Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Farm/Forage Feast!

We've been out in the pasture, playing with our food.

As a small child...and a grade school student...and even as a college kid, home on vacation, I often got in trouble for playing with my food. Now that I work with seeds and soil, poultry and pigs, bees and bovines, I get to play with my food for a goodly portion of my time.

Now, our foraging friend, David, has devised a way to let some more folks in on the fun: the first-ever Tir na nOg Farm/Forage Feast!!!

Here's the lowdown:

"Meet your local farmers! Dine on all organic and wild ingredients from the farm and its neighbors, prepared in a sophisticated and playfully inventive multi-course meal. Please bring your own wine, beer, scotch, etc. When: Sunday, August 22nd at 6:00 Where: Tir na nÓg Farm. Suggested Donation: $45 Reservations required. We are capping the dinner at fifteen guests, so book soon! Call David at 917-803-3172
or email"

Our chef-prepared menu will include the following variations on the theme of yumminess:

Farm egg and house-cured lardo with lamb's quarters
Heirloom tomato salad with daylily tubers, purslane, and oregano
Sweet potato, lemongrass crab cakes with garam masala aioli and fresh basil
Chanterelle risotto with aged Winter Hill Farm cheese
Lobster sauteed with black trumpets and butter, topped with lemon basil hollandaise
Applewood smoked chicken with seared burdock, chard, and sauerkraut
Honey Panna Cotta with fresh blackberries
Sweet Finnish Pűlla Bread with cardamon and lemongrass
Trio of herb infused ice creams: Sweet Basil, Lemon Balm, and Lavender
Carrot spice muffins with ginger creamcheese frosting
Moroccan style mint tea with artemisia

Vegetarian and gluten-free options abound for guests at our feast, which will be served al fresco at the farm. Come play with us--and please pass on the news of this delightful repast to others who like to play!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Time in a One-Toilet Town: #2

Last Saturday, we returned to Muscongus Island for a reprise of last year's preaching & piping gig. The Summer residents of this unelectrified and (mostly) unplumbed Maine island had just held their annual auction and the annual church meeting was scheduled to commence right after our worship service. The pressure was on to create a worship service that would adequately honour, foster and further this seasonal community's sense of...well, community.

Fortunately, it wasn't entirely up to me. I had two valuable colleagues along for the adventure: The Piper, who managed to share her musical gifts while complying with the island's rigidly informal dress code thanks to her recently acquired "instakilt," and Zoe, our farm dog, who endured the arduous multivehicular journey with grace, if not dignity, and channeled all her herd-dog talents into her new self-assigned role as church greeter and head usher. She gave a whole new meaning to "shepherding the flock."

We were able to stay on the island for two more days after the end of our official duties. Zoe, the Piper and I took several long walks, admiring the rugged beauty of the island, the hints and remnants of the island's once year-round community, and the weathered old houses, oddly bedecked with both seasonal ephemera and accouterments of sustainability. One particular walk to the island's main cemetery held a special poignancy. As we walked among the lichen-etched stones, we read the century-old names of young people lost in their prime to illness or the sea. I thought about my Grandmother, who died just a week before at the age of 87, and felt humble and thankful for her--and all the lives that have bridged the distance between other island hearts and mine.

Here is the sermon preached at Loudsville Church, Muscongus Island, Maine, on August 8, 2010:


I want to tell you about my Grandma Charlotte. I want to share something about her, because, while we worship together in this small island church, the rest of my family is just on the edge of waking up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where they gathered yesterday for her funeral. She lived to be 87 years old, vital and joyful 'til the end. I miss her.

What I remember most about Grandma's house was the clutter. It was friendly clutter. It supported all manner of conversations. If we talked about crafts, Grandma probably had everything you needed in a drawer or a box...somewhere. If we talked about science, history, or culture, she would draw on her extensive collection of Smithsonian Magazines and National Geographics. Grandma was also a highly-skilled yard-saler. She and Grandpa would trundle around Colorado in their old avocado-green VW bus, finding the most astounding things and happily tucking them away for useful occasions. Each Christmas, our family would receive a large box addressed in Grandma Charlotte's handwriting. There would be at least three items for every single member of the family: at least two yard-sale finds, a fossil or mineral to add to our rock collections, and the annual renewal of our own family's subscription to National Geographic.

