Of Rice and Risotto

A really lovely tale 🙂

Bespoke Traveler

risotto-veggiesIt was raining in Verona. The thick drops pinged on the top of my head in steady rhythm. They streaked down the stone walls in inky rivulets. There were no open restaurants or coffee shops to duck into. The houses rested in silence behind shuttered green windows, so I hid under the meager cover of a lintel. The dark effigies from the family grave across the alley offered no comfort. They didn’t care, they could not feel the chill of the rain. An enticing aroma emanated from the door behind me, the only indication of life I detected. Delicious dishes were being prepared somewhere within, the cold drops dribbled down the back of my neck and an intense longing to have a hot bowl of risotto hit me. As I stood sniffing the door, it opened from within and a shriveled woman wearing an overflowing flour-dusted apron appeared…

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Reviewing my journal

I started a journal when I was baptised. Nothing fancy. Just a hard covered exercise book. There was a lot that I wanted to put down. So much so that I left spaces and they still haven’t been filled. I’m still sporadic, but not that much now. I’m on to my third journal.

It is quite interesting to see the changes. I feared I would be embarrassed over how silly the comments were. But that wasn’t the case. I still have the same issues, to a lesser extent. I was amazed by how early I cottoned on to things. I’d completely forgotten my first vision my first vision. I guess that is why writing things down is important.

I didn’t realise how blessed I actually was. Yes, I did work at a place that wasn’t good for my mental health. The boss was mainly responsible for this. Other people felt the same way too. Within two years he’d lost 30 staff, when the business only had 18-20 people working there.

An interesting entry  from my journal is from the 12th of October 2013. I quoted some things I had seen online (there are so many things online, but then I think they were rarer and more profound.) I also talked about a DVD series that we’d watched- John Bevere’s Bait of Satan. We never finished it. But I was using what I had learned in that lesson to come up with things in my life. “I plan to seek the Lord’s Will in All I do. To love enemies at work, to seek Him and to worship Him.” That’s what I ended up with.

It is quite astonishing really. That I was actually trying to take things I had learnt and apply them to my life. I don’t think I was actually that successful though. My priority was interesting. I put loving enemies at work first before loving and worshipping God. Probably why I was never able to fully love my enemies at work.

I was surprised by my earnestness. I had been only baptised three months before. So I had become quite dedicated even then. It really is funny what things change and what things don’t change. I still have the same desire. But I think God is calling me to do something a bit different than what I have been in serving Him.

Although things haven’t been that good lately, reading my journal gives me hope that things can suddenly get better again. The trouble is, will I keep writing in it? Only one way to find out.

Different Rules

I have become involved with a youth group over the past few months. There’s another guy that helps out there. We were both getting there early and I guess it was inevitable that we would start playing each other at pool. We can quite often get in a few games before everyone shows up. Although, sometimes we (/I) forget about things that are cooking in the oven. Opps.

I hadn’t played more than the odd game of pool in years. I wasn’t really that interested at first. It was just a way of passing the time. A couple of times I did other “more spiritual” things in that time, but I realised that playing pool was no less spiritual than writing in my journal or whatever I wanted to do. Besides, it became fun and amused us both. I suppose I could be pompous and call it fellowship, but that sort of takes the fun away from it. I now know this guy a lot better than I did. We had talked a few times before I was coming, but we went to different churches and I only bumped into him now and again.

I think we played the standard 8-ball pool a few times before he introduced me to 9-ball pool. It’s much more interesting, I’m glad he did. The rules are a little different. The aim of the game is to sink as many balls as possible, unlike 8-ball. The challenge is that you have to hit the lowest number ball first. I think that he wanted to practise more difficult shots more. He did say that 9-ball pool involved more skill than luck and that’s a fair comment, you can get away with just whacking it in 8-ball pool. However, we discovered that the lean on the pool table played more of an impact than skill sometimes. He had also had some trouble with his eye so his aim wasn’t as good as it should be. So I wasn’t getting thrashed at least.

