We Have Lost More Than We Never Imagined

Imagine a child who has never lain back in the grass just to feel thin leaves whisper against his earlobe, never watched cloudplay to find a story told for him alone, never learned to hear the separate song of robin, sparrow, chickadee. How can he hear the separate song of loneliness, sung by the owl-eyed little girl, the skinny immigrant with his beautiful eyelashes, the old lady liver-spotted with near 100 years of secrets, stories, songs?

How can a poverty of imagination purchase empathy?

Imagine a child who has never lain on the bedroom floor with Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Hardy Boys, never plucked out a tune on unfamiliar instruments, never learned to look for shooting star.

How can he dream, who never dreams?

How can he plan for tomorrow, who lives in the never-quiet racket of today?flower-bird

How can a poverty of thought purchase purpose?

Imagine a child nourished on binge-watching, blinking neon games, portable noise. There is no end to thumping bass and chime of inbox, the unceasing prattle of friends (no more waiting, even, for a phone call).

There is no waiting, period. There is no delayed gratification, no longing, no patience needed. And we are surprised when impatience bears its ugly fruit.

Where do they come from, the children with their guns? Where is this carnage born? Is it a failure of legislation? Of health care? Of education? Of parenting?

Or is it simply that we have forgotten how to sit, quiet? It takes quiet to see—are you surprised? Sit in a nickel arcade and try to see your neighbor’s heart, try to see your own.

We have forgotten how to see what others see, forgotten how to slip into their shoes.

We have forgotten how to imagine, how to dream.

We have forgotten how to listen, how to wait.

We are always loud, forever moving. Why then are we surprised when there is no peace? We are paying for the sins of omission.

Without quiet, there is no thought.

Without thought, there is no thoughtfulness.

Without thoughtfulness, there is no empathy.

Without empathy, there is no remorse.

Without imagination, there is no vision.

Without vision, there is no reason for hope.

Without hope, there is no reason to live.

With nothing to lose, there are no inhibitions.

We sow the wind, and we shall reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7)

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

― Wendell Berry

Hyggelicious

So the Danish. The Norwegian. Scots and Canadians and Alaskans. How in the world do these nearly-Arctic people survive winter? Not only are the temperatures rock-bottom, but it’s so dark, so very dark. I don’t know about you, but I’m about done with winter, and I see the sun on a near-daily basis. I’ve been doing some reading on Scandinavian happiness, which is consistently off the charts. The Danes in particular have been getting a lot of press for their concept of “hygge,” (pronounced ahh-choo and gesundheit, I’m pretty sure). It seems our chilly friends have figured out the secret of blissful winters, even in their very cold climate. Candles, fireplaces, light, soft blankets, lots of books, friendly feasts and mulled wine all have a little something to do with it. It’s fascinating, especially for a Southern girl who misses summer nights on the front porch. I’m on a campaign to hygge-up my winter routine and break the winter blues this February, but I’m no expert. My best suggestion for happy winter nights? Brinner.

Mmm! Breakfast for dinner is always a favorite round here. I’ve successfully roped my friends in for lots of brinner nights, and the smorgasbord (see what I did with the Swedish there?) of baked goods, bacon, steaming sausages, cheesy eggs, and bowls of fruit is happy enough for Pharrell and Bobby McFerrin both. Throw in some coffee and have yourself a merry little midwinter.

The best thing about brinner is you aren’t running out the door to get to work, so you get to go a little above-and-beyond with your breakfast dishes. I’m not one to get up at the crack of dawn and make pastry, but I can do it in time for supper. Do a little savory and a little sweet, or better yet, invite some friends to contribute their favorites, and brinner can be a beautiful feast. Good enough for hygge-loving Danes!

Here are some of our favorites:

German “Puff Pancake” with Butter Syrup, recipe credit: http://www.melskitchencafe.com/german-pancake-butter-syrup/

This is really good with a warm fruit compote or jam if you want to skip the syrup, but that butter syrup is kind of to die for, too. It turns the whole thing into something reminiscent of gooey butter bars.

  • 2 T. butter
  • 6 large eggs (about 10.5 ounces)
  • 1 cup milk (I use 2%)
  • ½ t. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put two T. butter in a glass 9X13-inch baking dish and pop the pan in the oven to melt (but don’t let it burn).

Combine the eggs, milk and vanilla in a blender and process on low speed until smooth, 10-20 seconds. Add the flour and salt and blend until just combined; the batter should be smooth but not overblended.

