My November “Letter from Nearby” has always included recipes that I love and think might be relatively easy and interesting additions to your holiday table offerings. My belief in the power of food to unite us, both to one another and to the earth that sustains us, was definitely highlighted by speakers at our Service of Installation last month. In a recent service call “Reflections on the Body at Halloween,” I suggested that it is no accident that our children collect candy door to door on the cusp of winter. “We concentrate sweetness in the fall,” I said, “We make grain and root vegetable soups, thick with a season’s stored sweetness. We boil apples into applesauce or, simmering and stirring longer yet, into apple butter.” During the winter holidays, we come together to sweeten our lives in good company. Here is wishing for you such sweet winter holiday magic!
“Blettes (Swiss Chard) Grand-mere” (Serves 2-4)
1 bunch Swiss chard
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 cup raisins or golden raisins
2 tablespoons pine nuts
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Remove the chard stems and the thick central vein from each leaf. Chop the leaves very coarsely. Using a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium high heat, melt the butter with the oil until sizzling. Add the chard and the rosemary, stirring well to coat the chard with the butter mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, for another minute until the chard has wilted to about half its original volume. Add raisins and pine nuts, stirring to combine evenly, and continue cooking until any moisture has evaporated. The entire cooking process should take no more than about 3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Sweet Potato/Squash Rolls (Beard on Bread)
2 pkgs. active yeast
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar, for proof
½ cup warm water
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, for dough
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup mashed, cooked sweet potato or winter squash
3 – 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Combine yeast, sugar and warm water in large bowl to proof. Add 3 T sugar, melted butter, salt, eggs and mashed sweet potatoes. (Butter can be melted simply by stirring it into the hot potato/squash mash.) Stir vigorously to blend. Add all-purpose flour one cup at a time. The dough will be very soft. Knead about 5 minutes or so, until dough is very smooth and elastic. Form into a round. Place in greased bowl. Turn to grease top. Cover with a towel and let rise in warm until doubled, about an hour. Punch down and shape into a ball. Let rest 2 minutes. Divide ball of dough in half and each half into 12 equal-sized pieces. Shape these pieces into golf ball-sized rounds and place in round, greased pans (cake or pie). 12 to a pan, 2 pans. ¼ inch apart. Balls 1 – 9 around the rim, 10-12 in the middle. Cover and let rise until doubled. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven, about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
I hope you will be able to make and enjoy this year’s favorite recipes. Happy Holidays All!
One Saturday morning after Linda had recovered enough from her double mastectomy surgery to try some outings, she and Matt and I happened on the Nesconset farmer’s market. We ended up in line for the cashier—Matt, me and Linda behind me—all of us holding an armful of the stuff we bought: green beans, golden cherry tomatoes, cantaloupes, a watermelon, six ears of corn, some yellow zucchini.
I turned to say something to Linda, and…well, I couldn’t help but laugh. There she was, the one with the cantaloupes, holding one in each hand right up against her chest where her breasts used to be. She saw me laughing, and then she started laughing. Then Matt turned, wondered for a moment if it was really OK to laugh (??), and he too doubled over. I got out my cell phone and Linda stepped out of line for a photo, her orange hoodie and pink Keens looking great against the background of orange winter squashes. And then all the women in the line and the folks behind the counter started laughing with us and making little comments.
It was a strange and wonderful moment in which the anxiety and pain and grief of surgery and recovery got trumped by the pure joy of being alive in the company of a small community of laughing people on a beautiful late summer day amid the fruits and vegetables. It didn’t matter that all those women were laughing about being “well-endowed.” There was something ancient and lovely about the sense of solidarity: family, women, food, bodies, laughter, loss, abundance. We laughed some more on the ride home. The whole thing felt sweet, a healing thing for all of us. Later, Linda asked me to send her the photo. I said “Really? You want to keep it?” She said, “Yes, that was an important moment.”
