Thoughts about bread pudding (and other comfort foods)

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Yesterday I went to a clinic to do my annual health screening, a requirement of our insurance carrier. Somehow it makes me feel old to have to be told that my blood pressure is too high and to have myself measured, weighed and poked.

After we were through at the clinic, Michelle and I went out to eat lunch to break the more than twelve hour fast required for the testing. We stopped at a very nice cafeteria on the  South side of Indianapolis and had a great lunch. The fact that we stopped at a cafeteria is another sign that we are growing older. I remember as a child my parents preferring cafeterias to fast food. As children, we could never imagine that we would be so old that eating real home cooked kinds of foods would be preferable to hamburgers and french fries but here we are, well into middle age, going to health screenings and eating cafeteria food.  Somehow it makes me want to dig out my old vinyl records and give them a spin – if I still had something to play them on.

As we were going through the line I was tempted by some really delicious looking bread pudding. I know, bread pudding is not a very elegant dessert. Sitting next to the pies piled high with meringue and some really elaborately iced cakes, bread pudding seems like the ugly step sister of desserts.  There is nothing beautiful about it except the taste.

Recently, I was reminiscing with some of my elementary school classmates and the subject of bread pudding came up. It was a staple dessert in the elementary school I attended and one thing that you could pretty much have as much of as you wanted. I am sure now that it was the lunch room cooks’ way of getting rid of leftover breads and buns but I just remember it as a sweet ending to some otherwise not so great lunches. Even now, I can see the big bowl of raisins, bread and sugar at the end of the lunch line and I get a warm feeling.

I have traveled to England several times where bread puddings are an art form. Again, art in the taste sense. Even the British have a hard time making bread pudding look pretty. The English like their bread puddings so much that they even give them names. Try ordering “Spotted Dick” in America and see where it gets you.  The traditional bread and butter pudding in England is great but it still doesn’t quite live up to my childhood memories of my elementary school bread pudding.

Yesterday’s bread pudding did live up to expectations. With each mouthful I was transported back to playgrounds, childhood infatuations, and that warm feeling that promises the world is waiting for you to join it for an adventure. I suspect very few people reading this have the same emotions that I have when I think about bread pudding but I aslo suspect most people have a food that takes them to a happy place, even for just a moment.  Somehow, with our bellies full and our imaginations stirred, we feel like the world is a little safer and we can cope with it a little bit more. I guess that is why they call it comfort food.

In the church we break bread to remember events that happened two thousand years ago and to bring those memories into our present reality.  If we enter into that remembering properly it should be just as palpable as my childhood remembrances  and significantly more comforting.  So take, eat, and remember.  It is, after all, what comfort food is meant to do.

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Thoughts about working dogs (and the ministry of presence)

Today I was shopping at Rural King and I had our dog Bo with me. Until five years ago I had rarely visited Rural King but I like shopping there now because it is one of the few places that allows dogs. So, if I need something that I think they carry, I pack up Bo and we are off.

As we were leaving the store today a women looked at Bo and said, “Is he a working  dog?” Since this is a farm store I assume that a good number of the dogs coming into the store are farm dogs who serve some function. However, we don’t live on a farm and Bo’s main function is to lay curled up beside me on the couch. “No,” I replied, “He’s just a pet.”  “Well, he’s a good lookin’ dog anyway,” she said. She went into the store, Bo and I walked to our truck, and the conversation ended.

But it gave me pause to think.  Bo is an invaluable presence in our lives. He is sometimes entertainment. Sometimes he is a comforting huggable lump of fur and flesh. He welcomes us home with unflinching loyalty.  So, does he work?

In the Bible there is a story about two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is busy doing things for Jesus while Mary is sitting attentively listening to Jesus tell stories. Martha chides Mary for her indolence and Jesus chides Martha for missing out on what is really important. For a couple thousand years this story has challenged people’s perceptions of ministry. Sometimes it is important to actively serve others with our activities and sometimes just being with someone is the more important thing.  In the helping professions we call this second circumstance ministry of presence. Sometimes people need us to do for and with them and sometimes we just need to sit with one another.

