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Positive Scripture…

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So first…a couple of things. One is that if you’ve been to this blog you know a few things about me. I like bread, yes; I prefer to ride a bike rather than drive a car, yes; but also that I–like so many others–am on a spiritual journey (but we all are whether we admit it or not). And you also know that I enjoy series of things on this blog…my oldest and most popular is Things that can be Carried on a Bike, but there is also the Five Quotes series, the View from My Handlebars series, and the brief Past and Present series. Today I am beginning a new series on positive scripture passages. I’ll likely post it sporadically or whenever the spirit moves me to do so. While I do believe that there is only One Source of us all, the religion of my birth and the one which I most closely identify with is Christianity, so for this reason I’ll be posting selections from the Bible; mostly the New Testament. The Bible, for some (myself included) carries so much baggage, and there are sections that can be twisted to mean truly bad stuff. But I personally do not feel that is why it was written…the word Gospel, of course, mean Good News in English, and thus I feel it was it’s original intention….to bring good news, not law or oppression. Anyhow, I am not a fundamentalist, nor am I a literalist…I tend to read the Bible mostly as metaphor (to read more about “where I’m at” click here). The reason I mention this is that my intention is not to offend anyone by what I post in this series or the commentary (if any) I accompany with it. If I do add any thoughts they are not intended to tell you how you should feel, nor are they intended in any way to “convert” you; they are simply thoughts on how a particular passage speaks to me. You, in turn, are welcome to comment, but please no negativity. And please do not send me hate mail or try to save me; in my view no saving is needed as we are all children of the One Divine Source. With this said, here’s the first Positive Scripture.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
~Philippians 4:8 

I chose this as the first in this series because I believe this to be so powerful, and is fully aligned with the New Thought Movement. The only thing that I’ll add is that I can personally attest that in my life when I think of good things apposed to negative things, then good things happen. But even if they don’t, life is much better. It has taken me many years to do this–and I’m not enlightened yet–but it’s true, light overcomes darkness. Thinking good thoughts really does–to me–have positive results, even when things are not going as planned.

Urban Simplicity.

Harvest Moon…

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This is the view of the harvest moon from the end of my street in the middle of a medium-sized city on the eastern side of America. I find it really interesting and truly amazing that no matter what part of the globe you are reading these words sometime within a 24 hour span you too will see this very same image in real life. While autumn does not officially start for a few days the harvest moon unofficially ushers it in. A change of seasons; summer is behind us and autumn ahead of us. Time to move forward.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to harvest.

Five Quotes from Søren Kierkegaard

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  5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855

Yes, I know I said five quotes, but here’s ten. Could have gone on much longer, really inspiring…

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”  

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” 

“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” 

“Once you label me you negate me.”  

“If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.”

“If you want to be loathsome to God, just run with the herd.”

“A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.” 

“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” 

“It’s better to get lost in the passion than to lose the passion”   

More Five Quotes.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#461), a brief story, and a couple comments…

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On the bike…a gym bag containing wet clothes, and two bottles of red wine.

A brief story…I coasted up to the community center at my usual time (and before I had the wine on the bike and wet clothes in the bag), which is also the time that parents often pick up their kids from their after school program. A few minutes prior–as I was pedaling my way there, it started to snow a little, then a little harder, then really hard. It only lasted a few minutes, and we’ve had a few of these brief snow squalls today. Anyhow it was snowing pretty heavy as I was locking up the bike near the rear door of the building. And as I did this two men came out with a small group of kids (5 or 6 of them, and they couldn’t have been more than 7 years old). The kids burst through the door when they saw the snow and two of them–simultaneously–yelled, “Daddy, it’s snowing!” To which the one man replied with furrowed brow, “Ugh! Yes…it is snowing.” Another kid, without saying anything, simply put his head back and stuck out his tongue to catch the big fat flakes in his mouth. Seeing this, two other kids followed suit, smiling. Their enthusiasm was contagious…it made me smile.