I got better over time. It was hard to see because he was (and still is to be honest) that much better than me. But being able to play a better player all the time, it was inevitable I did get better. I suspect that he did play easy on me to start with. Couldn’t prove it though. I played someone else in 8-ball pool a few weeks ago. I quickly sunk five balls and then I won in the end. That’s one way I knew I was getting better, apart from being able to hit better shots.

It’s about then that the rules changed. Instead of 9 balls, he put up 15 balls and we played with the 9-ball rules. It was harder- a lot less luck involved. I’m not sure if I had any games that I was beaten 15-0, but there were quite a few 14-1 and 13-2 games. On the Sunday just been people turned up later so we were able to get in a few games. Or we would have if it had been like the earlier games. But something had sunk in from earlier games and I was putting the white ball and the other ball in different areas. He struggled. I was snookering (he didn’t have a clear shot because I’d put balls in between the white and the lowest number ball) him in earlier games but I was continuously putting him in awkward positions, he would try a jump shot or something to get out and leave me a relatively easy shot to snooker him again. I think it was probably quite frustrating for him. We then played again with four people, which was slightly quicker.

It all came to mind again this morning. I had made a conscious decision somewhere along the way to keep thinking about which way I would hit it to put the white ball in this direction and the other in the other. I just kept on doing it, for most of the shots and in more complexity than I had before. And as I was thinking about it, another thought popped in and asked, “So is life like that?”

I know life is fundamentally different. It isn’t a contest after all. So if you actually give it a bit of thought are you more likely to get things moving in a more constructive way? Yes, but I don’t think it is as simple as playing pool. I don’t think you’d have a table big enough or enough balls to really show how complex life is. I guess you can take the principle that planning and thought do yield better results than just hoping for the best. “Hit and hope,” is the technical term that we use for that in the pool games. Initially that’s all I could do, except for some fairly easy shots. So you do need the skill to actually accomplish what you are setting out to do and you also need favourable conditions- and sometimes it doesn’t come off, even when you have all the skill needed and have done the shot many times before.

So to use a pool framework, you need to identify the “shot” you want to take. You still need the skill to pull off what you want to do and the favourable conditions. It’s just that the shot isn’t as easy to define, and factors that influence the shot- like where my hands are and how I hold them, how hard I hit the ball or where on the ball I hit it- are so much harder to identify. Let alone manage.

It’s an interesting concept. I do think that it does give an insight into how important planning and thinking ahead can be. Aside from the complexities, it also doesn’t give much of a help in planning months and years ahead which is where I run into difficulties. There are too many variables for me to have more than a vague idea. But perhaps I do need to use the first tactic of just hitting it and seeing where it goes more. And recognising that I can put many things in place and still not get the ideal result.

But I need to keep this philosophising in it’s proper place. I have spent eleven hundred words (and a few hours) to get to this place. How is that meant to improve my game? I mean, I’ve got to focus on the important things here! I needed to be able to have enough skill to actually get to this point, so instead of just being a entertainment I have learnt something useful from it. And I needed plenty of luck, he still is much better than me. I won’t be surprised if he gets more opportunities to use his better skill next time. But it should be a good contest anyway and maybe I can learn more from that.

Where is hope?

I don’t want to be stuck here my entire life. But that could be a real possibility, if the last two years are anything to go by. The town I live in isn’t a bad place. Just small and conservative in the do-nothing sense of that word. The vast majority of people my age left town when they finished school. There isn’t any higher education here. There are few jobs.

But one thing I can say about this town… it was here that I came to Christ. I guess that I needed a long drawn out struggle to even consider the possibility. It did take a few years, I was extremely stubborn. Even though I had connections and support from Christians it took me a long time to get there. In hindsight it becomes funny, actually.

But what frustrates me? I’m involved in a lot of church stuff, yet it seems that people either think I’m doing too much or think I’m lazy for not having a job. I don’t know why I’m concerned about it – perhaps I am too much of people pleaser (I wouldn’t have thought so, but reading Audrey’s post today made me think again.) I’m helping out with the youth (later today and on Sundays), but the thought of it is currently exhausting me, let alone what I will feel like tonight!

