Practice Resurrection – Plan a Party for Your Mother

Together with my Mum - Australia 2011

Together with my Mum – Australia 2011

Last night on Facebook, I posted that I had just booked tickets for Tom and I to go to Australia in June to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. I was amazed at the response, not just the “likes” it received but at the comments by those who remembered special times with their own mothers and fathers. One person shared about taking her mother to Israel when she was in her 80s. Another mentioned that she is heading to Sweden to celebrate her mother’s 85th birthday. Another grieved the fact that she had lost her mother when she was still young and had no opportunity to enjoy the celebrations we are relishing.

When my Dad died nearly 4 years ago, I made a commitment. I decided that I would head down to Australia twice a year to spend time with my Mum. It has not always been easy. The flight is long and gruelling, the work doesn’t stop while I am away and the financial pressure sometimes has me questioning my decision. But the fruit of these visits is immeasurable. The special memories of these last few years are more than I could ever imagine.

Time spent with loved ones needs to be a priority in our lives. If we are too busy or too stressed to party with family and friends then we need to question our priorities. The kingdom of God begins with a great banquet feast and I think that every time we gather with friends and families we catch a glimpse of what that will look like.

Maybe it is not your mother that you need to plan a party for. It could be a friend you have not seen for a long time. Or it could be for your colleagues and co-workers. Or for your neighbours. Celebration is at the heart of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ critics complained that he spent too much time partying – eating and drinking with friends. And he enjoyed that wedding at Cana so much that he made it even more fun for people by turning water into wine. Unfortunately too much partying is not often a criticism people accuse Jesus’ followers of much these days.

So take some time this morning to think about how you could plan a “resurrection party” for those you know and love. What would you need to let go of to free up the time necessary to make it happen?

Come Lord Jesus Be Our Guest – April Yamasaki

Today’s post in the Lenten series Return to Our Senses is an excerpt from April Yamasaki’s new book Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal. The questions at the end of this excerpt are excellent ones for all of us to ask ourselves as we journey through Lent.

April is lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C and is third-generation Canadian of Chinese descent. She has published numerous articles and several books which you can check out on her website. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it to you.

Guests at the table

“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blest.” I learned this table grace as a child and repeated it so often that even now as an adult I sometimes pray these same words when I offer a silent prayer before a meal. The words have a comforting rhythm and come quite naturally to me – so automatically, in fact, that I’m tempted to rattle them off without thinking. But when I slow down and focus when I’m truly present and paying attention, these simple words can carry me more deeply into prayer.

I reflect on Jesus as a guest at my table, how his presence transforms an ordinary meal into an opportunity for communion with God. I am reminded of “our” table. Even when I’m eating alone, I remain part of a community and a world where some take too much and others do not have enough of God’s abundance. The words of blessing remind me never to take food for granted, but to receive even leftovers with thanks as a blessing from God. In this way my childhood prayer has become as heartfelt an personal as any spontaneous come-as-you-are prayer might be and continues to teach me how to pray.

I still have a lot to learn about the breadth and depth of prayer. How do I pray at six o’clock in the morning when someone calls in crisis? What do I pray for the person who is struggling, who is in such deep pain yet keeps making the kinds of choices that make everything worse? How do I keep praying for the dame person, the same situation over and over without getting tired and giving up, without getting bored? How do I pray continually as described in Scripture? What does it mean for prayer to become personal renewal instead of drudgery, to become a joy instead of a burden?

Curried Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup.

Pumpkin welcome

It has been very cold here in Seattle for the last few days and we have been enjoying one of my favourite winter soup recipes. This is a very inexpensive and nutritious soup that I often make in large quantity so that we can enjoy it throughout the week. I have adapted and combined ingredients from several recipes to come up with this one. Unfortunately we rarely have enough winter squash in our own garden. I like to use Queensland Blue or other sweet dry pumpkin. Butternut, acorn or whatever is your favourite will work just as well. Also you might like to add the stock slowly – consistency will depend on what type of pumpkin or winter squash you use. If you like a really thick soup you may not want to add as much liquid. Enjoy and welcome friends to your table to enjoy it with you.

