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The passage of time, on being present, and a quote or two…

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Okay. So first off, it is not very often that I post pictures of myself (almost never) but here you have it. This is a photo of my son and I as we (his mom and I) were dropping him off at his first year of college (the color-coordinated shirts were purely coincidence). And as I look at this photo I ask myself a few things. One is, when did my son get so tall and I begin to shrink? And another is, how can this be possible? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was sending him off to kindergarten? I have often thought/contemplated the passage of time but this is a milestone event. I have also often pondered what time is. Is it even real?

“Time is an illusion.”
~Albert Einstein

In the scheme of things, we as humans have been around for such a short period of time. A good if not simplistic example of this is in the graphic below which illustrates the history of time on earth in a 24-hour capsule. Modern humans (us) don’t appear until a few seconds (yes seconds!) before the 24-hour mark, meaning we have just gotten here. Then why all the stress and worry I also wonder. There have been so many before us with the same problems and worries and in the end they (the worries) don’t matter at all. The key, I think, is to be aware…to be in the present moment; to be awake. Because all that there is, I also believe, is the present moment. The past is history and the future has not happened yet, and the present moment (no matter how difficult or boring it may seem) is really all there is. And when one lives in the present moment–being aware of all of its beauty and sometimes suffering–they are, in a way, fully alive…awake. There are plenty of versions of the following story floating around regarding when the Buddha was asked who or what he was. You may have heard this before; this version I found here).

When the Buddha started to wander around India shortly after his enlightenment, he encountered several men who recognized him to be a very extraordinary being. They asked him: “Are you a god?” “No,” he replied. “Are you a reincarnation of god?” “No,” he replied.”Are you a wizard, then?” “No.” “Well, are you a man?” “No.” “So what are you?” They asked, being very perplexed.  Buddha simply replied: “I am awake.”

For me personally it is very difficult to be present all of the time. I suspect this to be true for most. But when I am (with conscious effort) I find that things can be pretty incredible, no matter how mundane a task…such as being consciously aware of my fingers tapping a keyboard as I am doing now. Time can fall away and become, in a way, illusionary. Even if for a moment. And another thing that I find happens when being present is awe. And this brings me to my next quote.

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

What I really believe is meant by this is that we as adults–while not shunning our adult responsibilities–need to lighten up and not worry so much…to be in awe of life in the same way a child is; to look at things anew and with interest. To remember what really matters. And when I am present this sometimes happen. I become aware of how incredible life is, even its worst parts. But still, this takes great effort (I am not enlightened yet…not even close).

So now, as I look at the above photo, I am in awe of the fact that my son has grown into such a handsome, kind, and intelligent young man. And I am in awe of the fact that I have made it as far as I have in this life. Time marches on (illusionary or not) but so do the good things (here, now, and in the future). And that’s what I’m looking at.

 Image found here.

 Urban Simplicity.

Three Quotes and a Short Video from John Fugelsang (for Easter)

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“The only way you can cling to both a Bible and a gun is by ignoring Jesus.”

“Obama is not a brown-skinned, anti-war, socialist who gives away free health care. You’re thinking of Jesus.”

“Only in America can you be Pro-Death Penalty, Pro-War, Pro-Unmanned Drone Bombs, Pro-Nuclear Weapons, Pro-Guns, Pro-Torture, Pro-Land Mines, AND still call yourself Pro-Life.”

Here’s another contemporary quote, but this one is from the actor, John Cusack. When asked who his heros are, he responded…

“Let’s go with Jesus. Not the gay-hating, war-making political tool of the right, but the outcast, subversive, supreme adept who preferred the freaks and lepers and despised and doomed to the rich and powerful.” 

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.

Five Quotes from Jesus of Nazareth

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This is another in the Five Quotes series on this blog, but I first have two preface the quotes with a couple comments. Firstly, I just wanted to say that I found the above photo at St. Francis Place. I chose the photo because I do believe that Jesus meditated (there are plenty of resources for this but the post at St. Francis Place is a  good one). I also believe that Jesus studied in India with the spiritual masters of his time; many refer to this as the Lost Years, or more specifically, the years which the Bible is silent on the life of Jesus. It is also likely that December 25 is not the actual birth date of Jesus, but as Christians this is the day we celebrate it. At any rate, whether you are a Christian or not, you have to admit that if more of us (myself included) followed the teachings of Jesus–lived them–the world would likely be a better place. Anyhow, these–in no particular order–are just a few of His words that inspire me.

Merry Christmas!

Love your neighbor as yourself.
Mark 12:31 

 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Matthew 7:7

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 
Matthew 6:25

The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.
The Gospel of Thomas 113

 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
 Mathew 5:9

To read more in the Five Quotes series, click here.

Urban Simplicity.