But for some reason I can’t let go of these commitments I’ve put upon myself. In reality I could never turn up to most of them again with no repercussions aside from people asking me where I’ve been. I did that to a group that started off good, but ended up being on extremely shaky theological ground. I guess I do actually feel guilty when I talk to some of the people I’ve “left behind.” Especially when I see one of them in another group.

What about groups that I’m getting some stuff out of? I have one group that has gone through a tough period because leaders were pulling out for various reasons. But it’s starting to come right and I really want to help. I guess I feel guilty for going to other things when these transitions were going on. But I really get the feeling that most of my activities are just giving me something to structure my day around (rather than it just falling apart). I don’t feel that God is really involved much at all. Sure we talk about Christian things, but I don’t remember keep talking the good fight being in the Bible.

I go to prayer groups and youth groups, a worship team and a group that is looking to move spiritually around the town; they are all going somewhere, but I can’t see how the bigger picture works. What am I doing and how is this helping to achieve what God has put in front of me. What has God put in front of me here? Because I know from experience that if God wants you somewhere, you will get there. Or more accurately in this case, if He doesn’t want you to leave you won’t (and trying four or five times doesn’t change His will).

I don’t know what God is trying to do through an unemployed 24 year old in a small town. I know that jobs are incredibly hard to come by (despite what some idiots think) and that it’s only going to be through God’s will (and lots of applications) that I will get a job. There are a lot more experienced people that are going after the jobs that I can go for, so unless a company is looking to train someone from scratch, my CVs and cover letters are just going to end up in the shredder. I don’t have a lot of unsaved people that I come across (unless you count the ones going to church regularly 😛 ) so evangelising people clearly isn’t a focus.

It makes me wonder what I’m meant to be doing. Because I don’t think that doing a tiny bit here and then doing a tiny bit here is what God is wanting for me to do, but I have no clue what I’m meant to be doing. God seems to be keeping me in the dark or playing some fantastically clever riddle game, which I’ve lost track of. I do have hope- I know lots of Bible verses that talk about it. I just have trouble relating those verses to what I see in front of me, because I don’t see much going on at all. It’s just when someone says what are you looking forward to, what can I actually say?

Proverbs 13:12 ESV / 124 helpful votes

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

I think this is as good a place as any to end this. Plus I’ve just remembered something I have been meaning to do all week.

Supporting other people

I’ve had a bit of a low period lately. I sometimes find that I need the company of other people at these times, rather than stewing on things by myself. Because that can just make problems seem worse rather than better. Sometimes it is better to get out of that environment and talking to other people is another environment generally. It’s just that some people are better to talk to for certain things than others.

I’ve had a situation that I was involved in that had some negative impacts. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to talk to people about it for various reasons. One person was so caught up on the negative impacts of what had gone on… which I was quite aware of. And I needed to sort through the situation myself rather than hear someone else’s objections to it. Other people either didn’t really know the impact of what had happened, or they didn’t think it was that relevant to our conversation. Both of those reactions were easier to understand than the first guy’s but still didn’t help me. I was able to talk about it with someone today, but I think that I needed to go through some things first.

I woke feeling out of sorts. I turned on the TV while I ate, looking for something that would put me into just a little better mood. I tried a few programmes, and then decided to watch, “For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles.” It sounds quite heavy. It does deal with some significant concepts but in a light-hearted manner. So I switch this on, because I think it’s pretty good and then I start thinking, have I seen this before as well? And yes, I had. I decided to watch it anyway and I’m glad I did. It was asking what was our salvation actually for. It explored the concept that our salvation isn’t just for us alone, but is part of God’s freely given gift to us. And that we should honour that gift, by freely using our gifts and talents for God to utilise. Jeremiah 29 (the letter to the exiles) was used in the episode, particularly verse 7.

Jeremiah 29:7          New International Version (NIV)

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Which is quite an interesting verse. Especially when you consider that Christians are in exile because we are physically living in areas under foreign control. But that doesn’t mean that we are spiritually living in those areas, does it? That we can be in the world but not of it. I’ll try to resist the urge to write a sermon on it here because it’s only part of the process.

