Saturday, February 29, 2020

Living Lent - Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

This challenged me this morning, so I wanted to post it somewhere I would have it available.

Living Lent - Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

We didn't even know what moderation was. What it felt like. We didn't just work: we inhaled our jobs, sucked them in, became them. Stayed late, brought work home – it was never enough, though, no matter how much time we put in.

We didn't just smoke: we lit up a cigarette, only to realize that we already had one going in the ashtray.

We ordered things we didn't need from the shiny catalogs that came to our houses: we ordered three times as much as we could use, and then we ordered three times as much as our children could use.

We didn't just eat: we stuffed ourselves. We had gained only three pounds since the previous year, we told ourselves. Three pounds is not a lot. We had gained about that much in each of the twenty-five years since high school. We did not do the math.

We redid living rooms in which the furniture was not worn out. We threw away clothing that was merely out of style. We drank wine when the label on our prescription said it was dangerous to use alcohol while taking this medication. "They always put that on the label," we told our children when they asked about this. We saw that they were worried. We knew it was because they loved us and needed us. How innocent they were. We hastened to reassure them: "It doesn't really hurt if you're careful."

We felt that it was important to be good to ourselves, and that this meant that it was dangerous to tell ourselves no. About anything, ever. Repression of one's desires was an unhealthy thing. I work hard, we told ourselves. I deserve a little treat. We treated ourselves every day.

And if it was dangerous for us to want and not have, it was even more so for our children. They must never know what it is to want something and not have it immediately. It will make them bitter, we told ourselves. So we anticipated their needs and desires. We got them both the doll and the bike. If their grades were good, we got them their own telephones.

There were times, coming into the house from work or waking early when all was quiet, when we felt uneasy about the sense of entitlement that characterized all our days. When we wondered if fevered overwork and excess of appetite were not two sides of the same coin – or rather, two poles between which we madly slalomed. Probably yes, we decided at these times. Suddenly we saw it all clearlyI am driven by my creatures – my schedule, my work, my possessions, my hungers. I do not drive them; they drive me. Probably yes. Certainly yes. This is how it is. We arose and did twenty sit-ups. The next day the moment had passed; we did none.

After moments like that, we were awash in self-contempt. You are weak. Self-indulgent. You are spineless about work and about everything else. You set no limits. You will become ineffective. We bridled at that last bit, drew ourselves up to our full heights, insisted defensively on our competence, on the respect we were due because of all our hard work. We looked for others whose lives were similarly overstuffed; we found them. 

"This is just the way it is," we said to one another on the train, in the restaurant. "This is modern life. Maybe some people have time to measure things out by teaspoonfuls." Our voices dripped contempt for those people who had such time. We felt oddly defensive, though no one had accused us of anything. But not me. Not anyone who has a life. I have a life. I work hard. I play hard.

When did the collision between our appetites and the needs of our souls happen? Was there a heart attack? Did we get laid off from work, one of the thousands certified as extraneous? Did a beloved child become a bored stranger, a marriage fall silent and cold? Or, by some exquisite working of God's grace, did we just find the courage to look the truth in the eye and, for once, not blink? How did we come to know that we were dying a slow and unacknowledged death? And that the only way back to life was to set all our packages down and begin again, carrying with us only what we really needed?

We travail. We are heavy laden. Refresh us, O homeless, jobless, possession-less Savior. You came naked, and naked you go. And so it is for us. So it is for all of us

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Cheddar and Walnut Oat Bread

The stores always run out of sliced bread during the panic buying before a Tropical Storm or Hurricane, so I usually just bake my own. I find the waiting around for the dough to prove and the kneading and shaping very relaxing.

Here is my Hurricane Harvey Bread
(adapted from a Paul Hollywood Recipe in 100 Great Breads)

2/3 cup oat flour, plus extra for dusting
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 Tablespoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons of dried yeast
1/2 stick butter, softened and cubed
1 1/4 cups of water
3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
2 cups of shredded strong cheddar
Tablespoon sugar

I made this in the bowl of a kitchen aid stand mixer with the dough hook to knead.

