Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wæs Hæil


Tomorrow evening we are celebrating the graduate school milestones of two of my colleagues and friends, one who has passed her prelims and one who will have defended her prospectus. I'm really excited for them, and being excited for them helps me to look forward to these milestones for myself next year rather than dreading them. I'm doubly excited for tomorrow, though, because I am making wassail for the party, and this can be filed under Kate's Inordinate Love of Obscure Traditions.

If you google recipes for wassail, you'll be rewarded a teeming multitude of recipes made up of a never-ending variety of ingredients. The one thing all these recipes have in common, though, is their size. Wassail is not a small-batch preparation. My recipe calls for a bottle of red wine, a bottle of tawny port, and 3 bottles of ale plus the spices and the half dozen eggs. (Alton Brown's recipe is similar.)

Wassail is the drink of celebration and ceremony. It invites a good apple harvest for the next year, it warms carolers out singing, and it celebrates community.
Be well, Be healthy,
Wæs Hæil!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Delicious Collaboration Beets

     So, I had this crazy idea for a party where all the guests would go to the farmers' market on their way to my house, buy whatever looked delicious, and then work together to prepare it in my kitchen. When I pitched it to my friend and colleague Erin, (inaugural hostess of Beer in a Kitchen) at our hazing the new kid talking smack about our  professors welcoming our new MA student bar outing, she thought it was awesomely not crazy. Joanna and Chad agreed with the not craziness of this idea. 
     Thus, two Saturdays later, I found myself tidying up Urban Cottage in preparation for Farmers' Market Brunch, and the doubts were assailing me. Would this work? Would everyone show up with watermelon? Was there too much beer involved in the planning of this brunch? But once people started arriving and chopping and frying and baking, things were looking pretty good. Then, Trey called from the farmers' market, 
     "I don't know what to buy. Are we going to cook it at your house? How is this going to work?"
     "Buy whatever looks good. Seriously. This is pot-luck cooking," I told him.
      And someone predicted he would buy beets. Someone else suggested it would be maple syrup. Or sunflowers. 
     "I could see that working," says my husband, "roasted beets with a maple syrup glaze and the sunflower seeds tossed in."
     I had to do it.

Delicious Collaboration Beets
1 3/4 lb beets with skins and tails intact and stems trimmed to 1"
1/3 c. sunflower seeds, unsalted
1/2 stick (1/4 c.) butter
1/3 c. maple syrup (this is an estimate, I eyeballed it, and then added more for more flavor)
3 T (ish) vinegar (cider or white)
salt and pepper to taste
     Preheat oven to 400 dF. Place beets in cast iron skillet or roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, cover and roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. When the beets will no longer burn your fingers, slip the skins, tails, and stems off. Chop the beets into chunks of desired size and set aside.
Place a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat,  when the skillet is too hot to touch, pour in the sunflower seeds, stirring constantly for two to three minutes to toast. They will be aromatic and begin to brown when toasted. Pour them into your serving dish.
     In that same skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the maple syrup, vinegar, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the beets, and boil until the liquid in the skillet has thickened and the beets look glazed, stirring frequently. This may take 4-10 minutes. (The recipe I started from said 4; it took me 10. Perhaps because I eyeballed the maple syrup.) Combine the beets and glaze with the toasted sunflower seeds in your serving dish. May be served hot or cold. Still delicious the second day.

All in all, Farmers' Market Brunch was pretty amazing. There were cheesy, berry muffins, breaded zucchini, maple syrup, 2 cantaloupes, a gigantic watermelon, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and eggs, and bacon. We're totally doing this again.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Dear Person Who Took My Bicycle,

I sincerely hope that my bicycle makes a difference in your life. I hope that it gets you to work and school on time. I hope that you enjoy riding alongside your kids. I hope that the baskets on the back hold your things perfectly. I hope it helps you to shop around town, and to get some enjoyable exercise. It did all these things for me faithfully these last couple of years, and I hope it will do the same for you.

