Merton on Materialism, or, Merry Christmas to All

Now that you’re probably basking in the post-Christmas pile of, well, stuff, (as we are) here’s a little Merton to make you feel good about it all.  Or not.  If you don’t want to possibly feel guilty or depressed, don’t read on.

“It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness.  And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money.  We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.”

Seven Story Mountain

And this was published in 1948!  What amazes me is, we’ve somehow managed to keep it up for this long!

Christmas Cards!

Here are the first photos from the Great Christmas Card Photo Round-up.  Thanks, Veronica, Tom, and Clark!  If you want to send a cool family picture with your home-made card by Lucy (or if you have not received your card and want to remind me to hurry up!) send me an email.

Greenwells and Christmas card

And here’s the card with their lovely description:

Greenwell's Christmas card

“I think it looks like Winnie the poo walking towards the right while holding a stick with a beehive on it, and bees following him.”

This was one where Lucy got her hands on the glue with out supervision…but at least it is appreciated!  Keep the pics coming!

We are one Body

We went to a “young adult” gathering in the Baton Rouge diocese last night, and it got me thinking.  So I’m really just thinking out loud (as it were) here, most of this isn’t clearly formed yet, but it has been bothering me for a while.  The meeting itself was fine, they had a change of plan since the speaker had to cancel, so we had dinner, discussed what we would like to see from the young adult ministry (they’re really just getting started) and then had a brief prayer service.  But it was the assumptions underlying the conversation that interested me most.

One was that most “young adults” are too busy with school, family, and/or career to spend much time working on their relationship with God.  They didn’t have extra time for prayer, or service, or learning more about their faith.  They could, however, be counted on to make time for fellowship, if the opportunity were presented in a way that met their tastes.  (They weren’t making this up, apparently it is based on well-researched and published fact about this age group in the Church.)

Which made sense to me, because I feel pretty busy most of the time, as did everyone there it seemed, until I thought about it more.  They wanted things that would appeal to young adults, so fellowship came first, and (according to this research) service came last.  But everyone who showed up for this night of fellowship (and learning, and prayer!) was also involved in some sort of service to the Church.  Everyone, unless you don’t count me, since I only sort of tag along.  There were teachers, diocesan workers, and a guy who plays cello at Mass.  Now I grant that these are not a representative group of Catholic young adults, but they are the ones who are interested enough in Catholic young adult things to show up, and they were all doing service before they started worrying about building a young adult community.  So.  This assumption that what we young adults need (or want, maybe, because do we know what we really need?) is fellowship was my first concern.  Craig was scribbling things about “being rather than doing”, but he’ll have to tell you about that.

Another problem is defining this “busy” which affords us hours to look at Facebook, but only minutes a day for prayer. I think you can see the problem here, so we’ll save that for another day.  (Of course, again, convincing the phantom “young adults” who weren’t present for this discussion that this is a problem is a problem in itself.  Hmm.)

Something else gave me pause when I stopped to think about it.  We spent a lot of time dividing people into groups and discussing how we could minister to those groups.  And I do not think this is necessarily negative – I want a group of families with young children to go to the park with.  There is a special bond that can be found between people who are in the same sort of circumstances of life.  I think this is a necessary sort of community to form.

But that seems to me most of what we talked about doing, and I wonder what (or better, who) is being excluded.  And I wonder if this is partially a product of age-segregated schooling, and that we are just so used to being broken up in this way that we don’t question it.  We think we need something for middle school students, then for high school students, then for college students, then for young adults, then “adults”, then golden-agers.  And while I know perfectly well that high school kids don’t want to hang out with their middle-school-aged siblings, I wonder what we are losing by separating people into age groups.

One of the arguments for homeschooling is that it helps to break down this age segeragation a little.  Rather than spending eight hours a day with children of the same age (and usually the same socio-economic status, and often the same race), kids spend their days with their family, who cover a range of ages, and then with the people they meet on a daily basis, very few of whom will be their age, and who will hopefully cover a much wider range of diversity than your average elementary school classroom.  Why can’t a ten-year-old be friends with a seventy-year-old neighbor?  Craig did this growing up, and the experience has served him very well.

But the concern all this raised for me on the long, quiet drive home last night, was really about how we are cutting ourselves off from each other with distinctions like “young adult”.  It is hard to see the face of Christ in other people.  Even people we love dearly make us angry, refuse to do things the way we would, or just are different from us in ways that make it a challenge to love them sometimes.  And we know their good sides.

Multiply that challenge a hundred-fold for people we don’t know, don’t agree with, and don’t respect.  How can we hope to see the face of Christ in an elderly woman holding up the grocery line by arguing about the price of ground beef, if we don’t know any elderly women struggling to make ends meet?  How can she see Christ in us, despite our impatience, if no young person has every offered to help her get her groceries into the taxi that waits for her outside?

