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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Food Bank Diet for Two, Part 1: Contents

During the summer of 2012 my family used the contents of a food hamper meant for five persons to make our meals for several days in a row.  This year, instead of forcing my children to go along with this plan, just my husband and I will take up the challenge of eating what was given out on July 28th, 2014 at the food bank where he works.  Using the list given by my husband, I spent $59.66 to purchase the equivalent of the food hamper today. As we did last time, the only things we will use that are not on the list below are 1) margarine 2) brown sugar and 3) flour.

Shopping List:
5 pounds of potatoes
1 can of condensed soup
2 sweet red peppers
2 small heads of broccoli
1 bunch of green onions
7 navel oranges
4 apples
1 can beans and sauce
1 box of whole wheat pasta (macaroni)
2 tall tubs (650 grams) of yogurt
8-pack of drinkable yogurt
small tub of creamed coconut milk
2.5 kg chicken caccatiore pre-made dinner*
loaf of bread
package of 8 hamburger buns
1 carton (1 L) milk
3 cups rolled oats
600 grams luncheon meat
500 grams turkey sausage patties
Package of lemon cream cookies
1.75 L orange juice
6 eggs
250 grams grated cheese
head of iceberg lettuce
small can of vegetables

*I could not find anything in the store to match this description, so we will do without this item.

First challenge: find out what I can do with creamed coconut milk.  Then, the diet starts tomorrow.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Power Parable: Mustard Seed

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32, NIV)
[Pickling spices, including mustard seeds.  Photo purchased from kristinpeereboom.com photography]

   Anyone who gardens knows that planting it is a deliberate process that is done with little fanfare.  When we are finished placing tiny seeds in the dark soil, we need to mark the place in some way because it does not appear much different than before we started.  Jesus' emphasis in the parable is that the seed is small.  But the fact that it is a seed deserves a bit more discussion.  A plastic bead or a small grain of sand or salt in a field would not yield anything like the results of the mustard seed.  The seed has an inherent power built into it.  In this minuscule wrapping is a genetic structure that will unfold into a plant that can rival a tree in one growing season. Mustard bushes can exceed the height of professional basketball players!
   The kingdom of God starts small but keeps growing, through God's unstoppable power.  This growth is not about making a name for itself but for the flourishing of society.  Just as wild birds perch in the mustard bush for the shade and seeds it affords, so wherever the kingdom of God appears people in proximity ought to reap its benefits and blessings in terms of care, respect and freedom.
   This is true on the large scale as Jesus' band of first followers have multiplied over generations to touch each continent on our planet.  But on the smaller scale of a particular time and place, the mustard seed principle is also evident in these ways and more:

  • The hidden but deliberate prayers of faithful followers of Jesus Christ on both sides of the Iron Curtain eventually resulted in the dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall and various oppressive regimes.  People regained their freedom.
  • The pattern of everyday faithfulness as a parent, that often goes on behind closed doors, (generally speaking) yields a mature child ready to go out on his or her own.  This person can take up a vocation for the benefit of society as a whole.  In moments when early forms of maturity shine forth, I've been taken aback with the rhetorical, "Where did you come from?"
  • The quiet, purposeful work of a linguist trying to put an oral language into writing bears fruit in a written language, giving honour to a unique culture and showing its people that God's Word does not have to remain foreign to them.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Power Parable: The Good Samaritan

   I'm beginning a new series about the parables of Jesus and how they confront us with a new vision concerning power.  Power has become a "bad word" among many because of its abuse in so many contexts, but I am learning from Andy Crouch's latest book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power that power can be a gift if it is received and used for the benefit of others.

   The phrase "Good Samaritan" has a life of its own today even if the people who use it are not familiar with its source in the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 10.  Here we read the full account of just a few unnamed characters:

  • Robbers, whose power comes from stealth and from banding together
  • the Traveler, who begins with the power and purpose to walk from one city to another and ends up completely powerless after the attack: wounded, lacking clothes and money
  • the Priest & Levite, who come on the scene separately with the power of status and religiosity
  • the Samaritan, with his donkey, who is considered racially inferior and a cultural foe.
   On the hierarchy of power, the Samaritan comes last.  Certainly, as a human being each character is invested with "the ability to make something of the world" [1].  However, the wounded traveler has lost this as the result of the robbers' choice to "take" something of the world; destruction instead of construction.  The religious folks refuse to get involved at all.   Strikingly, it is the despised man who decides "to make something" better in the world.  Using his assets--a donkey, oil, wine and currency--he restores another human being, a fellow image bearer.
   Power does not, first of all, arise from one's position in society or one's level of wealth.  Power is inherent in being human, whoever we are and wherever we are.  With eyes open to what God has placed before us, we daily have opportunities to use our talents, resources, time, and our very selves to enable others in this world to flourish.
[1] This is Andy Crouch's definition of power, given on page 17 of the book named above.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Two Narratives

   This poem springs from ideas shared in a sermon by Pastor John M. entitled "God is Provider."

