Monday, April 2, 2012

fasting from my excess vs. fasting from my need

This is not the kind of fast I would normally do.

That's what I told my husband last night, at the end of day 1 of the Hungry for Change fast we are doing with our church. It took me a while to figure out what I meant by that, but what it comes down to is this: I'm willing to fast from my excess, but not from my need.

In terms of money, it's nothing new to talk about giving sacrificially (from our need) vs. giving from our excess. Jesus himself laid the groundwork for this with the story of the poor woman who gives her two coins at the temple (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4):

"Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

To be honest, I am not a good money-giver. I do not give money sacrificially to the Church (or anywhere else, separately or combined). I don't even give that famed 10% figure. I do give a greater fraction than I did 2 years ago, which was more than I was giving 2 years before that. I am not worried yet about giving sacrificially because I'm still working on giving from my excess, and I can tell myself I am consistently improving.

Fasting is different. I consider myself a pretty hard-core Lenten faster/"abstainer". While I've had some cop-out years, I've also given up some pretty challenging things for Lent. Meat. Dessert. Once I gave up everything with discernible sugar added -- desserts, sugared drinks, baked beans, almost anything anyone ever puts out at a "continental breakfast"...

However, as I think back on it, I have never fasted from my need. I have always fasted from my excess.

So. This will be good for me. I won't just be trying to teach myself some good habit, some way that I should always be living but seems more manageable if I only have to do it for 40 days. It won't just be an abstention. It'll be my first real sacrificial fast. I'm excited to see where it takes me spiritually.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Traditional Lentil Pancakes (Addai)

My husband decided to "practice" for the Hungry for Change fast we are doing with our church by modifying the recipe below to use regular beans instead of lentils. (The fast is: 1 lb rice, 1lb beans, and some oatmeal, per person, for 5 days.)

Modifications for the fast:
  • replace all lentils with beans
  • 2nd soak step = ~8 hours instead of 3 (ie all day or overnight)
They were a little less crispy but still delicious.

This recipe comes from 1,000 Indian Recipes, by Neelam Batra. (Side note: it's also vegan and gluten-free.) If you don't have asafoetida, throw in some cumin or something.

Traditional Lentil Pancakes (Addai)
Makes 12-16 pancakes

  • 2/3 cup long grain rice
  • 3 tbsp each: dried white urad beans (ural dal), dried yellow mung beans (mung dal), dried yellow split peas (channa dal), dried split pigeon peas (toor dal) (Note: any substitution of other lentils is ok, just make it a total of ~2/3 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cup water, plus more for soaking dals
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 fresh green chile peppers (e.g. serrano), stemmed
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp ground asafoetida
  • 3-4 tbsp peanut oil
  1. Wash rice and dals in 3-4 changes of water. Then place together in a bowl and soak overnight in water to cover by about 2 inches.
  2. Drain and transfer to a blender (or food processor), add remaining ingredients except oil, and blend until smooth, adding up to 1 3/4 cups water, as needed, to make a thick and smooth batter. Whip with a fork a few seconds to make the batter fluffy. Set aside for 3-4 hours. If the batter is too thick, add more water, as needed, to make a semi-thick batter of pouring consistency.
  3. Heat a cast-iron tava or a nonstick griddle or skillet over medium-high heat until a sprinkling of water sizzles immediately. Wipe the tava and put about 1 tsp oil in the center. Then, using a metal soup ladle, pour about 1/2 cup batter onto the hot tava and spread it evenly into a 5- to 6-inch circle by lightly pushing the batter outward in round, circular motions with the back of the ladle.
  4. As the pancake sets and turns lightly golden on the bottom (which happens very quickly), drizzle 1/2 to 1 tsp oil around the edges and a few drops on top and cook until the bottom turns a rich golden hue, about 1 min. Turn over once and cook until the other side takes on a similar color, about 1 min. Transfer to a serving platter, repeat with the remaining batter, and serve hot.
Serve with yogurt and brown sugar, ghee/butter and mulagai podi, and/or tomato or coconut chutney.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

taking care of the earth

last week i was inundated with "take care of the earth" messages. my church had a discussion about global warming; i saw food, inc. in the theater; and i finally watched who killed the electric car on video.