If you live in my neighborhood, you might have seen the bike sitting in the same spot on my porch all week long. That's because I left my helmet at my sister's, and I had to wait to get it back. I was so excited to come home with my helmet and ride my bike tomorrow, but it wasn't here. You have it. 

While it makes me sad that my bicycle is no longer here for me, I know that you really must need it, and I hope it serves you well.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I'm Kind of in Awe of Fasting

The Velveteen Rabbi is one of my favorite blogs to read because Rachel Barenblatt's introspective representation of her own spiritual journey inspires me to take a closer look at mine (and, if we're being honest, because it makes me picture a velveteen rabbit with tzitzit and tefillin).
Recently, Rachel wrote about "Approaching Av....and Ramadan" and getting ready for the fast and introspective prayer to come. Fasting as a spiritual practice, of course is not limited to Judaism and Islam, but neither is it part of mainstream Christianity.
In  high school, one of my Jewish friends was nervous that she couldn't make it through Yom Kippur, so she talked fasting strategy with her dad. One key to a successful fast, he told her, is to eat lighter on the days ahead, so that the stomach can shrink a bit. The Muslim student in our class bemoaned the challenge of observing Ramadan, though she was happy to be excused from participation in phys ed. I was confused by this foreign (to me) practice.
In college, I had passing contact with Ramadan because of the Kay Spiritual Life Center's shared worship space. We Methodists rearranged some of weekly activities so that the Muslim students could share their evening meal. Because the allocation of time and space at Kay is finely tuned to allow each faith group private use of sacred spaces, this was one of the few times I saw our Muslim friends in fellowship with one another. I could see the community that Ramadan cemented among them, but I still didn't get their holiday.
When I was first teaching, my shadow tutor and one of my students both observed Ramadan. Since the sun set during our evening class two days a week, for that month we had small snacks during the class. And, because the other students and I were curious, Ayrene and Misha talked about their physical and spiritual experiences of fast. I finally started to get it, and I'm in awe of their dedication.
The discipline of fasting is less about the physical experience than about the opportunity for spiritual growth. Time not spent on cooking, eating, and tidying up can be used for prayer. Physical discomfort can be a call to pray without ceasing. Radical fasting marks out a time as other than ordinary. The balance between energy spent on spirituality and energy spent on secular details shifts in favor of the former. My Lenten fasts, prayerfully chosen though they are, pale in comparison to the discipline of fasting for Tish b'Av, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan. I've thought about observing a total fast for a day or a daylight hours fast for a week, but I struggle to incorporate it into Methodist tradition in a meaningful way. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Christian Citizenship

