Friday, April 25, 2008

Fava Beans! A Mid-Spring Treat!

So, after all the fava bean buzz around SoCal farmer's markets, I gave them a try. They truly are a rare mid-spring treat. Hurry and give them a try before they go out of season! This recipe was a delicious, authentically Italian dish for enjoying them. Very simple too. The key is fresh ingredients, they hold their own class of flavor without much needed help.

I served them over just a very small portion of fresh linguine sprinkled with olive oil and pepper (add more olive oil over dish if seems too dry). Warm, crusty, multi-grain bread dipped in cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil made for a tasty side along with lemon roasted whole artichokes. Artichokes are also in season and accented the fava dish very nicely.

Fava Beans, Roman Style

Pancetta, one half-inch thick slice
3 pounds unshelled young fresh fava beans
2 tablespoons grape seed oil
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup water
Black pepper, freshly ground
Sea Salt

1. Unroll the pancetta and cut it into stripes 1⁄4 inch wide

2. Shell the beans and wash in cold water.

3. Cook the onion in the oil until it becomes translucent, then add the pancetta strips and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes. Stir in beans and pepper. Add water and simmer, covered, on low heat for 8 to 10 minutes if the beans are young and tender, or up to 15 minutes if the beans are larger and tougher. Add extra tablespoons of water if necessary. When the beans are tender, add salt, and cook for a few more minutes uncovered until the last of the water has evaporated.

Source: Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A lesson in Jesus' School of Compassion

Continuing on my journey through John, here are some thoughts on the following verses, found in the middle of the Lazarus story:

John 11:32b-33: “’Master!’ she (Mary) said. ‘If only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!’ When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judeans who had come with her crying, he was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled.”

This particular moment, in John’s story, about Lazarus’ death, teaches me a great deal about compassion! Taking a moment to pause, open myself to feeling another’s pain, hurt or distress, is sensitive, compassionate, and an opportunity for God’s heart of love for people to be shared.

There are other verses, through out the Gospel writings, that reveal Jesus is moved emotionally and compassionately by human grief and distress. Of course, there is the infamous “Jesus wept” passage, when he looked out over a city and knew that the men and women who lived there had no peace. There is also an example during Jesus’ death. While hanging on the cross, he looked down and saw his mother, whose heart was surely ripped in two. John was standing near her, and in the middle of horrific physical suffering, Jesus tells John to care for his mother. Examples of Jesus’ compassion is exhaustive, but this moment, in the verse above, would be on the running list.

At music school, I had many classmates from other cultures that did not grow up around Christianity. The name Jesus had little value or place in their lives and upbringing. “Prayer” or “praying” to Jesus was an illusive, somewhat meaningless activity. A teacher in my program was a Christian, and when she encountered a distressed student one day, who was crying and upset, she said, “I’ll be praying for you.” She left and continued on with her day. Not much later, there was a stir amongst the students in my class. A rumor was spreading that our teacher didn’t really care about us. I was puzzled, because she taught with passion, giving her all, and always seemed warm. The uncaring label seemed far from the truth.

It didn’t take long to find out what caused the stir. A handful of students were shocked by the teacher’s coldness toward the girl that had been crying. They didn’t understand how she could just walk away when someone was crying with a comment about something to do with prayer, and not sit with them, or give them a hug, and be with them. I felt bad for my Christian teacher because I knew her intentions had been good and she had been misunderstood. But, it also gave me a new perspective, and I could see why some students may have perceived her as being cold, especially since promises of prayer didn’t have much meaning for them.

How many times have I tried to comfort others in the same way? I know I’ve said to others in distress, “l’ll be praying for you,” without taking a moment to be with them in their sadness, or to sit and stay, and feel some of what they feel at that moment. Sometimes I can be too quick to move toward the subject of hope and a good news ending when I encounter those suffering or even deal with my own sufferings.

Continuing with Jesus example from the above verse, he walks into this mourning situation and, as always with perfection, shows the way of compassion and love, especially toward Lazarus sister’s Martha and Mary. Martha has already come to Jesus, and now Mary has come to him followed by a crowd of Lazarus’ mourners. Jesus greater intention for coming is to apparently “wake Lazarus up,” which actually means, as Jesus has already explained to the disciples, raise him up from being dead a few days. What a miraculous event to take place, just around the corner from this scene!

If I had directed this story (HA!) and I was at the point where Jesus sees Mary and the mourning Judeans all crying, Jesus next line would have been, “Hey guys, no worries! I’m just about to raise Lazarus from the dead and you don’t need to be sad. Cheer up! Something great is about to happen!” Well, there are certainly many obvious and good reasons that I, and everyone else, are glad God is the director of the story instead. Only under God’s direction, is perfect love displayed by what Jesus ACTUALLY does next.

Jesus’ first reaction, is to say nothing at all. He feels. The passage says, “He was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled.” This is compassion coming into the scene. Jesus opens himself to feeling with those who are hurting around him. It’s clear from earlier verses that Jesus knew good news was just around the corner and Lazarus would be raised up from death. It’s the greater purpose for which Jesus had come, but his actions show incredible sensitivity because it’s not the first thing he points out a mourning group of people. He is compassionate, pausing to be with those in distress even before pointing to hope.

Christ’s example in contrast to my own actions and those sometimes perceive in Christian culture, got me thinking. What are promises of prayer and hopeful solutions without true Christ exemplified compassion first? And what are some of the things that keep me from embracing the compassion I see in Jesus? For me, sometimes being busy gets in the way, even though I know God is less concerned about my keeping to a daily schedule than I am☺. Also, suffering can just be plain uncomfortable in myself and in others. I usually want to hurry through it. Taking time to pause in grief and pain seems like a damper. Getting to the “happy” side of life feels better. Yet, no one knows better than Christ himself that there is a time and place for every season of the soul.

