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Father K. Brewster Hastings: In Memoriam

I have known The Rev. K. Brewster Hastings for many years.  He was an Anglican Christian priest, the rector of Saint Anne’s Church in Abington, PA, and my pastor for the several years I spent as a parishioner there.  Tragically, after heart surgery to repair a heart valve, he passed away suddenly (see here) aged only 55.

Fr. Hastings was more that just my priest.  He was a novelist (see here).  He did my premarital counseling.  He preached the homily at my wedding.  We worked together on the Templeton Committee.  He was my friend.  We shared a similar sense of humor, love for serving the church, bookish interests in theology and philosophy, and a fashion sense that would fit in well in English academia.  We were allies fighting the good fight to preserve, protect, and advance traditional Anglicanism.

Although Fr. Hastings was my pastor and friend, he was even more than that.  I met Fr. Hastings as I was entering into adulthood and in the process of maturing my Christian faith accordingly.  God placed Fr. Hastings into my life at just the right moment.  Fr. Hastings understood me.  He could speak “my language.”  He was the perfect person for me who could speak God’s Word into my life in a way I could hear and accept at a time when I needed it.  I tend to intellectualize everything, including my faith, and while Fr. Hastings could meet me there, he also had a faith that was much deeper than simply intellectualized faith.  It was in this way Fr. Hastings could help me progress.  He could relate to intellectualizing faith, but also to moving it to the next level.

One of the areas of ministry Fr. Hastings focused upon was healing.  One of his gifts was his way of penetrating someone’s problems and drawing God out from them.  When I told him about my struggles – whether that was emotional struggles or struggles with friends and family or with my career or marriage or what have you – he could meet me there.  Not just meet me there, but able to fully invest himself and go with me, into the depths, and validate the struggles and being a conduit of God’s grace and mercy.  Fr. Hastings was loving, but that love was not simply soft and Milquetoast.  He could be stern and offer discipline or correction when needed, but it never seemed like a punishment.

Fr. Hastings’ prayers were powerful.  His faith was deep and penetrating.  He looked, of course, to the Bible, but also to the lives of the Saints through the centuries.  He always could find wisdom from the teaching of the Church to apply to one’s life.  Through his ministry, Fr. Hastings was instrumental in taking my faith to much deeper and more profound place.  He helped me learn to pray.  He helped me learn how to read the Bible more effectively.  He helped me understand that praying and theology and liturgy were more than just doing something spiritual and/or asking for things and/or knowing things.

One recent event sticks out for me.  Although I have not been a member of St. Anne’s for a number of years, I could still call Fr. Hastings when I needed him.  Two summers ago, for various reasons, I was experiencing a dark night of the soul as never before.  I sat on my deck at 9:00pm in the middle of the summer and called him and, as he always did, he spoke to me about whatever it was I needed to discuss.  For over an hour we spoke, prayed, and cried, and he helped me through it and, because he was a great pastor, was sure to follow up with me.  I will be forever thankful for him that night.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I say good bye to you Fr. Hastings, my good Father in God.  Thank you for your friendship.  Thank you for your teaching.  Thank you for helping me learn to pray and read the Bible and worship.  Thank you for helping take my faith from just knowing and doing and believing to a faith that is much deeper, profound, visceral, exposed, and vulnerable.  You have helped me know God in new and deeper ways.  You have forever changed my life.  I thank God for you and your blessing on my life is incalculable.  May God bless you, have mercy on you, have grace upon you, and usher you into your greater glory and heavenly reward due to, and found only in, God’s presence.

Requiesce in pace

Book Review: A Certain Kind of Affection by the Rev. K. Brewster Hastings

I have recently finished reading the latest work by the Rev. K. Brewster Hastings entitled A Certain Kind of Affection (you can find this book on Amazon here).  This is his second published book of fiction, his first is a novel entitled The Only Way Out for Henry Clatt, and is a collection of short stories.

I have known Father Hastings for many years.  He is an Anglican Christian priest and the rector of Saint Anne’s Church in Abington, PA, and was my pastor for the years I spent as a parishioner there.  As it turns out, Fr. Hastings is the only published author of fiction whose works I have read that I have known personally.  I believe that this affords me a unique view and perspective of his writing that another reader may not have.  While another reader may appreciate his writing in his own way, I find Fr. Hastings’ words a little more intimate and personal than I would of other writers.  I have spoken with Fr. Hastings many times and have been blessed to hear many of his sermons over the years.  As a result, when I read his fiction, I cannot help but recognize many of his word choices or turns of phrase or descriptions of people, places, and/or things as something that can only be described as “very him.”  Indeed, my internal ears heard many of the lines of his books in his voice while I read them.  Perhaps knowing Fr. Hastings personally colors my view of his writing, but rather I think it allows me to appreciate his writing in a deeper way.

This brings me to A Certain Kind of Affection.  The book is a slim volume which consists of several short stories.  As one reads through the stories of the book, each story presents a main character different from the previous story, ranging from a monastic novice, to a disabled man, to a little girl, to a thirty-something woman, to a bishop.  Perhaps expectedly, considering Fr. Hastings is a clergyman, each main character encounters with God/spirituality in his or her own way in his or her own circumstance; through this device, Fr. Hastings draws out the reality that, whether one wants to admit or acknowledge it or not, God will meet someone where he is no matter who or where he is in a way that speaks to him.

