A Secular Sacrament

asecularsacramentI have been in a huge cooking rut lately. I am tired of everything that I know how to make, and my Pinterest recipe explorations have sometimes been met with sighs and groans from the family. When I first started working at a library several years ago I was a little shocked that cookbooks were some of the most popular items that we loaned out. That was pre-husband and pre-kids. It turns out that these people have to eat every day.

So food has been on my mind of late. I listened to Father Leo Patalinghug on the Journey Home podcast a few days ago as I was shamefully making a McDonald’s run. He painted this idyllic image of a family carefully cooking and eating together with gentle gratitude for the food being served. My family does eat together every day, but often it’s hurried and fractured by infant screams.

I’m so intrigued by the French way of eating. The careful attention to the food and a table hung with linen and fine dishes and cutlery. Apparently people eat like that over there. I’ve read multiple books about French culinary culture over the years. The entire idea of two-hour lunches with multiple courses strikes me as exhausting, but I would like to introduce some new meals and vegetables into our rotation.

frenchThis book came home with me during my latest library trip. I am hoping to get some pointers about how to get my two year old to eat new foods. It’s turning into quite a fascinating read actually, because on top of the various food rules the author (Canadian) talks about her year in France with her French husband and two picky eaters.

There is one scene in which the author is playfully arguing with some French friends about the merits of France’s food culture. As an explanation one of the friends tossed out that the country’s traditions springs from religion, “Catholic countries have always been more interested in food. French gastronomie is like a secular communion, like a sacrament or a ceremony.”

This strikes me as true and important. Also intriguing. I think about the way Oliver and I are divided over the issue of religion, and I may never share any sacrament with him other than our daily meals taken together. That alone is good reason to take a lot more care about what we eat together as a family. I don’t know whether or not Jesus was a great cook, but he certainly seemed to enjoy eating!

Feeling inspired, I just placed a few cookbooks on hold at the library to hopefully get some new recipes and ideas! A library book and a copy machine is a powerful thing.

In Defense of Atticus

IMG_4815I started this week with the goal to finally get some career-focused reading done as well as some items checked off the old to-do list. Then this happened and clearly my priorities shifted. This is the first book I’ve bought on its release date since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Here are my first thoughts about it, originally posted on Goodreads.

Contains Spoilers.

This was a difficult read. Not much happened externally. The characters weren’t charming and lovable. 

Scout discovers that Atticus is part of a local Citizen’s Council trying to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate schools. The revelation that her father, whom she’d always looked up to for his kindness and decency to all people, is a “nigger hater” stirs up tremendous internal turmoil.

I was very uncomfortable as I read the book until I realized that I had always idolized Atticus just like Scout did. When I read TKAM he was an incorruptible icon of justice, patient and kind. I always expected him to have more modern sensibilities, but truly he is a child of his time. It wasn’t uncommon for people to have a paternalistic view towards African Americans in the 1950s. I would say that he still stands for justice, but he has a different opinion on how to preserve the common good. An opinion which had absolutely nothing to do with hatred. We can agree to disagree.

I loved seeing his patience as Scout “tried to tear him to pieces, to wreck him, to obliterate him.” He absolutely loves her, and that is true. He showed agape love for her the way that God loves us even as we rail and fight against him.

I liked Scout’s defense of black people:
“I know it’s got to be slow, Atticus, I know that full well. But I know it’s got to be….A real good snub, Atticus, makes you feel like you’re too nasty to associate with people. How they’re as good as they are now is a mystery to me, after a hundred years of systematic denial that they’re human. I wonder what kind of miracle we could work with a week’s decency.” p. 252

I have gone through a situation where I have idolized someone and suffered (but not to the extent that Scout did) when they made a mistake like any human would. That part rang true.

I thought the book expressed some important truths, but it wasn’t a beautiful read. I’m not sure I will read it again.

Did you read it? Thoughts?

