how to make: curried butternut squash soup

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About three years ago, I decided on a whim to become an expert soup-maker.  It seemed like both an attainable and a noble goal–aside from being super useful!  I would now call myself a soup-expert; blended soups, stewy-soups, broths, cold, hot, ramen-y, I’ve made ‘em all, and can throw together some pretty great options with a reasonable amount of ease.  Thank goodness it’s turning cooler and there are lots of squashes and hardy veggies available and appetizing again–though my mom makes a mean gazpacho, but it’s never been my jam.

Here’s a recipe I use all the time with lots of flexibility; it’s “naturally” gluten-free and freezes so beautifully:

Melt some butter and olive oil in a pot (I use my 4-qt dutch oven); add one chopped onion and some garlic, if you like it.  If you’ve got some celery and/or carrots that need to be used up, throw them in with the onion (chopped, of course).  Let those “aromatics” get soft, and maybe even a little bit brown (i love the flavor when onions get burnt around the edges, so sweet!).

Depending on when you’ve finished chopping the butternut squash (could be 1-2 pounds, or larger–whatever you’ve got; could also be a sweet potato or a few, instead!), throw it in and let it get a little color, too.  If your other veggies are already pretty far gone, add 1/2 – 1 cup white wine and scrape up the delicious bits of veggie and juice stuck to the bottom of the pot, and then add the squash.

Once all the vegetables are in with the wine, add chicken broth (or vegetable broth–or whatever gluten-free broth you want–I make my own, so I know what’s in it) to cover the vegetables by about an inch.  Add salt & pepper, and if you’re feeling wild, about 1 tablespoon curry powder.  You could throw in thyme instead, or rosemary–especially if you’ve used sweet potatoes.  Let the soup simmer till the squash is tender (when you poke it with a knife, it easily yields), and then let it cool a bit.  Either use an immersion blender (highly recommended) or a usual blender (in batches, so that the top doesn’t fly off!) to make a smooth soup, and then serve with goat cheese & more S&P, or ladle into bags or tupperware (or ice cube trays!) to freeze (if you use ziploc bags, lay them on a cookie sheet–they’ll freeze flat and then you can stack them for efficient storage!).

 

God Doesn’t Need Your Money – sermon

Trinity Cathedral Columbia“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and make good your vows to the Most High.”

It almost seems as if I’ve skipped the sermon, doesn’t it?  Breezed over the Creed, the Prayers and the Confession, stolen the celebrant’s line, and moved right on to the offertory.

Isn’t that what sometimes happens in October?  We hear about “stewardship” from the pulpit, from our Bible studies and Sunday School classes, from the mailers that show up at our houses.  Soon we’ll have pledge Sunday, and our pledge cards will be brought up during the time of the offering; we’ve had weeks full of witnesses come up to share their stewardship testimonies in the past.  Many people avoid church all together in October and November, and though I suspect that the Gamecocks have something to do with it, I’ll wager it’s not the only reason.

Here’s the thing:  if we’re jumping to the bottom line, we’re skipping the part about how God fits into all this, and if you’re here this morning, I suspect the part about God is much more interesting to you than the call for your checkbooks.  I propose to focus on the part about God this morning, both in our lesson from Isaiah, and the message in Matthew.  For good measure, we’ll look at the psalm from which comes the offertory sentence with which I started this morning:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and make good your vows to the Most High.”

That verse comes from Psalm 50; a psalm that reveals to us who God is and reinforces the picture of God offered at Isaiah’s hand from our reading this morning.  This migrant prophet, living with Israelites in exile, says some really amazing things about the God of Jacob.  Can you imagine what this sounded like?  Did it shock you this morning?  Look again at the passage:

“Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus whose right hand I have held”

“anointed” means Messiah.  Isaiah talks of a foreign warrior king, Cyrus the Great, as a savior for the Hebrew people, chosen by God himself.

“whose right hand I have held” – what does this mean, but what is expounded later in the passage, that God has led this Persian conqueror to victory.  God is taking credit for the success of a pagan military man, and is even claiming to be his God.

It’s uncomfortable enough in our day and time to say to someone who professes another faith, “my God is your God too,” but in ancient days, gods very much belonged to their own people, to the culture out of which they came.  Gods had an even stronger sense of cultural belonging than they do today.  In the United States and elsewhere, people are a mishmash—Jews living alongside Sikhs next to Muslims and Buddhists—in Isaiah and Cyrus’ times, gods were tied to your Greek or Roman or Persian or Hebrew identity.

God puts in Isaiah’s mouth the truth that the Hebrew God is the only one, as verse 5 tells us: “I am the LORD and there is no other; There is no God besides Me.”  What an audacious claim—especially being made of someone who is captive to another country, exiled!  The Israelite people are living by the good grace of foreign kings, some of whom demand renunciation of the Israelite God in favor of the local deity.

Isaiah doesn’t stop at saying that the Israelite God is the only true, living God; he goes on to claim Cyrus’ success for this God of Jacob.  In verse 4, he says, “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel my elect, I have even called you by your name;” all that God is doing, even in the midst of Israel’s exile, even the movement of foreign kings, is all under God’s direction—everything belongs to God.

