Thursday, December 13, 2012

Go to your cell.

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

In some monasteries the hour of None marks a time of contemplation. The monks spend time in their sparse rooms (called cells) where they spend time in reflection and prayer. The cell is the place where you must be alone with yourself. It is a place of comfort and challenge. The loving light of God's love shines upon us with no distraction.

Most of us don't live in monasteries. We create our own places to be alone with God. I often spend time with God by sitting at the piano. The bench becomes my cell. I play my prayers and communicate my frustrations.  I am brutally honest with 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.

I have had some incredible encounters with God......and sometimes I'm just sitting playing piano. I can be in my cell and using the very tools with which I encounter God to avoid him. I do the same in church. I can be singing a hymn, listening to a prayer, hearing a sermon without ever worshiping, praying or responding. I can fool myself that I am connected with God, when all I've done is heard (or half heard) great music and oratory.

None is an invitation and a challenge. An invitation to find your own personal cell, your own place of encounter with God, and a challenge for each of us to face the reality of our lives and make peace. However some of us are so uncomfortable with being alone that we inflict ourselves upon others every waking moment. Some of us are so uncomfortable with silence that that we constantly fill it with noise. Some of us are so uncomfortable with God that we hide in religious activity.

Where is your cell, your place of encounter with God?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sunday of the First Week of Advent

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 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.

The angel tells him he will be mute, speechless, until the child is born. So for nine 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 part of daily prayer in many Christian traditions.

I envy Zechariah’s faith. I have difficulty dealing with the silence of God.  My voice is raised more often in complaint than praise. I shy away from silence and from stillness, something that is particularly easy to accomplish during the Christmas season. Yet Advent is an invitation to wait in silent anticipation.

Silence is a two-edged sword. It can shut down a conversation or lead the conversation past cliché into deeper waters. Silence amplifies my internal disquiet and gives it a space to speak. I may not like what it says, but there are lessons it can teach me. Silence is an invitation to step deeper into the mystery of God.

For reflection: How can you make space for silence today? 
What is silence trying to teach you about self, others, God?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Conductors and Monks

I've spent much of my life playing violin in orchestras, and every piece starts the same way, with silence. There is a moment before the music begins when the orchestra (and the audience hopefully) are totally still, quiet and attentive. Everyone is focused on the conductor, waiting for that gesture that signals tempo, volume and mood. Waiting for the beat that signifies that it is time to play.

If the pause before the music does not take place then the music is diminished before it begins. If the musicians do not watch the conductor then the beginning is ragged and the music suffers.

As the piece continues the players are constantly listening to themselves to make sure they are on pitch, watching the conductor to make sure they are on tempo, and listening to each other to make sure they blend and are at the correct volume.

Stop. Look. Listen. Play.

Without those elements the work suffers. Great symphonies and simple ditties all require Stop. Look. Listen. Play.

In the Liturgy of the Hours the work for the day is prayed for and distributed at Prime. This act of prayer means that all work is entered into mindfully, no rushing into the task. First look at the tasks that need to be accomplished. Listen to them and listen to your own interior moods about them. When work is approached this way with attentiveness, then it becomes our servant rather than our master.  Every action we make, every task we accomplish can become a prayer.

Stop. Look. Listen. Pray.

There's a rush in the kitchen, there's monks in the hall 
It's past time for dinner, they're silent monks all 
The cook is a good man with ladle and plate 
He will not be rushed in the steam and the heat 

Though a simple man, he just seemed to know 
As it is above, so it is below 

He hums to himself all the hymns he has known 
While he pulls up the leeks, they're so carefully grown 
He doesn't like chapel bent down on his knees 
Just wasting his time with these words and decrees.

 Though a simple man, he just seemed to know 
As it is above, so it is below 

He does all his work in the presence of the Lord 
He is praying while salting the monks' holy food 
He fights the good fight with utensils as a sword 
He is peeling potatoes to the glory of God 

Though a simple man, he just seemed to know 
As it is above, so it is below

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Dancing in the dark

I once visited a cave in the North of England where they took us deep underground and then turned off the lights. The guide told us that the darkness was such that our eyes would never adjust no matter how long we waited. When he did turn the lights back on he did so gradually. Normal light would have been blinding to our eyes.

The Psalmist says '...even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.' (Psalm 139:12)

There is no darkness in our lives that our 'eyes' cannot adjust too. Waiting in the dark is never fruitless because the darkness is as light. I find that comforting because it gives me something constructive to do in the darkness. Instead of cursing it I can pray that my eyes adjust to the 'darkness that is as light.' in the light of that darkness who knows what I may see and learn. Instead of just waiting for the light I can gaze into the darkness for signs of God's handiwork.....and maybe, maybe I can dance.


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Hermeneutics in Everyday Life by Tim Perry

(For a brief explanation of Hermeneutics click here)

Suppose you're traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

 1. A postmodernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

 2. Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.

 3. A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn't take it too seriously, he doesn't feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

 4. An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn't bother to read the sign but he'll stop if the car in front of him does.

 5. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

 6. A preacher might look up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean: 1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; 2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

 7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things:
1) Take another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law.
2) Stop at the stop sign, say "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop," wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed.
Incidentally, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: R[abbi] Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. R. ben Isaac says: Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says: "Be still, and know that I am God." R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: "Stop, father!" In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written: "Out of the mouth of babes." R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: "Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens." R. ben Nathan says: When were stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: "let them serve as signs." R. Yeshuah says: ... [continues for three more pages]

 8. A Pharisee does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.

 9. A scholar from Jesus seminar concludes that the passage "STOP" undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

 10. A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called "Q". There is an excellent 300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar's commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunately omission in the commentary, however; the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.

 11. An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage "STOP". For example, "ST" contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas "OP" contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the "O" and the "P".

 12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there.