The real strength and attraction of the stories lies in the emotional and spiritual depth of the characters.  It would seem Fr. Hastings’ experience in pastoral contexts over his many years in ministry helped him understand and really bring out the emotional and spiritual reality of the characters.  Further, if I may say so as someone who was once in Fr. Hastings’ spiritual flock, one of his strengths as a pastor is his ability to empathize with the emotional states in which people find themselves, and this strength is on display in this book in how the characters are presented.

I found it interesting that the stories did not preach or judge the characters regarding their spirituality.  In other words, the flaws and/or imperfections and/or misunderstanding (or whatever term one wishes to use) the characters have regarding God and/or spirituality is presented merely as the reality of that person at that moment without a judgment on it.  Instead, the stories present people, in their individual context and extent of spiritual development, honestly and realistically wrestling with his or her own spirituality in his or her own way, each revealing God intervening in their lives in ways unique to each character.

Interestingly, the various stories do not really come to a tidy conclusion that ties up all of the loose ends of the plots.  Instead, each shows a window into someone’s life at a specific moment in a person’s spiritual development, but leaves the reader to wonder how the characters will wind up at the end.  This seems intentional as the purpose of the book, and its stories, seems to be, as implied above, simply giving a vignette of various people of various types in various times and situations encountering God and spirituality and working through it in those brief moments.  It allows the reader to identify with the characters as, I would think, most people have found themselves with the thoughts and feelings presented in each of the characters at one time or another.  The stories, I think, help the reader identify the moments of his own spiritual life and development in those of the characters in the stories.  The encounters with the divine in the stories are sometimes obvious and other times subtle, but always identifiable and relatable.  At the end of each story, the reader is often left with a knowing recognition of the spiritual component in each story as something he can identify with in his own life as well.

Ultimately, I would recommend this book of short stories to anyone who is interested in reading short, compelling, punchy stories which involve realistic people encountering God in ways that should seem familiar to us all.  May God have mercy on us all that when he does encounter us, we respond to him with acceptance and surrender.

Hell’s Kitchen: Getting to the Meat of the Case

On July 18, 2011, the Superior Court of New Jersey issued a decision in the matter of Gupta, et al. v. Asha Enterprises, LLC et al., Docket No.: A-3059-09T2, in the context of a motion for summary judgment and its response. After hearing arguments and reviewing briefs, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the lower court’s decision and remanded the case accordingly.

Most legal remedies include various types of financial and equitable damages, such as liquidated, punitive, compensatory, and specific performance for a wide variety of claims, including breach of contract, physical and/or emotional injuries and defective products. By contrast, the Gupta case presents what seems to be a unique claim seeking an unusual remedy. The Plaintiffs in Gupta found themselves spiritually patronizing Hell’s Kitchen after a sort, having been served religiously inappropriate/impure food despite ordering the opposite. The Gupta case asks the Court to determine whether a spiritual injury is cognizable and, if so, what the remedy for that injury can be.

The Plaintiffs in Gupta were practicing Hindus, and were scrupulously and strictly vegetarian. For them, the consumption of meat, even if by accident, fraud, or deception, meant that their souls became impure, thereby adversely affecting their karma and dharma, and impairing their ability to meet the Divine after death. Their only spiritual remedy after the consumption of meat was to participate in a ritual cleansing bath in the Ganges River in India.

Plaintiffs patronized Defendants’ restaurant and ordered vegetarian samosas which were on the menu. Plaintiffs specifically informed Defendants that the samosas must be vegetarian. Employees of Defendants assured Plaintiffs that the samosas would be vegetarian because that was the only variety that they made. Indeed, the Director of Edison Division of Health Food Services later confirmed that Defendants maintained separate cooking facilities for vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods. After the samosas were prepared, Defendants provided them to Plaintiffs, reassuring them of their vegetarian nature, and labeled them accordingly on their tin-foil wrapping. Unfortunately for Plaintiffs, Defendants mixed up their order with a concurrently ordered meat samosas order. Plaintiffs consumed some of the meat samosas and returned them to Defendants, complaining that they were not what were ordered. Defendants immediately prepared a batch of vegetarian samosas for Plaintiffs, which they accepted and for which they were not charged. Due to Plaintiffs’ consumption of the meat samosas, they believed they experienced profound spiritual injuries.

Plaintiffs brought suit against Defendants raising the following claims: products liability, violation of the Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”), negligence, breach of implied warranty, and deceptive/fraudulent advertising. I will relate how the Court addressed each of these claims below.

The Court measured Plaintiffs’ products liability claim against the requirements of New Jersey’s Products Liability Act (“PLA”) and the decisions thereunder. Per the terms of the PLA, any and all claims regarding a defective product are subsumed within it. Therefore, all of Plaintiffs’ claims for a defective product sounding in negligence, the CFA, or breach of implied warranty were all individually dismissed as being statutorily subsumed within the PLA. As a point of clarity, Plaintiffs brought claims sounding in negligence, the CFA, or breach of implied warranty that were not brought pursuant to an alleged defective product. These were not dismissed on based on the above, and are each addressed below.

