Possessions

There is a new film on limited release. The Finnish film-maker works from the premise that all his possessions are put into storage and he is allowed to retrieve one item per day.

I found myself thinking about this. Here in the First World we live in a life of things, we complicate our lives with technology, with things that are important to us, possessions that make our lives easier. It is easy to question our need for these material possessions, to feel that our lives might in some way be simpler without these, but can this be so? I open any drawer or cupboard and see things that I might not have used for years but still have utility.

Jesus may have sent out his disciples without possessions but can we go out without smartphone? One of the joys for me of travel to the Outer Hebrides is the lack of not only 3G coverage but in large part any phone signal at all. I was sad to hear that the main criticism that those offering accommodation on the Islands receive is the lack of WiFi! They are now talking about making this a virtue – offering “digital detox” holidays.

Returning to the film, I started to think what would I retrieve? Probably a pair of trousers first, then food and a blanket. Food, shelter, warmth – life can be that simple. I might recover my smartphone at the end of the second week!

Bread

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

I return to my favourite obsession! I have told some of you before of my relationship with bread and I hope you will forgive me for reiterating the story. It is a story that changes as I change. It is not a surprise that Jesus chose bread (and wine) – those common staples to represent his life and death, but I am getting ahead of myself. My own story begins long before I had any awareness of such symbolism.

The first bread I remember was the factory baked sliced white loaf. As a very skinny little child I remember stealing a slice and picking away at the bread in the middle, chewing it as the bread sweetened as the starch broke down into sugars. I would then eat the crusts, revelling in the texture and the caramel taste. I now look at such bread with abhorence – underbaked, flavourless, an industrial product made by the not giving the dough sufficient time to prove.

Later I discovered wholemeal bread and revelled in the texture and enhanced flavour. The more savory notes excited my developing palate. Still later I started to use a breadmaker. This was a step forward – it created in the house that lovely smell of freshly baked bread but in many ways was profoundly unsatisfactory. The machine performed its’ mysterious tasks entirely without my involvement, and the bread produced was flawed – not least in having a hole torn in each loaf where the paddle is removed.

It was a natural progression to stard making my own bread by hand – skills developing by trial and (often) error. I flirted with sourdoughs – sometimes producing glorious loaves but at other times producing sad pancakes of dense bread. A new factor entered the equation – knowledge. Enthusiasm and experiential learning can get you so far, but there comes a time when we must draw on the experience and skill of others. Now I can reliably produce loaves of Pain de Campagne time after time.

Again I ask if this is an analogy for Christian Life. I answer that it is just bread.

Regrets

One of my aunts died this week. It was not unexpected – she was 93, lately diagnosed with dementia and had recently refused to eat or drink. Her behaviour was problematic to the other residents in her sheltered accommodation – she would ring their doorbells and run away and hide. She decided not to have children and never bought a house. She never went abroad but accumulated weath in cash and shares. She died intestate and this will potentially cause family arguments as she has several half siblings who will not benefit from her estate.

I contrast her life to that of her great grandfather, Anthony Stoll. He immigrated into Britain in his late teens from Germany in the 1840s. He built up businesses, some of which failed, so he built new ones. He married and had a large family. His obituary tells how in the Murphy riots (anti-German riots in the 19th century) he sheltered behind the doors of his shop and home with his family. He helped build Birmingham’s first Catholic Cathedral, and laid the foundation stone of Birmingham’s first Catholic Primary School. He set up each of his sons and grandsons in their own businesses. A clerk wrote on the outside of his Naturalization papers “A good man”. He was entirely forgotten in all the family stories, probably due to the anti-German feeling in the First World War. 

We make choices in our lives. Some are wise, some foolish. We can hope to make a difference and leave the world just a little better because we were there. I loved my Aunt but have to feel her choices did not give to our world. I untangled Anthony’s story over many years and feel very proud of a man who worked to improve life for himself and his family and for the wider community. His is the funeral I would have wanted to attend

.Image

Psalm 32

Sunday by Sunday we sing Psalms. We concentrate on getting them right. But the words?

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

Peace perfect peace! Guileless and guiltless! Perfect happiness! Can we expect such perfection in our real lives? Lord, have you set the bar too high?

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy on me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

The world tells me to just move on. Put it behind you they say. Is this not the right way? Lord, repentance is hard. Forgiveness needs action, it needs self examination. Why should I do it? But then the Psalmist tells it like it is. The guilt, the wrongness working within me. Do I need this? Isn’t the world right?  Time heals all wounds. Forgiveness? Is it not just the frost in the morning, burned away with the heat of the morning sun?

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Lord, it is simple isn’t it? Repentance, looking at my life and realizing what is wrong. Lord, I do not have the strength to do this but sometimes need to be carried. Then I can take that first step. The darkness lightens, a gleam of hope appears. Suddenly the meaning of this season appears. We are following in your footsteps toward the cross. We are living within a promise of forgiveness. Thank you Lord!

