Friday, August 31, 2012

good morning starshine

This photo pretty well sums up mornings around here:  chaotic.  I usually try to get Vicki Jo to focus on an activity that really seizes her concentration, so I can move around quickly and get both of us ready and make breakfast.

This morning:  spooning ice!  She loved it.  I try not to use this much plastic in our work, but with the water I didn't want to use a wooden tray.  I just popped a few ice cubes out of the blue ice tray onto the purple plastic tray, showed her how to use a spoon to transfer them to the white pitcher, and let her have at it!  She loves "poons" right now.  Toss up for favorite word between 'poon, shoe, and phone.  (She's also really into toothbrushes.  Goofball.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

taco seasoning

I have reached a new and happy place in my life.  One in which I no longer deeply desire to go out to eat all the time.  Jeff and I are food lovers.  We enjoy trying new places, going to favorite restaurants, and comparing dishes and dining experiences.  We have been known (in richer days) to spend obscene amounts of money each month on dining out - in the postpartum haze of a baby who simply would not be put down, sometimes near 900 or 1000 dollars.  I know.  Unreal.

I love cooking too.  Love it, love it, love it.  And look forward to it.  But my evenings are not always my own, and there are weeks like this one, where Sunday evening is Madison Community Meal, Monday is Lay Leadership Committee, Tuesday is Colin's Angels Orientation, Wednesday is church supper and children's program, Thursday is Titans game for Jeff's birthday.  Friday we are having our friends Neil and Kate over for steak sandwiches, about which I am unreasonably excited.  But nevermind.  Back to tonight.

Given all of that, it's no small thing that tonight, as I sped down Ellington Parkway (eyeing the scariest public awareness campaign of all time:  electronic billboards over the road that say "Tennessee Roadway Fatalities This Year:  681.  Don't be next" with the number ticking up every day), I thought long and hard about stopping at Calypso Cafe to get a quarter dark chicken, callaloo, black beans, and corn muffins.  I salivated a little.  And then I thought of my leftover roast chickens at home.  Two delectable birds we cooked over at Memaw's for Sunday dinner.  They were waiting to be picked cleaned and repurposed.  I decided that was actually what I wanted and drove right by Calypso.

So I took my birds out of the fridge, picked off the remaining meat, and put it in a skillet with a little bacon fat, a few cubes of frozen chicken stock, and a tablespoon or so of taco seasoning.  Have you ever looked at the ingredients on those packets of taco or fajita seasoning you get in the Mexican food aisle?  There is some fairly recognizable stuff, and then also some maltodextrosodiumglutamathione.  Or whatever.  Not good.  So I figured, How hard could it be to make my own?  And I did.  It's easy and you know just what's in it - all spices you can feel okay about.

Taco Seasoning
4 T chili powder
10 t paprika
3 T cumin
5 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1/4 t cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container for up to a year.
*One important thing to note about this recipe is that it does not contain salt.  So, you will still need to salt your taco meat to taste.

Tonight, I took my chicken taco filling and fixed it up my favorite way.  I spread sour cream on two small flour tortillas (if you are really being good about whole grains, go with corn tortillas warmed in a dry skillet), added the chicken, sprinkled shredded cheese on top, and finished with chopped lettuce and tomato.

It was worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

exodus: movement of ja people

Today's sermon comes to you straight out the awkward days of seminary.  When you are so used to writing academic papers that your style struggles badly.  When you are so ideological that you lose sight of what your average person cares about.  They are heady days, and I miss them a lot.  However, I must say that my sermons have improved drastically since I moved into the real world full-time!  This one was written for my church family at Blakemore UMC.  What a pivotal and precious place for me.

