Monday, 10 December 2018

Vanish that Veg! Cabbage

Half a cabbage.  Most of a bag of carrots.  Several potatoes which are starting to sprout.

However carefully I buy my vegetables, I often find myself needing to use up one or two which have been sitting in the fridge for far too long.  I need recipes that convert a large quantity of one vegetable into the main part of a meal.  And I don't mean soup.  I mean something that my kids will eat some, if not all, of.  Something that won't be lurking accusingly in the fridge five days later.

I'm gradually building up a collection of these recipes.  These are dishes that I've made several times.  They're tasty, easy, and packed with vegetables.  So have a look through your fridge, read through the recipes, and let's vanish that veg together!

And to start the series... it's cabbage!

Cabbage

Credit: Eitvydas, from Wikimedia Commons

Cabbage is a prime suspect for being overlooked.  For one thing, a single cabbage goes a long way.  I remember adding it to all manner of dishes - shepherds pie, stir fry, bolognaise - in a frantic attempt to use it up.

For another thing, it's not exactly everyone's favourite vegetable.  I like it.  But none of these recipes has persuaded my boys to eat any cabbage at all.  My one minor success so far was with some potato and cabbage fritters, which weren't entirely successful in other ways (such as sticking together) but the boys did actually eat one each.  Here are two old favourites and one newer addition to my repertoire.

Stir-braised cabbage with cumin

This is adapted from a recipe in Nigella Bites which uses nigella seeds (of course!)  I could happily eat a bowlful of this by itself, but it works well as a side dish for fish and mashed potatoes, too.

Savoy or green cabbage
Splash of vegetable oil
1-3 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 vegetable stock cube
100-200ml hot water

Use somewhere between half and one cabbage, depending on how much you think you'll eat.  Finely shred the cabbage.  Heat a splash of oil in a large saucepan, and put in the cumin seeds.  Use 1 tsp for half a cabbage, up to 3 tsp if you have lots of cabbage and really like cumin.  Sizzle the cumin for a few seconds, then add the cabbage.  Stir it around for a couple of minutes so it gets coated in oil and just starts to cook.

Add the stock cube and just about enough hot water to cover the bottom of the pan.  Put the lid on and leave to cook for about 4 minutes, by which time the cabbage should be fairly soft.  When it's cooked to your liking, use a slotted spoon to serve.  You'll end up with some of the liquid and cumin seeds left in the pan, but hopefully not too much.

Charred lemon and olive cabbage


My first two veg boxes both contained a pointed cabbage.  It's not a variety I'd usually buy, but I happened to have this recipe (from the Feb 2017 Waitrose magazine) which is really good.  Zaatar is a spice mix that I'd never bought before; if you don't want to, just leave it out.

8 green olives, finely chopped (mine were from a jar)
1/2 garlic clove, finely grated
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
A little chopped mint if you have it
1 large pointed cabbage
1 tsp zaatar

Put the olives, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and mint in a fairly wide bowl.  Season and whisk together.

Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthways, then cut the quarters into 3 wedges.  Heat a griddle pan or a lightly oiled frying pan over a high heat.  Cook the cabbage wedges until softened and charred, which only takes a few minutes on each side.  You'll probably need to do it in batches.

Put the cooked cabbage straight into the dressing.  Turn to coat.  Sprinkle with the zaatar to serve.  It can be eaten warm or at room temperature, and keeps well for lunch the next day too.  Nice with rice dishes.

Dhal with cabbage


Dhal is one of my favourite curries to make, partly because it tastes good and partly because it's easy.  Unlike most curries, you don't start off by frying onions and garlic; you just put the lentils on to boil and then have plenty of time to do all the chopping while they cook.  Also, chillies and ginger freeze well, and the other ingredients keep for ages, so if I have a cabbage to use, I know I'll almost always be able to make this recipe.  It comes from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery.

200g red split lentils, washed and drained
1 litre cold water
1/2 tsp turmeric
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic
75g onion
225g green cabbage
1-2 green chillies
1 tsp salt
1 medium tomato, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Put the lentils and water into a large pan and bring to the boil.  Skim off the foam from the top, then add the turmeric and give it a stir.  Leave the lid on, turn the heat right down, and leave to cook for between 30-45 minutes.  Madhur Jaffrey says 1hr 15 minutes, but they're usually done well before then if you need them to be.  Stir fairly regularly to make sure they don't stick.

While the lentils cook, get on with the chopping.  Finely chop the garlic, slice the onion thinly and shred the cabbage thinly too.  Chop the chillies - you can do this straight out of the freezer if they've been frozen.