A few comments…And as I walked into the community center I not only wondered when (and why) we as adults loose that sense of child’s wonder and amazement, but I also thought of this scripture passage…

 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 18:3 

I’ve mentioned on a few occasions on this blog that I don’t believe in hell; I believe that it is a man-made concept (can’t control people without fear) and that we create our own hell here on earth. And inversely, while I do believe in some sort of afterlife–a different level of consciousness–I don’t necessarily believe in heaven either, at least not the “traditional” one that one may think of…I also believe that we can create our own heaven right here and now, and on this earth and in this lifetime. But then adult life gets in the way. And maybe this is what this scripture passage is trying to say, at least to me…that we, as adults, should not lose that sense of wonder and amazement about everyday life (such as a sudden snow storm) because it truly is all wonderful and amazing. But, alas, it is–as an American adult–so difficult to remember. I do though, get glimpses of heaven-on-earth. And at the sake of sounding hokey, riding a bike is one way I can achieve this. In a word: freedom. Anyhow, this is what I was thinking about as I swam and then when I pedaled my way home.

Then, as I was pedaling and coasting home (the snow had stopped) I noticed a rather large murder of crows overhead. It was windy and they were flying from leafless tree to leafless tree doing crazy swoops and “caw cawing” loudly while they did it. It was a sort of acrobat, I thought. Rather than crashing my bike–because I was looking up at them as I coasted down a city street–I pulled over and watched them for a few minutes. It was beautiful. I had only my little pocket point-and-shoot camera with me, and I knew they were out of range, but it was so beautiful I took a few photos. Here is one of my favorite. As people passed in their cars I must have looked a bit childish on the side of the road looking up at the sky, but that’s ok with me…because I was in my own little two-minute window of heaven.


Urban Simplicity

Thoughts on the Parable of the Leaven…a story within a story

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So if you’ve been to this blog before you know that I like bread. A lot. I enjoy eating it, of course, but I also enjoy making it. I’ve often said that bread makes itself, that we merely provide the correct conditions and guide it along; I am really fascinated by its process. I’m also really interested in the history of bread and roles it has played throughout civilization and especially religion. Bread is in fact mentioned hundreds of times in the old and new testaments. But what I’d like to touch on here is the Parable of the Leaven (sometimes called the Parable of the Yeast). This is mentioned in both the Gospel of Matthew 13:33, and in the Gospel of Luke 13:20-21.

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty poundsof flour until it worked all through the dough.”

But before I go any further let me say this (as I’ve said on a few occasions)…I read the bible as almost entirely metaphor. I believe there are stories and teachings in it that can aid us even today in 2013 if we look close enough, but sometimes it is a difficult process…I know it is for me. I am not here to try to preach or tell you what this means, just simply to say what I feel (because I can guess, but I do not know what it means…I can only guess and translate it to my life).

This said, lets look at the word parable. It comes from the Greek, parabolē, which we’ve interpreted as a sort of story or analogy. But it’s original meaning is a bit different. The word parabolē is actually a phrase; two words, meaning to “throw” or “toss” (bolē) “next to” (para), so loosely this can be taken as the story or meaning is next to or within the story. Hmmm…

Now lets look at the leaven itself (this is where it gets really interesting). But first I have to say a few things about yeast. It is a naturally occurring living organism; a form of fungus, actually. It is relatively dormant until provided the correct conditions. Mainly, the correct temperature, moisture, and food (the carbs and sugars in flour). When it has these three conditions it eats. More specifically it feasts, and on a biblical scale (yes, I see the pun here). As it feasts it gives off gases (don’t we all), mainly carbon dioxide but also ethyl alcohol. As these are released they form pockets of air or gas in the dough, and as the yeast continues to eat and give off gas these pockets or bubbles grow, sort of inflating the bread. This is how it rises. But ok, enough about the science of it, back to the leavan…the biblical kind.

