Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Heart Food: Holiness

"Therefore [since we have been privileged with the Gospel], prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when jesus Christ revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"
---1 Peter 1:13-16

1 Peter is SO GOOD.  It's just packed with cool stuff.  Here Peter says three things--to prepare your mind for action, , to be self-controlled, and to set your hope where it should be.  It seems that all of these things have to do with being holy, something he calls us to at the end of the paragraph.

In order to actually do it, actually live a holy life, I need to prepare my mind.  My actions flow out of my mind, what I think and the values I've embraced, whether consciously or unconsciously.  If I've prepared my mind in advance, I won't have to stop and think about what to do in many situations.  It will be ingrained there so I can act.  No hesitation.  A huge part of that preparation is reading God's Word.  David said "I have hidden your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11).  So we can understand that hiding God's word in our hearts, which I take to mean reading, meditating on, memorizing, and loving, will keep us from sin.  It makes sense to me.  I know it works that way with many things.  For an example, let's look at eating healthfully.  I want to do it.  I know that it's a good thing, but I don't always do it.  When I'm around others that make it a priority or I read a book or blog about healthy eating, I'm filled with inspiration and I can't wait to get started.  This week I've been reading such a book, and today I had Greek yogurt for breakfast and packed cucumbers and hummus for a snack at work.  Sure, I could do it without the book, but it becomes such an effort.  Instead of being automatic, I have to force myself.  There's not as much joy.  And with sinning, and living a holy life, we can't even hope to do it on our own or force ourselves to do it!  We could force ourselves to adhere to certain rules or standards, but that's not holiness, that's legalism.  It's only through Christ that we can truly live a holy life.

Then there's the self-control bit.  I know that self-control is important, but it's not my favorite fruit of the spirit.  I much prefer love or patience or joy.  Self-control...well I'm not so great at that.  If I feel like some chocolate I make up a big glass of chocolate milk (side note: I just read that humans don't register liquid calories the way they do solid ones; so strange!).  I'll decide to get up early to get stuff done or exercise and then will actually get up around eleven.  Self-control is something I should definitely work on.  Part of being holy is staying pure.  I don't just mean that in an abstinence kind of way.  Purity is part of your whole life.  It's being free from evil and corruption.  It's walking in God's ways and saying no to my own selfish desires.  Without self-control I give in because it's easier and because I want what I want.  I know it won't be easy, but thankfully "I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13).  

Finally, I need to set my hope on the grace of Christ.  I think I often set my hope on other things, especially in myself and my own abilities.  I feel like through my own experience I can land a job to support myself.  I build a life plan based on what I can do for myself and what I think I can realistically accomplish.  If i study hard and learn other languages then I can get a job as a flight attendent or work with exchange students.  If I have experience teaching I can land a good ESL job.  If I'm good at making coffee, I can work at a cafe or get hired as a barista on a cruise ship.  While that is kind of true, there's so much more to it than that.  If I look back on my life, the story it tells is different.  

I know that God had a hand in every job I've gotten.  I had the credentials to get hired as an English teacher after graduation, but I struggled at first.  During the first couple months I felt like I was doing a bad job in some of the group classes.  I had trouble reading the students, picking topics they enjoyed and getting the to talk.  I really prayed, begging God to help me.  I didn't know what to do, but he did. After several more months I was able to run effective classes and have fun at the same time.  And I know it was nothing I did.  Then when I moved back to the US, I had no coffee experience but was hired at the Cafe anyway.  I gained valuable experience that helped me get my current job...right?  Well, I'm sure my experience helped some, but the way I've gotten my jobs showed me that it was all God and nothing I could do.  I applied for many, many, many coffee jobs here.  I have experience in coffee, restaurants, and interacting with people so I figured it would be easy.  But no.  When I was finally hired at my current cafe, due to some bizarre circumstances. She called me because she didn't know what else to do.  Then the library.  When I applied for the shelver position initially, I figured I'd be a good candidate because I worked in my college library for four years.  But I didn't get the job.  It wasn't until more than a month later that they called me back and offered me a job.  That clearly was God opening the door for me.  Clearly I can come up with all the plans I want but God is the one who makes things happen.  I want to learn to pin all my hopes on him.  In these I'm talking about a jobs, but we must pin our hopes on him in every situation.  And most important of all, he is our hope for salvation and true life.  Amazing!

