Friday, December 31, 2010

The Sixth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the Sixth Day of Christmas: 'i9n', 'Bombay', 'Canal Mania' (and 'Asara' again)
Transport goods and oil wells!
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fifth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the fifth day of Christmas: 'Ascension' and 'Rock Band'
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

I'm not sure if Rock Band counts although I didn't state explicitly that video games were excluded it feels a little against the spirit of what I had intended. Hence the game of Ascension to make sure that my internal rules are satisfied :)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Fourth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the fourth day of Christmas: 'Hansa' and 'RoboRally',
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

I've managed 6 games in 4 days, it's easy this week because I'm off work, but I wonder how next week will fair?

The Third Day of Christmas Gaming

On the third day of Christmas: 'Battles of Westeros'
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

What will tomorrow's game be? Will I make all 12 days?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Gaming

I'm working on a different game every day for the 12 days.

Here's what I've played so far

On the First Day of Christmas: 'Evo' and 'Urpsuppe'
Be a Dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

On the Second Day of Christmas 'Asara' got a play,
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

Today is day three and I've yet to play a game, will I make it????

Friday, December 24, 2010

I didn't expect to be crying....

....but there I was, not with gentle tears running down my face but great body-wracking sobs as I stood in the kitchen preparing the vegetables for tomorrow's feast. I was listening to the live broadcast of the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge, something I did nearly every year with my mum. She died 3 1/2 years ago, but the grief hit me this morning with a force that surprised me, and so, as a boy soprano sang the glorious opening to 'Once in Royal David's City' I put down my brussel sprouts and allowed myself to grieve again.

In Luke 1, Zechariah said 'In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.'

I used to think that the 'Shadow of Death' was a particular place or season of life, but now it feels like the shadow of death is always there with me, that grief is a thread that runs through my life, and at this time of year that is especially difficult. The songs of Christmas tell of 'the most wonderful time of the year' and a 'holly jolly Christmas'. There doesn't seem a lot of room for 'the shadow of death' amid the lights of Christmas.

But that first Christmas was fraught with shadows. Mary and Joseph, young, pregnant and without a place to give birth. A country occupied by a foreign army, a King slaughtering innocent babies all amid prophecies of conflict and pain...

...and so, I go to church and sit in the darkness waiting for the magic of Christmas to somehow touch my life. And it does. Not in an 'ignore your pain and put on a happy face kind of way', but in the realization that the tender compassion of our God will shine a light in the midst of the the shadows of death, that it's ok to attend to the shadows because by God's grace I will not be overwhelmed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hilarious Animals!

As I spent much of my childhood shouting 'Alan! Alan! Alan!' to get my brother's attention, I thought this was incredible!!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chocolate Mint Tart

A great dessert for all you chocoholics out there, and the pastry is very 'user friendly' to work with :) This recipe originally comes courtesy of Bon Appetite!


1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large egg, beaten to blend


1 1/4 cups whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
20 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (yes that's not a typo!!!!)
1 3/4 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Butter 10 inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom.

2. For Pastry. Sift unbleached flour, powdered sugar, cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse sand. (I normally sift into a food processor and let the blade do the hard work for me)

3. In a large bowl add the egg and stir until moist clumps form. Gather it together with cold hands into a ball, flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Freeze it for 10 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400F.

5. Roll out the dough on floured surface (though I normally roll between 2 sheets of plastic wrap!) to about a 13-14inch round. Transfer the dough into the prepared pan gently. Trim the overhang to about 1/2 inch and then fold that overhang in and press so you form double-thick sides. Freeze the crust for about 20 minutes until firm.

6. Line the crust with aluminium foil. Fill with dried beans or ceramic pie weights and bake until the sides have set, about 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350F. Remove the foil and beans and bake until the crust is golden brown - about another 20 minutes. You may need to put some foil over the sides to prevent burning. Cool crust completely.

7. For Filling. Combine the cream, butter and sugar in a heavy large saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the butter melts, the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate and both extracts until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.

8. Pour 1 cup of the filling into a small heavy saucepan and reserve covered on the kitchen counter for the glaze. Pour the remainder of the filling into a medium bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour stirring occasionally.

9. Take the bowl of filing from the fridge and whisk for 2 minutes until the color lightens (if you do this by hand it will feel like a very long 2 minutes!!!). Spoon the whisked filling into the crust and smooth the best you can. Refrigerate until the filling is firm - about 30 minutes.

10. Stir the reserved filling in the small saucepan over a low heat until just lukewarm, about 2 minutes. Pour over the top of the filling as a glaze and swirl the tart around to evenly cover the top. Chill until the glaze sets, about 1 hour.

I normally put hersheys kisses around the edge to decorate!

You can make the tart up to 2 days before you serve it, if you cover it and keep it chilled.

To serve just push up the pan bottom to release.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Remember and Reconcile

The Lord favored our ancestors, recalling the sacred covenant, the pledge to our ancestor Abraham, to free us from our enemies, so we might worship without fear and be holy and just all our days.

When I read this part of the Benedictus I asked myself the question 'Who are my enemies?', I created a mental list (one that I'm not particularly proud of) and began to attempt to pray God's blessings onto these peoples lives.

Then my mind did some gymnastics and the question came out as 'Who would consider me an enemy?' In some cases the names were the same, but mostly this time I produced a list of categories, groups of people that I prejudged because I imagined they were prejudging me.

The first question led me to prayer, the second one led me to get angry about things that a) may never happen and b) I have no control over.

I think that's why I need to 'recall the sacred covenant', it pulls me out of myself and the crazy corners of my mind that I am tempted to wander into. More than that, remembering how God was with me in the past helps me trust that God will be present with me now.

Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."

When I think of the people who I need to reconcile with, the enemies I need to love, the Persecutors that I need to pray for, it can be most of the time I don't think about it, and because I don't think about, I forget to reconcile, I forget to love and I forget to pray.

The Benedictus tells us that it is when we are free of our enemies that we can worship without fear and be holy and just. Jesus says that reconciliation comes before worship.

How can you 'remember the sacred covenant?
Who are your enemies?
Who would consider you an enemy?
Where do you need to offer reconciliation?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Reason for my Seasonal Anger!

(warning, inchoherent angry blogpost)


I received another one of those 'Jesus is the Reason for the Season' emails this morning. The ones that go one about Political Correctness and Crass Commercialism. This one really angered me, partly because it was factually incorrect and also dated. It talked about Madonna cds, and Kwanzaa, of Dan Rather and Bill Clinton. It made an unsupported assertion that the Senate is eliminating Jesus from just about everything and then it talked about stores promoting Ramadan!

(Ramadan started in August this year and finished in September. The last time it coincided with Christmas was 10 years ago!)

...and to top it all off it was written in bad poetry!!!

I found myself getting angry as I drove into work. Every year I receive emails like this one. Emails claiming that 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' is actually a secret christian song (false) or that the Candy Cane is a symbol of Jesus (also false). Why do we need to Christianize everything to make it acceptable? Even the date of Christmas was picked with that in mind. Christians 'stole' the date of Christmas from the Winter Solstice and the Festival of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun and the celebration of Mithra!

I get angry emails complaining about people saying 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas' that seem to forget the fact that there is more than one holiday going on right now (Hannukah anyone?) or complaining that people are writing Xmas instead of Christmas without knowing the history behind it or the fact that it was Christians who started writing it that way!