In biblical times yeast did not look like the spoonful above. It would have been more like the spoonful in the first picture (which today we call a sponge, starter, poolish, or preferment), or the next picture of the ball of dough (which today is sometimes called a biga or in French, pâte fermentée ). Commercial yeast–as pictured in the spoon above–was not available in biblical times (it’s not like they had a supermarket to go to), in fact it was only invented in the last 120 years or so and was likely not readily available for decades after.
Now here’s the fun stuff. The English word leaven comes from the French levain. The French phrase for sourdough is pain au levain (bread with [natural] leaven). This is also where we get the word for the region of the Eastern Mediterranean (where of course, most of the biblical stories originated), the Levant, which means “rising” in French and is used thus because the sun rises in the east. But the word goes back further; it comes from the Latin word levāmen, which in addition to “raise,” it can also mean , relief, alleviation, consolation, or solace. Knowing this–and the meaning of the word parable–offers an entirely different view of this particular parable for me. Lets read it again.
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty poundsof flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Some translations say that the woman mixed a “small amount” of yeast (or leaven) into a large amount of dough. And this is what is often cited when this parable is discussed. But look at the parable again, only this time where it mentions yeast (leaven) replace it with whichever of the original meanings you like…relief, alleviation, consolation, or solace. And she worked it all through the dough.
Wow.
While you’re thinking about that, I’m going to keep typing. I wanted to try this for myself. While I do consider bread making a form of solace for me I wasn’t sure how to mix solace into the dough, so I used yeast instead. And as the parable insinuated, I used a small amount  and let it work (itself) throughout the dough. And in this case, the word yeast could be replaced with faith, I suppose. A small amount of faith, solace, relief, etc can go a long way, and in fact, can work their way through us, sort of creating a heaven-on-earth (ok, now I’m stretching it…but I got you to think).
Anyhow, I did use a really small amount of yeast to make the loaf of bread pictured…I used 1/24th of my usual amount (which was 1/8th teaspoon opposed to 3 teaspoons). It rose, as I knew it would, it just took longer. I mixed it before bed and let it rise over night. After waking and preheating the oven, it probably fermented and rose for about 10 hours…sort of like a sourdough (but not really). Anyhow, there it is below, before risen and after.
I’m going stop now because this is starting to make my head hurt a little. But I can’t halt without one more observation. I really love how Jesus’ parables are spoken in such basic terms and using analogies of such common things of his day. But there is always more within (within us and within the parable). What if the women in the story was our creator and we were the dough…Mother Universe kneading a small amount of consolation, relief, and solace into us and she/he (our genderless Source) wants it to grow and raise (leaven) us up to be full of compassion for one another. What it it’s already within us and we just need to acknowledge it…to allow it to foster (ferment) and grow (rise). Just a thought. Now the difficult part is to let it happen. And that may be the story (each of our own personal stories) thrown next to the story or the story within. At least it’s something to think about.
100% Whole Wheat Bread
Makes 2 loaves
6 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
3 cups water, divided
4 teaspoons instant yeast, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
Separate the ingredients in two bowls using this ratio: In one bowl combine 4 cups of flour, the vital wheat gluten, and 2 cups of water. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. In a second bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups flour and 1 cup water and 2 teaspoons of yeast. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Allow the bowls to rest for at least an hour. After the ingredients have rested and have begun to ferment, combine the contents of both bowls to an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Also add the remaining ingredients: the salt, olive oil, honey, and remaining two teaspoons yeast. Knead the dough on medium speed for about 8 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for one hour. Transfer the dough to a work surface, cut it into two pieces, gently shape it into loaves, and place them either on a baking sheet or in loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 425F/218C. If making free-form loaves, slash them with a razor just before they go into the oven. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on. As the bread bakes roate the loaves in the oven once or twice to ensure even baking. Remove the bread from their pans and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#476)

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A canvas bag containing–among other things–a cell phone, an extra camera, and a small Bible; two boxes of vital wheat gluten, four small picture frames, and four new stickers (which now reside on the bike pictured).

Urban Simplicity.

Seven Photos of Père Lachaise Cemetery

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This is a third installment of photos from my somewhat recent trip to Paris (click here or here to see others). These photos were taken at Père Lachaise Cemetery. And while it may seem morbid to some to go on vacation across an ocean and on a different continent and visit a cemetery full of people you never met, it’s really not…it’s actually a beautiful place and a moving experience. This was my third time at this cemetery. Yes, of course Jim Morrison is buried here, but there are many other notable graves worth seeing; maps are sold at the gate and most tour books list them as well. One of the more moving tombs was that of Oscar Wilde. That’s the front of it pictured below. You can see the lipstick kiss someone left on his monument; the sides of it are virtually covered in lipstick kisses and notes scrawled in lipstick. You’ll see many tourists here, and it seems weird to me, in a way…that there are tourists for graves (and I was one of them). It’s a large cemetery and my son and I walked for an hour or two, sometimes in silence. And in those moments of silence, as I looked across the tombs and graves, the following Bible verse came to mind.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

To take an online virtual tour of the cemetery, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

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