 13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar emends the text, changing "T" to "H". "SHOP" is much easier to understand in context than "STOP" because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because "SHOP" is so similar to "STOP" on the sign several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.

 14. A "prophetic" preacher notices that the square root of the sum of the numeric representations of the letters S-T-O-P (sigma-tau-omicron-pi in the Greek alphabet), multiplied by 40 (the number of testing), and divided by four (the number of the world--north, south, east, and west), equals 666. Therefore, he concludes that stop signs are the dreaded "mark of the beast," a harbinger of divine judgment upon the world, and must be avoided at all costs.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hummus Encrusted Chicken

This recipe which can be found online here was delicious and very easy to make.

I foresee lot's of yummy variants with different types of hummus :)

I'm not going to type the recipe out as it is from gimme some oven. So pop over to that food blog and show some love.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Walking Trees?

Random thoughts for the Contemplative Service

They arrived at Bethsaida. Some people brought a sightless man and begged Jesus to give him a healing touch. Taking him by the hand, he led him out of the village. He put spit in the man’s eyes, laid hands on him, and asked, “Do you see anything?” 

He looked up. “I see men. They look like walking trees.” So Jesus laid hands on his eyes again. The man looked hard and realized that he had recovered perfect sight, saw everything in bright, twenty-twenty focus. Jesus sent him straight home, telling him, “Don’t enter the village.” ~ Mark 8: 22-26

It is difficult for me to know what to make of this passage at first hearing. It raises more questions than it answers. Why did Jesus spit on this man to heal him? He didn't heal other blind people that way? Why does it take Jesus laying hands on him twice for his vision to fully restore? Did Jesus not get the prayer right the first time? Why did Jesus take the man away from the people who brought him before he healed him and then command him to go straight home with out entering the village?

If you want answers to these questions, I don't have them.

The phrase that caught my attention when I was listening to this passage the other week was when the man says "I see men. They look like walking trees." I see people that way sometimes. I reduce people to far less than the sum of their parts. I acknowledge that everyone is made in and bears the Image of God, but I do not treat everyone that way. I see people without ever truly seeing them. I may acknowledge their existence, but I minimize them and do not look for God in them - especially if I disagree with them about something. I use our difference of opinion as an excuse to see them as somehow less than, usually with the flawed logic of 'I'm made in the image of God, they do not think like I do, therefore the image of God can't possibly be as strong in their life as mine. Therefore I can discount them'

I think all seeing is on a continuum. We move from blind to hazy to clear in every aspect of our lives. However we must be very careful in making the pronouncement 'I can see clearly now' about anything. I can think of many aspects of my life where I was convinced in my 20s that I saw clearly, but what I thought was clear then I see with a very different clarity now.....and of course, 10 - 20 years down the road I may shift again.

The best I can do is to try to live as true to how I feel God is calling me to live today as possible, and trust that Jesus is still working on my sight.

That grace that I extend to myself I should also extend to others. All of us are on journeys growing into who we are created to be. That person who I am discounting because I just see them as a walking tree, may be the very gift of God through whom God is extending transformation and healing to me, and I to them.

Trees grow from seed to shoot. Shoot to sapling. Sapling to mature.

All of us are walking around like trees. If we refuse to leave who we are we will never continue growing into who God has called us to be.

The last verse of Charles Wesley's classic hymn Love Divine says:

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

We are all made in the Image of God, and we are all transforming from glory into glory.

God, give us eyes to see.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bless Their Hearts by Richard Newman

Bless Their Hearts

At Steak 'n Shake I learned that if you add
"Bless their hearts" after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it's OK.
My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids'
toys—they're only one and three years old!
I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter's greeting
on our voice mail
. Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate's heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife's heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he'd bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

In the Hectic?

In the contemplative service today we explored themes based on the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.  Now as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
But the Lord answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things,but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

The challenge of when the gift of Hospitality conflicts with the gift of Attentiveness.

We discussed the need to carry the attentiveness of Mary into the business of Martha, so that the preparations we have to make do not become a distraction.

As part of the service we sang:

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
in the secret, in the quiet hour I wait,
Only for You
'Cause I want to know You more.

I wonder if the second stanza of the song (which we didn't use this morning) should be rewritten as the following:

In the hectic, in the noisy place
in the chaos You are there
In the hectic, in the noisy hour I wait
Only for You
'Cause I want to know You more.

When we have Martha activity in our lives it does not mean we stop our Mary attentiveness. Instead we learn to carry Mary's attentiveness out into our daily world.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Dear Blog,

I haven't abandoned you. I have a large creative writing project that I am trying to finish so it is ready for Advent. I will post on you again.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Too far, too fast, too soon

I've been losing weight. For over a year now I've been working out every morning at the gym. I never expected to be the kind of person who rises before the sun and goes to meet his personal trainer....and enjoy it!!!

But, as many of you know...I'm down 55lbs and 8 inches off my waist line. To keep me motivated I've set little goals for myself. The first was to win the gym weight loss competition, the next to get to 40lbs gone...then 50....for the fall I decided to sign up for a 5K. I haven't been doing much running but I've been doing a lot of other cardio, and during the race I signed up for you get pelted with powder paint at the end of each kilometer, fun!!!!

Because I had the stamina to make it through a Body Combat class and a Sh'bam class back to back I figured running wouldn't be to bad, and so on July 20th I jumped on the treadmill to give running a try. Here is what I wrote that day on facebook.

Last summer before I joined the gym, I tried doing the Couch Potato to 5K training program in an attempt to lose some weight. I had zero motivation and could never run more than 90 seconds without having to stop and walk again.

Today I did a test run on the treadmill to help me to decide whether to sign up for a 5K in November. I managed:

1 minute 4mph (fast walk)
4 minutes 5mph (run)
20 mi
nutes 6mph (run)
5 minutes 4mph (fast walk)

Holy cow! I never would have imagined I could run for 24 minutes without stopping. I am totally signing up and beginning to train for the 5K now!!!

