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Middle Eastern food for the Seder

Well, this is my first post to the web site and I’m using it to try to entice some of our more experimental cooks to contribute to the Seder feast.

I’m researching Middle Eastern Cuisine so that I can recommend some recipes, and I came upon this easy appetizer. The only problem is, I couldn’t figure out how one is supposed to eat it. Do you put it on a cracker? Wouldn’t the chickpeas roll off? Maybe it could be scooped into little leaves of endive and eaten.

I’m not entirely sure how you eat it, but it looks like it would be very tasty and easy to make if you double the recipe and use a whole 19 oz can of chickpeas. (I mean really, who has the time to soak dried chickpeas and cook them for 2 ½ hours anyway?)

It doesn’t have to be this recipe - maybe you have one that you think is good - AND you may know how to serve and eat it also.

We will also need Dolmas - (stuffed grape leaves.) When I lived in NY it was easy to find really large cans with about 25 or so Dolmas packed in olive oil. I haven’t seen them here. Does anyone know of a good source for finding them in bulk?

I will try to enter new Middle Eastern recipes daily up until the Seder. See if one grabs you and let me know.

Chickpea and Olive Appetizer

Serves 4 to 6.

1 cup dried chickpeas, washed and soaked overnight in 8 cups water

1/2 cup black olives, chopped

1/4 cup scallions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)

1 clove garlic, crushed

salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Place the chickpeas with their water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat for about 2-1/2 hours, or until the chickpeas are tender. Drain; then place the chickpeas in a salad bowl and allow to cool. (Or, substitute half a 19 oz. can of chickpeas, drained.) Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve immediately.

From "From the Lands of Figs and Olives" by Habeeb Salloum and James Peters

The Grave Is Not its Goal

Spring has officially started, and today I can feel it pushing up from the ground and singing from the tree branches. As we come to these final weeks of Lent, the change of season feels like a graceful (if somewhat ironic) gift.

Our Monday evening vigil and the early Tuesday morning passing of a dear daughter of our congregation have resonated this week with the scriptures for the fifth Sunday of Lent. I hear in those scriptures a reminder to be aware of the importance of grief, a reminder to not hurry past death in our rush towards the empty tomb. My resolve to be present to the sadness of the Lenten journey has been strengthened by seeing so many people this week enter into their grief with a kind of quiet determination.

But still, Spring is pushing at me. Yesterday, I found myself humming a tune I love, a setting for a truly amazing poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I share it here as a reminder (to myself, and to you) that as real as grief is, and as important as it is to feel it, the grave is not the goal of life. God has promised us so much more.

A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

II Life is real—life is earnest—
And the grave is not its goal:
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

III Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destin'd end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

IV Art is long, and time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

V In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act—act in the glorious Present!
Heart within, and God o'er head!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footsteps on the sands of time.

Footsteps, that, perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwreck'd brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

The Gift of Grief

This past Monday evening, our congregation hosted a Candlelight Vigil to mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the current war in Iraq. I posted the event on the website, and as a result, a number of people came to the event from the wider community. Out of about 50 people who came, I only recognized about 10 or 15 people.

I was suprised, but delighted. I often think about how our church can become more open to the community and more responsive to its needs. I was raised and trained in the world of mainline protestantism, a branch of American Christianity which is in a deep panic about its loss of members. In that world I learned all sorts of things a church can do to try to get people to visit your church and (hopefully) become members. Most of this has to do with programs you can sponsor that will meet people's needs--afterschool programs, parenting classes, twelve-step groups and seminars on becoming happier or improving your marriage.

The event that took place here on Monday night clearly met a need--but it wasn't really a need that I was aware of, in myself or in anyone else, until at least half way into the event. Most of the "vigils" I've been to before have been in public places--at town centers, or in front of the White House. They are political rallies, just a lot quieter. But because it was raining off and on on Monday night, we decided we'd better meet inside, in the large room on the first floor of KC. We sat in a semi-circle, clustered around a table where Anne taped pages from the newspaper with the faces of American soldiers who have died in Iraq. For the first 40 minutes or so, we took turns reading statements by the parents and friends of soldiers who had been killed. We remembered together that these soldiers had names and faces, that people loved them and missed them. We remembered that they had been adventurous or funny or brave. One story layered on top of another story. Some people cried.

