Om Nom Nom Nanner Bread!

Perhaps it’s because autumn is approaching or I have some inexplicable need to nest now because I feel like Babe, Pig in the Big City. For whatever reason, I’ve felt an unquenchable desire to make tasty baked goods as of late. There’s something about baking that’s so much more gosh darned fun than straight up cooking. I mean, really, there’s nothing nutritional about baking–unless you make flax seed, granola, and wheat germ laden natural goods, but who in her right mind wants to eat THAT?

So, yeah, I’ve been baking. First, it was orange cranberry muffins made with zested orange peel. Then I got crazy and made a two layer chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and a chocolate ganache glaze. The latter of the two was pure sin. Seriously, if I were Catholic, I would have bring it up in confession and say about twelve Hail Marys or Hello Dollys or whatever it is they do for penance.

The problem is that I can’t keep satisfying my need to bake and still fit in my pants if I keep choosing to bake using two sticks of butter and heavy cream in every recipe. Hence, I went looking for something low fat and relatively tasty. I came across a recipe for banana bread and tweaked it a little to make it my own.

Here’s everything you’ll need and a step-by-step photo guide to help you make your own version of this tasty and not-too-terribly-fattening loaf pan o’ heaven.

1. Set your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease a loaf pan.

3. Using a sifter, combine 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour.

4. Add 3/4 cup of white sugar.

5. Add 1 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder

6. Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

7. Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon (get the good stuff!)

8. Sift it like it’s 1999 and set aside.

9. Excess dry ingredients are easily disposed of. Make ’em “sleep with the dishes.” (Pun totally intended!)

10. Select some medium bananas. I like to use three, but two might suffice.

11. Cut ’em up, mush ’em up, waaaayyyy up!

12a. Dispose of banana refuse….

12b. Or use them in a hilarious practical joke on an unsuspecting guest!

13. Select two eggs.

14. Separate out the whites.

15. Dispose of the yolks (or save them to make Creme Brulee).

16. Put smushed nanners in the dry goods.

17. Add egg whites.

18. Add 1/2 cup of applesauce. *The recipe I found called for a 1/4 cup, but my first batch came out a little too dry for my liking, so I added a little more.*

19. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.

20. Add 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts and a 1/3 cup golden raisins.

21. Stir until combined, but don’t go crazy with it.

22. Pour into greased loaf pan.

23. Put in oven.

24. Set timer. (I checked at 45, and it wasn’t done. I ended up baking it for 50 minutes.)

25. Contemplate your place in the universe and/or the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow (African or European).

26. Check it with a toothpick. It should, like Andy Dufresne, “come out clean on the other side.”


27. Defend your delicious creation from your prowling spouse!

28. Have the leftovers from your first attempt nearby to distract him as the delicious cake cools.

What you’ll have is a cake that is fairly good for you and totally ready to…

The Whole Truth And Nothing But

Once upon a time, I was a Christian schoolteacher…

It sounds like the beginning of a C.S. Lewis novel or a somewhat boring fairy tale, doesn’t it? Well, it’s the truth. In my teaching career, I was privileged to work with some of the finest students Florida had to offer and to work with a team of the most amazing educators who ever wielded an Expo marker.

However, I was left scratching my head on more than one occasion by things people, parents in particular, would say. One of my favorite examples was a parent who admitted she and her husband only taught their daughter the New Testament because, as she put it, “God is love, and we don’t want her thinking otherwise.”

I wasn’t teaching the Bible class her daughter was enrolled in that year, so after the obligatory smile and nod, I walked away…her comment firmly lodged in my craw.

My fellow Christians, we cannot simply cherry pick the parts of the Bible we like and leave the rest. We cannot have an incomplete understanding of God’s Word and expect to have the intimate relationship with Him that is required for spiritual growth. Our Lord is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He needs no help from us to keep the universe cruising along, and our likes and dislikes do not factor into how He manages things. Would I rather no one I loved ever get sick or die? You bet. However, those “valley experiences” are what bring me closer to God and make those moments I live on “the mountaintop” all the more spectacular and valuable.

Right now, the world is incredibly hostile to Christians because we can’t honestly tell them, “If you just love God and love others, you’ll go to heaven.” We can’t all be like Rob Bell who sells millions of books filled with half-truths and blatant lies. No, we have to be the people who explain that accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and “dying daily to self” is what is required.

It’s the spiritual equivalent of a plate of broccoli sitting next to a chocolate layer cake. Which one of those two items would you choose if you were told they got you the same result, spiritually speaking?

