Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cheesecake and the Psalms

Cheesecake and the Psalms are both wonderful things. I really do love them. Cheesecake is among my favorite desserts, and the Psalms among my favorite books of the Bible. Why do I have them linked together here? Because they are both things I should not like. But I do.

I have a texture issue with food. If I eat it with utensils/hands, I like my food to be of a solid nature. I’m not that big a fan of ice-cream or most soups; I despise cool whip, meringue, and flan. I just prefer my food be solid and my drinks liquid. But that weird in-between light and fluffy consistency? It creeps me out. I make an exception for cheesecake. It’s soooo good, how can I not?

The Psalms are another anomaly to me. I’m a logical, rational person. I am not emotional. I think through options, weigh them, and make the logical choice. I use rational arguments, and I expect thought processes to make deductive sense. So I should love the letters of Paul, right? Meh. Not that I don’t like Paul, I do, he’s great. But nothing excites me, impassions me, energizes me like the raw emotion of David’s words in the Psalms.

So I’ve decided to combine the two. When I’m out about town and not on a tight schedule and if I see a caf√© that carries cheesecake I go in and get a slice. As I gently cut into its deliciousness, I pull out my Bible and read some Psalms. And I thank God for his creation... even cheesecake.

(and I must mention that the best cheesecakes in the world come from The Blue Pinky Bakery, formerly Sunny’s Cheesecake Emporium... I hope to snag one in the not-too-distant future!!)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Natural vs Formal Faith

Not too long ago I attended a sort of faith conference for a national church denomination. Many people spoke and presented throughout, but I remember two extremes being present.

Faith in life that is natural is beautiful, captivating, desirable.

Faith that’s separate from life, that’s rigid and formal... it’s awkward, off-putting.

There’s a definite difference.

Maybe being in my second language made the two stand out even more. When I heard run-on prayers that were formal and seemingly separate from life, I tended to look around for an exit, or daydream, or check my phone for messages that may have arrived in the last 10 seconds. But then a couple of times people got up to share or pray, made a joke, looked to the sky and praised God for the sunny day, and naturally slid into prayers or encouragement that actually fit right in, like they were a part of the conversation and the day.

Think through life. Have you known people for whom prayer comes naturally, and feels simple and relevant? Or contrasted, how many prayers have you heard that are lengthy, wordy, formulated, and simply... not natural?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

First Smile

Elsie has just begun smiling. We love her smile, when she chooses to grace us with it. Often the smiles come just before an expulsion of gas. Sometimes in response to our playing. We'll take what we can get.
For comparison's sake, here's one of her big brother's first photographed smiles.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

11 Awkward Kisses (in France)

Kissing in France. It’s an art. Also a joy, a nightmare, and an everyday part of life. Don’t reverse it and make ‘French’ the adjective to the active noun ‘kiss’, that would be missing the point entirely. I’m talking about les bisous, the everyday cheek-to-cheek and make a kissy sound manner of greeting one another.

In France, women greet women with les bisous (hereafter referred to by the short-hand ‘biz’). Men greet women with biz. And men sometimes greet men with biz. Usually, you go from one cheek to the other making two kisses for a single greeting. But sometimes, depending on the region and the friendship, it could be three or even four (or more?). Clear as mud? What’s interesting to me is that the whole idea of kissing each others’ cheeks is physically impossible. Grab whoever’s sitting next to you right now and see if you can successfully simultaneously plant a kiss on the cheek. Not happening, at least not without an uncalled for amount of mashed skin.

When I first arrived in France, I always struggled with the specifics of les biz. If I’m sitting down, do I need to stand up to biz? Where do I position my body? Do I step into the biz or lean into it? What do I do with my hands? Limp to the sides? That seems impersonal. Hands on their shoulders? Too dominant. Grab forearms? Maybe natural for women, but not me. Which side do I go to first? Eventually, this all worked itself out as I became accustomed to life here.

Today I had on of those “Ah! That explains it!!” moments. My friend Tiffany told me that people in Paris biz starting on the opposite side than people in Marseille. You see, I lived in Paris for a year then moved to Marseille. I remember one of my first days down here, I visited a good friend that I hadn’t seen in many months. I walked up to him smiling and knew there’d be a “so good to see you” biz involved. Problem though... I went left and he went right, which placed us nose to nose puckering up. Then he went left and I went right, still puckering, still directly face-to-face. There was a moment of awkward tension and I held my ground as he pulled back to the right to make it happen. Then we had a good laugh. And then in the weeks following that happened again, and again. I’d never thought about which side to go for, it had always been learned muscle memory. But a change of regions totally toyed with that muscle memory and left me missing cheeks entirely.

