The Commune Table-October Week 1

Here’s what we enjoyed eating last week. May your table be full of yummy foods and good conversations. 

Sunday-Balsamic Roast Beef French Dip Sandwiches, Corn and Basil Salad

Monday-Our school was doing a fundraiser at Sonic Drive-In

Tuesday-Coconut Curry Soup, Brown Rice
I love this recipe because it is flexible. This time we added fresh chopped zucchini from our garden. 

Wednesday-Kale & Butternut Squash Pasta, Fresh Fruit

Butternut Squash, bacon, and pasta, a match made in heaven!

Butternut Squash, bacon, and pasta, a match made in heaven!

2013-05-22 17.46.33-2

Thursday-Sesame Chicken Edamame Bowls, Fruit Salad

Friday-Easy Butter Chicken, Rice, Roasted Garlic Cauliflower, Naan

Saturday-Leftovers

Training Your Eyes

I wrote this a couple years ago and for some reason it never made it on the blog. I was reminded of this struggle and lesson as the Halloween decorations started appearing this weekend. 

I don’t know why but for some reason people in Utah LOVE Halloween.  So many people here full out decorate their houses, plan elaborate costumes for their kids AND themselves, and even get off work early to get ready! The haunted houses and haunted-themed events abound for the whole month of October.

Because we are attempting to raise our kids to be able to relevantly relate to their culture and not just build a christian bubble around them we’ve chosen to celebrate this holiday in certain, thoughtful ways rather than just excluding it from our lives and vocabulary. We try to find ways to redeem and reclaim that which sin has darkened and perverted. So on this particular night in the past we’ve let our kids dress up and we go to the local senior center. We walk through the halls and greet the residents and talk to them. We talk to our kids about trying to bless others with their presence and I’m not gonna lie, they get a ton of candy too. I’m not saying that everybody should do what we do, it’s a personal decision that has to be made with lots of evaluation and prayer.

Recently we moved to a new neighborhood. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of our neighbors and are really enjoying getting settled into our new surroundings. As this holiday approaches we’ve watched as a few houses here and there have put out hay bales, pumpkins, and the occasional spider or scarecrow. Pretty much just cute autumn stuff. Then this week it happened. Down around the corner from us the little house and well manicured yard overnight turned  into an evil graveyard. Now, one of my biggest pet peeves in the blogesphere is exaggeration for poetic flair and I try really hard to write honestly and realistically. So I hesitate to say that our neighbor’s decorations are “evil” but honestly I can think of no other accurate way to describe them. These decorations are beyond the typical Halloween scary stuff you see, they are just horrible, dark and, well….evil.

The first time I drove past this transformed house I shuddered, shook my head in disgust and then got irritated. I thought, I have to drive my kids past that house every day. Thanks a lot jerks!  All that morning that stupid house was on my mind because I knew later that day I would have to drive past it with my kids in tow. What was I going to say when they saw it? Then an idea popped into my head, we don’t have to drive past it! There are other routes to our house. I can just use those routes until those decorations are gone. Yes, no other route is nearly as direct. Yes, I will have to drive out of the way, multiple times a day, for the next 30ish days…ugh. This is not looking like such a good solution. Back to the drawing board.

So I continued to pray about this irritating house. I contemplated paying these neighbors, who I’ve not met yet, a visit and just letting them know how offensive their decorations are to me, my children, and probably any other family with young kids in the area. I can just visualize how well that would turn out: Hi, I’m the new neighbor down around the corner. Well I just wanted to let you know how I feel about your horrible Halloween decorations…

So my next solution, I pray that God would blind my children’s eyes to this house for the next month. God, you can do that right? I’ve heard stories of bible smugglers in other countries who have watched in amazement as police have searched their bags and literally not seen hundreds of bibles and study materials. So God, please blind my children’s eyes to these decorations so I don’t have to deal with them seeing them and don’t have to drive out of my way.

Fast forward to that afternoon when I pick my daughter and her friend up from kindergarten. My son is also in the car with us. We drive by the house, I silently pray and hold my breath. Then I hear:

“MOM!!! DID YOU SEE THAT HOUSE!?!!?

