Saturday, February 25, 2012

Finding God when Pigs Fly

Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service

They arrived on the other side of the sea in the country of the Gerasenes. As Jesus got out of the boat, a madman from the cemetery came up to him. He lived there among the tombs and graves. No one could restrain him—he couldn't be chained, couldn't be tied down. He had been tied up many times with chains and ropes, but he broke the chains, snapped the ropes. No one was strong enough to tame him. Night and day he roamed through the graves and the hills, screaming out and slashing himself with sharp stones.

When he saw Jesus a long way off, he ran and bowed in worship before him—then bellowed in protest, "What business do you have, Jesus, Son of the High God, messing with me? I swear to God, don't give me a hard time!" (Jesus had just commanded the tormenting evil spirit, "Out! Get out of the man!")

Jesus asked him, "Tell me your name."

He replied, "My name is Mob. I'm a rioting mob." Then he desperately begged Jesus not to banish them from the country.

A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged him, "Send us to the pigs so we can live in them." Jesus gave the order. But it was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the sea and drowned. ~ Mark 5: 1-13 (The Message)

For the Lenten Season at our Contemplative Service we are focusing on this passage. Each week a different member of the Contemplative Posse will give their thoughts on it.  For some reason it's always been one of my favorite encounters that Jesus has, there is something about demons in a graveyard followed by drowning pigs that seems like it should be in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I didn't grew up observing Lent, it was 'something strange that catholics did'. Growing spiritually meant reading the bible more and having all the right answers available. Prayer was very perfunctory and disciplines such as fasting were not encouraged. My Christianity began to broaden when I encountered people of other denominations (even Anglicans and Catholics!!!) whose lives reflected a deep connection to God.

I went from not observing Lent to it becoming a way to score some serious spiritual brownie points. I could demonstrate my love for God by how pious I was and how difficult I made Lent for myself. Somehow I equated spirituality with chains. Restrictions and Limitations were a sign of holiness, and at Lent I embraced them with abundance. I normally didn't last the 40+ days. My spirituality of unrealistic expectations normally crumbled after about 10 days.

I think of the Madman at the start of this encounter. The other villagers had tried to help him by chaining him up, but he broke every restraint. I'm sure they had the best of intentions, they saw the damage he was doing to himself and so they chained him down....partly for his own protection, but also I imagine for theirs. If they had been successful, the madman would have been chained out of sight, protected from himself, but he would not have been in the graveyard when Jesus came by.

Sometimes I kept my Lenten chains, and sometimes I failed, but I didn't encounter Jesus in the failures or successes. My 'No' to self never led to a 'Yes' to God, in fact most of what I gave up were self serving - Lent became a Spiritually Approved Diet Plan or a Victorious Living Guilt Reduction Program.

I've embraced a softer gentler Lent this year, I've still given up something (and it is still a little self-serving), but I'm trying to look for the 'Yes' hidden amongst the 'No'. Friday was not a good day, I actually snapped at a Girl Scout for trying to sell cookies to me while I entered the grocery store - I did apologize on the way out. That evening  I posted on Facebook 'I can tell Lent has begun, I feel irritable'. That statement seemed to resonate with my friends very quickly. Rather than just sit in my bad mood, I made two choices. 1) To not label my irritability as bad or good, it was just an honest response to where I was at and 2) To not sit in my irritability, but to look behind it to see what was going on.

By not judging it, my irritability helped show me where I was wandering in the graveyard. The nagging desire for something that I was choosing not to have for a season helped shine a light on some dead places in my life. And, just like the Madman, Jesus can come to us in that place of death and offer His life. By not wallowing in my mood, but stepping away from it I was able to see Jesus in that place and to hear His invitation to lay down the chains of moods and desires and allow Him to calm the demons inside.

How do you feel about Lent at the moment?
Why did you choose to (or choose not to) give anything up this year?
What graveyard places are you encountering?
What invitation is Jesus extending to you?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fancy Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I know that giving a recipe for grilled cheese seems too simplistic, but trust me on this one. This isn't a fake cotton wool bread and oily cheese sandwich, it's awesome.

4 ounces of Fontina cheese.
6 large slices of sourdough bread
chopped fresh thyme
6 thin slices prosciutto
Olive oil
(see note below)

Thinly slice the cheese using either a cheese plane or a horizontal veggie peeler.
Split the sliced cheese into 2 equal piles.
Take one of the piles and cover three slices of bread evenly with it.
Add 2 slices of prosciutto on top of the cheese.
Sprinkle some fresh thyme on top of the prosciutto.
Finish the three sandwiches with the rest of the cheese and top with the remaining three slices.
Brush one side of each of the three sandwiches with olive oil and a liberal sprinkling of fresh ground pepper.

Cook for 3 minutes in a preheated skillet oil side down.
While cooking, oil and pepper the other sides of the sandwich.
When the underside is golden brown, flip the sandwiches and cook for another 3 minutes.

Cut each sandwich in half and serve!

Note: The original recipe just used 4 slices of sourdough and split the prosciutto and cheese between them to make 2 sandwiches. That would be even more decadent, this way serves one more person and is still deliciously yummy.