Take the preheated, buttered pan out of the oven and swirl the butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Pour the batter into the pan and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until the pancake is puffy and lightly browned on the bottom and edges.

Butter Syrup:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup (8 T.) butter
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 t. baking soda

In a big old saucepan (it will foam and triple in volume at the end), combine the sugar, buttermilk and butter and bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat and simmer for 7 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla and baking soda until well-combined. Serve warm over pancakes.

 

Polenta and Mexican Eggs

Polenta isn’t something I grew up with, but it is essentially a mixture of ready-to-fry grits. It comes in a tube; simply slice like you would slice-and-bake cookies, and fry. The key to this dish is timing. Start by getting the toppings ready to spoon on while the eggs are hot. You can set the table with bowls of beans, salsa, avocado, cheese, and cilantro and let everyone serve themselves.

  • 1 tube polenta
  • eggs, 1 or 2 per person
  • black beans
  • salsa
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • shredded cheddar
  • cilantro

Fry up the sliced polenta and pile on beans, a dollop of salsa, and a sprinkle of cheddar.  Top with fried eggs over easy.  Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with avocado slices on the side.

 

Banana Cottage Cheese Pancakes

This recipe is quite flexible and can be modified to suit your needs.  The pancakes are delicious — moist and dense, with a consistency somewhat like crepes.  Best served with maple syrup or fruit preserves.

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 2 T. cooking oil
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2 small overripe bananas
  • 1 c. flour
  • milk, as needed

Combine eggs, cottage cheese, oil, and salt in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add bananas, one at a time.  Slowly add flour, by tablespoonfuls, until well incorporated.  If the mixture is too thick, add milk, by the teaspoon, until it blends smoothly.  Cook on a lightly greased skillet or frying pan until golden.

 

Baked Oatmeal

I have made this with almond milk to satisfy a non-dairy request and it was great!  You can mix up all of the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately the day before and combine just before baking if you want to prepare ahead.  Serve with whipped cream if you want to be decadent (or yogurt if you don’t) and fill up on a big bowl of fruit salad.

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, mix together oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Beat in milk, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Stir in dried cranberries. Spread into a 9×13 inch baking dish.  Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.

 

Baked Blueberry-Pecan French Toast

This is meant to be soaked overnight and baked in the morning.  If you are having it for brinner, throw it together in the morning and soak all day, then bake before supper.

  • 1 French bread baguette
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ t. nutmeg
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar, divided
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • ½ stick plus 1 t. butter
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained

Butter a 9×13 baking dish. Cut 1 ½ inch slices from the baguette and arrange in one layer in the dish (about 6-8 slices). Whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, vanilla, and ½ cup brown sugar in a large bowl and pour evenly over the bread. Refrigerate mixture, covered, until all liquid is absorbed by the bread, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

When you are ready to bake and serve, preheat oven to 350 F. Toast the pecans in a skillet in one layer over medium heat, stirring often. Toss with 1 t. butter.

Sprinkle pecans and blueberries evenly over bread mixture. Cut remaining ½ stick butter into pieces and heat with remaining ¼ cup brown sugar in a small saucepan, stirring, until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Drizzle butter mixture over bread and bake mixture 30 – 40 minutes or until any liquid from blueberries is bubbling.

 

Quick Cheese and Sausage Grits

I use the basic recipe for cheese grits from the Quaker Instant Grits box, with a few changes. They recommend fake cheese, like Velveeta; I always use sharp cheddar. I tend to eyeball, it, too—white grits ought to turn a nice pale orange if you have enough cheese. Quaker omits pepper, I use it generously. And in this case, I have listed crumbled sausage as an optional ingredient.

  • 4 c. water
  • 1 c. instant grits
  • 1-2 c. shredded cheddar
  • 1 c. cooked, crumbled breakfast sausage (optional, but yummy)
  • pinch of garlic powder
  • pinch of salt
  • pepper

In a heavy saucepan, stir grits slowly into boiling water. Beware, grits will pop and spatter as they heat up. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 4-5 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Add sausage, cheese and spices, stir until cheese melts.