Exodus 3:1-15
         In today's Old Testament text, we encounter a very famous moment in the Exodus story.  We have been following Moses, who has an esteemed career as a murderer outlaw at this point.   You'll recall that he killed one of Pharoah's foremen because he had seen him beating an Israelite.  Then he fled to Midian to escape the wrath of Pharoah, and picked up a wife, Tsipporah, and a pretty wise father-in-law, Jethro, on the way. 
         Anyway, Moses is out tending the sheep of his father-in-law when he sees the most curious sight:  a scrubby little bush that's on fire, but won't burn up.  In translating the text, I found that some scholars tend to think it was a blackberry bush – so if that helps your mental picture, there you go.  Now, Biblical scholars disagree about the exact location of where Moses is at this point.  We don't know where Midian and Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai) are, but we can agree that this bush would not have been dewy or wet – it would have burned like a brush fire in the hot, dry area.  I think any one of us, like Moses, would have been puzzled as to why the bush kept on burning. 
         So Moses approached the bush to see what was going on, and then things got weirder.  The bush started talking to him.  We know, from reading the Scripture, that God was speaking, but Moses would have had no way of knowing.  Plus, we are unsure if Moses even has a relationship with God at this point – remember, he was raised as an Egyptian and didn't have the benefit of being surrounded by people who knew the God of Abraham and Isaac.  From knowing the story of the birth of Jesus, we also know that this isn't the first time God chooses to divulge good news to a clueless shepherd watching his flock.
         Moses listened to the speaking of the burning bush, and God revealed Godself to Moses.  Moses did what any single one of us would probably do:  he hid his face in fear and awe.  No one was supposed to see this God, JHWH, and live.  Moses probably thought he was approaching his final hour! 
         God told Moses that he had chosen Moses to be his envoy to Pharoah, to be his advocate for his people, to free them from the harsh labor they had been subjected to.  The time had come to save his people, and Moses was an operative part of that.  And what did Moses say?  Moses, probably feeling a mixture of dread, lack of self-confidence, and confusion, said “Who me?”
         That “who me” has sounded down through thousands of years and hundreds of thousands of readings of the text.  That “who me” is what I want to spend the next minutes talking about. 
         Some of you will know that I went to college in New York City, at Columbia University.  Directly catty-corner to Columbia's campus is the Jewish Theological Seminary in America, the main training grounds for all the Conservative Jewish rabbis and clerics of America – confusingly, they are actually the moderate sect of Judaism, although they are called Conservative.
         I had many friends who attended the Jewish Theological Seminary, so I often had occasion to walk by the building, or even to have lunch inside.  They had the most beautiful marble facade on the outside of the building, and chiseled into the marble was a drawing of a flaming bush, and the motto for the Seminary, which comes from this reading:  “And the bush was not consumed.”  My eyes always found this verse, every time I was walking by down on the sidewalk below.
         Throughout high school and college, I was very much like Moses in this verse, and I know that all of us have these moments sometimes.  God was continually calling to me, whispering and shouting my name, saying, “Emily – I have plans for you.  These plans involve full-time service in my church!”  And I said, “Who, me!?  But I'm going to be a lawyer, or a teacher, or a pharmacist like my Granddad.  I can serve you just as well in one of those professions, can't I?”
         But the bush was not consumed – and God kept calling.  And I kept saying, “Who, me?”  I applied for Peace Corps service after I graduated from college, and I said to God, “I'll serve you by serving others across the world.”  And the bush was not consumed, and God kept calling.  And I was turned down from the Peace Corps! 
         So I applied to Vanderbilt Divinity, but still wasn't sure that I wanted to pursue this calling from God.  I said to God, “But I might make a better professor than a pastor.”  But the bush was not consumed, and God kept calling to me from within it.  So finally, I stopped and listened to God's plan for me.  I'm still struggling to see what that plan looks like - I still have days when “Who, me!?” is a big stumbling block. 
         God doesn't call each of us to ordained ministry in the church, but God does call each of us somewhere.  And God keeps calling.  The bush is not consumed.  And maybe it isn't a vocational call, a call to a profession.  Maybe God is calling you to feel a particular passion about a certain issue – about the treatment of the homeless in this town, or the imprisonment of immigrants.  You can say “Who, me?” just like Moses all day long, but God isn't human, and God has power and endurance to withstand our protests and our foot-dragging. 
         And God has heard all the excuses!  If you think that you or I have some good excuses, think about what Moses said to God:  “I'm a murderer and a fugitive, I have a speech impediment, and besides, my brother is really more of the mouthpiece in the family.  Even my sister is a better leader than I am.  I'd really much rather follow on this one, God.”
         Finally, Moses pulls out his last stop, and says, “I don't think anyone will believe me if I go back and say that I heard God talking to me in a burning blackberry bush.  What will I do when they ridicule me and say I'm making it up?  What will I tell them that your name is?”  These are good excuses.  If someone came to me and reported the same story that Moses had, I would have recommended counseling.  So, Moses has some good points here.
         In asking for God's name, Moses is making an incredibly bold move.  See, in our culture, we name our kids with some impunity.  We decide when we get pregnant or when we adopt that, “if it's a girl, we'll name her Jessica, and if it's a boy, Matthew.”  But in many cultures, even today, people will refuse to name their children until they see them, because in naming there is power to help shape the future of that child.  The Bible is full of names that actually mean something.  Moses' own name means “drawn out of the water,” although scholars debate whether it's a Hebrew or an Egyptian name.  Isaac means “he laughed” because of Sarah's laughter about her alleged pregnancy.  And Jesus?  Yeshua in Hebrew means savior.  And so on.  So Moses, in asking for God's personal name, is asking for some control over God's action.  How will God respond to this bold request?
         God's answer to Moses is sheer genius.  This is one of those pivotal moments in the Exodus story, and in the greater Old Testament.  In a compact little Hebrew phrase that doesn't translate very well, God says:  “I am who I am.”  Another way of saying this, which is equally correct, is, “I will be what I will be.”  God basically says to Moses, “None of your business!  I'm going to do what I'm going to do, and your job is to listen and obey.  I will decide if the people will listen to you or not, so it's not your concern to try to convince them.”
         I think this moment is so ground-breaking because of the underlying statement God is making, and that God still makes today:  don't try to limit me with words or ideas.  In our human-ness, we want to know what God looks like.  We want to know what God's name is.  And God shows us little bits and pieces of what God looks like, but we will never, ever know the fullness of God.  This is the heart of the mystery of God. 
         At the Vanderbilt Divinity School, where I study, the so-called “School of Prophets,” one way that this idea is expressed is in the form of gender-inclusiveness.  We try to never refer to God as either “he” or “she” because God, in God's fullness, transcends human gender.  And this is very difficult at first!  After a lifetime of referring to God as 'he', to catch yourself and say “God” and “Godself” every time takes a lot of practice!  But that is what the community is for.  See, we remind each other.  We raise our hands during class and say, “It seems as if we're losing sight of our commitment to inclusiveness.  Can we remember that?”  This is one of the vital roles of community – we invoke different images of God, but remind each other that each one is valid and none of them are complete. 
         There is great danger in saying that the image we have of God is the only image.  Not only do we risk excluding people and turning them away from the church, we risk disrupting the very order of creation.  God created us in God's image, but when we monopolize images of God, we create God in our image.  This is a serious sin, and one that is incredibly widespread. 
         Sometimes, we want something for our lives so badly that we become convinced that God has called us to it.  This is a very dangerous form of creating God in our own image.  We might have wanted to be a teacher, or a police officer, or a mother or father, and we wanted it so deeply that we believed that God has given us a call to it.  Only a life that is steeped in prayer and Christian community will be able to discern a call from God correctly, because a call must be verified from both within and without.
         In some traditions, for a person to be recognized as being called to ministry, the call must be felt by others in the church.  In our own tradition, United Methodism, the candidate for ministry must be recognized as having “gifts, graces, and fruits” that are fit for that ministry.  The candidate must sit before various boards and committees charged with discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit, and deciding whether this person does indeed have that call.
         And when we say to God, like Moses, “Who me!?  I think I know what's best for myself, thank you very much,” we resist what God is creating in us.  We resist the order of creation.  And we don't let God do God's job. 
         To all of our “who me”s, God says “Yes you – and I'm with you.  You have power that you don't know yet, because it is from me.”  This is powerful stuff.  It was powerful for Moses back then, has gripped people in all the intervening years, and continues to reach into our lives and grasp us.  Moses thinks that his life is his own; that he is settled somewhat comfortably into a life of tending his father-in-law's sheep, and God comes to say otherwise.
         How often has this happened to each of us?  How often have we heard or uttered the phrase, “ . . . but God had other plans for me”?  Do we go along willingly?  Do we jump right in to what God has in store for us?
         In certain places and at certain times, it is very easy for us to hear and feel the pulling of God's divine will in our lives.  At other times, the communication becomes cloudy.  Many distractions stand in our way, and there are more coming every minute.  Who would have thought, a hundred years ago, that we would have tiny hand-held devices that allow someone to reach us by phone or email everywhere that we go?!  In a business professional environment, we are expected to respond to everyone's emails and demands within a twenty-four hour period!  This doesn't leave much time to carve out and listen for the calling of God.
         Occasionally the distractions are so great that God will indeed come in a bizarre sight like the burning bush, a tragic incident in our lives, or an insistent person – but a lot of times God speaks softly and waits for us to hear.  God is endlessly patient with us in this way.  A lot of times God chooses to give us subtle signs and warnings about where God is calling us, and expects us to tune in to God and tune out of some of our daily demands.
         Part of God being “I am who I am” or “I will be what I will be” is allowing God the freedom and latitude to work broadly in our lives.  If we allow God only a little corner of our hearts, or only one day of our week, we are not letting God be who God is.  God gave us all we are, and God demands the freedom to invade every part of us.  Are we open to that?  Do we hear the call of God?  If not – I suggest a retreat.  Even a five-minutes-a-day retreat.  At first it will feel like a waste of time.  It's not.  It's a gigantic investment of time. 
         In God's way of operating, which is different for each person, space for hearing is vital.  I know sometimes I will go through an entire day without a second of silence.  I have the radio on when I wake up, I make calls while I'm driving from one place to another, I sit in class while a professor lectures, and I chat with my friends over lunch.  I'm exhausted when I get home, and I fall into bed without a second thought.  Sometimes God takes the only opportunity God can get – when I'm reading for class – and invades my thoughts in that quietness.  I'll find my mind a million miles away from what I'm reading, because God saw that as the only moment to get my attention.  This is a sad state of affairs in my life!  This is when I know that I have to consciously schedule in some time for God. 
         So what do we “take home” with us from this Scriptural text from Exodus?  What application does it have in our everyday lives?  To sum up, I think the applications are threefold.  First, we must remember that God is calling, all the time.  God calls us not just to careers or family situations, but to everyday events.  God calls us into people's lives.  God calls us into places that demand justice and mercy, and expects us to perform in the example of Jesus.  God is calling each one of us right now to do something or to go somewhere, and most of us aren't hearing it because our world makes it very difficult.
         The second application from this text to our everyday lives is that we all make excuses when God calls us to something difficult or unattractive to us.  God has heard all these excuses before, and a million more that were probably more valid than the ones we have.  Regardless of our excuse-making, the point is that God equips us with what we need moment by moment, and asks only for our trust and belief.  It is a hard step to make, out into the unknown, but God accompanies us.  To all the “who me!?” of our lives, God responds, “Absolutely.  You.  I'm with you.  We're going to do this together.”
         And the third, and most sweeping application of this text to our lives resides in the revelation of the divine name.  When God responds to Moses brash inquiry as to God's name, “I am what I am” becomes the way that we have thought about God ever since.  Wrapped up in God's name, which abbreviates to JHWH in Hebrew, is the idea that humanity cannot place a neat frame around God.  In fact, to limit God is a great sin that reverses the divine order of creation.  God created us, and it will never be the other way around. 
         The frames we try to place around God are endless:  gender, appearance, political inclination, and the list goes on.  In our daily lives, we might sometimes try to create God in our own image by deciding that the plans we have for ourselves are also the plans that God has for us.  The only remedy for this backwards way of thinking is a life full of prayer and a discerning community. 
         So when you feel a “who me!?” coming, remember the story of Moses and the burning blackberry bush, and know that you aren't alone in this feeling.  Followers of JHWH have felt it through thousands of years, and God's response has been consistent:  “Yes you.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

