, and much more. Details below.
  • Talk about the readings with other church members. What did you learn? What was challenging?

Above all, please be steeped in prayer. The next few months will be crucial to the future of this church. We will either move forward in unity into God’s next phase for us or we could slip into disunity if we take our eyes away from Jesus. Let us fix ourselves on him.


Jim and Christine

New Sunday teaching series on Acts

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

I am excited that we are starting a new teaching series this Sunday looking at the Book of Acts. We shall be learning how the Early Church turned the world upside down in a little over a generation and asking how we could apply these lessons to All Angels’ in 2018. Please get on board and journey with us. If you miss a Sunday, do listen to the sermon online. – Jim