Denise’s Blog

Easter Bun, Hot-crossed or with Foreign Cheese

Though I have convinced myself that the Jamaican Easter bun is descended from the British Hot-cross bun, I have been hard- pressed to find anything but circumstantial evidence, that would probably not stand up too well in a court of historically correct cuisine. I have also wondered how it is that we have come to serve it with that orange-colored cheese in the round can, from New Zealand of all places! What an intriguing mix, this trans-Atlantic/ trans-Caribbean world of the Americas!

 I stumbled on it quite by surprise- my new Easter bun recipe. Searching through a healthy meals cookbook, I looked across the page from my ‘Millet in the Skillet’ project and saw the recipe titled ‘Brown Bread’. Back home that was the name for bread made with whole wheat flour, ‘brown’ because of the flecks of wheat bran included. My new discovery was made ‘brown’ however by a more culturally relevant ingredient, molasses. Additional sweetening came not from good old brown sugar but from honey! So much for cultural relevance!
As this recipe struggled on to win its place in my repertoire of culturally relevant cuisine for Jamericans, I was hit by an old favorite which I had not met before being transplanted into American Mid-West homeschooling life, buttermilk. Another cultural flare-up occurred as I tried to decide on fruit to include;  raisins, ‘yes’ but then a new and now dearly loved North-American ‘sub’ volunteered unabashed, knowing it was always welcome in my kitchen, craisins- sweetened, dried cranberries.
Pressing on with this new ‘bridge’ recipe, I realized I had yet another cultural struggle on my hands. The Easter bun recipe in vogue, just before I left JA, was bun made with stout, Dragon stout. But I have learned how to quit when I’m ahead when it comes to being purist in my hunt for Jamaican ingredients; so I had settled for Guinness stout when I decided to try this cultural confection at home in my Jamerican kitchen last Easter. I could not recall last Easter’s outcome so I had determined to try again this year despite the nay-saying of my ‘tea totaling’ son. Well, he won out due to my uncertainty about how baking soda would react with the fermenting factors in Stout draughts, so I was denied Irish input to what was fast becoming a United Nations event in my kitchen-what with crushed walnuts and almonds joining the party!
Amazingly, the result was very ‘Jamaican-Easter-Bun- ny’ in every sense! (Pun intended! No rabbits indigenous to JA at all!) The taste, texture and appearance were comparable to that from any kitchen worth the moniker ‘Jamaican’.I’ve proudly presented it to family and friends as such as I’ve entertained this Easter season; though I must admit to a slight twinge of conscience whenever I did so. Well, it looked, smelled and tasted like a duck…! a bun, that is! 

Whichever, it served its purpose: it drew people together in a language which touched us all at the level of our senses, identity and emotions providing a door to conscious engagement with things ultimately most meaningful…that primary moniker – Easter? Forget all the purist brouhaha about ancient Spring rites etc. Today the term connects us to rememberance of the Ultimate love act that bridged the deepest relational gap ever ( the one between God and man ) : the Atoning death of Jesus the Christ and His glorious resurrection! You can pass on my new bun, but don’t miss that Cross or that Sunrise! Christ has died! Christ is Risen! Christ will come again!

Uncrossing For Lent

 Like falling into an all too familiar rut, I internally, defensively rolled my eyes; sure that the elderly gentleman addressing us was misjudging my folded arms. “A sign that you are closed,” he said. But his kindly eyes and gentle, entreating way made me listen more closely; could it be that I was looking at it from the wrong direction? 
 My knee-jerk response had  to do with my having heard this ‘body posture’ assessment mentioned from the pulpit too often, by what I assumed must have been insecure preachers, doubting their ability to get through to their listeners. Being of a bent to encourage and not distract anyone in as vulnerable a position as a  public speaker is, I always uncrossed my arms whenever I was aware of it, not wanting to be offensive. My moment with Doug and, no doubt, the Holy Spirit, made me think again.
 Forget the speaker for a minute, “Was my posture defensive?” Why is that posture so natural? So comfortable? So comforting to me? In that minute I was amazed by a new revelation about myself – the default, rounded, hunched shoulders posture I was coming to despise and correct here in my mid-life season was not intended to be offensive but self-defensive. The suddenness of the realization almost made me gasp, sure sign of the Divine Counsellor at work.
 I immediately started to address it. In church, the very next service, I observed my arm-crossing impulse, and sure enough, caught myself resorting to it in any moment that threatened a psychological ‘ouch’. It seemed as predictable as pulling away from a heated burner. Here surely, was fodder for growth, for healing, for maturity.
 Subconscious self-defense mechanisms are understandable and even wise for a child – one who does not yet have the capacity to deal openly, in an intellectual and decisive manner with threats visible or psychological. However, a security blanket on an adult is at least distracting and at its worst destructive, to relationships and all that that impinges on.