Curried Pumpkin Soup Recipe


– 2 each garlic,peeled
– 1 onion,peeled and quartered
– 2 tablespoons Olive oil
– 4-5 lbs. pumpkin –
– 4 cups chicken Or Vegetable stock
– 2 teaspoons Hot curry powder
– 1 teaspoon Turmeric
– Pinch Of Cayene Or Chipotle
– Pepper
– 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
– freshly ground pepper
– 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds,Shelled Raw
– 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
– 1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
– 2 cans lite coconut milk
– 1 1/2 cup dry white wine
– 2 cups dry black beans, cooked for 1 hour

1. Soak beans overnight in large saucepan. cook until soft (about 1 hour). Set aside.

2.Place garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Set aside. Place jalapeno in food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

3. Slice pumpkin in large wedges, remove seeds & string. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet cut side down. Bake at 350 until the flesh is fork tender (about 1 1/2 hours. Peel pumpkin and puree half pumpkin. Cut remainder into small chunks. At same time cut onions into wedges, coat with oil and bake until brown and soft – about 1 1/2 hours. Set aside. Add onion to food processor. Pulse until fine. Alternatively dice onion and cook in large stock pan until translucent.

4. Add all remaining ingredients except pumpkin seeds & parsley to the stock pan. Bring to boil, Reduce heat and cook about 8 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, in a small saute pan, heat remaining tbsp. of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds and remaining 1/2 t salt and cook for about 30 seconds, shaking pan constantly to prevent burning, until all the seeds have popped. Remove from heat and add parsley.

6. Stir puree back into the soup. Adjust seasonings, and stir in the cream or yoghurt, if desired. We love to serve it with a big dollop of Greek yoghurt. Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds.



10 Ways to Help Kids Give Back At Christmas

Make Your Own Christmas Gifts

Advent and the Christmas season are racing towards us at warp speed and the hyper-consumerism that has already invaded our favourite stores is incredible. How do we refrain from responding with a frenzy of buying and more importantly, how do we stop our kids from being drawn into the “got to have this, and this and this” mentality? One possibility is helping kids to enjoy the blessing of giving rather than receiving. The list below is adapted from one that I found in Parent Map

1.Support Kids of the World: Helping your children understand that other kids don’t have the privileges they do and need their help can be an enjoyable experience. I love what VIVA, a UK based organization does in sponsoring Christmas parties in poor communities around the world. They are engaged in many ways to help keep children at risk safe and healthy. I have used their child friendly educational prayer resources for years. You may also like to consider organizations like Save the Children and Feed The Children.

2. Buy a livelihood for families. Gifts that provide a livelihood for those who struggle with hunger and poverty can be particularly meaningful as they empower children and make them realize we can all make a difference in this world. World ConcernWorld Vision and Heifer Project are just a few of the organizations that now provide opportunities for the giving of livestock – from chickens to cattle but as I mentioned in a previous post on Advent resources for Kids, this can sometimes be a little confusing as the chair of our Board found out when he tried to give 1/2 a goat to his parents for Christmas. His mother asked “What will I do with 1/2 a goat?” Tearfund UK has a program where you buy a gift voucher and then the recipient diecides what they will give. This might be more fun for some kids.

3. Donate a Bedtime story. This was a new one for me. Many families have few or no age-appropriate books in their home and kids miss out on the important literacy building ritual of bedtime stories. First Book is a non profit that works to distribute new books to low income families in schools in the U.S. and Canada.

4. Hold a Make Something Party. Some years ago Adbusters started a Buy Nothing Day campaign to counteract the Black Friday shopping frenzy of North American Culture. I prefer the Make Something Day idea which places a far more positive spin on the idea. You may in fact like to organize a party where your kids can help make gifts for underprivileged kids in your communities. There is something very special about a gift that has been handcrafted. I can guarantee that the recipient will hold onto it for years to come.

5. Make a Loan, help a family. This is a great suggestion for older kids that you not only want to encourage to give but who you also want to learn about investing and financial responsibility. KIVA and Hope International are two of the many Christian organization that facilitate micro-lending.

6.  Shed a Light on a Brighter Future. One Million LIghts is a non profit that aims to provide sustainable, usable lights to homes without electricity in developing countries through a buy one give one model. Buy solar-charged lanterns and you keep one and a family in need gets the other – a brilliant (pardon the pun) idea.

7. Give Hope for Tomorrow: Plant a Tree, Buy a Stove. In Plant with A Purpose’ alternative gift catalogue, a tree only costs $1 and a fule efficient stove is $30. I think that this type of gift can be a wonderful educational tool to help children understand the consequences of environmental degradation. Again the fact that we can actually do something to change the situation can be very empowering for young people.

8. Invite International Students Over for Christmas. There are lots of students from around the world that do not have anywhere to go for Christmas. Consider inviting them over on either Christmas eve or Christmas day. Contact your local college or university to find out how to extend this invitation. We have done this for the last couple of years. It has become a real highlight of the Christmas season for us. In conjunction you may like to get your kids to read up on Christmas traditions from around the world. Christmas Around the World has a wonderful description of traditions from a variety of countries that you might like to discuss.  The Worldwide Gourmet has a wonderful array of recipes associated with the Advent and Christmas season in many different parts of the world.  Just reading through some of these had my mouth watering.

