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zucchini boats

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My earliest memories of zucchini are not good.

First, a bit of backstory: When I was growing up the house rules were that we ate whatever my mother cooked. If it was on the plate, we were expected to eat it. It was not negotiable. If we chose not to eat what was served, the plate was covered and put in the refrigerator and presented again at the next meal. I can remember staring down a piece of cheese toast one night that showed up again at breakfast–I don’t remember why. I actually liked cheese toast.

Zucchini was another thing.

It is no secret that I loved my mom’s cooking. I am a cook because of her. She was amazing, But she did something to zucchini that neither my brother nor I were able to tolerate: a zucchini casserole.

We could smell her making it when we came into the house in the late afternoon after playing with the kids in the neighborhood. She didn’t make it all the time, but often enough for the stench to feel familiar. As I remember, it was sliced zucchini and onions and cheese–which should have been fine–but it was The Dish We Hated More Than Any Other. Period.

I wish I could point to the day that my relationship to the green summer squash changed. It was not while I lived in my parents’ house, I know that. It was some time in college, I think–a time when it was served in some other form that The Casserole of Death. It was not a momentous shift, but it was a shift nonetheless. I learned to not only eat zucchini but love it. Just not in that casserole.

(I would add here that at some point in all of this, my mother quit making that dish.)

In the years since I have become a gardener, I have learned that summer time means being creative with zucchini since it is ubiquitous. I’ve got recipes for zucchini fritters, zucchini bread, zucchini noodles, as I am sure many of you do as well. The joke around here is you don’t leave your car unlocked in the summer because people will fill it up with the surplus squash from their gardens.

As I began to think about what I was going to make for dinner tonight, I started with what to do with the eight zucchini sitting on the kitchen counter. I have already sautéed some this week and diced up some others; I wanted them to be more than a side dish.

So I made zucchini boats as a way to offer a different culinary voyage. They aren’t fancy but they are simple, they look good, and they taste great, too.

I wish my mother had had this recipe. Growing up would have been easier for both of us.

zucchini boats

4 zucchini squash, halved longwise
1 lb ground turkey (ground beef or pork would also work)
2 cloves garlic, minced
(you could also add diced shallots or onions; I don’t because of Ginger’s allergy.)
taco seasoning
salt and pepper
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Using a melon baller or a small spoon (the melon baller is easier), scoop out the center of the zucchini, leaving the sides intact. Save the squash you scoop out in a bowl.

Brush the inside of the zucchini with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet scooped side up. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until they are soft.

While the squash is cooking, combine the turkey, scooped out squash, garlic, and onions (if you are using them) in a bowl. Heat a skillet to medium heat and add a little olive oil and then cook the mixture until the meat is done and the squash is soft–about eight minutes. Set it aside to cool.

Take the zucchini out of the oven and then fill the boats with the turkey mixture. You may have some of the mixture left over, depending on how much you put in the boats or how big your squash are. Divide the cheese evenly over the tops of the eight boats. Return to the oven and cook until cheese is melted.

Remove from the oven and serve.

Like I said–not fancy, but really good.

Peace,
Milton

climate: change

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climate: change

in the early days of language
we only had words for storms
weather meant trouble until
some began to realize that
a clear sky or a gentle breeze
meant something as well

but they talked about it the
way they talked about time
in Latin, Polish, Gaelic,
and Serbo-Croatian
weather and time
were the same word

In ancient Greek, kairos
meant the opportune
moment or the weather
I’m not sure I totally
understand the connection
except, perhaps, the sense

that time is more like
a breeze or a rain storm
than a ticking clock
we can no more save
or standard it than we
can guide a hurricane

the rain falls on the just
and the unjust or
maybe it just falls
time passes and heals
and makes us miss things
we are seasoned by both

even as we delude ourselves
into thinking we can control
either one; the best we can
do is cooperate, take our place
in the storm and the seconds

surrender our schedules
and forecasts, learn to ride
the wind rather than punch
the clock or set an alarm
and let our hearts dance
to the rhythm of the rain

we are not late or early
we are here, alive in this
time, in this weather
a climate of continual
change, a string of
moments that matter

Peace,
Milton

 

living a legacy

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I am down to my next to last sermon at the church where I have been bridge pastor since the beginning of last December. They are moving into a promising new chapter as a new settled pastor joins them in early September and I am moving into Whatever Is Coming Next, a chapter that has yet to be fully defined.