When the lentils look fairly well cooked, add the tomato, ginger and 1/2 tsp salt.  Stir and leave to cook while you sort out the cabbage.

Heat the oil in a frying pan.  Add the cumin seeds, then the garlic.  Stir it around for a minute until it's just starting to brown, then add the onion, cabbage and chillies.  Stir and fry the cabbage mixture for about 10 minutes until it's softened and slightly browned.  Add a little salt.

Tip the cabbage mixture and any extra oil into the lentils.  Give it all a good stir and check the seasoning, adding a little more salt or some garam masala if you like.  Serve with rice or naan.

Other suggestions

The Budget Bytes website has lots of recipes for cabbage, including this one for colcannon, and this one for beef and cabbage stir fry.

And there's always coleslaw, of course!  Although I find there's a limit to how much coleslaw one family can get through unless you eat it morning, noon and night.

Over to you

Do you have any favourite recipes for cabbage?  Please share them - I'd love to know!

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Five books and their films

My first book post went down so well that I had demands for another.  So this time we've got books and films.  Some you will have definitely seen or read, but there might be a couple of surprises in there too.

Chocolat

It was a rainy Friday night in Bristol, and I was in my student room with nothing to do.  On an impulse, I biked down the hill to the small independent cinema, and immersed myself in a world of sweetness and sunshine.  Chocolat was the perfect film to warm me up on a rainy evening.


Joanne Harris' book Chocolat also wafts the smell of sweets from its pages, but with a slightly darker edge.  Vianne has spent her life running from the Black Man of her mother's fears, but hopes that she, her daughter and her chocolate shop will find a settled home in this new village.  But the troubled priest there becomes her own Black Man, that she must face down to be able to stay.  The characters, the lilt of magic and the chocolate itself provide the reason to read this book.

Bridge to Terebithia
Not a well-known book in the UK, my grandma sent me this classic American children's story.  A boy in a deprived rural community finds an unexpected friend when a girl called Leslie moves in next door.  They help each other to deal with the bullies at school and Jesse's annoying sisters, but there's one thing that Jesse has to face all by himself.


When I was studying for an Open University course, it included a weekend away.  My choices were to slog down the motorway to Slough, or... fly to Dublin.  It was worth going to Dublin for the library at Trinity College by itself - a book-lover's fantasy - but when my feet got tired of exploring the city, I sat in a cinema for a while to watch Bridge to Terebithia.  It's always nerve-wracking to watch a film of a book you've grown up with, but I thought it was done well.  I only wished they could have done the forest scenes without going cartoon-y; that's the difficulty of showing imagination on a screen.

Lord of the Rings
I'd never read the Lord of the Rings until the epic movie series came out.  I'd read The Hobbit and disliked it, but after I'd seen the first Rings film, I decided the books must be worth reading after all.  They were.  They go on and on and the language gets more and more formal and the battles get bigger and bigger, and it's a great story on a grand scale.


The films are much the same, on perhaps an even grander scale, plus you get to feast your eyes on magnificent New Zealand scenery.  And elves.  At over 3 hours each, it might take you longer to watch the three movies than to read the three books.  I'd recommend you do both, but not all on the same day!

The Sound of Music
Everyone has heard of the film, of course, but did you know there was a book?  Maria von Trapp wrote about how she joined the Trapp family, how they fled to America and started a new life in Vermont as The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.  My mom had an old paperback copy on her bookshelf, and I read it long before I ever saw the movie version.


Which meant, of course, that I found the film a severe disappointment.  I felt like it had been made to conform to a Hollywood ideal - summed up by the moment when Maria learns that she should marry Georg von Trapp.   In the movie, they fling themselves into each other's arms to suitably romantic strains.  In the book, Maria seeks wisdom from the convent that she had been intending to enter.  When she returns, she sobs out, "They s-s-s-said I have to marry you!"  How much more real is that?

I admit that Julie Andrews skipping over a mountain singing The hills are alive... is pretty special.  But if you want to know the real-life story, track down the book.

About a Boy
Nick Hornby's novels often involve slightly dysfunctional people.  This one brings a dysfunctional guy together with a dysfunctional boy and his even more dysfunctional mother, and leaves them to try and sort each other out.  Reluctantly, they actually do.  While that's going on, the boy, Marcus, becomes the friend (or possibly pet) of the hardest girl in school, who is obsessed with Kurt Cobain.  Somehow they all end up in a police station trying to explain themselves.