I began to rant in the car.

"Christians are so hypocritical, the only difference between their Christmas celebrations and the rest of the world, is the fact that they go to church. They still spend as much on gifts as everyone else. They just spray some 'Jesus' on the top. If they really cared about 'Jesus being the Reason for the Season' they would stop sending out factually incorrect emails, step away from their computers, and be Jesus to the world this Christmas time!"

By the time I heard the commercial on the radio about 'Lottery Scratch Cards' being the perfect Christmas gift tradition I was in a fowl mood.

...and then I looked inward.

I saw how my Christmas doesn't differ that much from everyone else. I'm spending too much on gifts when many people have no money to purchase necessities. I'm obsessing about Christmas Dinner when many people have nothing to eat.

As a church musician at Christmas time a lot of my energy is spent facillitating Christmas for the congregation, but what about those who never darken the door of the church?

I need to be asking myself how I can be 'Jesus for the world' this Christmas. Maybe I need to make gifts to charity in other people's names instead of buying them things they don't need...

...that's a good start, but I need to 'Jesus for the world' every day, not just one season of the year.

I can say nothing...

I have no right to complain about others...

Guilty as charged...

(and to the friend who sent me the email, I know you were well intentioned, sorry for my rant!)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

November Gaming

November is always a bounteous month for games as I get to go to the BoardGameGeek.Com annual convention in Dallas.

So in November I managed 58 plays of 33 different games.

Here are the top three:

Fluch De Mumie (Pyramid) is a children's game that parents won't get bored by easily. I managed 7 plays this month - mainly as the Mummy :)

Ascension (6 plays). Ascension is the next hybrid of deck building games, it feels like the offspring of Dominion and Magic the Gathering.

Hang on Harvey (4 plays) Wow another children's game. But one that is very silly!!!

So what did I play at the convention???


Die Fugger (a favorite of mine)
Neue Heimat (2 plays) - a tense economic game about building real estate.
Black Friday - the new game from Friedeman Friesse. Buying and selling stocks while trying to avoid the market crash that happens at some point in the game.


Kings and Things an old school fantasy fighting game. Not really my thing.
Tichu (3 plays) I love a game of tichu, but three in a row for the tournament felt a bit much!
Crokinole - a fun partnership dexterity game!
Timber Tom - racing hikers trying to reach the tops of various mountain peaks first
Hive (3 plays) - a great abstract strategy game that plays quickly and I love.
Freeze - a rather silly party acting game, good for late nights.


Regatta - a table top sail boat race. It felt like an improved version of Techno Witches
Merchants of the Middle Ages - buying, shipping and selling goods. I like it, but I'm terrible at it.
Ascension - the first of many plays!
Great Fire of London - interesting. Running fire brigades around London trying to protect your property!
I9N (2 plays) - a deduction game. I needed either a notepad or a quiet room to be able to play this, I couldn't keep all the information in my head!
Rattus - because who doesn't love a game where you get to ravage Europe with the Black Plague!!!
funfair It was late at night, we were tired, enough said


Get Bit - 'You don't have to swim faster than the shark, just faster than your friends'
Castle Ravenloft - Dungeons and Dragons with a board and no Dungeon Master.
Abandon Ship - Reiner Knizia creates a dice game with rats trying to leave a sinking ship. Light and frothy and mildly amusing
Ascension - yes it hit the table again!!!!!
Innovation - I'm not sure my opinion on this yet. For some reason it reminds of Fluxx but with better mechanics!


Kaigan - Mapping Japan's coastline. I was so tired by this point in the weekend I could barely strategize!

So how do the statistics for the year look?

Well Werewolf is still top with 26 plays, but Hive is close behind with 23. Dominion is in third place with 17 plays and then we have a tie for fourth place with two children's games, Animal upon Animal and Fluch De Mumie.

As I look at the potential for Quarters, Nickels and Dimes (25, 5, 10 plays) it looks like there will be 14 games to achieve that illustrious status as a coin!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

O Little town of...Nazareth?????

It's just a throw away line at the beginning of Luke chapter 2, just some names that cause linguistic difficulties to anyone assigned to read this passage in a Christmas Service.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was Governor of Syria.)

It's a passage that causes problems for historians as Jesus was born around 5 B.C.E. while Quirinius was not governor of Syria until around 6 -7 A.D. There are various theories put forward as to how to reconcile the dates, but that isn't what caught me I as I read the passage this week.

The prophets spoke of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth 90 miles away, so to fulfill the prophets God had to get them to Bethlehem somehow. With all the angelic visits happening to Mary and Joseph I wonder why God didn't instruct Gabriel to tell Mary to give birth in Bethlehem instead of using the census as a means of getting them there.

An angelic pronouncement about traveling to Bethlehem would have given the journey a feel of the holy rather than one of inconvenience. God using the occupying forces, the 'heathen enemy' to make sure that prophesy is fulfilled. That alone should cause me to reflect a little more closely on events in my life to see if the hand of God is lurking in the background.

Augustus took a census of the entire Roman World, I've begun to think that I should take a census of my 'world' this Advent season as an aid to using this time as one of preparation.
  • Where is my 'world' functioning well?
  • What parts of my 'world' need greater attention?
  • What parts of my 'world' pour joy into me?
  • What parts of my 'world' drain joy from me?
To reflect causes me to see areas that need a response.
To reflect causes me to question assumptions.

But most importantly, to reflect helps me begin to see where God is birthing something new in my life, in unexpected places.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sour Cream Blackberry Pie

This recipe came to me courtesy of my friend Kenneth - thanks for such awesome goodness for Thanksgiving!

You will need:

A single crust pastry case of your own making (or shop bought if you really must) that has been partially pre-baked and cooled.


2 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups full fat sour cream, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
Big pinch of salt
3 cups of fresh blackberries

Streusel Topping

3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter

1. Heat the oven to 350F

2. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Add the sour cream, granulated sugar, flour, vanilla, orange zest and salt, stirring evenly until blended.

Here's everything ready to assemble!

3. Spread the berries evenly across the partially baked and cooled pie crust, then ladle the sour cream mixture over the top of the berries.

4. Make the streusel by combining the flour and brown sugar in a small bowl with your fingers. Add the butter, stirring with a fork. Switch to your fingers and gently rub the topping until it is crumbly. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the sour cream filling.

Here it is ready to be baked.

5.Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake until the filling is set, about 35 minutes. When done the filling will have puffed slightly and will no longer seem liquid/loose. The pie doesn't brown heavily as it is not in the oven long.

The finished pie.
6. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and allow to cool thoroughly. Serve at room temperature and refrigerate any leftovers :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Don't fence me in?

For 400 years God had been silent.

Priests still led worship, sacrifices were still offered, but no prophets spoke to the people, Messiah was nowhere to be found...

...until one day in the temple, a priest burning incense in the temple has an encounter with an angel. Zechariah doesn't believe what he is told, he and his wife are both getting on in years, but the angel says they will have a son who will be filled with the spirit of God and prepare the way for the Lord.

His disbelief is understandable. I would respond in the same way.

So the angel tells him he will be mute, speechless until the child is born, and so for 9 months he says nothing. First God is silent, now Zechariah. Until finally, his son John is born, and Zechariah's first words are ones of praise to a God who has not abandoned his people.