there's a lot that can be said about these topics, theological and not, about what christians should do/think. but i think everyone (myself included) is making it more complicated than it needs to be.

christians are not supposed to be selfish. sometimes they are, but i think they all know that they shouldn't be, and most of them are trying not to be. if there was a small amount of food on the table, you would take it all and leave the other people with nothing, or less than what you took -- so why would you use up all the oil and not leave any for our children's children? why would you put fertilizer in the ground that ruins the soil so that you can have an easier time farming but the next farmer has to content with dried-out, poisoned soil?

just because you don't see the victim of your selfishness face to face, doesn't mean it's not selfish. christians should try to take good care of the earth -- it's part of being unselfish.

God's gender

Pastor: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
Congregation: It is right to give him (God) thanks and praise.
this little substitution ("God" instead of "him") is pretty much the only way i modify the church service i attend every week.

it's not that i'm some kind of stark raving feminist (no offense to them, some of them are my closest friends). it's just that i'm trying to change the way i think of God.

i don't believe God is male. for that matter, i don't believe God is female. after all, God is transcendent, not limited/divided/categorizable in the way we humans are. i'd say God is both male and female, or neither.

but what i believe about God doesn't match up to how i think of God. i think of him as male. see? i just said him without even thinking about it. i picture him talking with a dad-like voice. most of the metaphors i have for God are male: king, (male) shepherd, carpenter... i don't like it. i don't believe it. it's just a reflex, and i don't want that reflex.

i'm not saying we should rewrite the Bible with all gender-neutral pronouns (not like we even have those in english). i don't even necessarily think my church should make this substitution in this line of the liturgy. but i do think that the more i call God "him", the more i slant my image of him toward "him", whereas saying that line a little differently than i've said it for so many years helps remind me not to do that.

Monday, May 4, 2009

the key to common ground

Last Friday I attended my school’s “Evening of Action”, where seniors showcased their social justice projects from civics class. Each group has a topic that they were studying – an injustice – and they made a web site and poster to educate people about this injustice and to offer solutions (or at least the beginnings of solutions).

It was a fantastic event. The topics ran the gamut, covering homelessness, sex trafficking, media portrayals of women / female body image, and pollution in the bay, among other things. The students had really done their research, and I was impressed by how passionately many of them spoke about their topics, some of which were topics they had not been interested in before doing the projects. (Please check some of these out – links are below – I bet you’ll learn something you didn’t know!)

But there was one question that the students (pretty uniformly) had a hard time addressing: Where is the other side coming from? Why doesn’t everyone just agree with you and implement your solution?

Understanding “the other side’s” perspective is something that I continue to work on – I’m certainly no expert – and I don’t even know when or how I became convinced that such a thing was important. But I do think that inability to see the perspective of people we disagree with is the biggest thing that keeps us from getting things done in the U.S. – from finding the common ground, so to speak.

This isn’t just an issue for urban schools – I’ve been in rooms full of extraordinarily well-educated people who can’t seem to get past “Republicans are closed-minded, look how illogical/inflexible they are about [insert issue here], that’s why we can’t reach a common ground with they about [insert different issue here].” (I’m not Republican, by the way – just annoyed by the attitude of some fellow non-Republicans.)

Anyway, I don’t know how people can learn to see the perspectives of people with whom they ardently disagree, but I do think that’s the key to being able to find a common ground on all kinds of issues.

These are some of the students’ projects (I will update later when I get the rest of the URLS). As you read them, please keep in mind that they were produced by high school students – there’s a lot of great stuff in there, but don’t try to judge it by professional standards!

Injustice in Tibet
The War on Drugs
The Death Penalty
Foster Care
Net Neutrality
Fish Contamination
Immigrant Detention Centers <-- My favorite since it was a topic I really didn't know anything about Eating Disorders
The Three Strikes Law
Gang Injustice
Gang Injunctions

laws for preventing abortions

I've been glancing at some bills currently in Congress that would help reduce the number of abortions in America:

S. 270: Pregnant Women Support Act (“A bill to provide for programs that reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.”)