It stars Hugh Grant.  That tells you at least half of what you need to know about the film of About a Boy.  There's a completely different ending to the one in the book, but for once I agree with the screenwriters on that.  Cinematically, it works far better than the Kurt Cobain / police station storyline, and gets you to effectively the same place in the end.  Dysfunctional or not, people need each other.

Do you have any favourite book/film combinations?  Let me know!

Monday, 12 November 2018

Autumnal celebrations

October and November have been busy around here!  A lot of events fall in and around the half term holiday, so here's what we've been up to.

Toby's birthday

Toby celebrated his 8th birthday in Super Mario style.  He invited a bunch of friends over for the afternoon, and they all divided their time between video games, trampoline and pizza.  Graham and I pushed our ear plugs in as tightly as possible and supervised from a safe distance!

Graham's brilliant home made game

The cake request this year was a Super Mario pinball game, so I did my best to deliver:



And next on the agenda was a trip to town to spend his birthday money.  It's all about Smiggle right now, which is a trendy (read: overpriced) brand of stationery.  Fortunately they do have sales, so Toby managed to acquire a lockable notebook and a selection of pens for a not-too-eyewatering sum.  He's using the notebook to plan his own business, either in car design or selling bicycle bottle holders, so if he's a millionaire before his 18th birthday I'm sure it will have all been worth it!


Halloween

Our local summer fruit PYO, Scaddows Farm, branched out into pumpkins this year, so we went to choose a couple on a gorgeous autumn Monday just before Halloween.  The boys were desperate to carve them as soon as we got home ("Put the knives down!").  We soon had pumpkin seeds all over the kitchen, two jack o'lanterns, and no severed digits, thankfully.  After the pumpkins had been used for their initial purpose, I chopped them up and roasted them, and they've been reincarnated as soup and cake.

 

The village gets pretty busy for trick or treat, with a nice family atmosphere.  Our two went out as a skeleton and Spiderman this year, and collected a ridiculous amount of sweets!


Bonfire Night

Just a couple of days later we were into firework season.  We're never quite sure whether going to a display will result in screams of fear or cries of delight.  This year we managed both.

On Saturday we went to a local display which was pleasantly uncrowded, but the fireworks were let off barely 30m from the crowd.  Theo did not like it at all.  However, we won the prize draw to light the bonfire, so the evening was redeemed by the opportunity to turn a pile of rubbish into a blazing inferno.

On Sunday we joined several other families from school at the Mercia Marina fireworks.  Toby was up on the fence with his friends, cheering and whooping, and even Theo was persuaded to have a little look.  We marked bonfire night itself by toasting marshmallows over a fire with some friends, which was much more Theo's idea of fun!

Photo: Phil Watts

Remembrance Sunday

And finally, Toby joined Cubs just in time to participate in the Remembrance Sunday parade service.  He was very proud of his new green uniform as he marched down the aisle with the other Scouts and Guides.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Live in the light

The final study in the Tenants of the King booklet focused on a passage from Romans 13, about submitting to the governing authorities.  As I read through the study, it seemed less about submitting to authorities, and more about engaging with and challenging them.  So I found Ephesians 5:8-16 instead. For me, this passage sums up the kind of things that churches can do.

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light - for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore it says, 'Sleeper awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'  Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

image credit: Pixabay

Support what is good already

...for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.

Earlier this year I attended an Eco Church conference.  One of the seminars was about taking church outdoors (something I often wish for when it's a sunny Sunday!) and a quote which stuck with me was: "Don't just look for misery and how we can help.  Look for the good stuff that you want the church to be part of."

By Jeff Schuler, via Wikimedia Commons

Often as Christians we feel like we have to set up our own sanctified projects.  But, especially on a local level, there may be a lot going on already.  Does your area have a community garden?  a Friends of the Park group?  a wildlife trust?  a nature reserve?  If people from the church get involved with these things, they can gain expertise in caring for the environment, as well as building links between the church and the community around it.

Looking wider, there are many national and international charities to get involved with.  Christian ones include A Rocha, Operation Noah and Tearfund. Others include Avaaz, who campaign on many issues, including environmental ones; Greenpeace, Surfers Against Sewage, and WWF.  Supporting them can be as simple as adding your email to an online petition.

Expose the works of darkness

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly...

Go on, admit it.  You read that second sentence and thought, "oh yes, nudge nudge, wink wink, we all know what that means..."  OK, admittedly Paul was talking about fornication in the previous paragraph.  But that's a long way from being the only shameful secret.  What about pouring toxins into the water supply and covering it up?  What about ignoring environmental laws to make a bigger profit?  What about corrupt governments taking handouts from energy companies?