9. Go Fairtrade with all your purchases. There are a growing number of organizations that provide fair traded gift items. Ten Thousand Villages is one one that we have frequented for years. Another possibility is One World Futbol’s smart soccer ball requires no pumping and never goes flat. Each time you purchase one another is donated to a community in need. Or for those that live in the Seattle area take you kids on a tour of Theos Chocolates and end by purchasing gifts for all the family.

10. Protect the World’s Animals. There are many creative ways to help protect the world’s animals. You might like to adopt an animal at your local zoo or contribute to an animal shelter or participate in one of the World Wild Life’s projects. One of my standard Christmas gifts is National Wildlife Federation’s monthly magazines – Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr.  It is an award winning educational magazine that provides entertainment and instruction throughout the year.

I have probably said enough but if you want to check out some other ideas:

Momastery – Mastering the Mom  has a great suggestion.

And you might also like to check out my post from a couple of years ago

Celebrating Advent with Kids

More resources to come – this is obviously a huge area of interest.

There is Still Room for More

Last Supper - a fortaste of the kingdom feast

Last Supper – a fortaste of the kingdom feast

This morning I was reading the parable of the Great Feast in Luke 14. I was struck by the phrase There is still room for more. God’s lavish invitation to all of us to join the banquet feast of the kingdom is amazing. It is generous beyond our imagining. It is all inclusive of anyone who wants to come. The poor, the lame, the blind and the crippled have been included and there is still room for more.

How different I thought from the exclusivity of our culture. The poor, the lame, the blind and the crippled are rarely invited. We are more likely to be concerned about who we can exclude from the banquet feast rather than who we can include. I can’t help but think about that this morning as I wait for the Presidential election results. So much of the rhetoric has been about cutting back benefits. Who can we exclude from health care and social security? Who can we ignore when the environment is at risk and the corporations want to make more money? Who can we turn our backs on because they are of the wrong faith or ethnicity or gender orientation?

I wonder if part of the reason there is so much empty space at the banquet feast of God is because we don’t want to sit down to eat with those at the margins. So my question today is Who have you invited to the banquet feast of God and who would you like to exclude? 

Sharing Meals, Sharing Faith, Sharing Life

Sharing In the Eucharistic Feast

Sharing In the Eucharistic Feast

Yesterday I posted on the forming of community around the preparing and eating of food. Coincidentally Tom also posted on community yesterday Did You Ever Consider That God Might Want You to Start A New Community In A Parking Lot?.  This is so central to the gospel and to the kingdom of God that this morning I thought I would share other stories that speak vividly of this aspect of who God calls us to be and of the eucharistic power of shared meals.

First this beautiful story from Turkey that Jeri Bidinger added as a comment to my post.

I don’t garden, though we have recently taken up residence in a Turkish village where home food production forms the fabric of life. Yesterday my neighbor found me to show me how they are making olive oil from olives collected from my trees and hers. As I left, her rooster attacked me when I got too close to the hen-house to photograph their small son. Yes, much community around the sharing of what we grow (my lemon tree is also an amazing producer and her husband showed me a pine-nut sapling he prepares for my garden) and the tending of her chickens and another neighbor’s cow. And then there is my bread-baking.

The stuff of hospitality, though, resonates very deeply. In this place of very few believers (I was the only one last Sunday), we share the Lord’s table every Sunday night and it IS a meal where we consciously celebrate Christ’s body and blood in the elements as we share and pray together. Whether we are two or six, whether we speak a common language or not, these times are rich fellowship.

Beyond food, in all its beauty and simple goodness, the offer of a safe place, of thoughtful converse, of space apart from life’s battering and stresses, where one can listen and be listened to, and play a bit–joy that leads to worship.

Second another very moving story that I used a couple of years ago from a post by Lisa Carlson co-director of Aurora Care Continuum

This month my husband and I shared meals with a handful of women that are prostituted in our neighborhood. We are grateful that they trust us enough to enter our home. As I reflect on the faces of each woman- one stands out to me the most, and this is the story that I must share: her name is “Rose”. I met “Rose” on the corner of Aurora and 95th street.

