Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quotations, Photos, and Musings

It's been a while since I've done a "what I've been into" post and I'm horrible at keeping up with these things month by month and can never be consistent with the categories. So, this is a "here's a few things from my life" post. Much of it will be October. But September will sneak in.

Some recipes:

Slow Cooker Squash Stew  (This one got an, "Oh, ok, that's good." out of my roommates who wishes I made more fried chicken and less veggies. So I call it a win :)  It was also great reheated later.)

Vegan Brownie Pumpkin Pie:   (SO GOOD. Took it to a pot luck. Attempted a whipped maple-coconut cream, it was more maple-coconut sauce, but a great addition. Pretty easy recipe, though lots of dirty dishes.)

Actually,  "Oh She Glows" has become my favorite place for yummy vegan recipes. There's a sweet potato-oatmeal breakfast casserole sitting half-made in the fridge right now. I'll get it finished up and taken to class in the morning.

Some quotations:

Dorothy Day insisted on "not serving soup one day and war the next. We were to live without killing, no matter what the provocation or consequence, no matter how many other Christians or Christian bishops were fighting wars or blessing them." Jim Forest, "Remembering Dorothy Day" in Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ed. Walter Wink

"The seminaries did not teach me. I had to discover it by myself. They did not teach me that it is more interesting to know a Hindu than to know Hinduism; it is more rewarding to know a Buddhist than Buddhism, a Marxist than Marxism, a revolutionary than revolution, a missionary than missiology, wife than the "marriage and the family" course, Jesus Christ than christology." Kosuke Koyama Water Buffalo Theology, 150.

"The ways in which Western culture encourages the anxious conscience to patrol the flesh, which tears, tears up, trembles, tables, and tires, might lead in one instance to those social technologies of food disorders and surgical enhancements, readily fit to the female form. In another instance, it creates an economic and cultural structure of exclusion. . categorically multiplying abject and economically "waste/d" bodies." - Sharon V. Betcher, "Becoming Flesh of My Flesh," Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion

"True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power.. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplied the existence of violence and the bitterness in the universe, while the former may . . . bring about a transformation and change of heart." - MLK Jr.

Some photos:

Went to New Orleans in September.  Enjoying a beignet and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde.  Loved this city. 

Got a haircut. Fuzzy photo, but I LOVE the cut.  Although, people have told me it makes me look younger,
which makes me realize I've crossed that age threshold where "you look younger" is now a compliment. 

Went thrifting with my roommates. One of them found me this pin that says "How dare you presume I'd rather be thin?"
Best thrift find ever? yup.

Went apple picking and hay-riding with friends. I am a butternut-squash lover, so this was kind of awesome.

Some cryptic musings:

A number of years ago someone asked me, "What's your passion?" and I had no idea how to answer. Sure, I was interested in things. But, passionate?  I was more of an "no highs. no lows" kind of girl. I liked to be calm, plod on, don't make waves. But it bothered me that I didn't know what my passion was and so I kind of said, "Figure that out, Nicole. You should know that." 

I think I've figured it out. There are a few issues where I will dig my heels in and stand up a little taller and talk a little louder and not apologize for my opinions. Not because of stubbornness, but because I have invested time and energy and mental power and relationships and my life into these things and I think they matter, a lot.  

It's anything but calm, but it's fabulous. 


I will be graduating from grad school soon. It is the most uncertain my future has ever been. I've got some of those gut feelings about where to head, but I don't have any guarantees. In undergrad I knew I was heading to teaching. When I left teaching I knew I was headed to Chicago. When I left Chicago I knew I was headed to grad school. I don't know where I'm going now. But I know my passions, and I can see how those can play out in a hundred ways, so I figure the path that's out there for me has to fall at least close to one of those hundred things, so I'm not too worried. But I still get that little pit of anxiety in my stomach when I think about it, still wonder if all my continent crossing and uprooting and new experiences is going to leave me with wonderful memories but without a real path. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

making the bed: a morning post over coffee

I think I saw it in a movie once. Maybe Corrina, Corrina ?  The lady making the bed grabbed two corners of the bed sheet, raised her arms, flipped her wrists and the sheet went flying high into the air and then on the way down spread flat and slowly floated onto the bed. It was magic and grace and art.

I don't make my bed every morning, sometimes I just pull the rumpled covers up and call it a day, sometimes I don't even bother to do that.  But when I take the time to really make the bed, I love to do it this way, all the covers come off and then I grab two corners of a sheet, raise my arms. flip my wrists, and I find for a few brief seconds I'm mesmerized by the grace and beauty of the sheet falling through the air.

I can remember going into my parents' room as a child and making their bed. I seem to recall that I often decided they needed different blankets and pillows on the bed - choosing from the linen collection based on how the colors and patterns looked together, rearranging pillows just so. I'm not entirely sure how my mom felt about the redecorating eye of a child, but she always said thank you. The girls at my job in Chicago made their own beds for the most part, but occasionally if I had the time on "linen wash day" I would take the clean sheets upstairs and make their beds. I knew that at the end of their long days of school and sports and clubs and homework and chores that a made bed was a small gift, and it's one I loved to offer.