Economics is based on scarce resources
Supply and demand are its driving forces.
"There's not enough to go around--
Take what you can while it can be found."
"What you want is more and more;
Fill each cupboard and each drawer."
"Without drive you will miss out
Be prepared, like a good boy scout."
"College is expensive; retirement will await;
Use all your assets to accumulate."
                                                      A different way to see the earth
Begins in the wonder of our birth.
Parents, milk, a bed and care,
Clothes and food enough to share.
Neighbors smile and stop to chat;
The church puts out its welcome mat
With a new vision of life to grant--
A Lord whose ways are extravagant.
Using a boy's lunch to feed a throng
And lavish grace to convert the headstrong.

Etched on a coin: "In God we Trust"
All hoarding is subject to moth and rust 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Zucchini Muffins

Chances are even if you do not have a garden, your friends and neighbours will try to give you their surplus (and super-sized) zucchinis.  This easy recipe turns this bland and abundant vegetable into tasty muffins [1].

Grate 2 cups of unpeeled zucchini (only peel any areas with blemishes) and combine with:
1 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
Blend together with an electric beater or wooden spoon.

Sift together:
3 cups flour (half whole wheat, if desired)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp cinnamon

Add to the liquid ingredients and stir until blended.  Fill muffin tins with batter 2/3 full.  Bake 15-20 minutes in 350 degree oven.  Makes about 16 muffins.

1) At the end, stir in 1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
2) At the end, stir in 1/2 cup chopped nuts
3) At the end, stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips (or other chips)
4) With the grated zucchini, add 1/2 cup grated or chopped apple
5) With the grated zucchini, add 1/2 cup grated carrots

[1] This tried and true recipe is based on "Zucchini Bread" in the More with Less Cookbook, published in 1976.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Not a Waste: Parallel Lives of Eric Liddell and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

   I'm probably not the first person to notice some striking similiarities between two men of honour born just after the turn of the century who also passed  away within two months of each other in the year 1945.  These men are Eric Liddell and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I will begin with a short summary of each man's life and then point out the common strands I observed while reading about them.
   Eric Liddell was born on January 16, 1902 to Scottish missionaries living in China.  His education from a young age took place with his brother at British boarding schools far away from his parents and sister, who continued to live and minister to the Chinese people.  Family visits took place infrequently during furloughs. Young Eric was not terribly academic, but he enjoyed the sport of rugby and running races.  In 1924, the eighth modern Olympic games were held in Paris, France, and Liddell was one of the members of the British team.  His best event would have been the 100 metre sprint, but when it became known six months before the event that the qualifying races would take place on Sunday, Liddell determined not to run. Instead he trained for the 200 metre and the 400 metre events, which would not require competing on the Lord's Day. After all of the celebrity that came through his gold medal performance in the 400 metre race, Eric Liddell remained humble.  He desired to use his athletic ability to connect people with spiritual truths.  He eventually went to various towns and regions in China to teach, preach, and provide basic medical care to its people. When World War II broke out,  Liddell made sure his wife and three young daughters were sent to safety in the West.  As the Japanese took over portions of China, they began to intern all Westerners.  Even in a concentration camp, Eric Liddell acted as a leader in organizing the internees and keeping up morale through sports, performing arts (plays were put on) and worship services.  With minimal food rations he kept up an incredible pace of service until it became apparent that he was burnt out.  He apparently had a brain tumour, which led to a fatal stroke on February 21, 1945.  He was 43 years old. [1]
   Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 in Breslau, Germany.  Even though his family was not overly religious, young Dietrich (who was educated through home schooling and grammar school) decided to become a theologian at the age of 14.  He was gifted academically and attended different universities in Germany, writing two dissertations to become qualified as a professor.  When Adolf Hitler rose to power, Bonhoeffer was one of few German Lutherans to raise objections.  As early as 1933 he spoke out publicly against the tactics of the Fuhrer and had his radio broadcast suddenly cut in mid-stream.  Bonhoeffer continued to stand up for Jews and others persecuted by the Nazi regime and his movements were being monitored.  When he was given the opportunity to live safely in the United States, he thought better of it and returned to his homeland.  He was arrested in 1943. After a time in prison, he is moved to various concentration camps (Buchenwald, two others and finally Flossenburg).  Here he was executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, at the age of 39. [2]
   In which ways did these men live parallel lives?