With that story, I present to you 11 Awkward Bisous
1. The Bearded Biz - I always feel bad when it comes time to greet someone and I haven’t shaved in a couple days. I can’t help but shudder at the poor soul’s fate of having to brush up against my stubble and how that must feel: unwanted, uninvited, uncomfortable. Thus I tense up and rush the biz.
2. The How Many? Biz - You are usually safe to go with two. But in a new region you can’t be sure. And sometimes a good friend might be ready to move the relationship up the the 3 or 4 level. If you pull back after 2 and they’re not done, discomfiture will follow.
3. The Talk in Between Biz - Sometimes you are greeted with a word or a question and then a lean in for the kiss. But you haven’t responded yet! Yet you feel obliged to respond, it would be rude to put it off, right? Thus it goes like this: *kiss* “I’m fine, thanks” *kiss*, or “Hi I’m √Člodie,” *kiss* “Michael” *kiss*. Inevitably the words come out as your mouths are inches apart. And then you wonder how long it’s been since you brushed your teeth.
4. The Handshake Biz - Not sure whether to shake or biz, you thrust out your hand as the other person leans in. Not unlike the handshake/hug dilemma in the US, but a step up on the embarrassing meter thanks to the kiss involved.
5. The Beware the Glasses Biz - When the other person’s wearing glasses, a tingling of terror shoots up my spine. This all stems back to an incident in Paris where I went in for a biz and knocked a girl’s glasses clear off her face.
6. The Do I Know You? Biz - Not unlike the handshake biz, the ‘Do I Know You?’ Biz takes the flip side error into play. There have been times when I’ve made the move and leaned in for the kiss, only to have the other party give me a look of “I don’t have any idea who you are nor why you’re kissing my cheeks.” After which I drop my head, tuck my tail, and sulk away to hide in a corner. Or pretend I’m important and hip.
7. The Nose Collision Biz - When moving from one side of the next, be sure to pull back enough without exaggerating. Eskimo kisses may be cute in Alaska; here they’re gauchely.
8. The Right, Left, or Oh No, Not the Middle! Biz - Covered in my story above, if you’ve recently moved or are unsure of which side... be patient and let the other person make the first move!
9. The Sweaty Biz - I’m self-conscious enough to avoid the situation entirely or lie about being sick if I just finished some wind-sprints have a face full of sweat. But not all have the same inclination. I have a good friend who’s a pastor, and approaching him after a hearty sermon in the lights will leave me pulling away with a glistening layer of second-hand sweat.
10. The Interrupt the Conversation Biz - Greetings are extremely important in France. If you walk into a social event, it is absolutely necessary to greet individually everyone involved. Usually this is done immediately on entering. But what if you are engrossed in conversation and someone approaches for a greeting biz? Or vice-versa, you enter and persons #4 and #5 are excitedly discussing the state of elections in the latest hard-fought PTA race? The always uncomfortable Interrupt the Conversation Biz ensues.
11. The Can’t Turn Back Now Biz - This one fascinates me, and I love watching them happen. Imagine walking into a crowded bar or restaurant. You’re joining a table of colleagues, but across the establishment you see a friend. Eye contact is made and movement begins to come together for the greeting. But obstacles abound... chairs are back-to-back and people have to scoot in, a plant in the way must be maneuvered around, and quickly the prospect of actually coming face-to-face seems hopeless. But you’ve begun, you’re into the journey, and you simply can’t turn back now!

Optional 12th (for the guys): The You’re Another Dude, So... Biz - As mentioned earlier, man-to-man kissing can be ambiguous. That ambiguity can lead to the Handshake Biz, the Do I Know You That Well? Biz, and the frightening Double Bearded Biz. In a similar category would be the situation of approaching another American in the presence of French. Do you kiss the American too? Will they be ready for it?

With this list you should be prepared to step right into socially awkward situations in France with as much clumsiness as this American who’s lived here for a couple years.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The 3 best fruits and veggies

In urban France, fruits and vegetables from all over the world are available year-round. I find it rather interesting that when it comes to produce anything can be bought anytime. Yet non-consumables, like patio furniture, water bottles, and outdoor toys can literally only be found in the season prior to and into their normal time of use. Want to buy some luggage? You’d better be shopping within a month or two of les vacances! Or you find a super-specialized luggage shop. A water bottle in the winter? Don’t even think about it.

We try to eat somewhat seasonally and use local farmers markets and watch prices for local products that help us to do so. Living that cycle of the earth simply feels right, and adds a nice annual variety to our palettes.

Moving on from the seasonal aside... yesterday I was in a supermarket and gazed over tables and baskets of fresh produce. Bananas from the Ivory Coast, pineapples from Costa Rica, avocados from Kenya, and even the rare sweet potatoes from the USA. Then I started thinking about the ones I really like. My mind spanned from picking up a nectarine and biting into it (I believe the greatest fruit for monkeys; colorful, juicy, and simply bite and enjoy!), to chopping celery for salads, seasonings, and garnitures. I thought back to one of the greatest explosion of tastes I ever had the pleasure to enjoy, a fresh pineapple in Tanzania during pineapple season (when we paid about 50 cents per). I then tried to list my favorite fruits and vegetables, based on what’s important to me (flavor, versatility, etc...). Here’s what I came up with:

1 - Onions
2 - Avocados
3 - Potatoes (are they vegetables? if not, I’ll go broccoli)

I may be one of very few people to list onions at number 1, but without them my life would be lacking. In my opinion, any meal tastes better with the addition of onions. Pizza is not pizza without onions. Same for burgers, sandwiches, salads. And a bloomin’ onion?!? Now I’m coveting that which my neighbors across the pond can enjoy, and I must move on.