The further removed we are from a “type” of person, the harder it will be for us to love someone like that when we encounter him or her.  And how else are we to show Christ to that person, than to love him as well as we can?  If we are to live out the reality of the Mystical Body, no one can be excluded!  Hands, feed, noses, belly buttons, are all necessary to make Christ whole.  Even that ugly yellow toenail is part of Christ.  It may not be excluded.

So what happens to our worship (and I mean that broadly, ranging from personal prayer, to Mass, to serving God by serving his people) when we segregate and separate ourselves from people who aren’t like us?  What does our worship suffer when we discount the children because they are too distracting?  What do we lose when we exclude the elderly who need assistance from a stranger to make it to Mass?  When we give up on a baby before it is born because we know it will have Down Syndrome?  What does our worship lose when we exclude the young, single, poor mother because we are ashamed?  The homeless man because of his smell?  The flamboyant gay-marriage activist?  Whether we like it or not, all these people are part of Christ!  How can we love Christ if we cannot bring ourselves to love them, and how can we love them if we cannot even bring ourselves to talk with them and listen to them?

So by now, almost twenty-four hours after the meeting, I am wondering, not what role the BR young adult ministry will play in my life in the near future (ok, I am wondering that, too), but I’m really wondering what we will have to do to break down some of the divisions and allow the Body of Christ to meet itself and learn to love itself again.  I guess that was worth the three hours we spent in the car to go to this “fellowship” meeting.

Christmas Cards

So I was thinking…we didn’t take any pictures of the Christmas cards that Lucy is making before we sent them out. But it would be really cool if she got to see who they went to, so…if/when you get yours (there are still a lot to go in the mail and if you think I forgot you or don’t have your address, just email me) if you could send a picture of you and your family with the card, I could post them on the blog (if you don’t mind, of course) and that would be really, really cool. Maybe we could put up a map too, and make this a regular geography thing. Anyway, I would enjoy seeing your beautiful faces with Lucy’s beautiful artwork. : )

Black beans and sweet potatoes?

Last week was black bean and sweet potato week here at the Baker house.  I know that probably sounds strange to you, because it did to me a couple of weeks ago.  But we (and by “we” I mean Craig) had purchased many, many pounds of sweet potatoes about a month ago, and they needed to be eaten.  And black beans are cheap (as were sweet potatoes, hence our abundance).  And I generally trust Moosewood cookbooks, so I thought I’d give the “black bean and sweet potato hash” a try.  Now, I’m not one to make hashes, as a general rule, so this involved a little bravery to start with.  Here’s the recipe, so you can see for yourself what I was getting into.

1-2T olive oil
2c chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
6c peeled diced sweet potatoes (1/2″ pieces)
1 jalapeno, minced
1T coriander
1T cumin
1t salt
1c frozen corn kernels
1 1/2 c black beans (15 oz can, drained)
splash of water or OJ
dash of salt
cayenne or hot pepper sauce
Heat oil in large, deep, nonstick skillet. Add onions and saute on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften. Stir in garlic, cook for a few seconds, then add sweet potatoes. Cover the skillet and cook for 3 minutes. Add jalapeno, coriander, cumin, and salt; then use spatula to turn potatoes, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes. Add corn and black beans, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. If potatoes are still too firm, add a little water or OJ, cover, and cook on low heat until potatoes are tender. Add salt and stir in cayenne or hot pepper sauce to taste.
3. Serve topped with minced scallions or chopped cilantro, or sour cream.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Hash

Not complicated, just a bit of chopping.  Let me just say, it was amazing.  And there was nothing in it that Samantha can’t eat!  And it’s all baby-bite sized.  That is always a bonus.  And it’s loaded with nutrition.  And the leftovers were amazing – I added cheese and put it in a tortilla and went to that happy place where rich, sweet, delicious things take me.

In fact, it went so well that I decided it required a follow-up recipe.  Namely, “Caribbean sweet potato gratin”, which again pairs sweet potatoes and black beans, but adds…well, see for yourself.

Caribbean sweet potato gratin

That’s right, lime.  Lots of it.  Now, I won’t claim this is “quick and easy”, because it’s not complicated (as long as you remember to shake the coconut milk first) but it did take a while.  But then I sat back and waited for deliciousness to prepare itself for my tastebuds.  I’m pretty sure this is the most nutritious thing I’ve cooked ever.  Yes, it’s fatty, but it’s better fat than Oreos or any of the other things I could have eaten instead.  And everything in it is rainbow-colored “superfood”.  Choose your diet, all but the coconut milk should fit in.

Craig loved it.  Lucy and Samantha ate it.  I was a little overwhelmed by the lime and cornmeal, possibly because I had been grating/juicing lime for a while at that point and reeked of it.  But it was good.  Sweet potatoes and black beans.  Who knew!

And I was thinking, it’s strange really that I write so little on here about food, since food takes up so much of my time.  (Actually, maybe that is why I write about it so little!)  I really like cooking, provided no one is wrapped around my legs and screaming, and I like thinking about cooking, and talking about cooking.  And it doesn’t bother me to be “tied up” in the kitchen for an hour or two making dinner.  (The dishes are a different story, but I’m working on that.)