This sermon was delivered Sunday, July 3, 2011 at the Marcellus and Wakelee United Methodist Churches (Kalamazoo District, West Michigan Conference). The Gospel text was Matthew 22:15-22.
I grew up in the late 20th century. When I was in high school in the ‘90’s the debate about the separation of church and state was being fought in terms of prayer at school assemblies and graduation programs. When I graduated, the choir director had to rewrite some lines of the songs the choir had traditionally sung to take God out of them. So, with that background, it’s always a little strange for me when I come to church on the Sunday of 4th of July weekend and we sing patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
In the United States, this tradition of the separation of church and state is a long standing one. It’s not hard to understand why. The grandparents of our founding fathers probably remembered the turmoil England suffered because of the religious civil wars in the 17th century, and Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Washington never wanted that to happen again. Many early colonists including the Puritans, Quakers, and Catholics came to North America in order to have the opportunity to practice their faith freely. Thus, the Bill of Rights guarantees Americans the freedom to practice their faith openly and publicly by stating that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
For us in the United States, freedom of religion means that we can support and attend any church we want or no church at all. We can enroll in schools, get jobs, vote and marry without having to prove our faith. But separation of church and state has also come to mean that we don't pray together in social and civic groups of mixed faiths. We have not yet confined our faith to the privacy of our own homes as they have in France, where people functionally have freedom from religion, by which I mean that religious faith is considered a private matter, and expression thereof is banned in the public sphere.* No headcoverings for Muslim and Orthodox women, no visible crosses for Christians. Is that what we want, though? Do we want our civic lives and our electoral decisions to be robbed of the guidance that our faith gives us? It's a tough question.
I think the Bible can offer some wisdom on this score. We citizens of modern democracies, born in the 18th century Enlightenment, are not the first to struggle with the concepts of church and state. The Jews of Joseph and Mary's generation were subjects of King Herod, a Jewish leader, but they were also subjects of the Roman Emperor. It was their fulfillment of their civic duty to be counted in the census that took them to Bethlehem for Jesus birth.** 
            In the Gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees ask Jesus whether Jews should pay taxes. In part, they’re just trying to get out of paying taxes but also to trap Jesus in his own words, which seems to be their goal each time we meet them in the New Testament. This episode, however, can lead us to a deeper question: Can we be good citizens of the earthly, temporal state into whose organizational structure we are born at the same time that we are good members of God's eternal heavenly congregation? Jesus responds to these men, and to us, with the seemingly simple: “Is it not Caesar's likeness on the coin? Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.” Um. thanks, Jesus. Easier said than done. 
I'm going to pause here a minute to mention the fundamental difference between taxes and tithes: Taxes are obligatory, and there are legal repercussions for not paying them. Non-payment of taxes carries earthly punishment: jail, imprisonment. And taxes are pretty hard to avoid. They are rolled in to our utility bills and airline tickets. They are assessed at the grocery store. On behalf of the government, our employers take them directly from our paychecks. And most of us do everything we possibly can to avoid paying them: we deduct our children, we deduct mortgage and student loan interest, we deduct the losses of our farms and small businesses, we deduct the funds we give to charities.
Tithes, on the other hand, are a freewill offering. They express our gratitude to God for the blessings we have received and our commitment to supporting the projects and goals of God through the church.
So, okay, the coins and bills in my wallet and in yours are stamped with the likeness and symbolism of the state, so they belong to Caesar. Or, in our case, The United States Federal Reserve. But we, each of us, are stamped with the likeness of God. We are created in his image, and it is ourselves Jesus is telling us to render unto God in the verses I read this morning. 
The frustrating thing about Jesus's message is that he often tells us what to do without telling us how to do it, and rather than muddle through and puzzle it out prayerfully, we look around for easy answers. In the media today, you can find voices who will say that Republican conservatism is the place to be if you're a Christian. You can find an equal number of voices identifying the liberalism of the Democrats as the Christian path. Those voices will tell you to hate gay people. To hate rich people. To hate poor people. To hate our enemies. To hate our president. Those voices often tell you to mistrust and disbelieve anyone who disagrees with them and to respond with anger and with hate.
You know, though, I don't think Jesus ever told me to hate anybody. Jesus calls me and you and all of us to love. The New Testament calls us to love. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Turn the other cheek. Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that those who believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Love the lord your god with all your heart and soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. God is love.
Did you catch all those people and groups whom we're supposed to be loving? Here they are in short form: God, ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies. Note that enemies is on the list. This is not a Pollyanna system, where everyone always agrees and there are no arguments. There are times that we are going to find ourselves battling for what we believe is right. Yet, even in those moments, we are called to love. My friend Sarah, a devout Christian, thinks I'm insane. How can we love the terrorists? They'll just take advantage of our weakness. But I believe love is never weakness, especially when our love is a conduit for God's love.
I think it’s safe to say that most of the time, most of us are doing okay loving the people around us in our homes, in our churches and workplaces, and in our communities. We at least try to love the people with whom we have personal contact. It's when we come to the larger arena of citizenship in a nation of more than 300 million people that we are not doing so well. When we bring anger and hate to our citizenship, we are not being Christian citizens. 
For me, Christian citizenship involves deploying that love that Jesus emphasizes throughout the New Testament in his words and in his actions. It means considering issues carefully and going beyond the two sides shouting in the media. Often, it means reframing the debate by asking a different question. It means making prayerful decisions and, finally, acting out of love.
Think for a moment about the most contentious issues in American government and society. Here’s my list: immigration, banking, abortion, the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, jobs, taxes, the economy. I don't think the Bible gives us absolute easy answers to what we should think about any of these issues. But I do think that Jesus’s message and call to love tell us how we should approach our particular decisions and how we should interact with those who disagree.
Let's take for example, the issue of abortion. We citizens of the United States have been arguing over whether abortion should be legal or illegal for a lifetime, and we bring all the weapons of hate to the debate: we call each other names, we do violence to property and to people, we misrepresent the ideas and values of our enemies on the other side. And we're really not getting anywhere. 
I don't want to argue about whether it should be legal or not. I believe every abortion is a tragedy that begins long before the woman reaches the clinic. I want to make abortions unnecessary. Let's love ourselves and our bodies enough to understand how they work and to teach our children, because knowledge is always power. Let's destigmatize adoption by loving the parents who give the child up as well as the parents who give the child a home. Let's change the debate. 
The same goes for dealing with terrorist organizations around the world. They're really angry, and their anger hurts us. A lot. Is our anger any better? Can we use love to try to understand their anger? Can we recognize our common humanity? Can we love them?
This  sermon has been an unusually political sermon. So, I want to state clearly, that I am not advocating a particular political party or a partisan stance on any of the issues I've mentioned. What I want you to take away this morning after we've sung  patriotic praise songs as part of our religious worship is the idea that patriotism and religious faith not only go together, but they can enrich each other. Specifically, that the life of radical love for everyone we encounter to which Jesus calls us will help to make us better citizens.