The canticle of Zechariah - the Benedictus, is recorded in Luke 1:68-79 and is going to be our focus this Advent season in the Contemplative Service.

In some translations it opens with the words 'Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who shepherds the people and sets them free.' As I've sat with that phrase this week it's opened up some tension within me. I'm drawn to the phrase 'Sets them free', it creates images of wide open spaces, but the phrase 'Shepherds the people' creates a contrasting image of fences.

One invites me to openness, the other creates feelings of confinement within me.

I imagine two sheep, both standing on opposite sides of a fence, arguing about who is inside and who is not. I've been those sheep, and I've wasted too much energy with discussion.

Intellectually I know there are many other images of 'Shepherd', Psalm 23 comes to mind, as do countless pictures of Jesus cradling a lamb that I have seen on many a Sunday school room wall. I also know that there are negatives about freedom - the responsibility of personal choice for example. But at this moment in my spiritual life I respond negatively to 'Shepherds' and positively to 'Set them free'.

I'm tempted to over analyze my response to the negative, to lose myself in that rather than allow God to speak to me in the part of scripture that is inviting my spirit. Advent is a time of waiting with purpose, of consciously silencing the outside noise and getting in touch with my inner longings.

Zechariah had 9 months of silence to grasp the miracle that God was doing in his life. Surely I can cope with 4 weeks?

So my intent for Advent is to notice where I am being invited by God, those things where I feel drawn. Words, phrases and images that invite me to step into a larger reality, a reality that waits in anticipation for God to speak and to move.

How do the words of Zechariah invite you today?

'Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who shepherds the people and sets them free.'

Where in your life do you need shepherding? Where do you need freedom? What images come to mind to you today as you reflect on those words? What images call to your spirit and invite you to wait in silent anticipation with them this Advent Season?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Follow me and I will........

The First Disciples

Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.
And He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

Matt 4:18-20

I read this passage this afternoon and I was struck by the fact that as far as I can tell this was the first encounter Simon Peter and Andrew had with Jesus. So picture the scene, this stranger walks up to them and offers to make them into fishers of men. Without a second thought they step away from their livelihood and follow him.

I wonder what it was about the offer of learning to be 'fishers of men' that resonated so much with the brothers that it led to their response. There had to be something in both the offer and the person offering it that made it so attractive that it elicited such a response.

I wonder what Jesus would offer to me that would connect to my inner yearning and cause me to respond in the same way.

'Follow me and I will make you a great composer'

'Follow me and I will make you learn to love yourself completely'

'Follow me and I will make you touch other people's lives'

Follow me and I will........

Follow me and I will........

Follow me

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons Paprika, divided
½ teaspoon seasoned salt (e.g. Tony Sachereys)
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 lbs beef chuck cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
8oz mushrooms, quartered
3 potatoes, cubed
5 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup marsala wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (can add more to taste)
4 cups low sodium beef broth (approx 2 cans – I make up the difference with water or wine)
1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 package dry onion soup mix
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water

1. In the bottom of the crockpot, put the potatoes, carrots, celery, and garlic.

2. In a ziplock bag put the flour, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, seasoned salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper.

3. Add the cubed beef and shake to coat.

4. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the beef till lightly browned (in batches if need be)

5. Put the beef in the crock pot and, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon sauté the onion and mushrooms until the onions are translucent.

6. Drain the fat and then add the onions and mushrooms to the crockpot.

If you are preparing this the night before stop here and refrigerate.

7. Add the beef broth (plus the extra water/wine if needed), tomatoes, onion soup mix, wine and Worcestershire Sauce.

8. Cook on High for 4 to 6 hours or on Low for 10 to 12 hours.

9. When the cooking time is up, mix the cornstarch with the cold water and then stir into the stew.

10. Let cook for at least 5 mins longer to slightly thicken and then serve.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Saturday, November 06, 2010

October's Games

October featured 25 plays of 14 different games. Top of the list?

Werewolf I have played 29 games of Werewolf this year so far, 5 of them in October, and I foresee some more in the future. Well, when I say play, I can assume that actually for the majority of these games I've been Moderating the game for others rather than playing it myself. But moderating it is fun and creative so it still counts :)

Forbidden Island (3 plays) is by game designer Matt Leacock who also designed Pandemic which I played twice this month. They share similar mechanics and are both cooperative games where the players join forces as a team to beat the game. In forbidden Island the goal is to rescue 4 treasures from the island before it sinks into the ocean. I like the way the pace of this game speeds up as the game continues. It starts off looking easy to do but the island starts sinking faster and faster and so some difficult decisions have to be made. Ultimately a lot comes down to the shuffling of one deck of cards to whether you can achieve your goal or not. I enjoy this and I think it is a good gateway game to introduce people to cooperative gaming.

Haggle is a game that deserves special mention as it doesn't get played very often. I ran this game on our Men's Retreat this year. I handed out over 45 envelopes each containing 10 random colored cards and two rules. The men had approximately 24 hours to negotiate and trade deals with one another. At the end of that time they submitted an envelope with a set of cards that I scored according to all 15 rules.

A large part of the game is in obtaining and interpreting all 15 rules. Not an easy task. Of all the envelopes I handed out I received back 7 which I scored using a spreadsheet that my friend Bill prepared for me - scoring by hand is a real hassle, so thanks Bill!!!!

Some of the guys got really into trying to obtain all 15 rules. They managed it, but even then interpreting their interplay is not the easiest task, and they were beaten by the youngest kid at the retreat who only saw half the rules but took a very educated guess. I love surprise upsets!!!

Snowtails made a welcome return to the table, as did Die Aufsteiger.

In a few weeks I will be off to Dallas for my yearly boardgame convention :) 5 days of playing boardgames with other aficionados. Who knows what new and exciting games I will return with!!!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Remember, remember...

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

Guy Fawkes Night originates from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate the Anglican King James I of England and VI of Scotland and replace him with a Catholic head of state. The survival of the king was first celebrated on 5 November 1605, after Guy Fawkes, left in charge of the gunpowder placed underneath the House of Lords, was discovered and arrested.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

and forgive us our [blank] as we forgive those who [blank] against us

I didn't grow up saying the Lord's Prayer very often, the church I attended seemed to view unison spoken prayer as somehow suspect. The Lord's Prayer was cited as a model to follow rather than words to recite. It was only when I spent sometime at the local C of E church as a chorister that I began to say the prayer with any regularity.

In the liturgy that we used the [blank] was always filled by the word 'Sin'. Later on I discovered other people who used the words 'Trespasses'. Fortunately I discovered that if I started saying the word Sin when everyone else was Trespassing I could easily morph my S to fit in and end up saying something that sounded like Sespasses.

When I moved to the U.S. I discovered people using the word Debts. It's quite difficult for me to disguise my liturgical lapse if I start saying Sin and everyone else uses Debts. My S sounds far to early to be disguised and the word Sebts doesn't really roll off the tongue.

Sins, Debts and Trespasses all paint different images in my mind. Debts leads to images of Bank Balances, of dusty ledgers and accounts in the red. Trespasses are fields encased with fences with warning signs promising prosecution for people who do not heed them. Sins are arrows flying through the air falling short of the target.

But what is the target, the mark that we are trying to hit?