I look in the rear view mirror and see all three kids with their faces practically plastered to the window visually sucking in all the horrible things on display. So no blindness, huh God?

Then, amazingly instead of freaking, out of my mouth come words that I believe had to have been from God, because I certainly wasn’t thinking what I was saying. I listened to myself as I told the kids that sometimes there are yucky, scary, or icky things in this world. It is sad that some people chose to like those things and sad that they chose put them out so that everybody has to look at them. So what we have to do, I told them, is to teach our eyes to not look at those yucky, scary things. We have to tell our eyes, “I know you want to look at all that stuff, but it isn’t good for you, so you need to look away.”

The kids responded so well. They said, “Okay, we have to not look at that stuff cause it isn’t good for us?”

“Yes, that’s exactly right.”

And that’s what they’ve been doing ever since. We don’t drive out of our way to get home, we don’t talk poorly about those neighbors for liking that stuff, we simply look away. The more I think about it, the more I see the need for this at other times in our lives. Down the road I know there will be times when my children will need to choose to look away from something. A website, a photo in a text, a billboard, etc. There are lots of things they will be exposed do that I can’t control or protect them from. I hope this simple exercise of training their eyes will give them strength to make the right choice when the consequences are greater.

Even now every time we drive by this particular house we talk about training our eyes. The other gem that has come up from this house is that we cannot control those people and what they put in their yard. But we can control our own bodies and what we allow our eyes to look at and our minds to think about. So I guess in the end I should be thanking these neighbors for the good life lessons. :-)  

The Commune Table

It’s officially fall which means time for soups and breads and recipes based around squash, yum! Apparently nobody notified the weather and so we’ve been eating soup on 90 degree days. Oh well, we’ll get there eventually. Here’s what we enjoyed this last week:

Monday-Honey Garlic Crockpot Chicken, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Green Salad
I followed her suggestion and topped the chicken with bacon and cheese and broiled it. It’s worth the little bit of extra effort.

Tuesday-Personal Pizzas, Green Salad
This is a commune favorite, we have a fantastic dough and sauce recipe. The kids love to make their own pizzas and this meal works great on busy nights when not everyone is home for dinner at the same time. 

Wednesday- Garlic Lovers Veggie Stir-Fry, Brown Rice
Simple, quick, and so good. I confess that I forgot to remove the huge chunks of ginger from the oil before I added the vegetables. This meant a few very surprising bites…not recommended. 

Thursday-Homemade Chicken and Noodles, Roasted Green Beans
This is my family’s recipe and was what we always requested for our birthday dinners. My favorite part is making the noodles together. The kids love unrolling the long strands of dough and tossing them with flour before they go in the broth. We always leave one noodle rolled up and see who gets it in their bowl. 

P.S. It’s a short menu this week because the kids and I took a spur of the moment trip up to visit my family.

The greatest Victim of revenge is the Avenger

With ISIS making headlines and recent remembrance of the 9/11 attack, our attention is again on fighting terrorism. For Christians, our response should be guided by scriptures. One of the most innate responses to attacks, and stories of beheadings, is to seek revenge. But, one of the clearest directives in the Bible it for us to not seek revenge (Deut 32:35, and quoted in Rom 12:19), but rather to love our enemies (Matt 5:44):

Deut 32:35: It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
Matt 5:44: But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

The principle is clear and unambiguous. While Christians often fail to live out scriptures, there is generally at a least a desire to be obedient. However, this is one teaching of Christ, where Christians actually seem unashamed to boldly and blatantly defy and contradict Christ.

One of the strategies for some is to try to twist Romans 13:4 into an excuse for governments’ to enter the business of vengeance:

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Out of context, this might indeed sound like a justification for vengeance, but with more context, it becomes clear that this is definitely not the case, for several reasons. First, starting from the beginning of chapter 13, it is clear that Paul is not addressing leaders or government, but rather subjects (leaders can learn from this passage, but only as long as they understand the context). We can not understand Paul’s words as a directive to leaders or governments to seek revenge, when he is not even addressing them. Instead, Paul is indicating that the government’s actions, as they pursue the common good of the people may legitimately engage in punishment (not as the one how is being satisfied by revenge) and taxation, and in doing so, may inflict punishment on you, to deter and restrain you from others, and this punishment may also serve God’s purpose in inflicting divine judgement. However, the vengeance or wrath mentioned is not man’s, they are acting as “agents”, not as a divine judge.

