Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Surrendering the nail

As part of our Lenten discipline this year at church we were given the option of carrying a nail with us throughout the season. The idea was the you used it in creative ways- maybe holding it while praying, placing it on the table during meals or carrying it in your pocket, so that it became a tangible reminder of God's love. As you can see, I chose to attach mine to a leather cord and have worn it most days during Lent. 

This coming Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday. This interesting wrinkle in the church calendar is designed so that people who only attend church on Sunday still get a crucifixion narrative. Otherwise if you never attended Good Friday you would go straight from Triumphal Entry to Risen from the Grave.

Well the plan is for us to have some large crosses at the church this week so that people can hammer their nails into them....

...I don't want to give mine up. 

I normally don't wear any kind of jewelry (except my one ear piercing). I find rings and watches cumbersome and a distraction when playing the piano. I have a couple of necklaces, one of Kokopelli and the other of a Labyrinth, but they very seldom see the light of day. Consequently wearing a nail around my neck has been a new experience for me. It stays beneath my shirt, but I'm aware of its presence. I find myself touching the nail through my clothes throughout the day and offering up a little prayer of thanks to God for His love for me.

And now I am supposed to give that away.

Logically I know that I have become more attached to the nail than what the nail signifies. The symbol has become more important than the reality. There is a childish fear that by hammering my nail into a cross I am somehow surrendering my connection with God. If I give up the nail will I be embracing abandonment?

Pete Rollins addresses some of this in his essay The Contemporary Church is a Crack House. It is worth reading in its entirety. In it he talks how church becomes a salve for our pain, a place where we go to escape from pain instead of sitting in it and seeing what it can teach us. 

I will hammer my nail on Sunday, and if it means I experience the loss of my connection with God, then I will trust that I will somehow recapture it again in other ways, and in the mean time I will take comfort that my loss of connection is just a pale reflection of Jesus' cry of despair 'My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me?'

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ham and Potato Soup

I love this simple but yummy.

3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced onion
3/4 cup diced ham (see note)
3 1/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste (often not needed)
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups milk (or add some cream if you have it lying around lol)

Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and chicken stock in a stockpot. Bring to a boil and then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper.

In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly until thick - about 1 minute. Take off the heat. Slowly (very very slowly) stir in the milk so as not to allow lumps to form. Keep stirring and adding until all the milk is incorporated. Continue stirring over medium low heat until it has thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately

The original recipe says serves 8, but you would have to all be dieting munchkins to feed that many with it. I say make it for 4, or 2...just make it as it reheats well :)

Note: I never have leftover ham so I go to the deli counter and ask them to cut me a slice of deli ham on the thickest setting possible. Then I take it home and dice it. They generally look a bit confused at first until I explain what I am going to do with it!

Sunday, March 04, 2012


We've ignored each other for a long time
and I'm strictly an indoor man
anytime to call would be the wrong time
I'll avoid you as long as I can

When I was a boy we were good friends
I made pies out of you when you were wet
And in childhood's remembered summer weather
We roughandtumbled together
We were very close

just you and me and the sun
the world a place for having fun
always so much to be done

But gradually I grew away from you
Of course you were still there
During my earliest sexcapades
When I roughandfumbled
Not very well after bedtime
But suddenly it was winter
And you seemed so cold and dirty
That I stayed indoors and acquired
A taste for girls and clean clothes

we found less and less to say
you were jealous so one day
I simply upped and moved away

I still called to see you on occasions
But we had little now in common
And my visits grew less frequent
Until finally
One coldbright April morning
A handful of you drummed
On my fathers waxworked coffin

at last it all made sense
there was no need for pretence
you said nothing in defence

And now recently
While travelling from town to town
Past where you live
I have become increasingly aware
Of you watching me out there.
Patient and unforgiving
Toying with the trees.

we've avoided eachother for a long time
and I'm strictly a city man
anytime to call would be the wrong time
I'll avoid you as long as I can

Roger McGough

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A Tale of Two Sweaters

This post was originally written for Chapelwood's Prayer Shawl Ministry - a group of Men and Women who knit prayer shawls and other items and donate them to people in need.

I have 2 sweaters in my closet that I seldom wear. One was worn in my childhood and no longer fits, and the other was a Christmas present from a few years ago. Though they are just taking up space I don’t intend to get rid of either.

My mother was especially gifted at 2 tasks, growing roses and knitting. When she found time to get away from the daily chores of housework and caring for a family, she could be found in one of two places. In good weather she was in her garden, dressed in her brown work pants and gardening gloves. She would wield her secateurs on her beloved roses, moving round the bushes with her floral patterned padded plastic kneeler with her. Somehow she had lovingly persuaded her different rosebushes to bloom in sequence so that there were roses in flower all throughout the summer months. When she wasn’t gardening she would knit. Much of our family TV. viewing was punctuated by the repetitive click of her needles and the rustling of her knitting pattern. I spent much of my childhood in homemade sweaters to fend off the British winter weather. One of the earliest sweaters I remember was a complex cable knit pattern of plaits and loops all worked in a delicate cream color.

Mother would also take graph paper and work out her own complex sweater patterns. When I was a young teenager there was a fashion for sweaters with music symbols knitted into them. The store bought ones irritated me as the music incorporated into the design was never musically correct. In my mind these sweaters were as wrong as seeing 2+2=5 knitted somewhere. Mom offered to knit me a musicla sweater herself. The front and back of the sweater was knitted as plain music paper. Mom knitted into the sweater the vertical and horizontal beams of the music and then hand embroidered every note into place. The melody started on the front and continued on the back finishing the melodic phrase perfectly. The sleeves and also the ribbing around the neck and base were in a rather lurid green color. The sweater looked great and also contained a musical pun that only those able to read the music would get. What was the melody? Well here in the U.S. it is most familiarly known as the melody of the Christmas Carol ‘What Child Is This?’, but in the U.K. the tune is known by its original name Greensleeves.

I loved wearing that sweater, especially to orchestra rehearsals where various instrumentalists would play the melody and then groan at the joke.
After my mom passed away my brother and I were sorting through the house before it was sold. In a plastic bag at the back of the closet I found the Greensleeves sweater. I do not know why mom chose to keep it when so many of my other hand knitted clothes were passed on or thrown out, but I willingly brought it back to the U.S. with me.

About a year before my mom passed away, I was home visiting while she was working on the finishing touches of a sweater for my young nephew. It was a cream cable knit sweater in the same pattern and style that she had knitted for me decades before. I really have no need for a sweater living in Houston, but the warm memories from seeing that pattern again were so great that I asked her if she could enlarge the pattern and knit an adult sized one for me.

The following Christmas I flew home again because mom had just gotten out of hospital after treatment for ovarian cancer. Her cancer was in remission and Mom chose to not have chemotherapy because of her age. The doctor told us that she would have about 5 to 10 good months before the cancer returned. I spent that trip driving mom around to some of her favorite places in the U.K. We laughed and joked and remembered old times. On Christmas morning she presented me with the cable knit sweater.

This was the last Christmas present I ever received from her. I only wear it once a year. Every time I put it on it feels like getting a large mom hug. Mom passed away 6 months after giving me that sweater. Every Christmas Eve I wear the sweater for a few moments and feel her love for me.

The Greensleeves sweater is a reminder of how I was loved as a child, the cable knit, a reminder of how I am loved now. My mom has passed away, but her love remains.

Knitting is so much more than just the ability to knot wool together into complex shapes. A sweater (or a prayer blanket) can communicate the love of its maker for the recipient and the love of God for us all.