My idea for my sermon came to me as Ginger and I sat in a pub on our last full day in Ireland; Guinness, it seems, is not only good for strength, but also for sermon ideas—in moderation, of course. The text is Isaiah 58:9-12. I’ll let my sermon tell the rest of the story.

_________________________________

When Ginger and I first moved to Boston in 1990, we couldn’t get over how old things were. The first house we owned in Charlestown was built around 1840. Having moved from Texas, where anything over fifty felt ancient, we felt like we were living in the middle of history. Then we had a chance to go to Paris. As we stood in Notre Dame cathedral, we could overhear a tour guide describing the two huge stained glass windows. One, he said, was a new window–a replacement after a fire–that had been put in place in the mid-1500s.

Our little row house in Boston suddenly felt new as well.

During our time in Ireland over the last couple of weeks, we saw lots of old things. We walked around the remnants of old castles, marveled at the miles and miles of stone walls that stood without mortar, and stayed in hotels housed in stone buildings dating back centuries. All of those were things I expected. But on our last full day in Ireland I was surprised by what we found.

Our task that day was to drive from Galway to Dublin so we could fly back to Boston the next day. I looked at the map to find somewhere in between to stop for lunch and saw the name Athlone about halfway along the highway. When I searched to learn more about the city, I found out it was home to Sean’s Bar, which is certified by both the Guinness Book of World Records and the Irish National Museum as the oldest bar in Ireland–dating back to 900. That date means less time passed between Jesus being on earth and the opening of the bar than between the opening of the bar and today.

We knew we had to stop–and we did.

The building was unassuming. The pub was quiet and cozy and opened up on a patio that had been built more recently. On one wall was a shadow box that held a piece of an earlier building, which was basically a bunch of sticks held together by some sort of mud mixture. The room we were in wasn’t from 900, but the bar was part of a continuous lineage.

What I have since learned is Athlone is the English way of saying the Gaelic name, Atha Luain, which means “the ford of Luain.” Before bridges were built, this spot was where people could ford the River Shannon. Luain was the one who both provided a way across the river and a place for refreshment and rest, starting in 900. A town grew up around the inn, and then a castle was built in the twelfth century. Through all the changes, the pub has continued to take care of people.

As one of my friends noted when she saw our pictures, “Bars have been a necessity for a long time.” The idea that everyone wants to go to a place where everybody knows your name is much older than we think.

Soon after we got back, I read an article that said for the first time in American history people who go to church are in the minority. In 1990, seventy percent of Americans participated in worship; that has now fallen below fifty percent. Those of us who go to church live with the assumption that churches have been a necessity for a long time, too. Perhaps, what we miss is that it can’t stay the same if it is going to endure.

I wonder how many times over the years the patrons of Luain’s Inn or Sean’s Bar have lamented a change in location or decor or beverage options. My guess is at least every few years over the thirteen centuries, someone has said, “Well, it’s not what it used to be,” and yet, it’s still here.

We have lots of reminders around us that much of life works that way. We think of ourselves as being the same person our whole life, and yet our skin cells regenerate every two weeks, our stomach cells every couple of days, and our bones every ten years, to name a few. As we age, we don’t keep much original material and yet we are still ourselves. Our identity does not require us to stay the same; in fact, we have to change to stay alive.

One of the things I have enjoyed since I got back has been reading the email thread about the ways in which you as a congregation are preparing for a new year and for a new pastor. Those two things, along with what appears to be the first fall in a while not totally encumbered by the pandemic, have created space to dream and plan. It has also made room for trying to get back to the way things were. Those two impulses can pull against each other.

The words from Isaiah we read this morning were spoken to people who were working to rebuild what had been lost and trying to figure out how to keep going. Isaiah’s call was to do more than try to reinstate old patterns. Instead, he said, be healers. Repairers of the breach.

Be the ones who help others cross the river and provide refreshment and rest for them when they do.

We do not exist because of our institutions or for our institutions–that’s true about churches and governments and workplaces. We are made for one another. We are built to be healers, helpers, caregivers–and receivers: people who tend to one another.

One of the stops we made on our Peace Retreat was in a town called Rostrevor, which is in northern Ireland. As we were getting off the bus, Ginger and I saw a man walking two miniature Schnauzers, so we were quick to cross the street and talk to him. After we had met the dogs, we began to talk to him. His name was Paul. He asked what we were doing in Ireland and we said we were with a group hoping to learn more about how to be peacemakers by hearing the stories of those who are working for peace in Ireland.