thai taste

We have been hit by the eggplant truck.  I've mentioned before that the beauty and the curse of eating seasonally (through our CSA) is that you get . . . a few things at a time!  Summer is better than the rest of the year, but still there are weeks where we get mostly okra, a boatload of peppers, or (like this week), about fifteen eggplants of various sizes and colors.

The hard part about eggplant is that there isn't so much you can do with it.  (At least in my repertoire.)  Can't eat it raw.  We are still without a working oven, so no eggplant parmesan or baba ganoush.  Don't really love ratatouille.  I was really kind of at a loss.  Then I thought:  basil.

My friend Stephanie gave us a basil plant out of her backyard a few weeks ago.  In spite of my continual inattention and even blowing over and losing all its soil a couple of times, it's still producing!  I went out and plucked almost all the leaves.

Then I threw together this Thai-style stirfry.  The distinction of the Thai stirfry is that it has no thickener, like cornstarch, to give the sauce that Chinese-takeout-glisten.  It was fantastic tonight alongside:  a raw squash, daikon, and carrot salad; meatballs with scallion, ginger, and garlic; and nuoc cham.  Almost all the elements of this dinner used fish sauce as a seasoning.  This Asian equivalent to Worcestershire is high in magnesium, which enhances a natural feeling of calm.  Good for a wild girl before bedtime!

Thai Basil Eggplant
3 medium or 1 large eggplant, chopped into 2-inch chunks
1 T coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C water
1 T sugar (or sweetener of your choice)
2 T fish sauce
handful basil (Thai basil would be preferable), removed from stems

Heat coconut oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or wok until almost smoking.  Add garlic and continuously stir very briefly, about thirty seconds.  Drop in eggplant and let cook about a minute.  Add water, cover, and let simmer until the eggplant has absorbed almost all the water - about 5 minutes.  You want it to be quite soft.  It might take a little more water and time.