Because I was able to run so far I started doing Couch Potato to 5k again....and started at week 4.

By the end of July I had shin splints, so I rested for 2 1/2 weeks.

The pain went away :)

I restarted...this time at Week 1, alternating walking/jogging very gently.

By the end of week 2 my legs were so excruciating I could barely make it up the stairs.

I tried neuromuscular massage, I tried kt tape (which involved shaving my legs!!!) and eventually I went to see a Specialist.

Xrays were taken confirming shin splints, but apparently you can get stress fractures in bones that do not appear on xrays...and so other scans were ordered.

And so last week, I willingly had radioactive material injected into my body and laid motionless under a special camera. Scans of my legs were taken and then my entire body was analyzed.

It was all rather fascinating really. Despite my asthma and my ability to catch almost every cold that is circulating I've actually had good health. I've never busted any bones and I have been hospitalized only once for nasal polyps when I was in High School.

Today I went to see the specialist to get my results. (Actually due to having intelligent friends on facebook I already knew the diagnosis, I just didn't know the treatment).

I have tibial stress fractures on both legs, the right leg being worse than the left. I also have shin splints in both legs and an arthritis stress reaction in my right knee.

Here is what the Doctor has ordered.

I'm not sure how long I have to wear this velcro clad torture device. My next appointment is in three weeks :(

The Apostle Paul wrote "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial" - 1 Corinthians 10:23

I've been drawn to this verse recently. I've written before about Christians and their lists of Rights and Wrongs but I have wondered what to replace those lists with.

I think Paul's statement here is a partial answer.

At first glance saying 'Everything is permissible' sounds like a license to do whatever I want, but action must be viewed through the lens of 'Is this beneficial?'

Running the distance that I did was certainly permissible, but it was not beneficial to my overall health. I wonder how different I would be if I stopped and asked the question 'Is this beneficial?' to every action I take?

Rather than look at Right and Wrong and listen to Christians debate what falls into each category I will attempt to use Paul's writing as a measure.

Does this action help me encounter God, Myself, other people?
Does this action help or harm me?
Does this action increase the amount of love I give and receive?
Is this beneficial?

Questions to ponder while I heal from something that was permissible but definitely not beneficial to my tibias!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Ballad of 2nd Clarinet

For those of you looking for the story I read in the Contemplative Service this morning, the original post can be found here 

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Having a good day?

Have I had a good day?

I'm not as interested in the answer to that question as in how I formulate my answer. What criteria do I use to judge whether a day is good or bad? How do I measure a day, what 'rulers' do I use. A few possible answers.

Have I had any meaningful conversations with anyone today?

Have I spent any time being creative?

Have I avoided negative emotions/experiences and maximized positive ones?

Did I feel connected with God today?

There are just some of my rulers, and unfortunately they are often in conflict with one another. I need time alone to be creative, but if I maximize that alone time then I avoid meaningful conversations with other people. The act of creativity can sometimes feel negative for me, some works of art have very painful births. If creativity leads me to encounter negative emotions I would rather avoid then not being creative makes it a good day. I've had times when my encounter with the Divine has left me feeling empty and convicted rather than full and peaceful.

I've used many different rulers over the years. In high school a good day was measured by what classes I had scheduled or whether I successfully avoided the school bullies. Some rulers have been discarded while others have become their exact opposites. A good day in high school used to be one where I didn't have to go to P.E. Now, a good day is one where I make it to the gym.

Every ruler that I use reduces the item being measured to less than its totality. A meal can be measured by Taste, Texture, Appearance, Aroma and Nutrition. For years I avoided bananas solely because of their texture, it was only this year when I finally peeled and consumed my first one, and now I eat at least one a day. For decades I missed the bananas' benefits because I only evaluated them on texture.

Every day we are bombarded with an over abundance of experiences and emotions. Measuring and categorizing helps us order them and prevents us from being overwhelmed. Measuring also minimizes and distances ourselves from our own lives, it is difficult to evaluate and experience at the same time.

Some of my bad days in retrospect are some of my best.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Mellow Meatballs

I came across this rather bland sounding dish in Nigella Lawson's cookbook Nigella Express. I've made it twice now, and it is quick and delicious.

Mellow Meatballs
Yield: 4-6 servings
3 tablespoons red curry paste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
40 organic mini meatballs (1 lb 5 oz in weight) *SEE NOTE BELOW
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 14-fl oz can coconut milk (I have used lite coconut milk with no noticeable loss in flavor)
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes
1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained
6 oz diced butternut squash  
6 oz diced sweet potato
2 cups chicken stock from bouillon cubes or concentrate or from a package
2 tablespoons honey
cooked rice, to serve
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Heat the curry paste and oil in a large wide pan, and when it starts sizzling add the meatballs, turning them in the red oily mixture.
  2. Sprinkle over the ginger and cinnamon and fry the meatballs for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the coconut milk, chopped tomatoes, and drained chickpeas. Stir in the diced squash and sweet potato and then the stock and honey.
  4. Bring the pan to a boil, and then simmer for 20 minutes. Serve with rice and then decorate each plate with some chopped cilantro


Maybe they exist in the U.K., but I've not found 'organic mini meatballs' at my local Kroger. I buy the precooked frozen Swedish meatballs from Kroger and just weigh them out. No need to defrost, I just add them frozen when the recipe says and I've had no problems.


Thursday, August 09, 2012

Waiting for my self to be washed up.

At the Contemplative service we've been in a season of reflection guided by the writings of Anthony De Mello. In one of his passages he writes:

I am made whole again
-my self is given back to me-
In solitude and silence.

The phrase 'my self is given back to me' really resonated with me. Some weeks it feels like I lose parts of myself. People, meetings, tasks, all can siphon of parts of me. I can lose myself under the weight of my 'To Do Lists'. I give of myself voluntarily to others, lending my strength and support where they seem to be lacking.

