26 November 2020

Gobbling through 2020

It's been a while!  I used to put my weekly menus on this blog, and even long after I quit that, I would put my Thanksgiving menus on here.  But, I skipped that in 2018 and 2019.  But, in the spirit of redeeming 2020, I thought I would get back to it.  

Here are the menus from previous years:  

This year:  

We're in the midst of pandemic.  Some are choosing not to celebrate Thanksgiving outside of their homes and some are living it up.  Some folks are still sheltering in place and some are doing life as normal.  These are all difficult decisions.  The body has needs and so does the soul.  My mama told me back in April, when lock down was at its tightest, that she'd rather die of covid than of loneliness.  I think that's the feeling of a lot of folks, but it's all so difficult to navigate.  We are making decisions for ourselves but they also affect others.  There are better and worse decisions, but there isn't one right path.  We’re big time missing Paul’s parents, who are thanksgiving staples as important as the turkey.  Our gathering is pretty limited this year, but we are still gathering with my parents (mama, daddy, stepmama) and siblings (brother and sister-in-law).  So, we're feeding 11.   But we'll have food for forty, of course.  

Pick Up Food:  
My step mother is bringing a caesar dip with crudités, and I am doing a giant charcuterie.  It's just so pretty and happy and everyone can find something he or she loves.  I'll also make a festive cocktail -  an herby french 75, I think.  My family loves a beverage, and so I'll also have the basics of a bar set up and they can help themselves. We'll do appetizers and beverages in our family room rather than at my kitchen bar so that everyone will be able to relax and have space while supper gets finished.  It's nice to separate appetizers from the food-prep spaces.  It makes everyone feel more cared for and less rushed.  Plus, at Thanksgiving you never really know how long everything will take to get done (though, you better believe I have a spreadsheet), and so spending a little extra effort on appetizers takes the pressure off of getting food in the bellies of hungry people.  

Using an old standby favorite roasted red bell pepper that I've been making for at least a decade for special occasions.  It's so yummy.  I always swirl creme fraiche on top - sometimes in a shape or a monogram if I'm fancing. I'll serve it in my grandmother's china coffee cups.  I love to have soup at Thanksgiving, because it gives us all something with which to sit down at the table all at the same time.  We can pray together, and then we can go through the line and everyone just eats whenever they make it back to the table.  Consider soup - it's an added touch that makes turkey day a little more special.  

Grilled Turkey.  A few years ago a certain favorite little brother of mine told me he was going to cook the turkey, and then he may or may not have had too many adult beverages the night before and called and said, "I just can't make it."  I cussed and then put hubby to work, who googled and learned how to use the green egg to make a turkey.  It was so good.  He's going to be back at it this year, and I'm going to brine the turkey first.  

The folks who are coming are largely helping with sides this year.  I just tell everyone "tell me what you're bringing and I'll build around it."  

Cornbread dressing:  My grandmother's recipe.  We never vary it, and there are quite a lot of folks who would boycott if we do.  It's not especially creative or special, but it's very good, in a 1950s kind of way.  Which I feel like we need a little bit of.  

Sweet Potato Casserole:  Mama is bringing this.  

Modern Green Bean Casserole:  Sister in law 

Pommes Aligot:  Brother (Google if you're curious.  I.cannot.wait.) 

Wild Rice Salad:  Step Mother

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts:  Mama 

Cheddar & Scallion Creamed Corn:  in Ina Garten's new cookbook that I ordered for myself.  I love scallions.  And corn.  And cheese.  So, this particularly spoke to my heart.  Or my stomach.  Whatever.  

Spinach Gratin: Also an Ina, but not in this particular cookbook.  Recipe here.  

On the Table

Gravy:  Another Ina. Recipe here.  
Cranberry Sauce:  Theme, much?  Recipe here.
Eason Family Pickles 
Breadbasket:  Yeast rolls (a favorite recipe of mine from Stop and Smell the Rosemary, a favorite cookbook of mine) and biscuit bread muffins (an old family-friend recipe that we love, turned into muffins) and maybe some beer bread muffins (same story as the biscuit bread muffins).  
Amish Jarred Spiced Peaches:  (It's a long story.  Not really.  We like these tacky canned peaches from the 50s and we just can't stop liking them.  And by we, I mean me.  And the urchins, who have bad taste.  So, basically, the story is that we're tacky and we don't care.) 

Dessert Cart:

Pear Gallette:  I'm looking at recipes and will make up my own.  I love pears and I love galletes.    

