Kingdom-made: Community, Part Three or “How are you doing today?”

Perhaps it is a southern thing, or maybe just an American church thing, but every church I’ve ever been to has a team of “greeters” – people at the church on Sunday mornings with the specific task of saying “hi” to everyone who walks in. Several churches we have gone to have the specific goal of having each person who comes in be greeted three times before they get to their seat.

I’m not going to name names, but Brad and I used to go to a church where people would greet you by asking “How are you?” By the time I said “Good, and you?” they had already turned to greet someone else. So my response turned into “Good, and….oh.” It was as if they didn’t realize they had just asked me a question. In this same church, greeters were always men and only ever shook hands with the men. I don’t know how many times I stuck out my hand to a smiling gentleman only to have him look straight through me as if I weren’t there and then shake Brad’s hand with gusto and move on to the next person. Suffice it to say, we don’t go to that church anymore.

Okay, I’ve got my criticisms out of my system…maybe, we’ll see. What I really want to talk about has to do with this verse:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:16

I think this verse has a lot to do with having real conversations with people. I kind of hesitate to use that word – real – because I heard it a lot in college, as in “We need to be real with people.” Maybe it’s still a useful word, even if slightly overused.

So what does all this have to do with living in community? It would seem that God calls us to share openly with those in our communities both the good and the bad things we are going through. When someone asks us “How are you doing today?” it should be an invitation to a conversation rather than a simple greeting. We need to be open to rejoicing and mourning when other people in our community are in the midst of one or the other. In the past and in some cultures still today, people built deep relationships with the people who lived near them. They watched each other’s kids. They built each other’s houses. They shared tools. They farmed together. They cooked together. They absolutely depended upon each other for survival, and so they were intimately intertwined in each other’s lives.

Personally, I’ve never lived in a community like that, but somehow I miss it. I have this desire deep inside to share life with other people, to talk about things that matter, to smile when I’m happy and cry when I’m sad. I feel like it is a need ingrained in me to be able to drop by a friend’s house without having to make an appoitment a week ahead of time and to have people who feel like they can do that with me. From what I’ve seen and heard from other people, that desire doesn’t just exist in me. I think that these kind of close relationships are a basic human need.

Friends who have been to the middle east describe a wonderful spirit of hospitality. Everyone is invited in for tea. Greetings are just the beginnings of conversations that can last for hours. There is no watching the clock or rushing to the next appointment. You rejoice together. You mourn together.

Obviously the community that Jesus and the New Testament authors described isn’t an easy thing. It isn’t easy to mourn with someone. It isn’t easy to resist the busyness of the world in order to make room for someone who needs a real friend right now. It isn’t easy to let other people know about your worry and pain.

To have community, however, we need to know one another intimately. We need to be able to have those wonderful, joyful conversations and those difficult, painful conversations. I don’t think that God made us to live life alone. We truly, deeply, really need one another.

Social Frays: Human Trafficking

I recently listened to a message by Steve Chalke, director of Stop the Traffik, at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids. This was one of those life-changing sermons that I’m not sure I will ever get out of my system. The essence of Chalke’s message was 1) to call attention to the vast number of people being sold as slaves today – Chalke says the estimate is 5 jumbo jets full of people being sold every day, and 2) to remind Christians that all people, everywhere, are made in God’s image and loved by Him. Therefore, it is our responsibility as human beings, but especially as Jesus-followers, to cry out “Stop, in the name of Jesus, STOP!

One estimate says that there are over 27 million people living in slavery today. Wikipedia states that the global slave trade is “estimated to be a $5 to $9 billion-a-year industry.” Children in Africa are sold to make chocolate. Children in Pakistan and India are sold to make rugs. Young women are sold in Thailand and the Philippines as sex slaves. People from all over the world are sold to Canada, the U.S., and Britain as sex or labor slaves. No country escapes from this problem. Often poor families are promised that their children will get a good education or job only to sell the child for as little as $10 and never hear from him or her again. More often than not, these children are forced into long hours of physical work or prostitution.