As I read those words I was sitting icing down some sore muscles, making sure I took care of them so I didn't over strain them. I became aware that I've gotten a lot better at taking care of myself physically, but my emotional, spiritual and psychological self care often lags behind.

My self is given back to me in solitude and silence....and in the word 'no'.

As I reflect back over the past week, I notice the events, tasks, people, choices I've made. All the things that have pulled at me, drained and emptied me.

Solomon wrote 'Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again'.

I'm very good at giving out the bread of my life but not so good in trusting that the water of God will bring it back to me.

Just for a few moments allow yourself to drift back over the past week. Where did you lose parts of yourself? What took you away?

Then sit in silent stillness in a posture of expectant waiting. Whenever your mind tries to distract you with thoughts or worries just repeat the phrase 'I receive myself'. Use it to calm your mind down and to allow you to be open to God pouring your life back into you.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Dr Pepper and Prayer

"Anyone who is thirsty should come to me and drink" - John 7:37

I love Dr Pepper. I'm also aware that consuming 150 calories per can is not good for me, especially in the days when I would drink at least 6 cans a day. Since I've begun working out I've also begun limiting my caloric intake. At first I quit Dr Pepper cold turkey and drank only cold water - at least 8 cups a day, and then a strange thing happened. Dr Pepper, maybe somehow sensing a disturbance in the force, introduced a new product.

I could not get used to the taste of diet Dr pepper, but this new product lacked the chemical burn after taste and so it became a staple in my diet and took up permanent residence in my fridge. I try and limit my intake, but some days it does creep on up there....and there is the problem. As my Dr Pepper intake increases my water intake decreases as I can only take in so much fluid.

Why is it a problem? Because Dr Pepper 10 does not quench thirst. No caffeinated beverage does. The caffeine acts to dehydrate your body. The cold drink satisfies my taste buds but actually exacerbates my thirst.

I know that water is the best thing for me, and that knowledge doesn't help me when I open the fridge and set the cold can just waiting. What I reach for to quench my thirst and what ultimately satisfies me are two different things.

I need to remember this in prayer. Often it feels like I am praying for Dr Pepper thinking that is what I need, and I totally miss the water God is offering. My thirst remains unsatisfied and I blame God instead of realizing that he is offering a far better solution than I can imagine.

What are you thirsty for?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Onion and Redcurrant Marmalade

I came across this marmalade in the U.K. and quickly sought out a recipe as it is very delicious with deli meats and cheeses. This recipe makes just under 4 cups worth and is so easy to do.

This recipe comes from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook and is absolutely scrumptious and keeps really well. I believe it works with white onions too.

100ml olive oil
2kg red onions, peeled and finely sliced
200g turbinado sugar
150g redcurrant jelly
300ml cider vinegar
50ml balsamic vinegar
1 rounded tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan.

Add the onions, reduce the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until the onions are collapsed and starting to colour.

Add the sugar and redcurrant jelly. Increase the heat and continue to cook, stirring more frequently, for about 30 minutes until the mixture turns a dark, nutty brown and most of the moisture has been driven off.

Take off the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes before adding the vinegars to avoid them evaporating.

Return to the heat and cook rapidly for another 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes gooey and a spoon drawn across the bottom of the pan leaves a clear track for a couple of seconds.

Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper and spoon into warm, sterilised jars.
Seal with vinegar proof lids.

Use within 12 months - though to be honest I could eat a jar of this at a single meal!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Getting a do-over with the benefit of hindsight.

I've been spending some time this week with a meditation written by Anthony de Mello in preparation for the Contemplative service this Sunday. What follows is de Mello's text interwoven with some of my own reflections. This meditation is a valuable exercise to see where it leads you. My reflections are just intended as examples. If you wish you use the meditation I would suggest reading de Mello (the text in italics) and skipping my commentary so that it does not influence where your mind takes you.

The Dispensation (from Wellsprings - a Book of Spiritual Exercises)

I imagine I am told I have six weeks more to live.
I see the circumstances vividly:
How old I am...
and where...
what I am dying of.

I go through the pain of saying goodbye to life
and to each of the things that I loved 
and hated.

     I do this through a dialogue
     in which these things 
     - and life -
     talk back to me.

Have I really 'hated' anything? Life has been good to me. It's such a strong word, maybe 'dislike' would be better. As I sat and began to make a list of likes and dislikes and allowed them to talk back to me I found myself becoming aware that even the things I dislike appreciate me. One example of this was I became aware of a dislike for judgmental closed minds - the person who is unwilling to swim in the depths, who embraces their shallowness as a shield of protection against doubt.

I spoke to that part of me that dislikes 'shallow' and then I was surprised as I allowed it to talk back to me.

I will miss the challenge you bring. I was solid stone and you were water. As you passed me by you could not see any alteration, but over the years almost imperceptibly you softened and shaped me. Thank you.

I also spoke to my desires - the good ones and the bad and listened as they reflected back.

You embraced me and rejected me, delighted and cursed. I was both the fuel to your fire and the extinguisher. You never really learned why I was in your life. So much potential that was never quite realized. You are capable of so much and settle for so little....and yet our fun times were incredible and out low times paralyzingly depressing. I was the energy that helped you move and the chains that held you captive.

I notice the reactions of people to the news
that I am going to die.
I think what each of them is going to lose
in losing me.

I can't go there right now. I don't want to think of how my death will impact others. I have been lucky to have been loved deeply. I know people will grieve....what will they have lost? I bring a unique voice to the world around me.

After death I stand before the Lord.
I talk to him about my life:
the things that pleased me most
and the things I most regret.

I regret not living with greater passion. Of drinking life so deeply I am intoxicated with every breath. I want grander failures and greater successes. I want to shine brighter. I want to be me, but with an even more exciting screen play.