Anyway, if you like sweet potatoes, you owe it to yourself to try the hash at least.  If you like lime, too, try both!  Let me know what you think.

Merton on Suffering

Merton is speaking of seeing his father in a hospital bed, unable to speak and disfigured by a brain tumor.  He is 14 or 15 years old, and has no faith or relationship with God to speak of.

“What could I make of so much suffering?  There was no way for me, or for anyone else in the family, to get anything out of it.  It was a raw wound for which there was no adequate relief.  You had to take it, like an animal.  We were in the condition of most of the world, the condition of men withiout faith in the presence of war, disease, pain, starvation, suffering, plague, bombardment, death.  You just had to take it, like a dumb animal.  Try to avoid it, if you could.  But you must eventually reach the point where you can’t avoid it any more.  Take it.  Try to stupefy yourself, if you like, so that it won’t hurt so much.  But you will always have to take some of it.  And it will all devour you in the end.

Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to  your fear of being hurt.  The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all.  It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture.  This is another of the great perversions by which the devil uses our philosophies to turn our whole nature inside out, and eviscerate all our capacities for good, turning them against ourselves.”

Seven Story Mountain

Which was a little helpful thinking about my Dad suffering, and my Mom now in grief, and one of Craig’s uncles who has been sick and in pain for years now.  And relating to childbirth, as well.  But with faith and by joining suffering to Christ on the cross, it is not so dire.

The house is mine!

[evil laugh]  Craig and the girls are out, so I am free to eat ice cream before dinner, sew, and write on my blog!  Sweet freedom!

But ice cream aside, (or inside, as the case may be), I now have the problem of which of the hundred things I’ve thought about writing about in the last few weeks will actually make it on the page.  Well, enough stalling.

These days, Lucy is busy making Christmas cards.  Watch your mailbox, they are scheduled to arrive sometime before Epiphany.  In two days, I think we’ve completed about eight.  And I’m a slug about digging out addresses, so I can’t blame it all on Lucy, or on the fact that we can only work when Samantha is asleep.  She prefers scattering the stamps, glitter, etc. all around the room rather than putting them on the cards.  Maybe next year she will be more helpful.  If we attempt this again next year.

And to those of you who get the glitter cards, I apologize in advance about the mess.  You may want to display this artwork outside.

Craig has been busy saving the world.  He had his first official youth function last Wednesday (did I mention that he’s now a youth minister at a parish 1 1/2 hours away from us?  Well he is, at St. Jean, the parish he attended in high school, and where we ran confirmation retreats while we were at Tulane.  This means lots more time with the BR grandparents.)  It was a walloping success – I made 76 or so cupcakes, we ordered 6 extra-large pizzas (I didn’t know they made extra-large!) and had four youth and four adults show up.  That’s counting Craig and me.  We are still eating cupcakes.  But don’t be dismayed by the small numbers, they were a lively and interested group which is more than we usually expect from high schoolers, and way more than we should be allowed to expect, considering that there have been no non-mandatory youth events at this parish in two years.  At any rate, the eight of us are off to a good start.

Craig also had to speak at all five masses this weekend, which went well except for the exhaustion.  He’s feeling extra holy this week (between that and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), so he volunteered himself and several of the boys he teaches to help an elderly woman who was being evicted move out yesterday.  He got home at 10 pm.  Which is actually better than I was expecting.  They moved her whole house in under six hours, and the new place was about half an hour’s drive away, and they made two trips.  I think they did quite well.

And here’s the moral delimma:  if she was evicted because the house is condemned, and the house is condemned because the landlord refuses to make the repairs necessary to keep it in livable condition, shouldn’t the landlord at least have to pay for the moving truck?

Ah, well, that’s why we didn’t buy the piano the guys standing outside Guitar Center were trying to sell the other night.

But if you know of a free or nearly-free piano in our general area, let us know.  Craig has taken up violin (on my grandfather’s violin, which we brought home from Texas after Thanksgiving), and it’d be nice to be able to accompany him.

Oh yeah, and Lucy turned three last Thursday, so we had a party for both the girls in BR on Sunday.  (Which was amazing, since the annual family Christmas party had been at Craig’s parents the night before, and that involved weeks and weeks of planning, test cooking, decorating, cooking…our party involved one run to Party City and leftover cupcakes.)  But that was fun and the girls enjoyed it, and the new toys and clothes.  And I’ve added those thank you notes to the pile of Christmas cards and other things I need to get in the mail…sigh.  I guess I should get busy with some of that.

So when I say we’ve been busy, well, I guess we actually have.  If I’m forgetting something, Mom, or somebody, feel free to add it in the comments.  Hopefully, things will be settling down soon.  But I feel like I say that often.  At least we don’t spend much time being bored.