Still Stirring the Pot

Woman:Memorial DayHer laughing face fairly jumps off the front page of this May 30 edition of our city newspaper. At first glance, we might guess she is without a care in the world, obviously celebrating a birthday or other momentous event.

On this Memorial Day she is celebrating, recently honored for her 25,000 hours of volunteering in a local hospital. But all celebrations are tinged with daily pain: before her son could write his first letter home as a pilot in the Vietnam war, his helicopter was shot down in the Mekong Delta.

As tragic as was this event, it was later compounded by the death from cancer of her only other son. Twice widowed, she understandably felt lost. According to the article, “Being around others experiencing joy, fear, hope and sadness—the daily rhythm of a hospital—was the tonic (she) needed. It showed her how much she’d lost, but also something else—the love that remained.” At 98 ½ (“don’t forget the half,” she says), she still works three days each week in the hospital gift shop where employees come for encouragement, new parents buy stuffed animals, grieving families find a touch of hope.

The last reason chefs give for stirring the pot is to “alter the viscosity of a liquid,” i.e., to make a change. This woman’s life was changed by the tragedies of war and disease, and now she seeks to change the lives of others. Her last quote recorded in the article sums it up perfectly: “God didn’t put me on this Earth to just take up space.”

Stir the Pot by “Dispersing the Flame”

CandlesLast week I introduced the thought that “stirring the pot,” i.e., fanning “the inner flame God gave you,” is a process not limited to the young among us, but a required action until we die. If chefs stir the pot to create a homogenous mixture, evenly disperse temperature and alter the viscosity of a liquid (make it thicker or thinner), how can all that be applied to us? (Without taking the concept to ridiculous ends!)

One additional thought on how we Christians of the majority white race—majority at least here in the U.S.—can take steps to align our hearts and minds more closely to Jesus, to become part of a homogenous community of Christ followers. Because media is so readily available, so in our face, we have become accustomed—nay, we have become deadened—to pictures of a twelve-year-old black boy gunned down or a Middle Eastern migrant child’s body washed onto the beach. (Or more sadly, we offer “reasons” why the victim “brought it on her/himself.”) It’s time for us to put ourselves in the picture: if you’re a mother, place your child or grandchild’s name on those boys on the beach or in the street. Sit with the grief you feel. Imagine the broken mommy’s heart. If I feel no grief, it’s time to repent.

Stirring the stove pot also evenly disperses the ingredient’s temperature. What is “the inner flame God gave you”? What is the inner flame that burned within Jesus? What was the inner flame that burned in Timothy and those eleven cowering, inadequate, uneducated, miraculously transformed men (and all those women!) accompanying Jesus?

All these and thousands more through the centuries possessed a passion that drove them to love and serve their Savior by loving and serving the people around them. Living for Jesus didn’t merely mean their names were now on a church’s membership roll and attendance at “services” high on the weekly to-do list. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” radical lifestyles ensued. Fishermen left the family business. The woman selling grapes in the marketplace eagerly looked at each customer as a potential sister or brother in the faith, and she added a few more grapes to the basket. The man trimming trees in the olive grove meditated on Jesus praying in Gethsemane’s grove and gave away extra produce. Children were taught that all Christ-followers looked first at their place in God’s Kingdom, and then where they fit in the material world.

They would not stop as they obediently and joyfully oozed Jesus to the people around them. Some wrote books. Others preached in dangerous places. Some gave their money. Some bathed filthy bodies of the poor of Calcutta. Some died on the shores of an Ecuadorian river or in a Soviet labor camp. Some are called to lead corporations with others-oriented commitment even if it means more loss than profit at times. Some—then and now—bring bread and cookies to their neighbors, rock drug-wracked babies in a hospital nursery, teach English to immigrants, all believing that loving actions infiltrate—and often precede—sensitively offered gospel words.

Wherever the location, whatever the specifics, whoever the person, one simple and risky daily prayer—uttered with humility and determination—helps disperse the flame God has placed within us: “Here I am, Lord, send me.”