In these short 7 verses, God says, “I will” 4 times—he’s laying out his plan, his orchestration of Cyrus’ work; he says “I am” 3 times in our reading this morning—revealing to us both directly and indirectly who this God is that we worship.  He says “I have” twice in the same span of verses and in verse 7, declares “I form,” and “I make”—emphasizing what he is already up to through his mighty power and for the sake of His people.

Though the assertions that the Israelite God is not only alive, despite his peoples’ overthrow and exile, but also responsible for the great king Cyrus’ success, is shocking enough, the real exceptional thing about this passage is what we learn about God through it: Everything belongs to God. This Israelite God, is all-powerful, bending the long arc of history toward his own purposes; no one is beyond his reach, nothing is outside of his realm.

We see this same message in Psalm 50, where we started this morning.  Take up your BCP in your pew and turn to page 654—verse 10 tells us, “all the beasts of the forest are mine, the herds in their thousands upon the hills.”  Later in verses 12, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.”

Everything belongs to God; God never depended upon the ancient Israelites’ blood sacrifices for his nourishment, as verse 13 tells us, “Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”  In 21st century parlance, we might go so far as to interpret this verse in psalm 50 as saying, “Do you think I keep the doors of my temple open only because of your dollar bills?  Are you under the impression that the Gospel is only spread because of your checks?”  My friends, God does not require our money for the fulfillment of his purposes.

Lest anyone stop reading and leave right now, considering this the greatest anti-stewardship sermon of all time, let’s flip over to the Gospel.  Jesus says something convicting to the Pharisees, and something convicting to us: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Trying to catch Jesus up, some interns of the Pharisees are sent to ask the Teacher whether they really should pay taxes.  The questioners try to butter Jesus up, spitting back at him words they suspect he would say—that Jesus is not particularly interested in giving credit, honor, and glory to people usually given honor in their society.  Surely he wouldn’t say that paying taxes is a good use of money, lining the coffers of the corrupt, oppressive secular government.  Verse 18: having perceived their wickedness, Jesus sighs, “why do you test Me, you hypocrites.”  Then he asks for a denarius, the money required for taxes; on its face is the likeness of Caesar and so Jesus keeps the governor happy by affirming the paying of required taxes.

Jesus turns on his corrupt questioners, though, adding, “Render therefore… to God the things that are God’s.”  Now, we’ve got Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln and Roosevelt and Washington on our currency, but we’ve got the mark of God on each of us.  In the beginning, in Genesis, God breathed the breath of life into the clay person he’d formed out of the earth, and since then, the thing that differentiates us from all other creatures is the Image of God that is stamped on each of us.  It’s what makes us long for something beyond ourselves, it makes us sort of disquiet about the big questions of life in a way that our sweet pets and wildlife and flora have no capacity for wondering or for spiritual connection.  We are made to interact with God, with the all-powerful, uncomprehendably vast, mysterious God who introduces himself to us through Jesus in Scripture, in the Eucharist, and in ministry with each other.

“We offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to you, O Lord.”

How curious and awesome that this immense being, The Immanent Being, not only desires to be in relationship with us, but at his very core, the Triune God is a relationship.  In response to such love, such an enormous and powerful God who wants nothing more than to be with us always, in our hearts, near our every thought, what can we do but lay down our lives at his feet?  What can we do but open our hands, our storehouses, our bank accounts, our calendars, our very selves, and offer them up to him?  He doesn’t need these things, but he does want us.  He wants to be the center of our hearts, the middle of our focus.

That’s why we have a cross and an altar and a stained glass window of Jesus up front—this God who has interacted with and desired the love of humanity from the beginning is the one toward whom we orient all our lives.  We come to church and literally orient our bodies, and we pray that our souls and lives may be oriented this way, too—toward the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Peter and Paul, the God of the saints throughout the last two thousand years of church history, and the God of you, and me, and the people still in bed right now, and the people on the street.

This is the God to whom we offer our lives in thanks-giving, the one who uses foreign kings for the sake of his own people’s redemption, the one who truly owns every thing which is in existence, the one who came in the form of a baby to an oppressed people in the dark days of the Roman empire, the one who overcomes death itself.

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanks-giving, and make good your vows to the Most High.”

so small – what I learned at Mont Saint-Michel

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During our northern-France pilgrimage this summer, we went to Mont Saint-Michel.  I’d been maybe 15 years ago, but I experienced it very differently this time, of course.  It’s the most dramatic approach of anywhere I’ve ever been.  First, it’s a little spire in the distance–literally pointing toward heaven, directing all those who see and approach to focus their attention on God.  IMG_2303

It was cloudy, windy, and a bit rainy as we walked the pilgrim’s way toward the Mont (by afternoon, at the top of the post, it’d cleared up beautifully).  When you think you’re almost there, you aren’t–as you pass the dam (above) you’re actually only getting close to the pedestrian-only/official-buses-only section; the pavement ends and those on foot continue on real earth (it was sort of lovely and medieval).