Stir in sugar and fish sauce and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Cut the heat off, add in the basil, cover and let wilt for about a minute.  Serve right away.  Serves 4.

Sorry, only had leftover pictures!  Who has time to photograph hot food while starving!?!?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

the time i got hired at a famous coffee shop without applying

I worked a lot in college.  I wasn't really getting "spending money" per se, and New York is ridiculously expensive.  Sure, my meals were covered by a dining plan, and my boarding was covered by loans, but I had to earn whatever I wanted to throw at pitchers for beer pong or going to clubs when my best friend Amanda dragged me downtown. 

Among other things, I had:  an office job, two internships, a gig as a guide for Spring break high school workshops, a job at a creperie, and a job at a sandwich shop.  Also I helped Amanda one time doing a birthday party where we dressed up in fairy tale costumes.

At the beginning of junior year, my friend Matt told me they were looking for a counter girl at the sandwich shop where he worked.  It was called the P & W.  It was about four blocks from campus, right across from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

I went and spoke to Wendy, the owner, and found myself the proud owner of a P & W apron and 15 hours a week behind the long butcher block counter.  I fixed coffee, soup, bread, and took sandwich orders to give to our sandwich guys.  I also cashed people out at the antique register.  There is a lost art to cashing out.  P & W only took cash, no cards (much to most of the customers' consternation), and it wouldn't automatically tell you how much change to give a customer.  So you actually had to figure out how to count change back! 

P & W was also a specialty market, and Wendy would let us take old stuff home.  This job became a lifeline for me, as I was paid in cash and often arrived home with a paper sack full of baguettes, jams, leftover cold cuts, milk, cheese, and other fancy little things.

After a few weeks, I learned more of the history behind the place.  P & W stood for Paniotis and Wendy.  Paniotis Binioris, a Greek immigrant, had assumed ownership of the old and landmarky Hungarian Pastry Shop, next door to P & W, around 1980.  Wendy had taken a job as a waitress there, and they met, courted, etc etc.  They had four delightful kids who attended the Fieldston School.  The shops were connected by a passageway in the back.  Paniotis was a very kind man with a wicked tennis game and a soft spot for foreigners trying to make it in the city. 

That's Misrak in the photo!  Don't be fooled - it's a wig.  A very common practice among Ethiopian women:  shave your head and wear amazing wigs.
The women who worked at the Hungarian were gorgeous and intimidating.  They were almost all Ethiopian, with perfect bronze skin stretched over high cheekbones.  Their slender fingers worked the espresso machine and tied up boxes of sweets like second nature.  They talked a lot in Coptic, probably making fun of the dumpy white people like me.  While we were working our shifts next door, we could get snacks and drinks at the Hungarian, so I got to know a few of them pretty well.  I especially remember Misrak and Lili.  All the girls were somehow related, and they were almost all Coptic Christians.  Lili was about sixteen, and she was living with distant relatives after she had arrived from Ethiopia.  She was in high school, working full time, and also caring for a small sibling.  Her life could not have been further away from my heady college years of intellectual pursuit and partying. 

One night, the crowd at the Hungarian overwhelmed the ability of the waitstaff to keep up (this was common).  Paniotis came next door to the P & W, saw me absentmindedly reading the Spectator at the counter, and said, "You're coming next door."

"But . . . I.  I can't work the machine.  I don't know what anything costs."

"You'll figure it out."

"Um . . . okay."

Thus began my first night at the Hungarian.  Let me pause here to say that Columbia students apply to work at the bohemian, dimly lit Hungarian like college seniors apply for Teach for America these days.  It's practically a rite of passage.  The percentage who get hired is . . . none.  The Ethiopians really have a corner on the place.

But there I was, trying desperately to keep up as they shot each other disdainful looks over my head.  I burned the absolute crap out of myself on the milk steamer (they assured me that everyone did this at least once and that was how you remembered not to do it again).  I tangled myself in the spool of the drop-down pastry box tier-upper.  I mixed up orders.  I was slow.  It was awful.  But they still needed me the next night.  And then the next one.  And soon I was working there more than I was working at the sandwich shop.  The Ethiopians started letting me sit at their "staff only" table. 

I went through a hard time after my mom died (obviously), and had to quit some of my extracurriculars so I could focus on school.  I left P & W and the Hungarian then, never to return as an employee.  But whenever I visit the City, I make a stop there.  I buy some Branston pickle relish, eat some prune hamentaschen or a Linzer tart, and reminisce.  And Wendy is always there to say hello and inquire after me. 

Friday, August 24, 2012


This is the current favorite activity.  Take the wipes out of the container, put the wipes into the container.  She did this for no less that 45 minutes this morning.  I tried my hardest not to interrupt her concentration or the flow of her work.

Vicki Jo has shown an interest in taking the wipes out of their container (when we are using disposable wipes, rather than our homemade ones - we are about 50/50) for a long time.  Probably a year?  It used to drive me crazy because she was lunging for the wipes the second I tried to change her.

But then, one day, I left her alone in her room with the wipes container.  I figured it would be a huge mess, but oh well - she would be entertained for awhile.  I was surprised to find that, when I left her to finish the whole process, she took them out and put them back in five or six times, but left the project completely neat and put away. 

Thanks, Montessori!  You have taught me to value what my child is interested in, try to observe her, and then leave her alone. 

(P.S. This is a "keeping it real" photo!  Messy bed, shoes everywhere, a lint roller (?), and a socket with no protector.  She has figured out how to get socket protectors out.  And unplugging stuff?  Forget it.  She's all over that.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

theology tuesday

Gulp.  It's time to bite the bullet.  As I have made nauseatingly abundantly clear, I am a pastor.  I am ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church.  I have been preaching on a regular basis for six years.  I have never preached *every* Sunday (and thank God, because I don't know I have the discipline for it!), but I have probably preached in excess of 50 times altogether. 