What a much needed lesson Jesus actions are in the school of compassion! My response right now can only be to pray for help: “Lord, only you are holy and perfect. Help me learn how to pause in the moment with those hurting. Help me to remember that I don’t always need to talk or say something. Help me to be sensitive and compassionate like you. May others see and experience your love through my actions. Amen.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Faith it Took to Walk to Bethany

I’ve decided to read John for Everyone, which is basically the book of John with some helpful notes and thoughts by Tom Wright. It’s kind of like a commentary for those who need something in plain language. I started to read it because Joel was enjoying the “for everyone” commentary series and has been buying them up at Archives (a new and used theological book shop). I really like them! And, I decided to start with John because I learn so much about Jesus when I read it, which makes it probably my favorite book in the Bible.

So, I have part II of John, chapters 11-21, and it starts with a story about Jesus and his interactions surrounding the death of Lazarus. Faith is demonstrated by Jesus with striking perfection, and His disciples (often dogged for having “little” faith) though conflicted, as I more personally relate to, still have some moments of true shinning faith.

I never realized that Jesus was outside Judea at this point in John’s story (which included Bethany where Lazarus dead body layed), because the Judeans were seeking to kill him, and more specifically, tried to stone him earlier. In a sense, he was hiding out when Lazarus got ill and died. This has much to do with his practical delay in coming to the situation. Of course, it’s also obvious there were unseen reasons for his delay, that only God understood at the time. When Jesus finally starts heading toward the mourners and Mary and Martha (Lazarus’ sisters) in Bethany, his disciples think he is basically committing suicide and seem shocked he would walk into such obvious danger.

What is danger in the face of God’s will? What place does fear have when we trust God’s will is good and will be done in our lives? I think of this when reading this passage. Jesus displays this perfectly as only He can. He knows that nothing can happen to Him outside of God’s will and timing and He trusts God’s will and timing are best and good. I personally think He knows it’s not his time to die yet, but I feel awed by Jesus, that He follows His Father’s will down to Lazarus not only when He knows no harm will come to Him, and a glorious miracle will take place, but He equally follows his Father’s will later in the story, when He fully knows it will lead him to pain, suffering, and death. Jesus life displays faith in whole, not in part! Not just in the happy ending stuff, but in the “hard to swallow” stuff.

Thankfully, God never wills for us to die brutally for the sins of the world (this was a task unique only to Jesus and will never be required of His followers), but the Bible does make it clear, that those who believe are called to live out God’s love for all people through acts of goodness, and to proclaim the truth of Jesus death and resurrection. This can certainly cause believers to face some scary and sticky situations. Some have and currently face death, imprisonment, and brutalities for that cause. I know God has a special grace and place in His heart for these people! Death is obviously extreme faith and I’ll be honest, I don’t necessarily foresee that happening to me in the United States (I certainly hope it won’t anyway), but through Jesus example, even though I’m not facing terrible death, I am personally encouraged to trust God with faith and without fear, even when things are hard or I experience my own types of sufferings.

Something I remember well, when I was on a short-term mission trip, with a medical team, in the back jungles of the Philippines, was a comment our local contact and leader made. His name was Pio, and he lived and breathed the missionary long-term lifestyle in these remote, rather dangerous tribal areas. The danger he encountered regularly didn’t quite compare with my daily U.S. experience ☺ As we were trudging along in the mud and rain, on our way to a village, he said, “The best place to be is in God’s will, even if that is in a plane about to crash.” That always stood out to me, because I sensed he wasn’t just pulling a random example, but had actually experienced that very situation. There was a genuine tone in his voice. That comment has provoked my thoughts for quite some time now.

Though the disciples, in John’s story, do not have striking faith like Jesus in the situation, I have to give them some definite faith credit here. They followed him right down to Bethany. It seems that Thomas makes, what I imagine was a sarcastic remark, as they head off along the lines of “We might as well die with him.” But… they went and Jesus even states that the whole situation is good for the disciples faith, to help it grow.

Seems God is still equally concerned about His disciples’ faith growing today. In fact He not only implies we will face hardships the Bible clearly teaches that we Will face hardship. Our faith is often tested and we find ourselves feeling half crazy, going out on a limb of faith, probably much like the disciples felt in this passage, walking into what seemed a death trap in Bethany. Maybe they were even starting to imagine what the blow of being stoned would feel like if they were caught? But, they had enough faith from God to keep walking and it’s obvious the disciples had ultimate confidence in following where Jesus led, or they wouldn’t have gone, even if they didn’t understand the events around them. I can relate to this! Can’t every believer! None of us seem to escape this sort of testing and refining of our faith!

Imagine if the disciples did not go with Jesus to Bethany out of fear? They would have missed such a glorious event! Because they followed Jesus they saw a man, and not just any man, but their friend, raise up from death! Now, from this story, I can’t conclude that these “faith growing” experiences always lead us to wonderful feelings, that I’m sure the disciples, in this instance, where feeling as they witness their friend’s literal resurrection. I would be making a conclusion based on one story, without a larger balance of many stories and teachings in the Bible, but I think I can safely conclude, that following Jesus, with faith, leads us to God’s glory. And that is a gem worth more than I can imagine now, but have only tasted on my discipleship journey! Experiencing this glory, I am convinced has something to do with abundant life and lasting, not fleeting, deep joy, which is really true happiness. Faith leads us to God’s glory where true joy and meaning is found.