Ash Wednesday Sermon

I preached the 6 PM service for Ash Wednesday today. I honestly wasn’t that happy about the sermon — it just didn’t seem to click for me, either in preparation or in delivery — but afterward, a couple of people came up and said that it was good and something they really needed to hear, so I guess you never know how it’ll be received. At any rate, for my own records, here it is.

A blessed Lent to all who celebrate it.

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Nothing like being inadvertently outed . . .

If you are nerdy, and you haven’t read today’s xkcd, go now.

Back? Good. So, before heading to class this morning, I read that, and naturally I had to go listen to the song. However, I was already running late for class, so I had to shut my laptop halfway through the song and head off. I’ve done this many times before, as my computer generally takes the “sleep” command to include a “pause” command, and doesn’t restart songs or movies automatically when I open up the computer.

I went to class. I arrived late, as the professor was already talking. I opened my computer. And the song started to play. I quickly slammed shut the laptop to get it back to sleep, but it wouldn’t stop playing. With the computer completely closed and supposedly shut down, it still kept playing, all the way to the end of the song, and I couldn’t do anything except blush profusely and apologize.

Afterwards, a guy from the class walked up to me. “Portal, right?” I blushed again and nodded, then asked if he’d read xkcd. “Yeah, I just did,” he said. “There aren’t that many xkcd fans here.”

I smiled, then. “It’s true.”

Broad trends, tiny moments.

Things that have happened since I last posted:

  • Semester ended, with all my work turned in on time. (!!!)
  • Flew to Israel. Celebrated Christmas in Haifa at an Arab Anglican church. Actually a really lovely service.
  • Got quite ill with sinusitis, and thus was grumpy, sick, and/or in bed for most of the next week and a half, while the family visited Beer Sheva, Jerusalem, and the West Bank.
  • Returned to Haifa, got antibiotics, and largely recovered.
  • Had foodie adventures, including a wonderful co-op at a local kibbutz (8 kinds of dates! amazing blends of spices! local honey!) and a fabulous Moroccan restaurant.
  • Flew home. Possibly caught another cold from the jerk next to me who wouldn’t turn off his cell phone while the plane was moving.
  • Started classes. Lots and lots of original languages this semester, it looks like.

One day, between Christmas and New Year’s, we were driving by the Sea of Galilee just before sunset. The sky glowed in shades of rose and peach and gold. An enormous flock of little birds, silhouetted in black, flew over the water — swooping upward then falling downward, fluttering about playfully while remaining a cohesive whole. As I watched them, I thought about Matthew 10:29, the promise that God watches and remembers each sparrow’s fall. I usually visualize it as a single sparrow, but in that moment, watching all the birds together, I shivered at the thought of God watching every flicker of those hundreds of wings.

Happy new year.

busy busy.

Soon, the semester will be over, and I’ll be able to prod myself into posting more.

But for now, I only have one specific thought: I don’t know how I got by without Amazon “Look Inside.” It’s like Google Books, only much more comprehensive for modern books, and it allows me to search for keywords anywhere in the book. Which is pretty invaluable, or at least an amazing time-saver, when writing papers. You need the physical book as well, of course, but the combination of the two makes it so swift and easy to hunt down half-forgotten quotes or passages.

Mmmmm, technology.

. . . figuring out what it means to love.

There are days when I just want to cry over humanity.

Many of you may have heard of Megan Meier, the 13-year-old girl who killed herself after her “online boyfriend” — actually the mother of a slighted friend — wooed her and then spurned her, saying “The world would be a better place without you.”

We know the name (and address, and workplace) of the woman who incited her death, but faces no criminal charges, because bloggers uncovered it. In fact, the blogging world has blasted a near-unanimous burst of fury against her. For some examples, read the post where her identity was first uncovered.

Read through the comments, if you like. Here are some typical examples:

“I seriously hope Lori Drew kills herself . . . Good riddance to bad effing trash.”