It’s really hard for me to believe that slavery still exists in our modern-world, and it is especially hard to believe that there are an estimated 14,500 people trafficked as slaves into the United States every year. Each of these 14,500 people (which is by the way, the number of people who live in the small town I currently call home), has a name, a face, a family, and a story. And each of them is loved by God. Wouldn’t it be great if it was the Christians who stood up and said that this has to end? What kind of a story would that tell the world?

More Resources

If you do nothing else, please download and listen to the message entitled Stop the Traffik by Steve Chalke.

HumanTrafficking.org: A website with lots of country-specific information about human trafficking. Lots and lots of resources. There is also a hotline number for people in the U.S. to call if they suspect human trafficking.

FreeTheSlaves.net: Another great website with lots of information and ways to get involved. This organization actually supports liberators in the various countries who physically free slaves. Awesome!

Stop the Traffik: A coalition of grassroots organizations aimed at ending global slavery. This website has a lot of information of slaves used to make chocolate but their main efforts are to raise money for their various member organizations. If you’re looking for a place to give money to stop the slave trade, give it here.

Not for Sale: A book by David Batstone. The subtitle is “The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It.”

Human Trafficking: A compilation of several short documentaries on human trafficking. These videos will give you the key issues involved in slavery.

Homemade: Pesto

Saturday night, Brad offered to make dinner, and I’m never one to turn down that offer! He’s actually a much better cook than I am because he’s more meticulous and pays more attention. I already had the meal planned out, so that was a bonus.

I had been reading about homemade pesto from lots of online friends, and since I got a basil plant at the farmers market a few weeks ago I wanted to try it out. Though my basil plant is flourishing the most out of all my plants, I still didn’t have enough fresh basil leaves. I pulled the largest leaves off the plant but wanted to leave the little ones and let them grow. My goodness! Fresh basil smells and tastes delicious! I added a bit of dried basil leaves.

The basil goes in the food processor – I guess I am using that a lot more than I used to – along with olive oil, pine nuts (or walnuts, but I prefer pine nuts), garlic, Parmesan cheese (please, not from the green can), and salt and pepper. Then…whir.

And…ta da! Pesto goodness. So much better than the jarred stuff. Fresh and light and tasting of summer. Pour the pesto on any kind of pasta and enjoy. You can also spread a little bit of pesto some bread, add cheese and make the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

Basil is actually my favorite herb because it is so good on everything, from pasta to sandwiches to breads…I’m very glad that I can grow my own and enjoy it all summer long. I’m hoping to make a lot of this pesto-y good stuff and can it for the winter months when I’m craving summer flavors. That’s the goal any way. I actually have a list of things that I want to stock up for winter, and I’m hoping with the move and everything that I will find time to get the canner out.

Pesto (recipe from allrecipes.com)

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, blend together basil leaves, nuts, garlic, and cheese. Pour in oil slowly while still mixing. Stir in salt and pepper

Handmade: The Stash

In knitopia, there is this well-known phenomenon called “The Stash.” Most common usages of this title include:

  • The Stash is overflowing all over my bedroom floor.
  • I added some 100% merino to The Stash today.
  • It’s my New Years’ Resolution to burn up The Stash.

On Ravelry (I heart Ravelry), there are groups dedicated soley to The Stash: Stash Knit Down 2008, Stash Busters, S.A.B.L.E. – Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy, and so on. So I had never heard of this word before a few months ago when I began creating a stash of my own. Simply put, The Stash is a knitter’s stock of yarn. I only started knitting in January and before I knew it I had skeins of yarn stuffed in every available bin and basket.

When the monster, er, I mean, the cat discovered her own personal talent for taking balls of yarn out of the forementioned baskets, I knew I had to find another way. Here’s my solution to organizing my Stash:

The rule is that I can only acquire the yarn that will fit in these bins. If I have too much yarn, I will have to use it up before I buy more. I have read “horror stories” – that is horror stories only if you have an intense type-A personality like I do – of knitters with bins and bins and bins and bins full of yarn. For those people, that’s probably a great thing, and I do know the joy of finding the perfect yarn and wanting to buy it without a project or a plan for it. But I need to keep a rein on my stash so that I know what yarn I have and don’t buy duplicates, so that I don’t take up too much space in our new little apartment in Chi-town, so that I don’t explode with disorganization (we type-A’s tend to do that).