Pecan Pie:  Ada Bee 

Cheesecake:  Stepmother 

Bittersweet chocolate cake with Amaretto Creme:  Another from Ina's new book.   

02 November 2020

A Call To Charity and Clarity


I am compelled to put down my thoughts before tomorrow, when the country will finish voting in the 2020 Presidential election. This election has been different than the other 9 through which I’ve lived.  Admittedly, I do not remember the elections of ’84 (at all) or ’88 (very well), but I do remember ’92 and forward.  Never before have I experienced such vitriol, such noise, such division, such an undignified public square.  I am told that there were elections back in the day that courted this same type of abysmal behavior in which we’re currently immersed.  I don’t really believe it (not because people were better, but because manners were), but even if I granted that there have been times in our country like this, you must grant that the information age and the technological revolution have conspired to ensure that we are much more bombarded with all the nastiness than any Americans before us.  Because of that – and because I promised a room full of students that I would give them my thoughts – I am required by my conscience to put my fingers to the keys.  Forgive the additional noise, though I certainly hope I will not here fall prey to the peculiar sins of the day.  


I want to make a few points about freedoms.  First, I want us all to remember how many freedoms we truly do enjoy.  Secondly, I want to talk about a freedom we’ve recently lost.  Third, I want to discuss a freedom we’ve unfortunately invented.  I’ll end with what I think is the most strategic vote I can make tomorrow, and then I’ll retire from political commentary for a bit.  I have some ideas about else how we can all fill the time.  They involve dinner parties and fall cocktails, service to the community and reading Wendell Berry.  


Give Thanks for American Freedom 

We are the country of many freedoms.  Probably the first country to be as free as we are – or at least the first country to mean to be as free as we have meant to be.  We have freedom of religion – really, we do.  Yes, there are some governors who have acted bad in the past few months, but all in all, we worship as we please.  Go read the Act of Uniformity of 1662 passed by the English parliament.  Since you won’t (It’s long and tedious – I don’t blame you one bit – I only made it 1/3 of the way through), I’ll tell you a tidbit.  The act disallowed college attendance for those who didn’t agree to receive the sacraments from the church of England proper – and required said church to administer said sacraments using certain wording.  Isaac Watts, one of the most brilliant men to ever call England home, couldn’t go to college.  Why?  Because he was convinced of a less Anglican ecclesiology and given the damning label of “Nonconformist”, forever impeding all aspects of his life.  Our freedom of religion is actually quite remarkable.  Yes – we’re dealing with challenges to it these days.  I am the Provost of an avowedly bible-believing Christian school – you better believe I’m aware of the potential for the erosion of this right.  But, friends, we do enjoy true religious freedom.  You can cry out to Allah or bow down before the god of Self.  There is not even – nor has there ever been – an established American Christianity.  Some who claim Christ wear holy underwear; some practice baptism by proxy; some deny the trinity.  Our churches do not pay taxes, and no one tells us what to preach. We are religiously free.  


We have true freedom of speech.  While all the lovely giants of the social media industry may interfere with this freedom and while cancel culture brings with it many concerns and while the American University has not seen such absurd lack of academic freedom at least since McCarthyism and maybe ever, it is the case that our government does very little interfering with our speech. This is evidenced by the idiotic and even hateful things all manner of people in America say every day.  And by all manner of people, I mean our President.  But not just President Trump – members of Congress in both parties all the way down to citizens of every neighborhood in our country are permitted to announce, quite publicly, all sorts of offensive and absurd things.  And that freedom is a treasure indeed.  And, yes, it needs protection even now.  But when we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we do indeed possess a remarkable freedom to type, yell, whisper, chant even the ugliest and dumbest of the words that come into our hearts and minds.  


We still do very much benefit from the entire list of precious truths enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  Yes, there are errors.  Yes, there are patterns to keep our eyes on.  Yes, some do not treasure these rights enough.  Yes, some groups in America enjoy these rights more fully than other groups.  But, friends, I submit to you that we still live in the America about which so many of our founding documents so eloquently speak.  I would even say, with much thanksgiving, that we are significantly closer to that espoused ideal than we were at the time those documents were drafted.  The Bill of Rights is grand, but we’ve improved upon it greatly, especially with the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments.  We began with a remarkable and truly good end in mind, and though we’ve yet to achieve it fully and never will, we are closer than we were when we started.  


