7 billion

I woke up this morning to NPR and the first piece of information I heard was that the world had officially reached a population of 7 billion. 


Wow.  I have a hard time imagining what 7 billion looks like.  I can't really think of anything I've seen or eaten or experienced 7 billion times.  Really, I have no idea what that means, 7 billion.  I have a hard enough time comprehending that I live in a city of 3 million.

So while I was running today, I started thinking about my 699,999,999 neighbors and what they were all up to at that moment.  My friends in Rio were probably on the bus, or waiting for the bus.  The people of India were sleeping, hopefully, or trying to sleep for all the noise outside.  My mates in Europe and South Africa were maybe checking email, cleaning up dishes, getting ready for bed and another day in the world of 7 billion.  All those folks going about their days, with next to no awareness of one another's existence. And we can't possibly know 7 billion people - too many names to remember.

But there's something quite compelling about all that collective energy.  Just imagine how creative we'd be if we could put all of our heads together.  I know it's unrealistic to hope that 7 billion people would get together to create something - some are old, some are young, some are rich, some are poor, and we all live kind of far from each other.  But so far the only things we're "creating" together are waste, debt, and a larger population. There are plenty of strikes against a global movement of creativity.  Enough to make you do, well, nothing, together.

But if you do nothing, nothing ever happens.  What if you divide that 7,000,000,000 into groups of 1,000.  That's not so bad.  I bet you know 1,000 people.  There were about that many in my high school graduating class.  I'm more comfortable with something like 7 people, but hey.  Wouldn't that be something?  Imagine the innovation.  Not only could we come up with something like the iPad and hybrid cars, but maybe we could put a stop to all the debt and the waste we're contributing to.  Maybe we could all sign a virtual treaty to be better citizens of the earth, to work harder together for the sake of the next 7 billion, if only for the next 1.  Imagine how differently we would live with a greater awareness of how our actions are influencing the lives of the next generation.  Lately, many of my friends and family are having babies.  That's what happens when you're 25, everyone you know begins multiplying.  It's great, though, because it's made me think more about how what I say or do may or may not impact their beautiful lives (and mine). I want their lives to be full, radiant, and imaginative.  I hope that's enough for my 699,999,999,999 mates to want to live better, more thoughtful lives too.  


All things squash

I can remember roasting my first squash when I was living in Cape Town.  We use to go to Fruit and Veg - this great market where you can get all sorts of fresh produce for cheap - and we'd buy a whole butternut squash, toss it in the oven with some butter and brown sugar, everyone flocking to the kitchen for that glorious smell that is squash roasting.  Ah! I love it.  

Last week I had a total of five squash sitting on the counter at one time.  This is a problem.  You'd understand if you knew how small our counter-space is.  So I just started roasting away and made three batches of butternut squash bisque, each time getting better and better.  I've tried different butternut soup recipes, this time settling on the simplest, less sweet and a little spicy.  I just read this article in the paper on what seems to be a "back-to-basics" food movement - highlighting the natural and pure flavors of whatever you're cooking.  Essentially, cooking squash so that it tastes just like the magnificent squash that it is.  

I ate the first batch of bisque almost entirely by myself.  Then I made a big pot to bring to my brother and sister's on the most blustery night Chicago's seen in a while.  Then my friend Tricia brought me a butternut squash she had - so, feeling generous, I made her some soup, and of course, some crusty sourdough bread to go with it.  And the house has never smelled better!

(Adapted from Claire Robinson's recipe on the Food Network)

1-2 butternut squash, depending on size
olive oil
salt and pepper
2-4 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional)
2 shallots, chopped
1 quart vegetable stock
1-2 tsp curry powder
fresh sage (optional)
1/2 c. heavy cream

Cut squash in half and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  I like to stick a sprig of rosemary under each squash half too - it just adds to the flavor.  Roast at 375 degrees cut side down until very soft, about an hour.  Turn the halves over and let sit until cool enough to handle.  Scoop out the flesh and discard the skin of the squash.

In a large stock pot, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the shallots and cook on medium heat until soft.  Add the vegetable stock, squash, curry powder, and chopped sage.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and let cook until the squash is broken down - about 10 min.

Turn the heat off and let cool for a few minutes before blending.  I use an immersion blender because it is easier and safer (hot soup!).  But you could also put the soup through a regular blender.  Puree until smooth.  Season with salt and peper to taste.  Return to heat just to bring all the flavors together and stir in the heavy cream last (do not over cook soup with cream or it will have a funny texture).  Serve immediately with a bit of good, crusty bread.


On earth as it is in heaven

At our church gathering this weekend we were talking about judgment and mercy and the life of love we have been called to.  We were remembering the story of Les Miserables - Jean Valjean being the quintessential misfit who is suddenly shown mercy and finds himself swirling in a sea of redemption.  A convict on the run, Valjean finds himself at the home of a bishop who takes pity on him.  In exchange for the bishop's compassion, Valjean takes off in the middle of the night with all the bishop's valuables only to be caught and dragged back.  The bishop meets him, crying, "Here you are!  How could you leave without the silver candlesticks I gave you?"  Astonished by his mercy, Valjean is released.

The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: --
"Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money to become an honest man...
Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good.  It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."

I love the imploring tone of hope in the bishop's words.  The bishop was able to look deep beyond the physicality of a man's dishonesty to see a broken soul who needed but the faith and trust of another to reveal truth.  He saw a man who was his brother and called him good.  It was in this moment that the bishop traded the cynicism of the world for hope.  

Artist and musician Derek Webb said something along these lines Sunday night at his show with wife and fellow musician Sandra McCracken.  I am always amazed at their honesty and warmth.  I walked away, reminded that it is the role of the artist to tell you what I see.