So I have four bins: one for sweaters that I’m going to unravel for yarn, one for wool and alternative yarns (soy, bamboo, silk), one for cotton and acrylic yarns, and one for my knitting needles, tools, and works in progress. I cut out letters from magazines in order to label each of the bins.

And since the bins aren’t full yet, I was able to add to my stash the past couple of weeks. I have been planning for Christmas knitting. Yes, I know…ALREADY! But you must remember that since we haven’t moved yet (and therefore I haven’t been able to find a job) my primary responsibilities all day are cleaning (as little as possible), preparing meals, and surfing teh Intarweb for cool stores/restaurants/farmers markets to go to in Chicago. Oh yeah. And knitting. And not sewing.

So, anyway. Here’s some shots of the yarn I have gotten recently for the making of Christmas gifts.

There’s some gorgeous hand-dyed Blueface Leicester Wool (please notice that it already has cat hair in it) that I can’t wait to start working with – and I have a wonderful project in store for that. I also have two skeins of Cascade 220 Peruvian Highland Wool and lots and lots of Rowan 4-ply merino wool. It almost makes me giddy to think of the projects I have planned. Now, hopefully I will complete them all by December. It is only June after all – I think I can make it.

Homemade: Knowing Your Limits

I’ve been borrowing my mom’s sewing machine since Brad and I were married four years ago. I think that deep down in my heart I had this plan of sewing my own cute blouses (and of course little baby dresses, pants, etc. when we have bambinos). But today I had to admit that the dream is dead. Here’s the honest truth.

I CANNOT SEW.

That’s it. There’s nothing more to say. I hate everything about sewing. I hate cutting fabric. I hate pinning fabric together. I hate winding bobbins. I hate threading needles. I hate running the sewing machine. There’s nothing about the sewing process that I even remotely enjoy. And that would be okay…except, that I also cannot sew. At all.

This is difficult for me to admit because I wanted to make my own clothes and be self-sufficient in that way. Perhaps if I took some classes or really worked on it I could eventually learn to sew, but at this point I really just want to count my losses (which aren’t many since I only borrowed a sewing machine and didn’t buy one).

It’s certainly a good thing to become more self-sufficient and to learn to make things that we could just run out and buy at Target. For one, it teaches us that someone has to make the item we are buying and that our possessions were made by the time and energy of human beings, made in God’s image. At the same time, I think it’s important to realize where our limits are. It would probably take me weeks and weeks of frustrating, time-consuming work to sew a blouse. If I am so angry at my sewing machine that I want to throw it out the window, it is probably difficult for me to be honoring to God, let alone making sure that I am saying kind words to my husband. The pay off just isn’t worth it.

I never really understood it when people were amazed at my knitting because knitting comes naturally to me. Now I understand. Sewing comes naturally to other people – and wow, I wish that were me but I guess I will just have to be content with the skills I have and thankful that there are other people who have sewing skills. Perhaps a good option would be to trade my knitting skills for someone’s sewing skills. Another option would be to buy sewn goods from the wonderful people on etsy. In fact, I just bought some incredible knitting needle cases from a seamstress on etsy, and I’m so glad I did. If I had tried to make them myself I think the process would have ended in some colorful language and a bashed-in sewing machine.

So, sure, I still think we can honor God, ourselves, and others by making things with our own hands, but we don’t have to make everything. Try new things. See what you’re good at. If you’re not so good at something, try it again another time. If you’re still not good at it, move on. See if there is some way you can support someone who is good at that skill.

So will our kiddos have home-sewn clothes. No. But they will have hand-knit clothes. And maybe we will receive clothes from others who can sew. I think that’s the way community works: everyone contributes what they have for the good of everyone else.

