19 April 2015

Wounds That Do Not Heal: A Sermon for Easter 3B

I love Liturgy. It’s one of the reasons I am an Episcopalian. But there’s no doubt that because we say the same words week after week, year after year, we sometimes say them without giving much thought to what they really mean.

In the Apostles creed, the one that we use every time there is a baptism, we say

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting.

My guess is that most of you are like me, and don’t give a lot of thought to the resurrection of the body most of the time. And when we do think about it, we don’t think of resurrection in our current bodies. We imagine better bodies, taller, thinner, stronger bodies, bodies that don’t ache when it rains or wheeze when the flowers bloom, bodies that don’t grow malignancies, bodies without depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

One of the things that we say to each other when someone dies after a difficult physical or mental illness is “at least they aren't in pain anymore.” Whatever we believe about the afterlife, we seem fairly sure that we will shed these broken bodies. It’s comforting to think that way, and in the case of the things that affect only our physical bodies, it’s what I believe. But what about the wounds that aren't just physical, The broken-ness of our minds and our souls that shapes who we are? How can we split what is good about us, our compassion, our resilience, even our humor, from the pain that made us this way?

When my first child was stillborn, nearly ten years ago, I was approached by many women who offered their sympathy, and told me that it had happened to them, too. They meant to tell me that I was not alone in my grief, and I was grateful for it, but what struck me as I looked at them, was how open that grief still was for them, years, sometimes decades later. These were women with full, happy lives, healthy children, even grandchildren, and yet the wound was still open. And I thought, “I am never going to get out of this. I am going to be this person forever.” And it terrified me.

Ten years later, I have a full and happy life, and two healthy children. But I am still that person who has lost a child, because no matter how much journaling or therapy or reading or writing or exercising or praying you do, you cannot go back to being the person that you were before the lid was blown off your life. Many of you, most of you, have wounds of your own. They are the unavoidable result of living in a broken world. And some of them will never heal.

The disciples had their own wounds, loss and fear, wounds that were as real as the holes in Jesus’ hands, wounds that were still bleeding away their courage and their vitality, wounds so fresh that they could not see what was happening in front of them despite many signs. The women had found the empty tomb, in the passage just before today’s Gospel reading Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and now he appears to them in an upper room and says “Peace be with you.”

“Peace be with you” is another thing we say every week without giving it much thought. It’s a powerful blessing, if you’re paying attention. The Hebrew word Jesus would have used is “Shalom” which means “Peace”, but not just the absence of conflict, completeness, fullness and rest. Shalom is a full relationship with God and with each other. Think about that when we pass the peace this morning, and what it would mean for the world if we were sincere about it.

But the disciples weren't ready to receive the peace that Jesus offered. They didn't know what what happening until he showed them his wounds to prove he wasn't a ghost. It’s an understandable confusion, even with the signs and the scriptures. Who among us, faced with a loved one thought to be dead would think “this is the fulfillment of the scriptures!” instead of pinching ourselves, or wondering if someone had slipped something into our drinks.  Jesus then asked for a piece of fish, maybe to give further proof that he was alive, or maybe he was just hungry. Either way it gave the disciples time to process what they were seeing. Only then could he open their minds to the scriptures, and they were able to see how God was using the crucifixion and the resurrection to bring the peace that Jesus offered. It wasn't that they hadn't known the scriptures before, it was that they were too wounded to see clearly.

With the guidance of the resurrected Jesus, the disciples were able to see that the resurrection was about more than life after death and embarrassing human powers, it was about repentance and forgiveness and peace not just for chosen people but for all people, where repentance is not just being sorry for what you did wrong, but having a changed mind and a changed heart, a new perspective, a new community.

That’s the story that is at the heart of the crucifixion and resurrection. The same story that weaves through the whole history of God’s people. In the midst of destruction God is working. Jesus appeared with hands still wounded from the crucifixion, because there are wounds that never heal. Our wounds may never heal, but just as Jesus’ wounds were no longer bleeding, the promise of the resurrection is that our wounds do not have to bleed us of our lives and our vitality, and we can use our whole selves, wounds and all, to offer fullness, rest and relationship to others.