Objects

mockingbirdMy daughter, Cara will be eight months old on Saturday. Her requirements for object appreciation consist in the object’s size and portability. She prefers objects that she can a) hold in her hand and b) can be brought to her mouth or crawled with. Shapes, textures, and colors, if considered at all, are secondary considerations. This morning after finding her uncomfortably close to the litter box, I saw some brown poking out from her hand and thought she was handling some cat creations. Fortunately the brown object in question was actually a plastic rabbit. Whew.

Lillian at 2.5 years old appreciates objects on a different level. She adores all kinds of little objects and seems to revel in her ability to exercise control over them. She likes handling things and sorting them into different kinds of containers, by color or size or some quality I’ve yet to figure out. She is a huge fan of surprise egg videos on YouTube. Also surprise eggs at home: placing small objects into the eggs, collecting them, opening them, leaving easter egg shells all over the house.

Oliver handles objects as you would expect a grown man to handle objects. Functionality. Efficiency. Doesn’t seem to get attached to stuff. He’s cool that way.

I have spent the last week or so sweeping through the house decluttering and collecting things to be taken to the local thrift store. I’m always surprised how attached I become to things that I hardly have any use for. Each time I drop things off I find myself pulling this item or that item from the bag, as if my keeping the item will keep a particular time alive in my life. I’m also surprised by the seemingly insignificant moments that I remember so clearly, while I don’t remember many details from big events.

Touching my hardcover edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, I remember clearly laying on a backpacking hammock hanging from a defunct batting cage at my parents’ house on a bright and hot summer day and reading. I can’t figure out why I remember this tiny and serene moment. There is no reason for me to remember it. Nothing special happened. I have spent countless hours in my youth reading outside from various perches. But I remember.

I think that maybe those moments are in some way significant, thought perhaps only because an invisible current of God’s grace bubbled up to the surface as a hard heart cracked open in pressure of raw beauty in nature or art found unexpectedly close to home.

To Kill a Mockingbird will always be spared from bookshelf weeding.

What Game of Thrones Taught Me About the Gospel

200px-AClashOfKingsI finished A Game of Thrones and am exactly sixty percent through A Clash of Kings. That amounts to approximately 1200 pages of bloodshed, violence and intrigue. It’s not the cozy read that I usually pick up, and there are moments when I have to ask myself why I keep plowing through.

This series is dark and sometimes (frequently) ugly. One of the most prominent themes  seems to be a total disregard for human dignity and inherent worth. I’ve heard A Song of Ice and Fire touted as a “realistic” Lord of the Rings. That is, LOTR without a unifying idealism which challenges characters to rise beyond selfish desires. I think there is some truth in that. I believe that humans naturally gravitate toward selfishness, and selfishness is what drives us toward a utilitarian view of other people. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read about human beings being decapitated, disemboweled, burned, stabbed, raped, captured and otherwise used as objects.

Utilitarianism to the extreme, baby. It’s disgusting.

And yet the characters that I read about seem to be reaching for something beyond utilitarianism and not quite finding it. At the core they all desire to be loved and counted worthy. They desire parental approval. Wealth and other people are vehicles to gain power, and power seems to be a vehicle for gaining the acknowledgement of their own worth.

I keep seeing human beings reaching for the light, hoping for more and then remaining mired in darkness. They remind me of people I know.

They remind me of me.

Christ challenges us to live an elevated life. He calls us to abandon utilitarianism and love our neighbors as ourselves and serve our brothers. I call myself a Christian. I believe in in the message of Christ, and yet I frequently fail to live up to the level of self-abnegation that he calls me to. Every time I cut someone off in traffic, selfishness wins. Every time I see someone as an obstacle, selfishness wins. Every time I love someone only insofar as they are serving my own needs, selfishness wins.

A Song of Ice and Fire reminds me of the ugliness that reigns when I set my standard to selfishness and reminds me of the beauty of the opposite: the Gospel.

Wanderings

These past couple of weeks I feel my wanderings have been desperately aimless. I feel like a cork bobbing in the water waiting to ride a current, but held back by the line. The feeling has left me down and anxious, although I’ve still found plenty of life to savor! In the interest of stretching a creative muscle, here is what I have been doing the last two weeks.