S. 21: Prevention First Act (“A bill to reduce unintended pregnancy, reduce abortions, and improve access to women's health care.”)

Both of these bills have been proposed in several previous sessions of Congress and died in committee.

Here’s my crude summary of the differences:

S. 270’s programs that “reduce the need for abortion” are those that make having an unplanned baby less daunting. These include support for young mothers still in school; a requirement that insurance companies not treat pregnancy as a “preexisting condition” (so that pregnant women w/no insurance can go and sign up for insurance to help with the medical costs); increasing food stamps / WIC, etc. These programs are mostly directed toward convincing women who find themselves pregnant not to have an abortion.

S. 21 focuses on preventing unintended pregnancies from happening in the first place, emphasizing contraception availability and education. Programs include requiring hospitals to make emergency contraception available; increasing “family planning services” covered by Medicaid, and making grants available to states from comprehensive sex ed (as opposed to abstinence-only sex ed).

My take on it:

Both of these bills would help reduce abortions. S. 21 would help reduce the number of women who have unintended pregnancies*, and S. 270 would help reduce the number of those women finding themselves pregnant who choose to have an abortion**. They would complement each other nicely.

So why have both these bills have stalled in committee over and over?

Because each “side” thinks their solution is the most important one and won’t vote for “the other side’s” bill, since it doesn’t include their solution. (I mean, obviously it’s a little more complicated than that, but given that it’s so relevant that we talk about every election, it seems like Congress should be able to produce something…)

So… why don’t they roll all these programs into one big bill?

I’m no lawyer. I have no idea how lawmaking works. But I think that if lawmakers decided to unite on some middle ground – to practice some of that bipartisanship that they’re always talking about – they could probably get a bill passed that involves the best of both worlds, preventing abortion at 2 different levels.

Anyway, that’s what I’m praying for.


* As someone raised in California public schools, I’m sure my opinion is pretty biased, but I think it’s clear that abstinence-only sex ed does not work. I also think (and my current students confirm) that our comprehensive sex ed still had a pretty strong “sex is serious, so abstinence is important” message. Plus, I think information about contraceptives is important even for those who choose to abstain until marriage, since maybe they don’t want to have a baby first thing into their marriage. I do have an issue with emergency contraception, but I’m pretty sure that’s outweighed by the rest of the bill (it’s not like we can even begin to talk about the morality of emergency contraception if we don’t even teach girls what contraception is!).

** My experience in working in urban high schools is that the unexpectedly pregnant girls who decide to carry their pregnancies to term are often girls with strong support nets – family who can help care for the baby, women who were teen mothers themselves who don’t judge these girls – and in explaining their decision to keep the baby, they refer to government programs they’ve learned about that are going to help them out.

Further reading:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

i wish...

One thing I love about Lent (and Advent) is the opportunity to have Lenten rituals, daily and weekly. I especially like rituals that you don’t to by yourself.

So I’m super-excited about the daily Lenten ritual that my boyfriend and I came up with. We put a good deal of thought into it and built in all our favorite things about worship and prayer, and what we can up with is a nice mix of scripted prayers, reflection, songs, scripture, and discussion.

The challenge is carving out the time for this ritual. We’re both super-busy, and this ritual takes up maybe 45 min – we can’t just “squeeze it in” when it’s almost bedtime!

So on Tuesday – Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent – when we had a bunch of friends over to my place and they stayed ’til about 11, I couldn’t help thinking that during Lent, when we invite people over to one of our apartments for dinner, we’ll have to kick them out early.

And then I had this CRAZY thought: Wouldn’t it be great if instead of sending them home, we could invite them to join us for our daily ritual?

The thing is, it’s totally crazy. You can’t get your non-Christian friends to join you for praying and singing. They would be so uncomfortable! (It would be a good way to get them out of the apartment quickly, though.)

But if we all moved past that, it would be so great. I would love to be able to share my Lenten traditions with my friends who aren’t Christian – these spiritual practices are, after all, the biggest thing going on in my life right now, and I totally wish I could discuss my take on scripture with them. So it makes me sad that instead of getting to share them, I instead have to break up the community by sending them home early.

Well... someday, I hope.