*     *     *     *
Of all the sermons I have given, this one made me the most nervous. I knew I was approaching the limit of what is acceptable in the pulpit. Nevertheless, I felt called to give this message. The response was great. Many people thanked me for the message and the ideas to ponder. One woman commended me on having the nerve to give it. At Wakelee, they clapped when I was done. I know that at least a couple of people were unhappy, I hope that they don't give their pastor a hard time for having invited me to preach in his absence. I hope that all the people who appreciated the message have the nerve to live it out and pass it on.
At Wakelee, the final hymn after I gave the sermon was "This is My Song." I couldn't have planned it better.


* This is a gross oversimplification of the reality in France, for a more nuanced discussion of the separation of church and state in the current French republic, see Brookings.  (added 2/14/16)
** I'm aware of the debate about whether there even was a census. Common Reason  lays out all the pieces of the argument well, if you're interested. Historical accuracy aside, Luke's story remains a good illustration of divided allegiance.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On the First Day of Summer....

...I saw amber waves of grain in the countryside and the first zucchini in my CSA box.

What did you see?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lenten Balance

I usually use lent as a time to take stock of what is out of whack in my life and try to repair it. One year, I gave up chocolate, another year, I made a commitment to expressing patience when I felt anger. This year, I have been struggling to identify and articulate the aspect of my life in need of work, especially since participation in a covenant discipleship group this semester has meant ongoing attentiveness and progress toward balance. Nevertheless, I want to make a Lenten commitment that is greater in scope than the weekly covenant commitments. So, here goes...

Resolved: I will embrace balance this Lent, using the motto corpus, mens, spiritus from my alma mater and John Wesley's construct of public and private acts of piety and mercy as the models. Unlike the Lenten sacrifices I have made in the past, this may look different from one week to the next. The continuous aspect will be the evaluation of balance. Specifically, I need to balance the needs of my students with the requirements of my professors, and the demands of my professional life with the responsibilities of my private life. Self-care is also important, including sleep, exercise and wholesome home-cooked food.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rethinking Reality

The theme of the year in Purdue's Wesley Foundation ministry is Rethink. Since August, we've been rethinking something new every two weeks: church, friendship, beauty. This fortnight, we've been rethinking reality, and for the devotion before Tuesday night communion, I talked about reality as the combination of our beliefs and our actions.