Many of these are issues of injustice, and the church already has a good track record on challenging injustice.  It has campaigned on issues from slavery to debt relief to fair trade.  Maybe you hadn't realised that climate change is a justice issue too - the poorest and least able to cope will bear the largest burden.  As the IPCC report said, “A key finding of the report is that these efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C can actually go hand in hand with many others intended to address issues of inequality and poverty eradication.”  The church needs to speak out and take its part in exposing environmental injustice around the world.

By KVDP, from Wikimedia Commons


Bring things into Christ's light

...everything that becomes visible is light.

Once the works of darkness are exposed, they can be changed.  It's surprising how something obvious can be invisible.  Take plastic packaging for instance.  I never used to "see" all the plastic bags that my vegetables came in.  Now, every time I turn around, there's another one!  Use an onion: bag in the bin.  Finish the peppers: bag in the bin.  Put the apples in the fruit bowl: bag in the bin.

But now I've seen them, I can change.  I got my first veg box the other day.  A whole box full of fresh produce, and not a plastic bag in sight!



All of us in the study group admitted that we'd never thought to pray about environmental issues, even if we were concerned about them.  Jesus wakes us up and shines a light in our faces, says Paul.  What blind spots is he illuminating in your life?  And what is he waking you up to do?


Be wise and make the most of the time

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

There's a book I may have to get hold of, called The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution by Mary DeMocker.  In this review of it, the reviewer suggests that the book's key message is, "it’s better to skip washing out the peanut butter jar... and then use the time to call our congressperson."

Translated from the American, that means that she's suggesting that it's more critical to lobby our MPs to pass laws about cleaner energy, than it is to cut every last piece of plastic out of our lives.  Sure, the small things are good steps in the right direction.  But right now we have 12 years or less to slash carbon emissions.  What will have the biggest effect?

Mary DeMocker points out that parents are actually well-placed to influence others, because they tend to have large social networks.  Interestingly, a similar comment was made at the Eco Church conference regarding churches - they are more influential than they might think.

Even if you don't feel you know many people, you have an MP you can write to, a supermarket you shop at, a local council you can lobby, a Facebook account you can share stuff on.

What is the most important thing for you to do now?


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Do not fear!

I'm scared.  Are you?

When a group of scientists releases a report on climate change which basically says "Sort it out now.  Or else." that's pretty scary.

When we hear that species are going extinct at a rate of thousands per year, that's pretty scary.

When you see pictures of the amount of plastic in the sea, that's pretty scary too.
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

Even when we're doing our best to help the environment, we're aware that the whole way we live is unsustainable.  Just by living in a centrally-heated house, with running water and electric lights, driving a car and eating imported food, we are using more resources than any other humans in history.  But - even given a 12-year deadline - there doesn't seem to be any easy way to change this.

It's all scary.  But fear often stifles us, not stimulates us.  How do we get away from our fear?

Jesus on the Lake

Rembrandt: The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Our Bible study looked at two stories of Jesus on Lake Galilee with his disciples.  Matthew tells them both, and I'd never noticed how much they mirror each other.  Look at this:

When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him.  A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.  And they went and woke him up, saying, 'Lord, save us!  We are perishing!'  And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, you of little faith?'  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.  They were amazed, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'
Matthew 8:23-27

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side... And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake...  So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'  When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'
Matthew 14:22, 25, 29-32

It's the same conversation both times.  The disciples call for help, Jesus remarks on their lack of faith, and fixes the problem.  In the first story, however, they finish with a question: 'who is this man?' and in the second, they have their answer: 'he is the Son of God'.  Despite their 'little faith', they have arrived at a new knowledge of who Jesus is.

These stories deal with fear and faith in a natural world which seems out of control.  Here are several possible responses to environmental problems which arise out of fear.  What can we learn about the kind of faith which overcomes our fear?

It's all down to me
Half of the disciples were fishermen.  Being on a lake, in a boat, in a high wind, was surely familiar to them.  They knew what to do, and they were doing it just as hard as they could.  But it wasn't making any difference.  And they were scared.

Sometimes we feel like saving the earth is all down to us.  We have to drive less and recycle more and use less plastic and buy ethical clothing and source clean energy and... it's exhausting, and as hard as we work, it doesn't seem to make any difference.

Unfortunately, Jesus doesn't seem to be stepping in for us, to make everything calm.  It's a little more complicated having faith when there isn't an instant answer.  But apart from calming the storm, Jesus drags his disciples attention firmly back to himself.  He is the creator and sustainer of the world, the one whom winds and sea obey.  Faith isn't just asking for help when things get bad.  Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus.

