Sunday, December 29, 2013

Craving Sausage Rolls!

There are three foods I associate with Christmas. Christmas Pudding, Mince Pies, and Sausage Rolls. Of these sausage rolls are not solely Christmas food as they are available all year. However they take on a special place on the Christmas buffet. A Sausage Roll hot out of the oven is glorious, and, if you add a dab of mustard it moves to the transcendent.

For all their apparent simplicity - they are merely sausage meat wrapped in pastry, a decent sausage roll in the U.S. has eluded me. It's not the pastry that is the problem, but the sausage meat. American sausage meat has different seasonings and a different Meat to Fat ratio. American sausage meat is delicious, but it is not the taste I am looking for in a sausage roll.

I had resigned myself to a Sausage Roll free existence, and most of the time I have been o.k. with that, but for some reason this Christmas has filled me with nostalgia and homesickness more than usual.

I made the Christmas Pudding and the Mince Pies, but I was unsure how to get Sausage Rolls. Now I can purchase them in town but they are expensive and not always available. A 4 pack of Sausage rolls costs $10. Also, due to import regulations they are actually made in Florida. The taste is similar, but not quite right.

This year I was determined to find another way. I knew the sausage meat would be the issue, and making it would be compounded by the fact that I don't own a meat grinder, but I was determined, and so, after much research I am proud to present to you my Sausage Roll Recipe!!!

Sausage Rolls (makes approximately 24)
2lbs Boneless Pork Shoulder Butt Country Style Ribs
1 box Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets - defrosted overnight.
2 3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground sage
1/8 tsp ground mace or fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp white (or black) pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko)
1/3 cup cold water.

(every butcher in the U.K. has his own seasoned sausage meat that he swears is the best, so feel free to vary the seasoning. Next time I make them I will probably increase the amount of sage. I may also mince some onion and saute it until soft and then add it to the sausage meat)

Cube the Pork into 1 to 2 inch cubes. If you see any larger tough sections of fat do not discard them, but cut them smaller.
Toss the meat in the salt, ginger, sage, nutmeg and pepper.
Place them on a baking sheet covered with foil so they do not touch and put the tray into the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

This partial freezing is the key to grinding the meat in a food processor. After 20 minutes place 1/5 of the meat into the food processor and pulse till finally ground. Transfer to a bowl and repeat 4 times.

The sausage meat needs to be ground enough so it is resembles a coarse mince. To much time in the processor will cause the meat to go slimy and gummy.

As you add the meat to the bowl of the food mixer be on the lookout for any extra large lumps. You can blitz them by themselves in the food processor to make sure they are ground well. Nobody likes lumps in their sausage. For some reason in my family a lump in a sausage was called an Elephant. I have absolutely no idea why!

Once it has all been processed transfer the meat into the bowl of a food mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the bread crumbs and the water and mix for about a minute.

(At this stage you can store the meat in the fridge for a couple of days.)

Take one of the packets of puff pastry and roll it out on a floured board until it is the size of a tea towel. Cut the pastry into 2 long rectangles and put 1/4 of the sausage meat down the middle of each rectangle.

Using egg wash or milk, brush one side of the rectangle and roll up lengthwise. I cut each long roll into 6 equal parts, but of course the size is really up to you.

Take the other packet of puff pastry and repeat with the rest of the sausage meat. Place the sausage rolls on a baking sheet - either well greased, or covered with parchment or silpat, and brush with egg wash or milk.

Bake in a 350F oven for approximately 25-30 mins. Rotating the trays top to bottom and front to back half way through. Do not make the sausage rolls to thick or the meat may not cook thoroughly. Check with a meat thermometer if you have any doubts. The sausage meat will still look slightly pink in the middle.

When they are a delicious brown, remove from the oven and carefully transfer to a wire rack.

These can be eaten hot or cold. Refrigerate any leftover rolls...though I doubt they will stick around that long.

Friday, December 27, 2013

On the first day of Christmas.........

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

I spent much of Advent anxiously tracking parcels via UPS and Fed Ex. The temptation to pay a little extra to get the goods faster is always stronger around the holidays. I can continue to be last minute in my planning if I can pay more to compensate for my lack of forethought. None of us like to wait, I routinely check the traffic on my phone before heading out to look for the quickest route. If the wait at the restaurant is over 20 minutes chances are I will leave and eat elsewhere. I want what I want when I want it. If Amazon ever manages to successfully do delivery by flying robot drones I predict a number of people who will pay for their packages to arrive within 30 minutes.

I had some friends who took a very different approach with how their children opened their Christmas gifts this year. Instead of a frenzy of wrapping paper before breakfast they took a more measured approach. They had a clock that played music on the hour. Every hour when the music sounded each child was allowed to open one gift. They then played with that gift for the hour before opening another one. It made the unwrapping last all day, and it also helped the child to appreciate each individual gift and the giver. It made Christmas more thoughtful, more contemplative. It reminded me of the way some Jews celebrate Hanukkah - each night for 8 nights they would light the Hanukkah lights and exchange gifts.

The Liturgical calendar is set up to make us wait. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve night. I must confess I was a bit of an Advent snob this year. I found myself saying on many occasions 'we can't sing that song yet, that is a Christmas song and we are still in Advent'.

There is a desire in all of us to rush to the celebration of Christmas without the waiting of Advent. We sing -

Yea, Lord we greet thee,
 born this happy morning,
Jesus to thee be all glory given.
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing.

on the second Sunday of Advent without caring about the disconnect to the Liturgical calendar. We want Christmas and we want it now.......and then we blink and it is over in a flurry of songs and wrapping paper. We are finished with Christmas and focused on New Years.

But Christmas isn't finished with us.

In the liturgical year the celebration of Christmas is not limited to one day. Christmas continues to Epiphany, Monday January 6th...the 12th day after Christmas and in some traditions continues until the first Sunday after Epiphany which is January 12th next year.

I imagine if we celebrated Christmas according to the Liturgical calendar all the way to the Sunday after Epiphany we would a) be content to not sing Christmas songs so early and b) be exhausted!

If we slowed Christmas down, opened our gifts more mindfully, spent time saying thank you, really enjoyed each gift we were given instead of rushing to the next, maybe Christmas would become a transformative experience instead of just a few days over indulgence.

In many Christmas sermons I heard in my youth, the preacher would rush Jesus from the manger to the Cross. 33 years covered in the breath of one sentence. Instead maybe we should let Jesus rest in the manger of our hearts a little longer, let him grow in strength and stature, let him speak to us, challenge us, love us, comfort us, heal us.

The Civil Rights Preacher Howard Thurman said:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky has withdrawn,
When the kings see their prophesy rightly fulfilled,
When the princes and shepherds have gone;
Then the true work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken hearts,
To feed the hungry,
To free the prisoner
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all brothers,
To make music in the heart.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
Then the true work of Christmas begins.

Think back over the past few days. Over the joys of gifts given and received, over those small moments of great delight, of generosity and abundance.  Offer them with thanksgiving back to God, and ask him to show you how you can say along with Ebenezer Scrooge 'I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.'

