A Day in Manhattan

IMG_0434

1. started at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue; I woke up with Beyonce/JayZ in my head, and a familiar-but-unwelcome creeping desire for more lucrative life-decisions in my heart, and if that reredos doesn’t cure such things, nothing will.

IMG_0437.JPG

2. The Strand and some new-to-me volumes.  Last time I was here, I formed a buzzfeed quiz in my mind: “At which NYC landmark are you most likely to run into an ex?”  This was mine.

IMG_0447

3. Rainy day hat.  Living the dream of every girl born in the 80’s; Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

IMG_0448.JPG

4. Nothing like a New York tea room.  Last time, Jordan and I discovered Bosie Tea Parlor after being rather unceremoniously kicked out of Tea & Sympathy.  Today (above), it was Podunk.  Perfect!

It was there that I sat and tried to read, and then tried to write, and then, finally decided/realized that the bit of puff pastry I’d eaten under the guise of hospitality at dinner last night, and the bite of pork bun I’d had at lunch today (Momofuku–along with John Krasinski & Emily Blunt, NBD–below) were not a joke.  That is to say, gluten is not a joke.  The energy, clarity of mind, and as my dear sweet brother will attest, evenness-of-temper which a gluten-free diet has afforded me were derailed by even just a few bites of wheaty goodness.  I think the experiment isn’t going to end soon…

(see there, in the corner?  that’s Emily, turned toward us; and John is clearly telling her something very dramatic and important turned the other way.)

IMG_0446

 

Wondering While I’m Wandering

IMG_0422.JPG

Headed to NYC this afternoon to spend a few days with my sweet brother enjoying autumn in the city.

IMG_0426.JPG

Listening to Empire State of Mind & hoping that Alicia Keys is right–that the big lights will inspire me. Looking forward to sharing some of that inspiration here upon my return.

I’ve been noodling around with organization, content, and concept here on Hope of Things Not Seen. As the weather changes I’m itchy to get things a little more accessible, warm, and streamlined in this little corner of the internets.

What’re YOU looking for here? What do you want to read more about? What do you like?

gluten free roundup 2

IMG_0380

yikes–one month in already!  Except for a slip of beer (I was so curious to know what J’s new brew tasted like, I forgot it had gluten in it…) and a decision to not be crazed about whether things like salad dressing or oatmeal have gluten in them, it hasn’t been very difficult at all.  Here are a few of my favorite things, now that I’m practically a pro:

1. butternut squash soup, above.

2. french toast – using udi’s bread, and if you forget to put the best part (the spices!) in the egg batter, sprinkle them in the syrup before you warm it up (everyone warms up their maple syrup, right?)  Warm up your non-stick skillet, combine 2 eggs & about 1/4-1/3 cup milk, 1/2 t cinnamon & 1/8 t nutmeg–if you remember to!, and whip them good.  Soak the bread for a few minutes on each side (mine came straight from the freezer, so it could use a healthy dose batter).  Then cook on medium heat for 2-4 minutes on each side.  It tastes just the same, at least to me!

3. oatmeal (five-minute oatmeal from A Beautiful Mess)- as the mornings get cooler, I relish a warm breakfast; oatmeal is my favorite, especially because the toppings are endless!  Of course, The Refectory’s Baked Oatmeal is a fave, too.

4. spaghetti squash carbonara - Jordan headed to North Dakota last week to see his family, and before he left I made a hot-dish to help him acclimate to the Upper Midwest.  Unfortunately, I liked it about as much as my camera did (if anyone knows how to make hot-dish photos look hot, let me know):IMG_0372

5. kale salad (Official version) – LIVING on this (my bastardized version).  Quinoa is the bomb.

IMG_03486. No-Bake Cookies  via A Beautiful Mess; a Midwestern classic & fave of mine since childhood.  What a chance that there isn’t any gluten in them–no substitutions needed!

IMG_03927. Roast Veggies & Polenta: chop up whatever’s in your fridge–broccoli, peppers, tomatoes (please don’t store them in your fridge!), onions, carrots, combine with olive oil, salt & pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.  In the meantime, prepare some polenta–hint: it’s just grits, yellow cornmeal in boiling water, stir in some cream cheese or goat cheese at the end, if you’re feeling fancy.

 

P.S. check out my gluten free roundup #1, and my new recipes page!

how to make: curried butternut squash soup

IMG_0411.JPG

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

IMG_2342

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).

IMG_2307

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.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2309

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.

IMG_2343

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.

IMG_2330

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

IMG_0406

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).

IMG_0379

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.