Thursday, April 16, 2009

Black Fly

For those of you not from the Great North Woods, this may seem like a bit of a joke, a lark. It is funny, but if you have lived here, you know the truth of it. Black Fly season is coming soon. My brother posted this on his facebook page, and I thought it belonged here as well. 

Praise Worth Having

It is the custom in our house to eat dinner together, around a table, with food cooked at home, using real ceramic plates and knives and forks and all that good stuff. I have heard that this sort of thing has become unusual, as if there are actually families that don't do this. This is a difficult thing for me to comprehend. Far from being a chore, this is one of the greatest delights of my life -- to sit at table and share good food with those I love most every day. It is not usually fancy, but always good. When my wife is cooking, the meal is often as good or better than much of what passes for cuisine and fine restaurants. I am not exaggerating when I say that. Of course, sometimes it is sometimes ridiculously simple (milk and cereal) but it is always received with thanks and shared with love.

Of course, it is not really ultimately about the food. The food is just the glue that brings us all together. It is a family ritual that both shapes our family life and rises out of it simultaneously. It is a ritual I love to imagine my daughters taking for granted, and making their own, in their own homes, with their own children.

It is also our custom to take time at the end of the meal to read a book aloud. This is Dad's job, as he usually finishes eating first, and because he loves to hear his own voice. We are currently reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I read this myself when I was perhaps 11 or 12 years old, and I remember enjoying it very much, but I realize now how many of the details have faded in my memory. It is a delightful read aloud. Previous to this, we read Captain's Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, which, while a fine story with great characters and themes, turned out to be very difficult to read aloud. There was something about the rhythm of Kipling's prose that does not flow easily off the tongue, however it looks on the page. Alcott is not like that at all. Her words flow beautifully, even in spite of the dated phrasing and archaic terms. 

And every once in a while, she hits something squarely -- if you can imagine a demure and slight New England lady whacking you on the forehead with a two by four. Tonight we finished the chapter "Meg goes to Vanity Fair" in which Meg, the oldest March daughter goes to stay with wealthy friends for the week, and learns the dangers of wealth without character. Her mother encourages her, rather than seek the approbation of people who may be "kind, I daresay, but worldly, ill-bred, and full of vulgar ideas, to  
Learn to know the value and praise which is worth having, and to excite the admiration of excellent people by being modest as well as pretty....
What hit me between the eyes on the next page was the following passage where Marmee is telling Meg and Jo her hopes for their future:
I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good; to be admired, loved and respected; to have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman; and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it Meg; right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it; so that, when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy. My dear girls I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world -- marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing -- and when well used, a noble thing -- but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace. 
I can't say that I made it all the way through that paragraph without having to stop for a second. I had something in my eye that made my vision cloudy and it made it hard to read. At the same time my throat unaccountably spasmed and it took a second to let it pass before I could continue. 

I am often amazed at the power of well chosen words representing high and noble ideas.

Right Freely

Fascinating quote from Martin Luther that was recently posted on internetmonk:

“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” 
Now I'm pretty sure that will twist the knickers of more than a few folks, and tickle a few others. Whichever camp you fall in, just meditate on that for a minute. There is much worth considering.

Worth reading Michael Spencer's explication and the comments of his readers. I especially like the story of the orthodox priest and the catechumen.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chicken Rosemary Potato Bean Soup

My cousin Nancy is a songwriter and musician. She has a lovely and gentle heart, and it comes out in her music. Whenever I hear her sing, I can't help but seeing this sweet hippie chick that you just can't help but like. Not spacey, not saccharine, but just someone who enjoys simple, beautiful things. 

I also admire how she has been taking steps over the past several years to get her music out there. She has recorded a few very nice CD's, and has been doing concerts at various venues around Boise Idaho, her hometown, as well as reaching out through a website, blog, CDBaby and even facebook and myspace. I can't speak for her, but it seems to me that it's not about getting rich as a musician (although I don't guess that she would turn down money if offered), but she is diligently seeking ways to share her music with the world. It's step by step, a learning process,and I'm pretty sure she has seen her share of setbacks and disappointments. But the process is progress. I appreciate the strength and perserverence it takes to lay your life's work out for everyone to form an opinion. That is no small thing.

She recently put up a song on YouTube called Chicken Rosemary Potato Bean Soup. It creates such a warm and delightful domestic picture of a warm dinner on a cold night. It strikes me as kind of a winter song, but even though it's turning rapidly to spring, nights are still chilly enough here in New England that it still fits. I can imagine hearing this song played on a Sunday night public radio folk show. It has a nice feel to it.

You can find her website HERE.

Thanks Nancy. I'm posting your song with the lyrics. 

5:45 with evening descending –
The night before us pending
Glad for the wood pile Stan stacked by the house
Stoke the fire before it goes out

Potato Bean Soup simmers to hot
Throw in some chicken (since that’s what we’ve got)
Light the candle I just bought
Throw the spices now into the pot


Call up Ashley and tell her the soup’s on
Why don’t you bring Billy; stay as long as you want
Or if you can’t stay take some home for tomorrow
I’ll tuck in the recipe so you can follow

Repeat Chorus

© NancyKellyMusic 2009
Penned September 29, 2008   

Steal This Holiday

Not too long ago, I had a brief exchange with a friend of mine who is one of Jehovah's Witnesses. We are good friends, and will occassionally engage in friendly jabs about what you might call our "differing faith perspectives." I enjoy this sort of thing immensely, taking pains to refer to myself as a "false religionist" with such great relish that the irony of my usage is clear. He likes to ask very short and pointed questions that end in a very self-satisfied smacking of the lips as if he has just scored the ultimate point. Even so, none of this is mean spirited and our relationship is undergirded by a deep affection and respect. 

So at the beginning of last winter he asked a question that was something like, "So, are you  preparing to celebrate the pagan holiday in December?"  Not wanting to lay down for such an obvious ploy, I answered, "What pagan holiday is that?" I had him there, because the JW training does not allow such a teachable moment to pass unused. Being born and raised a JW, the conditioning was too strong for him to just keep playing the game. 

So he launches into a short but pointed explanation of the true pagan origins of the holiday commonly known as Christmas. It seems we christians (false religionists, that is) have been duped all along. We just THINK we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, even though it clearly cannot be his actual birthday. And even if it were, the whole idea is wrong because...well...Jesus just isn't Jehovah. You aren't supposed to worship anyone except Jehovah. 

This, by the way, is completely aside from the whole aversion that JW's carry for celebrating birthdays of any kind.  I have always found this to be a custom just full of comic possibilities. Especially around Christmas. After all, if you WERE going to celebrate ANYONE's birthday, would Jesus' be the one you would pick? But...I digress.

My point in return was simply that my friend clearly did not understand the nature of co-opting cultural markers. Christians are not duped at all. The whole Christmas/Saturnalia/Solstice thing was actually quite intentional. You see, what we actually did was hit the pagans over the head, and outright STEAL their holiday. Then we took it and gave it to Jesus whose day it SHOULD have been all along. It's ok because Jesus redeemed the day and it belongs to Him now. That's how the gospel works, with people, and with everything else. Jesus has this way of taking things that are all bent out of shape and straightening them out. 

Of course, their is an ongoing tension where the gods of the current age are making their attempts to recapture the day. That's a subject for another post.

I've been hearing similar objections arising lately regarding Easter. I have long been in the habit of referring to it as Ressurection Day, just so as to avoid confusion with the whole bunny-eggy thing, and the happy-happy-spring thing - both gods of this age. But I have been hearing some people suggesting that the whole thing is just a thin Christiany veneer laid over a solid pagan core. If anything it's just the opposite.