I have hesitated to post my sermons here for a number of reasons.  For one, a sermon is not meant to be read by the eyes.  It is meant to be spoken and comprehended by listening.  As a creative writer, it bugs me that many of my sermons are not my best pieces of writing.  But they shouldn't be.  They should be my best pieces of speech communication.  So my sermon manuscripts are full of repetition, symbols that indicate gesture and nuance, and sentence fragments that lend themselves better to the spoken word.

Second, there is something very scary in preaching.  When I bring the message, my words are not my own.  There is a transaction that is managed by the Holy Spirit.  Frequently, when shaking hands on their way out of the service, congregants will say that the sermon spoke to them in this way or that way.  Most of the time, what touched them is not what I meant to say.  The words that I spoke were translated by the Spirit into something that met something else in their heart.  And this is fine.  This is the nature of a sermon.  It is a singular type of communication - not quite persuasive speech, not quite lecture. 

Third, over time, I have begun to be so wary about what I put down in writing.  Emails, text messages, documents - these things can be hauled out, pointed to, and made to mean things that they don't.  Sensitive discussions are so much better in person.  Not just because of the potential for misunderstanding, but because of the impact that face-to-face communication has for our souls (and even more in this day of virtual lives). 

Fourth, sermons are not written generically.  Because they are a transaction, they are written with an audience in mind.  I picture these people as I write.  I picture the woman who told me about her daughter's experience of abuse at the hands of her mom's boyfriend.  I think about the man who has lost his wife and totally unmoored without her.  I think about how my words will hurt or help them.  Of course, there are unknown elements.  There will be visitors and situations I don't have knowledge of.  But it's worrisome to put those words that are so much intended for a certain group of people out into the ether, unsure of what orbit they will take.

But.  There has been a small voice nagging at me.  It says, Emily, post the sermons.  You can perhaps bring a word to someone out there.  You can be held accountable if anything you wrote was irresponsible.

So that's that.  I will bring you my sermons on Theology Tuesdays.  Please be merciful and recognize that these are not pieces of academic writing.  Here's one from Genesis, written for the tenth anniversary of the WTC attack.

The Recognition of Joseph by His Brothers, Peter von Cornelius, 1816-1817.
Genesis 50:15-21
Well, you don’t need me to remind you what today is.  The media has inundated us with reminders of that horrible day back in 2001.  Our memories of the towers crashing to the ground and a plane going into the Pentagon have been dredged up, and it is unsettling – to say the least.  That was a day that will stand out as a marker of a generation, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of Kennedy.  It may be trite to share our recollections of where we were on that day, but allow me to tell you about my September 11, 2001.

I was a senior in high school.  School had only just started a few weeks before, and I had an independent study during our first hour.  As I was walking out of the bathroom, I ran into Karen, a girl I knew from marching band.  She had a wild look in her eye, and she said, “Do you know what’s happening?  They’ve flown a plane into a building in New York.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I quickly made my way down to our media room, where giant televisions gave me a terrible view of the second tower falling.  Second hour was chemistry, and Mr. Mosley called class off and we all listened to the radio together.  He recounted the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and how his father had gone off to war.  Fourth hour was choir, and Ms. Bushouse told us about the day that Kennedy had been killed.  She reminded us to remember this day forever.  In sixth hour, which was band, we said the pledge of allegiance together.  I don’t think I’d recited the pledge of allegiance since elementary school, but it seemed like a very important thing to do at the time.  That evening, I sat in my driveway and watched the sun set, offering my prayers for those who had died and also for peace for the nations. 

Why do I tell you about all of this?  Well, bear with me, and I will try to explain.

Today we hear the final installment of the long saga of Joseph and his brothers.  I’ll do a quick recap of the drama:  Joseph’s father had given him a beautiful multi-colored coat, which made his eleven brothers jealous because they thought he was the favorite.  They set out to kill Joseph, but instead sold him into slavery.  As a slave, Joseph was taken to Egypt, where he was accused of assaulting a palace guard’s wife.  He was thrown in jail, and was only saved by his ability to interpret dreams.  By interpreting the pharaoh’s dreams, he was freed from prison and saved the nation of Egypt from a huge famine.  By the time we get to today’s scene, Joseph is very successful and renowned throughout Egypt.  He is among the favorites of the pharaoh and has great influence.  He is in charge of doling out the grain the Egyptians saved back and are selling at high prices to the starving people who come to them. 

Joseph’s brothers are rightly afraid that Joseph won’t help them, because they have been anything but kind to him.  So, when they approach him, they offer what they think is a fair trade:  they will be Joseph’s slaves if he will give them food.  After all, they sold him into slavery, so he should have the right to treat them in the same way.  Joseph’s response is curious.  He tells them that he is not in the place of God.  He also tells them that God made into good what they had intended for evil.  I think we today have much to learn from Joseph’s response to his brothers. 

First of all, we have to acknowledge that we are not in the place of God.  Forgiveness is only possible if God works it in us.  Notice that Joseph never says that he forgives his brothers.  He only says that he isn’t God, and goes on to help them.  Sometimes we hold forgiveness as a weapon over others, but it is really only God’s to give or take away.  God is endlessly forgiving, and is the only one who can empower us to forgive one another. 

 Second, Joseph refuses to engage in his brothers’ justice of reciprocity.  Remember, they had figured that they would offer themselves as Joseph’s slaves, since they had sold him into slavery.  But Joseph won’t see tit-for-tat in this way.  Joseph, rather, engages in justice by kindness.  Again, he leaves the judgment to God, and offers only good things to his brothers.

 So, how can we apply these lessons from our Scripture to our lives ten years after the horrible tragedy of the bombing of the twin towers?  We must, first and foremost, always remember that we are not in the place of God.  Justice and forgiveness are matters that God must work.  We need only to make ourselves available to the working of God’s spirit.  Joseph was able to see beyond revenge.  After all, he was letting God’s mercy work on those who had tried to kill him.  Are we able to do the same today?  Are we able to leave the work of God for God to accomplish?  Or do we long for justice and retribution worked at our own hands? 

