Tent Making

“… and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them”

Acts 18:3

There is a tide of fabric that rises to cover our living room floor regularly at the moment. I am mid-project and it is the largest, flattest surface in our basement suite, so it has assumed the role of ‘cutting-out table’. Some days there has been room to walk through and avoid fabric underfoot, at other times, not.

A la Paul, I am in the business of making a series of tents. Five tents as soft-sculpture, an art installation for my ‘final project’ at Regent College. The IPIAT, Integrated Project in the Arts and Theology, is a chance for me to explore a theological concept raised for me during my course and respond creatively. Another project I did allowed me to explore a theology of textiles and ‘clothing’ in the Bible – and I remember being fascinated that the first big textiles ‘moment’ of the Bible was God’s commissioning the tabernacle. It was such an important demonstration of God’s commitment to His people, to dwell with them, to travel with them, to be their God, and it was made of fabric. Artisans of all stripes were involved in its production. It was this especially holy place, home to the localised presence of God, and yet, was made of yarn spun, woven and embroidered by the Israelite people. The language of John 1 picks up a similar theme – although there is no actual tent this time – we are introduced to the Word, the Word “who became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14) as Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message. In Greek, the words we read as ‘made his dwelling among us’ in say the NIV, mean more literally ‘set up His tent’ among us. We continue on, further into the New Testament and see Peter referring to our bodies as ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’ and Paul using the tent as a metaphor for our own earthly lives. He himself is a tentmaker – along side his kingdom work.

There is something profound here I think. Two things perhaps. Firstly, the material and the mundane are the place of God’s presence. From desert-worship-space to Son to our Spirit-indwelled lives, God is not afraid of turning up in this material world He has made. Our earthiness does not bother Him or offend Him. He has made His home here, with us. Secondly, God is relentless in pursuing closer and closer relationship with His people. Each move is more intimate, till He is within us – filling us with His own Spirit, and then, finally, a face-to-face-forever relationship.

And so, as I try to wrap my head round this Immanuel-Dwelling-Material mystery, I’m making some tents. They will tell the story of ‘everydays’ that are at once both mundane and miraculous, spiritual and physical, in a word, integrated. That is the plan.

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Latent: of apple muffins and baby blankets


It is, my blogging software informs me, a great many months since I published anything here online. I have officially been quiet since October last year. Which is, coincidentally, almost as long ago as my last ‘summer break’ (a break that extends from April to September is one of the great perks of studying in the Northern Hemisphere – school from September through April does, however, have its low points!). As I emerge from the cocoon of books, scarves, boots and papers that has been my head (and body) space of the last few months, consciousness of things apart from the-very-next-thing-I-must-do has been returning and have found myself looking at a rather old list of ideas for blog posts. However, there is something right about them too. The apple muffins I made and re-made when the trees were heavy with fruit last September I have made again with some, still-frozen, left over fruit in the bottom of the deep freeze (see the recipe below). Apples for muffins ‘in season and out of season’.

It is not apple season now. After an unseasonably cold Vancouver winter, we have been waiting for the clouds of blossom that have finally burst onto our streets for a very long time. Our slow-coming spring has brought yellow daffodils, a rainbow of tulips and a new flock of babies too – I can count six new additions to families connected to our college and church community with at least one more to come along later in summer (not counting those back at home in Australia!). We watched bellies grow, wrote due dates in our calendar and made baby blankets. Now, we watch on as our friends fall in love with these wee ones who have come along to join their families. We too are in awe of the labouring that brought them forth, their tiny limbs, the hours of sleep their new parents are doing without. We try to make dinners for families feeling the way through the fog of odd sleeping routines and the huge responsibility of keeping a new human being alive.

This is the season we are in now. A privileged season of watching on as our friends become parents. A precious season of sunshine after many months of winter. A time to celebrate beginnings and the end of labours past (both physical and academic!).

And so below I am sharing the recipe for apple muffins, out of season but right in time for feeding some families with new arrivals (they make good school snacks too – whether or not your classes are done for the year yet!).

