Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Presenting... Rose!


I'm so excited for my friend Rose!

She and her boyfriend Aaron are two of my oldest and best friends at school. Both of them are artists of the first degree, primarily painters, and Rose just had one of her pieces in the Honors Art Show! If you're on the Fairfax campus, go see it in the Johnson Center. The exhibit is staying up until February 7th.

What adds to the excitement is that her work was just featured in an art blog, Messy Manifesto. Check it out here.

Like me, Rose has just started a blog to promote her work. Gaze at her amazingness at deborahroseguterbock.blogspot.com.

Below is the central canvas in her show piece, Prophecy in Pink. It's a very rich piece, like a slice of really good cheesecake or a really good novel-- one in which flavor, texture, memory and meaning converge into pure delight. Additionally, an oblique reference to the Wizard of Oz makes most things even better.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mujadara goodness

Since I've moved into my new apartment, I've gathered up my resolve to cook. I took the plunge today and canceled my meal plan (which was only really useful in that it gave my easy access to Indian food and ice cream), so soon I'll get a nice check from George Mason University that I can use to stock a pantry (and maybe use to partially pay back a loan or six...).

Apparently my new roommates don't really cook, so what little I've been doing in the kitchen has been of note to them. Today, though, I ventured into an unexplored territory, one in which the primary questions my roommates ask is, "What is that?"

That is mujadara (pronounced "moo-jah-dra"), and is a Lebanese dish that I found on Orangette (thanks to Cody at Crashing the Last Supper). I've wanted to try it out since winter break, since it's super easy and inexpensive.

This version of mujadara is basically onions, lentils, and rice. Most of the flavor comes from the onions, which are cooked until carmelized. According to Molly Wizenberg (ze mastermind behind Orangette), the browner the better-- they can even be burnt! They do take a bit of time, but I was twittering/checking email/reading for class/goofing off and so the time flew by.

This is definitely a recipe I will repeat, but to be satisfying it needs something beside it. Molly suggests a salad, and also mentions grapefruit. I'm thinking that something sweet would be a nice complement to the heartiness of the lentils. I sneaked some of my roommate's apple juice, but next time I'll probably try out salad and fruit. Maybe snow peas... ah....

Below is the recipe, which Molly graciously gave me permission to reprint. To read the whole post, go here.


The key to this dish is the onions: they must be browned well, and with patience. Caramelize them to within an inch of their lives. Heck, burn them a little, even. In cases like this, it’s almost impossible to overcook them. Their intense, deeply toasty flavor is the main player here, so don’t rush it.

As for serving, mujadara is often presented with a green salad. I like mine with a chopped romaine salad, something similar to this one. It would also be nice with some labneh on the side, and flatbread.

¼ cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions (about 1 ½ lb.), finely chopped
1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over for stones and other debris
½ cup basmati rice
1 tsp. salt, plus more for serving

In a large (12-inch) sauté pan or skillet or a Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are deeply caramelized, a rich shade of amber. If they’re burnt and blackened in spots, even better. This is a fairly slow process. Depending on your pan and your stove, this could take between 30 minutes and 1 hour in total. On my stove, it takes about 50 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, place the lentils in a medium saucepan, add water to cover by an inch, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, undisturbed, for 20 minutes. Drain the lentils, and set them aside.

When the onions are ready, stir in the rice. Then add the cooked lentils, along with 2 cups of water and the salt. Stir to mix well, and bring the pan to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep the pan at a slow simmer, cover, and cook. Depending on the size and shape of your pan, this last stage – cooking the onions, rice, and lentils together – could take from 20 to 40 minutes. Basically, the dish is done when the rice is done. I use a 5-quart sauté pan, which is wide and flat, so the rice cooks pretty quickly, in about 25 minutes. I used to use a Dutch oven, however, which was narrower, and the rice took 30-40 minutes to cook.