The changes that follow great loss are always tough to bear. The memories of how things used to be haunt us. Meanwhile, the people around you are also adjusting, feeling their way around what to say, where to look, how to help. We all have to figure out how to negotiate the taboos connected to certain losses. When your son is incarcerated, when you lose our job or file for divorce or declare bankruptcy, it is so hard to know how to address the unasked questions of people who see the loss in your face. And it’s not easy to bring up medical problems that involve parts of the human body that we don’t normally talk about openly and are so closely tied to our core identities: prostate, testicles, breast, uterus. The fact is, though, it is often a huge relief to break through the taboo into a conversation about what is really going on. This photo is a taboo-breaker. We, and you, can talk about it. It is OK.
Thank you all for supporting us through the surgery and early recovery period. Every card you wrote, every email, every vase of flowers, every meal that came ready-to-eat to our door eased our way through the upheaval. We got just enough of just the right things. It makes such a difference to be held in loving community through a hard time. This is yet another thing you know how to do, from the heart, just right. We give you thanks, from our hearts, hoping that somehow, over the years, we are able to give at least as much as we have received.
With deep gratitude from the three of us,
Each September I write a letter similar to this one. After the newsletter goes out, a small crowd of people make appointments. And when we met, each often remarks how much they appreciated the list below. They’d had no idea how useful a minister could be! Yes, folks, I do more than preach, teach, sit with you in meetings and show up at the hospital! Getting to know you is a deep delight, and if talking to me helps, the process is a treasure we open together and share forever. Getting to know who you are, what you wonder about, what you struggle with is the surest way for me to keep my ministry TO the Fellowship real, relevant, engaging and useful. At the same time, helping you get at who you are and what you love, what you need to learn or give or do next is the surest way to keep the ministry OF the Fellowship powered by leaders and do-bees who are clear about how their faith calls them to act in the world.
This letter brings you a message that bears repeating at least once a year: Reach out when you need something. We are a resourceful community and a community full of resources. Consider putting my contact information under “Minister” in your cell phone. The information below puts useful names and numbers within easy reach. Here are some reasons you might get in touch with your minister specifically:
- you need a sympathetic ear for problems or decisions you are facing regarding your job, children, marriage, relationship, or anything else;
- you are feeling confused, depressed, isolated or hopeless or have a joy to share;
- you notice that someone you know in the congregation needs support;
- you are trying to figure out how to respond to the needs of a friend or loved one who is ill or in trouble or you yourself are dealing with an illness, disability or facing surgery;
- someone you love is near death or has died or and you need help with end-of-life planning or a service;
- you’re planning to marry, struggling in a relationship or contemplating divorce;
- you’re pregnant but wish you weren’t or are thrilled you are;
- you would like to have a child dedicated;
- you are undergoing a major transition in your life and feel the need to ritually recognize, privately or publicly, the threshold you are crossing;
- you or someone you know has questions about religion or Unitarian Universalism;
- you want to build your theology, deepen your spiritual life or are in spiritual crisis;
- you’re considering membership in the congregation or have already joined and are wondering how you can participate more fully in congregational life;
- you would like to share your talents and gifts as part of one of our groups, committees, or classes, or serve as a volunteer in some other way;
- you have ideas about sermons or programs or have a project you would like to initiate;
- you want to affirm something good going on in the congregation or would like to discuss a congregational issue that is troubling you;
- you’re mad at me or someone else and want to air your feelings and work it out;
- you’d just like to come sit with me and see what may open to us.
Don’t ever hesitate to contact me.
Yours, in this faith,
A month ago, my wife, Linda, received disturbing news regarding her recent mammogram. Nearly fourteen years ago Linda was treated for a kind of precancerous breast condition called "ductile carcinoma in situ," or DCIS. She had a lumpectomy and radiation to the affected right breast and has had negative mammograms until now.
The recent mammogram showed a number of new calcifications, three of which were biopsied in July in two separate procedures. Two of the three turned out to be DCIS lesions. These new lesions, according to her doctors, are not related to her earlier cancer even though they are the same type in nearly the same location. Because Linda has a family history of breast cancer, a tissue sample was sent for genetic testing. In early July I let the Board, the Pastoral Assistants and my Minister's Advisory Committee members know what was happening so that Linda could have extra support while I was away. Now that we have more information, we want everyone in the Fellowship to know what we know.