“I was in prison in Manchester during the Troubles,” Paul said. He went on to tell us he had been sentenced to twenty-four years but got out after eleven years because of good behavior. “I was changed by my time in prison. I am a different person. I was a Republican (one of those fighting for a unified Ireland), but I’m not now. What matters most is that we learn how to be friends with one another.”

Across the street from Paul was a school that advertised itself as “integrated”–meaning Protestant and Catholic students attended together–and next to it was a church that had been converted into a restaurant and bar. As Ginger and I sat at one of the outside tables, we watched the church fill up with various groups of people sharing their lunches and lives together, and I wondered what the former congregation had missed that the restaurant seemed to be getting right when it came to making people feel like they belonged in that space.

Sean’s Bar has not survived because Luain had a plan for lasting a millennium. What he did was feed people and help them cross the river and those who followed him found their own version of hospitality to offer. Though they boast about being the oldest bar, that is far from the point. The point is that they tend to people day after day, and have done so month after month such that the years have stacked up into centuries.

Likewise, as you look to the days ahead and the hope of new life here in Westbrook, remember a couple of things. One, the point is not to last forever, but to meet the needs at hand. As Gareth Higgins, who led our retreat, says, look for ways to make the world less broken and more beautiful. Second, as you make room for and take care of one another, and of those who will come to join you, remember it ultimately doesn’t matter what order the hymns come in, or what prayer is said when, or whether you like every piece of music that is played.

What matters is you are here together and you want to widen the circle of belonging. You have a long history, but as you lean into that, remember the congregation that exists today is most likely quite different than the one that started here, and different from many of the versions of church that have inhabited this space since. Perhaps that is why Isaiah said we are called to be “repairers of the breach”–we are called to look for the little things (and some big things, too) that will make it easier for people to get across whatever boundary or difficulty that keeps them from feeling like they belong so they can find rest and refreshment.

God doesn’t expect us to last forever. God does call us to love one another with every moment we have. Amen.

Peace,
Milton

that sinking feeling

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A year or more before my father died my parents decided to sell their house in Waco and move into a new apartment complex intended for people over fifty-five. The move felt impulsive to my brother and me because they had never talked about doing something like that. Even the way Dad told the story–that they had gone to dinner with a couple who had just moved into the place and it felt like the right thing–felt like it happened faster that we could take it in. Nevertheless, they moved beyond the impulse of that evening and went through all the steps to make it happen.

Once my dad had his stroke and then died a few weeks later, the move was a gift. They had already gone through most of their stuff and decided what to do with it. We didn’t have to figure out how to sell a house or move my mother. She was set where she was in a place she could take care of and surrounded by people who knew her. By then, the over-fifty-five thing had not worked for the apartment management, so Mom was surrounded by a combination of older folks and graduate students–and she made friends with all of them.

My dad died August 3, 2013; Mom died January 15, 2016. After her funeral, my task was to pack up her apartment and figure out what we would keep and what we would give away. She had given instructions about most of it, particularly her clothes and the big pieces of furniture, but there were drawers full of little things that we had to figure out. When it came to the kitchen–the room where she and I had made so many memories–I had trouble letting go of almost anything. But I did. I worked hard to take only those things that I could put to use. And I am still using them. Each day, I touch things that remind me of her and what I learned from her.

One of those things is a small mesh strainer that fits over the drain in the sink to catch things that don’t need to go down the drain. I remember finding it as we packed up the apartment. I had never seen or used on before. I stared at the little circle of wire mesh molded to fit the drain and wondered why it had never occurred to me to use one, particularly because most of the places we have lived have not had garbage disposals. I wrapped it up and brought it back to Guilford and slid it into place over the drain, where it has stayed until this morning.

As I stood at the sink filling a water glass, I noticed it was gone. Our friend Jay, who is staying with us for a bit, was the only one awake. I asked if he knew what happened to it. He said he saw it was gone as well, but had not moved it. I went back in the kitchen and looked in the trash can. I searched along the countertop. Nothing. All I could feel was that I had lost a piece of her. One more thing was gone.

I knew no one in the house would have thrown it out on purpose, yet I wanted to wake up Ginger and Rachel and ask, “What did you do with the strainer in the sink?” as though they were a part of some conspiracy. I sat down to journal instead and scribbled down my accusations so even I could see how ludicrous they were.

By the time Ginger woke up, I was beyond blaming and just felt sad. I told her what had happened and why it mattered: “It belonged to Mom,” I said. We didn’t have long to talk because I had a funeral at the church where I am the bridge pastor, so I had to leave to help someone else navigate a grief much fresher than mine. As I left, Ginger said, “We’ll find it.”

