She’s So Good With Brackets, I Can’t Wait Until She Covers Next Year’s NCAA Basketball Tourney

Brenda and I went to the grocery store this morning and got nabbed for a “man on the street” interview for one of the “journalists” from KCAU, Channel 9 News here in Sioux City. She wanted us to comment on the ObamaCare decision that had just been handed down by the Supreme Court.

We declined to comment since neither of us had yet heard what the decision was. So, using all her journalistic expertise, she explained it to us in the following manner:

The Supreme Court upheld the decision, but they changed one provision in the law. Instead of fining people who refuse to get insurance, the court said that anyone who didn’t get insurance would be bumped up one tax bracket and have to pay more taxes.

[You can’t invent stuff this good!!!]

In case you haven’t been following the news, or were unfortunate enough to get the story from KCAU, Channel 9 Eyewitness News and their goofy little news babe (this “journalist” deserves the nick name, after all!), let me clarify using the Chief Justice’s own words (which, amazingly, are quite a bit less vague than the above quoted grocery store journalist). According to Roberts, the law’s “requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance [that is, the ‘individual mandate’] may reasonably be characterized as a tax.” Thus it is legal, based on congress’s constitutional authority to impose taxes. (Source: Reuters)

Yeah, that’s pretty much the same thing  as the Supreme Court moving me into another tax bracket.



In Praise of Ketchup

Chutney is exotic. Salsa is sexy. (Have you ever gone “ketchup dancing”?) Ketchup is probably little more than the stuff you unthinkingly glob onto your fries at the local burger emporium. Shame on you!

Making an egg sandwich with cheese and ketchup the other morning, I wondered how it had happened that ketchup had been reduced to such ignominy.

Set aside, for a moment, your belief that ketchup is the most pedestrian and a mostly invisible condiment in the refrigerator. Take it out and taste it again for the first time. Of course there’s tomato, but tomato is also the beginning of salsa, some chutneys and even the occasional odd jam. There’s far more to ketchup than just tomato-y goodness.

Infused into that tomato-y goodness is a complex group of subtle flavors that have become so commonplace we fail to appreciate its complexity. It begins with sweet and sour: brown sugar and vinegar. Americans love things slightly sweet. The condiments of many other cultures focus on sour or piquant. Ketchup Americanizes the condiment by adding sweet to the sour.

And what else is there beyond the tomato, the sweet, and the sour? At this point, ketchup becomes every bit as American as Apple Pie. It’s a flavor combination so commonplace most people can’t pick it out for what it is: Allspice with a touch of cloves. These are spices that are as old as the American colonies. When we think of American comfort food, the Thanksgiving Feasts, and Apple Pie, we are saying that allspice (a fundamental spice in all these foods) is one of those things that identifies us as Americans every bit as much as curry is associated with India and various Persian delicacies.

Certain spices pair particularly well with certain foods. Nutmeg, for instance, is almost universally recognized as the secret ingredient to great vegetables. Allspice, on the other hand, rounds out dairy like no other spice. Do you want to make mac ‘n cheese that is absolutely unforgettable? Well, certainly you must add a wee bit of mustard to the concoction. But, don’t forget a pinch or two of allspice. The cheese will be cheesier. At breakfast the eggs will be eggier. At desert, the milk shake will be shakier, no matter if it’s chocolate, strawberry, or malted vanilla. Dairy aches for allspice.

Which is why ketchup is such a natural addition to eggs at breakfast and mac ‘n cheese at  noon. The allspice adds the pop and the cloves add the bite to the eggs, sausage, and potatoes, that you hashed together on your plate before scooping them on a piece of toast.

But instead of pumping ketchup onto your fries or glopping it over your breakfast, put a tiny bit on a spoon and taste it. Consider its subtlety: Sweet, sour, (and now that you know) allspice, cloves, garlic, and maybe a hint of onion and celery seed. Pretend you’ve never tasted ketchup before in your life.

Certainly it’s as exotically American as chutney is exotically Indian or hoisen is exotically Chinese. It’s only ordinary because we Americans were fortunate enough to grow up with it … a blob on our high chair trays in which to dip our hot dog pieces, a squirt on our potatoes so we would eat them at the dinner table without fussing.

Mom’s have been in on the secret for generations. Ketchup is actually a glorious and wonderful taste surprise … once we actually taste it again for the first time.

Passions – A Follow-up

I need to add a caveat to the previous post about the passions. While the Eastern Orthodox Church may have a more developed and complex theory about the passions, the root idea is certainly not limited to Eastern Orthodoxy. In the Christian West this same idea is often expressed (albeit clumsily, in my opinion) in the idea that being tempted is not sin. As far back as Bible College I was made aware of Martin Luther’s famous quotation, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hat.”

