The Mysteries of Bread

 Photo by  Austin Ban  on  Unsplash

Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

What do the following have in common?
Deodorant, 
Chicken_Veggie Stock, 
Eye makeup remover, 
Salsa, 
Laundry Soap, 
Bread

Any guesses? It is tricky because we all know that Deodorant and Salsa have MUCH in common.  

This is a list of items that I no longer buy instead I make them myself.  

Most are pretty easy and take little time.  For example, the deodorant takes maybe 10 minutes to measure and mix together, and my first batch still works and has lasted for more than a year now.

Laundry Soap takes about 30 minutes of active prep once every 3ish weeks.

Salsa is fun because I can vary the ingredients, which are thrown into the food processor and then kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.  

I do this for a variety of reasons.  Most often these items are healthier when I make them and cost less than if I were to purchase from any grocery store from King Soopers to Whole Foods.  It is often better for the environment as well when I do this.  I create less waste and in general feel like it is a good use of my time and energy to make these items.  

All except for the last item on the list.  

Bread.

Ah, remember Bread?

I do make my own bread but not exclusively. I'm not an exclusive bread maker mostly because a lot of my bread-making at this present moment where I am using a fermented starter is failing.  

We don’t eat a lot of bread.  But we often have one loaf for toast in the morning or the sandwich in a lunch box.  Liora Day, my youngest daughter, loves toast for breakfast.  Always spread with some melted butter.  There was a phase where she would wake up and ask for “hot buttered toast” because we were reading a series of books where the hero - a lovely pig named Mercy Watson, the author, Kate Di Camillo - loves herself some hot buttered toast.  

I want to be the kind of person who bakes.  For totally selfish reasons.  I want the glory that comes from presenting the glorious cream puffs for dessert or the perfect scone for breakfast. There is something so satisfying about pleasing people gathered around a table.  I do want more than glory.  I want the knowledge.   I love the Great British Baking Show, and I wish I had the wisdom of the judges, Paul and Mary, who understand at a glance whose sponge was over-proved or under-baked.  

I am not naturally a baker.  I can cook.  But, Cooking is different.  Cooking has more generosity and mercy than Baking.  Make the tiniest mistake with Baking, and she tosses her scarf across her shoulder and haughtily puts on her dark sunglasses as she stalks away across the room leaving you with another loaf to add to the compost pile (at least I’m feeding the hummus and squirrels).

Baking requires patience.  Diligence.  A careful hand.  It needs you to learn about her.  You must work with her and learn the feel of the dough you must work with her so often that you understand just when she needs that extra knead or how to make her beautiful with one more twist of your fingers.  

I want to be an artist and scientist and creator in this way.  

I watch the baking shows.  I check out books from the library.  I talk to friends.  I try using their starters.  I eat their fresh bread.  
I have even preached about bread!! 

It is a fascinating creature.  

And I’m failing with her.  Yes, lots of fails.  
Which means I am doing a lot of trying.  
Again and again.  
I’m taking the temperature of my water.  I’m experimenting with different grains, and I’m trying separate containers.  I’m reading blogs and asking friends for the starter recipes and comparing notes.  

And this failure takes time.  I hope for 5-7 days for the starter to foam and rise, and when it doesn’t, I feel frustrated, wasteful with flour and water, and sad that I have to buy another loaf from the store instead of providing one of my own.  

I was going to stop.  I told myself it was a bad choice to waste the flour and water I was using trying to build up my starter.  And then Paul said something - he is like, always talking - and I can’t even remember exactly what he said.  Probably some crap about failure meaning I was learning more and getting better questions to ask.  Something super crappy like that.  And inside my brain, I knew I couldn’t quit.  I know I needed to keep failing for myself as a practice.  (Side note: another topic is the truth that exists at the same time of knowing when to quit and walk away as the healthiest choice one can make)

It is actually so important that in all this failing that I’m doing (and incidentally whether one quits or stays) that I remember to ask questions.  Any question.  All the questions.  

This is the key.  The asking-questions-part of failure.  It has the power to change everything - maybe not even the bread but it will change me.  And I will grow even if my dough doesn’t rise.  I will learn even if the loaf is as solid is dough can get.  I will then have the opportunity to change the way I think about trying, failing, learning and how I navigate the doorways between those spaces.

So, I ask myself, do I still wish to learn how to make a starter?
Yes.
Do I wish to push myself at least one more time to see what more I can accomplish?
Yes. 
Do I want to change the way I view failure?
Yes, yes, yes.                                  