Reading:

Among other things, my new lover is this massive brick of a book which fits neatly into my Kindle:

gameThat is how I roll. Several years behind everyone else! Also enjoying the challenge of trying to beat my library’s 3 week due date! So far comparing Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings, I can see more of the murkiness of human relationships in GOT rather than the overarching idealism which draws the characters of LOTR together. Very interesting, indeed!

Creating:

doodlesI have still been drawing and painting. Mostly Catholic stuff, an ode to coffee and sad clothespins. I’ve really enjoyed a creative outlet which can be quickly taken up and quickly put down. Not entirely sure the husband appreciates seeing this much scripture and Catholicity, though he was a big fan of the coffee love and landscape.

Seeing:

yardpics

Backyard entomology! I deduced that the fat caterpillar with orange is a Wilson’s wood nymph moth. The caterpillars stacked like hot dogs on the underside of that leaf, I have no clue. The purple flower is some lovely lantana.

Also, Texas countryside is still marvelously beautiful. We’ve had more than our share of rain this spring, so we are blessed to have tall green grass, red poppies, indian paintbrushes, bluebonnets, pretty yellow weeds, prickly poppies. I could go on. Bottom line, I am completely dazzled by the spring.

I haven’t so much been enjoying the indoor entomology. We have a burgeoning fly infestation. Plus carpet beetles. But, y’all. The flies. Today I swatted 10 flies. Not a single one has been caught by the fly paper. It’s a conspiracy.

Doing:

zoopics

We’ve been enjoying the weather, that’s for certain. Also getting our money’s worth out of our San Antonio Zoo membership. Plus sampling tasty brew at the Real Ale Brewing Company 19th anniversary party!

My Week In Media

Listening to: the Oh Hellos (is that perfection, or what?). Found them on Noisetrade and downloaded the album legally for free on there in return for the ol’ zip code.

through_the_deep_dark_valley

Podcasting: every week I find myself waiting for Haley and Christy’s podcast, Fountains of Carrots to come out. This week Leila Lawler reminded me to be kind to my kids.

fountainsofcardstextlogo300

Reading: I checked out this book on my Kindle through my library’s Overdrive media system solely because I like the cover, the title and the author’s name. So far I kinda like it. It’s not a story with a narrative as I would prefer, but it’s composed of a bunch of little vignettes about living in Paris for a year with her Italian husband and two kids.

paris

Watching: Started watching this while folding my laundry. It can be silly at times, but also hilarious. Netflix it up.

portlandia

…For in Them Lie the Seeds of Destiny

Yesterday I watched curiously as Lillian carried her tortilla with her into the bath tub, dunked it into the water and ate every last slimy morsel. Clearly there is more than one way to eat a tortilla. There is also more than one way to check a baby’s diaper. My mother in law slides her finger into the rear of the diaper and then pulls it out to examine the evidence. I prefer to use my eyes or nose for that particular diagnostic. The point is, everyone approaches the world with their own way of doing things and there is a place in the world for all different kinds of methods.

Welsh hillsLillian’s favorite movie at the moment is Babe, which means that I have become one of the world’s leading experts on the film. Each time I watch the movie I find myself waiting to hear the narrator deliver this great line at the moment when Farmer Hoggett decides definitively that he’s going to train Babe the pig for the sheepdog trials.

In the movie and even more in the book (expert, remember?), the point seems to be that your traits which would seem to disqualify you for something can actually lead you to develop innovative ways to overcome your shortcomings and you might actually end up being really good at that thing you ought to have been bad at.

This idea has given me so much solace. I started taking classes to become a teacher last year and I have this great hope for the future which is always tempered by the negative thoughts in the back of my mind attacking my character and highlighting my fears. Still, I can’t shake this crazy idea that I’d love to be a teacher.

My hope is that if there’s room for a pig in the world of shepherding, then there’s also room in the world for an over-thinking, introvert teacher.