Photo on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/6d156f”>Visualhunt.com</a&gt;

Dear Atheist

“I have never seen much point in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone… And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there’s a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots.” — Hunter S. Thompson

“Don’t you love Jesus?’ Well, I thought an’ I thought an’ finally I says, ‘No, I don’t know nobody name’ Jesus. I know a bunch of stories, but I only love people.”  — John Steinbeck

There is something really appealing about discarding religion. What, after all, is the point of orienting your life, limiting your choices, around a fairy tale? And what could it be but a fairy tale, all this talk of gods and heaven? Haven’t people spun a thousand deities to explain the inexplicable? A god for blazing comets, for the rare and creepy eclipse, a god for messy birth and haunting death and crack of lightning? You could sit up late night after night, drive yourself mad with The Big Questions, prod into suffering and origins and eternal destiny, and not answer any of it to your satisfaction.

Or you could flip a switch, turn it off. Live, instead, for today, for pleasures that can be physically felt and successes that can be financially measured. Love the people you love and be done with the ones you don’t. Be practical. Be down to earth. Be free.

But the questions still nag, if you are a thinking sort of person. How did we get here and where are we going? What tripped the trigger that ignited the Big Bang, and how can biology explain laughter, or love? So once in a while, maybe after a few glasses of wine or when the power goes out, you ponder. You pull out the biographies of great people and consider what pushed them, what claims they made of Truth and Beauty.

Maybe, like Holden Caulfield, you wish, just sometimes, that you could pray.

“I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn’t do it. I can’t always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I’m sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.”  — J.D. Salinger

It’s tough to pray when you’re pretty sure nobody’s listening. But if nobody is listening, if we’re floating in the void? Then it’s hard to sleep at all.

So maybe your thoughts turn to that rare handful of people who claimed a corner on truth, claimed to know the ways of God. What did they really know? There’s Buddha, Mohammed, Moses with his burning bush. There’s even a handful of nutjobs who thought they were God. Take Jesus. What can you make of him?

“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.” — Napoléon Bonaparte

“If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?” — Kurt Vonnegut

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” — C.S. Lewis

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 8.49.31 PMYou’d like to say with Vonnegut that it doesn’t really matter whether he was divine, but  if he wasn’t, then he’s nuts, and if he was, well, then you’d have to deal with that. So you play with the idea. If God did come down to walk among us, what would that look like? What would you expect? Probably some pomp and circumstance, right? Some bling, mind-bending miracles? And you’d look for wisdom, of course, for justice, for kindness. The world wouldn’t just keep spinning, oblivious, would it? Wouldn’t there be judgment and power and Kingdom Come?

Jesus? Well, you can see the wisdom, the kindness, and if tales are true, a sprinkling of miracles. But no power to speak of. No grand entrance. Kind of a lowly fellow for a god.

“The world takes us to a silver screen on which flickering images of passion and romance play, and as we watch, the world says, “This is love.” God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, “This is love.”  — Joshua Harris

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery.” — Brennan Manning

If Jesus was a god, if he was God Himself, he certainly had a strange way of showing it. No big shazam. No thunderbolts of doom. And you have to admit, that kind of love, if that’s what it was, is almost incomprehensible. From creator to crucified? From all-powerful to penniless? The whole story is epic and haunting and strange.

In point of fact, you don’t like to think about it, and if the power would just come back on, you’d watch Netflix instead. But sometimes you wonder.

einstein-albert-classroom-blackboard-professor“I couldn’t get Him out of my head. Still can’t. I spent three solid days thinking about Him. The more He bothered me, the less I could forget Him. And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him.” — Yann Martel

“I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene….No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus.” — Albert Einstein

There’s something appealing about that man, something that all the other morally upright and mystical people just don’t have. You don’t get the sense that he’d rather hang out on a mountaintop all day, unhinged from reality. You don’t get the sense that if he could he’d smite his enemies and laugh like a lunatic. If there is a God, holding power that loosely? Inviting worship without compelling it? Well, that’s the kind of god you’d like to have.

“The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.” — Francis Chan

And so you swill that last bit of cabernet and stare into the fireplace. The godless life works fine, mostly, and no doubt you can do what you want when you want to. But it surely would be something to know real love. It would be nice to grapple with a truth that’s big enough for all of the questions you throw at it. And if there is an answer to all the hows and whys, it would be better to know than not to… wouldn’t it?

“I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny. I came amid the thunderous cries of a culture that has 330 million deities. I remain with Him knowing that truth cannot be all-inclusive.” — Ravi Zacharias

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” — Timothy J. Keller

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life…” — John Paul II

“Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is better than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all. Amen, and come Lord Jesus.” — Frederick Buechner

Photo on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/c8f931″>Visualhunt</a&gt;