In my earnest teenage years, the target was Perfection. Sin, was generally anything 'bad', anything that went against my internalized moral code. Lying, Smoking, Drinking, Disobeying your Parents, and of course anything to do with Sex. Over the years my Moral Code has shifted, items jockey for position, new ones appear and others disappear.

But what if the 'target' is something other than my internalized definition of Sin?

Back in the Garden of Eden the first words the Serpent says to Eve is 'Did God say....' Eve begins to question her connection to God and her ability to hear him. Hot on the heels of this comes the implication that God is depriving Eve, that who she is, isn't enough '.....your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God....'

What if Sin is our inability to step fully into who God has created us to be. To Be and Do something other than what we were created for. We mistrust our own connection to God (Did God say....) and we think who God has created us to be is somehow lacking or less than all it could be.

What if Sin is wearing masks that present who we think we ought to be rather than who we are. We present a version that is less than who God calls us to be, 'sanitized for your protection'. We think living life to the full is fully expanding into our fake shell without ever questioning the shell's validity.

Our woundedness, trying to be something other than who God lovingly creates us to be manifests itself in the sins we commit. Our sins are like the warning lights on the dashboard of the car, telling us that there is a deeper problem.

Our sins flow from our wounds, and it is from Christ's wounds that we find healing and forgiveness.

That sounds so nice....and I paused after writing it because although it is poetic, I need to find out what it actually means, here are some ways Healing and Forgiveness have manifested themselves in my life.

Healing and Forgiveness means liking myself for who I am rather than hating myself for who I am not.

Healing and Forgiveness means offering who I think I should be to God and allowing that image to be transformed, enlarged, and even destroyed if necessary.

Healing and Forgiveness means feeling rather than avoiding the weight of my sin, my brokenness, so that I can encounter God there.

Healing and Forgiveness means letting go of my pain rather than treating it like a close friend.

Healing and Forgiveness means letting God dissolve the false images I have of myself.

Healing and Forgiveness means growing into all God has for me.

Healing and Forgiveness means trying to be as gracious to myself as God is to me.

Healing and Forgiveness means trusting my own connection to God.

As you pray the line 'forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us', ask yourself where you need forgiveness and healing in your life.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Child Sacrifice, Euchre and God

I'm doing a lot of reading as part of my Ignatian Spirituality Small Group, and one passage that has stuck with me recently is Genesis 22:1-19 It's a passage that I used to like, but now have conflicting opinions about. God decides to test Abraham buy asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac to him on Mount Moriah. It takes 3 days to get there, and on the third day, whilst carrying the wood for the fire Isaac finally asks the question that has been on his mind. "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham responds "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." When they reach the mountain top, they get everything ready and then Abraham quickly ties up Isaac places him on the Altar and raises his knife. It's at this point an Angel tells Abraham to stop. He tells Abraham that the scenario has been a test to see whether Abraham really does fear God. A ram is found caught in the thicket that is used for the offering instead.

I'm guessing Isaac was in therapy with trust/daddy/God issues for quite a long time!

There is some evidence that Child Sacrifice was as an Ancient Near Eastern Practice of both the Moabites and the Ammonites. It's fascinating to read how people have wrestled with interpreting this passage. Click here for a good summary.

According to Rabbi J. H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually "rife among the Semitic peoples," and he suggests that "in that age, it was astounding that Abraham's God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it."

That interpretation appeals to me because it opens me up to my own assumptions about God. Abraham is shown that his God is different to the Gods of the cultures around him. YHWH prevents an act that may have been a common occurrence in the culture and shocks Abraham in the process (it would be like God stopping the offering plates from being passed around in the middle of worship!). YHWH Suddenly becomes a lot different to what Abraham expects.

I wonder how much my culture has influenced my understanding of who God is.

Imagine you had grown up only playing Euchre, a trick taking game that uses a deck of cards consisting of 9 through Ace in 4 suits. All you know is a deck of 28 cards and one rule set.

Then someone hands you a deck with 52 cards and teaches you Poker, Bridge, Rummy, Hearts, etc

Suddenly the size of the deck and the possibilities for games has gotten a lot greater.

That's what my Spiritual Journey has felt like. The shift from '28 cards to 52 cards' was quite an adjustment in the spiritual realm. A lot of who God was for me shifted, and that shift felt as surprising as God interposing to prevent the sacrifice...

...and then I discovered and even bigger world of card games, stepping beyond my deck of 52 cards. Games involving decks with 5 or more different suits, and sometimes as many as 18 or 19 cards in each suit.

The possibilities are overwhelming.

God keeps getting bigger...

...and every time I wonder if I am crossing over the line from orthodoxy to heresy. I thought I was open about God, then I discovered that all I was doing was shuffling the 'cards' I already had, unwilling to admit that there might be more. I still find myself wanting to speak with absolute certainty about divine mystery.

I need to realize that when it comes to understanding God, none of us are playing with full decks.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."

William James

Sunday, October 10, 2010

'I heard the Bells' ~ thoughts on my creative process

I'm not sure how interesting this will be to other people, but I thought I'd document the thought processes behind my latest peice of music which you can listen to here :)

I first encountered the Poem 'Christmas Bells' by Longfellow when I was a teenager. I was browsing through a compilation of the music of 'Carols for Choirs' books 1-4 when the page opened at a text and a melody that I had never seen before.

The original poem text is this:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

The setting I heard was not the famous one by Johnny Marks (click the links to listen) that has been recorded by Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby and even Pedro the Lion and it wasn't the John Baptist Calkin setting made famous by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was a little known setting by Allen Percival which I cannot find a recording of.

I had never heard the text before and the Percival setting was the only one I knew so a couple of years ago I started my own setting.

It languished in a forgotten file for many years until I recently pulled it out and gave it a shiny new finish.

I was inspired by the first 2 lines of text that the setting really needed to include a) Bells and b) An old familiar carol.

Some of the versions I've seen referenced carols by having some kind of prelude or postlude of a familiar melody that then morphs into the Longfellow text, but I wondered whether I could find a way to set the lyrics to a melody that would fit over the top of an existing carol. Quite a challenge!

I settled on 'Silent Night' - one of the most familiar carols of all time, and one that I had already done some subtle reharmonizations with. Because the melody of Silent Night has a lot of pauses it had the space required for me to weave in a counter melody for the Longfellow lyrics.

I chose to set 6 of the 7 verses as I was concerned about length (I omitted verse 2 which seemed the easiest one to skip without upsetting the overall meaning of the text.)

Verses 4, 5 and 6 have a different emotional feel to them compared to the others so I knew I had to do something musically different at that point.

The piece opens with the bells playing a gentle flowing carillon pattern over the sustained lower chords. The choir sings the first stanza of Silent Night in German, while the soloist sings the Longfellow text over the top. I'm hoping that this juxtaposition creates a sense of familiarity along with curiosity. The bells are playing a very idiomatic pattern, and Silent Night instantly conjured up Candle light carol services. After the first verse Silent Night fades away as the Choir takes over the text.

The soloist ends verse 2 (verse 3 of the text) singing 'Good will to men', but this melodic phrase is engulfed by new musical material. The choir sings of 'Canons thundering in the south' while the bells create sounds by Mart Lifts - the bell is rung by being slammed into the foam padding on the table and then lifted in the air. It's an urgent aggressive sound in contrast to the earlier section. The melody moves faster and uses darker sonorities and lots of diminished chords to paint with the music the dark images in the text.