Monday, December 23, 2013

God, Chess, Candyland and Scrabble

In a meeting last week I was asked the question 'What is a sign of hope for you?'. Most people thought of images from the natural world. I thought of my wall of board games.

All board games fall on a spectrum. At one end are games like Chess and Go that have no luck element at all. You win by entirely by your own efforts, by your own grasp of strategy. If you lose (or when in my case) you have nobody to blame but yourself.

At the other end of the spectrum are games like Chutes and Ladders, Candyland or LCR. You are entirely at the mercy of the dice or the cards, at no point in the game do you ever make any decision. I tend to view this style of a game less as a game and more as a fun social activity.

I prefer games that fall somewhere towards the middle of the spectrum. Games such as Backgammon or Risk both have an element of chance, but it is the combination of luck together with the meaningful choices that you have to make to capitalize on your good fortune or mitigate your bad that appeals to me.

Why does this feel like a sign of hope? It is because when playing a game that is in the middle of the spectrum I know that even if I fall behind there is always the hope that good fortune will turn my way and I have a chance of victory. Last place never feels hopeless.

My relationship with God seems to fall on a very similar spectrum. There are times when it feels all on my shoulders. Life is like a game of Chess and it is all about the decisions I make. I am the master of my fate I am the captain of my soul.

This makes me very prone to ego.

At other times I feel that nothing I do matters. Like a game of Chutes and Ladders I am entirely at the mercy of the universe with God as Puppeteer manipulating my life for his own designs.

This makes me very prone to fatalism and depression.

I like to live in the middle ground between these two extremes. I try and do the best I can with what I have and I trust that God will somehow meet me in the gap and make what I offer so much more than just what I can do alone.

This makes me very prone to hopefulness....and why I find God in my collection of board games.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I've Got Rhythm

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)
Since my earliest days of music lessons I've thought a lot about rhythm. As a musician I"m taught to listen and match rhythm and tempo with other people. Playing violin in an orchestra meant that a good sense of beat and awareness of everyone around was vital. There is a certain level of embarrassment that comes from singing or playing in a group and unintentionally giving yourself a solo because you came in early, played to long, or were slightly slower than everyone else.

When I got to university I started messing around with cross rhythms, multiple time signatures and multiple simultaneous beats.....some people experimented with drugs, I experimented with Minimalism. Imagine counting 1,2,3, 1,2,3 and clapping on every 1 while someone else counts 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 and claps on 1 simultaneously to get a rough idea of what I"m talking about.

Life seems to move in rhythmic patterns. There is a pulse, a beat to different seasons of the year. It feels like the tempo of life is speeding up at the moment, making us move faster and faster until Christmas gets here. Along with the faster pace also comes an expectation of cheerfulness.

You'd better not pout, you'd better not cry, 
You'd better not shout I'm telling you why. 
Santa Claus is coming to town.

When I was 14 my grandmother passed away just before Christmas. While the rest of the world moved onward with lights, decorations and parties, my parents planned a funeral.

Good christian friends rejoice!
With heart and soul and voice.

While my friends joyfully wrapped presents, I was faced with the present I had purchased and wrapped for my Grandmother...and I didn't know what to do with it.

Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ the newborn king!

That was the last thing I wanted to do.

When the rhythm of my life feels out of step with everyone else around me it adds to my discomfort. The Christmas my Grandmother passed away my parents tried to make Christmas happen 'as usual'. It felt hollow and disingenuous, lake a game of let's pretend that lasted over the holiday season.

I've learned over the years to honor my internal sense of rhythm. Most years I cook a large full English Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings for friends. This year I've chosen not too. I can't point to a particular event that has prompted this change, I'm just aware that my internal rhythm is dictating something different.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I love the way the Message translation says it:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. There is a rhythm that comes from God that is unique to each one of us...because each one of us is unique. Sometimes my rhythm will match the tempo of the world around, and sometimes it won't.

There are rhythms that come naturally to us and others that make us feel like we are always a beat behind.
There are rhythms that fit naturally with the world around and others that feel misplaced.

There are burdens that get placed upon us and others that we choose to carry.
There are burdens we are afraid to pick up and others that we afraid to release.

Into the midst of all this weight and noise Jesus offers us rest. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Whatever is going on in your life right now is o.k.

Joyful celebration.
Quiet mourning.
Crowded parties.

The strong rhythm of Ravel's Bolero is beautiful....and so is the random sound of a wind chime.

Where ever you are right now, Jesus offers you his rest. He offers the unforced rhythms of grace and invites you to dance.

What is the rhythm of your life right now?
Does it compliment or conflict with the rhythm of your external world?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

If Church Signs Were Honest...

This meme has been going on for about 24 hours on twitter and has made me chuckle (and wince) so I thought I would post some of them here.

Welcome All. But if you are feeling depressed, come back when you are in a better mood.

Welcome to our worship. You hear us talk a lot about God here while we are really all obsessing about Doctor Who.

Come as you are! ......So you can hear sermons about how who you are is EVIL!

We aren't perfect and have doubts, but we expect you to be perfect and never question.

All Welcome - some restrictions apply; you know who you are.

Quaker Meeting. Refrain from talking about Jesus except as a metaphor or non-violent spiritual leader like MLK

Welcome! Service begins at 11:00. We take the offering at 11:40. Be prepared to be generous as we entertain you.

Welcome! Suck it up introverts!

All Welcome! It's an old historic church. We are not mandated or interested in making it handicap accessible.

Within these walls you will be expected to believe without question whatever you're told

You are welcome! Your sincere, thoughtful, complicated, and probing questions are not.

Open and Affirming Congregation. Just don't be too weird or political.

God's love welcomes all! But we are more picky.

Contemporary Worship at 10:00 a.m. Bet you can't sing as high as our Worship Leader!

Open and Affirming! Well to middle class, gender normative gays and lesbians who can decorate or do repairs.

All welcome. Be warned that we suck at community building. Many of us here feel lonely and isolated.

All welcome! O.k. that's our ideal. Honestly we can be selfish, privileged, frightened people. We want to change.

All are welcome here*
*Some exclusions apply. Please see Book of Discipline for details.

This is a house of worship. Please disregard all political in-fighting in our decision making process.

All are welcome. Now sit down, shut up, and listen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Christmas in November

Working for a church spoils Christmas. So much of my focus and energy is in facilitating the 'Christmas Experience' for others that I barely have the energy for myself.

Christmas for me starts in the summer. I'm composing and arranging new anthems. Reflecting on new devotional material. Thinking of ways to make the old old story seem new.

When I was a child Christmas held out a promise of a break from the routine. School stopped. I slept in a different room to accommodate visiting relatives. Special foods (some good, some not so much) made an appearance. Bed time rules were relaxed. We delighted in 'the new'. New presents. New movies on TV. We reconnected with the old traditions while forging new ones.

Somewhere along the way that changed.