Peace be with you.


16 April 2015

The Story of Caleb Joseph, an Invitation to the New Fan

If you're not already a baseball fan, then Caleb Joseph is the reason you should become one.

A year ago, Caleb Joseph was stuck in the minor leagues. After four seasons with the AA Bowie Baysox, he was up a level at AAA Norfolk, making almost no money, not as much money as a man with a new wife and hopes for a family would need. He’d planned to give it up, to go find a real job and be a guy who had once played professional baseball but that you’d probably never heard of. Maybe he would tell stories, and maybe he’d be a coach somewhere in his spare time. He didn't want to quit, of course, but four years in AA ball is not how you get to the Major Leagues. I’m sure he thought it was time to grow up and stop dreaming about baseball.
It was Caleb Joseph’s wife who convinced him to give it one more shot, one more season of minor league ball, one more season of watching hotshot prospects get called up, of playing with big leaguers when they came to the minor leagues to rehab after an injury, one more season of trying to take everything the coaches said to heart and making his body perform the way they needed it to. One more season of subsistence income, bus rides, cheap motels, carrying his own gear.
Read the rest here. 

09 April 2015

American Vanilla Scones

Mmm . . .

Monday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the air was warm. It was Spring Break so the boys were home and no one was complaining about school. Friends came down the hill and invited the boys to play at the playground across the street. It was the Orioles opening day and the good guys won. There was a brief moment where it felt like summer and when I remembered it was just a brief respite from the school year it was sort of a bummer.

The two days that followed were cooler and more Spring-like, and I had to make the older boy buckle down and work on some homework so there was no forgetting what month it was.

The biscuits that started the whole thing. So fluffy.
I made biscuits last night, based on this King Arthur Flour recipe, which came out beautifully, and went well with the bean stew I made. But I noticed on the recipe that I could add up to 4 Tablespoons of sugar and make them scones.  So I made a few adjustments and made scones this morning, because it may be April, but at least there is no morning rush. I used vanilla sugar, which is just a jar of sugar with some spent vanilla beans stuff in it, and vanilla bean seeds, but you could use a splash of vanilla extract if that's what you have to hand. There's a quick vanilla scraping tutorial here. I also added a bit of whole wheat flour, because I like the added depth of flavor.

Same ingredients, different method, very different crumb.
A picture of said scones on Facebook naturally led to a wide-ranging conversation on the nature of American vs. British and Irish chemically leavened baked goods: biscuits, scones, crumpets, muffins, etc. This is what happens when you have friends from all over who like to eat and bake. The consensus is that these are not scones because they're triangular, or because they don't have raisins, or because they don't have an egg. Or maybe only because they do not have clotted cream on them. The triangular part seems to be the thing that makes these truly American scones as opposed to English ones. I did serve them with strawberry jam, so maybe that's something. Also they are tasty and quick and if you have clotted cream you might as well use it on these as anything else. If you don't have clotted cream they're good fresh and warm with no adornment at all.

American Vanilla Scones
makes 12 medium-sized scones

4 ounces whole wheat flour
8 ounces all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vanilla sugar (or regular sugar)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
seeds of one vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 Tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Cover a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla bean seeds (if using) in a medium bowl, or a in a food processor work bowl. Whisk together for at least 30 seconds or 5 pulses of the food processor.

Add butter and cut in using two knives, a pastry cutter, or more pulses of the food processor, until butter pieces are the size of a pea or smaller.

If using a food processor, transfer flour mix to a medium bowl.

Add milk (and vanilla extract if using) all at once and stir just to combine. Turn out onto the counter and smoosh the dough together into a ball. It will be sticky, like a cookie dough.  Cut dough in half, and shape each half into a circle about 3/4 inch thick on the baking sheet with lightly floured hands.  Using a floured knife or bench scraper, deeply score each circle into 6 triangles.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned.  Allow to cool for ten minutes, then cut into triangles and eat plain or split in half and top with strawberry jam, butter, clotted cream, honey, or whatever will make your morning better.


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