I don't know what to do!
Sometimes we feel like Peter - we've got out of the boat, but now the problems look bigger than we thought, and we're stuck!  It's easy to panic when we're confronted with complicated issues.  Yes, let's eat differently to help the earth.  But do we go vegan? eat organic? avoid plastic? avoid imported food?  How much will it cost?  Do we have to survive on lentils?

Amidst all this, Jesus reaches out his hand to us and says, 'I've got you.  Just one step at a time now.'  M.J. Wilkins describes faith as "consistent trust in Jesus to accomplish what Peter is called to do".  We can't do everything, but if we take one step, and then another, we can keep going in the right direction.  Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus, and then moving towards him.

God will sort it all out
Or maybe we go to the other extreme.  We can't cope, we don't know what to do - but hey, we believe in God, don't we?  He can sort it all out.

You would think that Jesus would react positively to his disciples saying, 'Lord, save us!' wouldn't you?  Doesn't that prove that they're trusting in him?  Interestingly, his response is scathing: 'You of little faith!'

The kind of faith that turns to Jesus only when we're out of other options is not, apparently, very creditable.  Nor is the kind that uses him as an excuse to do nothing.  Jesus wants far more from his friends.  He wants a big faith.  A faith that says, yes, this is hard and scary and dangerous, but because Jesus is with us, we're going to do it anyway.

Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus, moving towards him, and gaining courage as we do.

Making a boat

In our study group, we made a list of our fears for the world.  Then we folded that list into a paper boat, to remind us to react not out of fear, but out of faith.  Yes, there are a lot of reasons to be scared.  But when Jesus is with us on the lake, there are a lot more reasons to have faith.


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light

Monday, 1 October 2018

Groaning inwardly

I begin to see why people don't have a theology of the environment.  It gets very messy very quickly.  We thrashed our way through Romans 8:18-23 for our second Tenants of the King Bible study, and wrestled with such unanswerable questions as: What is creation waiting for and when will it happen?  Do our sins cause environmental problems?  If creation is being redeemed along with us, what does that mean?  Does "a new earth" mean a completely different one, or one which is the same but renewed?

Well!  Can I just go and recycle a few tin cans in peace now?

Let's go back to the basics.  We humans are part of the universe.  We can't live without it, but we also persist in regarding ourselves as separate to it.  If you picture "the environment" do you include bridges, skyscrapers, oil refineries?  Probably not.  But they are all just as much made of bits of the earth as rocks, rivers and trees.

Image credit: Pixabay

So why do we put man-made things in a separate category?  Why do we think that they shouldn't really be part of "the environment"?  Perhaps because we're aware that humans have a disproportionately large effect on this world - and generally a negative one.  I was stunned to read in Sapiens that there is strong evidence to support the theory that whenever humans moved to a new part of the world, mass extinctions of the local wildlife followed swiftly after.  These are not the extinctions we're causing now, with our industrial activity.  They're not even the ones when the European explorers decimated the dodo and gulped up the Galapagos tortoise.  These are extinctions from thousands of years ago, by humans armed with not much more than bits of sticks.  Yuval Noah Harari concludes that, "We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of biology." *  I found that profoundly dispiriting.

It's not hard to come to the conclusion that this planet would be much better off without us.

We would not, of course, be the first people to come to that conclusion.  The idea that there is something inherently wrong with our relationship to the earth comes up several times in the Bible, from the creation story to the prophets to Paul's letters.  But there's also a hope that it can be put right.

Romans 8 gives us Paul's take on this hope.  If we really are part of creation, he argues, then it is being redeemed along with us.  We are suffering and waiting to know God's glory fully; creation, too, is suffering and waiting for God's glory.  Our only hope for creation is the same hope that we have for ourselves - that through Jesus, we can escape futility and death and be reborn to a new life.

Image credit: Pixabay

No, I don't know how or why or what or when, either.  I don't even know if it's really going to happen or if it's a story we tell ourselves to make us feel better.  But I do know that the heart of being a Christian is trusting in Jesus.  When the theology gets too much and the world is crashing down around us: Look to Jesus.

Believe it or not, that's what the next study is about.

*Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, Vintage 2011, p82.


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The importance of creation

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth... all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
from Colossians 1:15-20

Our first Tenants of the King study focused on this poetic passage from Colossians 1, which talks about how Jesus, the Son of God, is supreme over everything.  The study encouraged us to consider what we believed about the relationship between Jesus and creation, and what creation is made for.

Because I rather like my plastic cup analogy from my last post, I'm going to use it again to explain some of the themes from this study.  A plastic cup belief is one that we've picked up easily, never given much thought to, and may cause a lot more damage than we realise.  Here are three which Colossians 1 might encourage you to find alternatives to.