The Court decided that the PLA is applicable to food cooked and sold by restaurants, such as Defendants’, but Plaintiffs’ claims were not cognizable under the PLA as the PLA requires the products sold – in this case samosas – to be defective. The Court pointed out that the meat samosas were not defective themselves, they were simply the wrong product. Accordingly, while the meat samosas were edible and fit for human consumption, they just were not what Plaintiffs ordered. Indeed, the Court noticed that Plaintiffs’ claims focused on the conduct of Defendants’ employees in supplying the order as opposed to any defect in the food itself.

The Court next addressed Plaintiffs’ claims that Defendants were in violation of the CFA because, they allege, Defendants fraudulently and/or deceptively advertised the sale of vegetarian food. The Court conducted an analysis of the CFA after which the Court concluded that a party could be liable under the CFA for misrepresentation in advertising even if the misrepresentation is inadvertent. As long as the statement is false – which in the case of food includes a false/misleading description of its contents – a party can be found liable under the CFA. As a result, as Defendants represented that the samosas were vegetarian when, in fact, they contained meat, the Court determined that Plaintiffs have a cognizable claim against the Defendants for fraudulent/deceptive advertising under the CFA.

Despite the Court’s finding that Defendants did, in fact, commit misrepresentation, the Court was unable to find any evidence of actual loss on Plaintiffs’ part. Under the literal language of the CFA, a plaintiff bringing a claim under it must provide evidence of ascertainable loss of money or property. Based on the language of the CFA, the Court ruled that Plaintiffs did not present any evidence of any “loss of money or property.” Indeed, the Court noted that as the Defendants provided Plaintiffs replacement samosas free of charge, any money or property loss Plaintiffs may have incurred was remedied by Defendants. The Court further ruled that, unfortunately for Plaintiffs, the damages for spiritual injuries being sought by Plaintiffs simply are not a loss of money or property. Due to the clear language of the CFA, and the cases thereunder, the Court was unwilling to expand the language of the CFA to include spiritual losses.

The Court then addressed Plaintiffs’ negligence claims. In its analysis of Plaintiffs’ negligence claims, the Court focused on the duty element of a negligence claim. When making a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a defendant owes a duty to that plaintiff; the breach of the aforesaid duty constitutes the negligent act. When analyzing Plaintiffs’ claims, the Court had to discern whether Defendants had the ability to foresee that serving meat samosas would or could cause Plaintiffs substantial injury. The Court further noted that foreseeability of an injury is particularly important for the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress. When reviewing the claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, the Court pointed out that it is only recognized in limited circumstances: when there is reasonable fear of personal injury and there was substantial bodily injury or sickness as a result of the fear. Based on its above analysis, the Court ruled that Plaintiffs’ claims do not fit into the requirements detailed above because Plaintiffs did not experience substantial bodily injury or sickness as a result of Defendants’ actions.

Finally, the Court addressed Plaintiffs’ claims of breach of express warranty of fitness of the samosas. It reviewed the Uniform Commercial Code which states that the description of goods to be sold creates an express warranty that the goods conform to their description. As Defendants’ samosas were certainly not what they were described by Defendants to be, namely vegetation, the Court ruled that Plaintiffs’ claims of breach of express warranty of fitness was cognizable.

As the Court ruled that Plaintiffs’ claim of implied warranty of fitness was cognizable, the Court then had to determine whether Plaintiffs experienced any cognizable damages, specifically the spiritual damages claimed. The Court indicated that there has been at least one previous case where a religionist (Jewish in that case) successfully sued, and received recoverable damages, for emotional distress as a result of a violation of his religious needs. Though the Court acknowledged that precisely valuing Plaintiffs’ damages will be difficult, that was not a sufficient reason to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims pursuant to a motion for summary judgment; however, the Court also acknowledged that Plaintiffs must establish that their damages were reasonably foreseeable by Defendants at the time the samosas were sold to Plaintiffs.

Among their damages, Plaintiffs requested recovery for the costs required to travel to purify their souls in India. It was Plaintiffs’ burden to prove that Defendants could reasonably foresee that, due to serving them meat-filled-samosas, Plaintiffs would sustain such spiritual damages as claimed. The Court did not believe that sufficient discovery was done to determine the total amount of damages and whether Defendants could have foreseen them.

As a side note, the Court, in a footnote, indicated that it did not think the litigation of Plaintiffs’ case caused, or could cause, inappropriate religious entanglement with the Court in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Court believed that simply neutral legal principles could be employed that would not involve ruling on religious concepts.

In the end, the Court ruled that almost all of Plaintiffs’ claims were not cognizable; however, the Court did ultimately rule that Plaintiffs do have at least a limited claim and that spiritual damages can, at least in theory, be demanded in a context of a civil suit. Perhaps the Court really can require Hell’s Kitchen to be washed with the waters of the Ganges River.

This article was the featured article in the Philadelphia Bar Association’s “Upon Further Review” on September 14, 2011.

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