Thursday, April 28, 2011

Who are you walking with?

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

Luke 24:13-16

There are so many interesting things I could pull from the story referred to as the Walk to Emmaus, maybe I'll write some follow up posts. The passage above is just the opening snippet.Two disciples, walking along the road, confused and saddened by the events of the last few days in Jerusalem, are joined by a third traveller who journeys with them. Luke lets us know the identity of the traveller as Jesus, but the two disciples do not know this, they are 'kept' from recognizing him.

Many of the Gnostics believed Jesus was not fully human and could change his appearance at will, that is why he was not recognized. Medieval Artists who have depicted this part of the Emmaus narrative painted Jesus wearing a large floppy hat to explain the lack of recognition.

Other suggestions include God deliberately kept the disciples from recognizing Him, or maybe they were so focused on their own confusion over the events in Jerusalem that they were unable to see what was right before their eyes. Jesus listens to them, rebukes them, and explains their faulty thinking to them, but it's only when Jesus breaks the bread in front of them that his identity is revealed.

Who are the newcomers, the strangers in your life at the moment? Who is the unexpected traveller? Who are the people who challenge your view points and assumptions? Who could be Christ to you at this point in your journey?

Who are you journeying with? How can you be the unexpected voice of Jesus to them?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scone (rhymes with Gone) or Scone (rhymes with Bone)

The U.K. may fight over how to pronounce Scone, but whether the 'O' is long or short we all know they taste great.

Here's the Scone recipe (with variations) that I am making to celebrate some minor wedding that is happening in London on friday :)

(I usually always include the glaze on top)

Cream Scones with Currants - from America's Test Kitchen

2 Cups unbleached all purpose flour (low protein such as Gold Medal, Pilsbury or Kroger - avoid King Arthur Brand)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (cut into 1/4 inch cubes)
1/2 cup currants
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425F
2. Place the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process to mix with 6 one second pulses.
3. Remove the cover and distribute the butter evenly over teh dery ingredients. Cover and process with about 12 one second pulses. Add the currants and give one more 1 second pulse to mix.
4. Turn the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the heavy cream using a rubber spatula until the dough begins to form.
5. Transfer the dough and all the dry flour to a countertop and knead by hand until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball.
6. Press the dough evenly into an 8 inch cake pan and then turn out onto the counterand cut into 8 wedges.
7. Place the wedges on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake until the tops are light brown - 12 to 15 minutes.
8. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Glazed Scones
After turning the dough out of the cake tin but before cutting them, brush the top with 1 tablespoon of cream and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Cut into 8 wedges and proceed as above.

Cranberry Orange Scones
Follow the recipe as above adding 1 teaspoon of orange zest with the butter and substituting 3/4 cup dried cranberries for the currants.

Lemon-Blueberry Scones
Follow the recipe as above, adding 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest with the butter and substituting 1/2 cup fresh or  frozen (not thawed) blueberries instead of the currants. NOTE: Mix the dough by hand after adding the blueberries to stop the blade of the processor mashing them!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Color Wheel

I saw the world in black and white.
When that didn't work I moved to shades of grey,
Now I see even that is too monochromatic.
There is a world of color that I was terrified to let into my checkerboard existence,
And now my eyes have adjusted I cannot go back to that stifling false dichotomy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Am Judas

Many years ago I wrote a musical about Judas. The musical asked questions about forgiveness, and whether Judas himself, if he had sought out Jesus, would have found forgiveness as Peter did, or are there limits to God's grace.

I believe Judas is in heaven.

When he saw what his act of betrayal had done, he threw the silver back at the Priests, aware that his actions would cause the death of an innocent man. Judas could not see past the cross to the empty tomb. None of the disciples could. But unlike Peter and the other disciples, Judas was unable to bear the shame of what he had done. His act of repentance had nobody to speak absolution to him, if only he had held out until sunday.

On Good Friday we remember a mysterious act that offered Forgiveness to the world. Each of us were forgiven 2000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem - but for many of us, the weight of our shame feels heavier than the weight of God's Grace. All we can see is a cross, a death caused by our actions, rather than an empty tomb caused by God's grace.