This verse also can not be used as a directive, since it is completely insufficient in declaring what crimes deserve what revenge. Deterrent justice, the legitimate form of justice that governments can and should pursue for the well-being of their citizens, can be empirically determined (we can verify how much punishment it take to significantly deter crime). However, when we endeavor to seek revenge, the only clear measure of the appropriate level of punishment for crimes that the Bible offers is that every crime is deserving of punishment beyond repayment, yet we are shown grace. How should a government’s endeavor enact this? And isn’t the greatest offense we can commit, to reject God? Should governments then started punishing anyone who is not a Christian? This didn’t turn out to well in the Crusades, one of the darkest points in Christian history. While government’s may inflict deterring punishment, that may be used by God for His judgement, it is absurdly unjustifiable for governments to actually take up the divine act of seeking revenge themselves, and it completely contradicts the clear Biblical message that vengeance (the act of deciding the deserved recompense for offenses) belongs solely to God.

Not only is revenge clearly condemned in scriptures, the desire to see others avenged for their wrongs is fundamentally in contradiction to the very foundation of the Christianity, the grace we find at the cross. The reality is that we were deserving of a punishment what we can never payback, and yet God, while we were still in sin, showed as grace. To turn around, and demand divine punishment on someone who is no more deserving of God’s wrath than we are, is to trample on that grace, to reject Christ, and the cross he bore.

I am not pacifist either. The reason I am not, is that I see pacifism is a form of legalism. While Jesus definitely taught us not to violently respond to enemies (it doesn’t get any more non-violent than loving your enemies), Jesus also clearly taught (particular in Matthew 12), the purpose of the God’s laws was not to define a mechanical process to satisfy God, but to reveal his purpose. When he make pacifism a mechanism of obedience, rather than a revelation of his purpose and vision of peace, we risk legalistically following a set of motions instead of looking towards the goal. However, in defense of pacifism, in practice, this actually seems to be relatively rare problem, as we most always err on the side violence as humans, instead of sacrificial peace.

I believe this gives a proper framework for understanding Romans 13, and government’s legitimate role in punishing people. In isolation, it is impossible to justify a punishment that is clearly harming a person. In the broader context of society, the purpose (rather than just the mechanism) of Jesus teaching, the ethic of loving others, loving the whole community, it be comes quite clear how punishing one person benefits the greater society. We can prevent future crimes, and in doing so we are benefiting the community, the society. This doesn’t need to be motivated by a desire to avenge past wrongs, but rather motivated by the legitimate and loving act of protecting future potential victims.

With the whole of scripture in view, Romans 13 isn’t a new revelation of a new ethic, or a new exception. It is in fact, simply a recognition that a well-functioning government that cares for its citizens (driven by Christians wholly devoted to Christ’s ethic, or even non-Christians who also recognize the need for collective actions and providing victims from injustice, which actually was the case of the government Paul was under), may be punishing (and taxing people), and stern warning that evil behavior may earn you a legitimate punishment from that government. There is nothing fundamentally new here, Paul is completely aligned with Christ here. He is not trying to correct a failure in the Christian ethic, he is simply expressing a legitimate expression of the ethic, and how it may affect us.

It is indeed tempting to think that Christ’s teaching, His ethic needs to be excepted for governments. I used to think the same thing. However, as I have studied scripture more, I have realized Christ’s teaching needs no limits placed on them. They are wholly perfect, consistently applicable to every situation, to all people, individuals, groups, societies, and governments, without error, never falling short of guiding us rightly. We don’t have to come up with fixes for Christ, where He didn’t quite foresee how His teaching wouldn’t quite work right for larger governing bodies. As Abraham Kuyper said:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

The recognition of how dangerous the urge for revenge is in perpetuating violence is why the Just War principles were articulated (by Augustine and later expanded by others). When the only thing needed to justify war is a feeling of righteous superiority and a desire for revenge, virtually every war, battle, and atrocity can be justified. It is only through an objective analysis of the whether war will actually yield better results for the common good of all, that combat can really be justified.

