George Herbert on Love

“Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.”

This is the final couplet of George Herbert’s poem, The Agony.

George Hunsinger quoted it in his book The Eucharist and Ecumenism.

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Offensive Football

The Huskers dominated the game on Saturday vs Iowa State but managed to lose, due to another dominating stat: they had 7 turnovers (most of them within yards … or inches … from the goal line) compared to 0 (zero, none, nada) for the ‘Clones. The football players on the offensive side are just that: offensive. So now we have the “Blackshirts” on the defensive side of the ball and a bunch of offensive players out on the field the rest of game.

Some Thoughts While Roaming Where the Buffalo Once Roamed

While in Great Falls, Mont, we visited the C. M. Russell Museum. The upper floor shows the work of various western artists while the lower floor is dedicated primarily to the American bison in art. While there we learned that the bison is the spiritual heart of the North American West.

Setting aside the blatantly pagan sensibility of the artist’s contention, there is something cynically profound in this silliness about the bison and spirituality:

First, as church historians as varied as Niebuhr, Philip J. Lee, and Lewis Weeks contend, historic, Christo-centric, Trinitarian Christianity has never been the spiritual heart of North America, and confessional Christianity has always fought an uphill fight against a whole variety of “isms,” pagan sensibilities, and highly individualized self-help style religion. If not Christ, why not the bison? As old Charlie Russell himself opined, the bison is a far better symbol of America than Ben Franklin’s turkey.

Second, from a broad cultural perspective, Nietzsche was indeed prophetic when he claimed that we (ie, Western culture) killed God. Christianity has become a minority religion with all sorts of strange spiritualities seeping in to fill the void. Just as we slaughtered the bison to near extinction, so it is with Christianity.

Third, through human foresight and human ingenuity, we saved the bison from extinction and it is now thriving. The same can be said for religion in North America.

Fourth, the bison is large, dangerous, makes a lot of noise when it stampedes around, but is mostly kept controlled behind very strong fences. The once majestic creature has mostly become a curiosity and money-maker for humans. And yes, its majesty does manage to shine through on occasion, in spite of our fences. I’ll let you make the connection.

So if one is talking about North American religious sensibility in general, and not referring to classic, confessional Christianity, the artist may be right. The American Bison may indeed be the spiritual heart of the North American West.

Fajita-style Mushroom Tacos and Mexigatawny Soup

I was skeptical about this. I like mushrooms, but they ought to be kept in their place. Use mushrooms in a mushroom dish, not as a meat substitute, because they don’t taste like meat. (!!!) In spite of my lofty theories, this dish turned out pretty good.

This is also a good married couple dish (or date dish, or two people living across the hall from each other dish – you get the idea). While one is doing the veggies, the other can be doing the mushrooms. If you’ve got a grill, it works even better to grill the ‘shrooms and tortillas. So if it’s a married couple that’s not getting along swimmingly at the moment, the sauté chef can do the veggies in the kitchen while the grill chef can do the ‘shrooms and tortillas on the patio grill. This is truly a dish for every aspect of the human condition!

The Veggies

Thin slice bell peppers and onions. Optionally, throw in an Anaheim or a Hatch pepper to add some nice flavor. They’re long enough that they blend nicely with fajita style peppers and onions. Grill the onions for a minute or two, throw in the peppers and a clove or two (or three!!) of garlic (pressed or crushed), and cook until tender. Add a teaspoon of ground coriander and a teaspoon of ground cumin. Even better cut the ground cumin to a half teaspoon and add a half teaspoon of cumin seeds – it gives a nice flavor burst if you hit one.

The Mushrooms

Slice a couple full grown portabella mushrooms into 1/4″ thick slices and grill, broil, l or bake them in the oven. (Oven temp? I have no idea because I have a grill, but I’d guess 400˚. You want a hot oven, but you don’t want to scorch the ‘shrooms. If you spray them lightly with a vegetable oil spray they cook better.) Grilled mushrooms are typically grilled whole with 10-12 minutes on a side, but I prefer slicing them first and grilling them for approx. 5 minutes on a side. But this requires a grill with closely spaced grating on the racks.

After the mushrooms are done, grill or broil the tortillas for a minute or two on each side to soften them up. If you do it too long they get hard. If your grill is hot (like an outdoor gas grill), limit it to a minute or less. If the house you live in came with one of those grills built into the stove, cook them a bit longer. Those things (well, the one we have at least) isn’t nearly as hot as an outdoor grill.

The Condiments

I’m not a shredded lettuce guy. Instead I prefer a whole leaf or two, depending on the size, of red or green leaf lettuce spread on the tortilla before any other ingredients are put on. It makes the taco a bit more drippy, but it keeps the tortilla from getting soggy and tearing while you eat it. It also adds a nice crunch.

We added black beans and salsa along with the ‘shrooms and veggies then crumbled a bit of casa fresca on top. (Casa fresca is a Mexican young cheese that is readily available in all the Sioux City grocery stores. But of course, Sioux City is a meat packing plant town and as a rule of thumb young folks who are native-born Americans aren’t willing to work that hard, so we have a large Latino population here. Don’t know if casa fresca is available in your town, but it probably is. You really can’t do Mexican food without it.)