The choir sings unaccompanied the stanza 'It was as if an earthquake rent....' The idea is that the choir is totally alone, the message of hope that the bells ring has deserted them. This section finishes with a unison held pitch, the harmonies and rhythms have abandoned the the piece and we are left with a solitary note.

The tenor soloist gives voice to this abandonment in the stanza 'And in despair I bowed my head...' He sings to the original melody of the Longfellow, but transformed into a minor key. His accompaniment is very sparse, just a few bells played with soft mallets hanging in the stillness.

But his despair isn't hopeless. The choir re-enters slowly layering their entrances over top of one another, as hope comes tumbling back to fill the silence. When the choir reaches its climax the handbells triumphantly return playing the melody of Silent Night, but this melody is now a song of triumph. 'God is not dead nor does He sleep!'.

As the choir fades on the final chord, the bells gently peal away to stillness.

Well that's the plan anyway :)

The piece will hopefully have it's first performance Monday Nov 29th at Rice University, but you can take a listen to a computer rendition of it (with the bells and the singers played your computer's sound card) by clicking this link here.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Jesus? Is that you? ~ You've Been Framed.

(Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Mark 6:1-4 (The Message)

Jesus left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. "We had no idea he was this good!" they said. "How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?"

But in the next breath they were cutting him down: "He's just a carpenter—Mary's boy. We've known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?" They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.

Jesus told them, "A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child."

I think anyone who has gone 'home' after a significant period away has had an experience like this. I remember when I went back to live in my home town after many years of living away including 6 1/2 years in Texas. I had transformed into a different person, but because the people in my home had not witnessed that change it came as quite a surprise, and I found myself feeling uncomfortable in the place where I should have felt the most 'at home'.

Jesus was not recognized by the people who should have known him best. They saw with wonder that he had changed. How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability? But all they could see were some of the external defining characteristics. Family. Occupation.

Aren't you the Carpenter? Who are you to put on airs? We know your family, your brothers and sisters are right here. They are good people. You had the same upbringing, what makes you so different, so special? We know the facts about who you are Jesus, we know what you are really like.

From the vantage point of history it's easy for me to be amazed that Jesus' hometown of Nazareth missed seeing what I think is obvious, but am I really that different?

I have my own framework of who Jesus is and how He works in my life. When something happens that falls out of my framework then it can't possibly be Jesus because 'Jesus wouldn't do that!' Most of the time my frame is invisible to me. We group ourselves with people who's frames resemble ours and spend our time maintaining the frame and defending ourselves against anything that would seek to put the slightest dent in it...

...until life happens and the frame that functioned so well has to be dismantled and rebuilt anew.

For me, the most recent frame shaking event was walking through the death of both my parents. It caused me to re-evaluate what I thought I knew about God, The World, Salvation, and Myself. The new frame I constructed from the rubble of the old one is more delicate and expansive, it lets more light shine through, it's not as oppressive. This is all good, but I need to be aware that it is still a frame, and so when life causes me to question it, I mustn't cling to it too tightly.

If I live by the mantra, 'Jesus worked that way, Jesus is working that way, Jesus will always work that way' I am in danger of missing Him when he does something different.

That's why I need Community. I cannot see my own blind spots, I don't perceive them as blind spots at all until someone else demonstrates them to me by walking into them and disappearing. I cannot see how my frame is obscuring Jesus from me until someone else in my community sees Him in a place that I cannot see.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them? "From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you.

Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.

If all I keep is my old frame, then all I will sing are old songs.

Wander through the frame of your life, explore its depths, marvel at its beauty, and be willing to dismantle it.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

September Games!

September was a slow month for games - 21 plays of a total of 15 different games, but there were some surprises to the list.

Ad Astra

This game of space exploration and colonization had not hit the table since 2009, and then somehow in September we remembered how good it was and it hit the table 3 times! Given the number of games we have, this is quite exceptional. The game plays like a hybrid of Settlers of Catan and Wallenstein/Shogun. Trading happens less in this game than Settlers, but the random element of what gets produced each turn is eliminated. With the clever card mechanism you can always guarantee that you can get what you want, but sometimes it's better to hope that someone else chooses what you want to do (so that you can do it as well and then use your turns to do something else). I'm not that good at predicting other people's moves as yet, but I enjoy the game :)

Castle Ravenloft

This game garnered 2 plays. It's based on the Dungeons and Dragons System, but this game has no need for a Dungeon Master to run the adventure and doesn't really feel like a role playing system. I used to play D&D as a teenager....I know in some people's minds that could mean I am 'Tainted by Satan' as D&D gained a ridiculous reputation as a gateway to Witchcraft and Satanism.

In a random aside, my parents were perfectly content for me and my friends to sit at the dining room table playing Dungeons and Dragons, but I was severely chastised when some of the Youth Group held a prayer meeting at our house!!!!!

But back to Castle Ravenloft. I'm not sure how it would bear up to repeated plays, the game is definitely one that I am sure the company will milk for expansions as some have already been announced. Having said that, it is a lot of fun and the way the game handles the monsters is very clever. It's also the kind of game you can teach as you play which is a bonus. The miniatures that come with the game look cool and add to the ambiance, and as it comes with many different adventures and a random modular board system I think it would be fairly repeatable, which means I probably just contradicted myself :)

Going back to the theme of old games making a surprising reappearance, with 2 plays, here is Dvonn. It's a 2 player abstract game, that plays quickly and offers some very interesting tactical decisions. Dvonn hadn't been played since July 09, so again it is surprising that it hit the table twice in September, though it is a great game to play while waiting for others to arrive.

Other older games making surprising reappearances include:

Bohnanza - fun planting beans :)

Notre Dame - watch out for those plague rats.

Stone Age - keeping your tribe alive.

The most interesting new games were Innovation and Hansa Teutonica. If I have to pick between the two I'll probably go with Innovation. Hansa Teutonica felt to me like a complex version of Thurn and Taxis, though to be fair, I was in the mood to play a different game, so I was a little biased against Hansa Teutonica before it hit the table. I'll definitely try it again.

For all of 2010 I have now played 119 different board games and logged 275 plays!!! April was my highest month with 47 plays, and June my lowest with only 19 (but as I was in nightly rehearsals for a musical during the entire month of June I'm impressed I managed that many)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Slow cooker Sweet and Hot Apple Pork

How to make your kitchen smell like Fall!

• Nonstick cooking spray
• 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
• ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1 (2 ½ pound) boneless pork shoulder or pork loin roast
• 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 1 (21 oz) can Apple Pie Filling (Lucky Lead Brand if you can find it)
• 3 tablespoons all purpose flour

1. Lightly coat a 5-6 quart slow cooker with the nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, combine the chipotle peppers, salt, pepper and paprika.
3. Rub mixture all over the pork.
4. Place pork in the slow cooker and top with the sweet potatoes, onion and pie filling.
5. Cover; cook on low heat for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.
6. Remove pork from the slow cooker, strain the remaining cooking liquid into a medium sauce pan and then cover the pork with the remaining onion, sweet potato, apple mix. Put some foil over this.
7. Stir together 1 cup of cold water and 3 tablespoons of flour until smooth. Add to the saucepan. Cook over medium high heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly.
8. Slice pork and serve with apple mixture and sauce.