At the funeral, I stood beside a brother and a sister–both about my age–as they grieved their father. As the daughter spoke about her dad, she talked in details and small stories. And I thought, again, about the sink strainer.

When I got back to Guilford, I went to the hardware store and bought a new one. “It’s a small thing,” I told myself. “It was never going to last forever. Six and a half years is pretty good.” I walked in the house and went straight to the sink, determined to put my purchase in its place and get on with life.

The strainer was back over the drain. Ginger was out of the house, so I had no idea how it got there, but I felt a wash of relief. I put the new strainer in a drawer for use when its time comes and then just stood over the sink and stared and thought about my mother. No, I stood there and missed her.

When Ginger got home, I was waking up from a nap. The first thing I asked was where she had found it. We have a double sink in our kitchen. The left-hand side holds the dish drainer; the right is where we wash the dishes, and where the strainer stays. The people who help us clean the house had put it on the left-hand side and we had consequently filled up the dish rack. Ginger moved it back in place.

That nothing lasts forever is not a new lesson to learn for me or anyone else. Life is a litany of losses. That is not news. Even as I could feel the wound of my grief being opened this morning when I saw the strainer was missing, I also wondered how life could be so fragile that I could get taken out by a three dollar piece of hardware, and then feel healed by its return.

I know nothing lasts forever. Tonight, I am grateful that little strainer will last a little while longer.

Peace,
Milton

what the silent valley had to say

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When we left for Ireland, I had visions of journaling everyday and keeping track of all the details, as well as writing every night to provide a travelogue of the trip. Obviously, that didn’t happen–mostly because I filled the time doing things and being with people rather than taking notes, though Ginger and I have done our best to go back and write down as much as we can remember. She actually did a better job of tracking details along the way.

My lack of notes reminds me of one of a story I heard on NPR many years ago. The journalist asked several professional photographers to describe “the best picture they chose not to take.” All of the photographers interviewed were able to answer almost immediately. Each one described a situation where, when the time came to snap the photo, they were overcome by the sacredness of the moment and chose to take a mental picture instead. Each one could describe what they had seen in vivid detail; they had not forgotten the moment. Somehow it lived more vividly as a mental image rather than a visual one.

I suppose most all of us have mental scrapbooks of places and people, some of which contain pictures we never took but can still see. Some of those people and places are significant even if they aren’t famous or well-known because they have helped to shape us into who we are.

As a part of our Ireland Retreat, we spent four days in the coastal town of Kilkeel in northern Ireland, about halfway between Belfast and Dublin. After being in Belfast for four days of walks and talks and meetings, we moved to the more rural setting for a time of reflection and renewal. As we prepared for our day, Gareth Higgins said, “This afternoon I want to take you to my favorite place in all of Ireland.”

We boarded the bus and drove about a half an hour into the Mourne Mountains to the Silent Valley Mountain Park, which is home to the Silent Valley Reservoir that is the water supply for both County Down and the city of Belfast. The land is uninhabited. The vegetation is sparse. The mountains are mostly rock, which means the water that runs down them moves quickly into the rivers that were dammed beginning a century ago. Over the course of time, they built walking paths so people could enjoy the mountains. At the entrance are a couple of buildings that house a small cafe and a gift shop. There is a small pond there where you can feed ducks. But, for the most part, the attraction of the park is the three-mile path that runs from the entrance to the base of the Ben Crom Dam. From there, you. can walk up a staircase that switches back and forth until you get to the top of the dam, but most people seemed to be content to sit at the base and rest before beginning the three-mile walk back to the entrance.

About two-thirds of our group made the trip. As we walked, we looked like a human accordion, spreading out and then coming back together as our differing walking rhythms played alongside each other. Most of the walk was a gentle slope along the reservoir until we got near the dam. The last quarter mile was a climb.

The walk felt like a pilgrimage of sorts, mostly because the whole point was to walk. Though the dam was our destination, we weren’t really going to see it. We were walking through the Silent Valley because Gareth wanted us to see his favorite place. When we got to the bottom of the dam, most of us rested on the benches while others trekked to the top. I couldn’t help but ask the question:

Why is this your favorite place in all of Ireland?

I guess part of me wondered because it was not the most beautiful part of Ireland we had seen. Don’t get me wrong–it was beautiful, but it was understated. There were no breath-taking vistas or castles or any significant historical markers, save one for a tunnel that had been dug through one of the mountains to connect two rivers. But I was not asking because I was unimpressed. I asked because I wanted to know why this place mattered to my friend.