I've noticed there is this saddening resistance to hope - as if it is too trusting, too positive, and idealistic.  People would rather hold on to their cynicism because it is easier, doesn't require so much  faith.  After a while, the world becomes wearisome, we become disenchanted with what is and doubt the dream of what could be.  We identify each other by the things we hate, by what we are against.

Derek Webb reminds us of our hope, that "this too shall be made right."  

So if cynicism is the enemy of hope, then I'm holding my breath, knowing that it is with this test of faith that we find perseverance, which must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1).

We live in the in-between.  Caught it in this beautiful, awful struggle between heaven and earth where all things are being redeemed but not yet made new.  We walk around with are feet fixed to the ground and our eyes in the sky.

Did you ever notice that the sky is all the way to the ground?

There is this epic conclusion to David Crowder Band's record "A Collision or (3+4=7)" where Crowder is talking about this great crash of heaven and earth, where we dwell and the hope we can offer one another as we come closer to "not lacking anything."  

"Did you ever notice that the sky is all the way to the ground?  We're walking around in it. We're in the sky.  There is sky and there is ground and we're somewhere in between. That is where we live.  And sometimes some of us take wing and when they do, when their feet leave the ground, even for a second, they pull the rest of us with them.  And then we rise, and then we rise, and then we notice that the sky has been around us all along .  We have been walking into it.  It has been this constant collision.  Divinity and depravity. And we rise and we rise and we rise..." (The Lark Ascending)

"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven", Scott Erickson, from Feedback, in collaboration with Derek Webb



On the Sabbath - you ask, "What feeds my soul?" And you do that.

I recently read this description of the Sabbath day and it has got me thinking about how I spend my days of "rest."  This is not necessarily a new concept for me but I love the simplicity of that question:  What feeds my soul?   It is important to think about "sabbath" not only as a specific day but also in terms of a broader concept of rest - a day, a moment, a state of being.  In contemporary society, the Sabbath - whether that is Sunday or any other day set aside for "rest" - has become either a day like any other or a day in which we check off our attendance at church for the week.

The church that I grew up in recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.  We have been reflecting, remembering, and re-imagining church together.  Though my church is fairly unconventional to begin with, I think there is always room for dreaming.  I think we must, both individually and collectively, ask what feeds our soul and seek a sabbath that does just that.  When we gather for what we call "church", is it a time of worship, community, breaking bread, and servanthood that feeds our souls?  Or is it a time of presentation, traditionalism, and ritual where we wonder why we are even there?  I believe that ritual and tradition have the ability to feed our souls too, we must simply remember why we do what we do and find purpose and meaning in such practices. Repetition is good.  Habit can be helpful.  When we do certain things again and again, in particular patterns or regular practices, our bodies and our minds begin to do these things naturally, they become a part of who we are and what we do.  We must simply always go back to the beginning and remember why.

So I wonder if we might re-imagine the Sabbath together.

My dearest family and friends all gathered together around a feast of good, wholesome food.  Beautiful music.  A time of praise, of worship, of honoring the One who created us. A time of quiet, meditation, prayer, or reflection so that we might examen our souls and consider how we have been created.  

Or maybe a time of solitude and silence.  A good book.  Rest.  Maybe a walk.  Spending time outside.  Reflecting on the heavens.  Creating, dreaming, and marveling.

Or maybe it's giving of ourselves - our resources, our skills or abilities, our time.  Offering something of what we have to a fellow soul.  Cheering each other on.  Coming together to pass the peace, offer a blessing.

Yesterday was a sabbath day where I spent the day with my family at the Chicago marathon, cheering on my dad as he ran the 26.2 miles for Africa - raising money for Worldvision, a charity that brings hope and aid to communities in need all over Africa. The day was far from restful.  But when you spend it cheering on 35,000 runners among 1.7 million other fans, many of them running for a particular cause or mission, something magical happens.  And the soul is fed.


Mercy > Judgment

In the fishbowl that is my workplace, you can see almost everything happening outside the shop, for better or for worse.  Being located near the end of the Green Line, we have our fair share of interesting characters who frequent the streets, but generally, it's pretty quiet.  Last week though, things picked up a bit and I witnessed a startling incident of aggression and discrimination.

It involved a black man and a white man.  One who had the appearance of homelessness. The other a man of financial security.

It doesn't really matter what happened - I'm sure you can imagine it.  What began as an accident quickly escalated into an episode of judgment, racial profiling, and unnecessary violence.  As in most cases, both parties are at fault, because when we are threatened we think of protecting ourselves and what is ours, even at the cost of all sense of decency and respect.  We got involved, the police got involved, and eventually things were settled.  

The man who was victimized later returned to the shop to thank us for our intervention and support.  He very honestly stated that things could have gone a very different way for him had we not backed his story and offered our help.  Think about it:  a black man, who appears to be homeless, in a fight with a middle-class white man.  Who do you suppose has more weight in this story?  And who is automatically the subject of profiling?

I grew up in a home that always rooted for the underdog.  So my instinct is to question the obvious, seeking truth and justice first and foremost.  In the aftermath of last week's incident, I couldn't help but wonder how far we've come in the over 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement.  Laws have changed, standards have changed, and the general mindset of the people has changed.  But racial profiling is still very much an issue, and this man's story is not unlike many others'.  

I've been reading in the book of James over the past few weeks, mulling over these verses in chapter two of James' letter:  

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment."

This means I am to show mercy to the black man and the white man alike.  It means that when I or what I consider rightfully mine is threatened by someone or something, my instinct should be to show mercy.  Herein lies the root of true transformation and justice. 

Mercy triumphs over judgment.  I wonder how our world would change if we began to live this way.