Then, we took some time to remember the Iraqis who have also been killed and wounded in the war, some of them soldiers, some of them civilians, men, women and children. We remembered that these people also had names and faces, even though we weren't able to say them out loud, and they were also loved and missed. And then, we were silent together.

Out of that silence, something amazing happened. We spoke words of hope. Some of us said, "I pray..." and some said, "I hope...." People spoke simply, quietly, forcefully. They prayed for understanding between Sunni and Shitte, they hoped for growth in our national self-understanding. They prayed for our Commander in Chief. They hoped that our congressional representatives would act this week with wisdom.

Somewhere in the middle of this, it occurred to me that this was not a political rally. This was something very different. This was public mourning, and public comfort to those who mourn. And it was as beautiful and as refreshing as the best worship services I have ever led or attended.

If you had ask me, before Monday night, what I thought was needed to further the anti-war movement in this country, I would have said we needed a plan, a rally, a campaign. I wouldn't have thought that a small gathering of neighbors in a church hall would make much of a difference.

Now I'm wondering. Maybe this is part of what we need to do as a country--something that we have skipped over and now need to return to again. We need to grieve together, for all of the life that has been lost, and for the terror and chaos that now seems to order life in Iraq. We need to take time to sit in silence together in the face of the enormity of the loss--of life, of hope--that this war has brought.

And then we need to lift up whatever kind of prayer we can muster, and light a candle if we dare. Just to remind ourselves that there is a kind of light that cannot be hidden, because it shines in the darkest night.

Using affluence to experience the margins

In a little more than seven weeks, I'm going to be traveling to Kampala, Uganda to attend at gathering of Christian leaders organized by a group called Amahoro Africa. In preparation for this trip, I'm doing my best to plow through the stack of books and articles which have been "recommended" as preparation. And while the reading list was a bit daunting at first, every single thing I've read has been fascinating.

The shortest piece on the assignment list has probably made the biggest impact on me. It's an article from the Christian Vision Project website, an interview by Andy Crouch of the assistant bishop of Kampala in the Church of Uganda, Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye. Even in this short interview, Rev. Niringiye's charisma comes through. I hope we'll get a chance to meet him in Uganda.

Throughout the interview, Rev. Niringiye reinforces the importance of understanding life at the margins if one is to understand the Christian message. He says, "I have come to the conclusion that the powerful, those at the center, must begin to realize that the future shape of things does not belong to them. The future shape of things is on the perifery. The future shape of things is not in Jerusalem, but outside. It is Nazareth. It is Antioch."

This goes beyond saying that in order to understand the future of Christianity, we need to go to Africa where the religion is growing at a mind-boggling rate. Niringiye is saying that in order to understand Christianity at all--in order to understand Jesus--you have to see what life is like at the margins. If we want to follow Jesus, that's where he will lead us.

Niringiye also responds to one of my worries about traveling to Africa. I have often wondered if it would make more sense for me to send my money directly to a Christian ministry in Uganda rather then buy a plane ticket so that I can visit the ministry myself. Wouldn't my money do more good than my presence? Niringiye is so strong on this point: "we lose our legitimacy as Christian leaders in an affluent country like the U.S. if we can't use that affluence in order to experience the situation of those on the margins." He goes on, "How can American pastors be leaders if they haven't seen what God is doing elsewhere? Every search process for a senior pastor should ask, 'Do you have experience in marginal places, economically deprived places, places with HIV/AIDS? Have you gone to be among them?'"

I first decided to go to Uganda (after decided months earlier that I had no interest in the trip) after preaching a sermon back in September. That afternoon, when I got home and thought about what I had said, I realized I was preaching to myself. I had said that in order to think differently, we often have to put ourselves somewhere we'll have different experiences, because our thoughts are so strongly determined by our context. I know I live way too close to the center of power to really have an experience of the margins. So, I'm going to use my affluence to get myself out of here--at least for a couple of weeks--and see what it does to my thinking, my believing, my trusting, my wondering.