When I met her she was practically slumped over onto the fast paced street of Aurora, she could barely keep herself awake. I touched her on the shoulder and she looked at me as if she did not know where she was. She told me that she was in pain and that she had not slept in four days. She went on to tell me that a “john” had busted out all her teeth on a trick a few days ago, so that is what caused the pain. Her teeth were all knocked out and she hobbled as we stepped. I invited “Rose” to walk with me to my home where she could take a much needed, much deserved nap in a safe place. She agreed and this began our 24 hours together.

“Rose” slept on the couch, and as she slept I prepared a meal of chicken, potatoes, bread and salad. I lit candles and put out our finest plates and napkins. When “Rose” woke up, I invited her to join us at the table. And as we sat together, she asked if she could pray for our dinner. Her prayer was beautiful and yet it held a harsh reality: as she prayed she shared with us that she is 40 years old and that she has been prostituted since age 13 when her dad started feeding her crack. In this prayer she thanked God for a warm and safe place to sleep and then she shared with us and with God that this is the first time that anyone has ever invited her into a home to eat.

My goodness, “Rose” is 40 and has been out in the streets for 27 years and this is the first time she has shared in meal fellowship! I could not believe my ears. As she ate, she shared that this was the best meal that she could ever remember having and then later on in the meal as she talked about her love of singing, she bust out into song! “Rose” spent the night at our home that night, and the next day I accompanied her to the methadone clinic and then to lunch at Recovery Café.

This is certainly not the first time that I have had neighbors eat at my home or sleep on my couch but this was the first time that I gave myself permission to experience the table fellowship in light of Christ’s words, “Whenever you do this, do it in my memory.” We shared Eucharist with “Rose” that evening; I have no doubt about this. “Rose” was at the table with us, sitting in the position and place that she deserved…fine linens, candles, a warm meal, singing and fellowship with the Mystical Body of Christ. This is the work of God, for the people of God. Amen. Read the entire post

And finally a story I shared a couple of years ago about an Ethiopian feast prepared by our good friends Melody and Gil George.

Several months ago our good friends Melody and Gil George cooked a wonderful Ethiopian meal for us. The delicious hot and spicy sauces were spooned onto platters spread with layers of the Ethiopian flatbread injera. More mounds of injera dotted the table waiting for us to tear off pieces with our fingers so that we could scoop up the wonderful berbere flavoured wots. By the end of the meal all that remained on the platter were broken pieces of injera soaked with the remains of the sauces.

As we gathered the empty platters I was struck by how much this meal must have resembled meals Jesus ate with his disciples and those other friends of his – the tax collectors and prostitutes. Bread was far more than an adjunct to their meals, it was the very heart of their shared life together. The bread was broken so that people could share together the nourishment they needed to sustain life. And as the bread was broken there was implicit in the act, a sharing of hospitality, of togetherness and of community. Anybody who ate from their table, friend or stranger, rich or poor, young or old would enter into this shared community. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that in eating together in this way we had shared in the communion of Christ’s body.“To the Middle Eastern mind-set bread is not just a source of nourishment.” Says Ravi Zacharias. “It is the bearer of much more… It is the means of friendship, celebration and pleasure.” Read the entire article


How Do We Form Community?

Garden day at the Mustard Seed House

Garden day at the Mustard Seed House

Friday and Saturday were community garden days at the Mustard Seed House. Afterwards I reflected on what wonderful times of fellowship and fun these were. It started me thinking again about the importance of community and how we form it.

Gardening and hospitality, I thought. These are two of the most important places for forming community. Other shared activities like shared worship practices and shared ministry are also important for forming community, but sometimes they create rather than break barriers. And the best worship and ministry are deeply enriched by the sharing of food and its production. The phenomenal growth of the community garden movement is a good example of this.

In the creation story we find God forming a community around gardening too. It is God who plants the garden of Eden and asks human kind to tend it. And it is God we hear walking in that garden in the cool of the evening, not just enjoying what has been planted but looking for Adam and Eve so that they can enjoy it together.

In gospels we are introduced to the risen Christ as the gardener of the new creation. To be part of God’s new creation we once more walk in fellowship with God and with each other, fully mindful once more of our call to tend God’s garden and make it flourish.

Gardening breaks down barriers that can destroy community. Barriers of race, social strata, and age. In the garden we are all one. We wear our oldest clothes, so no one can tell the rich from the poor. We listen to the wisdom of grandparents who had their hands in the dirt long before we were born. And we rub shoulders with people of every tribe and nation because to get the big jobs done we need every will hand and every able body.