Now I hear God say
that he plans to send me back to life.
He leaves me free to choose
the form of my reincarnation.

What country do I choose?

What sex?

What kind of person would I want to be?
I choose my temperament
and talents,
my virtues and defects,
the experiences I want to have in my new life.

What social stratum do I wish to be born in
-rich, middle class, poor?

What kind of parents do I choose?
I select the qualities and defects
I wish each of them to have.
I imagine that I say this to my present parents
and see how they react.

What kind of childhood would I want to have?
How many siblings?

What kind of education?

What do I choose for my life's work?

After all my reflection I realize I want to be the same person. I am content with who I am - with all my goldenness and shadows. This surprises me. If I'd asked myself the same question 10 or more years ago I think I would have had quite a different answer. So much of who I am I blamed on others, change the 'others' and I would be a better person. Now I see that life doesn't work that way. By God's grace I am what I am - good and bad. I think of some of the paths that my life has taken that were very difficult but lead to some incredible places. I cannot judge the Destination by the difficulty of the road. It takes viewing who we are from a different perspective to appreciate who we are.

I listen now as God explains why he chose for me
the life I have at present
in each of its details.

I wrote pages of what God said to me as he explains why my life is what it is....all of it to personal to include on this blog!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Revealer of Beauty

I am a treasure.
Beautiful, even where tarnished.
A multifaceted jewel refracting the light of God. 
Uniquely setting the world ablaze.

You are a treasure.
Beautiful, even where tarnished.
A multifaceted jewel refracting the light of God.
Uniquely setting the world ablaze.

Certain people call forth our beauty.
Reveal and polish our faces.
Dig up our treasure where all we could see was dirt.
Without their revealing we are diminished.

The Lawyer, the Valet, the Busboy, the Doctor.
All beautiful.
And at every encounter I have three choices.
To not see their beauty because I do not see them, only their function.
To tarnish them with words, attitudes and judgments.
To leave them more beautiful than when I arrived.

I am a tarnished treasure
I am a revealer of beauty.
We all are.

Together we can polish the world. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Peter, Paul and Julie and Julia!

I first read the book Julie and Julia long before the movie appeared. I remember lying on a hotel bed in Seattle giggling over the chapter about euthanizing lobsters. I became interested in the Boeuf Bourguignon at the time but forgot about it until the movie came out. After watching the movie I printed out the recipe and decided that I would make it, but lost the printout when I moved house and the idea slipped into oblivion until a few weeks ago.

Knowing that some of the best cooking experiences are shared I called my culinary pal Paul and asked him to cook along with me.

Remove rind, and cut bacon into lardons. Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry. Preheat oven to 450 degrees

First problem, locating a 6 oz chunk of bacon for making lardons. Paul and I went to Revival Market in town and told them what we were doing and they presented us with a vacuum packed packet of lardons. There was slightly more than the recipe called for, but everything is better with extra bacon right? Second problem. The rind was all cut together in the lardons and would have taken forever for us to trim each piece. Never mind, into the pot it went to simmer....we weren't sure why we were simmering (and Julie Powell thinks this step is superfluous) but into the water it went, and quickly the kitchen smelled yummy.

Saute the bacon in the oil over a moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you saute the beef.

Third problem. We didn't notice that although you simmer the bacon lardons and the rind, when it comes time to saute it you only saute the bacon and not the rind. Ours was still attached. Oh well on we go.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Saute it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

Behold the beef!

3lbs of either rump pot roast, chunk pot roast, top round or bottom round. Again, not cuts that were easily available. We talked with the helpful butcher at Revival market and he gave us a wonderful slab of prime cow.

I carefully took a ruler to make sure that the cubes were 2-inch cubes as specified by Julia in the recipe. They looked huge! This was far larger than most cubes of meat that you would put in a casserole. Never mind we thought we will get on YouTube and check the video of Julia Child teaching the dish to confirm.

Fourth Problem. There are many videos of people making Julia Child's recipe on YouTube, but none of them were Julia so we were unable to check with the source. After some frantic Internet searching we eventually located a clip of her that was hosted on a Russian Internet site...I'm kind of afraid what viruses my computer may have picked up, but we were determined to cook like Julia and not even the Cyrillic language would deter us!

Browning cubes of beef that large took forever but when mixed together with the bacon the aroma was wonderful and the dish was beginning to take shape.

While I tried to avoid splattering myself with hot bacon fat and oil. Paul masterfully wielded a knife over the vegetables. Only 1 onion and 1 carrot go in the pot. An amount that seemed remarkably small.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sauteing fat. 

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bullion so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

Fifth Problem. Julia's recipe may have been revolutionary at the time for its level of detail, but by today's standards it is frustratingly vague. It was difficult to tell at what point the vegetables were added to the beef and bacon. Should this be before the addition of the flour and the 4 minute bake or afterwards. As the only pot Julia mentions in her instructions is the fireproof casserole we assumed before, but it was at this stage we panicked because the recipe said add the rind, and of course it had been in there all along. Ooops!

Sixth Problem. Well this time more of a curious puzzlement. The casserole is covered in the oven, and yet Julia instructs us to regulate the heat so the liquid simmers very slowly. Not the easiest of tasks. We debated about putting an oven thermometer into the fluid but that would have left the pot slightly uncovered causing more fluid to evaporate, plus we weren't very sure what the correct temperature for simmering a fluid of wine and broth was. We settled for checking it about every 30 minutes.

At this stage in the recipe you would think that you could put up your feet and finish the rest of the bottle of wine you have just opened, but no! Julia Child has us use our time by preparing Champignons Sautes Au Beurre and Oignons Glaces A Brun so that when the casserole has finished you can mix it all together.

Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their saute the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat. 

Toss the shallots or green onions with the mushrooms. Saute over moderate heat for 2 minutes. 