We are no different to Judas...

...and God offers to all of us the chance to come home.

In the musical, Judas asks Jesus what he would have said to him if he had returned like Peter to ask forgiveness. It took me 9 months to write the lyrics of that song, and it is one of my lyrics that I am most proud of because it honestly states what I believe at a deep level.

Judas is hiding in all of us, and yet we are afraid to go looking for him because we are worried that he is unforgivable.

Listen to this song, and let its invitation call the 'Judas in you' out into the light.

Judas Come Home

Beyond the cross is and empty tomb!

It Is Over Now

The lash that flayed Christ's back has been discarded now.
The crown of thorns rests on his head,
The purple robe is now stained red.
The hammer and the nails have served their purpose now.
The spear has cruelly pierced his side,
The mocking and the scorn subside.
It is over now

'Tis finished, the Messiah dies,
Cut off for sins, but not his own.
Accomplished is the sacrifice,
The great redeeming work is done.
It is over now.

Now every broken heart can learn to love again.
The Terrified can take a chance,
The Paralyzed can join the dance.
The Refugee is safely welcomed home again.
The Prejudiced abandons fear,
The Skeptic learns that God is near.
It is over now.

The reign of sin and death is o'er
And all may live from sin set free,
For Satan's lost his mortal power,
'Tis swallowed up in victory.
It is over now.

Words Peter Johns and Charles Wesley
From 'Tenebrae' by Peter Johns.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jesus' super awesome equestrian skills!

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21: 1-11

This is one of those very familiar biblical scenes. It's a great one for teaching children, I'm sure I first heard it in church before I ever read the passage. Many churches act out the scene on Palm Sunday, I know I sang about it in the first christian musical I was ever in (all together now...'Jesus rode a donkey into town, many folks came out for miles around...') The problem with a story so familiar is that we assume we know it and so we read what we think the text says rather than what it actually says.

Matthew throws a wrench in our whole image of Palm Sunday. Verses 2 and 7 say that the disciples bought 2 animals for Jesus to ride, a donkey and its colt, and that Jesus somehow rode both of them. The quotation from the book of Zechariah 9:9 that Matthew quotes in verse 5 is also slightly different from the old testament text.
When I read this passage through the lens of bible study I get rather confused. Different commentators have different ways of resolving the tension, and when I read them it feels more like they are molding the text to fit their particular view point than simple addressing what is there.

But what about looking at this passage through contemplative eyes? What can we see beyond the slightly confusing narrative?

This year I find myself drawn to the colt and the donkey. Mark tells us that the colt had never been ridden before. An unbroken beast becomes the way Jesus enters into Jerusalem. That gives me hope for the wild, untamed, unruly parts of my life. The parts of me that seem uncontrolable may be the very parts that Jesus wants to use to ride in triumph upon.

Matthew's telling of the story places a donkey alongside the colt. A regular beast of burden, of service.

In the 12 step community they often talk how service keeps you sober.

I remember a time about 6 years ago when I was wrestling with depression (as I do periodically). One of the hardest things for me to do was to feel connected with God - and when you work for a church and don't feel connected to God it's easy to feel like a hypocrite. One of the things that helped pull me out was when I went with the rest of the Mercy Street Staff to cook and serve dinner for the women in the Santa Maria Hostel. To be honest I resented the extra work and preparation it took, esp as I was appointed head chef at a time when all I wanted to do was wander around in my black cloud and sulk. But there was something about that act of service that helped me connect with God when just about everything else I had tried failed.

The Colt and the Donkey.

The Untamed and the Helpful.

Both become ways that Jesus is carried into the midst of my life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Milestones of Masculinity?

I wrote this following post back in 2007 when I was blogging on Myspace....a conversation after staff worship yesterday brought it to mind (don't ask!) so I thought I would re post it here. If talk of male underwear offends you, quit reading now.

I've just returned from the store where I've just purchased my first jock strap. I'm 39 and never experienced this rite of passage before.