Plastic cup belief 1: Humans are the most important thing in the universe

Well, this one is hardly limited to Christians.  I think we all believe this, simply because we are human.  In our modern world, it is exacerbated by our surroundings; for most of us, everything we see is constructed with human convenience and comfort in mind.  We have to go a long way to find a piece of earth which hasn't been shaped by people.  The danger is that we can then justify anything that benefits us, from factory farming to strip mining to housing developments, ignoring the consequences for the rest of the world.

The Christian faith tends to reinforce our view that humans are important, by stating that we (and we alone) are created in the image of God; that Jesus came to save us (and us alone); and that regarding creation as too important is coming dangerously close to worshipping it rather than God.

These beliefs are not entirely wrong, but they may not be entirely right either.  Look at that repetition of "all things" in Colossians 1: Jesus created all things, holds all things together, and moreover, is bringing all things back to God.  When you look into the sky and think about how many stars and planets and galaxies "all things" includes, you realise just how small a part we are.   We hold in tension the knowledge that we are mere pinpricks in an infinite universe, with the belief that our Creator cared enough about us to become one of us.  We are important.  Just slightly less important than we think.

Plastic cup belief 2: The more spiritual we are, the less we should think about material things


If you mentally picture someone who is really spiritual, what do you imagine?  Someone who floats around in a kind of holy bubble, indifferent to possessions, buffered from difficult emotions, without any ties to the everyday world?  Yup, I know lots of people like that too.

Tempting though that idea of holiness might be, the Christian story points the opposite way.  The holier you are, the more likely you are to be rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck into dealing with actual messy life.  Jesus' tasks include holding things together and reconciling them - never an easy job - and he spent his time on earth talking about farming, money, baking bread and even washing up.  Getting closer to God doesn't give us a licence to ignore the earth's problems.  In fact it gives us more of a reason to work on them.

Plastic cup belief 3: The main reason Jesus came is to get us to heaven when we die


This one follows on from the previous two, really.  God's interest in creation is often presented as him merely reaching in to rescue those particular human beings who have committed to him, as if snatching them from a raging river minutes before the rest of it plunges over a cliff.  In this view, the rest of creation is doomed anyway, and our only task is to make sure as many people are rescued as possible.  Humans are the most important thing, and the material world is only a dangerous distraction.

In Colossians 1, the picture is very different.  A beloved Son, who is intimately involved with the whole created world, lived in it as the image of God, and is bringing peace to it, ultimately returning it to its original glory in God.  That gives a whole different perspective on what God is doing, what we are doing, and what we are hoping for.  The next study, from Romans 8, develops this theme.

Bible quote from the Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised) Copyright 2011 by Biblica Inc.
Image credits: Pixabay 


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light 

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Compostable Christians

Are you a compostable consumer?

We're all pretty well biodegradable when it comes down to it, of course.  In 500 years' time there won't be much left of our bodies.  But the archeologists of 2518 will have plenty to go on to reconstruct our habits - from life's first disposable nappy and squeaky toy, to final toothbrush and mobile phone, plastic commands our destiny.

Now that's changing.

Plastic-free has suddenly become mainstream.  My friendly catering catalogue offers an eco-friendly range to cater for "the more socially-conscious modern-day consumer" (the what??) and we are all being urged to refuse straws and rethink our packaging.

But why?


Just a few years ago, most of us would look at a bulging bag full of dirty plastic plates and cups after a party, and think, "What a waste."  Then we'd throw it in the bin and go, "Oh well, can't be helped."  We knew it wasn't great, but we believed there wasn't really anything we could do about it.  At least, not easily.  Or cheaply.  And most people, most of the time, do the easiest thing.  Or the cheapest.

But some people believed that there was something you could do, and that it was more important than settling for the easy and cheap option.  So they kept doing the more difficult and more expensive thing, and persuading others to do the same, until suddenly, it's easy to buy compostable cups, and it's cheaper to take your reusable cup to the coffee shop.  Some people's beliefs have influenced the way that we are all acting.


As Christians, we tend to think a lot about how what we believe changes the way we act.  But I was sceptical that I needed any specific Christian beliefs about caring for the environment.  Surely it was something that, as humans, we all needed to do something about?  I certainly didn't need a theology of God the Creator to turn the light off or recycle a tin can!

Thinking about it a bit more, though, I realised that we all have a lot of beliefs that we've picked up without examining them very carefully.  Like plastic cups, they become part of our lives without our noticing.  And like plastic cups, they can have a large effect on the world around us.