I embrace wholeheartedly the Christmas story, but so many years of Christmas Sermons and Pageants have done some damage. For the Christian the gift of Jesus is the pinnacle of the season, however I've heard many messages about the 'True Meaning of Christmas' that seem to carry a thin veneer of guilt rather than point me to the manger. The subtle message that if you are enjoying anything else rather than Jesus then you are celebrating Christmas wrong. 

Anyway, it's not even Thanksgiving yet, why am I blogging about Christmas?

Every year in November I attend a Board Game Convention in Dallas. It is one of the highlights of my year. I book the Convention and start making plans in March. Somebody asked me last week why I get so excited about attending.

For me BGG Con feels like Christmas felt when I was a child.

The wonder of seeing old friends. Staying up late. Eating differently. Discovering new games. Taking delight in play. Laughing way too much. 

I feel alive in a wonderful way at BGG Con. Play and Celebration lift me out of the Ordinary and I feel connected to the Numinous. I'm being where I'm meant to be doing what I am wired to do.

If you are not a board gamer then that may sound ridiculous, but I guarantee there is something in your life that when you do it you come alive. 

Maybe you paint. 
Maybe you run marathons. 
Maybe you create spreadsheets.
Maybe you perform in a folk dance group.
Maybe you knit clothes for dogs.

Whatever it is, when you find it, pursue it. 

When Christians celebrate Christmas they celebrate the Holy becoming incarnate in the Ordinary, God putting on skin and moving into the neighborhood. 

When you find your own piece of the Ordinary that seems to lift you up, that nurtures your spirit, then I think you are celebrating Christmas the right way. Forget about religious guilt or joyless piety, reconnect with Wonder and Delight....

....and that is why, for me, Christmas falls in November every year.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Zebras and the Mystery of Humanity

“I asked the Zebra,
are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or are you quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy days?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on and on and on he went.
I’ll never ask a zebra about stripes...again.”
Shel Silversteen

Time is ticking away.......

On Friday I had a lot of cleaning, tidying, and other odd jobs to do around the house. I'm the kind of person who can easily balk at the enormity of a task and instead go sit on the couch and eat chips while watching the Big Bang Theory so I needed a way to tackle the tasks. Borrowing an idea from the Liturgy of the Hours I broke up my day with the help of a stopwatch.

I worked for 50 minutes and then prayed for 10. No matter where I was in the task - half way through scrubbing a kitchen tile, mid-sentence in an important email, when the stopwatch beeped. I left the mop where it was and sat down on the couch to pray.

Sometimes the stopwatch beep was a blessing - I'm not the kind of person who enjoys cleaning.

Sometimes the stopwatch beep was a curse - It seemed to beep at the precise moment when I had almost crafted a perfect sentence. Stepping away from the keyboard to go pray felt an imposition.

Sometimes the stopwatch beep took an eternity to arrive.

Sometimes the stopwatch beep was a surprise.

There were times it felt I had only just settled into prayer when it was time to rise and work again.

At other times the 10 minutes of prayer felt longer than the 50 minutes of floor scrubbing.

I found myself wondering whether I was spending the day working with breaks for prayer, or spending the day praying with breaks for work.

By the middle of the afternoon I found myself settling into the rhythm of the day. My attitude to the tasks that needed to be done shifted and they began to become as prayerful as the times of prayer. The stopwatch was no longer a blessing or a curse, it was simply something I chose to surrender too. It was a beep that reminded me of the presence of God.

We save time and we waste time. We treat it as a resource that we need to manage.

On Friday the passing of time became a sacrament - an outward and visible sign of God's grace. Eventually I didn't need the stopwatch to remind me to pray, the simple awareness that time was passing all around me was a reminder that God was all around me.

God waits with us in the here and now.
Every a call to awareness.
Every minute..... an invitation to listen.
Every hour..... an outpouring of grace.
Every day.....
Every week.....
Every month.....
Every year.....
Every decade.....
Every lifetime.....

The clock and the calendar reveal God as surely as the bread and the cup.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Sausage and Potato Bake - lazy comfort food

I make this way too often. It's good, lazy comfort food and is endlessly adaptable according to what vegetables are in season.

1 Smoked Sausage. I often used Pecan Smoked Jalapeno Sausage. Cut into 1 inch chunks
6 cups red new potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch-chunks
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
(See note below*)

1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut sausage in 1/4” slices; set aside.

2. Place potatoes in medium saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain potatoes.

3. Combine sausage, potatoes, bell peppers, onion, garlic, chicken broth, olive oil and seasonings in a large roasting pan and mix lightly.

4. Bake for 40 minutes or until potatoes are lightly browned and vegetables are tender.

Serves 3 if you have big appetites ;)

* I treat this recipe as a guideline. This isn't baking so be creative :) I often use bags of colored fingerling potatoes if I can find them. I've added broccoli, brussels sprouts, mushrooms and even chick peas. I'm sure winter squash would work well in here as well. I tend to increase the amount of garlic and change up the other seasonings as well according to my whims.

It's a great recipe to play with.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Playing in the Presence of God

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

I still remember the first time I was shamed about play.

In middle school it was common for us to call our friends and see if they wanted to play. We'd get together and play board games, video games, and play with our computers together. When I went to High School I remember phoning a friend and asking him if he wanted to play.

"Play?", he responded. "How childish!"

We got together anyway and we played board games, video games and played with our computers together. The activity was the same as before but I quickly learned that the word 'play' always had to be quantified. We could 'play video games', but we couldn't just play.

As I grew older play was somehow viewed as a waste of time, time that could have been spent doing something more productive. Somehow this attitude all got wrapped up in Protestant Christianity -  the idea that you display your salvation through hard work, frugality, diligence and seriousness.

I remember when I started work at Mercy Street, I was in a meeting and was told that as a member of staff I was expected to 'Work hard and play hard'. At first I reveled in the freedom to be allowed to play, but implied in that statement is that play is something we are driven to do, that we approach play with the same seriousness that we approach work. We have a task to do and we are going to get through it with due haste.

In the late 1800's an English Anthropologist made the suggestion that games and play might prove very useful to his work studying indigenous tribes because people are truly themselves when they play games. Most children do not need permission to play. Many adults still feel it is wasteful. I even have a book called 'The Christian at Play''s as if we are so averse to play in the church that we can only do it if we have theological justification.

God has wired us for play. We are to keep Sabbath for our re-creation and rest. Play connects us to each other, it's an antidote to loneliness and depression. It stimulates creativity. Play helps us work better.

Play is not a waste of time because play itself is productive. It nurtures and heals. It helps us step more fully into who God has created us to be.

Let's play.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Man Watching - Rainer Maria Rilke

 I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
 so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
 that a storm is coming,
 and I hear the far-off fields say things
 I can't bear without a friend,
 I can't love without a sister.

 The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
 across the woods and across time, and the world looks as if it had no age:
 the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
 is seriousness and weight and eternity.

 What we choose to fight is so tiny!
 What fights with us is so great.
 If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm,
 we would become strong too, and not need names.

 When we win it's with small things,
 and the triumph itself makes us small.
 What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us.
 I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
 when the wrestlers' sinews
 grew long like metal strings,
 he felt them under his fingers
 like chords of deep music.