I decided to call in and see the youth worker before I got some prayer elsewhere. But I never got there. I had a good chat with the youth worker. We were just talking and she started to share her story. She said that God had moved her to various places, but at the time it wasn’t so easy to see that. That God was there even in the tough times when it seemed as if He was absent. So it was really encouraging when I’d been in a wee hole and seriously wondering what God was thinking in my situation to hear someone else’s testimony through circumstances that were sometimes quite difficult.

So that took some time, but it was good. That and the TV programme stopped me worrying. I did talk to the youth worker about the situation, and she did allay the majority of what I was worried about. We both agreed that the situation wasn’t planned adequately enough, but differed on the detail of that. Which is fine. I’m not worrying about it. I’ve prayed that I haven’t made the situation worse by talking about it. I don’t think that’s the case and I have more of a sense of peace now.

What did I learn? You cannot let your own prejudices get in the way of helping others, like the first man. Also you do need to be interested in what people are saying or it is really hard to share. You need to be willing to be change… or you are just moaning? (Philippians 2:14 perhaps ?) You do need to be ready too. For the Life of the World symbolises that you need to have the right information and mindset before you can move on. Someone else’s experiences can be quite helpful depending on how they are used.

The loss of authority

It is constantly repeated in tabloid journalism when celebrities aren’t misbehaving for once. More staid publications also include statements of this type within editorials and letters to the editor. Opinions pieces in particular are rife with rhapsodies on this theme. Google searches reveal that the internet has not been silent on this matter of importance. What is this pervasive problem that everyone is talking about? Why, the youth of today are <insert unflattering adjective here>. This will lead to the inevitable break down of society, rah rah rah.

These authors could well be completely correct in what they say. Unfortunately what they fail to realise is that their complaints are nothing new. Their parents certainly thought that their children fitted these headlines- they were the ones that were hippies and all that that entailed. And look how wrong they were… the Baby Boomer’s destruction of society has little to do with their rebellious youth days. Every generation has looked at it’s succeeding generation with deep suspicion. Even 6,000 years ago:

“We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect
their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently
inhabit taverns and have no self control.”
Inscription, 6000 year-old Egyptian tomb1

It is in no way an isolated statement:

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
Plato, 4th Century BC

Isn’t this argument a little flat by now? Certainly one or two generations have been completely correct in viewing their offspring as dangerous, but for many it is simply paranoia. Why do they treat those who are to follow them as dangerous? I can’t actually speak for them, I’m not in that situation. I can only guess. Perhaps they are worried about how easily they gained authority from their parents. Worried because the shoe is on the other foot. Or is it a rueful acknowledgement that the very actions that they took in rebellion to their parents actually did go too far, and so the next generation would be on a shorter leash. 

Oddly many of this generation are still proud of their exploits, even while preventing their offspring from doing a tenth of what they did and punishing them far more severely for smaller infractions. Are they not happy with where they ended up and think that they can help their offspring to offset their pitfalls? I would have thought that the last thought is how most parents think, but it doesn’t explain the downright fear-mongering that writers have inflicted upon their unsuspecting and accepting public.

In most cases, each generation has followed on from the last without the catastrophes so earnestly predicted by the merchants of doom. And of the catastrophes that did occur how many can be primarily attributed to the behaviour of youth getting so bad that the culture could not cope? Is there one at all?

The thing is that the youth are not the primary cause of problems at all. Have you thought about why children act out? They act out because their parents aren’t fulfilling their needs. So they are spoiled brats? Well actually, not so much. One of the needs children have is a need for boundaries. When they don’t know where the boundary is, they push out looking for it. The problem is with not having boundaries, not with the child which the parent is supposed to be raising.

Ephesians 6:4   ESV / 204 helpful votes

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

This all came from a situation that I saw first hand. An adult thought a group of young people was doing something wrong. She was extremely angry, but that anger doesn’t do anything apart from putting people’s backs up. I was part of the group and came over to this woman and told her quite firmly that she didn’t have any authority to demand the demands she was making. And I thought afterwards, if she’d come in with a far more conciliatory attitude the situation could have been different. Maybe not, but talking it with a calm attitude would have been far more conducive to a negotiation. In that case, being a member of the public I wouldn’t have been able to say what I did, but I wouldn’t have needed to either. Then I started thinking about young people who had been yelled at their whole lives. How do they respond to all this anger? They would find ways to cope, human being are quite resourceful like that, but at what cost? What social misfunction would result from having to cope with all this anger that we aren’t meant to?