That is why it is essential for Christians not just to believe but also to be able to explain what they believe and why convincingly. A command of the Bible—both the Old and New Testaments—is the key. We have to have it on the tip of our tongues, to understand who wrote which book, for which audience, and for what purpose. We need to have our timelines straight and our verbiage clear. This is not to say that we need to know every name in the “so-and-so begot so-and-so” books of the Septuagint, but we must be able to discuss the very Word of God in a convicting way. Yes, the Holy Spirit is the one doing that convicting through us, but our witness will be bolder and more compelling if we have the text at our disposal.

To prove my point, I’ll give you an example of a moment when I totally missed out on an opportunity to witness because I didn’t have a firm grasp of the Bible.

In 2004, I had just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I was scared out of my mind, angry, and often exhausted. The treatment for the disease (steroids) had sucked the wind out of my sails, and depression finished off whatever was left of lil’ old me. However, I had already missed a term in graduate school due to this illness, and I was determined not to miss another. Ergo, I signed up for one course during the summer—Major Authors: James Joyce. (Insert menacing dun-dun-dun music here.)

There were several problems with this choice. Aside from the aforementioned exhaustion that put me at a disadvantage before it even started, the class itself was structured poorly. It was a six-week course that met for four hours twice a week. Pretty intense, right? Now, in six weeks of intense work, how much material would you expect the class to include? One book? Two? The professor decided it would be a good idea to read and discuss Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses (as well as the Bloomberg reader we were to study with it) in that time frame. I know that four books doesn’t sound like a lot, especially when the first one is a book of short stories. However, allow me to clarify via comparison.

When I was an undergraduate at Valdosta State University, there was a class in Joyce that took place during the sixteen-week semester and met two times a week for an hour and a half each session. They discussed one work by Joyce—Ulysses—in all that time, and the students said at the end of the course that they didn’t feel like they’d covered it thoroughly enough.

Seriously, Ulysses is that difficult. Even for people who love words, it’s a tough read—one best done with a trusty guide and a llama if you want to get to the top safely.

The missed opportunity I mentioned before the llama tangent came early on in the class while we were reading Dubliners, a seminal collection of fifteen short stories like “Araby,” “The Dead,” and “Eveline” that have been anthologized more times than Joan Rivers has had Botox treatments. The one that got me is story number eight, “A Little Cloud.”

The title is a reference to 1 Kings 18:44,

Then it came to pass the seventh time that he said, ‘There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!’

The professor had no clue about the passage and was more concerned with the body of the text than the title, but I thought I could be clever and wring a little extra meaning out of it. For those of you who aren’t professed word nerds or former/current English majors, let me tell you, knowing something a professor does not or being able to construct a new theory about a literary passage is akin to experiencing The Quickening. We live for it.

I researched the passage analytically, took notes, and prepared my strategy to get the most “ooohs” and “aaahs” for my effort. However, I read the Bible book in isolation. I had no clue what made Elijah so special or where he fit into the overall narrative. In essence, I was using the Bible as a reference text, I had reduced the Word of God to a secondary role in order to discern the words of a mere man, and I was doing so for an entirely self-serving purpose.

I see now that it was doomed to failure. And fail I did. Big time.

In fact, as I attempted to explain the story—the drought, the worship of Baal by the people of Israel, and the change of heart that came because Elijah was willing to stand alone against a nation overrun with apostasy—he became more and more disinterested. I prattled on, not making any point whatsoever, and generally muddying what had seemed to make perfect sense in my head.

David Hasselhoff’s drunken cheeseburger video made more sense than I did.

The story by Joyce has nothing to do with any of those things. Hence, a straight translation makes no sense. (You might want to click on the link above and read the story, but I’ll give you a synopsis just in case you’re not in the mood.)

In this story, Little Chandler, a mild-mannered banker type who loves poetry, is meeting with an old friend named Ignatius Gallaher who he has not seen in eight years. Gallaher is a high roller in the London press world, and seeing him again makes Little Chandler realize that he’s in a prison of sorts, a domestic one involving a boring job, a cold wife, and a child his wife prefers to him. At the end of the story, he is hopeless and comes to the realization that neither his friend nor his family held him back from his dreams of being a writer. It was only his tentativeness that kept him feeling incomplete; he is the one who is to blame.

Now, looking at it knowing what I know now about the Old Testament, the book of 1 Kings in particular, I could draw an analogy between the domestic life/safe job Little Chandler has and the false god Baal. Just as the prophets of that false idol could not call their god to light the fire under the sacrifice, the “prophets” of domestic tranquility or big city living could produce nothing tangible in Little Chandler’s life.

The little cloud in 1 Kings marks the end of a lengthy drought that was brought to an end when the people of Israel turned from idol worship and back to God. However, rather than be encouraged by it, Elijah turns tail and runs when Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, calls for his death. He, like Little Chandler, was fearful and likely missed out on an amazing time of ministry because he did not trust in God’s provision. Granted, Joyce’s story is in no way religious, and I’m likely missing out on some key points here that could make the connection stronger, but I now know there is something there because I have a better grasp of the primary text.