I'm going to a costume party tomorrow night and as part of my costume I need to wear white trousers - pants for you speakers of 'American English' (though isn't 'American English' an oxymoron? But I digress). All I have at home are colored boxer shorts and although I have the fashion sense of a circus clown even I know that colored boxers will show though and create an unexpected comic slant to the costume. This knowledge left me with 2 options a) Purchase new underwear or b) Go commando

Well 'b' is not really an option for me. I've been commando once in my life through circumstances way too embarrassing to blog about here and I have absolutely no desire to do it again. Consequently I had to put the plastic to good use and purchase a new garment. Weighing up my underwear options I was left with a) Whitey Tighties b) White Y fronts c) White boxers or d) a white jock strap.

Well Whitie Tighties are a no go for me. Suffice to say I'm a boxers rather than briefs guy. White Y fronts would be possible but those are what I wore as a kid before I discovered the freedom of boxers. Going back and slipping on a pair of those (why do we refer to them in the plural? A pair?) would feel like regressing to childhood. What next? Disposable diapers or terry cloth and pins? White boxer shorts are not that readily available - so off to the sporting goods store.

Now to be perfectly honest there are lots of other options available to me, but I must confess a certain curiosity about the humble jock strap. Growing up in the U.K. this mighty garment of the American High School locker room was never seen. Never. My knowledge of Jock Straps has all been garnered from American High School Movies - mainly John Hughes films, and one highly guilt ridden viewing of 'Porkys'.

As I drove to the store this morning I found myself wondering if a boy's first jock strap (or as the packaging calls it 'Under Armor') is one of those marks of maturity. Do dads take their sons shopping in the same way mothers go with their daughters to purchase their first training bra? This garment must be important, it even has its own entry in Wikipedia!

All this philosophical musings came to an abrupt halt when I realized that I would have to hand this to the checker and pay for it. Now, I don't have the body of a sporting demi-god and so I began to panic that she would smile at me, see my purchase, and then call all the other checkers over to ridicule this fat hairy Englishman buying a garment for obviously '....illicit purposes as he can't possibly be the sporting type' except for maybe competitive darts and if you need under armor for that you obviously have some difficulties with your aim!

Why do I care so much what other people think? Well when I was a boy my parent's method of discipline involved a lot of shame. My brother and I were never hit; instead comments like "People around here know what you've done and what you are really like!" were often uttered. Consequently my brother and I imagined a huge invisible crowd of people watching our every move and we lived in fear of being found out.

I'm still working though my issue of caring too much what other people think. The church I grew up in added to that image by painting for me a God who is leaning forward on His cloud watching my every move waiting for me to put a foot wrong so he could press the 'smite' button. St. Paul didn't help much either. In Hebrews 12:1 he says 'Therefore since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses....' Paul paints an image of the heroes of the faith looking down upon us and cheering us on, but I always had a nagging suspicion that in my case they were shaking their heads in shame and embarassment because they see 'what I'm really like'.

I'm learning to not care so much about what people think. In fact, me writing an entire blog about Jock Straps (or for you delicate types - Under Armor) and posting it where almost anyone can read it is one more step in my healing. Some of you might consider this blog 'inappropriate' in someway. And it's ok if you do - as in the same way that it's ok that I think the whole thing is actually kind of funny.

So, tomorrow night is the costume party - I'll post some pictures of me in costume soon. I will be able to attend secure in the knowledge that my underwear is not showing though my pants. There's just one problem though, how do you wear these stupid things???

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Pray With My Fingers

Most of my adult life has been spent working as a church musician, consequently I think about things most church goers don't have to worry about.

What key should I play the songs in? Are the congregation warmed up enough to sing in a higher key, or is it so early in the morning that I should lower the key so people can sing the song easier? But if I lower the key how will I make a smooth musical transition to the next song?

Should I repeat the chorus of this song again? Will the people operating the computer follow me if I do? Will the other musicians know what I'm planning? Should I shorten the song? Is the congregation engaged with what I'm leading?