Seventh Problem. Hang on a second Julia. Do I finish sauteing the mushrooms first or do I add the shallots 2 minutes before they are ready? Solution. Get Paul to deal with the mushrooms while I work on the pearl onions...oh and if I remember it correctly I think we omitted the shallot as the recipe said it was optional :)

Julia calls for 18-24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter. Determined to be as authentic as possible we scorned the prospect of frozen peeled pearl onions and purchased fresh. Bad idea. They took forever to peel!

When butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as easily as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.

Having delegated the mushrooms to Paul, I figured I had better tackle the onions. The process was actually fairly simple though they were harder than imagined to get browned on all sides.

Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet.  

Oh yes, we also made the bouquet garni ourselves. Our dedication to this recipe is getting ludicrous.

Eighth Problem - Well less of a problem, more like a mistake due to fatigue. Julia's recipe here calls for 1/2 cup of brown stock, or red wine. We had some of both left so we figured we would add both, but instead of adding 1/4 cup of each we inadvertently added 1/2 cup of each, doubling the amount of fluid! When we realized what we had done we just removed the cover from the onions early and prayed that the extra fluid would simmer off.

And now...back to the oven.

Two and a half hours had definitely reduced the amount of fluid in the casserole and the smell was incredible. If I had written the recipe I would have just stirred the onions and the mushrooms into the casserole and served it....Julia gets a little finicky here in my opinion, but, we were determined to do whatever she said.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off sauce.

Ninth Problem. I never realized how many problems can be caused by 4 little words. You'll notice that after much debate we had already deviated by using a colander instead of a sieve. I didn't have a sieve large enough to tackle the contents of the pot. We thought about lining the colander with muslin, but fatigue was getting to us so we just dumped and strained. That left us with a pan of yummy sauce that I was supposed to skim the fat off. Not the easiest trick. Now would have been a great time to pull out a fancy gravy separator, but I didn't own one. I tried scooping with a spoon. I thought of sucking up fat with a turkey baster but in the end we decided fat equaled flavor and we would just have to deal with it.

Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few vegetables of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

That sauce, even with the globules of fat glistening in the light of the camera flash tasted incredible.

All the recipe needed was to be plated with some boiled potatoes.

Tenth Problem. Even though we had picked up some potatoes at the store we realized when we were unpacking that we never purchased any. We had a brief window of time while the onions and mushrooms were cooked and before the stew was due out of the oven to run to the local ghetto H.E.B. to pick some up. Their potatoes were not particularly wonderful, but I didn't care by this time.

We quickly brought them home, boiled them and then drenched them with melted butter.

It tasted incredible and was very rich. Would I make it again? Probably not as their must be easier ways to make what is really just a fancy beef stew. As a matter of curiosity I looked at the Cook's Illustrated version of Boeuf Bourguignon and it was so complex it made Julia's look like the recipe for a ham sandwich.

Cooking your way through the two Cook's Illustrated Cookbooks? Now there would be a challenge!!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Experiences and Formulas

Three brothers who lived alone in an isolated valley, heard a tale from a wandering hermit about a cave where you could sit and talk with God.

The oldest brother made the journey first. On the way he encountered a large tree limb blocking the path. He was unsure how to proceed but eventually he managed to pull the limb to one side and journey on. 

A week later when he returned he spoke to his brothers about the wonder of being in God's presence.

The middle brother decided that he would make the journey to the cave so he asked his older brother for advice. "If you reach an obstacle in the road know that God will give you the strength to move it to one side" he was told.

As the middle brother hiked to the cave he discovered the path was blocked by a fallen tree. He remembered what his brother had said and he grabbed the tree and pulled. He prayed loudly 'God, give me the strength to move this obstacle!'.
Nothing happened.

He began to fear that his faith was useless as the tree trunk would not move. He sank into despair and and leaned back against the trunk and sobbed. When he finished crying he noticed that the limbs of the tree had broken during the fall, and the remnants stuck out from the trunk like a ladder. He was able to climb over the trunk and continue his journey to the cave.

A week later he returned and spoke to his bothers about the wonder of being in God's presence.

The younger brother decided he would make the journey to the cave so he asked his middle brother for advice.
"If you reach an obstacle in the road know that God will give you the strength to climb over it" he was told.

As the younger brother hiked to the cave he discovered the path was blocked by a sleeping mountain lion. Remembering what his middle brother had said he carefully began to clamber over the lion. The lion awoke with a snarl and tried to bite the brother. Fortunately he was able to grab a low tree limb and pull himself to safety. Eventually the lion gave up trying to reach him and wandered away and he was able to continue his journey to the cave.

About a year later the hermit wandered back through the valley and came across the three brothers. He asked them to tell of the journeys.

The oldest brother spoke of the tree limb.

The middle brother spoke of the log.

The youngest brother spoke of the mountain lion.

The hermit looked at the three brothers and said "Oh my sons, you will encounter many obstacles in your journey towards God. Always remember that everyone's journey is different. Their obstacles may not be your obstacles, and their solutions, are not your solutions."

The spiritual life can be overwhelming and confusing. I go through seasons where God is closer than my next breath, and other times where I feel like an Atheist in all but name. I find it helpful to read other people's journeys, but there is a danger. Like the brothers in the story I think I can turn other's experiences into formulas to help me past my own spiritual roadblocks. If it worked for them, then it will work for me.

I would even argue that some Christian Bestsellers and sermons derive from this premise.

This can be dangerous.

As the Psalmist laments the destruction of Jerusalem in Psalm 137 he cries out 'Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks'. I do not know if the psalmist is expressing an experience or giving voice to a desire, but this is not a formula for spiritual blessing.

Jabez prays in 1 Chronicles 4:10 'Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.' I'm glad I was not Jabez' next door neighbor as that would mean my territory was diminished. Just because God answered Jabez' prayer does not mean God will answer you in the same way if you use the same words.