After about 20 minutes, remove the lid, and give the pot a gentle stir. If there is still some liquid visible, replace the lid and keep cooking until it is fully absorbed. On the other hand, if there is no obvious liquid, take a taste. If the rice is tender, the mujadara is ready. If the rice is not yet ready, add another splash of water, replace the lid, and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. The mujadara is ready to eat when the rice is tender and there is no liquid left in the pan.

Serve, with additional salt, if needed.

Note: Mujadara is even better on the second day, so if you can, make it ahead. Reheat before serving. I like to eat the leftovers for lunch, with a grapefruit for dessert.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Sunday, January 25, 2009

May it be so

I'm having a little bit of difficulty with adjusting to time. When I say that my family moved to Iowa a year ago, I'm thrown off by the implied distance between 2007 and 2009. When recalling an inflammatory article, it seems like April 2008 wasn't that long ago. And when, last Thursday, my professor for Race & Ethnicity asked us what we thought about the inauguration, I couldn't believe that it was only two days prior.

This is something of a catch-up post about last Tuesday, when a couple friends and a couple roommates and I gathered around CNN with plates of french toast and tangible excitement. The whole ceremony was moving, and it's tempting to go through play-by-play. But as much as I would like to catalog every tear (the first batch was at Dianne Feinstein's reminder that our transfers of power are non-violent) or analyze President Obama's inaugural speech, here are a few thoughts about the prayers given by Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery.

I'm ambivalent about the role of prayer in a national ceremony like the inauguration. On the one hand, it isn't inclusive to non-religious citizens. It's has a degree of awkwardness that is also in the revised version of the pledge of allegiance (the "under God" bit was added in the 1950s). But then, on the other hand, traditionally the U.S. has been very religious-- not in the Christian nation sense (despite the two persons praying being Christian ministers, which is also awkward), but rather in the sustaining cultural narrative that U.S. history (and even destiny) is marked be providence. I'm not saying that this is a rational perspective or even a healthy one (thinking of the horrors resulting from manifest destiny), but considering the references to God that Obama made in his speech one might say that in this current context prayer "fits."

However much it makes sense in the eyes of tradition, my friend was still discouraging Rick Warren from mentioning Jesus as he approached the podium (as in "Don't say Jesus! Don't say Jesus!"). I agreed, even though I knew that as an evangelical it was important for him to invoke JC. The sticky piece is this: even though I encounter the compassion of the God I believe in through the person of Jesus, saying that name loudly and in public isn't going to communicate that compassion. If I think that sharing Jesus is important to following his path, then it makes more sense for me to do so with my actions. And, although it was pretty generic and mostly blessings for the President, Rick Warren's invocation included some calls to action for all the people:
When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.
May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.
And while some might have found it gimmicky, I really appreciated his acknowledgment of the various names of Jesus: Isa (in Islam) and Yeshua (in Judaism). And while Jesús had the potential to sound hokey, it was an acknowledgment that Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. and that many Latino Christians know Jesus by that name.

There isn't enough space here to express how energized I was about Joseph Lowery's benediction. It was, literally, a "good word" for us, and so eloquently worded that I want to follow the fantastic Monica Roberts of Transgriot in posting the entire text. Instead, you can read it there (along with her other posts), and I'll offer some minimal thoughts.

First, while asking Warren to give the invocation felt like a political move, the choice of Lowery, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, to give the benediction of the first African-American and biracial president of the U.S. resonated with the rest of the event. Opening with the last verse of "Lift Every Voice and Sing"-- a song that for many African-Americans has connections to their struggle for liberation-- and ending with the slogans from the Civil Rights Movement wove this momentous occasion into the fabric of a larger story of our nation's journey towards justice and equity. Indeed, returning back to the theme of action, Lowery's prayer was more pointed to the plea of justice:
For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.
With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.
And I knew it was a good prayer when my same friend who was wary of the name of Jesus on Rick Warren's lips responded to Lowery's invitation to "all those who do justice and love mercy" to say "Amen" with one of her own.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I've got "Bittersweet Symphony" from the Verve on my mind.

I still need to finish my reflections from the inauguration (was that really only two days ago?), partially as a commitment to consistent blogging, partially as a reminder of a celebratory day.