In short, I'm hoping to meet Jesus where he tends to hang out--at the margins.

My visit to the Flute Doctor

I haven't yet integrated blogging into my weekly routine, but now that we have this beautiful blog set up, I often find myself thinking, "Could this be material for a blog?" I'm not sure this is good. I already go through life with one eye watching for good sermon illustrations--if I'm looking for good material for a blog entry too, it may destroy any potential I have for living "in the moment".

But, last week I had an experience that just begs to be blogged.

I am an amatuer flute player. I began playing in fourth grade, played all through High School, and then just noodled around occasionally until about three years ago when I began taking lessons again from an amazing flute arist named Carrie Rose. My stated goal, when I began to play with Carrie, was just to have fun. I wanted to brush up my skills enough to be able to play fun, easy duets with her a couple of times a month. I didn't aspire to become a great player. I didn't even really want to improve. I just wanted to play.

Carrie was game. She learned early on that the fewer comments she made about my technique or artistry, the happier I was. For at least a year, we played a Kulau duet. It slowly came together, and bit by bit I started sounding better too. I even practiced at home some, and by the end of the year I decided that my husband Dan really should hear both parts of the duet. I invited Carrie over for dinner, and we played our piece for Dan afterwards. My first "public" performance for about 30 years.

Carrie then suggested a slightly harder duet, and we got that in shape too, and then another. The music was so interesting, so beautiful, that I wanted to practice more so I could play it. And the more I listened to Carrie play, the more I wanted to sound like her. She has one of the biggest, richest flute sounds I have ever heard, and she can play quietly and powerfully at the same time (something that is really hard to do on a flute). I have become a little more open to suggestion over the last year, and I can tell that I am also starting to sound better. I haven't changed my goal--I'm still playing for fun only--but by playing with Carrie I find myself drawn along into improvement bit by bit by bit.

Recently, I've run into some technical limitations. After gently suggesting for about a year that I shouldn't have to hit the right hand keys as hard as I do, Carrie finally convinced me a few weeks ago that my flute needed repair. She gave me the name and number of a flute repair person she trusts, and off I went.

He chuckled to himself when he examined my keys, and completely fixed my problem in about ten minutes as I sat and watched. "Would you mind if I took a look at your head-joint?" he then asked me. "Be my guest," I replied. The next words out of the repairman's mouth as he peered into my flute were "OH MY GOD!!" A few expletives followed. He then announced, "This head joint is probably the best example of the shoddy craftsmanship of factory-produced flutes I've ever seen! Whoever made this had clearly just returned from a three martini lunch!" He then stuck a metal pick of some kind into the flute, applying great force and flinging bits of metal (solid silver, mind you) across the room. "Don't worry," he said, mid-fling, "there's nothing I could do to make this any worse."

About a half hour later he played my flute again and announced it "improved". I took his word for it and got out of there, but not before having to promise that I would look into buying a new flute (starting price for something acceptable, $2,000) as soon as possible. I was going to mention that my car isn't even worth $2,000, but I thought better of it.

My flute really does sound better, and now that I've had time to recover from the shock of the experience, it has given me a lot to reflect on. We're in the middle of Lent now, the season of the church year when we talk most about sin and confession, self-examination and self-improvement. I certainly prefer the nudges towards improvement I've received from Carrie Rose over the scraping and swearing of the flute repair guy. But in the end, I need both of them in order to grow as a flutist. I needed someone to point out that my equipment was just plain bad, and to scrape some of it out and fling it across the room.

I don't think I'm ready to preach on that, lest anyone at KC hears in this story an implication that I'm ready to start critiquing their souls the way the technician critiqued my instrument. I'd rather go with Carrrie's style--playing together, urging each other along. But maybe there are times when a clearer assesment--and a cleaner head-joint--could do us all some good.