Gareth thought for a moment, not because he didn’t have an answer as much as he was contemplating how to convey why the Silent Valley spoke to him so profoundly. “I have been coming here since I was a child,” he said. “At all different times of year. We used to come up here on New Year’s Eve.” He went on telling stories for several minutes and, as he did, the place grew more and more beautiful.

A few days later, Ginger and I stood at the top of the Cliffs of Moher on the other side of Ireland. The scale and spectacle of the dramatic way the land drops into the sea is stunning. The walking paths were much fuller than those along the reservoir, and the visitor’s center and gift shop much larger. I love that I got to see them, and that they were one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites we got to see on our trip, along with the Giant’s Causeway. But if I had to pick one, I’d go back to the Silent Valley because of the stories. At the Cliffs and the Causeway we read plaques and read histories, but I didn’t find anyone to ask,

Why is this your favorite place in all of Ireland?

I am grateful that it mattered to Gareth to share his favorite place for no other reason than it was his favorite place. As I walked back, I tried to picture him as a young boy and then as a teenager walking that same path. Based on his story, he grew up on that road, in a way, and then invited us to walk it with him. What a gift to follow in his footsteps and hear what the Silent Valley had to say.

Peace,
Milton

stacking the stones

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We’ve seen a lot of stones in Ireland.

Much of the land is made of giant rocks masquerading as mountains, enormous pieces of ancient earth rising upwards. Somehow, the land feels older here.

I learned about stone walls when we moved to New England. I had not seen them before, other than in pictures or movies. When we lived in Boston, Ginger and I used to drive up to Robert Frost’s farm in southern New Hampshire and follow the path marked by signs telling us which poem to read at a particular spot. Near one stone fence we read “The Mending Wall”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall . . .

Yet I have always found a beauty in them, in part, I think, because I learned that they grew out of a practical need. As farmers cleared the land, they encountered lots of rocks. It was easier to use them as fences than to try and haul them off somewhere. The real beauty of them, however, is in their construction. They are stacked without mortar, placed in such a way that gravity becomes the glue. They fall into to each other, which strengthens the whole wall. They don’t fall apart easily.

Our time in Ireland has helped me realize those first New Englanders did not invent anything, they simply continued practices they learned from those who had come before them. This is a country of stacked stones, walls designed to contain sheep and cows, to control grazing, to divide property, and, I trust, to tell stories.

One of the reasons I notice stacked stones is because of a story from scripture that holds enduring meaning for me. It comes from the book of Joshua. After the Hebrew people had crossed the Jordan River,

Joshua called for the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one man per tribe. Joshua said to them, “Cross over into the middle of the Jordan, up to the Lord your God’s chest. Each of you, lift up a stone on his shoulder to match the number of the tribes of the Israelites. This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you will tell them that the water of the Jordan was cut off before the Lord’s covenant chest. When it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. These stones will be an enduring memorial for the Israelites.” (Common English Bible)

I rarely see a stack of stones without thinking of the question: What do these stones mean to you?

Making a stone wall is no easy feat, and lifting the stones may be the easiest part. To create the kind of support needed for the wall to endure, each stone has to be placed with intention. Some of them have to have their edges knocked off so they fit just right. None of the walls stand because all of the stones are uniformly cut; they stand because they fall into each other rather than away. They are stacked to stay together.

Not all the stones in the field were stacked into walls. Some were thrown as weapons, intended to do damage or create fear. Some were built into fortresses in response, as dividers and protectors. What our stones mean comes from how we use them.

We spent our afternoon yesterday in the town of Downpatrick, in County Down, learning about St. Patrick, which was another lesson in stacking stones. We went first to the St. Patrick Centre, which says they are the only permanent exhibition about him in the world. The exhibit was a meandering multimedia path through early Irish history, but it began with a guide undoing what we thought we knew:

Patrick didn’t chase the snakes out of Ireland–there were never any snakes in Ireland.
Patrick never wore priestly robes.
Patrick never used a shamrock to explain the Trinity.
Patrick was never officially canonized as a saint.
Patrick didn’t wear green.
Patrick didn’t bring Christianity to Ireland; it was already here.
Patrick was not Irish.

I think it is also fair to assume Patrick never intended to be remembered by copious amounts of alcohol to celebrate the day of his death.

The exhibit inside the center also made it clear that we don’t know a lot about him for sure. Only a couple of documents have survived, one being his Confession and the other a letter to a general. How we have stacked the stones says more about who we want him to be rather than who he is, perhaps. But such is the nature of remembering. We stack up our stones so when the children or anyone else asks, “What do these stones mean to you?” we can tell them.