Grandma loved to find things, hold on to them a while, then pass them on. Other than rockhounding, it was her favorite sport. She was at once a magpie and a messiah, gathering bright, shiny objects into her nest, guided by a belief that everything was worth rescuing, worth saving. And she kept it all up for many years, still sending her famous boxes even when I was in college and grad school. But, as Grandma and Grandpa got older, they ventured out less and less. After Grandpa's death, it became too much of a chore to pack those heavy Christmas boxes and get them to the post office. We didn't mind terribly much. A card and a phone call were just as good, if not better. But, there in that modest little house in Boulder, Colorado, there was still all...that...clutter. She was tripping over it in the hallway. She was bumping against it on the stairs. Grandma got frustrated. She spent time almost every day sorting through it, but she couldn't bring herself to actually throw anything away. One pile would be sorted into half a dozen piles, and they would gradually shift and merge into other sorted piles, and then the mess would be in everyone's way all over again. The task absorbed more and more of her time and her failing energy.

I've been that kind of magpie messiah. Grandma taught me well. I've gathered plenty of bright shiny objects myself, and I've done my best to work them into my nest. I've rescued other people's discards, glued them back together, filed the rough edges, and claimed them as my treasures, additions to my collection. I've welcomed clutter as a rebellion against waste. I hate to throw anything away.

But that's not the kind of savior Jesus meant to be. He had a different message in mind: He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sew nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.

Consider the ravens. The raven is the bird of battlefields and garbage dumps, the eater of carrion. Shepherds and farmers were forever driving them away from potential sources of food. They were unwelcome, unwanted scavengers, trash-pickers, pests. They were unclean creatures and unfit for human consumption, according to Jewish law. Where I grew up, in the Pacific Northwest, Native people tell stories of Raven the Trickster, Raven the Traveler, Raven, the Creator's go-between, the bringer of news. In the story of the Great Flood, Noah sends out a raven before he sends out a dove, but then it disappears behind the curtains and the dove gets all the good press. Ravens are like flying shadows upon which we heap all the darkness of our imaginations.

And yet... have you ever watched ravens? Did you know that, if one young raven finds food—even the smallest bit of food—it will call out to all the other ravens around, inviting them to share it? Did you know that they mate for life, and that an older pair will take one or two younger birds under their wing—so to speak—and train them as nannies, teaching them to care for the newly-hatched young so that they'll be better parents when they're ready to hatch out their own? Did you know they often work in teams to drive off a threatening owl or a hawk? The Creator of both humans and ravens must have loved these “unclean” creatures very much to give them such gifts, for they have not only an abundance of food, but also an abundance of fellowship, an abundance of community.

For Grandma Charlotte, it was the abundance of her community that shook her loose from all her stuff. One by one, friends and family began to visit, to sit and soak up her stories, to laugh and chat—and to help her sort. Wealthy with companionship, she began to care for her “friendly clutter” less and less. Surrounded by loving support, she was able to start letting go. The recycling bins filled up rapidly. The hallway and stairs seemed to grow wider. You didn't have to think so much about where you might put your feet. Best of all, the burden of care was lifted. Grandma was free to devote her remaining energy to the things that made her thrive: relationships, learning, and the exercise of curiosity and delight that made her a true joy to be with.

“...And do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

What is our treasure? Not the clutter, the possessions that bind us and hinder us and weigh us down. You know that already, or you wouldn't have made the effort to carve out time to be in this place. And this “little flock” has already shown that you know how to sell possessions and give alms—yesterday's auction accomplished a bit of that, even if the possessions did just move on to somebody else. In fact, the more we keep things moving, the closer to God's community we'll be. This way, we defy the human powers that would keep us hoarding our petty treasures. This way, we create an economy of blessings and gifts, where the only real value of things is in the way they keep moving between us. We become richer and richer—as a community—the more gifts we share with each other.

Here we are, together on this small island. Here we are, blessed with a place of abundance. We can leave behind the fear-mongering headlines, the power-plays of the nations of the world. Instead, we can watch the ravens and sea-birds playing games with the wind, feasting on spare bits and scraps with joyful abandon. Here, we can study the lilies of the field, the trails bedecked with blooming plants and bushes laden with berries. Here, together, as we share meals and stories, as we greet each other on the paths and gently tend this beloved place, we are indeed striving towards God's kingdom. Here, we rest in the peace of wild things, learn to share our gifts, and let all of Creation teach us of faith, hope and grace.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Shell Game: Sermon with Chicken and Mushrooms

(This sermon was preached at a UCC church in Southern Maine on August 1st, 2010. It is based on the assigned lectionary readings for Proper 13C: Hosea 11:1-11, Colossians 3:1-11, and Luke 12:13-21.)