So should we bomb ISIS? If we have learned anything from the last two decades of middle east conflicts, it is that fighting terrorists is incredibly difficult, costly, and complicated, and can often produce the opposite of the intended effect. We are completely ignorant if we think there is some simple way to take out terrorists, so I certainly don’t claim to know the best tactical approach forward. But I do know that the values that drive our strategy our critical. When we take up arms out of revenge, we can be quite certain that we will indeed succeed at the immoral and unethical pursuit that we undertake. And as title, states the greatest victim of revenge is the avenger, and indeed our hunger for revenge has cost hundreds of billions of dollars (if not trillions), as well as thousands of lives, and to pursue revenge now will cost us more.

Again, I don’t know the right tactical strategy, and we are equally at fault if we ignore the oppression and sufferings of the thousands who have been persecuted and displaced at the hands of ISIS. And we may very well be close to erring on the side of doing too little, in this case, and ignoring their plight (it seems very likely that we have done too little for the sake of the oppressed Syrians). But, we can only embark on truly ethical, moral, and just tactics of armed combat, when we start with a foundation of having first forgiven, and recognizing that the death of any human, including a terrorist is a great tragedy. To deny that a fellow human needs God’s grace exactly as much as myself, is to deny the cross itself.

The greatest victim of revenge is the avenger. We, unwittingly, in our hunger for revenge, become our own victim of bitterness, and in our pursuit, costing ourselves the most. And God, in His infinite foresight, undertook the most ironic, and beautiful twist of fulfilling this. As the rightful true avenger, He willingly became the true greatest victim. Indeed, the greatest Victim of revenge is the Avenger.

Reading List 2014

books

I’m several months late but I thought I’d share with you what has been on my reading list this year. It’s an ambitious list and may spill over into 2015. For the books I have finished I’ll include a brief review. I’d love to hear about what’s on your reading list too!

1. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley
I will write a whole post on this book soon. What an interesting read! I highly recommend reading this book no matter what form of education you have chosen for your children.

2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This is a quick and entertaining story about a boy, born with a severe facial birth defect, who is attending public school for the first time in his life…and at middle school no less! I picked this book up because I had heard such great things about it from teachers and parents alike. It’s a great story about good friends, facing challenges, and not allowing the difficulties we encounter define us but rather shape our character. This is will be a book my children read when they are a little bit older.

3. A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling
An autobiography about one of the primary student leaders of the Tienanmen Square protests and the massacre that followed. She shares her whole story from childhood to present day. I found the section about the events at Tienanmen Square the most interesting mainly because I knew so little about the uprising and the politics involved. Ling flees China as a most wanted fugitive and eventually becomes a Christian and starts an exciting and legitimate foundation to fight female gendercide in China.

4. Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
I’m almost finished with this book but the chapter I’m currently on is the most convicting and personally challenging so I’ve slowed down my reading a lot in order to process the conviction I’m feeling. Too often I read a good book and the information remains just that, information…head knowledge. Hatmaker’s writing is enjoyable, very funny, and approachable. She does not use guilt or flowery language to cajole her reader into making changes. She simply and honestly shares her experiences and thoughts and leaves the reader to make their own personal applications. That’s what I’m trying to do.

5. Just Moms Complied by Melanie Springer Mock & Rebekah D. Schneiter
I stumbled across this book accidentally at church and I’m SO glad I did. I thought it was going to be a “How To” book about conveying the ambiguous concepts of justice to our children. Instead it is a compilation of (mostly) blog posts from (mostly) Mennonite and Quaker authors who (mostly) live in the Pacific Northwest and are wrestling with how to teaching their children how to love, live, and think like Jesus, namely how to care for the least, our environment, and live a life of non-violence. They don’t give five steps to make your kids love justice, they just share their daily revelations and struggles. I found each chapter encouraging and refreshing and while I didn’t always agree with the authors I longed to discuss the ideas with someone. This would be a great book for a moms’ or parents’ group to read and discuss.

