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March 2018

Christine Reynolds

California Vacation 064 

At the First Baptist Church of Shawnee, Oklahoma, which I first attended while a student at Oklahoma Baptist University, college students were paired with a member or couple in the congregation as adopted grandparents.  I think this was a random pairing, so I got lucky when at the welcome college students lunch I was introduced to Christine Reynolds.

And for the last twenty-five years Christine has been one of my favourite people in the world.  Her daughter posted on Facebook today that Christine died this morning.

Christine was the tennis coach at Shawnee High School for much of her career.  She was even once the National Coach of the Year.  She had a stellar record of tennis champions. 

When I met her, she was 73 and still actively playing tennis.  She had a sports medicine doctor she went to for her knees when they acted up.  She was notoriously still beating women much younger than she.  And I don't think she stopped playing tennis until her mid-80's.  Then she took up swimming for exercise.

In retirement she had taken up painting as a hobby.  

She was one of the first elderly people I met who was vitally active.  She was witty and joyful and sarcastic.

I remained in Shawnee while I was in graduate school at OU, and so my friendship with Christine deepened as we attended church and events together.  When I was elected a deacon, she was in my deacon family--the group of church members I had responsibility for.

For many years I would drop her off and pick her up at the airport in Oklahoma City whenever she traveled.  Christine was a cursed traveler.  Every time she traveled some unusual thing would happen that would delay the flights she was on.  But then she'd add it to the long list of funny travel stories to tell.

My most embarrassing memory connected with her was one night I was asleep at home and got a call, "Scott, are you picking me up at the airport or not?"  I had the day wrong, thinking she was arriving the next day.  I made it from bed in Shawnee to the pick-up at Will Rogers World Airport in forty minutes (which isn't legally doable).  It was almost 11:30 when I pulled up and she was sitting on her luggage at the curb with this put-out sarcastic look on her face.  I was so deeply embarrassed and apologetic.  But she forgave me and laughed about it.

After the big celebration for her 80th birthday, she decided to move out to California to be closer to her kids and grandkids. I moved from Shawnee shortly afterwards, but we've always remained in contact via e-mail, especially exchanging digital cards at Christmas.  

In 2008 Michael and I were in California to visit his brother Robert and his girlfriend Anne and our drive took us through Fresno, so we stopped to see her.  She grilled us steaks, and we had a great time catching up.  

At Christmas this last year when we exchanged cards I began to think of her 100th birthday in a couple of years and how much fun it would be to go if there was going to be a big party.  She only made it to 98, but they were 98 good years.  


Haroset 2

Growing up Southern Baptist in a small town in Oklahoma, our liturgical life was greatly lacking.  Which is one reason that in adolescence I was drawn to Episcopal worship for a richer, more spiritual experience.

My high school French teacher and Quiz Bowl coach Kay Boman was an Episcopalian who was beginning the process of becoming a Deacon, so on our long trips on the road we often discussed religion, and she invited me to come experience worship at All Saints.

One year my dearly beloved Sunday school teacher at First Baptist, Debi Durham, was invited by a friend of hers to attend All Saints's Maundy Thursday Seder and so she and I went together.

And that was an eye-opening experience into other ways to worship and to learn.  I had never before encountered food that was symbolic or eating as a worship experience.

And it was my first experience of footwashing and why that really should be one of the sacraments of the church.

A Christian Seder is an adaptation of a Jewish Passover meal through the lens of the stories of the Last Supper and the institution of communion.  The Episcopal worship at All Saints included the stripping of the altar after the meal with a return to the Parish Hall for the final toast.  A strange mix of the celebratory Jewish feast with more somber Christian elements.  Plus the Episcopal dinner included some distinctly English elements--mint sauce with the roast lamb.

While in grad school and living in Shawnee at the turn of the millennium, I would occasionally prepare a Seder Supper of my own for friends.  One year we did it on a Wednesday when an Oklahoma City bombing anniversary fell during Holy Week.  It was during these years that I learned to roast lamb, usually with parsley.  And I bought a cookbook of recipes for the various Jewish festivals and learned to make haroset--an apple nut mixture that is part of the symbolic foods for the dinner.

While I was serving at Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas I developed a Seder for use with my youth group.  That church had a weekly Wednesday night dinner and church, so we did the Maundy Thursday elements on Wednesday.  That church also had a big, choral Good Friday Tenebrae service, which I miss.

While living in Oklahoma City a few times I attended the Stonewall Seder that First Unitarian Church hosted every year during Pride month.  It was a meal of symbolic foods based upon the narrative of the Stonewall riots.

Yesterday Sebastian helped me make our haroset and seemed, at least at first, highly engaged in this different meal.  And we used it, as intended, for faith formation--telling him the ancient stories of our faith.  Especially important after we asked him, "What is Easter about?" And he answered "A bunny and Easter eggs."  

Haroset 1

The previous post in this series was about making chili.

Making Chili


I enjoy making chili. I enjoy making it at home or for friends or for church meetings.  I just enjoy it.  Sorry I didn't realize that photo was out of focus till I went to upload it!