It's a little moment in my morning, one that tugs on the parts of my heart that loves to make things homey, that understands on some deep level just how important making a bed is, I wonder about future beds I will make. Foster children? Guests at an Inn?  Nieces and nephews over for a fun weekend with their favorite aunt? Helping out a neighbor with  limited mobility?

In those seconds as the sheets fly high I see hopes and dreams caught up in that brief billow of air.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Snapshots of When We Were on Fire (A synchroblog post)


I am in the aisle seat of the third row back from the stage. The auditorium is filled with hundreds of teens and youth leaders at summer camp.  A dramatic depictions of the Angels' point-of-view of the crucifixion just finished and the speaker is asking us what that means to us.  He begins the invitation. The lights dim, a quiet hymn begins to play, and he asks, "Are you sure? Do you know for sure that you belong to Jesus?"

My palms are sweaty and I close my eyes to block out that nagging unsureness. I'd been in church all my life and thought I was a Christian. But three years of awake-at-night was making me wonder.

And tears fell from my eyes while sitting in that aisle seat. So I stood up and was soon on a bench outside with a friend, a few feet from the overlook on this mountain-top college that boasted a view of three states on clear days.  She read scripture and prayed, said, "You know what to do." And I said that prayer again. The one I'd lead other people through on mission trips. And this time it felt like peace.

Though my views on the concept of moment-of-salvation, (soteriology is the word I've learned in seminary) have changed drastically, I try to save this moment from my often judgmental and cynical hindsight because it was pure and honest and, ultimately, life-changing.


I am in London.  I have come with a small group from my youth group to  join other kids from United States youth groups to be "on mission" here.  I have walked the streets of Northern London for a week, offered prayers with the owner of a boxing gym, offered my "British" sandwich to a grateful homeless man, sang then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, how Great thou art with friends at the top of our lungs in the twilight darkness next to a sidewalk fruit stand where we marveled at the bounty of bright red cherries being sold by the man wearing a turban.

On Sunday I find myself sitting in a pew at St. Paul's Cathedral, refraining from communion because they use real wine. I am cringing at the "smells and bells" and the way I see it all as fake and stuffy. On Wednesday nights at home we sang with drums and lights and smoke and that felt real as I waved one hand in the air, the other hand patting rhythmically over my heart. But in that pew, while I scowl and judge I hear a whisper in my heart, I am here too. My scowl softens and I wonder what I am missing.


A speaker at one of the youth trips said, "You should have something marked on every page of your Bible." So I am laying on my bed with my Bible open and a pen and highlighter near me. Genesis and Exodus were a breeze. Leviticus was no trouble at all. But now I'm in Numbers and I am faced with an entire page of names and numbers. Eventually I find something, I don't remember what and that Bible has long been retired, but by the end of the year every page in my bible has a circle or a star, an underline or a highlight.  And then I start again the next year. And somehow all these words, even the names and numbers, are burrowing into my soul and that is going to make all the difference in the hard years that are coming.


There are five of us in a side room. We are going slowly through a stack of "visitors cards" and praying for the names one by one. Praying for God to be peace and salvation, healing and hope. We are on our knees and holding hands, and then as our knees begin to ache and our palms grow sweaty we are flat on our face and palms to the ground. Prayers for these names become praise to God. When the last person has spoken and the quiet has reigned for a few minutes, we get up, walk into the main room, grab a slice of pizza and join in as worship music plays from the stage and 300 teenagers fill our youth room for our monthly "outreach" event.  Later that night, we'll stand to the side as some of those names we prayed over come over to us and want to know a little more about Jesus.


I am sitting on the floor of a small waiting room at a nursing home. A couple dozen of us had just spent the afternoon visiting some of the residents, and as we end our time and wait for everyone to finish we gather here in this room. Someone starts singing, O Lord please light the fire, that once burned bright and pure, replace the flame of my first love, that burned with holy fear. And then one song cascades into the next and we are offering an impromptu concert. Our hearts overflowing in song, if not fire.


It is years later. I have journals stacked  at the end of my bed detailing my love-relationship with Jesus the Messiah, detailing the peace and joy a midst my questions and fears.  Somewhere in those journals the questions become stronger. The writing less frequent. Until one day I am driving down the road, tears streaming down my face, and telling God he lied. I trusted you, and this is what I got?  I will spend the next many months-rolling-into-years making myself show up at church and I will sit in the pew, white knuckles gripping my Bible as I listen intently for some path back to the peace, but deathly afraid that all I'm going to get is hurt again. The songs and underlined verses pop into my head at the oddest times, I kneel down to pull a box from under my bed and I remember the aching knees that went with earnest prayers, a friend invites me to a Mass and the candles brings back the voice, I am here.

And this time it adds and I will not let you go. 


