Friday, December 20, 2013


Christmas Eve preparations, working hard, and beautiful satsumas.  That is all.  Recipe to come Monday.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

the sickness unto death

One of my all-time favorite philosophers and theologians is Soren Kierkegaard.  Not only does he have a super-cool name that can give you bonus erudition points if you pronounce it correctly, but he really gave me the keys to understanding modern (and thus, post-modern) theology.  Our hyper-individualistic religious bent really began to develop during his time, and his exploration of the existential crisis still rings true.

He described the "sickness unto death" (a reference to Jesus' raising of Lazarus, in which Jesus remarks that Lazarus' sickness is not unto death), which is, in a word, despair.  The sickness unto death isn't cancer, it isn't AIDS, it isn't dementia, it isn't even doubt.  It is despair.  When we despair, we lose the self, and when we lose the self, we lose our ability to relate.  And without relationship, it's all over.

I've been reading through some bedside services of healing, hoping to find some resources to take on pastoral visits to the home and hospital.  Even after several years of doing this, it's sometimes hard to know what to say, as you sit with someone taking slow, rattling breaths, counting the seconds until they die.  You know they probably can't hear you.  But you still feel like you need to say something.

"Often those who are closest to the patient will not discuss the illness for fear of upsetting the person.  More often than not it is a fear of one's own feelings that does not allow the topic.  There are times when wholeness is accomplished not by physical healing, but by dying.  This may not be the way in which we would wish it to be done, yet sometimes it is God's way.  Accepting this kind of healing is the province of the person who suffers and each person does it in their own way - if at all"  (The Book of Offices and Services of the Order of St. Luke, p. 63).

If only we could see that the illness that we fear isn't the illness that will kill the person.  The illness that will kill us is a loss of relationship with one another and with God through Christ.  Death is separation, which is painful, but it is not the end.  The end comes when we refuse to acknowledge what we were created for, which is to experience life and death together with each other and with God.

Friday, December 13, 2013

raising arizona

My family loved the cult classic Raising Arizona.  There was a line where one of the characters tells Nicholas Cage, after he robs a convenience store with pantyhose on his head, "Son, you got a panty on your head."  Vicki Jo has been cracking me up lately with her panty antics:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

temperament and development

Having two kids is naturally a breeding ground for comparison.  I can only imagine what it must be like to have twins or to be a twin, where the comparison is even more intense.  But I think that it's a natural human thing to use past experience to find your way through the present, so I've found myself comparing a lot of what Todd and Vicki do, and thinking about what circumstances may have brought about the divergences between them.

The conclusion I've pretty much come to?  Parenting doesn't make all that much difference!

Vicki Jo came into the world in a surprising, sudden way, and everything about her has been intense and sensitive ever since.  She is a natural actress and can turn on the tear faucet as fast as anyone I've ever seen (and turn it off just as quickly).  I like to joke that she still cries more than Todd, at 2 1/2 years old (it's not really a joke, because it's true).  Before she became so verbal, there were many times as her parent that I simply could not figure out what to do to make her happy.  We spent many evenings crying together.  And yes, that is as depressing as it sounds.

She was slow to develop in every way except one:  talking.  She is remarkably verbal, has a huge vocabulary, and is on a fast track to reading early.  I know, this kind of parental bragging is nauseating.  But let me counterbalance that by saying that she was painfully slow to roll, sit up, crawl, pull up, and walk.  I often wondered whether she might need some therapy.  She didn't get her first tooth until she was nearly 12 months old.

Looking back, the single biggest hurdle to her development in all of this had to have been her temperament.  She would not be put down.  If you did put her down, and ignored her screaming, she refused to do any kind of active work to further her physical development.  She wanted to be held and talked to.  Even still, she does not like working or playing by herself.  She does not "entertain herself."  She needs interpersonal stimulation.

Todd, on the other hand, took his very sweet time in being born, and I had to semi-evict him even when it was past time.  He was born much larger (8 lb 12 oz to Vicki's 7 lb 1 oz), and 16 days later than she was, in terms of the length of the pregnancy.  He has been content to wait and observe ever since.  Other than necessarily having to leave him on the floor more often, just because I have another child to tend to, I do very little differently than I did with Vicki.  And yet, he has wanted to be on his own.  He has wanted for me to stop interacting with him sometimes.

This has led to a stark difference in his development.  He began inching around in his fourth month, was easily crawling by six, and now, at seven months on Monday, has begun to pull up to a stand on my legs and the walls.  He cut his first tooth last week, with very little fanfare.  He loves nothing more than to be set free to crawl around the house and explore it by himself.

Like I said, I followed no kind of program to get Todd to meet milestones so much earlier than Vicki did.  The only difference in me is that I have had an infant before.  Perhaps my lack of anxiety about his development contributed to his easy personality.  But I think he may have just been this way, regardless.

So the moral of the story?  Don't give yourself so much credit as a parent.  These kids pretty much figure things out themselves!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

a word on failure

Ministry has to be one of the more difficult callings in the world, because we are frequently called to fail.  Oh no, we are not expected to fail, but we do.  We are expected to produce more disciples, to draw people to Jesus Christ, and to enlarge the church (and the church's financial giving to further God's kingdom on earth).