Put the flours, salt, and butter into a bowl.
Heat the water to 100-110F. (Too hot and you kill the yeast)
Stir in the sugar to dissolve then sprinkle on the yeast.
Wait 10 minutes until the yeast has activated.
Gradually add the water into the bowl a little at a time, and gradually incorporate the flour from the sides.
Knead for 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and pliable. You may need to add extra oat flour dependent on how sticky your dough is. Use your best judgment.
Loosely cover the bowl and let rise for one hour.
Add the walnuts and the cheddar to the bread dough.
Divide the dough into three and roll each out into a long sausage.
Line a baking sheet and place the bread strips on top.
Join the strips at one end and then braid the dough together, joining where done as well.
Loosely cover and let rise for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450F/230C. Bake the loaf for 25 - 30 minutes, then put on a wire rack to cool.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Making Jaffa Cakes

I attempted to make Mary Berry's Jaffa Cakes today. I had to do some converting to make it work in the U.S. system. Here is the recipe I came up with. Sorry about the mix of Metric and Imperial measurements, I was working quickly. I won't apologize for the lack of cup measurements as baking by weight is far more accurate anyway.

For the jello
170g packet of orange Jello
8oz boiling water
1 medium orange - zest only

For the sponge
Butter flavored Pam
1 extra large egg
25g sugar
25g plain flour
1g baking powder

for the topping
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate.
If you can find them, I suggest using the Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting wafers as they melt in the microwave and also cool more quickly for spreading purposes.

You will also need a 13x9 pan, a 12 count muffin pan and a round cookie cutter. Mine was 2 1/4 inches I think though a 2 inch one might have been easier.

1. For the jello. Mix the orange zest and the packet of Jello powder together. Pour in 8oz of boiling water and whisk together. Pour into a 13x9 pan and put in the fridge to set. Some oil in the pan will aid easy removal later.

2. Preheat the oven to 350F and liberally spray a 12 hole shallow muffin pan with Butter Pam

3. For the sponge, whisk the egg and sugar together for 4-5 minutes until pale and fluffy - it will increase in volume. This is such a small amount of cake batter I used a hand held electric wire beater. I was worried my kitchen aid would not cope with so little batter.Sift the plain flour and the baking powder into the batter and fold in until fully combined.

4. Fill each well in the muffin pan with approximately 2 1/2 teaspoons of batter and smooth the top. Bake for 7-9 minutes until the tops spring back lightly when pressed. Leave to cool in the tray for a few minutes then finish cooling on a wire rack.

5. Break the chocolate into pieces then melt in a double boiler. Remove from the heat and LET COOL for quite a while.

6. Using your cookie cutter, cut out 12 disks from the orange jello and place one on top of each sponge.

7. When the chocolate has cooled enough, spoon it over the jello disks so that the tops of the Jaffa Cake are completely covered. Be warned, if your chocolate is too hot the Jello will melt. you can use the tines of a fork to create a crisscross pattern on the top of each Jaffa Cake should you desire.

They tasted surprisingly good, even if the disk cutting and chocolate icing was remarkably fiddly.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Exploring the Bike Paths of my Soul

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

4 years ago I decided to do something about my weight. Over the course of the next few years, I joined a gym, dieted and exercised regularly, and lost about 50 lbs. I gave away all my large clothes and bought a new wardrobe.

Then I got an injury.

Then 'life' happened.

I love to cook and bake, and I'm also an emotional eater. I managed to find lots of reasons to justify not going to the gym and eating another cookie. Slowly my weight crept up again. I justified the weight gain by claiming it wasn't interfering with my life. My wardrobe slowly became too tight and I had to purchase 'fat' clothes again. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn't ready, there was always a reason why exercise and eating right would begin again next week.

This summer I was on vacation with my family in Germany and one day they decided that we would all bike around this lake. Everyone rented bikes except me. I rented an electric bike instead, I still had to pedal, but it gave me a motorized assist when I went up hills. It was fun to glide past the rest of my family, but I must confess I felt some guilt that my older brother (who used to struggle with his weight) could bike around the lake when I could not.