One of the things I learned about Patrick was that he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as an enslaved person when he was a teenager. He was probably from Wales. He escaped and returned to Britain and then came back to Ireland. Much of the exhibit stacked the stones of his story in a way to show how he shaped the nation of Ireland and its faith. It was told as a hero myth, if you will, a story of valor and conquest and conflict, both external and internal. He grew Christianity by trying to drive the “pagans” off the island.

After we came out of the exhibit, I walked a few blocks in downtown Downpatrick, which seems to be a place that is struggling. Many shops were permanently closed. I saw two or three thrift stores and two bookmakers–betting venues, that is. It felt like a place that needed some attention.

From there, we drove out a bit, down roads lined with stone walls, to Saul Church, one of the landmarks in Patrick’s story. We had time to walk through the small church and cemetery, take in the view of the surrounding farms, and hear from Gareth Higgins who offered a different way to stack up the stones.

For him, the power of the story was simple: Patrick was brought to the island as an enslaved person. He escaped and went home and then he chose to come back to Ireland to share the love of God. He didn’t come back for revenge or retribution. He came back for love.

When I asked him how that matched with the story we heard at the Centre, he said, (and I am not using quotes because I don’t remember exactly) That story is there if you want it. I am choosing to find a story of redemption.

So much rides on how we chose to stack up the stones.

What do the stones mean to you?

Peace,
Milton

rest

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We are one day past the midpoint of our time on the island of Ireland. The morning here is cool (59°) and clear. The cottages where we are staying on the outskirts of the coastal village of Kitkeel are surrounded by green fields marked by stone walls that were stacked by hand. It is quiet and, for the most part, it will stay that way, other than the sounds of daily life of both humans and animals.

Even in our time in Dublin it seems that people are not clamoring to make the day begin, for the most part. We were hard pressed to find a breakfast place that opened before eight while we were in the city. The pace of the retreat has also offered a gentle waking each morning. I have woken up to a conversation rather than a to do list.

It is a gift.

In our time at Corymeela, Paul Hutchinson started with a question: What’s the score? From there he intentionally meandered through all kinds of wonderful things, mostly by telling stories and asking more questions. Corymeela is a community of peacemakers. The community is not static; people come and go, for different lengths of time. We were there for the better part of a day to hear their stories and to learn, I thought, about peacemaking in northern Ireland. Paul did those things, but in a way I had not expected.

Somewhere in the meanderings, he talked about rest by asking a question: At the end of the seventh day, was God tired?

The question made me realize that most of the ways I have heard the idea of sabbath discussed implicitly assumes that the initial acts of creation exhausted God. Maybe we don’t say it that way, but when we talk about finding sabbath for ourselves–finding rest–we often speak of it as compensation for our own exhaustion and use God’s rest at the end of a busy week as our example. Then, of course, we have the biblical description of God as one who “never slumbers or sleeps,” which too often shapes our work ethic, or at least our schedules.

In the Genesis account, the rest comes on the seventh day, but in the Christian tradition we attach sabbath to Sunday, which we think of as the first day of the week since it was the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The significance of that stands out to me when I take it alongside of the root meaning of rest.

The word comes from German roots through Old English, where it meant “rest; a bed or couch; intermission of labor; mental peace, state of quiet or repose.” But the older German word had a sense of measurement to it, a sense of specific distance after which it was time to rest, like our Sunday. That sense of measurement came from nomadic people who were always moving. They measured their movement by the distance between resting places.

Though most of us are not moving from place to place, we are moving, almost constantly it seems. What would change if we measured life from rest to rest, rather than from project to project, or obligation to obligation?

I remember first reading Frederick Buchner’s description of the day as something sandwiched between two nights and being caught by surprise. I had always thought the day came first and it brought a freshness to life to see the night as the reference point. That also helped me move from thinking of life in linear terms and to see things as more circular and cyclical. Though we are born and we die, life is less about progressing to a specific finish line as it is moving from place to place, and then to another place after that. Whether that movement is physical or metaphorical, how we see what we are moving from and going to seems to matter.

I’ll ask it again. What would change if we measured life from rest to rest, rather than exhaustion to exhaustion, or problem to problem, or even opportunity to opportunity?

As I write, I am conscious that I am thinking in big chunks of time: week to week, year to year. How far till the weekend? When is our next vacation? I know the Genesis account lays out seven days, but maybe we need a smaller scale. What are the rests we move to and from in our daily life? How do I live my day moving from rest to rest, from awareness to awareness, from love to love, from breath to breath, from refreshment to refreshment?

