Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Portable Soup

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 27, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The grey January day turned into a wet rainy day. Even though our condo was just a few hundred feet from the Pacific Ocean, the beach was barely visible. The rain came in waves, a blustery rain, driven by the wind. We were spending a long weekend at a family reunion in Long Beach, Washington. What would we do on such a stormy day?

My brothers-in-law and I decided to visit the Lewis and Clark interpretive center at Cape Disappointment State Park a few miles south of Long Beach. The interpretive center features a series of mural-sized timeline panels that take visitors through the westward journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition using sketches, paintings, photographs, and the words of the expedition members.

As I was taking in the exhibits, I came across one mural panel that caught my attention. On Saturday, September 14, 1805, Sergeant Patrick Gass wrote in his journal: “none of the hunters killed anything except 2 or 3 pheasants; on which, without a miracle it was impossible to feed 30 hungry men and upwards, besides some Indians. So, Capt. Lewis gave out some portable soup, which he had along, to be used in cases of necessity. Some of the men did not relish this soup and agreed to kill a colt; which they immediately did and set about roasting it; and which appeared to me to be good eating.”

What was portable soup, I wondered. Lewis and Clark didn’t take much in the way of food. The expedition was planning to hunt, fish, forage, and trade along the way. Under Provisions and Means of Subsistence, Lewis lists assorted spices, three bushels of salt, and 193 pounds of portable soup. If I wanted to know what portable soup was, I would have to do some research.

I found that portable soup was the 19th century’s version of space food. It was intended for periods of dire dietary emergency. Portable soup, also known as pocket soup or veal glue, had been around since the 1600s. An early recipe from 1694, calls for a leg of veal, boiled, then the broth reduced and cooled until it forms a slab of jelly about the size of a hand. Wrap this in paper to dry, and it will keep many years.

It seems that no one liked to eat portable soup. When Captain James Cook was heading for Australia in 1772, he took 1,000 pounds of portable soup on board the Endeavour. Some sailors, the records show, were flogged for refusing to eat it. It is reasonable to conclude that the soup was unsatisfying and had a disagreeable taste. The portable soup was intended to be combined with hot water, meat, vegetables, and spices to make a passable meal. Captain Cook and Lewis and Clark had none of these things except water.

During this time, portable soup was well known. In Johann David Wyss's 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson, portable soup is mentioned several times. The youngest son, Franz, first mistakes it for glue, and then later suggests it be used as a substitute. William Wilberforce, the British politician who worked tirelessly to stop the slave trade, wrote, “Do not curtail too much, portable soup must be diluted before it can be used.”

There is a trend in modern Christianity that seems to equate the gospel with portable soup. It will keep you alive, but it must be diluted and made palatable before people will accept it. But the gospel isn’t portable soup. It isn’t a concentrate. Some people present the gospel as their personal concentrate. They focus on certain aspects of Christianity and neglect the rest, ending up with a bitter tasting “gospel.” Often people distort the Bible for their own purposes, but if you truly reflect on the life of Jesus, you will realize that Christianity is not about hate at all, but rather about love.

In Psalms 34:8 (NRSV) David tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” And He is speaking from experience. In Psalms 119:103 (NKJV) he wrote, “how sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!” David loved God’s word and wanted others to try it and see how good it was. Instead of presenting a bitter concentrated “portable soup” version of the gospel, we as Christians need to tell others how much we enjoy what the gospel has done for us.

“Try it; you’ll like it.” That’s what David is urging us to do. He is encouraging us to experience what he has already discovered, God’s salvation. Like a momma who encourages her child to try at least one bite of a new food, he asks us to try it out, to do a quick taste-test. Because when we do, He knows that we will see God’s goodness in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

In 1 Peter 2:1-3 (NLV) Peter wrote, “Put out of your life hate and lying. Do not pretend to be someone you are not. Do not always want something someone else has. Do not say bad things about other people. As new babies want milk, you should want to drink the pure milk which is God’s Word so you will grow up and be saved from the punishment of sin. If you have tasted of the Lord, you know how good He is.”

Gentle Reader, have you tasted of the Lord? Do you know how good he is? If you have, tell others about your experience with God. Tell them what he has done for you. Before he left this earth, Jesus told his disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (NIV) Today he asks us to be his witnesses in Mena, and in all of Arkansas and the United States, and to the ends of the earth. Ask someone today to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cape Disappointment

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 20, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

By the time he met the English merchant Michael Locke, Juan was a was a well-traveled seaman, who had perfected his skill as a pilot in the Spanish navy. His early voyages were to China, the Philippines, and New Spain; modern-day Mexico. In 1592, Juan led an expedition north up the coast of North America. When Juan returned to New Spain, he claimed to have found a passageway from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.

