Monday, August 24, 2009

ELCA -- at last, at last

Click to hear the Doxology

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

When I heard that the Lutheran church (-- the ELCA with over 6 million members -- affirmed that gay and lesbian people in committed relationships could serve in ministry, and that churches could bless same sex unions, I started to cry and started to sing the Doxology.

Amen, amen and amen.

(watch this space for more)

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's time for those Addictive Slow Roasted Tomatoes again!

Kalyn's Kithen, a mighty and grand food blog, provided a magic recipe for slow roasted tomatoes. Last year I "put up" about a bushel of plum tomatoes this way, and it was not enough to get through the winter. These are addictive. A fellow-blogger called them "Tomato Crack". Here is a picture that I lifted from her site:

Basically, you cut plum tomatoes in half, roll 'em in a bit of olive oil and some herbs and slow cook them at 200 degrees for 8-10 hours. They taste like concentrated summer. I flat-freeze them in ziplocks and use them in soups, stews, on meat, in rice, over pasta, on toast, with goat cheese on crackers --- in eggs ...on anything.

I've linked above to her recipe, but here is how I adapted it. Feel free to add your own inspiration. Kalyn adapted them from Alana, and I adapted them from Kalyn. I tried regular tomatoes and they were too watery. I tried grape and cherry tomatoes and they just didn't have enough flesh. Plum (Roma) tomatoes are best. I've inserted my comments into her (edited) text below.

20 Roma type tomatoes (same size tomatoes are best)
2 T olive oil, plus a little to oil the pan if you don't have a mister. I like extra virgin oil.
2 T dried basil
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried majoram
(I have also added things like thyme, sage, garlic, red pepper flakes - experiment with different combinations.)

Preheat oven to 200 F (8-10 hours roasting time.) Ovens differ here -- just don't burn them. Start checking at about 7 hours.

Wash tomatoes, dry, and cut each tomato in half lengthwise. (Kaylyn leaves the stem spot in one piece to grab when peeling the tomatoes later. I just left the skins on).

Put tomatoes in a bowl and toss with olive oil and herbs.

Then, Kalyn says, Spray cookie sheet with olive oil mister (or brush very lightly with oil). Arrange tomatoes cut-side down on cookie sheet.

After about 7 hours, start checking tomatoes. They're done when skins puff up and tomatoes are reduced in size by at least half. It's a personal preference as to how dried you like them, but both Kalyn and I prefer to cook until they look fairly dense, but are still a tiny bit juicy.

So, thanks to this largely stolen column from Kalyn's Kitchen, you too can enjoy how amazingly yummy these are. Don't plan on having your first tray make it to the freezer!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

JOY -- find it, love it

Ah, joy -- it refreshes the spirit, but can vanish as quickly as it arrives. There is so much in the world that militates against joy. Yet it seems that a glimpse of joy is what sustains us, what can give birth to hope and love and courage. At the heart of faith is a kernel of joy, radiating. Joy feels good, and warm, and helpful. And yet we resist it, crowd it out, send it packing. Of all our feelings, it may seem to be the least sensible. But, of all our feelings, it may be the most necessary. It may be the wellspring in all of us that feeds life, full, real, positive life.

I have been an occasional bad landlady to joy. I've given her substandard housing, left her without heat in the winter and forgotten to deliver her mail on time. It is a wonder she stays with me at all. Yet, she waits until I get my brain and heart in synch and there she is, shining like the morning, waiting to comfort and astound me. A small touch of her sparkle and my day is suffused with her light. It doesn't take much.

When I first moved to NYC it was after a rough (are any easy?) divorce. I lived with an old high school friend for a year, and then had my first apartment. It wasn't much, but I worked hard to make it the best I could on my then meager earnings. I had transformed the place with paint and fabrics. One night I came home from work, sat in my little living room and thought "I am so lucky! Look at how cozy and warm this room is!" I sat back, sipped tea and felt joy. It came down like a ray of soft, warm sunlight. I slept beautifully.

