Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

In the last several months, I have been given many gifts.  My dear friend Susan, upon finding that I was looking for a bread machine, offered me the one she owned but did not use.  We now make all our own bread in our home – white, cinnamon raisin, whole wheat – and we have a great time trying all sorts of new bread recipes. 

When she decided to buy a new one, my very good friend, Patricia, gave me her practically unused  KitchenAid Mixer.  If you have ever owned or used one of these, then you know that they are awesome!  The first time I used it, I was so excited I seriously considered videotaping it for this blog.  “Look, Todd!” I exclaimed to my husband, “It’s going around and around!”  He still loves me, thank goodness.  But we both love this mixer.

For some reason, the phrase that comes to mind is “the kindess of strangers” although it’s hardly the case in this situation.  These gifts were received from very good friends.  And far removed from Blanche DuBois, I think about the scriptures that direct us to think of the strangers in our lives to whom we offer kindness and from whom we receive it; our willingness to show generosity and – sometimes more difficult – our openness to receiving it.

Receiving kindness is often much harder than giving it.  Our culture and our faith are at sharp odds when it comes to the value of self-sufficiency.  We would very much like to rely on no one but ourselves, to be responsible for nobody but us.  Many feel that being in need is a shameful state and that to help others – to acknowledge their need – is to give offense.  We even confuse self-sufficiency with a virtue of our faith, but nothing could be further than the truth.

Jesus’ most famous parable, the Good Samaritan, had to do with the willingness to give and receive kindness of strangers (Luke 10:25-37).  A hated Samaritan was willing to give, and an Israelite, likely unwilling, was forced to receive.  But even more astounding, Jesus a few verses earlier sends his disciples out with the specific intention that they depend on others. 

[Jesus said] “Go on your way.  Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals . . . Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide.”  Luke 10:3-4, 7

Jesus didn’t have his disciples pack for the trip.  They were not told to bring enough with them so that they could avoid relying on others.  He fully intended for them to depend on the hospitality of those they met.  In fact, Jesus often did this himself, receiving meals as the guest in the home of others.  He knew and tried to teach us that we were meant to depend on one another.

Several years ago, I spent a few months in Melbourne, Australia taking seminary classes and getting to know the culture.  I lived in an apartment by myself and had to acquire everything I would need for basic living.  I had plenty of fellow students willing to loan me whatever they had to spare.  Nevertheless, I sat down and wrote a list of everything I needed, making my plans to buy it all at the store down the street.  The list was long.  I began to realize how foolish it was to hold on to my pride and insist on buying my own things.  It would likely all be thrown away when I left.  So I borrowed.  When my parents visited, they rolled their eyes in agony to see how many loaner things I had, how much I had come to depend on my neighbors.  Clearly, I come honestly by my severe independence.  But so do my parents, and so do we all.

In a culture that highly values self-reliance, we struggle to take on the radical new way of living Jesus taught us.  In it, we are required to shake off our pride and accept, even cherish, our dependence on each other.  This is a difficult step for most of us.  We fight against our lack of control, our inability to completely take care of ourselves, our own neediness.

Our food teaches us this lesson too.  While I might be able to grow a tomato without the help of other humans, I can’t do it without the cooperation of the soil and the grace of God.  Very little of this process is up to me.  So we might as well get used to it and assent to the fact that we need help outside of ourselves.  We require God to save us, whether it is from sin or from hunger.  We might as well sigh, accept the generosity and enjoy the bounty.

The recipes I made this week were amazing.  The Italian Meat Sauce was pretty easy to prepare.  Because I cooked it in the crock pot, every time I came home during the day the whole house smelled like dinner!  It was great.  The Deep Dark Chocolate Cake was to die for!  It was with this recipe that I inaugurated the KitchenAid mixer.  The cake was so moist, eating it was like having pudding with pudding on top.  I baked it in an oval dish.  When I had cut and served one corner of the cake, I came back into the room later to find that the cake had filled itself in.  It looked like it had never been cut.  I highly recommend it.  This was a wonderful meal our family had together.  May you be blessed in the cooking and serving of it.

Blessed eating!

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Rev. Don Richardson, a kindhearted man of innumerable talents.  I am deeply grateful for the friendship and the hospitality I have received from him and his family.  May the world continue to be blessed by the fruit trees he planted and the spiritual fruit he bore during his life with us. 

Italian Meat Sauce (Spaghetti) Recipe
1 cup chop. onion              2 stalks celery with tops, chopped
1-1½ lb. ground chuck, browned    1½ tsp. salt
1 T. sugar                                           2 cloves garlic
1 T. dried oregano                            1½ T. dried basil
1 lg. can (1 lb. 12 oz.) tomatoes      ¼ tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. dried marjoram           1 (12-oz) can tomato paste
1 bay leaf                                 1 container of spaghetti sauce

Put all ingredients in Crock-Pot.  Stir thoroughly.  Cover & cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, or high for 3 to 5 hours.  For the bigger (4 ½ qt) Crock-Pot, ingredients may be increased by half.  I sometimes just make this in a Dutch oven & simmer a long time. – Marilyn Johnson

Note:  I used ground turkey.  It was good.  Also, I don’t know why the recipe calls for a container of spaghetti sauce.  I didn’t use it.

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake
2 c. sugar                           1 t. salt
1 ¾ c. pl. flour                    2 eggs
¾ c. cocoa                          1 c. milk
1 ½ t. baking soda             ½ c. oil
1 ½ t. baking powder        2 t. vanilla
1 c. boiling water
Preheat oven to 350o.  Grease and flour 2 round pans or 9x1x ½ in. or 13x9x2 in rectangle pan.  Mix dry ingredients.  Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla.  Blend on medium for 2 minutes.  Stir in boiling water (mixture will be thin).  Scrape the bottom of the bowl and stir again.  Pour into pans and bake 30-35 minutes for round pans, or 35-40 minutes for rectangular pans, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for about 10 minutes.

Chocolate Frosting
2 small packages of milk chocolate pudding        3 c. milk
1 large container of whipped topping
Mix the two boxes of pudding with the milk.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Stir the whipped topping in by hand.  Frost the Deep dark Chocolate Cake with this frosting. – Gena Jernigan

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