“If I was Megan’s father I would’ve put a bullet in her head. This is a sickening story. How dare LORI DREW, A KILLER not even have an ounce of remorse.”

“Some anonymous douche said ‘Do you want to drive this woman to suicide as well? Would that be fitting?’ Yes. Actually, it would be VERY fitting. And I highly doubt that any of us on here would feel any sympathy for the poor wittle witch who’d driven a little girl to suicide ON PURPOSE and WITHOUT REMORSE.”

Maybe I’m overreacting; I spent much of the day reading and talking about Civil War rhetoric, in which supposed moral and religious leadership sanctioned cold-blooded slaughter because they were so convinced that they were the right side. Well, some of them were. Slavery was a terrible wrong, just like Lori Drew committed a terrible wrong.

But that doesn’t mean that we can adopt the exact same tactics. And the fact that so many people see absolutely no contradiction in inciting the death of a woman because she incited someone else’s death . . . it makes me shudder.

This is how the church went astray, how it so often goes astray even now. We forget that the law of love governs all of our lives, and that even while we work for justice and righteousness, we need to constantly question whether each action fits within that law.

As is so often the case, the historic peace churches provide some of the best lived examples here. After the shooting in an Amish school that left five girls dead, the response from the grieving community was simple. “The Amish neighbor came that very night, around 9 o’clock in the evening, and offered forgiveness to the family [of the shooter].”

Buttery tart with red onion, bell pepper, and sharp cheddar

One of my contributions for Thanksgiving this year was my standard buttermilk pie, which is so yummy and easy that I make it whenever I have an excuse. I used the same pie crust recipe as last year: the NY Times’s all butter pie crust, which nicely expands to match a pound (four sticks) of butter with four cups of flour. I knew it’d give me extra pastry, even though I was using a double recipe of buttermilk pie to fill a rectangular cake tin, so I refrigerated the unbaked dough for later.

Today, I took the dough and pressed it out on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet, shaping a rough circle with a rim around the edge. Meanwhile, I sliced a red onion into thin slivers, sauteed it in rendered turkey fat* until it was soft and starting to caramelize, and added thin slices of bell pepper to sautee until they were tender. I covered the crust with sliced sharp cheddar, piled the bell pepper and onion on top, and sprinkled it generously with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Then into a 400 degree oven it went, until the cheese was melted, the peppers were beginning to crisp and brown, and the crust had turned a lovely golden-brown.

The result: savory, flavorful, gooey, crumbly perfection. Butter pastry dough really is a lovely thing. Next time, I must remember to photograph it before it gets devoured . . .

* – I am perhaps old-fashioned in this, but I love saving animal fat, on the infrequent occasions when I cook meat. It can be substituted for oil or butter for sauteeing vegetables, making a roux, browning lean meats, etc. Bacon/sausage fat adds smokey richness, and poultry fat (chicken, turkey, duck) adds a tantalizing savory flavor to any dish. It saves money, and you can get a surprising amount of it from a whole bird. I tend to toss all the scraps from a roast bird (bones, skin, fat, drippings, etc.) into a big pot with some water and chunks of onion and celery, simmer it for a few hours to get a good rich stock, then save the fat that rises to the top of the stock when it’s chilled.

Cranberry Sauce

Happy Thanksgiving, all. Have a recipe; I made this last year for Thanksgiving and amazed my friend CJ with the fact that non-canned cranberry sauce can be easy and addictively delicious. So upon his request, here’s my recipe. (Think of it as an approximation; for example, this time I substituted grapefruit for the oranges, and it was fabulous.)

3 lbs of cranberries (washed, with any bruised or bad cranberries removed)
3 cups of sugar
3 cups of orange juice or water
zest of 3 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
pinch of salt

1) Put all the ingredients in a largish pot.

2) Boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep the bottom from burning, until the berries have all burst and the liquid is thickened. This will probably take 20 minutes or so.

3) Taste for sweetness, and add more sugar if necessary. Once the sugar dissolves, cool and refrigerate.