 I realize that more than an upright body posture in my middle years, I desire an upright, healthy spirit. So I’ve decided to open: uncrossing my arms, and consciously engaging the person, the idea, the message, the situation which tends to evoke the folding. Open, both physically and emotionally, I find I can breathe more effectively, the air of Truth, of reality and thence the air of God’s great grace to deal with whatever is ‘out there’ or ‘in there’. Like uncovering a poorly dressed wound to finally have it dealt with by one who knows not only the hurt but also the antidote, is this new attitude of mine.
 My skinny arms were not doing so great a job keeping hurt out my soul anyway, much like a blanket wouldn’t stop an arrow. I guess I have lighted upon a unique application of the verse in Scripture, ” the arm of flesh will fail you” ! I wonder what that means for my dear hubby who likes to cross his legs? Scripture, in my current vein of thinking speaks to that too, “the legs of a man are a vain thing to hope in”! – I love the breadth of application afforded by the picturesque language of the KJV.
 Nonetheless, jests and metaphors aside, I have decided to uncross, unfold my arms this Lent, and trustingly open: to God, the Author and finisher of my faith, who let’s nothing into my life without modifying purpose. After all, a closed approach to life speaks of a lack of trust in His sovereign abilities and good plans for me; and, if Jesus could open His arms as widely and as trustingly to the Father’s purpose on the cross as He did for us, uncrossing for Lent seems like the only reasonable response.

Of Lent and New Wine

“Give up the habit of giving up” 
…encouraged the man of God. Seemed like a good idea to me, especially since this season seems to be one which has necessitated the relinquishing of so much already.
 Give up the habit of giving up on the idea of a forever safe hobbit hole in the Shire, or anywhere in Middle-Earth anymore? He, upon whose shoulders all government rests, is our shield and strong tower! – the ultimate Hobbitt Hole. Abide under the Shadow of His Wings!
Give up on the habit of giving up the illusion of control – unless you understand your vantage point and privileged position in the Grand-scheme: Consider the mouse, invited to ride high on the back of the massive elephant as they cross a bridge, who quips “We sure shook that bridge, didn’t we!” A picture of the ‘control’ we wield in prayer. Pray!
     Perhaps the way Zechariah felt when he looked up and saw an angel in the inner sanctum of the temple telling him that his barren wife would conceive… give up the habit of giving up; 
     Or the way Naomi felt as she looked into the eyes of her son’s widow Ruth, whom she had earlier advised to return to her family of origin and their false gods, but who had now placed, on her lap, the man-child Obed , who would be the grand-father of King David, of the line of Messiah. She gave up the habit of giving up! In fact she dandled fulfillment on her knees with greater joy than when their new wine abounds – the tune of an eternally joyful lullaby. Persevere in hope!
Lent: A time to persevere in hope.
Lent: Because no one wakes up on resurrection Sunday with full appreciation of the Atonement, who has not set his soul to ponder These Things, to meditate, to worship, to lay hold upon the exceedingly Good Thing – The Gospel.
Lent: An old wine skin? Not if it means giving up the  habit of giving up… and laying hold; persevering until The Dawn.

Unmasking for Lent

Ironic that Mardi Gras, the huge celebration of the flesh (bacchanal, similar to Trinidad’s Carnival), held just before Lent each year, should involve the use of masks. Seriously funny, given Jesus’ admonition against assuming a persona to impress others or even oneself, a potential pitfall involved in seeking to apply any spiritual discipline to one’s life. The third reading for Ash Wednesday (Methodist hymnal lectionary, Matthew 6:16-19) records His words, “…when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting”: masking with a certain countenance to give a desired appearance… hmm.

Looking over my daughter’s shoulders last night, as she scanned for picts for face-painting, we were intrigued by the way facial structure affected the appearance of the figure painted over it. No matter how cute the cow, painted on the human face, the appearance was disturbing. Underlying factors, it seems, affect what’s seen on the surface… hmm.

No wonder Jesus underscored heart motive so thoroughly in these epic sermons in Matthew. The religious leaders’ observances were intended to impress others or themselves. Remember the example of the one described as “…pray[ing] with himself thus, ‘I thank you God that I am not like other men…'” Jesus urged His disciples, rather, to obey His Words out of a love for God. This undergirding manifests in earnest, private, devotional pursuit birthed out of one’s awareness of his total inability to do the good he desires in his own strength. The result of obedience thusly motivated is sweet communion with the Godhead. The Gospel of John is littered with such assurances. Chapter 14:20-26, for example, outlines promises such as the love and entrance of both the Father and Son into the Believer’s life, the promise of the Son manifesting Himself specifically, as well as instruction and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; all in the secret place.

In a culture whose favourite Bible quote is “Thou shalt not judge”, Jesus here agrees except for the time factor. Through the Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 4, He instructs, “judge nothing before the time, until The Lord comes who will both bring to light the hidden things of  darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” Masks, held up, strapped on, painted on or assumed by grimace, have no lasting impression on the soul thus concealed, though the disturbance visited on the onlooker may be of some duration. Whereas a day in His courts or 40 in the wilderness can yield eternally wonderful transformation. 

So let’s waste no time this Lent in vain efforts to impress man but seek instead to be the one whom God regards, “…who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at His word.” Let the show and public parade go by, and seek Him instead, in the secret place. Then from that place of private counsel with the Wonderful Counsellor, “…your light shall break forth like the morning,…” Isa 58:8a.

I Have Begun…

A contemporary Christian music artist sang,

“There are days when I feel the best of me is ready to begin…”. 

     Well, though I can’t quite say that is what I am feeling right now, I do believe I must begin anyway… Not quite Caleb with ” Give me my mountain!” gusto either… In fact, feeling more like one of “the company of ‘the Ring'” pinned against the cold, sheer face of the mountain Caradhras, with all nature and the enemy seeming to control my ability to go forward or not. But whether I have to climb back down to the foothills and find that I need go through Moria…or not, all I have is this moment. So there, I have begun. My hand is in the River, at His invitation, and only good can come of that.

– Denise A Stair-Armstrong