Today was not that day. Well, in some ways yes. But I still feel busted up.

Right before I walked into my excellent class on race and ethnicity, I received a text message from one of my friends that contained some disjointing news. Someone who had written last year an editorial intimating that LGBT people are mentally ill was nominated to the chair of the diversity committee of our student senate. My stomach flipped, and then tightened grimly. I would have go and speak out, even if he was in the room, even if he and I have a tenuous friendship. The decision was instant, and later, at 4:30, with supporters rallied and statements written some friends from Pride Alliance and I were ready to rock and roll social justice style. And we did. I'm very proud of the insights we gave to the senate, and I'm thankful that some of them possibly took to heart our comments. The student was not elected chair, and the day continued.

So why do I feel beat up? Perhaps part of it is the draining aspect of jumping to action within a few hours; my friend texted me at 1:30 and I was out of the senate meeting by 5:30. All of the planning during class, furious scribbling of notes, purposeful strides and purposeful words buzzed with a sort of electric adrenaline coursing through my veins. Feeling a crash after a rush of adrenaline is natural, my body's way of recuperating after fight or flight. I chose to fight, and now I'm understandably tired.

But that's what's sitting with me, taking a baseball bat to my heart: I had to fight. And anyone reading this who has ever resisted oppression is nodding their heads and saying, "Yeah, duh." Or maybe people are nicer than that, because maybe they remember what I learned today was as hard for me as it was for them: that the systems I trust don't necessarily have my best interests in mind, and that if I want something I have to assert some adrenaline and get angry. Or forcefully eloquent. Whatever works.

It' s odd how social justice has up until this point been so passive for me. Send pre-written letters. Lead a safe zone training. Call people to vote against amendment #1. None of these things are bad-- I'm immensely proud of and energized by number two and relatively OK with number three (and number one, I'm sure, isn't as ineffective as it seems). But none of these is a fight, or at least none of these registered any urgency with me. Which is a shame. I am ashamed. Taking action in flesh-and-blood, incarnate ways matters, because it breaks my hardened heart. The truth is going to town with the baseball bat, and all there is for comfort right now is prayer and the Verve.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This land was made for you and me

This post is a shout out of sorts to Sahar Massachi, who blogs with other progressive students at Brandeis University at Innermost Parts. You can see that it's listed on the right-hand side of the page under the list of some cool people I know. If you haven't checked out the folks in this list, please do. These are people I'm delighted to know, and whose material is well-crafted and thoughtful. Every now again they (or some cool people I don't necessarily know, see list) will post something that is so engaging that I will either respond to it here or simply link to it so that you all can share the experience.

Sahar wrote a great piece about the folk song "This Land Is Your Land," and with today's commemoration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., tomorrow's inauguration of President-elect Obama, and the perennial thoughts about what it means for me to live and serve faithfully in the United States floating around in my head the piece resonated with me.

Here is the piece in its entirety: http://innermostparts.org/2009/01/19/this-machine-surrounds-hate-and-forces-it-to-surrender/ Below is a YouTube video of Peter Seeger singing and leading a rendition of "This Land Is Your Land" at the Inauguration concert yesterday, which Sahar includes in his post. Please read it, and read other pieces from these pretty cool people I've met.

This past summer I had the privilege to work with the Center for Progressive Leadership in DC, getting work experience as an intern at the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (see their website and their blog) and being part of a cohort of great folks learning about different aspects of progressive leadership like exploring anti-oppression work and how to work in coalition with others to create meaningful change. We touched on policy a little bit, but the policy wonks in the room were the folks from The Roosevelt Institution, among them Sahar. The progressive movement is enriched incomparably by his knowledge, energy, and creativity. Plus, he turned me on to Revolution in Jesusland, so he's automatically a cool guy in my book.