The Viceroy of New Spain repeatedly promised Juan great rewards for his discovery, but he never received them. After two years, Juan traveled to Spain to make his case in person, but he was disappointed. He received no reward. It was during this time that Juan met English merchant Michael Locke. Juan told him the fantastic story of a marine passageway that connected the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Michael Locke convinced Juan to offer his services to Spain's archenemy, England. Juan never worked for England, but it is through Michael Locke’s account that the story of Juan de Fuca is known to us today. Juan’s fantastic story of a marine passageway that connected the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans would be the catalyst for centuries of maritime explorers.

The search for the fabled Northwest Passage inspired explorers to seek out fame, adventure, knowledge, and riches. The empires of Spain and Great Britain were driven by the hopes of finding a naval trade route that would connect Europe to Asia and secure their dominance as an economic power. The story of the Northwest Passage is one of bold explorers and great empires fighting for a distant corner of North America.

Despite the lure of the imagined Northwest Passage, more than 100 years would pass before Spain, or any other nation would attempt such an exploring voyage again. In 1775, Bruno Heceta set out from present-day Puerto Vallarta, looking for Juan de Fuca’s fabled passage. He reached as far north as the west coast of Vancouver Island, then turned back south. On August 15th, Heceta arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River. Heceta thought that this was the passage discovered by Juan de Fuca. Heavy currents made it impossible for him to explore the bay, but he was sure that it was the mouth of a great river. He named it the St. Roc River.

In 1788, English fur trader John Meares was traveling south from Vancouver Island in search of pelts. He had heard about the big bay and surge of fresh water discovered by Bruno Heceta and set out to find it. On July 6th, Meares rounded a headland expecting to find the mouth of the St. Roc River. There he found a bay with treacherous sandbars. Conditions did not allow Meares to tell that the bay was the mouth of a river, so he called it Deception Bay and he named the headland Cape Disappointment, because of his disappointment at not finding the river. Cape Disappointment is now a Washington State Park.

Have you ever been disappointed? Has someone let you down or have circumstances not worked out the way you hoped they would? Have you experienced the truth of Proverbs 13:12 (MSG). “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick.” We experience disappointment when life doesn’t go according to our plan. The problem with disappointments is that they can color our outlook on life, and can even change the way we see God. Chicago journalist, Sydney J. Harris, wrote, “a cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.”

Many times, we as Christians allow our disappointments to color our view of God. I know that I have. We start out being disappointed by someone or some circumstance in our life, but when nothing changes, we become disappointed in God.

No one can escape disappointment in this sinful world. No matter how optimistic you are, sooner or later you will end up disappointed. Friends will let you down. Family will let you down. Employers will let you down. Your church will let you down. And when that happens, we often feel that God has let us down.

If disappointment is so inevitable, how do we recover from it? The disappointments we accumulate in a lifetime can stop us from seeing all the goodness God has planned for us. Here is the good news. “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” 1 Corinthians 1:9 (NCV)

Remember that Jesus knew deep disappointment from his days on this earth. His disciples let him down continually. All forsook him, one denied him, and one even betrayed him. He knows the pain and frustration you are experiencing. “We have a high priest who can feel it when we are weak and hurting. We have a high priest who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. But he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15 (NIRV)

Gentle Reader, when life’s disappointments come, the Christian still has a heavenly hope that no amount of earthly disappointment can take away. Paul wrote in Romans 5:2-4 (NCV), “we are happy because of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory. We also have joy with our troubles, because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope. And this hope will never disappoint us, because God has poured out his love to fill our hearts.” When disappointments come in your life, remember that there will be a time when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NKJV)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

My Valentine

I love history and learning.  Many things we learn about history are a bit uncertain, but it is always a little frustrating when you can't find out with any certainty the history of someone or something. The origin of St. Valentine and Valentine's Day is one of those topics.

Who was Saint Valentine?  According to the website Catholic Online, The origin of St. Valentine, and how many St. Valentines there were, remains a mystery. One opinion is that he was a Roman martyred for refusing to give up his Christian faith. Other historians hold that St. Valentine was a temple priest jailed for defiance during the reign of Claudius. Whoever he was, Valentine really existed because archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.