But my being embarrassed and missing out on an “Ah Ha!” moment isn’t the problem. I don’t regret missing out on that. However, my half-formed attempt to explain the Bible to a group of people who were already prone to naysaying it only did more to reinforce a stereotype they hold dear—that all Christians are half-brained hicks who cannot think for themselves. Who knows what might have happened if I could have been a better, more prepared witness? I’m not saying a revival would have erupted right there, but a seed or two could have been planted that would have born spiritual fruit in someone’s life when it was tended to by other Christians and nurtured by the ministering of the Holy Spirit.

That is why we can never be content with learning only what our pastor’s teach, though many of those godly men are doing an amazing job ministering to their flocks. The simple truth is that nothing can substitute for digging into God’s Word for ourselves, searching for the answers we need and the lessons our Father would have us learn.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.–2 Timothy 2:15

Lord, Just Take Me Home to Glory!

Whether it’s the the political cronyism surrounding the Solyndra collapse, the impending U.S. Day of Rage scheduled to begin on Wall Street tomorrow, or the thought of total strangers giving 16.6 million NFL fans pat downs “from the ankles up” before each game, it’s hard not to feel like the country is slowly collapsing like a flan in a cupboard.

However, the true measure of America’s collective sanity cannot be taken using major social and economic events. Oh, no no. The only way to ascertain whether or not the fuzzy red, white, and blue sweater of America is unraveling is to examine the finer details, the evidence of micro-fissures. You know, those things that show up on the front page of the TMZ or Us! Weekly in garish, hot pink text.

We want to laugh it off much like the young man now famous for making a mockery of the $17.9 million Kardashian/Humphries nuptials. (This kid, by the way, is now my personal hero.)

But, alas and alack, we must begin sweating the small stuff because, well, that’s where the magic happens. And I’m not talking the amazingly wonderful stuff like the trick David Copperfield pulls off with a duck and a bucket. (Click the link. You know you want to!) No, I’m talking about the repugnant, abhorrent underbelly of culture where the social sausage is made.

I give you five pieces of seemingly unimportant evidence that, like Cassandra, predict our doom. But like the Trojans, we just don’t believe what we see and hear.

#5–Unnecessary Anthropomorphic Objects

Yes, this is a set of Truck Nutz. These delightful little beauties, also known as “Truck Balls,” “BumperNuts,” “BumperBalls,” and (my personal favorite) “Trucksticles,” can be seen hanging from many a trailer hitch. I cannot say with any authority that they are more prevalent in the South as I have not traveled “from California to the New York islands” recently, but the fact wouldn’t surprise me. They are available in flesh tone, white, black, red, yellow, green, blue (“for the married man” according to one website), chrome, and (you guessed it) brass. There are even camo colored ones and ones decorated with the American flag. *deep sigh* Thankfully, only a small portion of our society finds these things desirable or amusing, but I found four companies on the Internet making a tidy profit from them.

#4–The “Tootsie Syndrome”

Yes, apparently everything is about gender these days. Gals long for the supposed “freedoms” of men while the fellas are choosing to be stay-at-home dads. (Please note, I’m not knocking the latter. Some families gotta do what they gotta do. Just relax and enjoy the humor.) We’re not talking the confusion that comes from poorly labeled restrooms. (Think “Blokes and Sheilas” at Outback and “HeShells and SheShells” at Red Lobster.) That’s bad enough. I’m talking products that should not be marketed to one gender doing just that.

Chick Beer

According to their website, “Chick Beer is a craft-brewed light beer that doesn’t taste like a light beer.  The flavor is soft, smooth and full-bodied.  Yet Chick Beer magically has just 97 calories and 3.5 carbs. Chick Beer celebrates women: independent, smart, fun-loving and self-assured women who love life and embrace all of the possibilities that it has to offer.”

So apparently, this beer is magic and it celebrates women! (Hey, I just got two free repeater jokes–the magic duck/bucket reference and the second use of anthropomorphism! Bonus!!) I’m sorry, but ladies don’t need a special girly beer to celebrate; regular beer should do just fine. After all, only swill is marketed directly to men using the can’t fail combo of chicks and sports. Quality brew knows no gender.

Men, you’re not immune to this Mrs. Doubtfire nonsense either…

4VOO Cosmetics

Again, according to the manufacturer, “4VOO (pronounced “forvous”) is an innovative Canadian skin care & cosmetic’s company that offers the luxurious experience of enhancing the appearance, confidence, and allure of men.”