I'll post shout outs of sorts from time to time, so cool people beware: I know where you blog.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Healing Leaves and the Year of the Rat

This past week I have been hopping in the car of some good friends and making the trip from Fairfax to neighboring Alexandria, to take a class about the Book of Revelation at Virginia Theological Seminary. Jane Patterson and John Lewis, really excellent teachers, proceeded to unpack the text not as a "road map" of the end times (an approach that can yield eery results, such as the video that was circulated this past summer portraying Obama as the Antichrist) but as an encouragement to the churches not conform to the surrounding culture of oppression and violence but maintain their witness to the God of healing and justice that was first witnessed by Jesus.

(Interestingly, the Greek word for witness is martyrion, such that it took a while for some people in the class to grasp that 1) to be a martyr in the present does not necessarily mean that one should get oneself killed, but that one bears witness both in actions and words, and 2) that the 2nd century saying that the church was built on the blood of the martyrs implies something important about Christian faith.)

While Days 1 through 4 were great explorations of the text and effectively made me less frightened of the text's wacked out complex imagery, Day 5 was my favorite as far as the material covered. It's the happy ending, with God reigning over a new heaven and a new earth, and all who want can drink from the water of life. There's a lot of good stuff in there (like Chapter 21 verses 1-6, which brings tears to my eyes when read aloud)
, and one particular passage made me think of the music video for the Badly Drawn Boy song "Year of the Rat." I thought I would share both here.

First, the passage, which is Revelation 22:1-3b:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. And nothing accursed will exist there any longer.
The scene opens up in the middle of John of Patmos (the name given to the narrator) describing the New Jerusalem, the meshing of God's realm and the human realm. The picture that John paints with his words about the brilliance, joy, and abundant life of the city is a counter-image to the oppressive, exploitative, and nihilistic Babylon (i.e. Rome and any other such system). The words that brought the music video to mine were the last few phrases about the healing of the nations and the absence of anything accursed. The Book of Revelation is a condemnation of the forces of empire and exploitation that have taken over the world, but it is also contains traces of lament for those who are caught up in those systems and those who are crushed by them. Like many religious texts, Revelation contains contradictory images that reveal both the complexity of reality and an ancient unconcern for systematic theology. While in other places John doesn't show "the nations" much concern as Babylon is destroyed, in this passage and the one immediately preceding it he describes a universal gathering of worship in the new city, one which can be healed from the abuses of empire and evil by the leaves of the tree of life.

"Year of the Rat" was passed along to me by my friend Big Sam Thompson, who will forget more about indie music and bands than I will ever know. I'll let the video speak for itself, and one will probably be able to tell why the leaves of healing brought it to mind.

This video brings up so much for me, but most of all: This is what I want to be when I grow up. It's part of the central message of Revelation, what it means to be witnesses to God and Jesus, the frightening element as well as the promise of healing. If I mentally substitute "God" for "the rat," the chorus echoes the encouragement that John gave to the churches: "Everybody needs to know it's the year of the rat. Every day we need to hold on, 'cause if we hold on we can find some new energy." Hold on, folks, because now is the time for the transformation of the world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Let the light in

[image: Kate Shirley]

Sitting in a lecture hall at Virginia Theological Seminary, I was reminded yesterday that our word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, to tear back the veil. The association is fitting, for issues of tragedy and seeing reality as it is have come into the lives of so many at the death of a beloved friend, Brittney Kittrell.

Brittney was full of life. I loved working alongside her as an Orientation Leader-- her engagement with living was a blessing for all of us that summer, and to the people who had known her before and since. I loved running into her-- it didn't happen as often as I would have liked, but she and her fiance Mutsa always had kinds words to give. If I could, I would transmit the memory of the sound of her voice, its lilting and humor and softness and gravity. She was a dancer, delicate and quick. She was--she is, in the eternally-present tense of faith-- a beloved child of God. But last Saturday I received a note from Mutsa that Brittney was gone. After a long struggle with depression, she decided to end her life. She decided to commit suicide.