Stirring the Pot

Stirring the PotWords fascinate me. While reading a variation of Paul’s second letter to his protégé Timothy, I found this: stir up that inner fire that God gave you… (Other translations say fan into flame, keep alive, rekindle.) Many recipes use that word “stir” so I went to an internet cooking expert to better understand the reasons to stir:

  • To create a homogenous mixture
  • To evenly disperse temperature
  • To alter the viscosity of a liquid (thicker or thinner)

As we’ve celebrated recent family birthdays and one comes quickly for me, I’ve been thinking about the purpose of stirring up, fanning into flame, keeping alive and rekindling as that activity relates to the spiritual life of those “of a certain age.” Too often I observe that we apply Paul’s word primarily to young people as we encourage them to mature in their Christian experience, although we seem to apply to all ages his subsequent words about how God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love an self-discipline. Is there something about this “stirring” that applies to us all? And if so, what does it look like? (I’m already seeing that this subject will drift into more than one blog!)

How can we—especially those of us who have lived long and hopefully well—stir ourselves to “create a homogenous, i.e., of one kind, consistent, indistinguishable, mixture” in God’s Kingdom? (Homogenous isn’t a totally accurate word to use in this context, but it’s close enough.) Recently I’ve been uncomfortably reading a current issue of Conversations Journal which discusses the subject of race relations. Actually, this discomfort has been a companion since last summer when I listened to Dr. Christena Cleveland’s bold and challenging lectures on this topic. Not sure where, how, when or why God is nudging me…

There’s no doubt that it’s still sadly true that one hour on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. But God calls us to make both institutional and personal changes. Did I physically ache as much when I read of the Charleston killings as I did on that 9/11 Tuesday morning? Why? Why not? Whose “side” did I instinctively take when I heard news of the killing of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012? Is it easier for me to say “killing” or “murder”? When I see a young black teen with his inevitable hoodie walking toward me on the sidewalk, what are my instinctive thoughts and actions? Do I relish relationships with my Tanzanian, Mongolian, Zambian friends but draw the line at pursuing (pursuing) relationships with African-Americans? Just asking…

If I’m not willing to be stirred in this area in this life, if I’m unwilling to sit next to, eat with, share life with those of skin unlike my own, I wonder how comfortable I’ll be reigning with “members of every tribe and language and people and nation” in God’s glorious future? Yes, I fully understand that in that day I’ll have been transformed into someone more like Jesus, but maybe I should begin practicing now for the future? Just asking…

(I told you this would take more than one blog!)


Just an Apple

AppleOne of our neighbors died unexpectedly a few days ago. And in yesterday’s newspaper was the announcement of the death of another neighbor’s adult son. In the first case, I immediately went downstairs to hug the wife as she wept while relating the tragic details of finding her husband’s body that morning. Our other neighbor’s situation is different. She is extremely private and the family is somewhat estranged yet I know she also grieves the loss of her loved one.

The custom of taking food to a grieving family is one of long standing, but one must use discretion. When a young wife of our acquaintance died many years ago, the neighbors and church family inundated the husband and three small children with so much food that they were overwhelmed and much was wasted. (Always remember: bring food in disposable containers, and smaller portions are often most welcome unless crowds are expected.) In a book describing how food is associated with mourning in a variety of cultures, Lisa Rogak writes, “food goes a long way in helping survivors cope with their loss,” and she even includes a variety of culturally appropriate recipes.

What food shall I bring to the neighbors? For the widow on that first day of shock and mourning, I simply arranged fresh fruit in cupcake liners along with pre-wrapped small cheese balls and a few crackers. Just enough for nibbling when sorrow has stolen the appetite. For our neighbor across the hall I have a small loaf of homemade bread in the freezer and will leave it outside her door with a note.

As I reflected on how food has been part of the healing process in my own grief, I thought of three very unique offerings. When we returned home from hearing the announcement that our son’s cancer was terminal and death only days or weeks away, our pastor arrived to talk with Rick with one perfectly round, shiny red apple in his hand. No words—not even prayers or Bible reading—could remove our pain, but somehow that perfect apple announced, “This is not all there is.”

That same week friends who knew our budget was strained brought four T-bone steaks for outdoor grilling. That was the last full meal our son would eat and not a scrap was left on any plate.

Within days a woman came to our front door with a restaurant-sized pot of soup. This woman and her family were not especially religious, and she could not have comfortably said, “We’re praying for you.” She and her husband owned a large hotel so she had the chef prepare the soup and said to me, “Here. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that these three expressions of care remain vivid in my memory after all these years. Sometimes soup, steak and apples say from the heart what the lips can’t quite express.