Ingredients:
2 cups of grated raw apple
¼ cup sugar (I used brown but I am pretty sure it would work with white, castor/berry or even coconut)
¼ cup applesauce
¼ cup milk (cows/almond/rice … you choose!)
¼ cup oil (I used avocado this time, something relatively neutral in flavour is ideal)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup wholemeal flour
½ cup quick oats
1 cup plain/all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon

(Approximate amounts of) Extras for topping:
½ cup oats
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp milk
2 tsp of cinnamon
1-2 tbsp of sugar

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200oC and grease the muffin pan well with butter or oil, a layer of flour over the grease also makes popping them out at the end easier.
2. Gently combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
3. Spread the muffin mixture evenly between the 12 pans, saving about ¼ cup in the bowl.
4. Mix the ‘extra for topping’ ingredients into the remaining mixture and then spread over the tops of the muffins.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or till golden and cooked through.
6. Enjoy!

This recipe is a modified version of one from Diana Linfoot’s Muffin Magic Book.

Marking and Measuring Time : in grace and gratitude

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This summer I attended a course at college called The Meaning of the Sacraments – which I really enjoyed. Mostly we talked about what baptism and communion mean – the two common sacraments the church celebrates all over the world. However, one of the texts we read was For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann – who is an orthodox priest. His theology has a whole-of-the-cosmos-focus and he works hard to challenge the modern separation of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ realms of human life. After reading his chapter ‘The Time of Mission’, I felt invited to conduct my own reflections on the sacramental nature of time.

What followed was my major paper*. I followed the line that rather than seeing time as a wearisome burden, perhaps we are invited to understand the times and seasons given to us by God as gift. If so, perhaps there are ways we can ‘mark’ time regularly and cyclically – using repeated rhythms and rituals as well as moments of special attention and celebration.

These photos are of homemade lavender cake – a late birthday gift for a lovely (and patient!) friend. I know I have written about cake so many times but I after researching my paper a few years ago they seem so important as a way of marking a special day with special food. We put the best of our ingredients together to make something beyond basic fare because the people we have been given to walk with are gifts to us, we want to mark their milestones, to party with them, to be thankful for them.

Writing this paper was such a gift to me – I had always had a hunch that there was more to birthdays than what met the eye – the cake, the presents, the balloons – these matter because they are a way of delighting in God’s gifts to us – in particular, the person we love and are celebrating.

If you too would like a theological reason for partying – or if you have always felt called by the mountains on your horizon to look to God for help – this paper may also interest you.

*A pdf of my paper is below:
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Baking and blooms

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I have had a growing sense over the past few years that I needed to pay more attention to herbs and spices – particularly to the use of flowers – in cooking. I am always drawn to the variegated dunes of spices in the markets, find myself picking rosemary leaves from the bushes by the gate at my grandparents on my way to the door just to smell them and, this past summer, fell in love with culinary bouquets at the farmer’s markets (posies of edible flowers and herbs, yes please!). I think that it may have something to do with my romantic invocation of old English kitchen gardens, medieval spice caravans and poems about herbs for healing. Scents have stories it seems. Not that long ago I did find a little illustrated cookbook of recipes (the best kind) that revolved around incorporating the diverse flavours of ‘herbs de Provence’ into sweet and savoury dishes. I have also used rose petals to dress cakes a few times this last year – but I have had this sense that there was more than could be done. Even though school work takes up most of my creative energy, these ideas have been simmering away, so to speak, on the back burner in my brain.

All that to say, when my friend Lauren presented ‘Lavender’ as a plant and product in our community group a few weeks ago (presentation complete with lavender scones to sample!), I finally made my first move. After a Wholefoods excursion I was ready to start – I experimented with a butter cake recipe from the Vintage Cakes cookbook – a birthday present from my grandmother. The cake book is a delight and the cakes (one loaf and several-many cup cakes) turned out so well for a first try. I added 3 tablespoons to the classic birthday cake recipe and made vanilla butter cream as the frosting. It was very decadent – but such a treat. All in all, I feel my lavender explorations have only just begun – the cake called for ‘cake flour’ which incorporates some corn starch into the mix – something that I am quite unfamiliar with. I think it makes the grain of the cake quite fine – not necessarily my favourite texture. For now I will count this as an excellent first attempt and will keep exploring the exciting world of herbs, spices and flowers in food. I will keep you posted!