Pause this week and give thanks for the country in which you live.  We all enjoy different privileges, but if you don’t acknowledge that being an American is one of them, you are missing a grand opportunity for gratitude.  If you do not acknowledge American privilege, you are in danger of taking it for granted.  When freedoms are taken for granted, they are in most danger of being lost.  



Freedom to Know 

While we enjoy many rights and freedoms, there are some things to worry about in America.  A privilege that has been quite eroded in my lifetime is the ability to have access to unbiased information.  I can remember thinking it was nuts that the English government funds the BBC – sounds like a recipe for control of what information the citizenry consumes.  And I still do think it’s a recipe for that.  But, friends, now we all know that government-sponsored media is not the only recipe for control of information.  I believe in a media that isn’t controlled by the government, but gosh I now long for a media that does not rely on clicks for its funding.  


I have so many privileges – I have reliable internet and a decent college education. I am the child, the wife, and the mother of readers, analyzers, thinkers.  I have always shared my home with people who make me smarter.  At my church, I sit under preachers and teachers who are relentless about their categories, and I worship with people who take thought seriously.   I work with men and women who are so very committed to and capable of truth.  Even with all of these privileges, I am unable to locate clear information about what is going on in our country.  


The freedom to know is not a right in the constitution – not even Justice Kennedy can find it.  But, a lack of ability to know is a serious detriment to our country, and I would call on anyone in power to relentlessly restore truth-telling to every office in the land and to increase the clarity of all policies and laws.  We as citizens must quit voting for and subscribing to people and organizations who lie to us.  We must call out all falsehood, especially on the part of those “on our team.”  So many of us apparently like being lied to, and we need to repent.  


Politicians should not be permitted to lie – either through blatant falsehood or through the hyperbole and truth shading that are now thought of as a regular day’s business.  I cannot find truth – not through either of the major political parties in our country, not through most of our government officials, not through the vast majority of our media outlets.  I just don’t believe any of it anymore.  Why? Because when a source proves unreliable over and over again, it is not smart to rely on the source anymore.  When something happens in America, I literally do not know to whom to turn for mere accuracy, much less all the other desirable attributes of rhetoric in the public square.  This lack of ability to know has pervaded our non-political entities as well – I cannot ask a hospital how much a surgery will cost, and itemized bills are just pre-written SNL skits.   My students ask me about tax codes, and I throw up my hands in despair.  Who can know?  I feel like I have as much access to accurate information as Job’s friends had to the mind of God.  


People, companies, corporations, journalists, and government officials lie all the time, and we’ve all gone to excusing it like they can’t help it or something.   “Well, that’s politics.” “Well, that’s the FDA for you.”  “Well, it’s a hospital, so you’ll never be able to find out.”  “Well, that’s Fox News/CNN/the New York Times for you… they lie.”  It doesn’t have to be like this, friends.  If we all quit buying, they’ll quit selling.  Come on - we’re capitalists after all.  


This freedom to know isn’t in the constitution, but its lack threatens to destroy all the freedoms that are actually enshrined there.  We won’t be able to exercise our freedoms if we are entirely uninformed.  We must reinstate a general demand for accuracy and clarity. 


Freedom to Flee Morality 

There is another freedom that isn’t found in the constitution, but we are apparently wanting to put it there very badly.  We do not actually enjoy, as Americans, the freedom to be a terrible person, but we have gone to assuming that we do.  When I have articulated my nausea at either of the major party candidates, people say to me, “All men are sinners.”  Yes. They are.  I actually believe what the Bible tells me – that all men are created with intrinsic worth and dignity and that all are fallen into terrible unrighteousness.  I actually believe that we are reprobates incapable of redeeming ourselves.  I have children, for goodness sakes.  I know the black hearts of men – my own and everyone else’s.  All have fallen short of the glory of God.  No one is good – no, not one.  


But no one is free to be so awful.  We have no freedom to be terrible.  We’ve never had that freedom.  And I’m not talking at all about being of a certain faith or belief.  Yes, I believe what you believe matters, certainly for eternity’s sake.  But, put that aside.  How you behave matters – and has always mattered – in America.  Men who cheat on their wives are not respected.  But wait – how many of our presidents have been adulterers?  How many people do I personally respect who have committed adultery.  A lot, actually.  But, and here is the key, I respect absolutely no one who thinks he had a right to cheat on his wife.  Everyone I respect is a sinner.  I respect no one who does not believe himself to be a sinner – who thinks that bad behavior is either not bad or bad-but-also-fine.  


I’ve sinned 17 times today – at least.  But, I shall not claim that I haven’t.  Or that my sin doesn’t matter.  I have no freedom to be terrible.  