And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Yeah, maybe that was the reason they got mad at us, when I was fifteen, the Sunday they let our church youth group plan and lead worship. It wasn't so much the blacklight and neon draperies we put around the sanctuary cross. It wasn't even that liturgical dance we did during the introit, processing in with votive candles we waved in circles as we moved down the aisle. Looking back, I think I finally get what we did that upset everyone—I think it was during the offering. Maybe Pink Floyd's song, “Money”, with all its cash-register sound effects and crass, ironic lyrics, was not the brilliant soundtrack we thought it would be. And when we followed it with a recording of “Money Makes the World Go Round...” well, I guess we were kind of to blame for the fact that there was no “Youth Sunday” the following year.

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed...” I kind of get it. I mean, I know we're not supposed to eat too much, drink too much, buy too much, use more than our least, I think I know it. Part of me knows it. The good part of me, the part of my brain that loves to be moral and true and exquisitely well-behaved, the part that's always trying to earn that halo and wings—it gets this. But then there's the soft, fuzzy animal part of me—the part that wants a full belly. The part that wants a cosy burrow. The part that gets scared really easily. It doesn't really listen when you tell it that wanting too much is bad.
And then there's the chicken part of me, that just wants to perch and stare, the part that reaches out to grab whatever edible morsel comes its way, the part that will take whatever it wants, because it can. That part of me doesn't get why greed is wrong. It doesn't get that the power of money is any different than the power of God. It loves treasure. It admires the glittering statues of Baal, the Wall Street Bull, and Mammon.

I admit it—I've bowed to these idols myself-- during those daydreams where life would be perfect if only we had a...fill in the blank. Our farm would be perfect if we had a terraced perennial garden with about 24 of those snap-together raised beds they have in the gardeners'' supply catalog, and a row of those solar path lights that look like copper and glass lilies weaving up the hillside path. And wouldn't the place be altogether great with one of those sturdy commercial greenhouses, the ones with the automatic temperature-sensing system of fans and heaters? Or, really, we'd settle for a decent mid-sized tractor--with just a couple of attachments...well, maybe three or four?--and things really would be so much easier with a bigger barn! Why, we could fill it with all kinds of critters and put up all kinds of food and just sit around all winter, feasting and telling stories and feeding the woodstove...

Perhaps this plays out in our church family, too: sometimes, the place we've got seems alright. We're good people, good at welcoming guests, good at running to help when one of us falls or suffers a setback and needs a prayer or a helping hand. And these are things to be celebrated. But when was the last time we got together—as a whole church family—not to cook a fundraising dinner, but to hear someone witness to the life-changing power of love or the challenge of working on God's behalf? Can you remember the last time we sent a team to work on a Habitat for Humanity house, the last time anyone went to a local or statewide church event and discovered all the amazing things our Church is doing in our communities and across the world? Do we spend time listening, each day, for our Still-Speaking God? Or are we just too worn-out from all our worrying and anxieties, too tired from all the fundraising it takes to repair the roof, clean the floors, fix the kitchen and fill the oil tank of this beautiful big... barn?

There are good reasons to want a barn. The disciples of Jesus may have been tent-makers, but we are not first-century people. We are anchored to this challenging time, this wild-weathered place. Long winters, high winds and damaging storms have a way of making us want to hunker down, to get everything under cover, to secure our stuff. The challenge is to keep from focusing too hard on the security of our stuff. There's a term for people who do this: “practical athiests.” We may say we believe in God, but if we're holding on too tightly to let God in—if we're driven not by hope and faith, but by our fears, then we are practical atheists. Instead of learning to soar, we spend our time building shells to crawl back into. Our way of living proclaims not the love of God, but our fear that “stuff” really is all there is, and we have no-one to call on, no-one to answer to, but our own selves.