For those of us who are in ministry the lines between work and the normal activities of life often blur. If we are at a high school basketball game and someone starts telling us about their latest domestic struggle are we suddenly working? If we go to a community event because we want to it is probably not work but if we go because we ought to represent the church then it may be considered work. Some of these issues get at the very nature of work and ministry. Sometimes it is difficult to say what is work and what is not.

And so I think about our dog, Bo.  He doesn’t herd sheep or cattle. He really doesn’t have any discernible job description. But whatever it is that he does, it sure works for me!

Thoughts about summer band music

This is the Columbus City Band playing at a somewhat strange outdoor venue in Seymour.

As we move into the summer it is easy to think about music played by bands and orchestras outside in band shells and other less hospitable venues. Okay, some of your thoughts may not go there but mine do.  As I begin my fifth summer playing with the Columbus City Band and my thirty somethingth summer playing summer concerts I am beginning to notice some trends.

First of all, if you are a French horn player summer band music takes you in a direction you don’t necessarily want to go – lots of marches! When my wife and I met and began dating, I told her I was a French horn player and her immediate response was, “Oh, that’s the um-pah instrument!” And during the summer she is mostly right. Horn players spend a good deal of time during the “J” months playing after beats (the “pah” in um-pah). It doesn’t exactly make one look forward to the summer repertoire. Still, there is some satisfaction in knowing that marches would not be the same without the sure foundation we help provide. It is one reminder that the routine work in life still has a place of importance even if it is not enjoyable all the time.

If I were to identify the piece of music that I have performed in my adult life more often than any other (excluding the Star Spangled Banner) I would have to go with “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”  Sousa. The bane of every horn player’s existence! Stars and Stripes is one of those pieces of music that I enjoy listening to but hate playing. Still, it is hard to argue with it’s appeal both as a piece of music and as a patriotic emblem. I’m not sure I have had a summer when I have not played it at least once and in most cases, multiple times.

Summer band playing also requires some other adjustments for me. Playing outdoors can be an interesting business with rain, heat, and mosquitoes ever present realities. Many years ago I bought a used horn with a few dents in it to use for outdoor concerts not wanting to risk damage to my good horn.  It serves me well, although it does have some interesting quirks and often needs some adjusting. Still, how much expertise do those after beats require?

So, this summer, like most summers will find me um-pahing along with my fellow horn players, waiting for the occasional John Williams medley to get some meaningful licks in. And while I will complain about all the marches, the reality is that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Sitting with good people, making good music, and enjoying the occasional festivity.  So, strike up the band and bring your lawn chair!

Thoughts about yard work and tasks that never end

The last few weeks I have spent a good bit of time doing yard work. Mulch, rakes, pruners and hauling off yard waste have occupied my attention. After several days of this work I feel sore but satisfied at seeing the progress we were able to make. I did sprain an ankle while carrying bags of mulch but otherwise escaped permanent injury.  As I pause to step back and admire our work I feel a sense of accomplishment.  I am, however, struck by the overwhelming reality that yard work, like much of the work I do in life, won’t stay finished very long.

People often ask me how I like the work of the district superintendent and whether I miss pastoral ministry. I do miss local church work and hope to return to it when my time in my current position is finished. (I am currently beginning my sixth year of a maximum eight year term.) However, there are some things I have enjoyed about the superintendency. One is sitting with Michelle in church. I have also enjoyed having a break from the every week routine that is part of pastoring a local congregation. As soon as you finish a sermon one week the next week looms before you. You might be able to take a Sunday afternoon breather but it usually isn’t for long. Even if you have another pastor on staff and you have a break from preaching that week there are a myriad of other things, like Bible studies and committee meetings, that keep you from ever feeling like the work is done.

When I look at a freshly mown lawn, I can enjoy the sight and smell of completion. But I know the grass will grow, the weeds will encroach, and the work will need to be done again. And so, even while I admire its clean pressed neatness I brace myself against the inevitability that I will soon need to be out there on my knees pulling weeds again.  Every piece of yard work is a temporary victory. And yet, it also fits into a larger picture of having a nice yard. To judge that you have to step back and see the big picture over a period of time.

So it is in a lot of life’s work. The temporary victories, and defeats, fit into a larger picture – having a good life or enjoying a satisfying vocation. And every once in a while it is good to step back and look at that bigger picture to enjoy a sense of accomplishment. For a moment .  . . and then its back to work!