Mist and Mountain Views

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“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

The Blue Mountains, the Moresby Ranges and now the Coast Mountains in Vancouver – each of my homes has had a ‘mountain’ view. As the pattern began to reoccur I remembered these verses from Psalm 121, and I often think of them now as I look out the window, sitting at my desk in the lounge room, still in awe of the privilege of being so close to Canada’s snow covered majesties.

But the thing about Vancouver in winter is, sometimes you can’t see the mountains. The rain clouds or fog descends, and when you look up the view has gone. There have been times in this season when that seems to ring true both climatically and emotionally. Sometimes when we look up to the hills, needing their strength, needing them to direct our gaze to the God who made heaven and earth – all we see is a fog, clouds blocking the horizon. Indefinite, transient, they softly (but firmly) block the view, taking with it our perspective and wonder.

In that moment it is hard to remember that which is beyond our vision – it is hard to have “assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Behind what we can see, beyond the limits of our vision, there are still mountains. On these cloudy days it takes faith just to believe in them, let alone believe we can move them … but they are there. Solid, foundational, just like the One who promises that we can look to them and seek His help. We turn and wrestle to remember His past faithfulnesses.

And then, one day, the cloud lifts. The sun (Son?) shines and we are again overwhelmed with their glory, reminded of their testimony, given renewed hope. Sometimes we can even carve out time for mountain top experiences. We leave town, take a day and immerse ourselves in their heights and glories. We are restored to the truth of the mountains, their beauty helps to make us whole again as they witness to the One who makes both them and us. Although they outstrip our tiny frames completely – they enlargen us, telling the bigness of a God who makes wide, spacious places and calls us to into them, to dwell, to rest.

It seems that this is the season for lifting my eyes and trying to live in the spacious places. A season for wondering at the view.

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Photo credit: Asher Graieg-Morrison

Of much worth

A friend (kindly) remarked today that she found my previous post encouraging. To be honest, it was a timely comment. I need the same truth I wrote about a few week ago just as much today as I did then. I think I am a slow learner – sometimes it takes a long time for the truth to sink in. But maybe we all need to hear these truths more than once, repeatedly even. Thankfully this Truth stays the same, yesterday, today and forever! Over and over, day after day, the same reminder that we are so loved, that He has done it all well. That we can breath easy in the wide open spaces of His grace. I gear up, face my to-do list, and struggle through it … till I am reminded to look up. Reminded of words I have said, truths I have known for such a long time. No matter, I still need to hear them over and over, I still need to be reminded less me, more  Him, less fear, more joy. So here I am writing again. Mostly for me, but maybe these words will encourage you too!

Advent : the season of waiting.

In the Northern Hemisphere the images of waiting for light in a dark season ring true. This year, having been transplanted from the Southern Hemisphere into the North, I have been thinking about what we wait for in our warm Australian Christmas season. Rest comes to mind, as the busyness of another school year winds up in a whirlwind. Refreshment, as the waves and sunshine of the beach calls us tired students and workers toward the summer holidays. Maybe even shade and shelter, from the fiery southern sun! Despite the differences that geography makes to our theology, some of our deeper longings may draw us together instead.

 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Even though we stand in a long line of those who have not valued God for who He is and what He does, the story of Christmas is the story of ‘Immanuel’, literally the story of ‘God-with-us’ in the Hebrew. The story of Christmas is, as Eugene Petterson puts it in the Message, the story of God “move[ing] right into the neighborhood”. We may not have listened to His prophets, we may not have understood His plans and purposes, we may not have even wanted too, but that did not deter Him. This is a God who loves the fragile, stubborn, dusty earthlings He has made with a “never-stopping-never-giving-up-always-and-forever-love” (with thanks to John Mustol and Sally Lloyd Jones). Perhaps you have been avoiding His voice and call, are struggling to hear it over the loud, demanding voices of the world or don’t feel you are worthy of it, painfully aware as you are of your brokenness. Whichever is closest to your story, John tells us that the Word itself, Himself, God-in-Action, came near that first Christmas.