Hospitality at the Mustard Seed House

Hospitality at the Mustard Seed House

The other place most important community forming practice is hospitality and the sharing of food together. In the gospels we find Christ constantly sitting down to table to enjoy community around hospitality and food. Even after the resurrection, hospitality plays an important part in his interactions with the disciples. One of my favourite bible stories is the resurrected Jesus making breakfast for friends. (John 21:9)

Like gardening, the sharing of food can break down barriers as we see profoundly portrayed in the wonderful film Barbette’s Feast.

It is no wonder that the central sacrament of our faith is the breaking of bread and wine, something that was once more than the symbolic sharing of a rice wafer and a sip of wine or grape juice. The last supper must have looked a little more like what Sara Miles does in her book Take This Bread. The bread and wine at communion becomes tons of groceries, piled on the church’s altar to be given away and in the pages of her book we find the most unlikely people sitting down to dinner together – church ladies, bishops, schizophrenic street people, thieves and millionaires.

What do you think? Where do you find community? What for you are the most community enhancing activities?


Worshipping God in the Real World – How to Cook Your Life with Edward Espe Brown

After my post on dumpster diving and food justice David Hutcheson-Tipton  suggested I look up Edward Espe Brown and How to Cook Your Life.  Brown is a Zen priest from Fairfax, California, author of the famous Tassajara cookbooks, philosopher, Zen teacher and master chef.  There are some profound comments in this trailer from the film.  I particularly like the comment Treat the food as though it was your eyesight, as though it was that precious.  I agree with him – food is precious and when enjoyed in the company of friends it provides in many ways a glimpse into the kingdom of God.  His thoughts just emphasized for me once again the sacrementality of the food we eat and the ways that our preparation and consumption of it connects us to God and others

Gratitude: A tribute to a Friend

Yesterday when I wrote my post Grieve with those that Grieve, I had no idea how close to home that would come.  I heard last night that a dear friend of mine was killed in the Christchurch quake.  He was working out in his garden when a rock from the nearby cliff fell on him.  He was 82 and had lived  rich life but it still makes me grieve deeply, not just for his family but for all that lost loved ones in this disaster.

Don and his wife Jocelyn were the first to draw me into a community of believers.  They rescued me from the austerity of the medical residents’ quarters at Christchurch hospital where I was working and offered me a place to live.  I was a complete stranger but they opened their homes and their hearts to me.  And I was one of many that they opened their home to.  The last time I was in Christchurch I stayed with Don and Jocelyn.  They had just had a Japanese businessman staying with them.  Jocelyn had met him while shopping in Christchurch and invited him home.

As I thought about this today I wondered Where would I be without Don and Jocelyn? Their welcome and inclusion of a stranger set my feet on an new path that eventually led to my call to the mercy ship Anastasis, my time in the refugee camps in Thailand and eventually my marriage to Tom and the wonderful life that I lead now.  I doubt that I would be such an advocate for community today if it were not for the foundations that they laid in my life.  And I wonder if my faith would have endured and become as strong as it is today without their open hospitality, strong encouragement and supportiveness.

Part of what this has done (and probably also a symptom of turning 60) is made me look back on my own life and ask the question:  What legacy do I want to leave behind? My prayer this morning is that when God calls me home I too can leave behind strangers as well as friends who have known God’s hospitality through my life.  May God welcome me as I am sure God has welcomed Don into a loving embrace with the words: Well done good and faithful servant


Could You Host a Gathering Place dinner?

A couple of weeks ago we held our first Taste of the Mustard Seed event in Seattle.  One of the attendees was our friend, TV cooking personality Graham Kerr, once known as the Galloping Gourmet .  Graham was so excited about what we are doing that he has gifted us with 1,000 copies of his book The Gathering Place, to help us launch the Mustard Seed Village. This book is an exciting collection of menus from around the world designed to bring all of us back to the dining table to share delicious food and warm companionship.

Graham is inviting all of us to host Gathering Place dinners at which we share food and companionship while learning about the Mustard Seed Village of the future. Each host will receive a copy of The Gathering Place to assist them in planning the dinner.  Graham suggests you invite each guest to contribute a dish prepared from one of the menus in the book.

Hosts would also receive a packet of information about Mustard Seed Associates and the launch of the Mustard Seed Village which could be discussed during the meal.  At the end of the meal guests would be invited to prayerfully consider contributing a gift to help us launch this important venture.

This type of small hospitality gathering is very much in keeping with our approach at Mustard Seed Associates.  We already have enthusiastic supporters who are planning meals throughout the the U.S and Canada and invite you to join them.  Please email me today, leave a comment on this blog post or call us at 206 524 2111 for your Gathering Place host resource kit.

For those of you who are not familiar with Graham here is a video of of him cooking with Johnny Carson many years ago.  I still don’t think there is a TV cook as entertaining.