 And are we able to follow Joseph’s lesson in justice?  Do we long for the same to be done to those who tried to hurt us?  Or do we offer kindness?  This can seem impossible.  It can seem almost disrespectful to the memory of those who died.  But it isn’t.  Those who died on that day surely have the perfect knowledge that none of us will have until we enter into God’s presence. 

 Joseph also said that, although his brothers had intended to do him evil, God had made it into good.  After all, he was now a prosperous official in Egypt who had avoided a terrible famine – and this was all due to his brothers’ trying to kill him!  And so God still tries to make good out of what evil we humans do to each other.  We have schools for girls in Afghanistan now, because of the horrible wars that came out of that horrible day in 2001.  There is some good out there.  God is still at work in the world.
And that is why I wanted to tell you the story of what happened in my life on September 11, 2001.  Because good came out of it.  I heard the stories and struggles of those important teachers in my life.  I heard about Pearl Harbor and I asked my mom for the first time about what had happened on the day Kennedy died.  Knowledge was passed down from generation to generation, because of the evil that had occurred. 

 So, I challenge each of us today to be optimists.  What good do we see floating out of the ashes of these evil acts?  How will we allow God to work in our lives?  Can we ask God to give us the ability to forgive?  And can we engage in justice by kindness, rather than justice through reciprocity? 

These are difficult questions.  They represent the work of a lifetime, not of a single morning’s sermon.  But they are the questions that we must use to shape our world after an event like the bombing of the twin towers.  They are what will make the shape of our new world a better one.  This is the word of God for this morning, thanks be to God. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

the time my husband lost his wedding ring three times

When Jeff and I were betrothed, I knew I wanted to have our wedding bands specially made for us by a shop in my hometown called Goldmakers.  Not only is their jewelry gorgeous and original, it is operated and most of the jewelry design and craft is done by two chicks I went to junior high/high school with, and they were awesome at jewelry even then.  (Isn't it cool that my high school had jewelry and metals classes?  That's public school done right, Nashville.)

I knew exactly what I wanted for mine.  It's called a gypsy setting, and it's basically a standard-width band with lots of tiny little diamond chips dropped in in a random pattern.  Here's a good example (but with sapphires instead of diamonds, and thinner than mine):

I love my wedding band and it still brings me a lot of joy to look at it each day. 

Jeff also knew just what he wanted.  He is a fidgeter, and he loved the idea of getting one of those rings with a spinning inner channel, so he could fuss with it all day long.  It cost a fortune because it is basically two rings fused together and then specially set so that one can spin freely.

These artisan rings set us back a couple grand, but it's okay, because you only ever get one, right?

Umm.  Well, in addition to being a fidgeter, my husband is also a chronic ring-taker-offer-and-putter-back-on-er.  Working in a restaurant compounds this, and he is constantly slipping off his ring when he has to get his hands in something nasty.

We were married (first in April, then in May) about four months before he lost the original spinner ring.  It's a long story, but let's just say he believes it was in a parking garage and it was gone the next morning when he went back to look for it.  Four months, people.  That's how long this lifetime investment lasted us.

So, off I go to Australia that winter (to do little stuff like meet the Dalai Lama and understand the world's religions).  While I was in Melbourne, the Gyuto monks (which are like the Dalai Lama's special task force) were selling handcrafted Tibetan goods to raise money for their cause.  I found a gorgeous hammered steel ring with a spinner!  It was embellished with Tibetan symbols and letters.  I bought it for about ten Australian dollars, prayed over it with a monk, and arrived home with my husband's second wedding ring.

He loved that one.  Maybe even more than the first.  He showed it off and talked it up wherever we went.  I thought we had found a keeper with that ring. 

But then the baby was born.  And the chaos ensued.  Somewhere in between being up all night and shifting around all our stuff to make room for her detritus, the second ring was lost.  We were sure that when we moved it would turn up.  Nope.

In the meantime, Jeff picked up a cheap ring from the gas station.  Somehow, in spite of his total inability to keep track of a wedding band, he still wants to wear one to show the world that he's married.  I appreciate that. 

But somewhere between Vicki Jo's arrival and our move to Tennessee, that ring was lost as well.  He thinks that one got left on the sink at work or something like that.  I wasn't too sad, as I really had nothing to do with that. 

So here we are, working on our fourth year of marriage, and my dear husband has already burned through three wedding bands.  He is the illustration beside the definition of "you can't have nice things."  I'm either thinking that he gets one tattooed on (which he would love as he already has a number of tattoos), or I just plan on buying him a new one for every year of marriage.  What do you think?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

little mind readers

[This post submitted for Living Montessori Now's "Montessori Monday.]

The newsletter from Michael Olaf arrived the other day!  Whenever updates come from them, all else is postponed until I get through scouring it.  I wonder who Michael Olaf is?  He must have loved Montessori an awful lot!

This latest newsletter was all about Practical Life.  To me, practical life is the genius of Montessori.  It is a way of thinking more than anything else.  It's an attitude that says My child needs valuable work.  My child doesn't need special "baby" or "child" activities.  My child wants to be involved in whatever I view as important.  My child needs appropriate tools and environments for participating in the life of our family.

When I first learned about this area of Montessori education, I immediately thought of the roles my mother let me have in our household from a very young age.  I benefited from being the youngest because she was much more relaxed about what I could do.  For instance, one of my duties was to rise early while it was still cool in the summer, put gasoline in the lawnmower, and mow the front and back lawns myself.  I did each of these tasks without supervision from the age of about 10.  Rather than viewing it as a burden, I loved mowing because I was given so much freedom and responsibility to do something that really mattered.  Real work.  I remember folding laundry with Mom from a very young age - maybe 2 or 3.  Again, I loved it.  I still love folding laundry.  Weird, I know.  