I believe there are common experiences in our spiritual journeys, but there is not a one size fits all mentality to spiritual development. We all grow uniquely because we all are unique. God relates to everyone of us as individuals.

I berated myself for years before I understood this. I heard many talks on how a morning Quiet Time was vital to spiritual health. I've never been able to focus on God early in the morning, and reading the bible and prayer after just waking up usually sent me back to sleep....but I tried. I tried because this was the formula for spiritual growth and that was something I longed for.

God works beyond our formulas and preconceptions.
Despite our incomplete theologies and limited understandings.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Waiting in Caves

Elijah had been having a rough time.

He appears on the scene telling Israel that there is going to be a serious drought in the land, not a message that will endear you to the populous. He camps out by a river and the full range of dietary needs is limited to what ravens can carry. Not exactly the most sanitary of waitstaff. He lives with a widow for a while where they have an abundant supply of oil and flour, the same meal every day.

He gets to confront the King and they have a mountain top throw down that ends with fire falling from Heaven and a massacre of 450 prophets.

He outruns a chariot (and a heavy wind and rain storm) over a distance of approximately 25 miles - no easy feat, especially on his diet with limited nutrition and then receives news that the Queen has issued a death warrant for him so he goes camp out back in the wilderness again. He feels depressed and wishes to die.

An angel shows up and gives him some cake (see Angel food cake is biblical!) and some water and then the angel commands him to walk 40 days across the wilderness and climb a mountain all on the strength of that meal!

Finally, sitting in a cave on Mount Horeb he is told to 'Stand on the Mountain for the Lord is about to pass by.'

First comes a mighty wind so strong that it splits mountains and breaks rocks. Elijah had outrun a rain and windstorm sent by God, but this time time is not present in the storm.

Next comes a mighty earthquake. Elijah is standing on the mountain where Moses received the 10 commandments. When that event happened there was thunder, lightening, earthquake and fire. But this time God is not present in the earthquake.

Next comes a burst of fire. Elijah had seen fire fall from heaven as a sign of God's power, but this time God is not present in the fire.

Elijah has been waiting, and all the ways that God normally 'shows up' have happened, but God was not in any of them.

Finally silence descends, and in a way that Elijah does not expect, God speaks into the waiting place.

To wait without expectation of how God will answer can be the hardest waiting of all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Playing Dice with God

God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of his own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time. ~ From Good Omens by Terry Pratchett

I've been thinking about prayer a lot recently. A small group I am in was reflecting on the story of the Persistent Widow.  A Widow requires justice about a matter with a third party, but the judge in the case appears reluctant to respond to her. Eventually she wears the judge down with her continual pestering and so he grants her request. Jesus tells the parable so that the disciples would learn to always pray and not give up. (verse 1).

I can remember in my early twenties being drawn to this parable. I was praying for something to happen and my prayer times turned into me pestering and bullying God at nearly every opportunity. I remember the praying,  but I cannot remember what it was I was praying for. All I have as a reminder is a curious hand scrawled note at the bottom of the page that says 'What she wanted was right in the eyes of God/the Judge.'

Prayer is complicated. At times I beg, plead and cajole. I sound more like a petulant child than a faithful follower, and sometimes it feels like I am rolling dice.

Imagine that for God to answer a prayer you have to roll pips totaling 11 with a handful of dice.

With a single traditional 6 sided die it is of course impossible.

That's what prayer felt like some of the time to me. I'm throwing the die but the heavens were silent. Consequently I started studying writings on prayer, and learning new techniques. Suddenly it felt like I had added another die into my throws.

With two 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 5.56%

 It happens often enough to keep me rolling, but rarely enough that it isn't a foregone conclusion. So I upped my game even more. I can remember attending Concerts of Prayer and All Night Prayer Vigils. Another die added.

With three 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 12.5%

Pray longer. Pray harder. Pray in the Spirit. Pray in Tongues. Pray with Liturgy. Pray with meditation. Pray in groans that words cannot express (I once heard of a church offering a workshop on how to 'Groan in the Spirit'!!!)

You would think that as you add more dice the odds get better and better, but that is not the case.

With four 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 8.02%
With five 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 2.64%
With six 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 0.54%

No matter how much time I spent in Prayer and Worship, in Missions and Service. I could not influence prayer in my favor. Long nights of prayer over tear stained pillows couldn't produce results. It made me very fatalistic. God has determined what God will do, and praying won't change it.

Then I read bible passages like Genesis 18:20-32 where Abraham bargains with God over whether Sodom should be destroyed or Exodus 32: 7-14 where Moses persuades God not to destroy the Israelites over the Golden Calf incident.These passages make me hopeful, and frustrated. I can't comprehend being in a conversation with God let alone having the temerity to argue...and win.

(We could of course get into a lengthy discussion here on Free Will and Calvinism etc...but let's not)

The word 'Prayer' comes from the Latin word 'Precari' which means to beg. The Hebrew word l'hitpallel which we translate as prayer has quite a different meaning however. The word pallel means to judge, clarify, differentiate or decide. The word is in the Reflexive Tense which means the subject acts upon his/herself.

Prayer in this mindset is a reflective mindset. It opens me up to examine my attitudes and assumptions. To reflect on the prayers I offer to God and to seek out what is behind them. Why am I praying for the outcomes that I am? To hold the answers that I expect to see from God loosely.

To not be so caught up in wanting to roll an 11 that I fail to see that a roll of 7 is better for me....

...or better yet, to put away the dice completely and enjoy God's presence without the need to play games.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce

So good!
(from Cook's Illustrated)

2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil (divided)
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 lbs vine ripened tomatoes (about 8 medium)
6 medium garlic cloves (peeled)
1 medium onion (peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons sugar (as needed)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil.
Salt and pepper

A rimmed baking sheet
A rack that fits in the baking sheet
Food processor

1) Cut the tomatoes pole to pole, and using a spoon removed the core and the seeds.

2) Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 475F

3) In a large bowl combine the tomato paste, 1 tablespoon of the oil, thyme, red pepper flakes, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

4) Toss the tomatoes, garlic and onion into the paste mixture until everything is well coated.

5) Line the baking sheet with foil and then place the rack on top of it. Place a 4" square of foil in the middle of the rack and put the onions and garlic on it. Place the tomatoes, cut side down around the outside.

6) Place in the oven and roast until the vegetables are soft and the tomatoes are well charred, 45 to 55 minutes (Mine were actually done after 35 minutes - so watch carefully)

7) Put the garlic and onion into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

8) Add the tomatoes, vinegar and remaining tablespoon of oil. Pulse until broken down but still slightly lumpy. 

9) Scrape down the bowl and season with salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

10) Stir in the basil.

The recipe makes enough sauce for 1lb of penne or ziti pasta.

It tastes great as it is. I have also made the sauce in advance and added to it some bell peppers and chicken that I have sauteed. Mushrooms would be great too (there again I add mushrooms to almost everything!)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Morris Dancing and May Dances

My brother is a Morris Dancer. This is a great introduction to the Morris tradition.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What's in a name? (Part 2)

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 

John 20: 11-16

(For further reflections on this passage click here)

When was the last time you introduced yourself to someone? I find how I introduce myself varies according to where I am. The first thing I say is my name and then often I answer the question of 'What do you do for a living?' and that's where it gets a little complex. Sometimes I'm a Worship Leader (or if I want to confuse people a Contemplative Worship Leader). Other times I'm a Spiritual Director, a Musician, a Gamer, or even a Composer. The choice is determined by some judgments I make about how I think the other person will react. The common thread to all these titles is that they are all expressions of functions I perform, they describe some of what I do.

There are other words I use to describe myself. Some I have embraced, and others that I have allowed to get written as graffiti across my heart. Some of them have been carved so deeply in place that I rarely question their validity. I'm not going to list them because I don't want people telling me how they are wrong (or even worse how they are right!).

Mary Magdalene was definitely someone with a past. A lot of labels have been placed on her through the centuries. All we really know for certain is that Jesus cast 7 demons out of her. Pope Gregory in 591 C.E. first suggested she was a prostitute, a claim that has been restated in many movies and books, but we cannot say that with any certainty.

I love that Jesus simply calls her by name. She is not what she does. She is not what others have called her. She is not what she fears she might be. She is Mary. Everything else is secondary.

I've imagined that God says some pretty harsh things about me over the years. Most of which I've come to see are more about other people's efforts to control, vilify, or avoid their own fears than anything within me. God's love does not graffiti our hearts with hate.

Jesus simply calls each of us by name. Not by title, label or fear. Not by action or regret. Not by addiction or achievement. If we allow ourselves to hear his call and have the audacity to receive his love then, slowly, the graffiti will be washed away.

Listen to God call your name.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's in a name?

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. ~ John 20:11-18

Mary arrives at the tomb emotionally and physically exhausted. She has arrived expecting to see the dead body of someone she loves, instead she is convinced that someone has stolen his corpse. Even with Jesus standing in front of her she is not open to his presence because it does not fit with what she is looking for.

When God does something totally out of the box (out of the tomb?) I'm good at missing it too. There He is standing in front of me, but because he doesn't like like I imagine him too, I ignore him. I have my own set of filters for how God behaves. When God does something that doesn't fit within my 'spiritually approved prejudices' I am quick to discount it.
It takes Jesus speaking her name before Mary realizes who is talking to her.

I find her response of 'Rabboni' interesting. How we address people is indicative of how we perceive our relationship to them. I'm curious why Mary's instant response is to turn and shout Teacher, why did she not say Jesus?

There are many possible words that I use to address Jesus. Savior, Friend, Brother, Lord, Healer, Teacher, Lover, Creator. Some labels I use more than others. When I read this passage this morning the word that came to mind was Judge.

I don't like that.

In the back of my mind I apparently still imagine Jesus watching and judging every action and thought. It's a great way to feel guilty all the time. Somehow in my youth I falsely learned that a good christian should feel permanently guilty. I've done a lot of dismantling of that false teaching over the years, but having the word Judge come unbidden to my mind while I meditated on this passage today shows that I still have work to do.

What unexpected people have called you by name this week? 

How is Jesus in that person and encounter?
What words and names do you use to address Jesus? 

What do they reveal about your relationship? 

Monday, April 09, 2012

No-Bake Energy Bites

Great for road trips or energy on a hike!

No-Bake Energy Bites 
Originally posted at

  • 1 cup (dry) oatmeal (I used old-fashioned oats)
  • 1 cup toasted coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour. Once chilled, roll into balls of whatever size you would like. I use a 2 tablespoon measure. Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Makes about 17 balls (if using a 2 tablespoon measure)

One ball: 162 Calories, 17g Carbs, 10g Fat, 4g protein

Substitution ideas can abound for just about any of these ingredients! Feel free to substitute in your favorite nut butter (almond butter, sunflower seed butter, etc.) for the peanut butter. And you could also add in some wheat germ in place of some or all of the flaxseed. I would caution, though, against substituting agave nectar for the honey, as the honey’s thickness helps hold things together.
Some other fun substitutions for the chocolate chips (or an addition to them) could include:
  • chopped dried fruit (apricots, dates, raisins, etc.)
  • dried berries (cranberries, cherries, etc.)
  • chopped almonds, pecans, or sunflower seeds
  • other chips (butterscotch, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, etc.)
The joy of these bites being “no bakes” is that this recipe is super flexible. If you end up needing to omit one of the dry ingredients (such as coconut or flax), just add in some extra of whatever other dry ingredient is remaining (for example, the oats). If you feel like your energy bites are too dry, just add in extra honey or peanut butter.