I realised, too, that I can't entirely divorce my Christian beliefs from my cultural beliefs.  I am no more likely now to read the Bible and conclude that I should trash the world as fast as possible, than I am to read the Bible and decide that slavery is actually a good thing.  That plastic cup was thrown away a long time ago.

Still, at a time when we are being urged to change our actions in so many different ways, it's always worth having another look at the beliefs behind them.  Why do I think that?  Did I know I thought that?  And what am I basing it on, anyway?

So I'm leading a study about Christianity and the environment, over the next few weeks at my ladies' group, using this resource from Operation Noah.  I'm planning to cover some of the same topics here on the blog, so please read along and decide whether you think Christians should be compostable, too.

Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light 

Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Ten books that shaped my life

Ten books that shaped my life in some way.  Now that wasn't a problem.  I scanned the bookshelves and picked out nine favourites without the slightest difficulty (the tenth took a little longer).

The problem was that, on the Facebook challenge, I wasn't supposed to explain why.  Nope.  Having picked out my ten, I couldn't let them go without saying why they were special to me.

These books are more than a collection of words by an author.  They are particular editions of those words - taped-up, egg-stained, dust-jacketless and battered - which have come into my life, been carried around to different homes, and become part of who I am.

How to Be a Domestic Goddess

Well, every woman needs an instruction manual, doesn't she?

Nigella's recipes mean lazy Saturday mornings eating pancakes, comforting crumbles on a rainy night, Christmas cakes, savoury onion pies and mounds of bread dough.  If you avoid the occasional extravagance (20 mini Bundt tins and a kilo of pistachios? Skip that one...) her recipes pretty much always work, and work well.  My life, and my cooking, have definitely been shaped by this book.

This is the sort of cake that people label 'very rich' but then go on to have three slices with languorous ease.

The Dark is Rising
The beauty of this book is in its exceptional sense of place.  There are five books in the sequence, set in Cornwall, North Wales and Buckinghamshire, and Susan Cooper weaves in real legends and real geography into her fictional fantasy.  When the white mare leaps the Thames "to the side that is the end of Buckinghamshire, the beginning of Berkshire", I was almost sure I could find the exact spot, not 20 miles from my home; and when my parents bought a travel guide to North Wales, I dipped into it to find mention of the Brenin Llwyd, the Grey King of the fourth book in the series.  Just recently I discovered that the Trefeddian Hotel even exists (and, moreover, has excellent facilities for children) so now, of course, I want to go there and "be on the beach at sunrise"...

And in a great blaze of yellow-white light, the sun rose over Hunter's Combe and the valley of the Thames.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
A new arrival on my bookshelf.  You have to marvel at the sheer effrontery of a guy who undertakes to write a history of the entire human race, and you have to marvel at his ability when he manages to do it readably and entertainingly.  If you want to know why wheat really domesticated us, rather than vice versa, or how a bank can turn $1 million into $10 million because we trust the future, Sapiens is worth a read.

Humanity's search for an easier life released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody wanted or envisioned.

Tangletrees
Before Tangletrees came to my bookshelf, it lived at my Nanna and Grandpop's house, along with a shelf of Agatha Christies, a box of toys, and a magazine rack of People's Friends, which I used to read behind the sofa.  I made a beeline for Tangletrees every time we visited, and when my Grandpop died and the house had to be cleared, I was allowed to bring it home with me.  I still like the story, but it's the memories which come with this one that make it special.

"I didn't think," said the little girl drowsily to herself, as she began to feel sleepy again, "that things would ever happen to me like they do in books - but they are!"

A Severe Mercy
Life and death and marriage and poetry and beauty and faith and joy and sorrow.  All in one book, and one life.  Sheldon Vanauken vows to live "the heights and the depths" rather than some safe middle way, and his story gave me an idea of what love can be, and what losing that love can be.

We met angrily in the dead of winter.  I wanted my money back.  Her job was to keep me from getting it.

Gaudy Night
Gaudy Night stands in for the whole series of murder mysteries.  Dorothy L. Sayers is ferociously intelligent and tends to write books which make you wish you were much more educated than you are, so that you could recognise even half of the allusions she makes.  Harriet and Lord Peter conduct their romance by means of letters in Latin, and she finally accepts his proposal outside an Oxford college, while they are dressed in academic gowns.  Seriously.  Love Island it is not.

"You have the scholarly mind and you'd always feel uncomfortable knowing it was wrong, even if nobody else knew."