I believe in the Tao (read Lewis in Abolition of Man).  I believe that we all know, somewhere, the basic tenets of a moral life.  We know that it is honorable to pay your employees and that it is dishonorable to exploit them.  We know that it is good to tell the truth and bad to lie.  Granted, we are all terrible at all of it, but we know that we have no freedom to be terrible at it.  Until now.  We’ve descended, as of late, into this “Who are you to judge?” or “It’s part of life.” or “You do you.” or “Everyone is bad…”  Everyone is bad.   I not only grant it, I preach it.  My students buy me mugs that say, “Everyone is on Santa’s naughty list.”  That’s how much I preach it.  We’re all depraved, but, and read closely, we’re not allowed to be.  


Listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. The morality of a person was relevant to his ability to hold office then and it is relevant now.   If we’re all so terrible, how can we ever determine whether a man is good or bad?  Are there even bad guys and good guys?  If Stalin’s party had the right policies, would it be okay to vote for him?  What about Charles Manson?  


We have established a new freedom in America – we’ve all put on our Justice Kennedy robes – and decided that we’re permitted to be awful and that awfulness should not have consequences.  That’s insanity, and I beg of you all to see it and identify it out loud and refuse to be a party to the finding of this supposed right in the penumbra of our amoral, self-as-god culture.  When the Israelites did what was right in their own eyes, there was no peace in the land. 


What to do now?  


There are bad guys in the world, and, incidentally, we’ve nominated two of them to the highest office in the land.  All men are sinners, but there are actual real bad guys. We see a great example in scripture (or traditional Hebrew literature if you’re a secular progressive and that wording makes you feel better about learning from something).  


Israel has a host of kings.  Some are bad guys and some are good guys.  God calls some bad and some good.  So, we know that kings can be bad and they can be good.  God rarely lists their policies; He talks about their hearts, their worship, and their character. And He talks a lot about their effect on the people.  Let’s zoom in a bit more.  We have King Saul, Israel’s first king and a bad guy, and King David, Israel’s second king and a good guy.  We know intimately of David’s sin – he’s a really big sinner.  Adultery, murder, abuse of power.  But, it is made clear that he is a good guy.  Is God arbitrary or capricious or immoral?  Is He just closing his eyes and throwing out labels or ignoring the gross violation of The Good?  No, the difference between Saul and David is how each is oriented to his sin.  David’s a sinner who knows his need and turns for help.  Psalms 51 and 130 are particularly moving poems of repentance. The difference between David and Saul is who is on the thrones of their hearts.  


I am not calling for only electing men and women who have enthroned Christ.  I mean – that would be lovely (assuming they were also competent and had their head screwed on straight – plenty of nutso Christians out there) but I don’t think it’s at all required. 


What I do think is required is that we not enthrone those who have enthroned evil in their own lives.  It is detrimental to our country to elect bad guys – and my definition of a bad guy is simply a man who doesn’t believe he is bad, who shows no signs of wanting to be better.  Bad guys are not guys that fail at being good – bad guys are guys who wallow in their awfulness, justifying it and flaunting it.  Our President sins but the kicker for me is that he is indignant that anyone would call him a sinner.  He loves his sin.  He hardens his own heart.  


I am personally convicted that I cannot vote for Donald Trump – even if I did love his policies, because he is a bad guy. I honestly don’t know as much about Joe Biden.  But, I do know he’s a liar, seemingly a racist, and I do know that he supports the murder of American citizens being legal (and, yes, I’m one of those people who thinks that people of a different size and location than me are still people who have a right to life.) And, since he puts murder of the unborn in his platform, we certainly don’t see repentance there.    


This has nothing to do with personality.  Yes, I find Trump’s personality distasteful, undignified, and unpresidential.  But I’d happily elect a good man with a terrible personality.  And that is why Biden’s personality is also irrelevant.  Who cares if he’s jolly and not difficult to spend time with – he’s not a good man.  


And, I start to sound like the annoying Sicilian in my favorite movie.  I cannot choose the cup in front of myself or the cup in front of my enemy.  There is no good choice.  


But wait!  I’m a logician!  I believe in fallacies, and we’ve been all eaten up with one for centuries. It is the fallacy of the false dichotomy.  It is not true that I must vote Trump or Biden.  In fact, I’d argue that it is true that I can vote for neither. So, I’ll be voting third party this year.  I will actually cast my vote for Brian Carroll, the candidate from the American Solidarity Party.  You can look them up if you’re curious.  From all I can tell, Carroll is a good guy.  Among the good guys running (he’s not alone), he has the policies I most (though not without exception of course) agree with.  Therefore, he’s my choice.  