A misuse of authority does lead to a loss of authority. Mistreat someone and they will usually find a way to rebel, even in a most insignificant way. Using the pen or by using other means something will happen. The next generation takes what it thinks is theirs and resents their parents’ generation. Seems like the feeling is mutual. But this isn’t the only way. If both acknowledged the situation better, were more patient and understanding certainly both parties would feel better. But it wouldn’t end there. They would realise that there isn’t actually a competition, but a cycle of helping each other and so get the best of what they can. Although authority can be transferred, the respect still carries on. While the older generation may not be in control any longer, their contribution is welcomed and valued. My idealism is running away with me… but if we all looked to the model given by God, with the Father and the Son, we would be so much better off. We will, someday. Someday soon.

Lessons from presentations given

It’s funny how this goes. Like one small group leader says, “the one giving the lesson, always gets the most out of it.” There are a few factors behind it. First of all you have to think and research what you are planning to present. Then check that. It is estimated that someone teaching something remembers 90% of it making it the best way to remember something! Better than those just listening!

I took Communion about a month ago. It was a great opportunity for me, but I cannot help but think that they really had no idea what I would say. It could have been something wildly heretical. Or worse, something subtle enough to put people off the right track. I didn’t. I just wonder about the wisdom of letting someone so new have the floor. I did decide to do something different. There had been a few people who had used texts that weren’t standard like 1 Corinthians 11 or Matthew 26. I’m not a fan of either of them, because people think from verses like these that the bread symbolises the body broken for us which is unscriptural. Because the body was never broken. In fact great care was taken in that despite all the potential for the body to be broken, it was not. Look it up, don’t blindly believe me! Lol.

I spoke from Isaiah 1. I hadn’t heard a Communion taken from the Old Testament. I knew there was scripture that had sins were like scarlet and being white as snow, so I found it (Isaiah 1:18). But the verses beforehand had an interesting comparison  of how things were before the crucifixion. I don’t have my notes but I am sure I read out verse 4, then verses 11-16, then 16-20, then verse 18 and then verse 18 again. I did have things to say in between too. I was focussing on the transformative aspect of Communion. Because of our relationship with God, our sins which were like scarlet have become as white as snow. Our imperfections are being transformed into the perfection that God sees.

Isaiah 1           New International Version (NIV) 

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

A Rebellious Nation

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
    For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its master,
    the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”

Woe to the sinful nation,
    a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
    children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the Lord;
    they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
    and turned their backs on him.

Why should you be beaten anymore?
    Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
    your whole heart afflicted.
From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
    there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
    and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
    or soothed with olive oil.

Your country is desolate,
    your cities burned with fire;
your fields are being stripped by foreigners
    right before you,
    laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.
Daughter Zion is left
    like a shelter in a vineyard,
like a hut in a cucumber field,
    like a city under siege.
Unless the Lord Almighty
    had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
    we would have been like Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 â€œThe multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 â€œCome now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

So how is it that within a month of me sharing this, I’m back where I was yesterday thinking that things were not going well and it was because of my sins and imperfections? God knows… I need to keep this in mind, that God has taken things off me and what He hasn’t, He will. That I need to trust in the plan that He has regardless of whether or not I understand what is going on. I need to remember what Jesus’ sacrifice and being baptised in Him has done.

Romans 6           New International Version (NIV)

Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

It’s a fundamental truth and one that we need to fully live in Christ. It’s not anything that I don’t know. But it should be deep enough within me that after rubbish days I can shrug them off. Just carry on in what God has for me, rather than doubting what He is doing. It’s an indication that although I know it, I don’t necessarily believe it with all of myself. So this is another thing to go on the ever expanding to do list of doom… to find a way of receiving this truth more fully until I live it.