6. Pursuing Justice by Ken Wystma
After Kris’s great review of this book here how could I not add it to my reading list? ;-)

7. Stiff by Mary Roach
Somewhere, I think on NPR, I heard a great review of this book and it’s a New York Times Bestseller. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

8. The Beloved Disciple by Beth Moore
Okay, confession time, I have never done a Beth Moore bible study or read one of her books. Gasp! Since I’m still here typing and not burnt to a crisp from a lightening bolt I’m guessing that despite what our Christian culture might think that’s not a mortal sin. But seriously I don’t have anything against BM, I just have never had the opportunity to participate in one of her studies. I’ve heard great things and I found this book on my mother-in-law’s collection so I thought I’d see what all the fuss is about, plus I’ve always wanted to do a study on John.

9. The Educated Child by Bennett, Finn, Jr., Cribb, Jr.
I may not read this whole book. It’s thick…like 600+ pages! I intend to use it more like a reference book as my kids dive further into the public education system. I am SO thankful for the great school they go to and the unique education they are getting BUT just because they are going to school doesn’t mean that I don’t have a huge role to play in their education. I want to use this book to help guide me as I fill in the gaps and hopefully help my children be well educated children.

10. Overrated by Eugene Cho
Our community group voted to read this book together. We will discuss chapter one next week. I listened to his TEDx talk and am excited to work through this book as a group. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, he is pretty hard hitting from the beginning, but usually growth isn’t easy.

11. Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
Our church is in the midst of a huge transition and this book feels like an appropriate read.

12. The Mary Russell Series by Laurie R. King
These books are my purely for pleasure books. I’m part of a little book club (very little, as in two people) and this is the current series we are reading and discussing. Sherlock Holmes has retired and taken to bee keeping and solving the occasional mystery for his brother. He crosses paths with an orphaned and outcast teenage girl (Mary) whose wit and insightfulness just might match his own. They form a partnership and eventually a friendship while they recover kidnapped children, evade murderers, and prevent political coups.
King is a smart writer who really does her homework. Even though I am reading for pleasure I feel like I am learning with these books. The series is long so we are just reading a few:
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Letter of Mary,O Jerusalem, The Game, Pirate King
I’m currently on The Game, which also happens to be my favorite so far.

13. The Maze Runner Series by James Dashner
These are fast reads, somewhere in the genre with The Hunger Games but not as well written or compelling. The first book is by far the best. I read all the books because I was hoping they would continue to improve with each book. Sadly they don’t. Again, entertaining but little more. The movie for the first book is comes out this month.

The Commune Table

Here’s what we ate this last week with recipes or links whenever possible.

Monday–Cilantro Lime Chicken Salad (see recipe below) and Fresh Fruit Salad.

Tuesday–Chicken and Black Bean Soup, Chips

Wednesday–Cheesy Kale Stuffed Zucchini, French Bread
Recipe changes: Instead of turkey I used 10 pieces of bacon, baked and crumbled  up. Yum!

Thursday–Caprese Grilled Chicken, Green Beans

Friday–Leftovers

Saturday–Potstickers and Fried Rice

 

Cilantro Lime Chicken Salad
2 chicken breasts, well seasoned with Montreal Steak Seasoning (or something similar)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 head butter lettuce, chopped
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 can black beans, rinsed

Grill the chicken and slice. Toss all other ingredients into a big bowl. Top with dressing (see below).

Cilantro Lime Dressing
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 TBS lime juice (more or less to taste)
2 TBS  red wine vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro (depending on how much you like it)
1/2 tsp dill weed
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Mix until smooth and yummy.

Welcome Back…To Me!

It’s been a long time since I (Nikki) wrote a blog post, since March 2012 to be exact! Kris has added a lot of great content to this blog in the last two and a half years, including a new name. There have been times when I’ve been tempted to write a post but my menus and little everyday posts seemed insignificant posted next to posts about fighting malaria and social justice.

But I’ve missed writing regularly…okay, semi-regularly. I have quite a list of things I want to share with you from amazing books I’ve read to fun menu ideas. So Kris and I will attempt to merge our writing styles and create a balanced blog that represents both of us. Can it be done? Is it possible? I guess we will see!