This goes well with the Cream of Tomato Gorgonzola Soup.

Cream of Tomato Gorgonzola Soup

This was quick, simple and yummy, a great combination.

1 (26oz ~ family size)  can tomato soup
1 (14.5 oz) cans italian -style diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup water (or cream)
1 cup milk
4 oz crumbled gorgonzola cheese.
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon onion powder

Combine the tomato soup, diced tomatoes, water (or cream) and milk in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the gorgonzola cheese, garlic, basil, and onion powder. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes stirring often.

As easy as opening a can...and it tastes so good, especially with a grilled cheese sandwich :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Invisible Altars

Across the world on any given Sunday, millions of people gather around Altars. Some are huge examples of Gothic architecture, swathed in multicolored fabric and set with candlesticks, plates and chalices that are worth a small fortune. Others are simple tables that spend most of their week playing host to card games or coffee and conversation. No gold-encrusted crosses on these, maybe a single candle or bare cross.

These tables may represent a vast range in financial value, but all of them become Sunday symbols - a place where Heaven and Earth meet. They may be lavish or simple, but what they represent is a powerful mystery. Divinity reaches out to Humanity at these holy tables...

...and we reach back.

More symbols, wine and bread, some specially made by church members, others purchased. It may seem sacrilegious to suggest that someone may purchase the Body of Christ at Walmart, and the blood of Christ at the local liquor store. Maybe that is a little too much reality injected into Holy Mystery.

We reach back as we stand, kneel, pray, weep at these Altars. We commune with God. We wrestle and we beg, we promise and sometimes we even threaten.

Here before these tables we encounter God, and then we leave.

We step back into the reality of our daily existence. Computer screens and automobiles. Forgotten passwords and lunch at our desk. Laundry and bills. We don't look for Altars in our daily lives. Those are for sanctuaries and chapels. For Sundays and special services. But they are there.

Invisible Altars.

The table where you eat your microwaved lunch with friends is as much an Altar as the marble carved block in the local cathedral. The lavish feast with friends, is as much a place to commune with God as the mug of tomato soup illuminated by the computer screen.

Every moment of our existence is spent surrounded by invisible Altars. God is in Walmart and at Tiffanys. Every table is an altar, every encounter a divine one. There is not a moment in time or a place on the planet where God does not touch the Earth, but somehow Sunday's expectation gets swamped by Monday's To Do list and we no longer anticipate the kiss of Heaven.

This week, look for the invisible Altars.

God is patiently waiting there.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Feeding the Crowd

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Throughout the gospels Jesus has encounters with crowds of people. As I was listening to the narrative of the feeding of the 5000 last week, two phrases struck me.

In Matthew's telling of the narrative he says

 'When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.' ~ Matthew 14:14

Mark makes a similar statement when he says

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. ~ Mark 6:34

Normally when I hear passages that reference the crowd I think of the demands of ministry. I have been in full time ministry for nearly 20 years now. I've worked with many different congregations and organisations. I know about the way that God can feed others through the loaves and fishes of my life when I offer them to Him.

Last week however I didn't think about the external crowd but instead I found myself reflecting on the internal crowd, the wants, desires, dreams and fears that I carry around with me wherever I go. I've tried to cultivate the parts of my internal crowd that I label as good, and starve the parts I call bad.

The idea of Jesus looking at all of my internal maelstrom and having compassion on it struck me. I rarely do the same. I get frustrated at attitudes, embarrassed by desires, paralysed by fears, driven by dreams. I spend more time judging my internal crowd rather than having compassion on it. My operating system was more concerned with Denial and Detachment than anything else. Chasing after the good and turning a blind eye to everything else.

I'm feeling the call to learn how to interact with the crowd instead of just reacting to it. Learning how to let Jesus heal and teach. It gets complicated. Even my labels of 'Good' and 'Bad' have to be revisited. What I think are good dreams can actually just be methods of avoidance. What I think are bad desires can actually be cries for healing when I stop and listen to them. The desire to workout can be driven by health or by vanity. What I'm discovering is that most of my crowd do not fit neatly into Good or Bad categories anymore.

It's a tiring challenge, no wonder Jesus often went off by himself! Contemplative worship and practices give me a chance to allow the crowd to settle down so I can begin to get a look at them without them running around everywhere.

I love how the disciples are surprised when Jesus tells them to feed the crowd.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” ~ Mark 6: 35-37

Up to that point they never considered that the welfare of the crowd was their responsibility. They wanted Jesus to tell the crowd to leave. He commands them to feed the crowd instead. I wish my internal crowd would leave. I'm sensing that Jesus offers the same challenge to me as he did to the disciples, and that it will also take a miracle. I don't know what it means to feed my crowd. I do know that it will look very different to what I expect, and that somehow, my crowd will one day be satisfied.

Imagine all your attitudes, desires, fears, dreams...all standing together like a crowd on a hillside. As you scan their faces, what names come to mind? Pride, Ego, Lust. Esteem, Money, Insecurity.... Who is in need of healing? Who is in need of teaching? How can you treat your crowd with compassion?