When I read this week's gospel lesson, I hear a bit too much of myself. I'm with that guy in the parable when he longs to build something magnificent, fill his storehouse to the brim, then relax, eat, drink and be merry. But, meanwhile, I'm working three jobs to cover the bills. I'm laying awake nights, wondering how to hold on to everything we've got. During the day, I move from place to place in a cloud of anxiety, blind to the abundance of this place. I'm shutting out the birdsongs, the slow opening of blooms, the rising blush of the first tomatoes of the season. And I'm shutting out the friends I'm too busy to visit, the call to my folks I never quite manage to make, even though I think about doing it every day. I'm missing the gifts of Creation, offering themselves up on every side: the soaring hawk above the pine trees. The butterflies in the wildflowers along the road. The strange beauty—and free bounty—of wild mushrooms, quietly pushing up from the forest's damp earth.

Let me tell you about mushrooms and chickens. Our friend David, a self-proclaimed “foodie”, who lives to cook and eat, asked if he could learn to butcher a chicken. After years of enthusiastic meat-eating, he figured it was the honest thing to do. And so I shepherded him through the steps: the sharpening of the knife, the respectful, gentle handling of the bird, the actual butchering and feather-plucking and all the unglamourous messy bits. And David was grateful—momentarily sick to his stomach, but grateful—for the learning experience. He took the rooster home, and presented us that evening with a very tasty pot of coq au vin.

I had shared my knowledge, but there was something I wanted to learn, too-- our foodie friend is also a skilled mushroom forager. I've lived close to the woods most of my life, but I've always been afraid of mushrooms. I wanted to be able to walk in the woods and know more about the place. I was intrigued by the idea that shady, untended landscape, the opposite of my sunny garden, might contain some harvestable gourmet treats.

It took a while before I booked my lesson. I was too busy, too wrapped up in my fears and anxieties: refinancing the farm, paying the bills, selling and saving enough of the harvest... and, once I finally agreed to go, I wasted precious time fretting about all the gear I'd need. You could say I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off...well, that's not the way we butcher them, but you know what I mean!

Out in the woods, on the trail of wild mushrooms, the manufactured concerns of society fell away. Our feet fell into a different rhythm, followed deer paths, allowed ourselves to be led instead of pounding out my own agenda... my eyes learned to see in new ways, and then the unfettered joy of discovery: a free gift, a harvest that harms no-one, and a delicacy that awakens all my senses to the abundance of the earth!

Listen again:
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

“The land of a rich man produced abundantly.”
Oh, how worthy of celebration! In the time of Jesus, an abundant harvest was an occasion of celebration, a time to share one's bounty with the whole community, a time to recognize, publically, that the source of all goodness is God.

"And he thought to himself, what shall I do, for I have no place to store my crops? Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and goods.” Do you see the man's self-deception? He tells himself he has no storage place, but to build it he has to tear down the buildings he already has! I fall into the same trap all too often. God lays out a feast in the woodlands, and I waste time stuffing my bag with stuff I might need on the trail, just in case. God carves a beautiful coastline and stitches it to the edge of the glorious ocean, and I can't go because I don't have the latest beach gear.

“But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Whose, indeed? I think of my Grandma Charlotte, who spent her last years sorting through a lifetime of stuff, getting rid of so much matter that really didn't matter at all, leaving us all the gift of freedom to remember her life instead of what she accumulated. Will we leave a legacy of stories that reflect the love of our creator, or will we leave a legacy of stuff over which our relatives will squabble? Will our possessions sing of the glory to God, or trumpet the glory of Bean's?

“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich towards God.” What does Jesus mean, with this parable's last words? What does it mean to be rich towards God? I suspect it's about something different than tipping our wallets into the collection plate. Being rich towards God means training ourselves to reflect God's generous Spirit, not the false anxieties of advertisements. Being rich towards God means resisting a culture of fear & greed and idolatry of possessions. It means resisting the temptation to close our fists tightly, rising instead to the challenge of open hands and outreach. Being rich towards God means paying attention, sensing God's out-stretched embrace and returning it full-force! It means loving God so much, and believing in God so much, that we refuse to let out possessions restrict our lives like a shell, loving God so much that we try our own wings, work on becoming the healthy, curious, loving creatures God longs for us to be.

God calls us away from barn-building and selfish accumulation of cold, hard stuff, and into the wide world instead. God calls us to be children of wonder, practitioners of fresh vision, shivering with anticipation and awe. Possibility springs up all around us, like mushrooms after the rain, like strangers becoming friends, like friends becoming a community. Money doesn't make the world go 'round. God makes the world go 'round. And our links to each other, the connections we make with the rest of God's creatures, that is the source of our truest security: blessing linked to blessing upon blessing.

Text and images copyright MaineCelt 2010 except CommaWoman.