What if we thought of one another as rest rather than responsibilities?

That last question leads me to wonder how we become havens of rest for one another, how we learn to offer respite and restoration in our daily encounters. I am also conscious, after yesterday’s post, of how many re- words are in the last couple of paragraphs.

Paul Hutchinson talked about Rowan William’s idea of taking “a vow of incompleteness,” so that we could appreciate and live in “the open texture of every moment.” Perhaps, then, to move from rest to rest is to move from incompleteness to incompleteness. God didn’t rest when it was all done. It is never all done, even for God. We do what we can as we move from rest to rest, allowing ourselves to be defined, in a way, by our incompleteness rather than our accomplishments.

We move from grace to grace, from forgiveness to forgiveness, from hope to hope, or we can say we move from demand to demand, from grief to grief, from crisis to crisis.

To say life is full of all of those things is to state the obvious. At the core of the oldest definitions of the word, it is clear that life is not all rest. We have problems and crises and responsibilities.

And we move from rest to rest, if we are willing to see it that way.

Peace,
Milton

resolved

2

Ireland is a lovely and complicated place, which, of course, means it shares much in common with the rest of the world though its story has often gotten more publicity over the years. A number of years ago, Gareth Higgins and Brian Ammons began doing Ireland Retreats from this vantage point:

The story we tell shapes the world we live in. The story of Ireland, north and south, is full of light and shadow, mystery and earthiness, sacred and profane collaborating to create a land of charm, beauty and inspiration. We invite you to take time out to experience the landscape, art, people and story that has captivated so many.

I am in the middle of one of the retreats. We have moved from four days in and around Belfast to a small coastal village between Belfast and Dublin called Kilkeel. The rhythm of our time has moved from long walks through urban neighborhoods to compelling stories from a variety of speakers to quiet time along the shore or in the middle of sheep pastures. We are here to listen, learn, and connect so that we might have a better sense of how we can make peace in our world, however big or small that world may be.

Gareth is in his late forties and grew up in Belfast. His life has been shaped by what people here call The Troubles. As we talked in one of the early sessions, he described the current situation in northern Ireland by saying the conflict has been “solved, but not resolved.”

The relation between the two words jumped out at me: solve and re-solve, as in to solve again. Perhaps, I scribbled in my notes, life is not an Agatha Christie mystery to be solved so we can move to the next case but a returning to keep resolving–coming back to the story over and over–to see what else we can learn.

The oldest roots of the word solve run all over the place, going back to the fourteenth century: to loosen, dissolve; untie, release, detach; depart; unlock; scatter; dismiss; accomplish, fulfill; explain; remove, It took a hundred years for us to begin to use the word to mean explain or answer, and then a couple hundred more before we thought about solving mathematical problems.

When I think of solving a mystery, the image in my mind is of wrapping things up rather than releasing or unlocking. I hear an expansiveness in the root of the word I had not thought of. When we think of solving a problem, it means we are done with it and can move on. We wrap it up, so to speak, when what the roots of the word tell is is that we actually set things free.

What, then, does it mean to resolve?

From some of our earliest language classes we learned that the prefix re- means to do again. It shows up, I would venture, as much as anything in our language, perhaps because life is mostly about doing things over and over.

Back to Gareth’s description of the situation in northern Ireland–it is solved, but not resolved–and the notion that to solve is to release (there’s that re- again), to resolve might mean to unlock or untie over and over, not as a means of wrapping things up or moving on, but as an understanding that resolving as daily practice is elemental to what it means to be fully human with and to one another.

To resolve means to scatter my presuppositions, my assumptions, my biases, so that I can free myself to find a deeper understanding of the world of which I am a small part. To be soluble means to be able to be dissolved, taken in, might we say included. To be a peacemaker, perhaps, is to be resoluble, or at least an agent of resolution, committed to connection and belonging.

Resolve, as a noun, means determination or focus, even as another meaning of the verb is to reduce to essential components. I have said before that life has a centrifugal force that flings us to the edges. We have to resolve ourselves: to pull ourselves together with determination and a sense that our connectedness matters most.

Solutions come together because the component parts belong together; resolutions are statements of communal intent, statements of communal identity. We are built for belonging, even as we often seem determined to live dividedly.

When I was in seminary, I took a French class while visions of doctoral work danced in my head. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember one Beatitude in particular:

Heureux ceux qui répandent autour d’eux la paix,
car Dieu les reconnaîtra pour ses fils.