Prayer and repentance

Sometimes prayer is easy. We talk naturally to God as our friend. Then there are those other times. What about asking for forgiveness for those things in our lives that we know we ought to feel are wrong but we do not?  Those things we hold on to and would rather not talk to God about. This is a gap in our conversation with God. We would rather not talk about it and sometimes the silence lengthens. The silence can become a habit.

What has happened? We might feel that God is no longer there but the reality is that we just need to turn around. We have a loving God who knows us better than we know ourselves. The communication was not severed by God but by us because we did not want to share our lives. We have a loving God who knows us better than we know ourselves, who knows what we ought to ask. We fool ourselves by compartmentalization of our lives. Just as I am, O Lord I come!

St. Jerome in Peritence

St. Jerome in Penitence by Domenikos Theotokopoulos 1541-1614

There is a man…

There is an annoying man at Church. He has spent his entire life as a member of the congregation of that church. He was baptized there and has worshipped there Sunday by Sunday to this day. So what annoys me about him? He talks to me before the Sunday Eucharist rather than letting me pray quietly, he engages me in conversation as I go up to the Altar at the Eucharist.

Then I find out more about him – he was a traffic warden (maybe not the best thing to find out) but now he is retired spends his time doing the gardens for a round of elderly people. He heard it mentioned by the Rector that she would like some sort of Calvary created at the front of the Church – within two days he had created a rockery (using the pieces from a stone cross that fell from the church roof in the gales). And then, at the Palm Sunday service he gave us the following together with two other devotional pieces that were printed on gloss paper – we are often visited by Angels in disguise.

Passover Bread

I am back to the subject of Bread. I did warn you that it had become an obsession of mine. This time I can put this bread journey down to my Priest Alison. We are having a Eucharist at the Lent Group on Thursday and she asked me to provide the bread. Now I have fed them on my sourdough loaf and I am sure this is what she had in mind.

But then I ask myself “What was the bread eaten by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper?” This meal was a commemoration of the flight of the Jewish slaves from Egypt and so food was needed, and quickly. Bread making, as I have said before, is not quick. But the mothers (practical and sensible as they have to be in the face of their men’s impetuous decision to abide by God’s will and flee immediately) knew that meals had to be provided. So fires were lit in their ovens for one last time and flour, oil salt, eggs and water mixed together. There may even have been dried fruit mixed in to provide sweetness. Then the mix was spread out, probably on a terracotta tile and baked in the oven for half an hour. During the time the unleavened bread (unleavened – no yeast introduced to start fermentation and therefore carbon dioxide bubbles to make the bread rise) took to bake they must have rushed around gathering clothes and chosing which kitchen utensils they could not do without. Then the bread collected from the oven and wrapped for the journey.

I return to my question – what was that bread? Current Jewish practice uses Matzo bread – a biscuit wafer not dissimilar to our communion wafer. These are made under carefully supervised conditions from white wheat flour that is kept in very dry conditions to preclude any chance of fermentation. The resultant Matzo has a very long shelf life but I feel bears little relation to the bread eaten at that first Last Supper. It is virtually certain that the wheat grain used for modern baking did not exist in the Middle East in Biblical times so this gave me a clue for the bread I was to make. Durum wheat, barley, emmer wheat, einkom wheat and spelt were probably available but in the light of this uncertainty I decided to use wholegrain wheat as this is the nearest to handmilled wheat done at home. I discovered that although most people have a clear idea of matza as similar to crackers, there is no requirement that matzah be crisp for any purpose, including the seder. Yemenites and Iraqui Jews traditionally made a form of soft matza which may look like Greek Pita bread or like a tortilla.

So my recipe for Pesach (Passover) bread:

250g wholegrain wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon caster sugar 240ml water

120ml oil (I used rapeseed oil, possibly olive oil would be more correct)

4 medium eggs.

Put the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl and mix well. Bring to the boil the oil and water in a large saucepan and then stir in the flour mixture after turning off the heat. Keep stirring until the mixture comes away from the sides of the saucepan.

Add the eggs one at a time stirring vigourously to prevent them becoming scrambled eggs! Keep stirring until the mixture becomes smooth and thick. Leave to cool.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Flatten the dough onto the tray and prick all over with a knife (I used a biscuit pricker that I made some years ago at a Scout camp in Sweden). Leave it to rest for half-an-hour.

Preheat the oven to 190C / Gas mark 5. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes until browned.

So is this the bread eaten by Jesus and the Disciples at the Last Supper? No – it uses the wrong flour, it uses refined sugar. But it is an honest interpretation by me and will be explained on Thursday when bread is broken at the Eucharist. An expression of love.Image