Yesterday Linda had a decision-making visit with her breast surgery specialist, Dr. June J. Lee. Even though the genetic test was negative and the left breast shown by MRI to be disease-free, Linda, for various reasons and at the recommendation of Dr. Lee, has decided to undergo a double mastectomy with minimal breast reconstruction. That two and a half hour outpatient surgery is scheduled for September 5th. The surgeon is reserving the option to remove local lymph nodes during surgery for biopsy, but at this time we do not expect that Linda will need any follow-up radiation or chemotherapy since the cancerous cells seem to be completely contained in the milk ducts of the breast. We expect a three-week acute recovery time but, as we all know, complete return to normal functioning always takes months longer.
Linda is surprised and sad that she has to deal with this again, something she never expected after fourteen breast healthy years. The diagnosis and treatment prospects have thrown us all for a loop emotionally and have infused our summer with worry made more unbearable by the waiting. I feel terrible for Linda, of course, and will obviously need to devote plenty of time to her support this late summer into the fall. Fall is a busy time for UUFSB as well, so I will need your attentive help on the Fellowship front as we get rolling into our first year of called and settled ministry together. If you are able, please pitch in wherever you see the need for UU hands, hearts and heads in the months to come.
You have had plenty of practice, especially recently, in supporting women going through breast cancer diagnostics (positive and negative) and the chosen treatment. Here are some suggestions for how you can most helpfully show your support for Linda now and in the weeks and months to come.
Cards, emails and appropriately gentle hugs (!) are certainly welcome. Meals to warm in the days after surgery and short visits during the recovery period could help as well. We will let the PAs know what our current needs are and they will be able to coordinate the response. Please know that Linda and I are both resourceful spiritual leaders. We are, by nature and vocation, equipped to face adversity with others and in our own lives. Linda, Matt and I will get through this and back to the normal busyness of our lives in time.
In the meantime, as you minister in practical ways to us, I will still be able to be your big "M" Minister. If you need me, please do not refrain from reaching out because you worry that my plate is too full. Support is here for you no matter what else is going on.
It is my birthday, a refreshingly cool and blustery cloudy Cape Cod day. This morning at 7:00 a.m. I completed my 57th year (+ 9 months) on this earth. I am feeling very happy to be alive, grateful for everything I love and savor in life and for the energy I have to see that loving and savoring gains ascendency in the world over excluding and exploiting. Here is the house I stay in here in Brewster. Before 1960, it was a garage. It is just across the yard from “the blue cottage,” where mostly summer renters stay these days.
The work I do with you and our larger movement is a gift that dawned rather far along in my life, and is proof that good things sometimes do come in big packages. This work allows me to live very close to the bone, to muck around in the real of life with you, in the crazy beauties and the ugly torture and the tedious ruts and the overwhelming joy of our lives together. It is work that could easily occupy twenty-four/seven if I let it, but if I did I would be reduced to smoke and grease before long.
That’s why our Association encourages “letters of agreement” between congregation and minister that allow the minister plenty of time to rest and study and drink deeply from the well of Spirit that sustains good ministry. You give me four weeks of vacation every year and four weeks of study leave, a blessing I know every one of you could use as well! The least I can do for you is to make sure that I use the time you give me well. Here’s my formula: a mix of solitude and family, special places, flowers and trees, regular NPR radio, museums/shows/movies, lots of reading (especially novels and poetry), TED talks, Krista Tippett’s On Being, mining for preaching stuff everywhere, treating my body to naps and other good sleep, to swimming, biking, walking, and kayaking, just sitting and looking, eating earthy garden food and reading and listening and reading.
This is shorthand for my personal “defragging” method. By the end of June my cellular disk drive needs a little dust-up. During these weeks I reorganize the mess in my head and heart and take in new stuff that will become the classes and Sunday services and celebrations and conversations of our new year together. It takes peace and beauty and deep breaths and long days with nothing else in them in order to accomplish that. And I thank you for your gift of time away.
My challenge—and maybe yours too—is to find ways to balance work and renewal all year round. It takes discipline, self-love, forethought, creativity. But a life and a world that loves and savors more requires that kind of balance. Life is more than grease and smoke.
See you soon,