The Soup

If you buy dried black beans and cook them yourself, save the liquid from cooking the beans, you can use it in a very nice soup that is similar to mulligatawny soup, but with Latino flavors rather than Indian curry.

In a blender purée until finely chopped, 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, a quarter of a medium sized cucumber, 1 stalk of celery, and some onion and a couple cloves of garlic. I’m not a big onion fan, so a quarter wedge is plenty for me, but I suspect many people would like it with the whole onion thrown in. You might need to add some liquid (ie black bean juice, below) to get the blender to purée these ingredients.

Throw in an avocado and mix that up until smooth. (This doesn’t take long.)

Add 2 medium sized tomatoes – or even better, one tomato and 4 tomatillos (nice tang), or for the fresh vegetable impaired, a can of diced tomatoes.

Add the blackish juice from the black beans, including the sludge at the bottom – that’s where all the flavor is! Purée this mixture until smooth. If it’s thinner than a mulligatawny soup, add some black beans and purée it again. (Don’t know how thick a mulligatawny soup is? Well, it’s medium thick. I’d recommend you go to the nearest Indian restaurant and order mulligatawny and make your soup about the same thickness. Don’t have an Indian restaurant in the neighborhood? Then I’d recommend you fly or drive to Omaha and try out the mulligatawny at the Jaipur Restaurant in Rockbrook Village. That’s a mighty fine soup! But I digress.)

As you heat it up add a half tablespoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander. More or less according to your taste. I use a tablespoon each. Mexican oregano also adds a nice touch, but if you have Spanish (European) rather than Mexican oregano it will give it a vaguely Italian flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste. Rather than salt and pepper, I use Worcestershire sauce. It brings a bit more to the dish. (Did you know anchovy paste is the secret ingredient in Worcestershire sauce?)

Before serving, add the juice of one lime.

You know, I think I’ll christen this “Mexigatawny Soup.”

If you are a gazpacho fan this soup is also quite tasty cold. We’re supposed to get snow here in Sioux City tonight, so it’s not exactly balmy, but I suspect a cold soup and a warm fajita style portabella mushroom taco would make a mighty fine summer meal while sitting out on the patio.

I Highly Recommend This Article on Economics

I know several of my readers read Gary North’s newsletter. I also know that at this point some of my readers will roll their eyes and smirk because North has had some famous predictive misses, the most infamous being his prediction of a Y2K disaster. He moved to the back woods of Arkansas and stocked up on water, food, and gold. His prediction was so far off, he stayed holed up and below the radar for a couple of years and then moved to the other end of the state. He’s still an Arkansas resident but now lives in the Memphis area.

In spite of some of his more wild-eyed predictions, he’s generally a good economist and forecaster, IMHO. But with his latest exposition on money he has returned to the wild side. Briefly, he contends that we need to return to the gold standard because fiat money is ultimately worthless.

A definition is in order. All currencies in the world at this time are “fiat currencies.” That means their value is set arbitrarily and that they have no intrinsic value. Even the Swiss Franc, which is fractionally backed by gold, is fundamentally a fiat currency because the Swiss occasionally change the percentage that is back by gold, so the “Swissy” is back by less gold today than it was a couple of years ago, and therefore has no intrinsic value, only an arbitrary relationship to gold.

Gary North is an alarmist with an acutely apocalyptic sense of the near future. He also sees the world in black and white. The last several issues of his newsletter have been on the topic of, “What Is Money?” and in this series he makes the claim that the only sensible thing to do is to return to the absolute gold standard.

While I agree with him in broad principle, as do all Libertarians and everyone who accepts the principles of the Austrian school of economics, there is a fundamental flaw in the gold standard. The flaw is that the world economy is bigger than the amount of gold available (about $5 trillion at current US$ levels). If all accounts were settled in gold it would constrict the world economy to the point that commerce would come to a standstill.

It’s a Scylla and Charybdis problem. If the unlimited expansion potential of fiat money is the Scylla of modern economics, then the absolute constriction of the gold standard is the Charybdis. And as the ancient Greek myth reminds us, if you focus exclusively on one monster as you pass through the Strait of Messina you are bound to veer off course and run into the other monster. Gary North is so focused on Scylla, he’s headed directly into the jaws of Charybdis – arguing for a monetary policy that is so constrictive that it would bring about an economic slowdown (or even a stoppage) of historic magnitude.

While it’s clear that Gary North has once again wandered into very dangerous waters, I’m neither smart enough nor knowledgeable enough to explain it well to anybody else. But Paul Tustain recently gave a lecture that explains both the Scylla of fiat money and the Charybdis of the absolute gold standard brilliantly. Tustain was a very successful commodities and currency trader who retired from trading a few years ago to start a company called BullionVault.com (a company I advertise on my site just because I think the service they offer is so important). He was kind enough to post his lecture on the website. It is entitled Towards Hyperinflation and can be found here.

Why am I blathering on about this? I believe that American monetary policy is disastrous and that the disaster is coming sooner than later. But Gary North’s wild-eyed rantings about it tend to cause people to do nothing: who wants to follow the advice of a crazy man? Gary North makes the phrase, “the coming economic disaster” sound crazy, and therefore not worth doing anything about.