So, when I get back into town from a quick weekend away, I will once again be applying myself to the fermentation of flour and water in the hopes that bread will stay on the list of things I make myself.  

Which will mean then I will have one more question: 

What do I try next?
 

God is Everywhere

IMG_8121.jpg

God is everywhere.

He is not and will not be contained to a certain space or time or event. His Spirit permeates everything around us—the air we breathe, the mountains we climb, the coffee we drink, the food we eat, the love we make, the words we speak, the thoughts we think, the wind we often curse, the heat that causes us to sweat, the sweat that cools our bodies, the chill that races down our spine as the breeze blows through our dampened shirt. He is in the changing air of autumn, in the transformation of the leaves, from green to yellow, to orange, to red, to brown, to their falling from the branch. He is in the ground as the grass and flowers go to sleep for the winter, in the snowflakes that fall and blanket the ground in it's suspended animation. He is in your cold toes and in the blanket that slowly warms them, the fire that crackles and pops in the fireplace, or the radiator that slowly chases the chill from your living room. He is in the new life that returns in the spring, in the chlorophyll that changes our world from white and grey and brown back to vibrant green. He is in the death and rot of the compost that we use to fertilize our gardens, and he is in the produce that comes up from the ground to nourish us and sustain us as the temperatures once again rise. 

Yes, God is everywhere. 

There is a Psalm authored by David that captures this idea beautifully. Here's just a snippet of what David knew to be true of God:

I can never escape from your Spirit!

I can never get away from your presence!

If I go up to heaven, you are there;

if I go down to the grave, you are there.

If I ride on the wings of the morning,

if I dwell by the farthest oceans, 

even there your hand will guide me,

and your strength will support me.

I could ask the darkness to hide me

and the light around me to become night--

but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. (Psalm 139:7-12, New Living Translation)

So, if God is everywhere, how is it that we miss him so often? Or why do some who follow Jesus spend so much time and energy either building boxes to contain him (churches, doctrines, religions, dogmas) or trying to inject him in to certain aspects of our daily lives while building up walls to keep him out of other aspects of our lives? 

Many of us have jumped from church to church to church because we couldn't find a theology or a doctrine that matched the container in which we thought we could keep God. Or, we encountered something in our life that threatened to dismantle our box or that wouldn't fit in there with Him. Perhaps we were convinced by an individual or a group of people that there were certain places that God was no longer allowed by society. There was a meme that went around in several Christian circles on social media that has since been made in to a t-shirt that reads like this:

"Dear God, 

Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?

Signed,

A concerned student

Dear Student, 

I'm not allowed in schools.

God"

We've all heard folks around us bemoaning the degradation of our society, the lack of morality that has come with removing God from our schools and our courtrooms and our government. We've seen the televangelists blaming hurricanes and terrorist attacks on America's tolerance of homosexuality. God has clearly forsaken us, and if we will just beat ourselves up a little more, pray more fervently, read our bibles and quote more scripture out of context, and try to save the gays and convert the muslims and give teachers guns to protect their students in the classroom, God will hear our prayers and heal our land. We can get him to return to us, we can put him back in our boxes, and everything will be okay. 

Or...maybe God is still everywhere. We've just been too busy trying to get him to play by our rules, trying to keep him confined to our beliefs, reduced to the parts of His being that we can understand, that make us feel safe, that make us seem right, that make us sound spiritual and good and loving...and we missed him. I wonder how David might write Psalm 139 today?

I can never escape from your Spirit!

I can never get away from your presence!

When I wake up in the morning and dread going to work,

there you are.

When I sip my morning coffee, you're with me.

When I'm rolling my eyes at the "I'm with her" bumper sticker

on the Prius in front of me as I'm stuck in traffic, 

You are there.

When I think horribly sexist or racist things 

about the person who cut me off at the exit ramp,

when I am having a conversation with my coworker

who never accepts my invitations to church,

You are with me.

When I'm in biology class,

learning about the theory of evolution

you are there.

When my gay son tells me he's bringing his boyfriend home for Thanksgiving,

when I read a quote in a magazine 

from a buddhist monk,

but it sounds a lot like something I read in Proverbs,

when shots ring out in the halls of a school,

and parents and students stand crying out on the sidewalk

You are with us.

When politicians debate the value of a life yet unborn

There You are.

I can try to hide you under a basket,

or fit you in a box

or a temple

or a church

or a bible

or a book

or a doctrine

or a religion

but You won't be contained.

There is nowhere I can go to get away from You

because You are everywhere.