Italian Sausage Soup

Another quick healthy recipe!

8 oz hot turkey Italian sausage (I normally just use the whole package and double all the other ingredients )
2 cups fat free less sodium chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano
½ cup uncooked small shell pasta (I recommend De Cecco brand in the blue box)
2 cups bagged baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 tablespoons basil

1. Heat large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Remove casings from sausage. Cook about 5 minutes until brown and crumbled.
3. Drain fat from pan.
4. Add broth, tomatoes and pasta.
5. Bring to boil over a high heat.
6. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until pasta is done.
7. Remove from heat. Stir in spinach until wilted.
8. Sprinkle each serving with cheese and basil.

Here be Dragons?

The phrase 'Here be Dragons' has crept into popular culture, the idea that early map makers would mark the unexplored portions of their maps with that phrase and an image of the mythical beast. The cartographers didn't want to leave sections of the map blank, and if no one had been there, it stood to reason that the area must be dangerous and terrifying and contain wild beasts.

The number of historical maps that contain the phrase 'Here be Dragons' in English? Zero. The number of historical maps that contain that phrase in Latin? Just one, the Lenox Globe.

A part of me was very sad when I discovered this through a chance google search for this blog post. The phrase seemed an affirmation of the belief that says the unknown is scary and dangerous, you are so much better off staying to the familiar, the well-worn path. Strange monsters and savage ideas are waiting for the person who ventures into the unknown, it's better not to risk it.

At the center of old maps was Jerusalem, the Holy City, Mount Zion. The Presence of God, located in the familiar, the comfortable, the known. To step away from the center was to step away from the Divine, to leave the presence of God. I've written about this before.

Jesus said 'if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move.' (Matt 17:20)

When we have learned to identify 'Mount Zion' in our lives, we have the ability to move the mountain out to the edges, the rough places, the unknown. 'Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered'. Our Mount Zion is with us when we journey through the valley of the shadow of death.

When I imagine the landscape of my life, there are some areas that have definite dragons, places where I am scared to wander, but I can set my face to walk to those places when I am tethered at the center, when I 'carry' Mount Zion with me. There are Broken Relationships that need tending, Beliefs that need questioning and Attitudes that need confronting.

When you take a walk through the landscape of your life, what are the places you are avoiding? How can you carry Christ into those areas?

Points for making it to the end of this post, and bonus points if you recognized the totally gratuitous movie quote.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Baaa Baaa Black Sheep?

(This post is part of my reflections for my Ignatian Spiritual Exercises Group)

'In the English language, Black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within one's family. The term has typically been given negative implications, implying waywardness.' ~ from Wikipedia

I've spent a lot of this week mulling over some of John 10 and I need to write to try and give my thoughts some shape.

"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."

When I read this passage in the past, I had always fixed on the Shepherd (Jesus) and the Sheep (us). I had totally missed The Watchman who opens the gate for Jesus to come in. I started to fixate on who is the Watchman? Is it the Holy Spirit? Perhaps a reference to Ministers? I mulled it over for quite a while and then my mind wandered to the comic book series Watchmen and I sort of drifted on to other things.

When I revisited my scrawled thoughts again two new questions formed for me a) Who have been 'Watchmen' for me? and b) Who are 'Watchmen' for me now?

(I should say right now that the following list is nowhere near exhaustive!)

Reflecting on the questions brought up a lot of gratitude and a little sadness.

I think of my friend Sean (go buy his book!) who I have done life deeply with for years. I remember one special summer when we would get together every few days and share. He was wrestling with his demons and I with mine, and somehow together we made it through a stressful time by being two wounded people leaning on each other. Sean showed me the compassion of God.

I think of my friend Joy back in the U.K. Another person I leaned on heavily when I was wrestling with some of those deep questions of 'Who Am I?'. I lived in her house for 9 months and felt a great part of the many ragamuffins she had gathered around the table. Joy showed me the abundant grace of God.

I remember Duncan, my university Chaplain. Another person who went beyond the the demands of his job by welcoming me into his home. His gentle presence shaped me and gently showed me another way from out between my rigid thinking and theology, and he did it with kindness and humor. He was also responsible for starting me down my journey of Ignatian Spirituality. Duncan showed me the mystery of God.

I remember (with a little sadness) my friend O.B. He became someone who's wise counsel I valued for many years. It's amazing how a chance assignment as roommates lead to a friendship that traveled around the world. I'm a little sad because he seems to have distanced himself from me now. I recognize that friendships ebb and flow, things die when they need too, and so I grieve a little for the loss of what was. O.B. showed me the majesty of God.

Michael was a 'God send'. I was in a new country and I prayed for a friend. We only ever lived in the same city for under a year, but somehow we've stayed connected at a deep level. He shows me the laughter of God in so many ways. We are brothers from different mothers.

Scott was a Speaker at a ski retreat I was leading worship on. A bad patch of ice meant that I spent my days sitting in the ski lodge chatting with him. Somehow the Speaker became the Friend, became the Therapist, became the Brother. There are not many people who will respond with calm compassion and a hot cup of tea when you tearfully call them at 3:30am. Scott's compassion and insight blesses me. He has supported me and been a cheerleader for me even when my journey has taken turns he might question. It is humbling to have someone who always believes the best of you.

Jerry is a work colleague. His knowledge, creativity and humbleness astound me. Like Scott and Duncan he has been another person revealing another way to God in my life. He has a refreshing 'earthy holiness' - he can be quoting inappropriate lines from The Office one minute, and profound thoughts from Ignatius of Loyola the next. We are very different and yet so similar.

Steve has shown me the love of God in a way I never thought possible. He has opened up my understanding of where God is and what it means to live with integrity in this world. He calls forth the best in me and embraces the worst in me. I am more fully 'me' because of his presence and his love in my life.

There are more people I could list, but the thing I noticed is that only 2 of the people listed above live in Houston. I've had many 'Watchmen' in my life, but I do find myself longing for some more present close by. I have many wonderful friends here in Houston, and all of them, whether they know it or not, reveal something of God to me, but I find myself longing for something more tangible again. Maybe the Ignatian Group I am facilitating will somehow become that for me.


"I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

In the past when I've read this I've focused on verse 10 ', and have it to the full.', but this time verse 9 has caught my eye. It's the phrase 'he will come in and go out'. I found myself wondering what side of the gate is 'inside' and which is 'outside'. I found myself imaging sheep facing each other through a gate and both sides encouraging the other to step through the gate so that they can be 'inside'.

In my spiritual life I think I've become so turned around that I no longer am sure whether I am in or outside. I wonder if the litmus test is verse 10? You know you are inside when you are experiencing life in all it's fullness? I know that as my spiritual journey caused me to embrace the fact that I was a 'black sheep' within the flock of God, I found life getting infinitely richer. But I also worry that if the only test for 'inside' is 'life to the full' then have I made the spiritual journey ultimately self serving? My needs, my fulfillment? Maybe asking questions about 'inside or outside' are the wrong questions.

I find myself returning to my thoughts from over a year ago about how I think the church has become good at the wrong thing. We weren't created to issue pronouncements about 'Good' and 'Evil'. In fact God did not even create us to know the difference between the two. The tree was there but we were clearly told "Don't Touch". It seems that now we have eaten of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil we want to make sure that everyone knows it. We issue our statements, declare opinion as fact, and leave the garden untended. We're too busy talking to go walking with God.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Creamy Tomato-Balsamic Soup

This is so good, easy, and makes the kitchen smell great!