And chili truly is one of those dishes that reveal foodways, as it becomes a mix of influences.

As my Mom writes, "Your dad loved to make his chili."  Dad's was notoriously spicy.  One time he fixed chili for the men's group in his young adult Sunday school class.  He used six cans of Rotel and half a bottle of Tabasco.  He had it cooking all afternoon and was very excited about it.  When the men showed up, they couldn't eat it and ordered pizza.

But Dad had this thing for hot peppers.  I remember watching him and my Mom's Uncle Frank try to out-man each other by eating hot peppers and acting like they weren't hot all the while turning beet red and sweating.  Michael says his Mom ate habaneros like candy, so I know that Ninfa and Dad would have enjoyed each other.


My chili is not so hot.  And has gotten a little more tame since living up here in the north country where Midwesterners seem adverse to spice.  Every year at our church people bring garden produce and lay it out during coffee hour and anyone can take it for a donation that then goes into our hunger ministries.  You can almost guarantee that any hot peppers you leave on the table will be there till they have to be thrown away.

Growing up our chili was always ground beef based and did not include beans.  Since I did not like beans then, that was fine with me.  

One of our favourite places to eat was Spaghetti Red's on Main Street in Joplin, Missouri where they served spaghetti topped with a delicious, unique chili.  That you then topped with fresh sliced white onions and dill pickle slices.  Gosh, I miss that meal.

One of my college roommates had lived in the Southeast where they put chili on rice.  I thought that odd when I first encountered it, but rice with chili has become one of the many ways I'll make or serve it, if I'm so inclined.

In grad school at OU one of our secretaries gave me a recipe for a Cowboy Chili she made using a bunch of canned beans and veggies.  I don't make that particular recipe very often these days (though I once made it a lot), but elements of it have entered into my standard chili making.  This is when I finally started using beans.

The brand Bear Creek has the best chili mix, if you want to make some tasty chili quickly.  Their recipe does not call for adding ground beef, but I do anyway.

Of course living in Texas helped to perfect my seasonings and use of veggies. That's where I learned to put fresh slices of avocado on top of chili.  When I served it that way once to some friends here in Omaha, one said, "I never saw that before, but makes sense." 

I remember one time listening to an NPR show discussing influences of Mexican cuisine on American cooking and they discussed chili as one of the best examples.  I had never until that moment even realized the foodways of chili--that it is, of course, chili con carne, a Mexican dish widely and deeply adopted as a staple of American traditional cooking.

Here in the Midwest there is a tradition of eating cinnamon rolls with chili.  That surprised us when we first encountered it.

Since living in Omaha I have perfected my veggie chili and have friends who request it.  My best chili is a mix of both my veggie chili and beef, either ground beef or a better cut if I'm being fancy.

This is one of those dishes for which there is no recipe.  But here's my normal plan, which I vary depending on the mood, what I have, and the food preferences of those I'm fixing it for. 

Saute chopped garlic, onions, and jalapeno peppers in some canola oil.  Begin adding your spices--chili powder, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne.  You have to keep adding spices at various other stages in the dish.  You have to use your sense of smell to know when you've got it right.

Add some bell peppers of more than one colour (bright vibrant colour is important in the dish).  Sometimes add mushrooms, particularly if this is a veggie chili, but even good in beef chili.  Oh, and I like my veggies chunky.  I prefer a chunky to a soupy chili.  Let those veggies soften and then add your beef to brown.  You want the beef to cook off the juices and get a little brown and crispy, so let it cook slowly with attention and occasional stirring.  When the beef is in the pot is another time you'll need to add some spices.

Then I add the tomatoes.  Either fresh chopped tomatoes or cans of diced tomatoes. I don't use cans already seasoned, as I prefer to do the seasoning myself.  Use the liquid.  If you use fresh then you'll need to add some liquid at this point.  A little beer can add some nice flavor as well.

Then I add the cans of beans, usually at least two cans, one of red beans and one of black beans.  Though you really can vary this.  If it is veggie based then probably 3 or 4 cans of beans.  Most of these you'll want to drain, unless they are labeled chili beans.

Somewhere along in here you add some more spice if it doesn't smell right.  And you can add some hot sauce if you aren't making it for Midwesterners.

Then the last ingredient is the tomato paste, using however much you want to thicken it up.  All of this doesn't have to stew for long but the longer it does at a lower temp the better.  

Then serve with a a variety of toppings for your family and friends to select from--cheeses, sour cream, fresh onions, hot sauce, avocado. 

Making, serving, and eating chili is a true joy.

The last post in this series was about peanut butter and its role in my political history.

The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical CommentaryThe Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary by Ben Witherington III
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At the beginning Witherington quotes Reynolds Price claiming that Mark "is the most original narrative writer in history" and that the Gospel of Mark is "the most influential of human books."
But aside from an idea here or there, this commentary is rather bland, boring, and conventional lacking in any surprising insights that might open new eyes upon the text.

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Binding the Strong Man

Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of JesusBinding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus by Ched Myers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a magnificent commentary on Mark. Myers has proposed a very provocative viewpoint on Jesus and the type of revolution Jesus is leading. In doing so, he contributes startlingly interesting claims about various texts and episodes.