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank
I've played the piano since I was four, and this is a fantastic book which intertwines the history and mechanics of the piano with the story of a man rediscovering his childhood love for the piano while he's living in Paris.  It brings out the magic and mystery of music beautifully.

It seemed unimaginable to me that adults would conceive of an entire contraption, at once huge and respectable, whose sole function was to make noise.

The Periodic Table
This was my tenth choice and the only one I don't currently own.  But I had to have something for chemistry.  My A-level chemistry teacher told me about Primo Levi - he was an Italian chemist who survived Auschwitz, and wrote some incredibly moving books about the experience.  The Periodic Table is a collection of short stories from his life, each linked to a different chemical element.

They are indeed so inert, so satisfied with their condition, that they do not interfere in any chemical reaction, do not combine with any other element, and for precisely this reason have gone undetected for centuries.
 
The Bible (Revised Standard Version)
If you attended my primary school, you may recognise this particular edition of the Bible - our Year 6 leaving gift.  I could hardly avoid including the Bible among the books which have shaped my life; this one ensured that I became a life-long reader of the somewhat dated Revised Standard Version (I've recently updated to the New RSV, which avoids thees and thous).  You can see by the electrical tape down the spine that it's been pretty well used - a badge of honour for a Bible, in the same way that food splodges are for a recipe book.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
And finally: The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (in two volumes) was my 18th birthday present from my parents.  That I was immediately absorbed in it probably tells you everything you need to know about me.  Paper reference books have been rather superseded by the internet, but I still pull it out from time to time - mostly recently to query the difference between faint and feint, and to discover that they're essentially the same word, with the same root as feign.  And if that doesn't shape my life, then I don't know what will.

faint a. Also (now only Comm. in sense 6b, formerly also in sense 1) feint. ME. [OFr. faint, feint pa. pple of faindre, feindre FEIGN.] 1 Feigned, simulated. Now rare. ... 6 Making a slight or feeble impression on the senses; hardly perceptible, dim, indistinct.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Summer highlights 2018

Um, hello?  Is this thing on?

Testing... testing...

Ah, good.  Can you all hear me now?  It's been so long that I've almost forgotten how this works.

Right then, the boys are back at school and it's on with the blog!  Here are a few highlights of what we got up to while they weren't at school.

The great outdoors

The weekend before the holidays, we headed to the Peak District to climb Mam Tor.  This takes about ten minutes from the car park, so it's not as strenuous as it sounds.  There are beautiful views from both sides of the ridge.  Just make sure you don't overbalance into a gorse bush like I did (ouch!)


Our National Trust membership got put to use again, as we returned to our local favourites.  The boys explored the maze at Calke Abbey and played giant Connect 4 on the lawn at Sudbury Hall.




We also visited somewhere new: Bradgate Park, near Leicester.  We were most impressed - it's a beautiful spot, with deer roaming free, a photogenic ruined house, and plenty of rocks to climb on.



And in our own back yard, the vegetable garden has been loving all the sun - we've eaten more tomatoes than you want to know about - and we camped out for a night.  Gotta love a campfire!




Vehicles

Aeroplanes at the Aeropark by East Midlands Airport


Trams at Crich Tramway Museum


Cars at Cars in the Park in Lichfield


More cars at Donington Racetrack



New experiences

Toby played in his first piano recital, held in his piano teacher's back garden.  He was very confident and did a great job!



Theo suddenly decided he wanted to take the stabilizers off his bike.  I spent 10 minutes hanging on to the back of his saddle while he got his balance, and then, suddenly, he was off!


We took the boys to the cinema for the first time.  Derby QUAD, our local independent cinema, offers extremely good value family tickets, so we went there to see Hotel Transylvania 3.  Vampires, werewolves, and strange jelly monsters on a cruise ship - what more could you want in a movie?


Friends and family

It's been a very sociable summer!  We enjoyed a visit from my grandparents, who flew over from America for a week, quite unexpectedly.  Grandma (always a 1st-grade-teacher!) had the boys counting chocolates, and Grandpa taught Toby a poem (A flea and a fly in a flue...).  They all had a great time together.  Various other family members dropped in while they were here, too, so we had a houseful for two days.

We also caught up with friends from Bristol and Sandhurst, visited Graham's sister in Yorkshire, and spent time with parents and local friends too.



And finally...

Graham and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a couple of nights away in Lyme Regis.  My parents looked after the boys, and Graham had arranged everything, with a beautiful B&B, an enormous bunch of flowers, and even some perfect weather to top it all off!  It was such a treat to eat out, go for a long coast walk, and simply wander around without a care in the world (for two days).





And when we got back, our cares in the world had made us a very nice anniversary cake!