  • They were both men of principle and integrity, even when it was costly to their worldly successes.
  • The both wrote books about a life devoted to Jesus Christ.  Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship in 1937, while Eric Liddell's Disciplines of the Christian Life was published after his death.
  • Each of these men had tremendous gifts, which were developed and harnessed for the furthering of God's Kingdom in the places where they lived.  Their gifts were not used to gain status in the eyes of the world but to draw people to the Truth.
  • Both of them endured suffering for righteousness' sake and both spent time in concentration camps half a world apart.
   I wonder if these two men ever would have opportunity to meet each other during their brief lives on this earth. They certainly would have understood each other as brothers in Christ.  I can imagine each one of them saying, like Saint Paul, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1, NIV).

[1] An easy-to-read biography of Eric Liddell with the same title was written by Ellen Caughey in 2000.
[2] An exhaustive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, 2010.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Dealing with "Shimei"

   I'm of the mind that anything we experience as humans can be related in some way to a story in the Bible. Because many stories are lesser known and thus obscure, careful study is a great blessing for putting your life in perspective.
   The experience that we may have from time to time is being criticized by a stranger.  They are not common in my life, but I vividly recall each rebuke of this kind.  It's an uncomfortable jolt when someone publicly contradicts you, calls you names in response to something you have written or finds fault with something you are doing.  It's especially hurtful when you feel that the comments are undeserved.
   The obscure story of Shimei was shared during a Sunday sermon at least twenty years ago, but it caught my attention by its strangeness.  You can find it in 2 Samuel 16: 5-14.  King David's son Absalom wants to usurp the throne of Israel, so the king decides to flee from Jerusalem.  He does not want a battle to occur in the city, where so many innocent people would be caught in the fighting.  He also does not want to hurt his own son, so David withdraws.  While he's hurrying away, a man named Shimei starts yelling curses at him and throwing rocks at David and his entourage.  He accuses David of shedding the blood of the household of Saul, the previous king.  In fact, though, David deliberately did not eliminate the line of his predecessor. His best friend Jonathan was of this family line, and David had promised to care for any of his descendants.
  What is David's response to Shimei's harsh rebuke?  One of his mighty men suggests Shimei should be silenced on the spot by beheading him, but David gives an emphatic "No."  He considers the possibility that God sent Shimei to give this curse.  Maybe there is something in Shimei's hostility that needs consideration, even beyond what Shimei as a man is trying to express.
   So yesterday, when a person I had never met before decided to vent his anger about something I was doing, I tried my best to listen without interrupting.  I thanked him for speaking to me directly and not behind my back.  I continued to see this person as a human being.  I was determined to see if there was any grain of truth in what he might be saying.   Although it was uncomfortable, I can accept the possibility that God can use an unlikely prophet to get my attention and examine my motives. Have I unwittingly been a hypocrite?  I'm still processing the interchange

Thursday, 10 July 2014


   I feel incredibly blessed to be a teacher.  I enjoy the job to the very last day, and when summer comes it takes some time to adjust.  The intensity of the school year is partly related to teaching, but it also occurs because my own children attend two different schools.  When suddenly the end of year meetings are finished and certain activities have ended for the summer, there is a kind of silence and even melancholy that afflicts me for a brief period.
   Then I take stock of what to do with my time away from the classroom.  This summer, the following are some of my priorities:

  • Maximizing family time on the weekends.  This summer my son is working to save money for future educational pursuits, so a full family vacation for a week or two is not going to happen.  So the Sunday tradition of playing "Settlers of Catan" after church and family picnics to reconnect with relatives are treasured.  A long weekend for camping is planned too.
  • Reading some good books.  My daughters helped me compile "Mom's Summer Reading List" by writing books 3-7 from the Harry Potter series at the top.  I was convinced by a Grade 8 student's speech that I ought to read the remaining books.  Also on the list are some non-fiction titles, including one by Temple Grandin.  
  • Training.  I intend to take at least one workshop related to administration to help prepare me for some of my new responsibilities in September.  
  • Reach out.  I want to get to know more neighbours, which was one motivation for starting a Little Library.  This week I have been the storyteller at a church Vacation Bible School.  Although one three year old upstaged the story today by giving a pithy summary at the beginning of the lesson, the curriculum gave a fresh take on Bible stories for the 80-some children (plus helpers) who rotated through "Zip Line Bible Time" each morning.
  • "Once a week" tasks.  Tackling a cupboard or closet that is out of control.  One postcard in the mail for a former Kindergarten student.  Coaching my daughters, who each chose a different night of the week to be in charge of the supper menu this summer.  
  • Gardening.  Having a small plot in a nearby community garden means that before the harvest there will be weeds to hoe.  Processing the abundance of green beans, tomatoes and zucchini I'm expecting will take some time but will be well worth it.
    Freerange Stock photo
  • Being flexible.  Since I'm not packing each day full of things to do, there is the opportunity to seize opportunities that come along.  The opportunity to help at my brother-in-law's farm.  A chance to take in an exchange student for a few weeks in August.  Doing some baking to give away.

