When we can no longer count on normal: a sermon to myself, and maybe you too…

It’s a tough time to be reading Revelation, but here I am–at the last book in my two-year-journey through my journaling Bible–in December of 2020. These are some of the darkest days people here in ‘the new world’ have experienced in decades…Europeans were much more affected by World War II than we were, for it was fought in their own front and back yards. Our cities were not bombed or blitzed or darkened by black-outs; surely they must have thought the end of the world was imminent.

Not being brave enough to read Revelation without a commentary at hand (I’m using an older Layman’s Bible Commentary written by Julian Love) I underlined these words: (and shortened them here for clarity)

“Oftentimes when it looks as though God’s judgments must surely be spent…there is a prolonged period [that] seems to be unchanged awaiting some final decision. And in that waiting there is opportunity to look around and gain fresh understanding of what has been going on and especially what redeeming factors God has introduced, which men in their hurried and often frantic way of life, have not observed.”

As I’m writing these words two days before Christmas, the day is lightening. The hill and trees are as black shadows against a pale pink and ivory horizon. It is a subtle sun-rising that befits these days, yet still, it is a reminder of the light that always comes after darkness: morning after night; spring after winter; the cycles of life, ordained by God.

This pandemic time is already being called the great pause–an interlude–in which, if humans were so inclined, we would/could/should “look around and gain fresh understanding.” Indeed, what  redeeming factors has God introduced that in our frantic way of life we have not observed?

There are many obvious answers–physical, emotional, and spiritual–so I think we can be ‘wholistic’ when considering this question.

We all long for the return of normal; it seems everything in our lives has been either put on hold or turned upside down. But what if God is upending our normal for His own purposes? Our frenetic pace has been forcibly slowed. If your normal was go everywhere and do everything, you have been obliged to reconsider. Many rage against this, call it the taking away of freedom, and disregard the new restrictions (at a risk to society). God does not need to rain judgment on us; we bring it on ourselves through our own foolishness, selfishness, and pride.

No matter if one is averse to change or if one embraces it, no one likes to have change forced upon them. (We do like the illusion of our control, don’t we?) Our emotions spiral out of whack when it happens, as do the above triage of sins–selfishness, foolishness, and pride.

Consider that our spiritual lives are being upended too. It is as if God Himself is saying,

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that my Son is born.

You have not listened to my still small voice,

so hear now the thunder and the storm.

We miss it now at peril to our lives and our souls…

I was going to end this sermon there for dramatic purposes, but I couldn’t.  Because there is always light after dark.

The darkness is given to us so that we understand light. Fear, grief, illness and death, instability–all things of the dark that have been so prevalent this year–are appointed to us so that when joy arrives, when our blessings are counted, when our hope wins, it can all be more glorious.  This year I wrote on Christmas cards a verse from the Gospel of John: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:5, and this next one is like it:John 1:9

Jesus’ name is Emmanuel, God With Us. In the dark, as well as in the light. In this darkest of years, in this darkest of months, in these darkest of days, let’s not forget that He experienced the greatest darkness of all. So that we would not have to live in the darkness forever. So that we can have that great hope of joy even when the darkness threatens to overwhelm us.

So I ask us all to consider what it is that God is showing us through this time that we have not observed. It will be something different for us all, I think. But let’s not waste this time, and then automatically go back to normalcy when we can. This is a wake-up for the world, isn’t it?

A radical change is being called for; what will that look like for you?


Changing the Season of Darkness into the Season of Light…

When we lived in the city we had a strategy for homeless people or those on the sidewalks with signs. We carried gift cards for Subway and gave them out one or two at a time. It seemed mostly satisfactory, until one day a guy asked how much was it worth. Later that same week I discovered a “cash-in your gift cards here” machine in the local grocery store.

We have since moved to a small town/rural area, and the people with signs aren’t so frequent. I don’t carry gift cards any more, and I rarely have cash with me, so I mostly just feel bad when I see someone with a Need Help sign.

I was thinking this morning of something that happened last fall before 2020 happened: I had made an uncharacteristic stop at Walmart to get Burt’s Bees chapstick. While there, I bought a rotisserie chicken for dinner. As I was leaving the parking lot, there was an older man standing at the curb. I could barely read his sign; all I got was “Need Help, Lost Job…”

I drove by.

I had a twenty dollar bill in my purse and a chicken for dinner. Playing on the car audio system was “More Like You” by Scott Wesley Brown. If you don’t know that song, the chorus goes like this:

More like you, Jesus, More like you, Touch my lips with holy fire, and make me more like you.

At the bottom of the hill, I turned around and drove back to where he was standing. I gave him the twenty dollar bill and prayed that he would use it wisely. I don’t know. I’m not writing this for any praise from you because it wasn’t my first thought to be generous. It wasn’t even my second thought. And for all I know, he went out and bought drugs or whiskey with it. But the story that keeps coming to mind is from C.S. Lewis: he was walking with a friend and he gave a generous amount of money to a street person. The friend gently chided him, saying the standard remark, “You know, he’ll probably just drink it up.” To which Lewis replied, “Well, so would I.” (This is from a biography of Lewis by Owen Barfield — who actually was that friend…)

But there’s another quote that’s not so well known in Letters to an American Lady.  Lewis writes, “It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been “had for a sucker” by any number of impostors; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need.”