I don’t know about you all, but I don’t know if I want a man to have “allure.” Also, if beer can’t ensure that women will “embrace all the possibilities life has to offer,” there’s no way on earth cosmetics can enhance a man’s “confidence.” Women have been trying to use the stuff for years to enhance that, and we haven’t made it yet either. Moisturizer, cleanser, toner? Sure, I can get behind that. A fella should take care of his skin. But paying $29 for lip maximizing serum, $23 for lash & brow styling glaze, and (get this) $34 for something called “confidence corrector”–well, that’s just folly.

#3–Excessive Caloric One-Upsmanship

It’s becoming painfully obvious that most of America is eating themselves into an early grave. However, some of us are doing it with greater panache than others. Ladies and gents, I give you two shining examples of gustatory seppuku.

The Donut Burger

Yes, from the Wisconsin State Fair, the same bastion of fun that brought us deep fried butter, I present a quarter pound of fatty beef, cheese, bacon, grilled onions, and whatever else the cook decides to chuck on there placed between the two halves of a vivisected Krispy Kreme donut. I’m sure it’s good. What’s not to like? It’s greasy, fatty, and sugary all at once. And it has bacon on it.  Come to think about it, I’m sure crystal meth could be described as “enjoyable” too, but you don’t see me purchasing that either.

The PB&C Shake from Cold Stone Creamery

You know it’s bad when the Brits (who are not known for their dietary good sense) complain about something we’re serving up here in the Colonies. However, their ire is well earned. This frozen atrocity, which is made with whole milk, peanut butter, and chocolate ice cream, also contains 2,000 calories, 131 grams of fat (68g of which is saturated), and 153g of sugar. You might as well begin injecting cellulite into your thighs if you drink this because that’s where it’s going to end up. Even a skinny high school freshman with a metabolism like a cheetah would end up looking like Gilbert Grape’s beloved mother after a dozen or so of these bad boys.

#2–The Embarrassing Lack of Natural Selection in Hollywood

If Darwin’s theories hold water, only the strong should survive. How is it then that so many truly awful actors keep getting jobs…high paying ones at that? Discount the obvious ones like Jennifer “You Saved My Shoe” Lopez,  Keanu “Whoa!” Reeves, and Vin “I’ll Kill You With My Teacup” Diesel. 

Why do people keep paying their hard-earned (or government provided) money to see fools like…

Shia Le Bouf, aside from having the most annoying name on planet earth next to Lauren Bush-Lauren, only knows one speed when it comes to acting—spastic! He would be the result if Red Bull and Rohypnol had a one night stand and created offspring. Seriously, watching him act is both exhausting and painful.

Nicolas Cage is a little harder for me to openly lambaste. After all, the man can act. I’ve seen him do it!! He won an Oscar for a great performance in Leaving Las Vegas. However, being a Coppala and having several worthy film credits to your name (The Rock, Bringing Out the Dead, and Guarding Tess just to name a few) cannot cancel out a poor choice like excessive gambling. This is what placed him hip deep in debt and created the need to make films like Ghost Rider, Bangkok Dangerous, Season of the Witch, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and The Wicker Man (a film that, unlike the original, made me cheer when he turned into a human torch)

There are many more actors I could list (*cough *WILL FERRELL* cough*), but I thought, in the sake of fairness, I should include a fem on my list as well. Ever since I saw Kristen Stewart in Panic Room, I thought she took awkward to new levels. However, when you’re playing the part of a girl dying from diabetes who is the product of two wormy people like those Jodie Foster and Patrick Bauchau played, she really didn’t stand much of a chance. Add the literary and cinematic abortion that is Twilight to her resume, and she makes me want to kill myself by eating Clorox wipes. Monotone in the extreme, she’s like the color beige came to life.

#1–Vending Machine Celebrities

Oh, we all love to hate them, that’s for sure. They come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of skankhood. From Nancy Sinatra all the way to Ke$ha (who we have FloRida to thank for), there have been plenty of “singers” who have gotten their big break because someone paid for it. Put some money in, and canned celebrity comes out. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess, but I’d rather listen to William Hung’s greatest hits than the three featured below. I suggest watching the clips in short intervals, and for the love of all that is holy, do not watch them all in one sitting!

Williow Smith–“I Whip My Hair Back and Forth”

Yes, this precious little rapscallion is the progeny of Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. It’s easy to break in to the biz when both your parents are Hollywood big shots (one in both acting and music). However, that does not guarantee you’ll get a quality song out of the deal. This one always makes me think the video is skipping because of the repeated assertion that she’s going to, you guessed it, “whip her hair back and forth.” Also, I worry about the already endangered preteen brain; all that sloshing around is bound to do damage and finish off whatever Spongebob Squarepants didn’t get.