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Then you finally arrive, and crane your neck.  The main tower points like a finger toward the sky, with the smaller spires of the main chapel’s gothic apse joining in, beckoning your attention toward the vast expanse of sky symbolizing the vastness and the glory of God.

 

 

 

 

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Just below the highest tower (below) much of it is blocked from view–you can see its fullness more clearly from afar.  In the midst of life, often it’s more difficult to contemplate the whole thing; a step back, contemplation, slowness, helps us humans, limited as we are, to take in the greatness of God and of life.

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The upper main chapel is extraordinary, as are the rooms in which monks have lived, eaten, prayed, studied, and celebrated for centuries; this time, though, I was deeply affected by the Chapel of St. Martin, built almost exactly a thousand (1000!) years ago.  The automated guide told me, almost apologetically, that it hadn’t been touched much in the intervening millennium.  In classic, understated Romanesque style, this quiet, sparse, dark little room was my favorite moment of the whole day.

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Can you imagine praying where God-seekers have been soaking the walls with prayers for a thousand years?  As far as we are removed for those who built this holy place for prayer and worship to the glory of God, they themselves were removed from Jesus’ time in Galilee.  When I realized that as I sat at the back of this chapel, I started to understand how small I am in the course of history and in the life of the church.

Though our lives matter–the prayers we offer and the virtues we cultivate–each one of us is tiny, miniscule, perhaps even so small as to be statistically irrelevant, in comparison to the Church (all people who have sought after God throughout time and space).  Our significance comes from being part of something much larger than ourselves, a millenia-long heritage.  Being so small is a comfort to me, though; I am not such a linchpin myself that my shoulders need bend and break under the weight.  The little pieces each of us contribute are offerings to this great God of centuries and space.

Fear not!  As pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber said recently, “The Church of Jesus Christ has survived papal corruption, the crusades, sectarianism, and clown ministry. It will survive us too.”

happiness list

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1. I’m alive & well!  I was in a car accident last night, and was able to walk away from it (maybe more later, maybe not).  It was an honor to wake up this morning, feed my menagerie, make a cup of tea, and sit quietly–like “normal.”

2. a section from Learning to Dream Again that I read this week, which challenged me to respond to others’ sin and shortcomings with grace–not with resentment, or with justice, or even with mercy, but with grace (more than justice & mercy–complete forgiveness and acceptance).

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light through the West window at Evening Prayer this week; Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

3. autumn sunshine.  There’s something warm, quiet, reflective, and somehow cool at the same time, about the light this time of year.

a paycheck

How much do we really need in order to “make a living”?

For three pay cycles toward the end of summer, the accounting department at my work overpaid me by about a third.  When we all realized the error, I took a 1/3 cut for the next three checks (which worked out to more like 1/2 of what I’d been making for the previous six weeks).

Because clergy are in a strange tax situation, we took the extra and put it away in our account for saving to pay our taxes–ours aren’t taken out check-by-check–so we’ll be set a little bit earlier this year.

The wild-and-convicting thing?  My husband and I didn’t much notice the difference.  Sure, we spent less and kept closer track of our spending decisions, but our lives didn’t look or feel significantly different; indeed, now that the first “normal” check arrived in our account, I realize how much more we could (and probably should) be giving away.  Have you ever tried to live on less?  What did you notice–anything?

Since January, I’ve been on a clothing-spending-freeze.  You see, there’s an intentional living community in Durham, NC (the Community of the Franciscan Way) that fostered my adoption and growth in the Anglican tradition; this group reminded me how to be Christian again.  My heart longs for those people and the way God is present in them, but my work is elsewhere now.  To stay invested and connected with them this year, I decided to give to them monthly, and since money doesn’t grow on trees, I looked at my budget (and my closet) and decided I really didn’t need any more clothes.  I’ve been sending them my clothing budget this year, and though I’ve missed the numbing sensation of retail therapy (I hadn’t realized till this commitment what a “therapy”–perhaps in a bad sense–it really is!), my closet is plenty stocked to accommodate my fashion whims.

Full disclosure: after ripping my one set of jeans on a recent grocery store trip, I did buy a new pair.

What sorts of habits have we fallen into with our money, mindlessly spending rather than intentionally enjoying, and sharing with others?

Quotation of the Day – Amy Grant

Amy Grant Behind the Eyes“It takes a little time sometimes
To get your feet back on the ground
It takes a little time sometimes
To get the Titanic turned back around
It takes a little time sometimes
But baby you’re not going down
It takes more than you’ve got right now
Give it, give it time”

From the 1997 classic, “Takes a Little Time,” by Amy Grant, on her album, “Behind the Eyes”

Two thoughts:
1. Countless hours were spent blasting this from my CD stereo in the driveway, while I choreographed dance routines on my Roller Blades.  So you think you’re a child of the 90’s?

2. Almost 20 years ago, these words reminded me that everything in my adolescent life would be okay, they were my rosary.  Now, they speak to this young woman’s heart, reminding me again how long and slow life sometimes seems, and that maybe that’s a good thing.