But I think we forget that Jesus failed to convince a whole lot of people who met him in the flesh.  How could we be expected to do any better than his track record!?  We seem to think that being presented with the Gospel is an easy decision.  What we are asking of people, when we introduce them to Christ, is exceedingly difficult!  We are asking them to forsake a lot of what makes them happy and comfortable.  Even people who nominally claim Christ are (or should be) challenged to reform their thinking and their actions continually.  It's called sanctification, and it's not pretty.

So we, who should be bearing Christ, face a lot of rejection.  And that can really get to you after awhile.  Only people in sales have a thicker skin for being continually told to get lost.  A lot of times the rejection is quite subtle.  Will Willimon describes the gentle snub that a lot of pastors receive every week:  "often [it] takes the form of that at the end of Paul's speech in Acts 17, the polite, urbane, "Well, that was interesting.  Yes, very, very interesting.  We'll just have to think about that one.  Think about it, yes.  (We intend to do nothing about it, but we'll think about it.)""*

The nice part is that the kingdom of God actually depends very little on my failure or success.  At the end of the day, as inconsequential as it may make me feel in my quest for meaning, the church will rise and fall at the will of God.  God's Kingdom will come on earth in God's time.  I get the privilege of being a little part of that big plan, but I certainly don't determine whether it will happen or not.  Thank God.

*Willimon, Pastor, p. 296.

Monday, December 9, 2013

i love you a bushel and a peck . . .

Guys'n'Dolls?  Anyone?  Okay whatever.

I'll cut straight to the chase.  We've been buying bushels of apples for $22.75 from Bulk Natural Foods.  (I will do another post on BNF soon, but let it suffice to say that if you are in middle Tennessee and not taking advantage of this co-op, you are a fool!)

And what does one do with a bushel of apples, especially if one doesn't have a spare refrigerator or other cold cellar in which to store them?

One does what one can.

Which includes:  applesauce, pie filling, eating out of hand, dehydrating, cider.

First, a word about varieties.  We were able to pick from about fifteen different kinds of apples, and I had no idea what I was doing.  I knew that Red Delicious are often mushy, that Granny Smith are too tart for me to eat plain, and that the rest were somewhere in between.  For our first bushel, I ordered Cortlands.  I got the box, tore it open, pulled a rosy red fruit out to taste, and . . . it . . . mushed between my teeth.  Nothing more disappointing than wanting to crunch into an apple and getting mush.  But they made stupendous sauce and really good, thick, pectin-y cider.  They also had a creamy white flesh that dried really nicely.

Second go-round, I went with Cameos.  Got the box, ripped it open, picked one up, said a little prayer . . . and . . . CRUNCH!  Perfection.  Lovely, firm, crisp, juicy flesh.

For winter storage, I read up on how to keep them in a cooler in the backyard.  Apples need to be between 28 and 30 degrees for optimal lifespan, so a cooler in the shade in a Nashville winter is about right.  I packed them in layers between newspaper in a regular old Igloo cooler.  Make sure all the apples are good, because you know what they say about one bad apple . . . (it spoils the whole bunch, girl).

For sauce, you don't really need a recipe.  4 pounds of apples yields about 1 1/2 quarts of sauce.  From my first bushel, I put up 12 half-pints to give out for Christmas presents.  I just peeled, cored, and quartered 8 pounds of apples, added in a cup of water, and threw in a star anise and a few big chunks of fresh ginger.  I stewed it all until it was quite soft - maybe 2 hours.  At that point, the apples had fallen apart and the texture was just slightly chunky.  If you wanted it smoother, you could mash it or put it through a food mill.  I heated the jars, removed the star anise and ginger chunks, and funneled it into my half-pints.  Processed in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.  Done!  I'm getting ready to put up a few more quarts this week for family usage through the winter.

I'm going to make pie filling this week with this recipe:  spiced apple pie filling.

For cider, we are lucky enough to have friends from church with an old-fashioned cider press!  (Hi Elaine!)  We went up there a couple of weeks ago for supper and cider pressing.  Vicki Jo got to experience a hen house for the first time, and was totally freaked out as she helped collect the eggs.  The Cortlands made great cider, but the yield wasn't too high.  About a half bushel yielded only a half gallon of cider.  We tore through that in about two days!  Freshly-pressed cider is not even comparable to storebought pasteurized cider.  But I'll drink that too.  The Cameos are much juicier, and I suspect they would yield more cider if pressed.

And finally:  dehydrating!  I don't have a fancy-pants dehydrator, and even if I did, I would have nowhere in my dang house to put it.  But I can do one better:  a giant convection oven at my place of employ!

I do about ten apples at a time.  Peel, core, slice thin, lay out on parchment (made this mistake once - never again!), put into the oven on lowest temperature and high convection until nice and dry - about 3 or 4 hours.

These are so addictive.  Like potato chips but really good for you and packed with fiber and with no nasty oils.  I can tear through a gallon size bag by myself in an evening.

So!  Apples.  There you have it.  Buying in bulk is super-economical (I'm paying roughly 55 cents per pound, which is about a third what these varieties cost at the market), and makes you feel really homemaker-ish as you stock your shelves with stuff that you made!

[This post submitted to Real Food Wednesday 12/11/13, Unprocessed Fridays 12/13/13 and Fight Back Friday 12/13/13.]