And so just over a month ago, I walked back in my gym and signed up for the same diet and weight loss competition that I entered 4 years ago. Last time going to the gym was all new, even the restrictions of the diet didn't bother me that much, but I didn't do much interior work around my relationship with food.

This time I've tried to do things differently. I've tried to examine why I eat the way I do. I've tried to be more contemplative about diet and exercise.....and I've been out on my bike.

In the Heights there are miles of bike paths that I have never explored. Some lead into parts of Houston that I must confess have made me a bit nervous. I've seen piles of garbage and abandoned junk, and I've watched squirrels dance across my path. I've cycled my way through construction zones under freeways, and I've encountered beautiful views of Houston that I never knew existed. I've gotten frustrated by paths that dead end into culverts that block my way home, and I've seen new bridges that I never new existed.

And I've enjoyed myself in a way I never anticipated.

I'm also trying to navigate the bike paths of my soul. Learning that just because my body is claiming that it has not had enough to eat that it isn't actually hungry, it's just complaining that it is not eating to excess like it used to. That the hungry feeling is good because it means my body is consuming stored fat. I'm learning that there is no such thing as bad food, just bad portion control, and that emotions can be felt rather than eaten. The bike trails in my soul have led me to piles of garbage and abandoned junk. Through construction zones and dead ends I'm wandering, and uncovering beauty in parts of myself where I rarely venture. I"m learning that sometimes what feels like God leaving, is in reality God leading. That hunger and fatigue are opportunities to encounter God differently. That old familiar paths and problems can be approached in new ways, and I might surprise myself in ways I never anticipated.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Waiting and Walking

The Christmas story seems to feature a lot of journeying. Mary travels to Elizabeth's house. Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem to register for the census, they go to Jerusalem to present Jesus at the Temple, They relocate to Nazareth before finally fleeing to Egypt. Wise Men journey from far off places, and then take a different route home. Shepherds journey down dangerous hillsides.....

.....and Simeon makes a short journey to the Temple Courts.

There is a lot of waiting as well. The Jews wait for their liberation from Roman occupation, God waits for the right time to send his Son. Mary waits nine months to see the face of her Savior. Simeon waits to see the Messiah.

When Simeon encounters Jesus and takes him in his arms I wonder if he is elated or disappointed. God's promise that he has waited on all these years has been fulfilled. He finally gets to see the Messiah, and yet Messiah is a baby, not yet a Warrior or a Leader. God's promise has come true for Simeon, but the promise of liberation for God's people is going to take longer.

Simeon praises God and then hands Jesus back to Mary and Joseph, and then he walks away. He leaves his expectations of how Messiah should be and journeys home....where the waiting will begin again.

Journeying and Waiting seem to some up a lot of my experiences of the spiritual life. I wait patiently, reluctantly, defiantly. Waiting encourages me to surrender control, to give up what I think I know to be open to what God has in store for me. Like Simeon, I think I know how God's promises are going to look like when they come true, and, like Simeon I have to be open to being surprised.

Journeying does the same. Sometimes the hardest part is the decision to step away from what I think I know and journey into the unknown. There are so many things that I used to believe with absolute certainty that now I just shrug and admit 'I don't know'. Travel broadens the mind. Pilgrimage broadens the heart. Stepping deeper into the heart of God is a journey into the unknown, into uncertainty and mystery.

Journeying and Waiting seems to have been themes in my life since Thanksgiving. I haven't left Houston, but God's Spirit has invited me to wait in places that I wanted to run from kicking and streaming. People I love have patiently listened, encouraged me, and held my hand as I have journeyed into some dark places, and like Simeon in the temple, the end result of the journey is so different from what I would have imagined.

Are you in a season of Waiting our Journeying right now? 
Are you a willing or reluctant participant in that season? 
How can you step more fully into that season?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

All Good Gifts Around Us....