Creamy Tomato-Balsamic Soup

• 1 cup low sodium beef broth, divided
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
• One coarsely chopped onion
• 5 garlic cloves (peeled)
• 2 x 28oz cans whole tomatoes, drained
• Cooking spray
• 3/c up half and half or ½ cup whipping cream

1. Preheat oven to 500F (this is not a typo, really!!!)

2. Combine ½ cup of broth, brown sugar, vinegar and soy in a small bowl.

3. Place onion, garlic and tomatoes in a 13x9 baking pan coated in cooking spray.

4. Pour broth mixture over tomato mixture.

5. Bake at 500F for 50 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned.

6. Place tomato mixture in a blender and add remaining ½ cup of broth and half and half/whipping cream.

7. Process until smooth. Garnish with cracked pepper is desired.

Slow Cooker Dr Pepper Pulled Pork

Here's something yummy and different :)

Slow Cooker Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

• 2.5lbs pork tenderloin
• Salt and pepper to taste
• ¼ onion, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard
• 2 to 3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
• ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
• 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 2 12 oz cans (or 3 cups) Dr. Pepper or any other caramel colored soda – not diet!
• BBQ Sauce to taste – usually at least 18oz
• Hoagie rolls
• (Purchased coleslaw if desired)

1. Put pork, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and Dr Pepper into the slow cooker.

2. Cook on low for a minimum of 4 hours. Check tenderness, if pork shreds easily, shred pork with tines of two forks. Continue cooking at least another 30 minutes.

3. Drain excess liquid. Coat pork, to taste, with BBQ sauce and cook another 30 minutes.

4. Serve on Hoagie rolls topped with slaw if desired.

Slow Cooker Dr Pepper Pulled Pork

Here's something yummy and different :)

Slow Cooker Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

• 2.5lbs pork tenderloin
• Salt and pepper to taste
• ¼ onion, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard
• 2 to 3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
• ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
• 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 2 12 oz cans (or 3 cups) Dr. Pepper or any other caramel colored soda – not diet!
• BBQ Sauce to taste – usually at least 18oz
• Hoagie rolls
• (Purchased coleslaw if desired)

1. Put pork, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and Dr Pepper into the slow cooker.

2. Cook on low for a minimum of 4 hours. Check tenderness, if pork shreds easily, shred pork with tines of two forks. Continue cooking at least another 30 minutes.

3. Drain excess liquid. Coat pork, to taste, with BBQ sauce and cook another 30 minutes.

4. Serve on Hoagie rolls topped with slaw if desired.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are we there yet?

The LORD had said to Abram,

"Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.
"I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."

So Abram left, as the LORD had told him

And so began quite a journey.

Haran ----Canaan----Shechem---Bethel---Negev---Egypt---Negev---Bethel---Hebron

And that's just in chapters 12 and 13

Set up the camp, live for a while, tear down and move on is the rhythm of the nomadic lifestyle. Don't get too fixed to the view outside your tent because it is soon going to change. Don't be surprised if you return to a place where you've camped before, but realize that although the camp ground may be the same, you've changed. We grow on the journey, and, like impatient children we long to cry out

'Are we there yet? When do we get to the promised land? When do we get to stop moving? I'm tired of carrying my tent. Haven't we been this way already? Are we lost? I'm hungry.'

My experience of the Spiritual Journey is remarkably similar, as are my complaints. I tend to be less willing to move spiritually however, ripping up spiritual tent pegs leaves me with the fear that my tent is going to collapse, that somehow I am journeying into Apostasy rather than Faithfulness....

... and sometimes I do wander the wrong way, but the God who led me this far will not abandon me in the desert of my own making.

...and sometimes what seemed like Apostasy from the outside is actually a new land overflowing with Grace and beauty and experiences with God that I could never have dreamed of when I was sitting in my tent staring at the plain before me with fear and trepidation.

If I want to be certain of every step, convinced of every path, then I will never leave my campground. My entire spiritual journey will be lived in small repetitive circles, never daring to venture into the wilderness.

I am embarking on a journey that begins tomorrow. I am facilitating a group through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The journey takes about 40 weeks of reading, reflecting, praying and sharing. I last made this journey 2 years ago, and it caused me to encounter God in new ways. This time, although I have a greater idea of the route. I also know that I am a different person. I need to not just visit 'familiar camp grounds'. Instead I need to trust the path and and see what I need to see.

I don't know yet what tent pegs will be the hardest to remove. I'm not sure where the landscape of my life is the most unyielding and inhospitable. I do know that the journey will take me to all those places if I choose to hike the difficult trails.

And I do know that I journey following a trail guide who has been this way before and knows the landscape far more intimately than I will ever know it.

I just hope that when I start asking 'Are we there yet?' - for at some point I know I will complain, that I don't let my complaints shield me from the wondrous beauty of the journey. I'd hate to miss the sights because I'm whining.

Happy Trails.

Words to remember

Where you are (however unchosen) is the place of blessing.
How you are (however broken) is the place of grace.
Who you are, in your becoming, is your place in the Kingdom.

from 'Inner Compass' ~ Margaret Silf

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poetry for the Soul

Imaginary Career - Rilke

At first a childhood, limitless and free
of any goals. Ah, sweet unconsciousness.
Then, sudden terror, schoolrooms, slavery,
the plunge into temptation and deep loss.

Defiance. The child bent becomes the bender,
inflicts on others what he once went through.
Loved, feared, rescuer, wrestler, victor,
he takes his vengeance, blow by blow.

And now in cast, cold, empty space, alone.
Yet hidden deep within the grown-up heart,
a longing for the first world, the ancient one.

Then, from His place of ambush, God leapt out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I need to be careful watching the sun rise

The sun rises over lush green hillsides. The light suddenly breaks over the mountain and rolls down over the landscape transforming it from black and white to glorious technicolor. The landscape comes alive after the velvety embrace of night.

Melody soars over the landscape as the scenery begins to dance in a joyous celebration of life.

'This is who I am, this is what I was created for' it exults in celebration.

'I can do no more and strive for no more than what I was created to be. Anything else is just pretense. The tree cannot be a rock, the stream cannot be a sparrow.'

As the light embraces the landscape it is ever changing. As the sun moves areas of shade begin to blaze, the fiercest brightness becomes muted as the kaleidoscope of living rotates across the land. The roll of hills is transformed into a phrase of melodic beauty, a fragment that is echoed in different textures and shades as the various colors of the orchestra play along with it. The light on the landscape is ever shifting, ever dancing. The melodies and colors interweave and dance. The song of the evening, so different and so similar to the morning, is heard again until the darkness embraces the land and rest welcomes it into its cool dark embrace once more.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Art of Leavings

We talked about Leavings this weekend in the Contemplative Service. Life is full of them, so we need to leave well.

Leavings can be Geographical, Relational, Belief Systems, Behavior Patterns:
  • I left Norwich, England.
  • I left an unhealthy friendship
  • I left the belief that God was pleased when I felt guilty
  • I am leaving the pattern of always believing someone is going to tell me something negative when they ask to speak to me.

As you can see from my list above, some Leavings are simpler than others, some are one time events whereas some are ongoing.