Holiness isn't that popular of a subject these days.  I think it comes with the connotation of being stuck-up or self-righteous or the "holier-than-thou" stuff.  But we can't ignore the fact that the Bible has called to holiness.  It's not something I understand easily.  What does it mean to be holy while still being a sinner?  If not, then why has God called us to the impossible.  There's so much more to learn and study, but that's the exciting part.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Corned Beef and Barbershops

Yesterday I had a strong desire to consume some corned beef.  On any other day, that might be unusual, but yesterday was St. Patrick's Day.  It's one of my favorite holidays.  No, I'm not Irish.  I just relish the day that the world turns green.  Growing up, it was a given that we'd eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day.  My mother would usually buy several corned beef masses, a couple to be frozen for future use, and one to plop in the crockpot.  My anticipation would build as the smell of cooking meat filled the house.

Last St. Paddy's Day, I attempted my own corned beef dinner.  Now, I'm usually pretty good with new recipes, but that day I ran into several problems.  First, I was working with a new (well, technically used) crockpot and was confounded when the water refused to come to a boil.  What do you do when it won't boil?  Does that mean the meat won't ever cook?  Then there's the fact that corned beef is pink.  How in the world do you tell if meat is cooked if it is pink even after it's done?  You can smirk and tell me to use a meat thermometer, dummy, but no, I didn't have one.  And without it, my wonderful hunk of corned beef turned into a paradoxically tough and soggy mass.  After a few forced bites, I gave up in despair.

This year I don't have a crockpot (that one didn't last long), and I went to church and worked all day so I didn't even have time to make another attempt, but I still really wanted some corned beef.  My brother and I tried to go to an Irish pub downtown.  Surely they would have corned beef.  Unfortunately, they were more about the beer than the corned beef.  We squeezed our way into a white tent filled with people in leprechaun hats downing pints of beer.  That's all well and good, but I was hungry.  It didn't look like we'd be getting any food for at least an hour, so we left.  Our next attempt was a place called Cafe Amsterdam.  Although not Irish, they have (I hear) a variety of beer from all over Europe.  We assumed they'd also have Ruebens.  But they were closed.

Finally, we went to a non-descript place called Peggy's.  Peggy's.  But at least their special sign said they had corned beef.  Our waitress showed us to our booth, and the first thing I noticed were the spider plants hanging in pots from the ceiling.  It reminded me of my grandma's house.  In fact, after looking around the diningroom, the whole place reminded me of grandma's house.  There was blatantly fake wood panelling on the walls.  Strange little knickknacks were tucked around the room in odd places.  Brown, well-loved mugs sat upside down on our table.  Everything was clean but a bit dark and worn.  They offered a plethora of pies, even blackberry, my personal favorite.  I gave in to temptation and had a slice.  Delicious, but grandma's was better.  Probably because she always put sugar on top that got all crispy while it baked.

The corned beef was fine, albeit a bit too well-cooked.  Even that reminded me of grandma.  She always made sure that the cow was very, very dead.  We ate in a side booth, and I couldn't help noticing that we were the only customers in a booth.  The other patrons sat at the horseshoe-shaped counter in the center of the room.  I kept a quiet eye on them as I chewed my smushy carrots.

 They were all men, mostly in their fifties and sixties, but a few forty-somethings.  One thirty-something wandered in at the end.  They didn't come in together and sat a few stools apart, but they had an easy camaraderie like they were in the same club.  Boys only.  One would wander out and another would take his place drinking coffee and gobbling pie.

I heard snatches of local gossip--a man shot a Walmart manager for not allowing his dog inside--and some good-natured ribbing.  The waitresses, two ladies in their later years, were honorary members.  They greeted and joked and poured coffee.  It was a community.

I've always heard of the famed barbershop, the local male hangout where men bond and get a shave.  I've of course never participated in such a phenomenon, but I did witness it from afar.  There was a barbershop across the street from my old cafe.  I enjoyed watching the men come and go.  Grizzled old vets would stump in and out.  Young fathers would herd their young offspring in the ever-swinging door.  A wide assortment of men would come and go under the twirling red, blue and white pole.  Some would visit every two weeks.  I wanted to yell at some, don't do it!  You'll have nothing left!

I liked to think that we had our own barbershop at the cafe.  A group of men would crowd around a table early in the morning; on the sidewalk tables if it were nice, in the diningroom if it were cold.  Most of them ordered black mugs of bottomless drip coffee and talked and drank the morning away.  When I worked mornings, I was a supporting member, greeting them and making sure the airpots of coffee stayed full.  It was a neverending battle.

There's something magical about a place like that.  The community is tangible.  No matter how we've morphed and evolved as a society, the campfire story hour is still alive.  I think it's stayed with us because it's a necessary time of connection.  It's never really about the shave or the pie, it's about the people.

But it would help if the pie had sugar on the crust.