Mark has long been my favourite Gospel and the commentaries I've read this time around have only contributed more layers to understanding this fascinating narrative.

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Love Is Scary

Love Is Scary

Mark 10:15-52

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

18 March 2018



    This Lent we have been "Practicing Passion." On the first Sunday of this season, I quoted Kenda Creasy Dean describing "The burning desire to be engulfed by love, to be ignited by a purpose, to radiate light because the love of another shines within us."

But that kind of passionate love is only possible for us if we are willing to take the risks. The risks of being vulnerable, of not being fully in control, of surrendering our selfishness, of trusting God and other people, of being willing to serve and sacrifice, of giving and forgiving.

    Love is scary.

    To follow in the way of Jesus is to follow the way of the cross. And many of Jesus' followers are simply unable to take that risk. Something gets in their way. We might be like the young man whom scholar Herman Waetjen describes as "petrified and invulnerable, afraid to expose himself to the uncertainties and insecurities of the future," and so walks away from Jesus.

    Which is why we have to be like children. Repeatedly in the previous chapters of this Gospel and in the last three weeks of sermons we have preached, Jesus has talked about children as a model for what it means to follow God's way. Scholar Herman Waetjen writes, "To receive God's rule like a child depends on the qualities of vulnerability and trust, transparence and defenselessness, integrity and wholeness, expectation and humility."


[Excursus on being loved by a child]


    But we have lost that sort of trusting love, haven't we? We've loved and lost. We've loved and had our hearts broken. We've loved and been hurt by the one we loved.

    But just imagine if we could be healed of all that heartbreak and love again with childish trust and joy. Bartimaeus is like that. He follows Jesus with a wild abandon. Can we be like him?


One of the more intriguing books I've read in recent years was The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. I've long been a fan of Lewis because of the role that The Chronicles of Narnia played in shaping my imagination, theology, and spirituality since childhood.

    But The Great Divorce is not an example of good fiction. It is too didactic and Lewis can get too polemical about the things that annoy him.

    Yet, despite the novels flaws, it reveals a profound truth.

    The novel imagines hell as a place drab and boring—no lakes of fire or pitchforks. And some of the residents of hell get to visit a midway point between their residence and heaven and some of the saints come down to engage with them and invite them into heaven. But most resist. They are unwilling to surrender some part of themselves or refuse to trust or love or rejoice.

    In Lewis's vision the only thing that separates one from true bliss is one's own refusal. One of his characters says "No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it."

    Lewis's story clearly has implications for earthly existence. People unwilling to choose joy and love will not experience it. You must choose them. And you can't choose them on your own terms, you have to surrender yourself and your control and let love work its magic upon you.


    So here's the good news:

The salvation God is offering us means we can get rid of our defensiveness, our cynicism, our negativity, our fear, our greed, our hatred, our violence, our despair, our hopelessness, our lack of trust, our sloth, our lack of grace.

And instead we can become creatures of freedom, joy, beauty, trust, integrity, wholeness, humility, generosity, faith, hope, and love.

Wow! Sign us up.


But between here and our joy lies the cross. The risk, the heartbreak, the pain.

In her book Journeys By Heart, theologian Rita Nakashima Brock teaches us that it is through this experience of pain and suffering that we develop resilience that connects us with others and find our power that "makes and sustains life".

    So, what kind of love is truly powerful? The kind that loves like a child with wild abandon and trust and joy after the experiences of pain and heartbreak. The kind that knows love is scary and yet loves freely anyway. The kind that knows the risks and does not fear.

    Take heart; get up, for Jesus is calling.


MiddlemarchMiddlemarch by George Eliot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I honestly think this novel is too big and too unwieldy (and I generally like big, Victorian novels). At times I was annoyed by the too slowly developing plot and what at time were ridiculous coincidences that moved it along.

But I also appreciated Eliot's writing, including her keen psychological and moral insights.

Her omniscient narrator with a distinct point-of-view is a rather interesting feature. At times I found the narrator annoying, while other times I find her expressing great moral wisdom.

By the close, I was invested in the characters and the outcomes of their stories and deeply admired who Dorothea had grown to be. And the narrator's observations about her at the very end were moving.

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Facing Us

 Facing US

Amanda Johnston  


after Yusef Komunyakaa


My black face fades,
hiding inside black smoke.
I knew they'd use it,
dammit: tear gas.
I'm grown. I'm fresh.
Their clouded assumption eyes me
like a runaway, guilty as night,
chasing morning. I run
this way—the street lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the back of a police van
again, depending on my attitude
to be the difference.
I run down the signs
half-expecting to find
my name protesting in ink.
I touch the name Freddie Gray;
I see the beat cop's worn eyes.
Names stretch across the people’s banner
but when they walk away
the names fall from our lips.
Paparazzi flash. Call it riot.
The ground. A body on the ground.
A white cop’s image hovers
over us, then his blank gaze
looks through mine. I’m a broken window.
He’s raised his right arm
a gun in his hand. In the black smoke
a drone tracking targets:
No, a crow gasping for air.