Blessed are those who spread peace around them,
for God will recognize them as God’s children.

May we daily resolve our lives–bring things together over and over, spread peace around us, so that we all might know we are wonderfully created in the image of God and worthy to be loved and to belong.

Peace,
Milton

transported

1

I have been away from the blog because we have been traveling, finally getting to take a trip that was supposed to be a part of Ginger’s sabbatical in 2020. The focus of the trip is an eight day retreat with Gareth Higgins and Kathleen Norris in and around Belfast, learning about and meeting with peacemakers. Ginger and I came a few days early to see Dublin and will stay a few days after to visit Galway and the west coast.

Today is the first day I have had time or space to write. I am hopeful I will get back to a regular posting over the next few days. There is much to share. For now, here is a poem about those who have helped us get from place to place, offering directions for the journey.

transported

we have come to Ireland
both south and north
to rest to listen to learn
and think about what
it means to wage peace
some lessons
have come in transit

the person who first
greeted us when we left
the Dublin airport was
Declan, the cab driver who
snaked through the city
to get us to Temple Bar

all the while asking questions
and answering ours
affirming some of our plans
and altering others
with a gentle lilt
and a kind smile

Morgan carted us from
the Kilmainham Gaol
the thick stone walls
that hold so many wounds
to the invitation and
hope of EPIC the Irish
Emigration Museum

James took us back
to the airport so we
could move north into
a different story
that is the same story
and as James said
is more complicated
and he loved Belfast

the cabbie who drove us
from Belfast to Holywood
said she spent six and
a half months working her
way across America
we will be here fifteen days

and Julie our bus driver
for the week said
if you pass someone
in the street
of course you say hello
it might be the first time
someone has spoken
to them that day
it’s kind of important

Peace,
Milton

lemon basil ginger cookies

4

One of the sadnesses of my summer is that our basil has not done well in the garden. It is my favorite summer herb, particularly when the tomatoes are ripe and (since I live in New England) I can find good, fresh mozzarella cheese.

We are profligate in our planting of basil in the spring, planting both seedlings and seeds over a couple of weeks so that we have a contagion of bright green leaves all season, but not this year. Such is the way life goes. I am grateful, therefore, for the good people at Bishop’s Orchards who have had far better luck and share their wealth by providing full grown (and potted) basil plants–I’m talking eighteen inches high and bursting with leaves–for $7.99. Who knew summer could be saved so economically.

Basil also makes me pine for one of my favorite places in Durham, Fullsteam Brewery, and their seasonal Southern Basil Farmhouse Ale, which is a basil-infused beer that is exactly what summer tastes like. From the first time I tasted it, I started thinking about a cookie. When I started my cookie company, Milton’s Famous, I made them for as long as the basil lasted. Two of the farmers at the Durham Farmers’ Market, Helga and Tim, had the best basil and I swapped a big box of cookies for a bag of green goodness every Saturday.

When I try to describe my cookie recipes, I say I want the cookie to tell a story. I want there to be a beginning, a middle, and an end to the experience, not just a single scene. This is a sugar cookie at its core, with the earthiness of the basil, the tartness of the lemon, and the surprise of the crystallized ginger added in. As I said, I think it tastes like summer: sweet, rich, and zesty.

You’ve still got time to make them.

lemon basil ginger cookies

1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large egg
2 tablespoon lemon zest
2 ounces lemon extract

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh basil leaves, rough chopped
10 ounces crystallized ginger, rough chopped
sugar for garnishing

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cream butter until fluffy; add sugar and let the mixer run for about five minutes. Add the eggs and beat until mixed well, and then add the lemon zest and lemon extract. Mix until everything is combined.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Put about a third of the flour in the bowl of a food processor and then add the chopped basil. Process it until the basil is absorbed and the flour has a green tint. Add the chopped crystallized ginger and process until it is combined, but it can still be a little chunky. Whisk the flour from the food processor in with the rest of the flour and the other dry ingredients. Add to the butter mixture in the stand mixer and mix until well combined.

Using a one ounce cookie scoop, drop the cookies onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Shape each ball into a disc and dip the top in sugar and place back on the baking sheet. Bake at 350 for twelve minutes. Makes about three dozen.

The most difficult part about writing this recipe was trying to quantify the amount of basil–first, because it is hard to measure and second, because I don’t actually measure it. I just use a whole bunch of it. A mess of it. A helluvalot of it. I am sure you can come up with your own measure.

Happy summer!

Peace,
Milton