1 - Limes
2 - Strawberries
3 - Grapefruit

This one was tougher. And I’m not really sure those are my top 3. I feel good about lime in the 1 spot. Put ‘lime’ in front of anything on a menu and I’ll probably order it. Add lime to a smoothie and that’s the one I’ll choose. Why did Coca-cola stop making coke with lime and limit it to diet coke only? No matter, I’d rather drop an actual lime in the coke anyhow. In my cheap college and early married days, JJ and I would go to Qdoba and gather up a bunch of limes from the drink station along with sugar and our water to make limeades. Mmmmm... And yeah, I’ll eat a lime straight. I like ‘em that much. Other fruit getting honorable mentions from me are passion fruit, oranges, and maybe even grapes. Living in a country that doesn’t produce nor consume seedless grapes has made their allure diminish a bit. And oranges dropped off for me when living in East Africa, where the oranges were only mediocre but we were surrounded by the best, juiciest pineapples, passion fruit, and mangoes on the planet. But they’re coming back, especially when I have memories of Florida oranges, and juice! Still, few things beat a grapefruit in the morning, strawberry milkshakes, and of course, strawberry limeades!

Where have I gone wrong?

What are your 3 favorite fruits and/or veggies?

I love these kind of games!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pomplamoose... can't get enough

I do love a good pomplemousse in the morning, but this post isn't about grapefruit in France.

Do you ever wonder what all goes into the making of each sound in a recorded song?

Check out these VideoSongs, pure genius.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quiet Moments

In the past couple weeks, my wife and I have spontaneously fallen into a routine in which one of us hops up at the break of dawn with our two children (we have early risers) and herds them to the kitchen for breakfast. After closing bedroom and hallway doors, one of us is left alone in the bedroom. While kids eat on the far side of the apartment, and the hour is too early for construction or busy workday traffic, our bedroom is engulfed in silence. These moments are precious. It’s almost magical how 30 minutes can feel like hours, and yet slip away much too quickly.

I don’t remember ever before cherishing silence like I do now. I’m not really the introvert type that needs quiet aloneness to ‘recharge my batteries.’ I’d rather be on the go, moving, living, experiencing... In fact, when I have had times of quiet stillness in life, I’ve normally been quick to eradicate the silence. I’d turn on or play music. I’d desperately seek out a friend. Or I’d pray- a rather wordy, busy, me (&others)-filled prayer.

Now though, something’s changed. Could it be having two kids under the age of three? I love these quiet moments. Instead of chasing away the silence like my son runs off the pigeons in a park, I hoard it. And I listen. Not a word or a thought from me. I simply listen.

I feel that in (almost) 30 years, I’ve gone through the entirety of Elijah’s 3-verse experience in 1 Kings 19:11-13: “A great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him.”

The Bible talks about peace a lot, promises peace. Isaiah 32:17 says, “And the work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.”

For now, I will embrace silence when I find myself in it. And I will listen.

What about you?
What do you do during quiet moments?
How do you create/find these times of silence in a noisy world?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Proof that God doesn’t answer prayers... now

This morning I attended a church in town that has been without a pastor for 4 years. Also without a building in which to meet for 9 months. This was their second meeting back in their building. Someone pointed out that 9 months is the same amount of incubation time needed for the coming of new life. I like that image.

Does it ever bother you when God doesn’t answer immediately? It does me.

Maybe it wasn’t meant so, but I’ve always taken quite literally Paul’s charge in Ephesians: “do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (4:26). I can’t stand leaving something unresolved. There have been nights in our marriage where I would not let my poor wife sleep because I had to unload (or patch-up) something. There have been nights I’ve sat awake typing, writing, calling, or praying, because a part of me was not at peace, it was unresolved. I love it when music is left discordant, unresolved; that’s part of the beauty of jazz. But I can’t easily accept the same discordance in life.

And so I pray. And I do so faithfully. I know God will answer, that’s why I ask. But then what happens when He doesn’t, at least not now? I don’t know.

Today’s culture demands immediate response to everything. We live in the era of 4G, on-demand movies, pizza delivery, and internet answers. In my neighborhood, you can even call up a supermarket and have groceries delivered same-day. So when we pray, we expect the same of God.

Joseph’s family spent over 20 years thinking him dead, gone. For 40 years Israel wondered in the wilderness. The Jews were exiled away from their temple, home, and everything they knew for some 50 or more years. From the prophets of the OT to the coming of Jesus, 400 years of silence from God passed.

Back to the church from this morning. 4 years without a pastor is a long time. 9 months out of their building (at no fault of their own) is a long time. In that time, the church has struggled, dwindled, questioned God, and waited. I could tell you that in that time they’ve learned and grown as a core body. I could tell you that the pastor who is coming in September is arriving at a perfect time that intricately lines up with the coming and going of others and the state of the city. I could say that the 4yrs/9mos of waiting has been timed for great blessings. But if I said any of that, I’d be making it up. Some of it may turn out to be true, but we don’t know yet.

What we do know is that God took a *long* time to answer the prayers that were sent His way.

It wasn’t the first time. And it won’t be the last.