 Whoever was beaten by this Angel
 (who often simply declined the fight)
 went away proud and strengthened
 and great from that harsh hand,
 that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
 Winning does not tempt that man.
 This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
 by constantly greater beings.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Dangerous Question

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. 

The blind man said, 

“Rabbi, I want to see.” 

“Go,” said Jesus, 

“your faith has healed you.” 

Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Every weekend 2100+ people attend worship at Chapelwood. We are here for different reasons, some noble, some maybe not so. some of us come for specific reasons, help with a problem, seeking a healing, escape from other people. Others of us come with a vague sense of unease that being at church helps us manage. Some of us are here because it's what we've always done and is what is expected of us, others because the way we've been living life hasn't worked so we are trying something new.

Jesus' question to Bartimaeus is a question for us.

'What do you want me to do for you?' 

Like many of Jesus' questions, this is one that is harder to answer the longer you sit with it. When I am honest, the answers I give to Jesus' question reveal a lot more about me. When I hold out my answers to Jesus I find myself examining why I ask for what I ask for. Bias and selfishness show themselves hidden in my response. Ego and greed appear mixed in. I find myself playing mind games with Jesus, trying to guess the answer I think He wants to hear.

Eventually I don't want to answer the question at all because I judge all my responses as flawed or less than.....and then I realize that I spend too much time in my own head....

...and maybe that's why I come to worship. To step outside the storm of myself and try and get in touch with something larger and more beautiful.

So as you go to church this weekend how do you respond to Jesus question?

What do you want me to do for you?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Peach Crumble Cake

When I was a child my Mum would sometimes make Apple Crumble. Her topping was normally more soggy than crispy and I would usually complain that there was too much fruit and not enough crumble. Mum would point out that the fruit was the healthy part and a dessert with as much crumble as I wanted would not be good for me.....

....and here is that dessert. Lots of glorious crisp crumble encasing the fruit!

I've made this with nectarines and it was yummy. I would be intrigued to see what other fruits would work.
This is a great way to get an easy hot dessert on the table. It tastes awesome with simple whipped cream or ice cream.

1 cup ground almond meal
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, diced.
1 1/2 pounds nectarines, peaches or some other fruit.
Sugar for sprinkling.

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch spring form pan.

Put the first 4 ingredients into a food processor and pulse until mixed.

Add the butter and pulse until the mixture clumps together and resembles wet sand.

Scoop two thirds of the mixture into the bottom of the buttered pan and press it in place.

Cut the nectarines into thin wedges (or small chunks if it it is easier) and and spread them in an even layer over the base. Scoop the rest of the crumble mix evenly over the top and press in place. Don't worry if some of the fruit pokes through.

Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 40-45 minutes in the oven. I would place it on top of a baking sheet just to be on the safe side as sometimes the juice does bubble. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes on a cooling rack and then voraciously consume. :)

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Lamb Stuffed Tomatoes

This is a very yummy improvisation. It's still a work in progress, but it was delicious enough for me to record it here :)

Lamb Stuffed Tomatoes - Serves 2 as a nice supper.

4 Large tomatoes (about 8 ounces each)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 fennel bulb. Trimmed of stalks (cored if needed) and chopped fine)
1/2 red onion, diced fine.
1/2 lb ground lamb
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup couscous
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
1/4 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons, chopped fresh mint
Thin slices of goat cheese

Slice the top 1/8 inch off each tomato (step end). Using a paring knife and a spoon remove the core and the seeds from the inside. Sprinkle the inside of each tomato with 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Place the tomatoes upside down on a few layers of paper towels and drain for 30 minutes.

Put an oven rack in the upper middle position and preheat to 375F

Add a drop of oil to a medium saucepan. Crumble in the Lamb and cook until brown. Remove to a strainer set over a bowl to drain.

Take a tablespoon of the drained lamb fat and put it back in the sauce pan. Add the fennel and the red onion and saute until softened, about 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the couscous and cook until lightly toasted 1-2 minutes.

Add the lamb and the chicken stock. Bring to a brief simmer and then cover, remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

Stir in the feta, walnuts and mint.

Pat the inside of each tomato dry with paper towels. Line an 8 inch square baking dish with foil and spray with oil. Brush the cut edges of the tomato with oil.

Divide the filling between the four tomatoes and firmly but carefully stuff them.

Place a slice of goat cheese on each tomato

Bake until the cheese is lightly browned and the tomatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Egotist's Psalm 24

This is my world, I own all that is within it.
 For I have forged my own space and made my own way. 

Who may enter my world; who may stand in my universe? 
Only the one whom I decide is worthy. 
The one who meets my standards and does not pollute my life. 
The one who agrees with me and holds true to my beliefs. 

I will bless them and encourage them. 
I will fight for their right to be just like me. 

I will close up my gates and barricade my doors. 
No one shall enter except those I approve. 
I am king of my world and I am glorious. 
I will cocoon myself in the castle of my life. 
For I am king of my world and I am glorious.

I wrote this selfish version of Psalm 24 for use in our Contemplative Service this past weekend. While writing it I was reminded of the poem Ozymandias by Percy Shelley, one of my favorites.  The Psalm sounds like something Ozymandias would say.

I met a traveler from an antique land 
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, 
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed: 
And on the pedestal these words appear: 
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: 
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Monday, August 26, 2013

Scratching the Surface of Forgiveness

(Warning, bad language alert, if offended please do not read)

On Friday of last week, person or persons unknown took a key and used it to make a deep 2 foot long scratch on the passenger side door of my new car. I was only away from it for about 5 minutes while I ran into a gas station to get a drink. I have no idea who would do something like this or why. Working for a church I have on occasion run into problems - I was receiving anonymous hate mail for a while (which you can read about here and here) but I'm not aware of anyone I have offended recently.

As you can imagine I was angry. I've had the car less than a year and it's the first 'fun' vehicle I've ever owned so I've become very attached to it. I commented to a friend at work that (warning bad language ahead) 'Some f**king bastard keyed my car'. I'm not one of those people who use f bombs at the drop of a hat. My language isn't perfect, I do occasionally use the f word but it is more for comic effect and shock value than anything else. To actually use it vehemently in anger is a rare occurrence for me.

Jesus clearly said to love your enemies (Matt 5:44). I don't know whether the person who vandalized my car falls into the category of an 'enemy', but I do know that I don't feel particularly charitable to them...especially once I saw the cost of the repair and the car rental while mine is being worked on.

Love the people you would call 'f**king bastards' sounds ugly and offensive...and it is. I wonder though if it some how communicates the radical-ness of Jesus' original statement in a way that 'enemies' does not. There is an emotional component, a visceral reaction that I have to that phrase whereas enemies feels more like an intellectual exercise to me.

While praying over the weekend I found myself challenged to say 'Some child of God keyed my car'. The phrase sits uncomfortably on my tongue, and it forces me to acknowledge that even my enemies are bearers of the image of God. Labeling people as' F**king bastards' or even 'enemies' dehumanizes them, it makes them 'less than' and somehow makes it easier for me to dismiss them. Maybe part of loving our enemies is removing the label of 'enemy' from them.

