Giving From Our Substance

I learned how to cook at the Catholic Worker House in Rock Island, IL. We ran a small homeless shelter in that house, women and families, usually about 10-15 people. And we ate whatever was donated to us. Just to be clear, that means we didn’t buy any food. I had to work with what we had.

When we moved in, I was the one who was going to do most of the cooking. And I was told there was a pantry, and we would plant a garden, and people dropped off things like meat, occasionally. So with great anticipation I went down to said pantry. Most of the shelves held precisely two items: cranberry sauce and canned sweet potatoes. Shelves and shelves of cranberry sauce and canned sweet potatoes.

So if you get nothing else out of this brief reflection, please let it be not to donate those things to homeless shelters, and in fact, not to give your garbage. If that can of lychees has been in the back of your kitchen cabinet since you moved it there from your old house, please eat it. Don’t give it to “the poor” because “they will be grateful for anything if they are hungry.” It simply isn’t true.

Let me say that now, I love cranberries, and I make my own cranberry sauce when they are around in the fall. Then, I wasn’t so thrilled. Because my plan was one can per week would be incorporated into a meal.  Maybe two.

It turns out you can do a lot with sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. You can make sweet potato pie, sweet potato cakes, sweet potato hash, sweet potato soup. I even have a great recipe for sweet potato salad that I made up over the years. But cranberry sauce is a little harder. I would often throw it in soup. Like vinegar or lemon juice. You can mix it with mustard for a great sauce for chicken. You can fold it into rice and bread crumbs and sage to stuff pork. You can make punch. Little by little I whittled the supply down to almost nothing. Until Thanksgiving time, when I would get hundreds of cans again. I learned to say no.

We are approaching a season of generous giving. My hope is that we are all giving from our abundance, giving from our substance—not our leftovers. If it isn’t good enough for me, I don’t give it to someone else. I reduce or reuse or recycle. Sometimes I throw away. But I make sure the gifts I offer are truly gifts. If I wouldn’t give it to Jesus, well, that is my litmus test.

A Recipe for the Weekend: Apple Snicker Salad

My grandmother used to make prune jello. Yes, I said prune jello. And she was proud of it, presented it to us only on special occasions as an offering of the highest order, of the greatest affection. Of course, we all hated it. And we all had some. Never more than one helping, of course, but never a complete rejection.

Because my Grandma also used to give us bread sopping with hot gravy when we came for lunch after church. She would pick all the raspberries on her bush and tell me to eat them, or fresh green beans from her garden. She would make shrimp salad with those cans of tiny shrimp because she thought that was my favorite when I would visit during the week. She was a depression-era grandma who showed her love in providing, especially food.

And I have learned that from her, and my other grandma and my parents. Preparing food is always done with love and intention, always an offering of myself. And when I am surrounded by people I love, family and friends, and we bite into a roast chicken or a plate of brownies, they know I made the food especially for them.

So I offer a simple recipe, something that my family and friends love. It was first made for me when my son had open heart surgery when he was 9. I had been with him in the hospital for a solid week and I went home to see my other kids, and a friend had us for supper and support. She made this salad, and I will always remember that it made me feel like everything was going to be OK. (And it was). I think of that moment whenever we share it.  And I offer it to you to make your own lovely memories.

Apple Snicker Salad

6-8 sweet apples, cored and chopped ( I sprinkle them with a little lemon juice)

1 bag of snickers candy bars, chopped

1 container of whipped topping

Combine and refrigerate. Very yummy!

Poetry for October 5th, 2017

“Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang”

Black arms and fingers reaching to the blue,
Bleak silhouettes of former forest green.
Their choresters flown to warmer, humid climes,
Now silence reigns where summer hymns of praise
Were raised by cardinals, wrens and finches gold
Nestled in those arms’ and fingers’ strong embrace.
These “bare ruined choirs” will in the Spring leaf out and
Echo to those lovely feathered songsters once again.
These reassuring returns endure.
“It’s going to come out all right – do you know?
The sun, the birds, the grass – they know.
They get along – and we’ll get along.”

–William Farragher

In Gratitude for God’s Gifts

“There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit…. The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4 and 12:6.

I am always impressed by the many and varied gifts God has given to members of St. John’s, and by the many creative ways these gifts are used for the benefit of the church and the community. It is truly an illustration of God’s abundant, overflowing generosity.

There are those with the gift of hospitality, whether expressed in events like the Sunday Coffee Hour, Easter Sunday brunch or at the Red Door Café. There are gardeners, those who keep the grounds beautiful and indoor plants flourishing and those who plant and tend vegetables at the Inner City Garden. There are those who volunteer monthly at the Food Pantry, organizing the food and assisting clients, or welcoming women who come for Coffee and Conversation. There are those who welcome visitors and guide them around the building, those practical souls who maintain the building to look its best or decorate it for special occasions. There are those whose gift is to pray for the needs of others, or to teach, or to deal with day-to-day business of the parish and finances. The Altar Guild prepares meticulously for services, washing and ironing linens, cleaning silver and brass, so all is ready in its proper place for the priest, acolytes and chalicers. The organist and choir bless our worship with the gift of music. Eucharistic Visitors keep in touch with those who cannot attend in person.

Gifts, above and beyond those mentioned, all used for the general good and the glory of God.

Working to Be a Sign of Peace

I was walking down the hall at Williamson Elementary the other afternoon, and as I passed the library I saw the counselor teaching a class of older students. I heard her talking about saying please, thank you and I’m sorry, and asking the students to identify which they would say in various scenarios. It seemed very basic stuff to me, and I thought how sad it was that we have to teach manners in school.

It would be easy to say that inner city parents don’t teach their kids manners, and blame some amorphous villain. But that simply isn’t true. It doesn’t matter what school you go in, you are going to find children who have been taught kindness and respect and those who have not.

The most powerful way to teach civil behavior is to model it. There are many places where adults congregate, including church, where it is clear no one has taught them to be nice. We live a life of rushing, of fear, of imagined scarcity, and so sometimes we lead with our elbows. I am always moved and deeply impressed when I see people stop, pay attention and choose kindness.

I have a picture in my mind from the Charlottesville protests. A toddler, barely able to walk, clothed in a bright white Klan outfit from head to toe. I was horrified. What will that child know but how to hate? It will take a lifetime of pain and isolation to unlearn the cruelty and meanness. That poor baby is being taught a very specific way of treating people. Heartbreaking.

While I cannot change what is happening in that family, I can be very intentional about what is happening in my own. I can work to be a sign of peace. I can work on my temper, on forgiving and forgetting, on practicing kindness over being right. I can set a more reasonable pace, lower my stress and take time to be with people I love and who love me. I can be what I want from others, live the life that I hope for others.

All of this is hard work. But I can’t leave it to a school counselor to accomplish. She has enough work to do. We all must reset our priorities, put others first, and be nice. That is the world we all want to live in, so that is how we must live.