I admit that I do not live in a swing state and this makes this calculus a bit easier.  Mississippi will go for Trump.  I wish it wouldn’t, but I don’t wish it would go for Biden.  I wish it would go for a good guy.  And so, I will vote for a good guy. But the electoral college does make voting on principle an easier choice for me than for a woman in Wisconsin, for example.  


However, I actually reject the idea that pragmatism demands that we vote with someone who has a chance.  I don’t even understand that, actually.  And I’ve tried really hard and will continue to listen to anyone who wants to try to explain it to me.  In my view, the best and most pragmatic thing that could happen to America is for these two major parties to realize that we will not tolerate these offerings.  Yes, either Trump or Biden will win.  But, if we could strike a blow for reason – for truth – for goodness – if we could have even 10% of the country vote some other direction, we would get someone to pay attention, and thus we would make a pragmatic step in the direction of the good.  


I also reject that voting one way or another is going to make much of a difference on the ground in our country.  America is her people – we need to win the hearts and minds of one another over to the good and the true and the beautiful.  A president will never save us.  Policies will never save us.  Jesus will save us in eternity, and we will save each other here on earth through relationships and education and every day kindnesses.  I just don’t think America will look very different in four years no matter who is elected tomorrow.  It doesn’t look that different than it did when I was born, despite the lighting of our hair on fire that happened when Clinton was elected and when Bush was elected and when Obama was elected and when Trump was elected.  The republicans have been pro-life since abortion was made legal – and it’s been legal for 50 years.  Not making much progress, are you, guys?  That’s because they have used it as a bargaining chip for Christians to allow them to act bad – if we actually made progress on abortion policy, what would they threaten us with?   


The respective policies of the parties are just not that different.  Yes, Trump is (in espoused policy, if not personally) pro-life, but is he efficacious in those policies at all?  Yes, I love Amy Coney Barrett – I think she’s truly a God-send.  Yes, I think abortion should be illegal unless the life of the mother is threatened, and I do think doctors are the best ones to decide when life is threatened.  I hope and pray and believe that Barrett will be Trump’s best move.  A broken clock is right twice a day.  [Especially a broken clock who traded judicial appointment decisions to the more experienced in his party in exchange for the turning of a blind eye to his narcissism, so he’s not making the decisions about who to nominate anyway.]  If the courts are going to legislate (and they are), pack them with as many sane, good jurists as we can find.  But, judges are not salvific anymore than presidents are.  And they’re certainly not worth putting my name beside Saul’s name. 


A Final Word – and the Most Important 

I have written all of these words with very few caveats and very little quarter given to what I believe to be bad reasoning. However, let me be clear that I am very aware that I am but a woman.  A frail human beset by many sins.  My mind is fallen and my heart is deceptive above all else.  At my best thinking and reasoning and at my most moral living, I am finite, broken beyond repair.  


Men and women I respect will make a different decision in tomorrow’s election.  People I love, people I think highly of, people I choose to do life with, people I’m related to, people I look to for wise counsel will vote for Trump tomorrow.  People I love, people I think highly of, people I choose to do life with, people I’m related to, people I look to for wise counsel will vote for Biden tomorrow.  People who are more morally upright and who are more intellectually capable than I am are making different decisions tomorrow than I am.  They are also making different decisions from one another.  


It is my civic duty to vote.  It is my Christian duty to vote my conscience.  It is my human duty to love those who think differently.  And, friends, I don’t find it hard – because I love people who think differently than I do all day every day. I mean loving people is always hard.  But disagreement isn’t a new obstacle to love.   Some of my best friends are prochoice and we’ve managed to be friends for decades.  Don’t elevate this election to a category that doesn’t exist:  things about which we cannot disagree.  It is the calling on all of us to love the other.  If our neighbor was just like us, we wouldn’t need to be commanded to love him.  We must love our neighbors, or we will only have ourselves left to love.  And what a sad – and ineffective – life that will be.  


So, above all else, please walk through your halls, wherever those halls are, with a spirit of charity. 


Be grateful for the great privilege of being an American.  

Demand truth and access to information. 

Reject the belief that awfulness is permissible.  

Fight back against the broken two-party system and the bad guys they’ve offered.  


But, above all else, love one another.  Clarity is so valuable, but charity is a virtue.