Classic practical life exercises like cutting fruit and vegetables, dusting plants, sweeping, washing dishes, and so on, are typically geared toward children starting at around 15 months.  I think a prerequisite for most of them is the ability to walk.  So, we are a bit behind there.  But Vicki has been helping me load and empty the dishwasher, load and unload the dryer (and transport clothes to be folded in her walker wagon to the place in the living room where we fold!), and I've recently noticed her begin to show an interest in wiping the floor and other surfaces with a dishcloth, beginning to lay things out flat and try to fold them, and also wanting to wipe her nose, mouth, and diaper area with cotton wipes (I suppose that is more Care of Self than Practical Life).  She also loves transferring and pouring items and liquids.

One of the later paragraphs in the newsletter caught my eye.  It wasn't so much about Practical Life as it was about emotional expression.  It reminded me of something I learned about Vicki Jo from her youngest days.  I remember thinking that she could smell fear or hesitation.  She could tell when I wasn't wholehearted about something.  Here is the quote:

"Children also read the adult's mind and emotion and will carry out research to find out exactly what the parent is trying to communicate when they give double messages—for example when an angry parent is trying to appear cheerful.

A child needs to know that it is all right to feel and express anger and frustration. He needs models to learn how—walking, scrubbing a floor, hitting a pillow or pounding clay—and not hitting another person (spanking included). If an adult goes for a walk or pounds clay, so will the child. If the adult hits the child, the child learns that it is okay to hit to express emotion."

Wow!  I was spanked a few times, and honestly, I remember doing really horrid things and really deserving it.  It didn't make me fear my mother or make me more prone to hitting others.  I don't think we will spank Vicki, and I love these suggestions for showing children how to resolve angry emotions.  I love the phrase about how the child will "carry out research" if they sense a double message is present.  It is so true.  You can't hide anything from these little clairvoyants.  Realizing this makes me redouble my efforts to live authentically and show Vicki Jo that real, practical life is full of joy and beauty, but also frustration and mistakes.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I recently posted about our daycare conundrum.  It got a little better in that Vicki Jo didn't scream and shriek when I dropped her off anymore.  But she still wasn't napping.  I mean, I would go to get her and she would have been awake for literally the entire eight hours (they log naps).  She couldn't stay awake in the car on the way home and once we got inside she just kept pointing at her bed.  It was getting so she couldn't stay awake through supper and her bath.  The evenings were a miserable downhill slide, devolving into her screaming and clutching me as I tried to make supper as quickly as possible.

We had to make a change.

As I said before:  this was no shortcoming on the part of the center.  I am proud of the childcare we offer at our church, and the opportunity it provides for so many kids to be loved and cared for.  It was just a bad match with the particular temperament of our child.  She needs a calm, quiet, darkened, peaceful environment to sleep.  She always has, and it was foolish of me to expect that she would just adapt to a room full of children and be able to nap there.  Luckily, we have options.

We figured out a way that Vicki Jo can be with a loving family member in a home setting each day of the week.  Jeff has Mondays,

Jeff's mom has Tuesdays (and frequently goes to visit her own mother on that day, so Vicki gets to see her great-grandmother a lot),

I have Wednesdays, Jeff's grandaddy's caretaker Cherlinda takes Thursdays (she is practically a family member at this point - an amazing woman), and Jeff's Memaw has her Fridays (so she sees her other great-grandma a lot too!).

Today is her last day in daycare.  Not only is this a huge cost savings for our family (full-time daycare in Nashville can run you 700 - 1000 dollars per month, depending on the age of your child), but Vicki gets to grow up in a nexus of extended family that reminds her of who she is and how many people are invested in her future.

One of the big reasons we decided to make a move back to Nashville was because we had a deeper network of support here.  The ability to find a place for our child where she will be lovingly cared for and allowed to develop with one-on-one attention is a phenomenal example of that support.  All of our families have problems.  As a pastor, I get to hear the history, the ups and downs, of many different families.  Even the ones that look perfect (especially the ones that look perfect) hide grief, sorrow, hardship, and brokenness.  Our families are no different.  But there is a lot of love and a lot of commitment.  You can't ask for much more than that.

Monday, August 13, 2012

ginger bug

My last fermented beverage success story gave me a lot of courage.  I have been continuously brewing kombucha from that SCOBY since I posted my method.  (Edit:  I had been, until just before we moved to Nashville, and I let my mother go dormant.  Fruit flies got into it, and I had to throw it out!  But I made another one in no time with the same method as before, and it is back to churning out the booch!)  It is delicious, helps my digestion, gives me energy, is fizzy and refreshing, and just generally makes me feel good.  Good knowing I made it, I know what's in it, and it's not toxic crap like I used to consume daily (i.e. Diet Coke). 

So I decided to give it another go.  I finally got my hands on a copy of Nourishing Traditions and saw a whole section on ginger bugs and homemade sodas.  It turns out that the reason sodas were originally served in pharmacies was because they were actually considered to be medicinal!  Before the advent of artificial carbonation, carbon dioxide could only be created in beverages through yeast eating sugar (this is still the case for all beer - the yeast eating the sugar also produces the alcohol, in that case).  The yeast produces all kinds of positive stuff as a by-product of eating the sugar.  B vitamins, probiotics, C vitamins (depending on what you put in as flavoring).  Healthy things.  No wonder these sodas were considered medicine!  I guess they could more accurately be called "health tonics."  And the sugar - the negative part - gets eaten up!  It's like magic.  I love watching these things come alive in my kitchen. 

Making a ginger bug was ridiculously easy.  Buy a big piece of ginger root and some white sugar.  If you don't have a water filter, buy some filtered water.  Put a cup of filtered water in a quart-size mason jar.  Dice or grate 2 tablespoons of ginger (you could peel it if you want, but why?  Plus I've heard that the spores on the skin culture the bug faster) and dump in the water.  Add 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Stir, cover with a cheesecloth or tea towel, and secure with a rubber band.  Put it somewhere warm and dark and leave it alone.  Every day for the next week, feed it with another 2 tablespoons of ginger and 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir.  By the end of the week, it should be bubbling vigorously, smell potently of ginger (if it smells foul, something went wrong - pour it out and start over), and have a film of white on the bottom of the jar (spent yeast cells). 