Perhaps that is a bit unnerving, and perhaps this is why we try so hard to keep God in box. The implications of this threaten to blow apart our containers and will require us to live differently, to reconsider our idea of community/church, to treat people and our planet with respect, to slow down and open our eyes to see the glory and beauty all around us. 

Word: Sanctuary

 Photo Credit: Photo by  JOHN TOWNER  on  Unsplash

Photo Credit: Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

The word ‘sanctuary’ derives from the Latin ‘sanctuarium’, a sacred or private space. Its root is in the Latin word ‘Sanctus’, meaning ‘holy’.

Since the mid-16th century, the word ‘sanctuary’ has carried the more general sense of a place of refuge. Sanctuaries are special places that are set apart to protect the innocent or oppressed. This, however, was not it’s original intent.

For at least a thousand years in England, until King James the 1st abolished it in 1623, 'Sanctuary' was not for people fleeing injustice, but for people fleeing justice.
If someone had committed a crime, regardless if it were unintentional or not, the victim or the victim’s family would often immediately make plans for their own retribution. However, if the defendant could get themselves to a place of religious significance - a church, a cathedral, even things like a monastery or an abbot's house (even just land that belonged to the church) then they were able to effectively evade justice for a period of time. This played an important role in society because it would effectively institutionalize a sort of cooling-off period for people involved in crimes while authorities investigated the case. It wasn’t uncommon for people to be killed by a victim’s family before they had the chance to prove their innocence. Of course, not all were innocent.

Since this time a sanctuary has become a place of safety for the innocent and the guilty alike, but there have been monumental shifts that have taken place in the human understanding of space since the time of the old sanctuaries. We exist in a world where there are very few sacred spaces left, and yet sanctuaries have evolved into a more expansive concept that encompasses the area of an entire city or the intimate space of a conversation. 

I’ve been recently obsessed with space and all the ways our understanding of it has changed. Space is more mysterious than we ever thought possible even 100 years ago. As our knowledge of space has evolved, I believe our understanding of sanctuary must evolve as well. We need an update on our definition of “holy space.” especially since we have an entirely new dimension that most of us exist in. I’m speaking of a virtual world where our profiles, footprints and digital residues reside. I’m talking about the ways we are extended beyond our humanity into a virtual reality. 

In one instant we can be united in suffering with the world who is weeping and gnashing their teeth at a dead refugee child, face down on a beach, and in the next instant, we can be utterly alone in a bedroom watching strangers play a video game on youtube.

We can be outside at a park with our kids wholly absorbed in photos of our friends at a park with their kids.

This new space has come with a lot of blessings and curses. It has the potential of connecting us in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and it also possesses the destructive power of stripping away our humanity. Our need for sanctuary has never been greater. We need a sanctuary for our gender.
A sanctuary for our race.
A sanctuary for our loves and even our “hates”
A sanctuary for the innocent
A sanctuary for the guilty.
We need a set apart place where we can wait and withhold judgment for a little while so that in our grief we don’t act out our violence and fear.
We need a space of beauty that can return us to ourselves.
We need a sanctuary.

Messy

messy.jpg

I recently made the decision to read the Bible cover to cover. There are a few reasons for this. 

1. I read a lot of Christian authors,  and I spend time with some really intelligent, well-read, well-educated, Christian people. As a result, I often feel a little out of my depth in conversations. So, what better way to keep up with these spiritual giants than to go ahead and just read the whole Bible, knowing full well that competition might  not be the best reason for engaging with this book (despite what you may have learned in Awana). 

2. I've never read the entire Bible, the book that nearly my entire faith and career is based upon. It seems like an accurate assumption for the people I work with and lead at church to make in believing that I have some working knowledge of the Bible, especially since I haven't been to seminary. Even self-taught chefs open restaurants, but not without reading a cookbook or a hundred. 

3. Two of the funerals I've attended in the last few years were filled with stories about how the deceased left behind a Bible that was well worn and filled with notes and what a great legacy that is to leave for their sons/daughters. I own several bibles, most of which are sitting in boxes with a bunch of other books I haven't read, but I've never been good about marking them up. I've highlighted some verses I like (mostly having to do with worship and singing), but nothing I can imagine the pastor at my funeral making note of, let alone anything that would give my kids any insight in to my spiritual life. So, I'm reading, underlining, making notes of things that don't make sense to me, things I find interesting or impactful, and so on. I still don't know if it will give anyone any insight as to the depth of my faith or my walk with Jesus, but at least those I leave behind will have a Bible with my handwriting in it...a monument to my spiritual immaturity and inability to understand why the book of Numbers exists. 