In contrast to North, I offer Paul Tustain’s analysis as a level-headed and sensible analysis of what’s coming down the pike in hopes that I can encourage folks to make sensible financial decisions in preparation before the full effect of the actions of the Treasury Dept, the Federal Reserve, Congress, and this (as well as the previous) administration come to fruition.

Some Thoughts about Making Espato for a Special Guest

The bishop came for a visit this week in honor of our parish’s feast day, which is Oct. 6. It was a pretty low key visit – questions and answers over Saturday brunch, words of encouragement and dinner after Great Vespers, coffee hour after Divine Liturgy. …

… And possibly most important of all, our good deacon was elevated to the rank of archdeacon. I have no idea what that means, but it’s pretty cool, and I’m pretty sure it involves a significant pay raise, so maybe he’ll actually buy lunch some time.

More striking than the visit itself was the activity before the visit. A handful of people were all a-quiver over schedules, arrangements, etc. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mary and Martha. Some folks fluttered and fussed while some of us just took it easy and listened.

But before you jump to conclusions, my thoughts about Mary and Martha weren’t in defense of my lack of involvement in the preparations. Jesus’ rebuke of St.-Martha-of-the-Furious-Flutter is often used as a self-defense by those of us who let others do all the work. (And as an aside – and in defense of Martha – I will observe that while it was Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet, it was Martha who actually “… received him into her house.” Lk 10:38)

I’m more interested in a single word in verse 40. Luke tells us that Martha was “distracted.” I always liked that word in Greek, peri-espato, because it sounded like an Italian pasta dish to me and I can imagine Italians getting distracted and even shouting at each other in the kitchen while preparing a meal.

But this weekend I wasn’t thinking about all the St.-Marthas-of-the-Furious-Flutter in our parish who might get distracted with meal reservations, travel arrangements, etc. I was rather thinking about those of who got distracted for completely different reasons. Brenda and I were originally going to be out of town this weekend but various circumstances conspired to allow us to remain for the Bishop’s visit.

And even in town there were distractions. It was homecoming weekend at Morningside College. The Argentinean Tami Trio performed on Sunday, as part of the Sioux City Chamber Association schedule (okay, I admit it, I’m the only member of St. Thomas that I’ve ever seen at a SCCA event, but still, it was a distraction), there was even an electronic recycling day down in Sgt. Bluff!

Martha was distracted while making her signature dish: Italian “espato.” But at least she was in the same house with Jesus. She was at least distracted by Jesus-stuff. This weekend I was more curious about all the distracted people that never managed to come over to the house at all; except for a conspiring of accidental schedule changes, that was almost me.

And maybe mine was a good reason to be absent, but maybe not (that’s my business and not yours). And maybe the reason Dick and Jane and their dog Spot weren’t there were also very good reasons, but maybe not (that’s their business, but I’d be willing to make a guess).

The point is, unlike Martha and Mary, there were and are a bunch of distracted people who weren’t even in the house. And that is the biggest tragedy of all, because, unlike St.-Martha-of-the-Furious-Flutter, they weren’t around to hear Jesus’ words of encouragement, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things …” In a world which we too often make too busy for our own goods, those are important words to hear from our Master.

The Kiss of Death?

[P.S. (I guess this is a “pre-script”). Dot5 Hosting, my hosting site, was down yesterday. I wrote this post Thursday morning (Oct. 1) about an hour before the markets opened, but have been unable to publish it. The S&P dropped 27.23 yesterday – over 2.5% – a massive freefall. We’ll see what happens today.]

I try to avoid financial subjects, especially if they’re of a technical nature. But I the following chart too beautiful (in a frightening sort of way) not say anything. It charts the S&P 500 through the end of September.

Classic bear markets typically follow an A-B-C pattern. The “A” is the first down-leg. It puts a bit of fear in people. That is followed by “B” – a bear market rally which is typically characterized by over-exuberance and hope in spite of the evidence. (By the way, there’s little evidence that things have actually recovered: The next set of home loan resets and another – bigger – round of foreclosures are coming this quarter. The Baltic Dry Index continues to look disastrous. Commercial real estate is teetering on the brink at the moment. In other words, we are suffering classic symptoms of over-exuberance at the moment.)

“B” is followed by “C” – another big and typically vicious down wave which typically takes the market far below the previous low. This leg is often called the “wash out.” On the last day of September the S&P rose up to touch its 20 day moving average. Look at the last two times it did that. In Oct 2008 the market went down 700 pts. The time before that (when things were moving the opposite direction) in Oct 2003, the market went up 500 pts. And one more thing … Notice how often the big, scary moves happen in the month of October?

But don’t try to get greedy and try to short the market on this chart alone; this is no recommendation. This tells us where the market’s going, not how it’s going to get there. When the trend reverses the line often does a “double kiss” of the moving average, so this next move might take a month or a quarter to sort itself out and make up its mind. And, it could just blow through the moving average like it did in June 2003, but world economic indicators indicated that that would happen. This time around world economic indicators are indicating that the bounce is over. All I have to say is, “Look out below!”