Rebecca Black–“It’s Friday”

Oh my, how many times did we hear this little tonal gem this year? It is, quite literally, a song about nothing. I get up, I have cereal, I decide what seat to sit in, and I look forward to the weekend because my life is so jam packed with these meaningful activities that I need a full forty-eight hours to recuperate and do some “partyin, partyin…hey!”

Benni Cinkle–“Can You See Me Now?”

Don’t know who she is? Well, apparently she was “that girl in pink” in the previous video. Basically, she’s a remora feasting on the leavings of a shark. (I tell you, if there is such a thing as “celebrity backwash,” this is it!) Have you ever made a copy of something and then a copy of that copy? What happens? It degrades in quality and clarity. And that’s what we’ve got here. And the original was none too sharp herself.

I wonder if Rebecca Black’s parents got a cash bonus for recommending their daughter’s producer to a friend…..kinda like I do when I send someone to my hairdresser and get $10 off my next cut and color.


So, there you have it, proof that intelligent life is rapidly becoming endangered here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Please take issue with me. Argue. Comment. Add to the list. 

Together, we can stop the madness.

I’m Still Not Buying Stock in Kleenex

I hate to say it, but he's right...

Because of Tom Hanks’ inspired performance as Jimmy Dugan, we all know without a doubt that there is  “No crying in baseball!” However, that same statement can be made about every aspect of my life. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate…no wait, detest…crying. I don’t know what to do around people who are weeping, and I would pretty much rather eat sixteen tons of Lutefisk than sob in front of another living, breathing person.

It’s not vanity. Granted, I don’t relish the idea of wiping snot from my nose with the back of my hand or blowing it out into a tissue offered up by a friend or loved one, but it’s not the Lake Lachrymose aspect of it that bothers me.

No. It’s something more deeply rooted in me than that. I don’t think I’m comfortable with deep emotions period. I’ve never been the type to jump up and down with glee, to cover my mouth with my hands like a winning beauty queen, or to pump my fist in the air a la John Bender at the end of The Breakfast Club (though I do adore that film!)

How could I ever forget about you, Judd Nelson?

Maybe I’m secretly Vulcan. Maybe, for me, emotions are something that I feel compromises my ability to think logically or rationally. However, seeing as how I do things that are highly illogical, even for a human, and that, when it comes to mathematics or any of the “hard sciences,” I am about as likely to succeed as a gerbil would be at explaining String Theory. Nope, no pointy ears or awesome split fingered gestures for me.

Live long and prosper, my friends.

I have always had, however, a passion for knowledge. Some of the happiest days of my adult life have been spent deep in “The Stacks,” the endless rows of journals usually on the bottom floors of libraries. With iPod (and before them CD player…yowza, I’m old!) in my back pocket, a pencil stuck through my ponytail, and a list of topics to research, I would happily search through archives— pulling volumes from shelves, reading countless pages in my search for the right quotes and evidence to back up my own theories about literature, and generally feasting on all the wisdom before me. I’d only emerge when I was either done copying and filing away the pages I was taking with me or when I was about to faint from hunger. I actually fell asleep standing up, well leaning against a wall, one night during a particuarly tricky search for information pertaining to Christine de Pizan. I never slept better.

It’s also why I look up words like antediluvian, know the stories behind phrases like “A Good Rule of Thumb,” and generally rock at trivia as long as it doesn’t involve Seinfeld, Friends, hockey, or Reality TV. I love the thrill that comes when someone mentions something they think is esoteric in the extreme, and I can say, “Why, yes, I actually did know that Benjamin Franklin wore a fur hat in Paris! However, did you know he did so because he wanted to conform to the Parisian’s concept of ‘the natural man’ and that ladies fell in love with him and styled their hair to match that aforementioned article of clothing?”

That’s why I’ve been enjoying reading about Solomon as much as or even more so than his father, David. David was the “man after God’s own heart” and who was willing to express himself through dance and vivid displays of emotion. His anointed son, however, is more well known for his wisdom than anything else, but that wisdom did not come from his own diligent searching or study. Instead, he was granted it by God. He asked:

Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours? — (1 Kings 3:9)

Solomon’s request pleased God because he asked neither for wealth nor long life. He didn’t ask for the destruction of his enemies or make a self-serving request, he was granted all those things in addition to his wisdom. Because of this, he is able to build a temple for the ark, provide peace and prosperity for his people and for his neighbors, and manage Israel well. In chapter four of the same book, after Solomon’s administrative staff is listed and the prosperity he provided are listed, the author states:

And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore — (1 Kings 4:29).

What, what, what!? When did “largeness of heart” enter into it? Since when is Solomon known for his kindness in addition to his other cerebral accolades? And you’ll notice that it doesn’t just say that he was kind or that he was generous and patient with the people. No, no. He had a heart that was like “sand on the seashore,” a simile that pretty much tells me his heart’s capacity was infinite.

It stands to reason, then, that he wanted to weep with joy when the mother of the disputed child was willing to allow it to be taken by another woman, to put the baby’s needs before her own. But, even more importantly, He took great joy from the house of the Lord he was constructing and rejoiced when the Shekinah Glory was made manifest. This is simply because our greatest love should be our love for God, and all other love comes out of that great well. As it is written in the Gospel of John (4:15-21):

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Can I love as God instructs me to without being able to work comfortably with emotions? Can I ever exercise perfect wisdom without them? They are unreliable things, which is one of the reasons I often eschew them in favor of rational thinking and planning, but they are so gosh-darned human. They are what we use for the matrix of all the relationships we build, and without a love for God and a love for our fellow men, all our acts of service will truly ring hollow.

I came across an interesting post akin to the topic yesterday titled “Perverted Love,” and in it, the blogger states that Christian service, if it’s done because you love people but not the Creator, music but not the Concert Master, or the vista without the Architect, you’re utterly lost and without focus. He’s absolutely correct! We can love because God first loved us, and we must always express our adoration directly to Him in all things rather than only loving (worshiping) the people or things He’s created. Serving cannot be a purely physical thing, and worshiping God cannot be totally cerebral either. It’s to be done with the whole self–mind, spirit, and heart. So, yes, I still have some work to do when it comes to love and how I express it towards my Heavenly Father and those wonderful things and people He’s placed in my life. I’ve asked Him for it, to enlarge my faith and my sensitivity towards others no matter how uncomfortable it may make me.

I know I’m going to bite my lip a lot, clear my throat often, and pretend to have something in my eye on more than one occasion. I have a feeling my eyeliner and mascara’s days are numbered. However, if a little awkwardness and a smudge or two are all that is required of me to grow closer to God and to be conformed to the image of Jesus, I’m ready for it.

That being said, I refuse to cry over chick flicks, ASPCA advertisements, or anything other vapid plea designed using only pathos-driven appeals. In that regard, my heart will remain like the Grinch’s originally was—two sizes too small.

Lost at C

Alright boys and squirrels, this one is going to take some explanation.

I recently visited the High Museum here in Atlanta, and I walked around the corner to find the installation piece titled Windward Coast by Radcliffe Bailey. At first, the sheer size of it caught me off guard; it filled one of the larger spaces on the second floor of the museum by itself! However, despite its size, it contained very few elements. Unlike his other pieces, which were mixed media and contained everything from fishing line to glitter drenched construction paper and old photos, Windward Coast was stark by comparison. The description posted on the wall informed me that what I was looking at contained nothing more than “piano keys, a plaster bust, glitter, and a shell with sound.”

The description also informed viewers the intention of the piece, what it was meant to convey. (Yes, I am aware that what an author or artist intends to say is meaningless to discuss because we all experience art and come away with different interpretations. I’ll not argue that here as this piece is direct proof of that fact.) The title of Mr. Bailey’s entire collection was titled Memory as Medicine, and it was his attempt to connect with his immediate and distant past as a black man, a soul abruptly uprooted because of the evils of slavery. The plaster bust, glittering and black in the spotlight floats amid a huge “sea” of piano keys that are arranged to replicate moving water and crashing waves.

I had to admit as I looked at it a second, third, and fourth time that the piece was impressive. However, when I sat huddled in the corner to examine it and take notes, I was able to see the keys  at eye level. Some were tipped with plastic, others with something darker (perhaps bone or ivory), and black keys, those glorious half steps, were intermingled with white. It was then that I got to thinking about the pianos themselves–their guts lying on the floor. What kind of pianos had these keys come from? What kind of “lives” had they led?

Which sat in cold parlors or warm family rooms? How many of them proudly bore the family manger scene at Christmas? How many had the pleasure of enjoying two family members playing them together or been a part of a child’s musical education all the way from “Hot Cross Buns” to more challenging pieces? Had someone fallen in love near one or spent an hour in solace using it? How many had been given up willingly, and how many were sold out of desperation or ignorance as to their true value?

The more I thought about it, the more I saw a parallel between the pianos and the slave floating in them. They, too, were displaced, stripped of their meaning, value, and voice! That’s what bothered me the most about the piece–all the stories of pianos and the families who owned them floating in there that could no longer be told. Theirs were stories worthy of attention, too, and they had been cancelled out to create this installation.

I was planning on writing a free verse piece to mimic the chaos of the sea of keys, but the more I thought it over, I came to see that a fixed verse poem was more appropriate. To make something orderly out of something chaotic, to give meaning to something so disjointed, I would have to try something requiring rules.

I didn’t want to rhyme or be stuck by a meter, so I chose the challenge presented by the sestina. Please take a moment to read the link here if you’d like to know more about this form.

Essentially, the poet must choose six words and repeat them at the end of each line. I chose sea/see/C (homonyms, homophones, and homographs are fair game), keys, tone, master, wood/would, and sound. The first stanza is A,B,C,D,E,F. You then repeat that pattern, using the last word in one stanza as the first in the next. For example, if you look at stanza two, you’ll see that tone (my F word) is the end word of that new line. That stanza is ordered F,A,E,B,D,C, and so on and so forth it goes until all six stanza are complete.

The envoy, the three line stanza that closes a sestina, includes all six words in three lines. They do not have to be at the exact end, but you must use the B and E words in line one, the D and C words in line two, and the F and A words in line three. (However, some poets change that up and use the six words in whatever order they prefer).

It’s difficult because of the repeated words that create a sort of internal rhyme structure. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a solid start. I’ve not written a complete sestina on my own before this, so that’s progress!

Please read and comment. Let me know what you think!


Lost at C

A Sestina Inspired After Viewing Windward Coast by Radcliffe Bailey

The gallery floor lies buried beneath a sea

of writhing, cacophonous keys.

In the distance, as if discarded by his master,

a slave’s head bobs without a sound

amid the endless waves of splintered wood.

His suffering sets the tone.

But I’m left longing for the tone

that sounds when striking middle C,

the note among all others that would

help me place my fingers on correct keys.

A familiar place, safe and sound

on the instrument I longed to master.

In how many homes was it the master,

the symbol of domesticity? In tones

of chestnut and mahogany, the sound

made by each was like the sea,

rhythmic as a metronome, as key

to the security of its home as the roof or the wood.

If not for this artistic creation before me, how many would

still remain in the hands of a master

who’d polish its surface and clean each key,

tune it to maintain those harmonious tones,

relish the marriage of hammer and string, and the delicate C

atop the eighty-eight orderly architects of sound?

Would someone open the lid to release the sound

and the family history locked within the wood?

Would a starving soul sit on its bench once again and see

that while time is something we can never master

we can preserve memory in the mind’s sepia tones

and in sacred objects like a piano, those that are key

to understand our parts in life’s symphony? From key

signature to coda, from downbeat to the sound

of the final fermata, our pasts set the tone

for all that was, that is, and that ever would

be. None of us live lives made from a master,

without uniqueness, our own variation in C.

Knowing this is key to what otherwise would

be a sound failure. One cannot master his past

by stripping another of his tone and using it to create the sea.

Through a Glass Darkly

It’s not in its final form yet by any means, but I wanted to get feedback from my baker’s dozen of readers about this piece. I’ve been slated to write an article for the February edition of In Touch Magazine, and this is what I pitched. The theme of the magazine is God’s beauty, and I said something that always struck me as beautiful is stained glass. Something about how the light shines through it and simply lights up a room has always had the ability to take my breath.

I visited a gorgeous episcopal cathedral in the area and took some photos. I also listened to the organist rehearse and sat in a pew taking notes and making observations. What you have below is the third draft of the article to date. I have also included the pictures you might like to see.

Please do not hesitate to leave me feedback here or via email. I am looking for any and all the help I can get!


Through a Glass Darkly

At ten o’clock in the morning, the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows fill the east side of the cathedral with kaleidoscopic brilliance. Everywhere I look, there are shades of scarlet, cobalt, gold, lavender, emerald, and aqua illuminating tiled floors and smoothly polished columns, gracing them with glittering embellishments. Standing in the midst of this radiance, the thought suddenly occurs to me that the sight I’m enjoying is what Jesus meant when He claimed the “stones will cry out” in worship should human lips ever fall silent (Luke 19:40).

I wander through the space, drinking it in and savoring the sights before me. Every windowpane in the expansive room tells a vivid story. In one, Jesus sits at the well speaking to the Samaritan woman, gesturing towards her earthen jar that cannot contain the living water He offers. In the next window, images of Christ as the Great Physician are featured. In one, the Messiah looks upward as three men lower a paralytic in need of healing through the roof, and in another He glances down with love at the woman suffering from hemorrhages whose faith assured her, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well” (Matt 9:21).

Nearby, Jesus works His many miracles. Standing in a boat with the waves curling around its bow, He rebukes the wind and tells the sea, “Hush, be still” (Mark 4:39) as His disciples look up, their mouths agape. The same disbelief is evident in those who watch as He overrules death itself, summoning Lazarus from his tomb with the words, “Come forth” (John 11:44). However, the same countenance of power and limitless pity is turned upwards in supplication in the panel depicting His evening of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cup that cannot pass from Him floats above His head, rays light connecting them inextricably together. In a smaller portion of the frame, Judas Iscariot plots with Roman guards, as if the two moments are happening simultaneously. In each of the twenty panels that tell the story of His life and ministry, Christ is beautiful and otherworldly in turquoise robes and crimson sash, a golden nimbus encircling His head as a sign of divinity.

For some reason, however, I’m drawn to the image of the annunciation repeatedly, lingering before it longer than I do others. In this panel, Mary, clad in pale shades of rose and teal, is a picture of tenderness and vulnerability, especially when contrasted with the angel hovering above her, his angular wings aflame. One of his hands rests above her forehead in comfort while the other is raised in blessing, the words “blessed art thou among women” suspended on his lips (Luke 1:28). Mary’s hands also speak volumes, for one is open upwards, as if she is questioning the truth of the message she’s receiving, while the other hovers over her stomach, already having accepted the proclamation and protecting the womb that will shelter the long-awaited Savior.

This is the moment in which both Mary’s future and ours were forever changed by the Father’s ultimate act of love. It is framed by diamonds of royal blue, silver arches, and buds of every primary color—all manner of rococo embellishments—as securely bound as a book. There is no plaque posted nearby to describe the scene to onlookers, yet it speaks to me as clearly as if the narrative were written on the wall. It is a lesson meant to be experienced with the eyes as well as the soul.

This clarity and enlightenment was what Abbot Suger, the twelfth century clergyman, had in mind when he began the renovation of Saint Denis, his abbey church near Paris. Suger was an advocate of anagogicus mos, or “The Upward Leading Method,” and believed that light was a divine force that could compel a person to transcend the material world and better understand the very nature of God. As a result, he incorporated flying buttresses, arches supporting the church’s soaring rooftop, which allowed for taller, thinner walls with increased space for windows. The combination of high ceilings and boundless light filtering through the colored glass drew the eyes of parishioners heavenward and made it possible for everyone regardless of gender or rank to experience the spiritual in a tangible way. Also, the windows served another purpose—to communicate God’s Word to parishioners who were illiterate. That is why some refer to stained glass windows as “The Poor Man’s Bible.”

Even now, in our modern world where structures hundreds of stories tall dominate the skyline and light can be manufactured, stained glass still maintains the power to captivate. Perhaps it’s because these breathtaking works bear the indelible fingerprints of God. The artisans whose skills are themselves gifts from the Father create their works with fire and iron using only sand, soda, limestone, salts, and oxides, none of which are manmade. Therefore, glass attests to the truth of Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O LORD, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”

However, no matter how intricate the designs are, how accurate the depictions in these fragile works might be, or how long they were lovingly labored over by craftsmen, without one essential factor, they remain dull and lifeless. Without light, the first creation of the Almighty God, our works are left as half formed as Quasimodo, the famous hunchback of Notre Dame. And only God can provide the light, the divine illumination that can release the colors within the glass.

For the Christian, they are even more compelling because we recognize them as kindred spirits. Unlike darkness and light, the sky and seas, and all moving creatures, each of which was created when God simply said, “Let there be. . . ,” man was “formed” from the dust by the very hands of the Creator (Gen. 2:7). Of all His accomplishments, only we are made in the image of God and according to His likeness (Gen 1:26), and for this reason, we are the most precious of all His handiwork. Because we received the breath of life and were made to commune with our Father, we see God most clearly in that which is lovely. Also, we desire to create beautiful things in order to obtain a deeper understanding of who He is.

Likewise, we understand that, just like the window is strengthened and perfected by heat and pressure, we too are purified through trials in order to be made more Christlike (see Mal. 3:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6-9; Rom 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). And like that gorgeous glass, the light of Christ shines through us, compelling the lost in such a way that they can no longer turn aside from the truth of Christ. As the apostle Paul said of believers:

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord. . . .For God who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. . . .For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4: 5-7, 11).

One thing, however, is certain. As beautiful as stained glass might be, it also reveals just how poor our power to present the full glory of God is and how limited our ability to fully understand Him remains while we reside in the flesh. In truth, our many-hued masterpieces undoubtedly appear to God like a child’s finger painting does to an adoring parent, paltry when compared to the extent of His skill but all the more valuable for their sincerity.

Yet, praise be to God, there will come a day when we no longer need rely on crude tools and materials for understanding because we will be in the presence of the Master Craftsman. For now, “we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. . . .For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now [we] know in part; but then [we] shall know even as [we are] also known” (KJV, 1 Cor. 13: 9-10, 12).