I stared dumbly at the computer screen. Emotions flooded through me: numbness, anger (how could you?), regret (if only...), confusion (depression? but...), and a desire to grab a hold of life-- to grab a hold of a person and keep them from slipping away down that dark river. I made pancakes. I talked with close friends from high school. I posted a prayer on facebook. But when people called, I didn't tell them the truth. When people asked, I avoided the answer. I didn't say that she had struggled with depression, that she had killed herself. To my mind those facts were embarrassing, both to her memory and to the family and Mutsa.

I repent. As in the Greek word metanoia, I changed my mind. My silence was a dishonor to Brittney and to her friends, and I ask forgiveness for my arrogance.

The change came yesterday afternoon when a close friend from Mason asked me on the verge of tears what had happened. And I knew that I needed to tell the truth that I had been given. She had pieced together from different sources that Brittney had died, but there was no confirmation of how. Silence prevented the closure for which she longed. What emerged from our conversation was the true embarrassment: that we in our society cover up depression as a difficult struggle and a serious illness; that we attach stigma to that word, "illness"; and that we cast shame on suicide. The result of this oppressive silence is that so many who fight the encroaching darkness cannot vocalize their struggle even when they are at their most vulnerable.

It is time to pull back the veil, to throw back the curtains and let the light come in. In honor of Brittney, I will resist the temptation to cover up death, depression, and suicide. The writer of the book of Revelation has a similar agenda. The letter reminds the people listening to it that God is the One who will come down to earth and establish God's home among them, and that it is possible for them to bear witness--both through actions and by words--to this incredible promise of restoration now, even when coercion and destruction seem to hold sway. The world as it is, unveiled and as God sees it, is one that calls out for healing and will be healed.

For Brittney, let's pull back the curtains and let the light in.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Coming Home Anew

<-- My new building [ from housing.gmu.edu]

Tonight I moved into my new apartment. True, it's on-campus housing, thereby draining the previous statement of much of its potential coolness, but I'm glad. I have a good feeling about this one.

The feeling was an noticeable shift in mood, from anxiety to comfort, increasing the closer I got to stepping across the threshold. Once all of the boxes were packed and ready to go, the stress of an uncontrollable mess quietly melted away in the ease and familiarity of loading a friend's car. Checking into the room and getting my keys was a friendly, personable encounter with the RA staff hanging out in the office. Even the physical act of walking from one end of campus where my previous room was to the old, worn-down, relaxed student apartments made me feel warm inside, a growing sense of confidence that I am going to do just fine.

Today I officially stopped being an RA (with the exception of a potential pay check-- I should ask my former boss about that). Today my former co-worker turned off the access that allowed me to go practically wherever I wanted to go in my old housing area. Today I leave behind a place that wasn't bad--that was full of wonderful, talented, kind and hilarious people, actually. But it was a place I was called away from, a place I was ready to leave. While it would have been nice to continue being an RA there, it's better to give someone else a shot.

Like all transitions, I'm not guaranteed a blank slate; I still have to deal with the issues that emerged last semester around physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. I look forward to not being tired all the time, but I'm aware that resisting the repetition of that and other patterns will require more than a change of location. I'm not sure exactly what I need. But now I have some time to find out. Starting out with such an encouraging feeling seems like a good indicator that I will.

If you're a prayer, pray for me. If you're a thinker, hold me in your thoughts. And if you've found yourself in situations of recovering from draining experiences and you have some insight, please feel free to let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Well, here goes...

You have so many thoughts; perhaps you should upgrade to a normal-sized blog.
-Big Sam Thompson, over Twitter

This is an experiment. I've been reading blogs for a little over a year now, and I'm finally eeking up some of the courage to join in the larger conversations.

The name comes from the title of a hymn by Thomas J Porter:

"See how my people have nothing to eat.
Give them the bread that is you."

Hopefully this blog can be something like that, giving bread to the world, and being nourished by the words of others. We'll see.

Here's what to expect:
  • Reflections on life
  • Faithful heresy regarding God and other subjects of various orthodoxies
  • Announcements about cool (relative term, I know) events and projects
  • Responses from conversations initiated by other blogs
  • The occasional YouTube video
With that last point, here's "The Ballad of Love and Hate," by the Avett Brothers, to sing you to sleep.