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Monday, September 12, 2011

To Save What Remains


   Who can live without conflict in his soul? Only the saint, the righteous man made perfect, and the purely evil. All have sinned, even if we know better. Some have been washed and redeemed. But everyone who is honest admits he still does things he knows are wrong, though he agrees with the law. Heaven contains “the souls of righteous men made perfect.” Such souls must think only what is right and good. There is no conflict in them. On the other end of the scale, though, would be the demonically evil. No conflict in them either.
     Cormac McCarthy got me thinking this with his book No Country for Old Men. There’s a movie too. A young westerner out hunting finds the remains of a drug deal turned massacre. The money left behind looks like a rainbow pot of gold to him, and he takes it. It isn’t long before he realizes he’s being tracked down. Running to Mexico won’t save him.
     The assassin who’s tracking him, “Sugar,” is pure, consistent and unconflicted. The imaginings of his heart are only evil continually. (See Genesis 6.) He intends to kill the “thief,” and if that means murdering his relatives one by one, it’s no problem to him. His incidental victims say to him, “You don’t have to do this.” Oh, but he does, he tells them. He has decided to kill them, and he will not change his mind. Consistent.
     The sheriff means to do his duty against this evil agent, but he struggles and doubts and laments. He knows the dike is broken; the dark sea is rolling over the country he once felt at home in and changing it. He traces the breech back to the loss of manners in the young: no more “sir” and “ma’am,” no more respect. Manners and murder? Yes. The law of God is all one piece. Break one little requirement, and you have broken the whole thing.
     By God’s “common grace,” societies carve out a Netherlands in a sea of evil. Their dikes are made of law, customs, standards. They require constant maintenance. Yet some take them for granted. This level of peace and safety is the norm, isn’t it? And some hate the wall. They want to be “free.” They work to tear it down.
     In the story, Sugar enters an office and shoots a man in front of a terrified bystander. The second man asks, “Are you going to kill me too?” Sugar says, “That depends. Did you see anything?” The man answers, “No, no, I didn’t see anything.” Sugar leaves him alone. As the sheriff investigates, he is sure people have seen the killer, but none will say so. They are too afraid of this concentrated evil.
     A little crack in a big wall can cause the whole structure to fail. I think it’s our job to spot the wrong wherever it turns up and to seal the cracks right away, in our culture, in our families, in our souls. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against  principalities, against powers, against  the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand  in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
     The sheriff knew that. He needed someone to stand with him.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pizza at Home



     Block after block of mozzarella whirred through the food processor. Son-in-law twirled his homemade pizza dough in the air. Darling daughter smashed roasted garlic with olive oil. It was Sunday pizza night at Cafe Morrison. For weeks now, we've been serving homemade pizza to assorted friends and family. During the summer, the crowd consisted of whichever friends followed our youngest son home from church. Crates of Mountain Dew primed them to devour unnerving numbers of pizzas. With son back at college, we invited a nice young couple and their little daughter, who took a shine to our gorgeous two-year-old grandson. 
     This week it was family: husband's brother, his wife and two grown daughters, and my mother-in-law, who denies that she has Alzheimer's and took the diagnosis as an insult. She can be difficult. In they streamed and were urged to try darling daughter's invention, a warm fig compote with onion, red wine vinegar, brown sugar and balsamic served with thin wafer crackers. The verdict: "Mmmmm." Similar approval greeted my sangria. I don't make it too fancy. This contained malbec wine, not-from-concentrate orange juice, triple sec, a few lime slices with juice from the remaining lime, a touch of powdered sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon. A better summer drink I cannot imagine, unless it's the lemonade with homemade basil syrup. Especially if you grow the basil in your own back yard. 
     So darling daughter seasoned and sauteed chunks of chicken for a barbecue pizza and added bits of bacon that I had fried. This was the first one off the pizza stone. We gave son-in-law a couple of pizza stones and a paddle for his birthday. Now we know how much better a pizza bakes on a stone: beautifully crisp on the bottom, but nicely raised and tender on top. That first pizza vanished before the next one emerged from the oven-- roasted garlic with Italian sausage. Brother-in-law's introduction to roasted garlic. Love at first munch. After the third pizza came and went, I had no room for son-in-law's splendid "garlic knots." He rolled leftover bits of dough into small circles, put roasted garlic, a cube of mozzarella and a bit of sausage in the center and twisted the dough up like a dumpling. Baked to goldenness, they are ambrosial. We ate leftovers for breakfast.
     For dessert, I offered mocha shortbread with chocolate glaze, a recipe gleaned from Southern Living a couple of years ago. It's had audiences oohing and aahing ever since. And the whole meal had us all trading jokes and stories, teasing and laughter for a couple of hours. Even difficult mother-in-law seemed at least content. Part of that was due, no doubt, to our having placed gorgeous grandson's booster chair next to her seat. 
That face-- you can't look at it and stay crabby. 
     In the movie Babette's Feast, the general tells of the chef in Paris treating a meal as a sort of love affair. It does work that way when you do the best you can with your skills and materials to give people food you think they will like. It even works with family.