The next day I had a horrid day at work. I was worried about bills. I burned dinner. I sat in the same chair that I had the night before and looked at my living room. I had missed a little spot when I painted the ceiling. The sofa did need to be re-covered. That carpet did look old. And the curtains? Too long. "What a horrible place," I thought. I felt the energy slide out of my life.

Then I recalled the night before. It was the same room. Nothing had changed. Oh wait! Something had changed.


I could find or lose joy by deciding how to look at my world. And I was cheating myself of experiencing something worthwhile, something energizing, something good.

There is plenty of sadness in the world. Life hands us sorrow by the bucket-load. Times are hard. Loss is real. But there can always be a moment of joy. Joy comes to deliver us from our sorrow. It is a beautiful gift from God/the Universe/the Earth.

But how to find it when we have lost our view of it?

Gratitude. That is the key that unlocks the heart of joy. Gratitude.

I have said it before -- and will probably say what follows a zillion skillion times in my life. (At least.) Here it is. Wait for it. Take it in.

The time I need to compose a gratitude list is when I least want to!

Think about a gratitude list this week. Ten items. Yes, ten. We both can do it. Watch what happens when you build the list. Something will be creeping in, stealthily curling up beside you, purring. It will be your joy. Welcome her.

After all, this IS the day the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Dead bodies as art? No thanks.

I drove by the billboard and felt my stomach churn again. I can't make myself see this as a good thing. Looming in lurid color is a billboard for entertainment at a local casino -- an exhibit of over a dozen dead bodies with the skin partially removed, preserved in plastic, posed to display various organs. Some bodies still have their faces (or part of them) on. Some do not. They have all been put through a process called "plastination" that has immersed them in acetone and then polymers so that they will "resist decomposition".

Not everyone who donates their body for use after death suspects it will end up soaked in plastic and posed throwing a frisbee or kicking a soccer ball.

Gunter von Hagens, the man who developed this procedure is based in Germany.
BODY WORLDS is his company that develops multiple exhibits simultaneously around the world. His own site says the following about how bodies are obtained :

Body Donation for Plastination

All anatomical specimens on display in the BODY WORLDS exhibitions are authentic. They belonged to people who declared during their lifetime that their bodies should be made available after their deaths for the qualification of physicians and the instruction of laypersons. Many donors underscore that by donating their body, they want to be useful to others even after their death. Their selfless donations allow us to gain unique insights into human bodies, which have thus far been reserved for physicians at best. Therefore, we wish to thank the living and deceased body donors.

Note that the donors never said that they'd like their skin flayed off, their bodies dipped in plastic, posed playing cards and set up at an exhibit. Further, The Guardian reports that "In 2004, von Hagens agreed to return seven corpses to China saying he was unable to prove they had not come from executed prisoners. His action followed an investigation in the German magazine der Spiegel."

There is lots of competition for this piece of the entertainment/education/exhibit/sensastionalist pie. Most sites forbid te copying of pictures without a legal agreement, so click on the sites themselves to see the examples.:
Bodies the Exhibition - see videos of the actual exhibit by clicking here.

Then Amazing Human Body in Australia. Their site speaks about the grisly fact that an exhibit piece was recently stolen

Our Body, the Universe Within that says this about their bodies:

All of the anatomical specimens contained in Our Body: The Universe Within originate from China and have been provided for the exhibit consistent with the laws of China. The anatomical specimens are not owned by the exhibitors, but are provided by a Chinese foundation to promote educational and medical research of the human body. While we do not have the specific identity of each anatomical specimen, they have been donated through medical schools and other research facilities in China to promote education, science and medical research of the human body.

As early as 2006, The New York Times reported that over a dozen "body factories" existed in China to turn out preserved corpses.

Inside a series of unmarked buildings, hundreds of Chinese workers, some seated in assembly line formations, are cleaning, cutting, dissecting, preserving and re-engineering human corpses, preparing them for the international museum exhibition market.

“Pull the cover off; pull it off,” one Chinese manager says as a team of workers begin to lift a blanket from the head of a cadaver stored in a stainless steel container filled with formalin, a chemical preservative. “Let’s see the face; show the face...

Dr. Von Hagen has a factory in China, too -- where, according to the Times, "About 260 workers in Dalian process about 30 bodies a year." He is now branching off to include animals as well.

In a large workshop called the positioning room, about 50 medical school graduates work with the dead: picking fat off the cadavers, placing them in seated or standing positions and forcing the corpses to do lifelike things, such as hold a guitar or assume a ballet position. Dr. von Hagens admits these positions are controversial.

“Even my former manager said, ‘Can you really pose a dead man on a dead horse?’ ’’ Dr. von Hagens said. “But I decided this was real quality.”

A French court judge recently closed down an exhibit called Corps Ouvert, the latest in these exhibitors.

In March, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, did not allow the exhibit into Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s closure of the “Bodies Revealed” exhibition of dissected human cadavers and subsequent confiscation of the bodies is perhaps the strongest government reaction yet to the worldwide trend for the traveling art and science shows that have been seen by millions.

It is big business. Tickets in Vegas can run about $20. The price is higher in other venues. Hundreds of thousands of people see these exhibits. In Japan, where von Hagens first exhibited in 1995, he claims 3 million viewers.

But this all makes my skin crawl and my heart break. The depersonalization of human body to exhibit troubles me. I don't mind skeletons or cadavers in medical schools. They are needed there to teach. But I do mind this -- this show of enough skin and face and body to still resemble the real people that used to occupy those frames.

Imagine having a son that donated his body to science, and instead your child's body ends up as a traveling exhibit, the skin half sliced away from his body, his organs on view, posed as The Thinker, or posed riding a skateboard. His noble and generous donation simply becomes part of a company's profit scheme.

If someone wants their body processed and on view in such a way, fine. I do not have to like it, but at least there is some moral congruity in the process that I can understand. But to have a body simply "end up" there -- well, that is not OK. And, try as I might, no site that I saw indicated that it always sought express approval for this specific use.

I am not under any illusions that what is left after death is the old person that used to be alive. What is left is the echo of someone, an echo that is meant to dissolve away over time. Not an echo that is made to play forever with sounds given to it by strangers. Not this torturous freezing of mangled bodies after death.

My faith tells me that the person is long gone, and what is left is only the husk, the house in which one used to live. But "ashes to ashes - dust to dust" makes big sense to me. The body, this echo of life and love needs to return to the earth. Even the remains of medical cadavers are eventually incinerated, cremated. This denial of a respectful exit stuns me, leaves me heartsick. Rumors that some of these bodies were just unclaimed corpses makes me even more sad at what feels to me like misuse.

Is it educational? Most who approve of it would say yes. But do we need human bodies, bodies of real people, to educate? Is our technology so lacking that we cannot produce models that show what these once-alive people now show us?, a site in the Uk that opposes such exhibits, tells us that the exhibits were initially marketed as "art" until the public reacted negatively to that. Then they were re-marketed as "educational".

It must be possible to come up with accurate synthetic bodies -- look at what Hollywood does every day!

Further, what allows us to become so disassociated that we see these bodies as not having a "real" life in their past? The sites of the owning companies refer to them as "specimens". So many of them have parts of faces, staring through the polymer, eyes huge in shrunken skin. Just because they are soaked in plastic and hard as stone, we see them as statues. Are we desensitized by the violence that surrounds us every day? The gore in movies and video games? What makes us not see these bodies as what used to be real people?

It is the same lever we use to turn off the reality that our hamburger used to have big brown eyes, or that a fur coat used to be an animal that ran free and wild, or that our roast chicken probably never saw daylight and was raised in abject conditions, or that a war casualty of the "enemy" was someone's beloved child/brother/husband/wife.

It troubles me. In seeking to display "humans" it seems entirely inhumane to me. I want these bodies to find rest -- to not be gawked at, made the brunt of jokes, sold as chattel, not to exist as a new profit machine.

And you -- what do you think? Have you seen these exhibits? What did you think?
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