Am I playing loud enough that the congregation feels supported in their singing? Am I playing soft enough so that the congregation doesn't feel drowned out?

Should I pray to link the songs together? Should I say something meaningful? Do I talk to much? Do I talk too little?

Will the person who is next in the service remember to come up to the lectern? Should I play something to underscore this transition?

With this cacophony of thought going on inside the head I still try to connect with God whilst I am leading...

...and so I pray.

I pray with words, I pray with silence, and I pray with my fingers. I let my fingers communicate what I need to express to God. I pray with Harmony, with Dissonance, with Rhythm, with Melody, with Dynamics. As my fingers move across the keys they are able to express in sound what I may not be able to put into words. Cascading patterns of notes become melodic hallelujahs. Harmonic suspensions and chordal clashes become honest moments of confession. As fragments expand and contract in harmonic variations I am finding new ways to say 'I love you'. My light and my darkness offered in worship in a private musical language that only God fully comprehends.

I pray with sound, with silence, with words, with music.

I am a church musician, and I pray with my fingers.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

March Games Played

I had a bit of a lull in games played in March, I only managed 22 plays of 18 different games (down from 28 in 2010).

4 games had the honor of being played twice.

Bohnanza I'd actually forgotten how much fun it is to plant beans. It doesn't outlast its welcome and you get to negotiate some fun deals.

Boggle I am not really a fan of word games, I struggle to see words when the letters are jumbled up, I'm not a big fan of scrabble either for the same reason.

Don Quixote It's a tile placement game that features neither Don Quixote, Sancho Panza or Dulcinea!  It wasn't that exciting, nothing new or particularly innovative, but it was quick :D

Wits and Wagers It's a good game for a crowd, not that difficult and it doesn't outstay its welcome.

 It was nice to see Black Friday hit the table again (even if I did get a rule wrong), and I was glad Master Thieves got played as it is the most expensive game I own.

I've also got everything booked for my annual Board Game Convention in November - the convention totally sold out in 5 days, so I'm glad I was able to get a place :)

Friday, April 08, 2011

I'm not going to explain why I'm carrying my mat.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.

This is a tough passage to read for me, Jesus statement about 'Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.' raises a lot of questions in my mind that normally distracts me from seeing other things in the passage.

I think the man's response to Jesus question 'Do you want to get well?' is very telling. For the man, healing means getting into the pool when the water is stirred (first person in gets the miracle! See John 5:4). He's been paralyzed for 38 years, and for much of that time he has been lying by the pool on his mat trying to get into the water to win the race for the healing. He has a set expectation for how God will bring healing into his life. The pool. Maybe he imagined that Jesus would offer to help him into the water.

Instead healing comes in a completely unexpected form. 'Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.'

After years of lying down paralyzed the fact that the man can walk at all is a sign of healing, having the strength to also carry his mat is further confirmation of the miracle.

Carrying his mat meant that he lost his place by the pool. If he'd left his mat behind he could have reserved his spot so he had somewhere to go if this 'healing thing' didn't work out for him. His mat defined his world, and Jesus encourages him to take his mat with him...and break the law.

I identify with this man. I can think of situations in my life where I am convinced I know how Jesus will bring healing and change. I tell God what healing should look like for me, and even how he should accomplish it in my life. I need to keep remembering that God is bigger than the box I put God in. I mustn't get so attached to my mat that I am unwilling to roll it up and carry it. Sometimes the very things I put in place for my own comfort and protection can become barriers.

To the Jewish Leaders the mat was a sign of a Sabbath breaker, something forbidden. They don't care about the miracle in this man's life...all they see is the mat. There is no acknowledgement of the journey that has led to the mat being carried through the city streets. The idea that this act of lawbreaking could stem from an encounter with God seems unthinkable.

I don't need to explain to everyone who asks why I'm carrying my mat. Often the people who ask are unable to hear the answer, the story of my encounter falls on deaf ears. Jesus asked me to do what I thought was unthinkable, to take up my mat and walk. I'll leave the explaining to others. I have some walking to do.