You don’t come near if you don’t care.
You don’t come near if you are indifferent.
You come near when you can’t help yourself any longer.
You come near when being far away a moment more will break you.

The first Christmas marked the beginning of a life that was not glamorous or guarded. He did not hold Himself back, He was not disengaged.  He moved right into our mess because He cared. He wanted us to know that we were worth more than the mess, worth the more than the brokenness, worth coming near. Worth knowing, worth loving and worth saving. He let coming near break Him, His life and death showing, beyond a sceric of a doubt, that He thought we were worth it, worth it all. The whole glorious complex creation, now-broken-but-waiting-breath-bated project was and is still worthwhile to Him.

It is worth knowing then, that while we do wait in eager expectation to see His final (re-)creative handiwork in the full renewal of His creation project, we do not have to wait to know what He thinks of us. Jesus came near, reached out, held hands, partied, mourned, ate and drank with people just like us. Each one “precious and honored” Isaiah 43:4, and of much worth in His sight. So when a dark moment or mood unmoors you, remember Immanuel. Remember that Christmas is the story of God drawing near, of Him moving into the neighbourhood (even when it was not a very ‘nice’ one). Of God giving us “His son, His only Son, whom He loved” (my rewording of Genesis 22:2), showing us how much we are worth to Him.

Fear not

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” Luke 2:10

Over and against the dark, anxiety, problems too big to carry and crumbling hopes, perhaps this is the call of Christmas. The first Christmas was not a moment for the faint of heart, there were visions, angels, social scandal and political upheaval. The wounds of dashed familial dreams were rubbed with salt – Elizabeth long barren and Mary an unwed mother. The national and geographical skies of Israel were heavy with unrest; God’s special people felt forgotten and abused. The stakes were high and there was much to be afraid of.  It should perhaps be unsurprising then that early in the story Zechariah (Luke 1:13), Mary (Luke 1:30) and Joseph (Matt 1:20) are each called to put away fear.

A quick word search shows that they stand in a long line of those called by God not to fear. Abraham to Revelation, the story of God’s people is the story of hearing those words; do not be afraid. And the reason, the follow up statement, the ‘why’? It begins with God Himself, His character and inclination toward them. They don’t need to be afraid because they have a God who promises to fight for His people (Deuteronomy 3:22) and deliver them (Exodus 14:13). A God who promises never to leave His people (Deuteronomy 31:6) and who promises to do good to them (Zechariah 8:15). He will be their shield and reward (Genesis 15:1). He will hear the cries of even the small and weak (Genesis 21:17). They do not need to fear great battles, great nations, doubt or discouragement because there is no other God besides their God (Isaiah 44:8) and He has determined to help them (Isaiah 41:14).

And the most incredible ‘help’ came one Holy Night in an unexpected way, a tiny baby, “a thrill of hope” in a desperate situation. The wonder of birth and new life bringing so much potential into the world. The angels herald the good news and again, call the shepherds from darkness and fear into something new that God is doing, great joy for all. At last, God among us. At last, face-to-face yet we live. At last, reconciled. At last, peace and rest.

This Christmas I am trying to let joy unseat fear. 1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love drives out fear” and Jesus came to demonstrate God’s perfect love for us, bringing peace for troubled hearts (John 14:27). Jesus Himself acknowledges that “in this world [we] will have trouble” but calls us to “take heart! [because] I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The One who is First and Last (Revelation 1:17) calls us to lay down our fear and rather to look to Him, the conduit of cosmic Love, Joy and Peace. Yes, Advent calls us to wait, but to wait with confidence knowing that “the hopes and fears of all the years” have indeed been met in the One who came and overcame, and “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV).