Add a pinch of salt, a little bit of good vanilla extract, a little almond extract and a couple of chopped dried apricots to 1/2 c old fashioned rolled oats and 3/4 c almond milk, and cook for about 5 minutes. Yum, yum, yum. Just another quick way of making vegan food that tastes good…Have a good day!
Our friend Tom lives away from here but comes into town with some frequency and we always enjoy the time we get to spend with him. One of the things I love are the stories he tells. He comes from West Texas, where life is not ever real easy. The last time we saw him, Tom told us a story about his grandmother. Flossie and her siblings became adults as the Great Depression was strangling the life out of this country and what they had to face was the reality that they had next to nothing, except a farm, a farm that kept the whole family through that time—15 people in all, some cattle, the other things that you find on a farm that help people keep going.
Flossie’s job was in the cooking. Before the sun came up, she was in the kitchen, getting breakfast ready—biscuits and gravy, eggs, sausage, grits. The rest of the family went out to work the farm and Flossie went back to work in the kitchen, cleaning all those dishes, putting everything up and then getting started with lunch that included pie and cake every day. Every single day. It sounds delicious, but in a day when you did it all by hand, imagine the start of the morning knowing how much you had to get done by noon.
After everyone had eaten lunch, it all started again, the cleaning the putting up, the getting ready for one more meal. And after dinner, there wasn’t catching up on “Dancing with the Stars”—it was time to clean up and put up and get ready for another day of more of the same. It was incredibly poignant hearing our friend say, “just about every single day of her adult life, my grandmother worked from the moment she got up to the moment she went to bed. Each and every day.”
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Jesus was not a space alien come from a distant galaxy. He was not a super-friend from Krypton. He was not even the Messiah that the people Israel had longed for, a heroic warrior king, capable of restoring the former glory of the kingdom—a glory probably more shaped by nostalgia than by reality. Jesus was not any of those things and when Peter tried to rebuke him for talking about how things would end, he must have thought, man how can someone get it so right and be so wrong. Peter had just confessed that Jesus was the Messiah—but now he was showing that he was clueless about what that meant. This wasn’t about magic, or might, or even the miracles in and of themselves. This was about a selflessness that was stronger than every single one of our darkest impulses. Jesus had come into the world to do what ever was necessary, not to show us that he loved us, but to love us. To love us with everything he had and everything he was.
I would say to you today that Tom’s grandmother Flossie knew something of this kind of love. I can imagine that there were times when she stood there, beating the egg whites for one more merengue, to make one more pie to serve for one more lunch and wondered if this was really all there was to her life. She didn’t have monthly appointments at the spa to get a mani-pedi and maybe even the occasional massage. The family didn’t have a nice getaway by the lake. What stretched ahead of her was a parade of days that blended into one, like Groundhog Day and you know that as she got older, her hands began to ache, and standing on her feet got harder and surely there were days when she wished she were Dorothy and she wasn’t in Kansas any more.
If you want to become my followers, take up your cross and follow me. Not easy words to hear. Not easy words to hear when we are the children and grandchildren of the greatest generation, who knew a whole lot about sacrifice and tried to shield you and me from it, pouring their lives out to give us comfort, privilege and the world in an oyster shell.
Jesus was not about super-heroics and utopias not grounded in reality. He refused to look away from things as they really were, not as he might wish or want them to be. At this juncture in his ministry, he saw the depth of change that was needed for His people to live into the promises of God. The miracles had impressed, but mainly they had made more folks want more from him. The parables he had told had been an invitation, a wonderful, deeply mysterious invitation into a world that was here but that required more of us to actually see it, and smell it and live in it. Even his disciples, the men and women he loved so much, would end up listening to those stories wondering, “hey, what’s in it for me—am I going to be the first in this kingdom of God?” He upset the establishment, made people nervous, and was uncompromising and relentless in his insistence that love is always both grace and judgment and you don’t get one without the other. Perhaps the hardest thing of all is that Jesus did not engage in some magical thinking to say, “well, here: I can do this on my own and make it all better”. From the very beginning, he said, “come. Follow me.” He insisted that no matter what was going on in the world, those who wanted to follow him must face squarely into what is hard and scary and changeable and incredibly complicated, where good and bad and our basest impulses and our highest angels are all there, giving shape to the today we find ourselves in. He needed us learn to love like he does.
Our own time demands no less. I bet there are a bunch of people here who are living with some level of anxiety about job security or about the security of your old age. Maybe the worst has already happened to you, or to someone you know. We don’t want to think that any of us might be faced with a life like Flossie’s: to work from sun up to sun down, not to get ahead but to just stay afloat? That is not a thought we want to get our heads around. Yet we ignore that possibility at our own peril and sell ourselves way too short if we allow ourselves to think that we are not capable of that kind of self sacrifice.
It struck me that that life for us here at St Ambrose is a lot closer to life on that farm in Texas than we allow ourselves to accept most Sundays we are here. We don’t have enough to pay our bills. It’s getting a little better, but to put things in perspective, you and I pay about 1/10th of what it costs to keep this campus going. The struggle stretches back for a long time. It is tempting to say, “I’m tired now, and I’ve paid my dues”. It is hard, when I come to you, like I have in the past few weeks and say, “listen, we have this opportunity to work with the national church and get their support to do the kind of redevelopment work that will allow us to become a thriving faith community and offer the love that we have received out to the world. But here’s the deal: I need 4 hours of your time each week for 2 years to make this work.
That’s a lot of commitment and I am deeply grateful to Bill E. because he has been willing to say yes. We need 2-3 more folks to make that kind of commitment. Because it is going to take that kind of sustained effort, that dedication, that sheer love for this small and wobbly part of the body of Christ, to get new muscle and grow again. We aren’t going to get to cut corners or wish that by some magic the pews will be filled back up. Like Flossie, we still have another pie to bake because tomorrow is almost here again.
By now you may be getting pretty annoyed with me because this isn’t a particularly uplifting kind of message. None of us. None of us wants to hear Jesus say “pick up your cross”—and we get stuck right there, I suspect. It’s like we are Flossie, except we think that we have to do our work without those other 14 people who helped her and helped each other keep going. That feels so real that we don’t even hear the second part of the phrase: —follow me—. That part gets lost in the sheer magnitude of what is expected of us.
But it is there. Follow me. Jesus says, “let me go ahead of you. Let me open the way. Let my body shelter yours when the howling winds would knock you down. Let me look ahead because I can see so much further than you can, and even though it is dark right now, I can already see dawn breaking. Pick up your cross and follow me—I will do whatever I need to keep you safe. We’ll stop along the way and I will feed you. We will gather around the fireplace or the dining room table or in the parish hall and tell stories and laugh and be together. I will be with you to the end and if I am with you who can be against you? Pick up your cross and follow me.”
We have just barely enough people to take on the project that the national church has invited us to be part of. It is going to be hard, and a lot of it will be slogging along, washing pie pans just to make the next batch of pies. But think about who it is who leading us. It is he, the Risen Christ. The Messiah. Emmanuel—God with us, who is saying, “Come on. This is no easy task we have ahead. But look around you. I have not asked you to do this alone—you have brothers and sisters just as surely as Flossie did. Come with me. I am with you, I am with you to the end.”
So come on. Let’s follow him. Let’s do this thing.
I am continuing to explore the world of almost Vegan. Some things turn out better than others. This one’s pretty good.
1 celery stalk finely chopped
1 sweet potato peeled and chopped in small pieces
2-3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 or so tsp minced garlic
1/2-3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2-3/4 tsp cumin
1 cup red lentils
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
Saute the first three ingredients in 1 tsp of olive oil over medium heat for about 10 min, stirring regularly (turn down heat if necessar). Add the spices and garlic and saute for another minute or so. Then add the red lentils and vegetable broth and bring the stew to a boil. When the lentils are soft, add peanut butter and season to taste. Eat. Enjoy. It is healthy…
The work sometimes feels relentless. One of the ways I understand my ministry is to describe it as a new venture in church. Right now, it is a relatively undercapitalized new venture and a lot of what I do is try to figure out ways of finding the capital we need to keep going. This is often unglamorous, tedious, nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. I laughingly tell people that one of the things I’ve learned over these past four years is to stop being embarrassed about asking anyone–I mean anyone–for money for the work.
On Thursday, we were privileged to receive a visit from a senior executive with one of the major banks in this country. We showed him our campus. We had a simple slideshow that covered what we do because none of our programs was in session. Last week was an “in between” week–our summer programs are over and the school year starts day after tomorrow. One of our wonderful women, Maria, prepared chicken with green Mole sauce, guacamole, freshly made tortillas and arroz con fideos; we sat around the lunch table telling the stories. They are good stories. We’ve known one of the little girls we serve for over four years, since she was four years old. At the time, she was non-verbal. We advocated for her to ensure that she got access to speech therapy and I have participated with her brave mother at IEP meetings at her school. She comes to our after school program and our summer reading camp. She is highly artistic and each tiny step in literacy is brutally hard for her. On the fourth week of this year’s summer reading camp, L. wrote an entire sentence by herself. Mr. C, a wonderfully flamboyant, admittedly high-maintenance gay man who is devoted to our children, wept with joy that morning.
We shared our dreams with this bank executive. The women we serve at the Centro are too often victims of domestic violence. L’s mama crossed the desert by herself when she was 13 years old. She’s legal now yet trapped in circumstances that approach those of an indentured servant. That’s not so unusual, even in this country, for first generation immigrants. She is also a fabulous cook, an amazing interpreter of traditional Mexican cuisine. In San Francisco, there is an organization called La Cocina. It is a small business incubator and commercial kitchen that helps women like the ones we serve make the transition from the informal to the formal economy. That means that someone who has been selling delicious food out of the trunk of her car gets the support to become a successful caterer. Our campus has a wonderful commercial kitchen. We dream of having the equivalent of La Cocina right her in Fort Lauderdale. It takes quite a bit to make this happen but it can. So we need investors to help us make it a reality.
At the end, our visitor was warm and enthusiastic about what we are doing. Last year we received a very small grant from his bank. He assured us that we can expect more this year. He emphasized the word “more” and repeated the phrase more than once. We wait to see what that “more” looks like with great hope. He has also offered to bring members of our state and federal legislative delegation, and of the local media, to see what’s going on in our ministry. He says a lot more people need to know about our work. That part is scary. Things can spin out of control so quickly and managing growth is one of the hardest challenges for any organization. But if we are going to serve folks who are otherwise invisible, I suspect this is what we must do. We’ll see. I already know that I need to do to raise funds for the music program we are trying to roll out so I’ll need to work on that next week. For now, I am just happy. It was a good week…
How do you connect your answers?
Yesterday, Robin’s question was both simple and deep: what is the conundrum or question of your life. For me, at this time (and maybe for always) it has been about both honoring and transcending the story written on my behalf by my family history. Today, the connection between my answers to the three previous parts of this work is clear as well. What’s the connection? life. The colors I chose are mostly the colors that weave through my life, my mother’s life and my grandmother’s life. There’s one exception: Lavender. Both my grandmother and my mother always dismissed any shade of purple. Especially my grandmother, a Swedish interior designer trained in France with an amazing color esthetic, created spaces of such beauty that I never questioned her critique. But a dream I had in early adulthood made me fall in love with purple and one of my favorite blouses is lavender linen. The life I have lived on my own since I was 18, here in the USA, cut off from the rest of my family, has made my world broader and fuller. I love the colors I come from. I love what I keep discovering about the colors that were never in the palate of my life.
The cities: I grew up in one–Cali. Stockholm was the city where I discovered churches. I remember beginning to understand sacred space as I stood in Storkyrkan, in Gamla Stan, the old part of Stockholm. Even more, I was stunned the first Sunday I ever remember in Sweden, hearing church bells ringing all across the city. I desperately wanted to go to church. The child of two agnostic parents, I didn’t even know how to ask. Look at me now, a priest. Miami was the gateway to America for me. I stood in front of an Immigration officer at Miami International Airport, my heart pounding waiting to know if I would get to go on to college. You see, as a Colombian citizen, I was completely at the mercy of that officer when it came to actually entering this country. I had a student visa approval–but I did not actually get the visa until that guy decided to give it to me. It was terrifying. It was exhilarating when he said yes. Many times as a child and then young person, I would lie awake at night in my room in Cali, dreaming of the life I would build for myself in the United States. A refrain of my childhood had been “ya casi es mañana” which means, “it’s almost tomorrow”. Going on from the immigration area to baggage claim at MIA, I realized that tomorrow was here and so was my life. Austin and San Francisco represent an eschatological hope. When my life was still uncomplicated enough that I could realistically consider any city to live in, these were two I seriously considered. I don’t dream like that any more.
Robin’s answer to yesterday’s part of this work was a revelation to me. She discussed how grief is characterized by “failure to notice”–grieving for my mother, I think I understand. The landscapes I chose are all places of great beauty and they demand that we notice. I was struck by the fact that one of the first places I thought of in response to this question was a beautiful area of the countryside of Holland that I saw riding on a train from Tilburg to Amsterdam. I started noticing these structures dotting the landscape and asked my brother, who lives in Holland about them. Turns out they were bunkers built by the Nazi’s during World War II. Maybe more than ever in the bizarre days we are living through, I am aware that noticing means noticing the darkness as much as the light, if I am to choose life.
What I said about the interiors in Part II is strongly connected to the theme of life. I have known abundance–of beauty, of comfort, of safety, of consolation. I have also survived periods of great desolation. When I was a hospitalized for months at a time at Children’s Hospital in Boston, no one was allowed to stay with me overnight. The first couple of times I was hospitalized I did not know how to speak in English and I was filled with absolute and abject terror. Even later, when I was hospitalized again and old enough to understand that my mom would be back each morning, my isolation and loneliness thundered against the blank and colorless walls of the ward I was in. I survived. I am still here to tell the story. I am alive.
Finally, the clothes. The hardest part of of the exercise for me. I was just diagnosed with a very preventable chronic illness. I have been filled with sorrow, anger at myself, fear and determination since I found out about 3 weeks ago. The hardest part of saying yes to life over the years has been saying yes to my body. With very few exceptions most of the time, I have wanted to forget more than tend to myself. And that included how I chose clothes. I am making some progress understanding and managing the new truths about myself that come with this diagnosis. As much as I have always thought I loved life, I am discovering that choosing life takes more, is harder and calls me further into faith than I allowed myself to see before. The honesty it requires is fearsome. For the first time ever, maybe I am up to it now. Thank you Robin for helping me notice…
What do you consider to be the big question or conundrum of your life?
Is it possible to write a very different chapter in the story of my family of origin? All through my childhood, my grandmother Vera, one of the people I am named after, had an oversize role in the life our family. She and my grandfather had invested a significant amount of money in my dad’s business at a critical moment and as a consequence were the second largest shareholders in the company. After my grandfather died, this gave my grandmother enormous leverage in our family. She was powerful, charming, wealthy, imperious and self-absorbed. She was merciless on my mother—invasive, controlling and endlessly critical. I’d watch my mom collapse in on herself around my grandmother. It was heartbreaking. And when any of my siblings or I, but especially I, acted out, the worst response I could get from my mother was, “You are becoming just like your grandmother.”
Unfortunately, I am not sure I had any female relative in my family to look up to enough to say, “that’s who I want to be like when I grow up”. I suspect that many a daughter who has lived through adolescence with her mother mutters under her breath, “I will never do it like my mother did”. I had a double load—I would never be like my grandmother and I would never be like my mother. It was only in her last days before her death that my mother let her guard down enough to be tender, droll, and loving, as I had remembered her to be early in my childhood. I am grateful beyond words for that time. I so wish there had been times like that while she was still healthy and strong and we were both adults.
Now in my middle age, when I examine the arc of my life, I see an incredible number of commonalities across the three generations. I see patterns of relationship, especially in our marriages, that are hauntingly similar. For a long time, I kept wanting to blow up what I had, rather than play out the story to what seemed like a devastating conclusion. I have been so fearful that I’d end up an embittered, guarded and controlling person, not just because of my own failings—and they are ever before me—but also because like my grandmother and mother, I have faced great sadness and you get so protective of that mended and fragile heart after a while. I am protective in ways that make me more brittle, more intent on holding on to what I can, more insistent that there are things that I simply must have a certain way because so much else has been lost.
The conundrum I face is this: do I have the time, the spiritual strength—and the openness to God’s grace—to finish out my days in a way that allows me to grow in love for my mother and grandmother, even though the ways they taught me to love were not so good, to love my own self, even though I am so much like them, and to love those closest to me, especially my husband and daughter, more truly, more kindly and more hopefully?
Within each of your groups, do you see commonalities?
1. Five colors. azure, fuschia, yellow, lavendar, green–the colors of my life right now.