The scratch in the car door has made my new car look ugly. The scratch has also revealed a little bit of ugliness in myself that I wasn't conscious of. I'm becoming aware that I judge people's driving ability by the state of the car they are driving. If I see an out of shape vehicle on the road - taped up tail lights or dented fenders, then I assume that they are a bad driver. I find myself being more vigilant than usual when passing them.

Suddenly the scratch has me wondering what people who see of it think of my driving. I'm forced to judge myself by the same standard I use on others, and I don't like it. The state of my car was caused by no fault of my own, just because someone else's car is beaten up doesn't automatically mean they are a bad driver. I'm fortunate to be able to afford to get my car repaired, not everybody is that lucky.

If we were forced to judge ourselves as harshly as we judge others maybe we would extend to others the same amount of grace we extend to ourselves.

Living a Contemplative life is an invitation to go deeper onto the mystery of God and into the mystery of yourself. I'm still only scratching the surface.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Star and the Servant.

When I was in my 20s I played the lead in a musical called Angel Voices. I spent a year rehearsing and touring the U.K. At each venue we had a large local choir as backing singers. I remember one day in Huddersfield where the cast had arrived early to sound check and we were waiting for the choir to arrive for their final rehearsal before the performance that night. I was resting in the choir seats when a young woman came up to me and in an angry tone said 'You're sitting in the wrong seat. You need to move.'

Now being in the lead in the show meant that I had a lot of choir members fawning over me at times and even asking for autographs so this woman's tone to me took me by surprise as I was expecting a compliment. I was tired and cranky, and so I responded to her rather indignantly.

'Don't you know who I am?'

I explained how I was the main character in the show and I was tired from travelling and rehearsing and so if I wanted to sit down here and relax I was going to do so.

Not exactly a shining moment of loving christian witness.

More recently I was leading worship at a retreat center in the Texas Hill Country. I was carrying my keyboard equipment as people were starting to arrive. As I walked past the packing lot about to get my tub of music resources a woman came up to me and asked me to carry her bags to her room. I should explain that I was wearing a blue custodial shirt at the time. If you looked closely at it you would see that instead of my name sewn on as a patch, it simply said the word 'Gamer'.

I calmly walked over and helped her with her luggage and then went back to setting up my music equipment.

That night after worship she came up to me rather red-faced and apologized for her mistake and said 'I'm sorry. I didn't realize who you were.'

To the young girl in the choir I made a decision to explain who I was, to woman at the retreat center I made a decision not too.

Joan Chittister wrote, “Each of us should have two pockets,” the rabbis teach. “In one should be the message ‘I am dust and ashes,’ and in the other we should have written, ‘For me the universe was made.’”

My default is to live out of the dust and ashes pocket, to compensate I over inflate my importance to Donald Trump proportions.

How we perceive ourselves shapes how we expect to be treated. - 'Don't you know who I am?'
How we perceive others shapes how we treat them. - 'I didn't know who you were'

If someone asked you who you were, how would you respond?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dancing to the Beat of my Doubts.

Have you ever lived in a house where 2 people have loud music playing at the same time? This scenario of Stereo Wars happened to me quite frequently in college. Depending on what music was playing I would be drawn to dance to one beat whilst trying to ignore the other, until the point where the other melody was more attractive and so I would switch my focus.

I remembered this dance this week when I was in a conversation about Belief and Unbelief.

In Mark 9:14-29 A boy with an evil spirit is brought to Jesus. The boy's father tells of all that the boy has suffered and asks Jesus if he is able to do anything. Jesus tells the father 'All things can be done for the one who believes.'  and the father responds 'I believe, help my unbelief!'

Some translations of this passage say 'Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief'. When I was younger that is what I wanted, for my unbelief to be eradicated, and, if that were not possible, for it to be neutralized and rendered powerless in my life.

Interestingly enough the word 'overcome' is not in the Greek text of this verse. The word for help (βοηθεω = boetheo) used here literally means to give assistance to, to come along side and give aid. Nothing about overcoming.

I'm learning to see that both my Belief and my Unbelief are necessary. My beliefs can provide strength when my unbeliefs can feel overwhelming and paralyzing, and my unbeliefs can shape, refine and mature my faith....

..and both belief and unbelief can lead me into the mystery of God.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Joan Chittister on Enlightenment

Some quotes from the book 'Illuminated Life'

'The important thing to remember in the spiritual life is that religion is a means, not an end. When we stop at the level of the rules and the laws, the doctrines and the dogmas - good guides as these may be - and call those things the spiritual life, we have stopped far short of the meaning of life, the call of the divine, the fullness of the self.'

'Enlightenment is the ability to see beyond all the things we make God to find God.'

'We make religion God and so fail to see godliness where religion is not, though goodness is clear and constant in the simplest of people, the remotest of places. We make national honor God and fail to see the presence of God in other nations, particularly non-christian nations. We make personal security God and fail to see God in the bleak and barren dimensions of life. We make our own human color the color of God and fail to see God in the one who comes in different guise. We give God gender and miss the spirit of God everywhere in everyone.'

'Enlightenment sees, too, beyond the shapes and icons that intend to personalize God to the God that is too personal, too encompassing, to be any one shape or for or name. Enlightenment takes us beyond our parochialisms to the presence of God everywhere, in everyone, in the universe.'

'To be contemplative I must put down my notions of separateness from God and let God speak to me through everything that seeps through the universe into the pores of my minuscule little life.'

Friday, June 14, 2013

Elliptical Altars

(Random thoughts for the Contemplative Service)

I've just returned from vacation. For 2 years a group of us had been planning this trip. It was the focus of a lot of my free time. It was a high point that kept me motivated when I was stuck in the mire of the mundane. I'm still living in the afterglow of the experience right now, but I can feel myself itching to plan something new.

It feels like to get through the usual I need to have something special to look forward too. I do this in my daily life too. I fixate on the moments of the day when I get to do something that nurtures me. Cooking, playing music, researching some obscure fact, a great silly conversation over lunch.

I do this with my spiritual life as well. I look to retreats, speaker series, books, worship experiences. I glance over the usual for the special, forgetting that God is as much in the mundane as the incredible. The 50th hot humid day in a row contains as much of God as that once a year fantastic sunset...and living in Houston that is a good thing.

So today I'm trying to look for God in the every day. In the mundane moments, in the filing that needs to take place and the cleaning that clamors for attention. This morning I attempted to turn the elliptical machine at the gym into an Altar - a place of encounter with God. I don't normally equate the presence of the Divine with sweating heavily while gasping for breath on a device that would not look out of place within a medieval torture chamber, but I did my best. My first thought was how good it was going to feel when my 30 minutes were up and I could dismount. I found myself wondering if God ever felt that way; that sense of a job well done. Next thing I knew I was reflecting back on the Creation narratives, thinking of when God '...saw that it was good'. From there I began to think about all the different emotions that I experience during the day, especially when doing unpleasant tasks; and how all of them can find a home within the heartbeat of God.