I’m not suggesting we give money to every homeless person; we all have to figure out  how to live generously and thankfully, and what that means is different for everyone. But the events of this year — from pandemics to hurricanes and wildfires to racial unrest to large scale economic upheaval — have left so many of us feeling overwhelmed by the need. And feeling overwhelmed, I am trying to figure out what I can do.

sunriseToday is the first Sunday in Advent. As we await the light coming in this dark year of dark years, I suggest we choose something to do about it. It could be giving anonymously to someone in need. It could be making a meal for someone who is alone. Maybe every Thursday in Advent, you call someone you’ve been thinking about. Yesterday I read a suggestion–that instead of buying Christmas presents this year, we all donate to food pantries or agencies that are struggling to help people in need. We’re considering this: I’m thinking about making cards to send to family members explaining our strategy. Now, more than ever, is a good time to reconsider our spending habits and instead of spending our money on Cyber Monday, let’s spend it on Giving Tuesday instead…

I’m interested to hear if you have any plans to make this Advent season of 2020 different. To bring joy. To bring light. To this hurting world.


Give Your Food Some Culture

Thanksgiving 2020 ain’t what it used to be…So we ignored the turkey and fixings and smoked a big chicken for the two of us. We’d already decided to forego traveling, and now we’re quarantined anyway, so that just verified that we’d all made the right decision.

I’m thankful for a lot this year. For the fact that we are both healthy, that Joe Biden is president, that we have time for little things, for Instacart and delivered groceries, and my kefir grains that (I believe) are helping to keep me healthy. There’s no time like now to try a new hobby…

If a person paid attention to “experts” telling you what to eat, there would probably be nothing on your plate but organic greens. With a cup of green tea for dessert. No flours, rice, pasta, or beans because they are dangerous carbs. No red meat, pork, or eggs because of cholesterol. No fish because of mercury; no poultry or dairy because of the hormones fed to the animals; indeed, no animal products at all because of the cruelty of eating animals; fruit is too high in sugar; sugars and fats have been known to cause cancer; tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are part of the deadly nightshade family… Are you exhausted yet?

I’ve always tried to ‘eat healthy’. But sometimes it’s hard to tell what is just a nutrition fad and what is truth. In the sixties Adele Davis said “Eat Liver”; in the seventies Frances Moore Lappe said be a vegetarian and eat complementary proteins; in the eighties and nineties fat was the monster to cut completely out of your diet; in the oughties carbs became the villain. Yes, I’ve lived through decades of contradictory advice. So here I am writing a nutrition post on cultured foods. Is it a fad? I don’t know. Am I a nutritionist? Nope — not even close. All I can tell you is that these foods have made me less tired, less crabby (Mr. H.C. might disagree on that one!) and helped with both stomach issues and eczema.

These are the two different kinds of kefir I have culturing on my counter right now:

These foods give you probiotics, or healthy bacteria that your gut needs. Desperately.

I’m not a scientist, and there’s no point for me to go into all that when others have written about it much more fluently than I could. If you need info, try these three articles: Your Gut Bacteria and Your Health ;  Can Gut Bacteria Improve Your Health?  ;  How to Have Healthy Gut Bacteria

There are two kinds of kefir: dairy and non-dairy. They are both so delicious and different from each other, that they really deserve posts of their own. So today I’m writing about non-dairy kefir, similar in benefits to kombucha, but making it requires kefir grains, rather than a scoby.

Water Kefir, Kefir Soda, or Tibicos

These are grains that contain a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts. You add the grains to a sugar-water mix; the grains feed off the sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol, and carbon dioxide, which makes the drink fizzy. (The alcoholic content is negligible — about .5% to .75%.) This is so much  fun to make! It makes you feel like a mad scientist…. I make it a quart at a time with filtered water and 4 tablespoons of raw sugar. You can use brown sugar, coconut sugar, molasses, or maple syrup, but honey and agave syrup are not recommended. It sits on the counter for a day or so to ferment, and then you strain the liquid from the grains. You can drink it at this point, but next is the fun part. Get yourself some fermenting bottles–these are 16 oz. bottles.

Add two ounces of fruit juice (you can also add flavorings here too — ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom…) and fill each bottle with 12 ounces of the fermented liquid. Cap it and wait a day or so. It will carbonate, so you probably want to open the cap once every few hours to let it breathe. I have had explosions, but the bottles don’t break.  I have had to use a mop and a sponge on the floor and on the cabinets (Yes, it looked like a kid’s science project on how to make a volcano, gone awry).

After it sits on the counter for a day or so, refrigerate it, and drink it over ice. This was my summer-time-afternoon-pick-me-up, and I liked it so much, I’m still drinking it. Make it with cider and warm spices. Make it with cranberry and ginger. Make it with pineapple juice and cardamom. It is not sweet–the bacteria feeds on the sugar and so depending on how long you let it ferment, there is almost no sugar left. There is a small amount of alcohol present, as with any fermentation, but it’s minimal. It’s a great substitute for sugary soda drinks, and it is low calorie. My calorie counter, Lose It clocks an eight ounce glass at 10 calories; My Fitness Pal gives the same glass 45 calories. Here’s the thing: No two fermenting times or juices or sugars are the same, so it’s difficult to tell exact calories.

I ordered my grains at Cultured Food Life but there are other places to order it also. Here’s another good site: Cultures for Health and don’t worry, complete instructions come with your orders. And if you know someone who makes water kefir, chances are they will be happy to share some grains with you. Happy grains produce more grains.

Salud! Here’s to health and a happy stomach! And only 35 more days until 2020 is over…