Early on in this service we used the following Liturgy:

A Litany of Leaving
Gen 12:1; Jonah 1-2a, 3a; Matt 13b; John 8 10-11; Psalm 139: 7- 12

Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.”

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid Your Spirit? To be out of Your sight?

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai saying,
“Go at once to Nineveh, that great city and cry out against it”
But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

If I climb to the sky, You’re there! If I go underground, You’re there!

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.”

If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute –
You’re already there waiting!

Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”

It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to You:
Night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to You.

The interweaving of different biblical accounts of Leavings combined with the Psalmist's experience of the presence of God seemed to work well.

As I was reflecting more on Leavings, I think they fall into 4 categories, and I've enlisted the help of a group of talented rabbits to explain what I mean:

1. "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

(the 30 second Bunnies present 'Gone with The Wind')

Some things are easy to leave. We put them to one side and move on with barely a second thought to whatever we have left. I must confess that I've only seen G.W.T.W. once, but when I was thinking through this post, Rhett's line was what sprang to mind.

2. "...and if you don't get on that plane, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life."

(ok, so the quote wasn't in this 30 second Casablanca, but it was still a great little clip.)

There are some leavings we agonize over, is this the right decision or not. We know that our leaving will impact our lives in ways we cannot foresee. I need to realize that any leaving, even a pleasant one, has an element of grief to it. Any emotions that are connected to what we have left behind are going to 'flap lose in the wind' for a while.

3. "I'll never let go, Jack. I promise."

(This is definitely a more palatable version of Titanic.)

Some Leavings are not of our choosing. These can be some of the most difficult to accept and the hardest to grieve.

4. "I wish I knew how to quit you."

(Bunnies running wild on Brokeback Mountain)

Some things are practically impossible to leave, even when staying is destroying us. Belief systems, addictive behaviors, unhealthy relationships can all have a hold on us that require supernatural intervention to break.

Fortunately we have a God who not only loves us, but never abandons us. No matter how far we may leave, we cannot leave His presence.

Is there any place you can go to avoid My Spirit? To be out of My sight?
If you climb to the sky, I'm there! If you go underground, I'm there!
If you flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, I'd find you in a minute –
I'm already there waiting!
Hear Me say to you, “Oh, I even see you in the dark!
At night You're immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to me;
Night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to me.

What leavings come to mind as you read this post? How was God present to you in the midst of them?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

August Games


I never posted the games I played in August :( I'm such a slacker.

August had 35 plays of 19 different games

Top games of the month with 3 plays a piece were Dominion, Felix - the cat in the sack and Ta Yu.

Nothing very extra ordinary in that what games from August stuck out for me?

Marracash made it back to the table after a very long absence and was very enjoyable. Building market stalls in the old city and acting as a guide to tourists is a fun way to make a profit. I know how to play the game, but there are so many ways to make money in this gem I've not quite worked out the strategy yet.

Small World also hadn't been on the table for a while. It's fun using flying Tritons to take down some Bivouacking Elves :)

Currently for this year Hive is still in the no 1 spot with 20 plays, but Werewolf is close behind at 18.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Veggie Stew

This is one of the quick recipes I am teaching today :)

Vegetable Stew
(Serves about 4 depending on appetite and accompaniment)

• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 3 cloves of garlic, smashed (or use the pre-chopped stuff)
• 1lb Crimini mushrooms (halved) - or use baby bella, or white button.
• 1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1 inch pieces
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• Salt and pepper
• 1 can chickpeas (15 oz) drained
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 large can diced tomatoes in puree (28 oz)
• 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped.

1. In a medium pot over medium heat, sauté the garlic and mushrooms in the oil for about 3 minutes.

2. Add the zucchini and onion to the pot and season the veggies with the salt and pepper. Sauté another 5 minutes.

3. Add chick peas, cumin, tomato and chopped rosemary. Bring to a bubble, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.

What can you do with it? Well I have been known to serve it with rice, or use it as a simple side dish or even serve it with potato cheese pancakes.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

This is currently bubbling away in my Slow-Cooker, so easy yet so good.

2-3 chicken breasts (about 1lb)
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
1 10oz can red enchilada sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
1 4oz can chopped green chile peppers
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of water
1 14.5oz can chicken broth
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 10oz package frozen corn
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Tortilla chips

Put everything into the slow-cooker except the tortilla chips. Cover, and cook on Low for 6-8 hours or on High for 3-4 hours.

Remove the chicken breasts, shred them with a fork (or fingers) then stir back into the soup.

To serve, put some soup in the bowl and sprinkle some lightly crushed tortilla chips on top.

I also often swirl in a squirt of lime juice into the soup too.

Simple, but delicious!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A Burnt Offering Unto the Lord?

With the very specific instructions regarding Burnt Offerings in the book of Leviticus I'm surprised that the church has not created a 'Grilling Sunday'. Worship would happen in the parking lot with people all around their makeshift altars. Of course we already have the equivalent of the Protestant/Catholic divide, only here it would be Propane/Charcoal. I can foresee denominations forming around issues such as Brickets, Hickory, and Mesquite. I'm quite sure plank grilling would create its own cult as well.

In case you can't tell by my random musings above, on Saturday I went out and bought a grill.

First step - assembly!

The top of my 'altar' resting on its foam packing.

Various other parts strewn over both tables.

And after a couple of hours wrestling with screwdrivers and locking washers, behold!!! The only question was, would it fit through the door to the patio.

I connected up the Propane and we had heat. I was unable to test it yesterday as I had a surprise party to go to, so I rushed home after church and fired up the grill for the first time.

Now, regular readers of my blog know that I am almost fearless in the kitchen, elaborate cakes, 8 hour Cuban pork loin, complex pastry creations, fondant icing, you name it I've probably tried it. But there is something about grilling that is fearful for me - which is precisely why I bought the grill.

Men who would never darken the doors of the kitchen except to grab a beer from the fridge go almost Neanderthal at the grill. Women are banished as cooking over the fire is man's work. This is a stereotype of course, but the thing about stereotypes is that they do exist somewhere.

Anyway there is something in my internal thoughts that tells me I would not be good at grilling because I am not a 'Man's Man' - of course I have no idea what that term even means, but as I still can't even comprehend the rules of Football let alone understand its appeal, my internal thoughts have a foothold.

To conquer this I purchased this steel altar of masculinity.

And for its maiden voyage I made the following:

Chipotle Burgers

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I used Angus 80/20 as you don't want the meat too lean)

2 Chipotle Chiles from a can of Chipotles in Adobo Sauce (Separate the rest into sandwich bags and freeze)

2 Tablespoons adobo sauce from the can.

3/4 teaspoon ground oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3 minced green onions

1 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Mix all the ingredients together and form into 4 hamburger patties - chill for 30 minutes. If you make the patties slightly thinner in the middle than the edge then they won't balloon up during cooking.

They took about 7 minutes on the grill.

So how did it go? Well I was pleased that they weren't burnt and they weren't raw either. I cooked them over slightly too high a heat so I had a few more flare ups than expected, but I didn't lose any parts of them down into the heart of the grill and I was pleased that they were still moist when cooked.

My next attempt will be a Caribbean Pork Tenderloin, so if you hear a firetruck approaching the Heights, don't worry, I'm just conquering my fears and cooking dinner :)