That is an accurate and worthwhile sentiment. The difference is that Eastern Orthodoxy has a rather specific technical language and theology to unpack the sentiment.

A Definition of the Passions

Over the years I have written quite a bit about the passions. My father has been occasionally critical of my use of that word, saying that it is one of those passing faddish words which doesn’t really tell us much. In fact it is a fairly precise technical term honed over many century by the fathers of the church. But it is used in this technical sense primarily in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

After reading Western writers (and especially Evangelical Protestant writers) with my father’s critique in my mind, I have come to realize that from a typical Protestant perspective, dad’s assessment is fairly accurate. But when it came to defining exactly what the passions are in a way that is meaningful without a few hundred pages of context offered up by some Eastern Orthodox theologian has proven difficult, so I’ve never had a ready and simple answer for my dad’s critique.

But I just found an excellent and simple description in Meletios Webber’s little (and very accessible!) book, Bread & Water, Wine & Oil. He  begins by distinguishing between “thoughts we have when we make an effort to think” and “thoughts that have us;” that is, that stream of thoughts that come unbidden into our mind, “which seem to emerge automatically” (p. 12). Those “thoughts that have us” can go through a very clear progression that leads to the passions.

First of all, a thought comes [unbidden — a “thought that has us”] to exist in the mind of a person, seeking that person’s attention and awareness. There follows a period of interaction, during which the person dabbles in the possibilities the thought brings. The third stage is consent, where the person voluntarily gives in to the thought — sometimes hoping to stop the process immediately thereafter, only to discover that once embarked upon, this is very difficult. The fourth stage is captivity, in which the person is dragged further and further from the way of righteousness towards spiritual destruction as a result of the thought. The fifth stage, the goal of the thought, is labeled  passion; here the person is entrapped, and sinful action is inevitable. (p. 13).

In other words a “passion,” in the Eastern Orthodox sense, is not a flaming desire fired by the emotions, it is more often a quiet, but persistent thought which we innocently but mistakenly pay attention to, rather than allowing it to pass through our consciousness with no comment. Eventually that quiet but persistent thought (after several intervening steps) leads us to a sinful action.

Therefore, most “passions” typically aren’t huge and scandalous (such as an affair with a coworker or a drug addiction) but rather, are mundane and even banal, like my need to mention to Brenda that Mrs. X, at church, said this about Miss Y (ie, gossip).

Do You Hate LeBron?

Now that I’m a real college student again I feel it’s incumbent upon me to watch inane sports shows on television. What I learned this week is that everyone hates LeBron James. At least that seems to be the universal opinion on ESPN (that would include, Kornheiser, Wilbon, Paige, Plashke, Beadle, Cowherd, Smith ad nauseum). All these “journalists” are quick to point out that they don’t hate LeBron but that everyone else in America hates LeBron.

Oddly, I’ve never met a soul who hates LeBron, just people who say everyone else hates LeBron.

So my question is, does anyone actually hate LeBron? And if so, who are they? If you hate LeBron, let me know.

I myself really like him. I put the Miami Heat in the same category as the New York Yankees … not a real sports team, just a high paid collection of superstars put together by a mega-millionaire. (Although Micky Arison is really fascinating and probably quite likable.) I actually do dislike Dwayne Wade because of his appalling sportsmanship and in any other circumstances would probably dislike the Heat as much as dislike the Yankees in a disembodied and theoretical sort of way. But I find LeBron so likable that I just can’t help myself and I’m rooting for the Heat to beat the Seattle Sonics (who were kidnapped and are being held prisoner under an assumed name in the state of Oklahoma).

Linen Clothing

The traditional baptismal garment (whether infant or adult) is a white linen garment. The symbolism of the white garment (so I was told in seminary) is that in baptism we are clothed with Christ. (“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” Gal 3:27.)

But in today’s Daily Lectionary New Testament reading we find this rather different symbolism:

To [the Bride of Christ] it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev.19:8).

I suppose back in my Presbyterian days I would have interpreted this as follows: The only righteous deeds we have is Christ himself, therefore the Seer must be saying the same thing as the Apostle said to the Galatians.

Well, that does serve to distance the saints from any righteous deeds they might do (God forbid we have saints doing righteous deeds!), but it also turns the plain meaning of Revelation on its head. And if anything was drilled into me at Bible College, it is that we should always go with the plain meaning of the text whenever possible And again, the text clearly says that the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Curious.