It takes work to be this attentive, to seek the presence of God in places where you have usually have no expectations of finding Him.....and fortunately we have a God who loves to surprise us.

5 years ago I was away on a retreat and while I was trying to pray I was distracted by a large bush on the deck. I found myself drawn to the shape and color of the leaves; the insects crawling over the stems. There was so much there that I would have missed if I had only taken a single glance. It made me think of Moses' encounter with the burning bush. It took Moses looking at the bush for a while to notice that it wasn't burning up. It took a second glance. I found myself reflecting on the every day things in my day that at first glance are common, but at a second glance reveal the presence of God to me in unexpected ways.....

...and I wrote a song about them.

A dusty path, a dreary land 
A wooden staff in weathered hand 
A holy blaze that never dies 
A miracle before the eyes 
A stumbling onto holy ground 
God revealed in sight and sound 
As it was for Moses why not me? 
If I can teach my eyes to see 

There are burning bushes everywhere 
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours 
Waiting for us to see them there 
The red and the green, 
dancing unseen through our days 
Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze. 

 The roll of dice, the belly laugh 
The ancient tale, the photograph 
The mouse's click, the lovers' kiss 
all of Heaven speaks through this 
The taste of bread, the t.v. show 
Are signs for those who are in the know 
How I take for granted daily grace 
The voice of God is common place 

 For there are burning bushes everywhere 
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours 
Waiting for us to see them there 
The red and the green, 
dancing unseen through our days 
Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze. 

 It's not that God is far away 
Only whispering on special days 
Our lives are spent on holy ground 
God speaks so much we ignore the sound 

 When there are burning bushes everywhere 
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours 
Waiting for us to see them there 
The red and the green, 
dancing unseen through our days
 Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze.

What are the ordinary, mundane things in your life?
How can a second glance at them reveal the presence of God?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - Stop arguing theology

When the crowd saw Jesus, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, 'What are you arguing about with them?' Someone from the crowd answered him, 'Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.' He answered them, 'You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.' And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, 'How long has this been happening to him?' And he said, 'From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.' Jesus said to him, 'If you are able!-All things can be done for the one who believes.' Immediately the father of the child cried out, 'I believe; help my unbelief!' When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, 'You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!' After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, 'He is dead.' But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, 'Why could we not cast it out?' He said to them, 'This kind can come out only through prayer.' - Mark 9:14-29

I don't know what to make of this passage. It speaks to the necessity of prayer, but it scares me. Are there events that haven't happened, 'demons' that haven't been cast out, peoples who's lives have not been changed all because I haven't prayed enough? That's an infinite amount of potential guilt that I can heap on myself! Does God really hamstring himself and his work in the world by depending on the faith of his followers? Does he really abrogate that much of his power?

These are tough questions that we could argue about forever without reaching any solid conclusion. However as I read the passage through again I was drawn to Jesus question 'What are you arguing about with them?' The disciples were arguing about this boy, his treatment, and their inability to cast out the demon. You can imagine Jesus' frustration with them. He calls the boy to him and after a brief dialogue he heals the boy by casting out the demon.

I love a good theological discussion. I love to pose conundrums and questions. I love to reflect deeply and question my interior motivations and drives. This is all good and necessary, but it can be a distraction, there are times when we all need to stop arguing theology and get on with loving and healing the world. I live in two states simultaneously, Belief and Unbelief. In the midst of my questions about God it is comforting to know that God doesn't condemn me for them. The Father declares that he believes and he doubts, and Jesus responds in love by healing his son.

Jesus loves someone who doesn't have his theological ducks lined up. When the followers of Jesus couldn't help and lost sight of the issue while arguing, Jesus stepped in. When the father admitted his own unbelief, Jesus stepped in.

Instead of arguing about people, issues, politics, right and wrong, I need to step in and be a loving and healing presence in the world.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - I love Jesus, but I run a little.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me." John 21:15-19

I inwardly groaned when I saw that this passage is assigned for today. I've spoken before on how the passage uses different Greek words for love in Jesus third question, to his first and second). I've heard countless sermons on this passage so I come to it with a lot of information, interpretation and bias.

When I reflect on this passage today the question Jesus asks haunts me.

Do you love me?

The first thing that came to mind this morning was my friend Glen. For some reason Jesus' question reminded me of a status update he posted on facebook a while back.

I love Jesus, but I run a little

Glen is a Marathon Runner. One of his goals is to run the Boston Marathon. I tried to take up running, and 9 months later I'm still having treatment for some muscle problems. I would say that I run 'a little' while Glen runs a lot! Of course the play on words is in the fact that it is human experience to run from God a little.

I remember a Charlie Brown cartoon where Linus Van Pelt declared 'No problem is so big or complicated that it can't be run away from.' Lucy challenges him on this by asking 'What if we were all like you? What if we all ran away from our problems?' His response - 'Well at least we'd all be running in the same direction.'

I can think of many ways I could finish the sentence 'I love Jesus but I ___________'

The problem with the 'but' is that it makes whatever comes after it sound negative. Running is not always negative. Some of us are so afraid of putting a foot wrong that we would never run from God.....but maybe the God of our imagination needs to be run away from. Only by abandoning what is can we venture forth into new territories.

I didn't like reading this passage this morning, and I don't like where my meandering thoughts have taken me either. My prayer is that we can all find communities that let us run. Run towards God, run away from false ideas of God. Communities that recognize that even with our differences we are all running in the same direction.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - Being right.

 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ - John 17: 20-26

"....they may be one, as we are one"

It is hard for me to imagine Christians being one in the way that Jesus and the Father are one. The disputes and divides seem too great.  The level of intimacy between the Father and Jesus seems unobtainable. I don't even feel that level of intimacy between the different parts of myself, let alone with people whose theological views seem antithetical to mine.

Maybe that is the key. In my mind being One means uniformity. Even Jesus had to say 'Not my will but yours be done'. How do I manage though when the person who I am called to be one with expresses their faith in a way so different to me that the outflow of their faith could be inhibit mine and vice versa.....

(side note, I struggled to even write 'vice versa' on the end of that sentence because part of me feels that my faith expression cannot inhibit them even though I'm convinced that theirs can inhibit me. Hello one sided identification).

If all this seems vague and abstract...well it is. I can agonize about this in the abstract, and by keeping it there it becomes just a thought exercise and doesn't have to impact daily life. I can't live in the abstract however. When I think about friends of mine who are very different to me, I feel more hope than despair. If we can be friends with our very different perspectives, maybe there is hope for us all.

It pains me to admit this, but I cannot always be right. I can however always strive to be loving.

Maybe that is why the passage ends with,

 "...the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

This Jesus, I think he knows what he's talking about :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - I've got that guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, down in my heart. Where?..............

Jesus said to the disciples, 'And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.' - John 17:11-19

we used to sing the song in Sunday school:

I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart
Down in my heart
Down in my heart
I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart
Down in my heart to stay
And I'm so happy
So very happy
I've got the love of Jesus in my heart
And I'm so happy
So very happy
I've got the love of Jesus in my heart

And we were joyful while we sang it. Voices raised, hands clapping. Expressions of delight on every face. The piano player bouncing her way through the chord changes. When we were through we were then told how God loves us all very much and how we were broken and sinful, filled with every kind of deceit and wickedness . How our badness was what held Jesus to the cross and pierces his side and it was our evilness that killed him.

My lips sang joy, while somehow the song was rewritten in my mind as:

I've got that guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, down in my heart
Down in my heart
Down in my heart

I've got that guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, down in my heart

Down in my heart to stay
And I'm so wicked,
So very wicked
I'm evil and deceitful in my heart

And I'm so wicked,
So very wicked
I'm evil and deceitful in my heart

It seems really harsh when I type it out that way. Yet that is where I end up from the theology I was given. If this seems unusual I refer you to the popular mega-pastor Mark Driscoll who in a recent sermon talked about how “God hates, right now, personally, objectively, some of you,” 

I'm not wanting to get into the Theology of all of this. When I read the passage today I was drawn to the phrase ' joy made complete in themselves'.

We each have been wired uniquely for joy. What brings joy to some people leaves me cold.  By the prompting of a friend I have created a Joy List - a litany of the activities that cultivate joy in me. Ways that God has uniquely created me to experience His joy.

In the midst of daily life I am making a conscious choice to not let a day go by without doing something that generates joy within me.  The Shorter Westminster Catechism says 'The chief end of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever'. There is a joy that I experience that comes from God. It may be buried under rubble of theology, but it is there.

It is time to go digging.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - feeling fruity

An occasional series of random musings from the Lectionary.

Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. - John 15: 9-17

You are loved by God. Love deeply. Bear lasting fruit.

This passage almost seems over the top in its reminders to love one another. It's almost as if Jesus knows what a hard time we are going to have remembering we are loved and to love one another.

We are loved to bear fruit, lasting fruit.

Most fruit I buy does not last. My freezer is full of brown bananas that I plan to one day make into banana bread. My kitchen counter invariably has the over ripe apple, the extra soft avocado and the petrified lime. Fruit needs to be transformed for it to last. Preserved in jams, or dehydrated. The plant may have finished its task of growing the fruit, but for the fruit to last it must be changed in a way that the plant cannot do.  That thought gives me some hope for the times when I feel like I am being crushed, or having the life sucked out of me. Those experiences, while painful, could be the very thing I need for the fruit of my life to be preserved.

One other thought -

Do not chastise the cherry tree for not bearing apples.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lectionary of the Day

I've decided to start an occasional series of blogging the lectionary. I need to do something to help me engage more with the text, hopefully this will help.

Jesus' disciples said, 'Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.' Jesus answered them, 'Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!' ~ John 16:29-33

I'm not going to blog about Christian Persecution in the U.S. even though the phrase 'in this world you face persecution' is the one that caught my attention. For an interesting post on the difference between persecution and loss of privilege I suggest you read this post by professor Robert Cargill.

I've never experienced persecution. I once didn't get a job because I refused to work Sundays because that was the Sabbath, but that's as close as it comes. Of course I now work for a church that requires that I work on Sundays every week :)

To Persecute is defined as 'To pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religion, race or beliefs'. By that definition I must confess that I am a Persecutor.

I have ridiculed somebody for what they believed.
I have used guilt and shame to manipulate someone.
I have treated someone as 'less than' because they didn't fit my definition of what a Christian should be.
I have punished someone because their behavior did not fit my ideas of right and wrong.
I have been verbally abusive.
I have driven someone to depression with my continual haranguing, belittling and teasing.

I guess I have experienced persecution, for I have done all of this to myself, all because of my misguided understanding of how Christianity should display itself in my life. I have been a long way from the peace Jesus promises.

No more.

The Jesus I read of in the gospel binds up broken hearts, he doesn't berate them for feeling hurt. He stands with the weak and the oppressed, he doesn't tell them to quit whining. He doesn't injure, he heals.

The peace Jesus promises does not come about through laws and regulations, through checklists of behavior or doctrinal statements of belief.

I will be still, I will listen to the heartbeat of God. I will be gracious to myself, and everything will be brought into the light, beliefs, actions, attitudes, creeds. It will be examined under the lens of Peace and Love, and be celebrated for what is and transformed into what will be.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Life on the road - the Sacrament of Absence.

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Do you remember a time of feeling close to God?  When conversation with God flowed naturally and easily? When you never worried about whether God was listening or not? I've had times like that, and I imagine that was what it was like for those two disciples before they left Jerusalem....before the crucifixion. Suddenly an event happens and their experience of Jesus is radically altered. They are left with nothing but abandonment, disillusionment and frustrated expectations. ....We had hoped.... 

So they leave Jerusalem. Their place of experiencing Jesus is now just a cruel reminder that Jesus is no longer there. Their connection with Jesus has been severed and so they walk the road to Emmaus...not seeing that Jesus is walking with them. They pour out their hearts to this stranger on the road as they journey together.

At Emmaus an amazing thing happens. Jesus reveals himself to them in the breaking of the bread, and then he vanishes. This is a new Jesus, a different Jesus to the one they knew in Jerusalem. A Jesus who apparently is not bound by the laws of Physics.

I have lived in Jerusalem - the place of connection and certainty, and I have lived in Emmaus - the place of new revelation and understanding. However I think most of my life is spent on the road, journeying between the two. I feel content in Jerusalem and then something happens and my connection to God is lost. Sometimes I can pinpoint something specific, but most of the time I cannot.

Life on the road scares me. I want to live in Jerusalem or Emmaus. I want the certainty of the past or the joy of new revelation., but I am learning to be o.k. with the unknowing. Remembering that I have walked this path before makes it easier to journey this time. I am learning that the absence of God on the road can be a sacrament - a visible sign of Divine grace. The grace to allow us to stumble, change and grow. The grace that chooses to journey along with us incognito. The grace that speaks through the mouths of strangers. The grace that invites us into maturity. The grace that empathizes with us feeling abandoned by God because He has felt the same. 'My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?'

Where are you? Jerusalem, Emmaus? On the road? 
How do you feel about where you are?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Emotions suck......sort of

I started writing this blog post in May 2012. For some reason I never finished it.

Somehow in my early faith forming years I internalized the idea that emotions were suspect in the Christian life. That they should be discounted whenever they disagree with theology. The image of a train was frequently used:

Bill Bright (the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ) said it this way,

The promise of God’s Word, the Bible—not our feelings—is our authority. The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. This train diagram illustrates the relationship among fact (God and His Word), faith (our trust in God and His Word), and feeling (the result of our faith and obedience).
The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be useless to attempt to pull the train by the caboose. In the same way, as Christians we do not depend on feelings or emotions, but we place our faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of His Word.

I may not 'feel' the presence of God at all times, but my theology says God is always present so I must ignore my feelings and trust God and what the bible says....

...this creates some tension in my life. When my theology and my lived experience conflict then I learn to ignore, distrust and suppress my emotions. It's a short step from there to labeling some of my emotions as 'wrong'. My emotions and experiences do not fit into some imaginary list of what I think a good christian should 'feel'. This internal conflict begins to dominate my life and drain energy from it.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was so tormented by doubts about her faith that she felt “a hypocrite.” Shortly after beginning her work in the slums of Calcutta, she wrote in a letter to friends “Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God — please forgive me.” eight years later she was still expressing “such deep longing for God,” adding that she felt “repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal.”

My feelings are the primary way I experience the world. I touch, taste, breathe, love, see, grieve, smell, laugh etc. They are the means by which I encounter the 'track' that the train of my life runs on. God created us to be emotive beings as a reflection of God's self. In the person of Jesus we see someone who feels deeply and passionately. He is not afraid to express emotions, even one we would label negative. 

When Jesus utters the devastating cry of dereliction 'My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?' I cannot imagine responding with, 

"Well Jesus, don't you know that the promise of God’s Word, the Bible—not our feelings—is our authority? The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. You may feel abandoned but don't surrender to your emotions. God is there. Where is your faith?" 

To respond in such a way is to avoid His doubt and the way it resonates with our own. Maybe that is the fear here. We are so terrified of our own emotions that we find biblical justification to ignore the ones we do not like...or maybe that's just me. Theologians have debated for centuries what 'My God! My God! Why have you forsake me?' means. I may not understand Jesus' statement theologically (is there a rift in the Trinity?) but I understand it emotionally. Jesus' incarnation is on full naked display on the cross, uttering a statement of abandonment that unites the world. In some mystery that I cannot comprehend, it is at this point, where Jesus expresses the fact that he is abandoned by God, that I am assured that God is in the midst of my abandonment because He has experienced it as well. 

I cannot explain that....but I can live into it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Awesome Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I haven't posted a recipe for a while...but these are deserving of a post.

Wonderful basic chocolate chip cookies that are soft and chewy like store bought :)

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar (I've used both dark and light)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets or line with parchment or silpat

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

3. In a mixer (or bowl) cream together the melted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy (very important you don't stop too soon).

4. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips.

5. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. They should be at least 2 inches apart as they spread.

6. Bake for 15-17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. The cookies will still look slightly soft when you remove them from the oven, so let them rest on the residual heat of the cookie sheets for a few minutes before transferring them to wire racks to let them cool completely.

The recipe makes about 16 cookies.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Crawling through Mud and Guano

Last weekend I paid for the privilege of crawling around in mud and bat poop for over 3 hours. My family was visiting from the U.K. for 2 weeks so as a special treat Steve and I took them to Natural Bridge Caverns for a private caving trip.

We started following the path that all visitors to the caves take. The only thing distinguishing us from all the other tourists was the lighted helmets we were wearing. We walked through well lit caves, cement walk ways, hand rails and artificial stairs that made the journey easy. We reached the final stop in the regular tour and our guides then instructed us to clamber over the safety rail and climb down the rocks.

It is a scary thing to climb over a rail that has been constructed for your protection and begin to descend beyond the reach of the electric lights. We were given basic instructions on how to climb effectively, but a slight panic set in as I swung my legs over the rail and began to descend.

The trail (well lack of trail) soon narrowed and the only way through was a tight crevice between two mud covered rocks. My nephew - who is narrower than I am, had an easy time. I had to clamber up over the rocks and twist sideways simultaneously. Not an easy feat.

We were rewarded with a new cavern with some rock formation that the average paying customer never sees.

The next obstacle was a climb up a 2 story mound of bat guano covered in mud. We had to wait at the bottom while each person ascended to avoid the possibility of them slipping and crashing all of us back down to the bottom in a muddy heap. Our reward for risking humiliation was new formations and some fossils.

We went deeper and deeper into the caves. Through mud sucking at our boots (and destroying some of them), crawling through passages on our hands and knees, and stepping over deep holes in the ground until we reached a point where floor and ceiling met with just a narrow crack.

I was glad we had reached the end of the tour and was looking forward to a rest and some water, when the guide pointed at the hole and said "Through you go!"

This gap was only 14 inches tall, riddled with stalagmites and stalactites blocking the way, and coated with mud floor and ceiling. I had read about the narrow passage (ironically called The Birth Canal) in the tour information, but I had assumed we had passed it when we crawled through the section on our hands and knees. We had even practiced crawling underneath our dining room chairs to simulate the 14 inch gap. 

Nothing prepared us for the real thing. 

I lay flat on my belly and slowly slid across the mud. I grabbed the bases of rock formations when I could to propel myself forward, the rest of the time I wriggled and writhed like a dying fish and tried not to think about rock falls and earthquakes. I reminded myself that if the guide could make it through, so could I. We spaced ourselves far enough apart so as to not kick each other in the face....

....and eventually the gap widened again and we journeyed on.

We had our water break soon after. We reached a point in the cave where the way forward would have involved a 75 foot descent down a wire ladder into the darkness.....this was the point where only professional spelunkers continued. We extinguished our lamps and sat for a while in a darkness so complete our eyes would never adjust, before turning around and taking the same route back to the surface. 

Lessons Learned

There were many places on the tour that I wrongly assumed were our final destination, but the end of the journey is never the end of the journey.
If you are afraid of getting dirty you will never make the journey. 
Each breakthrough comes after a messy squeeze. 
Celebrate for a while and then dive back into the mud. 
Even though we are all travelling the same direction we all experience the journey differently
We all get past obstacles in different ways.
Just because you are in total darkness it doesn't mean you have gone the wrong way.
Some bruises take time to surface.
Be prepared to climb over the safety rail - if the guide asks you too.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Rhythm of Life

At times I wish the church calendar was spaced out a little more. I've only just recovered from all the rehearsals, performances and worship services of Christmas when Ash Wednesday arrives. Lent seems to arrive too soon and last too long. Holy Week takes a lot of preparation and seems to be over too quickly. Easter Sunday rushes headlong towards me while I still have the echo of Christmas carols in my ears.

The cycle repeats. Incarnation. Death. Resurrection.

This is the rhythm of Church and I think it is also the rhythm of the Spiritual life.

God births new life within us.
We become aware of areas of our life that need to die.
We watch parts of ourselves die - attitudes, desires, dreams, fears.
God resurrects us and shows us life beyond the grave.

I love the experience of God birthing new life within me. I love when I experience resurrection. But I want to avoid death. To wait and sit with death is hard. I am prone to despair and self pity, but to receive resurrection we have to wait with death. We want spirituality without death, we want growth without work. We want life without pain, but feeling uncomfortable is a sign that God is at work in our lives. We have to be willing to let things die, and we have to be willing to let things grow.

We live life from tomb to tomb. To grow spiritually is to learn how to sit and wait with death.....

....but death is not the final word because the cross is not the final word. We wait with hope.

The Ignatian prayer the Anima Christi acknowledges this where it says

'....On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.'

Incarnation. Death. Resurrection.

This is the rhythm of life.

(This is completely irrelevant to what I said above....but it is a fun song!)