It is unclear how the modern idea of celebrating Valentine's Day by giving gifts to your romantic partner started and evolved into the commercialized holiday that it is today.  According to market research, Valentine's Day sales reached $17.6 billion last year; this year's sales are expected to total $18.6 billion.

The first time Valentine's Day is associated with romantic love is in the poem titled Parlement of Foules, written in 1382 by Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer wrote: "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate."  This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. When they were married they were each only 15 years old.

Valentine's Day is mentioned by William Shakespeare in the play, Hamlet:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

It became very popular for young men to write verses of poetry on a card and give them to their lovers.  As early as 1800, companies began mass-producing cards for those who had poor poetry skills.  In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced in 1847.  The U.S. Greeting Card Association says that 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. When you include the valentine cards exchanged by school children, the figure goes up to 1 billion.

Happy Valentine's Day to my valentine for over 40 years.

I hope you have a great Valentine's Day.

Here is an awesome song written by my friend Paul to My Valentine.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Sea Lions

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 6, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

Sea lions completely covered the docks at the bayfront in Newport, Oregon. Many of the sea lions were trying to sleep while others were barking to show their dominance. Sea Lions can be loud and raucous, or adorably lazy. A small juvenile was swimming in the water near the docks. He kept trying to find a place to haul out of the water onto the docks, but every time larger males kept him from getting on the docks.

He kept trying and trying to find a place to rest on the docks, only to be rebuffed at every turn.  Finally, he was able to haul himself up onto a cable attached between two floating docks. Once he was on the cable, he kept slowly and carefully inching his way onto the attached dock. After a while, he was able to get his front flippers onto the dock. By carefully maneuvering he was able to get most of his body onto a corner of the dock. As he was trying to get enough room to be able to lie down, he drew the ire of a couple of occupants of the dock who slowly moved closer to the edge and forced him back into the water.

The winter sea lion population in Newport has increased tremendously in the last ten years. The sea lions haul out on docks, rocks and anyplace accessible in the water. The wooden sea lion docks on Newport’s Bayfront have provided a haul-out for sea lions for over twenty years. Tourists and locals alike enjoy observing these amusing and interesting animals close up.

As I watched the little sea lion trying to find a place to rest, I felt sorry for him. The rest of the time I spent watching the sea lions, he was never able to find a place to haul out of the water. No one would make room for him. Watching the sea lions on the docks and their interactions with the youngster who wanted to join them reminded me of the way I have seen a lot of people act. Many people feel shut out from society. They don’t seem to be able to get a seat at the table. Sometimes Christians remind me of the sea lions who had a place on the docks. They want to keep certain groups of people from joining them. They won’t associate with them.

Almost every kid has a memory of being excluded. I do. I was the weird kid, the chubby kid. I wasn’t the popular kid. But exclusion doesn’t stop as children grow into adults. People of all ages exclude others from acceptance, love, and affection. But Jesus was different. He went out of his way to extend love where it wasn’t expected; to society’s outcasts. In his ministry, Jesus consistently included the people that religion had left out.

In Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells three stories; the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin and the story of the prodigal son. If we read the first three verses of the chapter, it tells us why Jesus told the stories. “The tax collectors and sinners all came to listen to Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to complain: ‘Look, this man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this story.” Luke 15:1-3 (NCV)

In each story Jesus wants us to understand that he loves and cares for everyone. He demonstrated that all people are welcome at the table of God’s kingdom. In Jesus, the outcasts of society have hope. Those that the religious community marginalizes can find Him extending a hand, inviting them back into the community with dignity and affection. When you study the life of Jesus, you see that no one ever opened a wider door of hope and love to the human race.

“Come to me, Jesus said, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) No invitation could be more inclusive, more welcoming. Those who customarily feel shut out are told that they are welcome to come to Jesus. The love of God is inclusive. God’s salvation is offered to everyone no matter what their background is or what they have done in the past.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “For Jesus, there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved.” Paul wrote, “In Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NCV) The kinds of divisions between people that are normal in human society, should not be found in the church of Jesus Christ. Neither race, nor ethnicity, nor economic status, nor gender, nor any other human distinction should exclude people from the church.

Gentle Reader, if you study the example of Jesus, you will see that he was a champion of the oppressed. His example was one of unconditional love, and He was against all exclusionary practices. He did not follow his society’s exclusions. This was often a surprise to those who were used to being excluded. When Jesus talked to the woman at the well, “the woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, ‘You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?’” John 4:9 (NLT) Don’t be like the sea lions keeping others from joining you in your resting place. Be like Jesus, inviting everyone to rest.