Homemade: Guacamole

Avocados are one non-local food that I find myself craving every once in awhile: a few times to use for sandwiches or omelets but usually to make my famous guacamole. I’m pretty sure that my recipe is based on something I found on All Recipes but I can’t seem to find the original right now. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I changed it up a bit anyway.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Start with the avocados. You’ll want to use avocados that have a black skin, and when you lightly squeeze them, they should feel a little bit soft. A green skin means that the avocado is not ripe yet, and if the avocado is very soft, the green meat inside will be turning black and not taste as fresh. If you aren’t going to be using the avocados the day or day after you buy them, get ones with green skin and wait for them to ripen.

Cut the avocado the long way around. Hopefully you can see what I mean from the picture.

Then you will need to remove the pit. This little trick I picked up from Alton Brown. Good Eats = best. cooking. show. ever.

Anyway. First you want to hold the avocado half with the skin down in the palm of your hand. Then carefully but firmly swing your knife blade into the center of the avocado pit. The knife should stick in the pit.

Carefully twist the knife from side to side to remove the pit. Now you have a pit stuck to your knife. DON’T grab the pit with your palm facing the blade! Instead put your hand over the top of the knife and use your fingers to push the pit off the knife, like so:

Now you will need your handy dandy food processor. A good friend gave us this as a wedding shower gift. I hadn’t even thought to add it to my registry. And honestly I only use it to make guacamole and maybe once or twice for other things throughout the year. But it’s worth it for the guacamole alone!

So, into the food processor goes the scooped-out meat from two avocados (that’s four avocado halves), mayonnaise, minced garlic, onion powder, lime juice, salsa, and lots and lots of cilantro. The cilantro is what makes it so don’t hold back.

Whir it all together – is whir even really a word? Well, I’m going to use it. Go ahead and whir like crazy. Alton Brown recommends that you leave it a bit chunky, but I like my guacamole nice and smooth.

Spoon that beautiful goodness into a dish and enjoy with chips. Here’s another guacamole caveat. I heard that if you place a pit in the guacamole it keeps it from browning sooner, but the dear husband says that it’s just “urban legend” or whatever. I still think it works, and it makes the dish looks pretty so I do it.

The BEST Guacamole

  • 2 avocados
  • 3 T. mayonnaise
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 t. onion powder
  • 1 t. lime juice (or lemon if you really must)
  • 2 T. salsa
  • 2-3 T. of cilantro (or more if you’re awesome! I don’t really think you can put in too much)

Mix together ingredients in a food processor. Store in the fridge.

Currently…

Watching

TED Talks. My husband has been watching these for months and I was apparently not listening very well when he was telling me about them. I only started watching them a week or so ago, and I’m absolutely riveted! Basically, TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a gathering of thousands of the world’s smartest people. The talks are 15 minutes long, and most of them are absolutely fascinating. Some of my favorites so far:

Listening to

Pandora. Very cool radio website. Type in your favorite band or artist and Pandora will find other similar artists. You can approve or reject songs and teach your station what you like. Nice.

Wearing

Well, I’m actually not wearing this yet but will be eventually will be. The goal of Fifty Thousand Shirts is to raise $1,000,000 in relief aid to help those affected by the earthquake that occurred in China on May 12th. Each person who buys a shirt gets their name added to the online wall. Plus, you get a cool shirt to wear. I love buying t-shirts with a purpose. Get yours.

Riding

My awesome new Specialized Crossroads bike that we bought used from a friend. I finally realized that my cheapo Wal-Mart bike is just not going to cut it. Ironically, Brad also has a Specialized Crossroads bike (which is gold, not blue like mine). Awww…won’t we look so cute biking together? It will be great for biking in Chicago.

Speaking of which…

Doing for the next four weeks

Packing! Selling furniture! Setting up the lease on an apartment…in Chicago! That’s right, folks. It’s finally happened. We got an offer on our house yesterday and accepted the offer this morning. Just a few details to work out, a home inspection, and we will be moving out on July 10th!

I’m very, very, very excited (I knew all I had to do was start the vegetable garden and it would happen)! But I’m also a little nervous about taking care of all the details as well as saying good-bye to all our great friends and moving into such an entirely different environment than the one we’re living in now. I know that God is leading us, and I’m just trusting that He’ll take care of all the details.