4. Over the years, a lot has shifted in the way I think about God and the Bible. So, I thought it would be a good idea to read the whole thing with new eyes and an open mind, trying to forget (or at least momentarily set aside) what I've been told I should believe and think about this book, and come at it with a fresh perspective and with a greater emphasis on context. 

Hopefully, I'll be able to write more about what I'm learning about myself and God and the Bible as I chip away at the pages. I just started at the end of April, so I'm right at the beginning of the Old Testament. As I write this, I just finished the book of Numbers, trying to just take it a chapter at a time.

In these first few books there are several things that have stuck out out to me as being odd or significant, but none more so than the utter messiness of the lives these people must have led. I'm not even talking about the spiritual mess they made of themselves. I didn't count, but I would guess there are over a dozen different kinds of sacrifices they needed to make to God, utilizing different kinds of animals, different preparations, instructions on what to do with different parts of the animals, what to do with the fluids, how to handle it all, and how to burn it. Then there are instructions on what to do with the ashes, sometimes mixing them with water for "cleansing." 

Throughout Exodus and Numbers, there are MILLIONS of Hebrew people roaming around the desert, complete with livestock. And, while I'm sure there are some things that have changed physiologically in humans between then and now, I know that one thing has remained as certain as death and taxes--everybody poops. Let's just say that if I was a nomad traveling the desert on the Sinai Penninsula during that time, I'd do everything I could to steer clear of wherever the Israelites camped. 

The sacrifices, however, are what struck me as creating the biggest mess. The human body contiains, on average, between 4 and 5.5 liters of blood. That's just over a gallon of blood. A bull, one of the most common animals mentioned needing to be sacrificed, contains about 39 liters, or 10.9 gallons, of blood. A lot of people carry around water bottles these days, so imagine 39 Nalgene bottles filled with cow blood. Now, imagine nearly 11 gallons of blood being poured out at the entrance to a huge tent in stifling heat of the desert. Now, imagine that happening over and over and over, sometimes several times a day. In Numbers 23, Balaam asks Balak to set up seven altars, to bring seven bulls AND seven rams, and they sacrifice all fourteen of these animals...three different times! That's a lot of blood. Not to mention the entrails, the skin, the fat. What a mess. 

The word "messy" has become somewhat fashionable for churches these days. People are invited to come as they are, mess and all, and they'll be welcomed with open arms. This is admirable, and I'm grateful that there are churches who are opening their doors and making a conscious effort to engage with everyone's mess. And, obviously this is a different kind of mess than the rather untidy practice of animal sacrifice. The messes we make of our lives these days are largely struggled with in private, behind closed doors or within closed hearts, easier to conceal than slitting the throat of an animal and burning its carcass on an altar in full public view.

But the spirit behind it all is the same. In some way, blood has been spilled. A mess has been made. We all have blood on our hands, either from wounds we've inflicted upon ourselves or others, or from trying to stop the bleeding from a wound that someone else has bestowed upon us. This brings a couple of questions to my mind:

1) Are you ready to see the messiness revealed in others?
2) Do you have a safe place to reveal your mess to the world? 

Putting the word "messy" in a mission statement is all well and good, but are we really ready when someone comes to us as individuals or into our faith communities who has sacrificed themselves on the altar of a lesser god—the altars of success or money or relationship or sex or work or whatever—and is standing at our front door, bleeding out? When that happens, messy is more than just a pithy catch phrase: it's an invitation to people who are really hurting and feel like they have no where else to go. What will you do when someone accepts this unintentional invitation? 

Personally, are we ready to put our own mess on display and fall into the gracious arms of our communities? Are our communities and relationships safe enough for that? Sadly, many of us have found that they aren't. We opened ourselves up and had salt poured in our wounds in the form of Christian cliches and out-of-context Bible verses. We admitted our weakness and our doubt and were cast out as unclean. Our mess was too much, and we've been wandering in the desert looking for an altar or a god that will accept our sacrifice. Or we learned to hide it better, found a way to present a sacrifice that isn't as bloody. Throughout the Old Testament, God inflicts serious punishment on those who bring an incomplete or displeasing sacrifice. And, while the system of animal sacrifice is no longer in place or needed, while that system of punishment and reward is over, there is a sense of emptiness that develops in us when we hide our hurts and failures, when we can't let ourselves be fully known and embraced by God and our communities. 

Being known in our messiness is scary business. Knowing others in their messiness is, frankly, messy. But it's an important part of living in community...real, authentic, messy community.