I did not grow up celebrating Thanksgiving (obviously). All I knew about Thanksgiving I learned from Tom and Jerry Cartoons, and the occasional showing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - which was an odd cartoon to broadcast in the U.K. I never really understood why Peppermint Patty got so angry at being offered buttered toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn, and jelly beans. I did wonder if whether Woodstock eating Turkey at the end of the cartoon was actually cannibalism :)

Part of the joy of Thanksgiving for me has been the opportunity to embrace traditions and make them my own. My first ever Thanksgiving was spent just outside New York City. Snow was gently falling, and I was sitting at a large table with more foreigners than U.S. citizens and it felt like a wonderful reflection of the world coming together giving thanks to God for His blessings. I remember my first Thanksgiving after I became a U.S. citizen my self, it felt like my adoption into America was complete and I no longer felt like the outsider at the feast.

I have a personality that can easily stew on the negative, so Thanksgiving is a great reminder for me of the positive.

I am blessed. I have an abundance. I don't worry about what I'm going to eat (expect for chasing exciting new recipes), I have no fear about where I'm going to sleep tonight. I can afford what I need and what I want. Just having an abundance in the areas of food and shelter puts me way above many thousands in this world.

A few years ago I was leading a small group reflecting on Parables and Poetry and the parable that was randomly assigned for Thanksgiving was Luke 12:16-21

 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’ “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’ “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.

That passage created some tension for me over Thanksgiving. My expressions of what I was thankful for had me sounding suspiciously like the rich man in the passage. As I reflected more however I found myself drawn to the phrase "The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop". If consider myself as the Rich Man and my life as the 'farm' what crops am I producing?

My life seems to move through various seasons. Attitudes, relationships, abilities, all grow, blossom and die. Positive and Negative crops all grow together. I can be judgemental and petty, I can create music that helps people encounter God.  I can hold a terrific grudge and an abundance of unforgiveness. I can create spaces that are welcoming and hospitable. I can be stubborn and rude. Loving and gracious, jealous and suspicious.

My barn is very full!

It surprises me how tightly I want to hold onto my bad crops. Giving up a grudge or a prejudice can be difficult A closed fist seems to offer more protection than an open hand.

It surprises me how tightly I want to hold onto my good crops. If I give away my abundance I become fearful that I may get trapped in poverty, that I might spread myself too thinly.

There is a Staff Member at Chapelwood UMC Kathy Jo, who used to be homeless. She has a white board in her office, and she changes what it says weekly. This week it caught my attention because it says "It's not what we say about our blessing, but how we use them that is the true measure of our Thanksgiving."

The crops in my life  are opportunities for God to transform me more into the image of Jesus. They reveal where I am falling short of being the unique best 'me' that God has created.

The crops in my life are an opportunities for God to use me to transform the world.

I'm slowly learning to not put the crops in my life in categories of Good and Bad, but to simply ask God to show me what opportunities He is presenting to me through them.

What is growing in your life right now and how can you encounter God through it?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Checklist Spirituality

Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service

St Theresa of Avila writes about prayer using the metaphor of watering the garden of the soul. She writes about different ways water can get to the garden. From a well, from an irrigation channel, or from the garden being located next to the river. (And from the rain...which we're not mentioning this week ion the service.)

Digging wells, and irrigation ditches both feel like a lot of effort. Carrying buckets of water is back breaking work. Theresa's third illustration is of the garden being next to the river. No work needs to be involved because the roots of the plants can grow deep down into the soil and receive water that way.

The only effort involved is the natural process of growing roots.

This can be an encouragement and a challenge.

An encouragement because there are times when spiritual disciplines can be exhausting. I want to nurture my soul, but prayer feels unobtainable and my bible seems to be welded shut. Knowing that at some place in the depths of my life, I have roots that still draw from the water of life, gives me strength to make it though those times that feel 'dry'.

A challenge because being rooted to the source means I no longer can have a Checklist Spirituality. The hard work of digging wells and irrigation ditches, the drudgery of carrying daily buckets of water, all give me a to do list and a sense of achievement when I'm done. Praying for other people can feel a lot easier than simply allowing myself to rest in God's presence - resting feels like I'm not doing anything.

Inside each of us there is a place where our roots go deep into the living water of God. Our work is trusting that our roots will draw the nurture we need.