You have been sifted as wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail so that when you turn back you may strengthen your sisters and brothers.

. . .from on fire, to sifted like wheat, and turned back again with a different flame.

This is part of a synchroblog event for Addie Zierman's new book When We Were On Fire.  I'm hoping to read it soon - her blog has blessed me and given me so many "me too!" moments about my evangelical upbringing - it's blessings and struggles.  More info on how to link up your blog entry and find other submissions by clicking here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

a few thoughts on eating mostly plants

I have been eating a "mostly vegetarian and sometimes vegan" diet for 10 months now.

A sampling of reasons why I made this change:

1. I genuinely like eating "healthy" foods; I like vegetables.
2. I'm a wanna-be hipster, this seems like a hipster move.
3. Something in my gut (pun intended) told me this was a good change.
4. At the very least, the current meat industry (factory farming) treats animals in cruel and horrible ways and has various negative impacts on the environment and the economy.
5. I get to worry less about cross-contamination while cooking. This makes my anxiety-prone brain happy.
6. On a "full time student" budget - simple vegetarianism is generally much cheaper in my area.
7. The aesthetics of a full produce basket in my kitchen make me happy.
8. I enjoy experimenting with new recipes and discovering new foods/cooking methods. Nothing like having to toss 99% of your standard go-to meals to get started on "new."
9. From a faith perspective, there is something to the fact that the creation story does not include the killing of animals until after the fall.

There is one thing that was not my motivation though, and that has surprised me with it's quiet, steady, presence in my life these past ten months.


For lent I did strict vegetarian only diet. But even then, I wasn't focused on the fasting. I was focused on the "adding."  As in, I could afford a few extra of the "expensive" fruit and veggies and grains since I wasn't buying meat.  I was getting new and exciting recipes. Learning new things. Feeling new connections to the world around me.  All good things.

But, as the honeymoon phase ended I'd have really intense desires for various meat-based foods. It was never even a hunger-craving, but rather a desire for the other impacts that food had on me. Food and taste and smell is powerful. There is a reason things like "comfort foods" exist. They are satisfying and warm and familiar. They fill some emotional need and serve beautiful purposes for our mental health. For me those things are a chicken-broccoli casserole, roast beef and meatloaf the way mom made it, and hot dogs with sandwich relish (the way I ate them with my Grandaddy).  After living away from my home-state (in fact, away from that entire region of the country) for four years, there are restaurants  and foods associated with "home" that ease feelings of homesickness because they offer some connection.

One thing I've found myself asking as I encountered these desires for these various animal-based foods is, "What kind of vegetarian dish can I make that will mimic that?"  And, of course, barring some molecular gastronomy techniques and some highly processed meat-alternatives that still don't quite get it perfectly right, the answer is: "There isn't one. I can't recreate that taste another way."  I can come close, get an approximation, something that might quench the hunger craving, but not the soul-desire.

I am completely in favor of supporting the basic biological fact that sometimes food that nourishes our body also nourishes our soul and our emotions. I am not one to outright dismiss "emotional eating" because food is more than contents for your stomach. But as I identified these desires for feelings and realized that in this way that I've chosen to live that those desires could not be met in the familiar ways, I understood "fasting" as a spiritual discipline in ways I never really had before.

So my moments of desire turned into. "hmm. Roast beef sounds really good. I remember Mom making that at home. I remember learning to make it. Dad often requested it on his birthday. It was the first meal I made for the kids at work in Chicago. Those are good memories with family and friends" and I thought about the memories, maybe called my mom, thanked God for those times, and thought about why I wouldn't buy the roast just to recreate the taste and smell (see list above).  It's not the same as the powerful memory of smell and taste - I don't get the same result. But I also have good memories around board games, jokes, special days, and fruit salad.  There are other ways to satisfy those desires for connection to my past. And the fasting from ways that involve animals allows me to ask what I'm really wanting when I "crave" Chicken Divan and I find myself better off for knowing the answer. And, my mom probably appreciates the phone calls I make (though she doesn't normally know she's the answer to my chicken craving when I call).

I have literally been trying to decide what to do about Thanksgiving since January. There is a local farm where I can reserve a "life well lived" turkey if I decide to do that, but I guess the question is, do I need to do that to enjoy the day?  Everyone knows thanksgiving side dishes almost outshines the bird - so a side dish feast seems a brilliant way to celebrate as well.

At the end of the day I try to  offer myself grace in this process.  Last night I listened to my friend Sarah give a presentation on loving Jesus and loving animals and how that all fits together.  I'm sure she'd be ecstatic if the whole world instantly became vegan, but she offered us much grace in the process - "choose one meal to be vegan,"   "be a vegetarian who occasionally eats bacon." It's better to make informed and knowledgeable choices about our food, she said, than uninformed ones.

For me, I've discovered this year that the "informed" and "knowledgeable" is about how animals are treated and if I'm ok with that, but it is also being informed and knowledgeable about myself -  recognizing emotions and desires and connections to people and the world around me.