In his discussion of the first lines of the book of Genesis, Sandor Goodheart notes that we are partners with God in the ongoing process of creation. We are working with God to create reality. To illustrate this point, I read from the post reproduced below (all but the last 2 paragraphs). When our actions are the embodiment of our beliefs we become the Gospel message of love, hope, and compassion  for the world. We influence reality.

Santa is an Act of Love

I didn't know what I was going to say to my kids when they asked about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, et. al. I didn't want to ruin the magic. I study fairytales and myths, for crying out loud, and firmly believe that they are vitally important to the health of our personal and social psyches. But I also did not want to look my children in the eye and lie to them. Thou shalt not, you know?

Then, one day, about a year ago, totally unexpectedly, at the ripe old ages of nearly 6 and 4.5, they asked.
"Is Santa real?" came wafting forward from the backseat. My husband glanced at me. "Santa," I said, "is something we do because we love each other. Papa and I think about what you love to do and what you need and we give it to you as Santa."

"But is he real?"

"Yes," my husband said, "Santa is real because we make him real."

"Do you want to help be Santa this year?" I offered. They did. So we did.

We split up in the store. One parent and one child buying a few small stocking stuffers for the other parent and child. The we took turns going to bed on Christmas Eve while the others stuffed stockings. It was a bit awkward, but the kids got a ton of joy out of creating the surprise for someone else. Last week, Sofia looked up at me and said, "I want to be Santa for Papa with you."

I worried a little after we blew the Santa cover last year. Would Anna tell the other kids at school and ruin it for them? But the myth of Santa is alive and well in our house. At the same time they are plotting what to give each other and us, they want to sit on Santa's lap downtown and they write him letters in school.
I wondered about the bunny and the fairy. Then when Anna lost her first tooth, she looked at me and said, "I'm gonna go put this under my pillow so you can be my tooth fairy, Mama."

And she did, so I did.

Even though the elf and the fairy aren't corporeal beings of their own, the are very real and very true. They are expressions of our love and caring for one another. Now I understand why my mother kept putting presents under the tree with no name in the from slot (Santa's m.o. in our house) even long after my sister and I knew they were from her. And I understand why I was so sad when as newlyweds we went to my mom's for Christmas and she didn't fill my stocking. "You have someone else to do that for you now," she said.

She's right. It took me a while to convince him that this is important, but I know he appreciates the figs, Toblerone, Clementine and dime that I spirit into his stocking every Christmas Eve, and each year he gets better at expressing affection through whimsical indulgence. And now, he has the kids to help him!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On Being a Medievalist, sort of

As I wandered in to the graduate student lounge this afternoon to read between classes, I noticed that a bunch of the medievalist guys were in the conference room which opens from it. I thought, "Are they working on the transcription homework for Monday? Should I go in and join them?" I dithered. I hate being the new girl. Deciding that recon was the best course of action, I stood in front of the open conference room door while I carefully squeezed out and placed my tea bag in the trash, thinking that if they saw me they couldn't not ask me in to work on the transcription homework.When what to my wondering eyes should appear but a lumpy velvet drawstring bag and a stack of cards! I laughed at myself as the dice clattered out onto the table and I sat back down to read and drink tea."I slay you!" is not in the transcription homework.

Not long after a trio came in to talk about their rhet/comp project.
Green Sweater Girl: "What is that sound?"
Other Girl: "It sounds like dice. Who's using dice?"
Preppy Guy: "When it's dice, I always assume it's the medievalists."

If the other medievalists are infamous for their dice, I don't feel so bad about being a serious academic who is also a card carrying member of the SCA.

How can they possibly have time for gaming? We have transcription homework for Monday!