I'd love to hear about your summer priorities.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Wisdom from a Patriarch

   At a recent family picnic gathering people from my husband's side of the family, I spent a fair bit of time chatting with his Uncle Eliza (yes, this is a man's name in the Netherlands).  This eighty-eight year old patriarch filled in some things I had been wondering about regarding his parents and their early years after immigration.  (One other uncle, who is ten years younger, also remains of this generation.)
   Uncle Eliza had been the "scout" for the family to determine if Canada was really worth immigrating to in the post-war period. In the Netherlands between the years of 1922 and their emigration to Canada in 1951, my husband's grandfather had to twice destroy his entire herd of dairy cattle due to disease.  There was no insurance to compensate for such losses, so the family had to slowly dig out of poverty each time.  They lost their farm and ended up living in substandard housing at times.  This uncle vividly remembers having to wear a hand-me-down sweater to school that had belonged to a girl from their village; there was no use protesting because they could not afford anything else.
   It was the desire of my husband's grandfather to see a better life for his children, even when he was 62 and his children ranged in age from 15 to 28.  None of these children was married, but one son was in a serious relationship.  It was determined that they would not emigrate because nobody was to be left behind. However, when that relationship ended, plans went ahead rapidly for a new start in a new land.  The children signed documentation promising that they would provide for all the financial needs of their aging parents as an assurance to the Canadian government that they would not be a drain on its resources.
   In 1951, they arrived in the Mississauga area in order to work for a tree nursery business, which had "sponsored" them for one year.  Late that summer, tragedy struck the family.  The entire clan, except Uncle Eliza, was attending a church picnic on the Labour Day weekend.  When the eldest son was swimming at the conservation area, he ended up in a very deep spot.  He was not a strong swimmer; despite efforts to rescue him he drowned.  He was just shy of his 27th birthday.
   Uncle Eliza placed this event in perspective.  So many people from the church community surrounded them with comfort and material assistance during their time of need.  He also reminded me of the joy the following summer his two sisters, aged 29 and 23, were married in a double wedding ceremony.  These men who became part of the family were pillars of faithfulness, who were involved in raising the respective children they were blessed with.
   In a short time the brothers pooled their money to purchase a farm in Newcastle, Ontario.  Here his grandfather and grandmother thrived under the care of their children, with plenty of open space.  They lived to see and enjoy many grandchildren, reaching the ages of 84 and 77 years, respectively.  Not only were they themselves blessed by the decision to come to Canada, their succeeding generations have thrived in the land. In the hardships and the joys they recognized God's providential hand.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Trails, Paths and Roads

Trail view
Trail sign in Elmira, Ontario

 Trails, paths and roads are common metaphors for life.  I reflected on this and more after a family bike ride along the "Kissing Bridge Trail" in Waterloo Region, Ontario.
   Where did this trail come from that I was riding on?  It used to be part of a railroad system that was vital to transporting people and cargo around the province.  How much work would it require in the days when the rail lines were developed to carve out each metre from the wilderness.  It would have been back breaking labour without chainsaws and backhoes and the ubiquitous biting insects.  Surely the trail-making in Ontario does not compare to the dangers of blasting the CPR lines through the Rocky Mountains or building the Canol Trail in the Northwest Territories. Nevertheless it is work done by people I am likely never to meet.  Trails are easy to take for granted.
      Trails are so different from our manicured highways and roads.  Because vegetation is not mowed, other wild things are welcome and safe.  A Baltimore oriole, chickadees, chipmunks and a plethora of butterflies and moths were observed during our two-hour journey.  The trefoil, red clover, annual grasses and daisies brought me back to my childhood walks to visit my grandmother, who lived 1/2 mile away along a dirt road.