Now you have your soda starter ready to go!  The idea is very similar to a sourdough starter.  You have a culture that you keep at the ready, and then you use a bit of that culture to brew each batch of soda, just like you use a bit of sourdough starter to leaven each loaf of bread.

You can flavor it however you like.  The rule is 1/4 C sugar to 1 quart filtered water.  This time around, I put the water and sugar in a saucepan and added a chopped lime and 1/2 C blueberries.  I let it boil for a little bit, then cool to room temperature.  Then I strained it into a quart-size mason jar, added 1/2 C strained ginger bug, and capped it tightly.  

(Didn't get a picture.  Phooey.)

In a day or two, I started to see bubbles forming and the color of the soda (it had been dark purple) lightened.  I "burped" the jar each day to release excess carbon dioxide and let it ferment about three days.  I tasted it to be sure, and it was delicious.  Dry, crisp, bubbly, gingery, citrusy.  I put the jar in the fridge and we've been enjoying a soda we can feel really good about.  I let the baby drink out of my glass with absolutely no guilt!

(Do take care when you open the jars, as they might fizz over just like a bottle of soda pop.)

Friday, August 10, 2012


My hairstylists always hate me.  I mean to get my hair cut more often, but things get in the way.  And I'm cheap.  And then it's been thirteen months.  I went on Tuesday for a haircut, and the poor girl kept snipping and snipping. 

Also finally went to the optometrist last Saturday (baby in tow - that was fun), and got new glasses! 

Feeling very fresh and updated over here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

the time i got married twice to the same man

I've told you all about our joyous Bailey's Irish Creme-fueled Christmas Day engagement.  Here, let me refresh your memory:

What I didn't tell you, and what I honestly forgot about until I was at the County Clerks Office yesterday waiting in line to get my new Tennessee tags and had to bring my marriage certificate to prove that my name had indeed changed from what was listed on the auto title and I was bored and looking at the marriage certificate (yes, that bored), is that we were married twice.  We are currently on our second marriage.


Yep.  I got married twice without ever getting divorced.  Life is full of paradoxes and riddles and shades of gray blah blah blah.  Have a nice day.

Okay, I will tell you the story. 

I have told you that my husband has Crohn's disease.  For this reason, it is imperative that he remain insured.  If his insurance lapses, then when he regains insurance he is likely to have to wait six months or more to have (very costly) treatment for his Crohn's covered, since it is a pre-existing condition.  I hate health care policy in America.

As our eighteen-month engagement dwindled down (please don't punish yourself in this way.  Eighteen months was far too long), Jeff was going to leave his full-time job and go back to school.  The insurance coverage at his new school was exorbitantly expensive and not very good.  I was also a full-time student during this time, and my insurance coverage at Vanderbilt was actually quite nice.  I had the option to add dependents on my policy, but there were restrictions on who could be considered a dependent.  Children, spouses, domestic partners, anyone you could list as a "dependent" on your taxes.  Jeff, my fiance, was none of these.

The wedding was set for May 23.  We had booked the spot, sent the invitations, ordered the food.  There was no going back on this date.

But we needed to be married sooner so that Jeff could join my insurance policy.  This is truly a second-millenium American love story. 

So, on April 4, we hitched a ride down to Tullahoma with Jeff's mom.  In the same room where Jeff had nervously contemplated his Christmas Day proposal a year and a half earlier, his Pawpaw sat with us in the living room and discussed the responsibilities that go along with marriage.  A dutiful United Methodist pastor, Pawpaw asked about how we would support one another in our faith and discipleship.  And then he placed his hands over our joined hands and united us in matrimony. 

We called Ed Simmons, the Executive Director of Mountain TOP, our dear friend, and a United Methodist deacon, on the way home.  We had invited him to officiate at our wedding months before, and he was understandably confused about why we were calling him to say that we had just been wed.  When we finally explained everything, he got it.

Six weeks later we stood before Ed as he blessed our union and married us.  We hadn't told anyone about the previous marriage.  The only people there who were the wiser were Jeff's granddad, his mom, Ed, and the two of us.  Pawpaw could hardly rise to stand and read the Scripture at that point.

Two years later, he was gone.  But we will always remember April 4 as our first wedding day, and May 23 as our second.  Or at least I will remember every time I have to get my marriage certificate out for something and I see a date on there that isn't my anniversary!

Monday, August 6, 2012

ode to bubbie's

I know, on Mondays I usually give you an original or reworked recipe from my own kitchen.  But today, I just want to tell you about one of my absolute pantry staples.

Bubbie's sauerkraut.

I have always been a huge kraut fan.  I love sour and savory foods.  Salt and vinegar potato chips are like my dream.  Reuben sandwiches, with corned beef or pastrami, cheese, Russian dressing, and kraut on rye are a favorite. 

When I started pursuing a more traditional-foods lifestyle, I found that fermented foods and drinks play a big part in that whole thing.  Really, fermentation was one of the original food preservation methods.  Before hot water bath canning, before freezers, before the ability to buy fresh foods year-round, people fermented or dried their foods to save them for lean times. 

Making your own sauerkraut is ridiculously easy, but for some reason I have never had a lot of success.  I think I need better equipment.  In the meantime, Bubbie's fills the gap for me.  The markup is unbelievable.  When you consider that a head of cabbage, salt and water are all you need to make your own (and a jar - probably about a dollar's worth of stuff?), and then see that this product costs six or seven dollars a jar at the health food store . . . it's unsettling.

But I buy it anyway.  And that's saying something because I am one cheap bird.

My personal favorite way to enjoy sauerkraut right now is with bratwurst.  I take mine grilled with no bun, spicy brown mustard, and kraut.  Yes, please!

Friday, August 3, 2012

let sleeping dogs lie

Anyone else's pup do that crazy dream-tongue hanging out-paws swiftly running in place-throaty growl thing whilst sleeping? Even after three years, it is still the cutest thing ever to me.