Things I think about because I watch Chopped

If you were to ask the Sisters I live with what my favorite TV show is, they would probably say Chopped.

It’s true. I really am very passionate the show Chopped.

If you’ve never watched, here’s the premise. Each episode is a competition between four chefs. There are three rounds: appetizer (in 20 minutes), main course and dessert (in 30 minutes each). One person is eliminated each round, depending on the evaluations of the panel of three judges in the categories of taste, presentation and creativity. Besides the challenging time limits of each round, the other thing that makes the show really interesting is the major catch: for each round of cooking, the chefs are given a basket of four mystery ingredients that they must somehow incorporate into their dishes. Squid ink, day-old french fries, stale waffles, ghost peppers, pig snout — the basket almost always contains something bizarre or seemingly impossible. I become amazed with what the chefs manage to create so quickly.

It’s great television, the sort of stuff our culture just eats up (at least now). Chopped can be dramatic, creative and even informative. I learn a little every time I watch. Sure, it’s reality TV full of all types of personalities and competition. But at its basic core, it’s a cooking show that teaches me how to be a better cook.

On any ordinary day, my mind can easily wander into a Chopped daydream. I wonder if I’d be calm or frantic if I were in a timed cooking competition. I daydream about new foods and cooking techniques that I learned on the show. I look forward to my weekly cook night because then I can I can try out a Chopped inspired idea that I am excited about, or simply challenge myself to prepare a tasty, creative and beautiful meal for the Sisters in limited time.

Even though I daydream about it, thoroughly enjoy it and am inspired by it, I actually hesitate to say that Chopped is my favorite TV show. This is due, in part, to my social awareness and my desires for Gospel-centered social justice. I have some serious questions about the show. My Chopped daydreams have also found me wondering: How much food gets thrown away in a taping of an episode? How much fuel was used to get the food and the people to the studio in New York? How were the animals treated before they became food? Who were the farmers that grew the vegetables and what are their farming practices? What are the working conditions in the food factories? How has earth been impacted by Chopped? Who can actually afford to buy the fanciest basket ingredients contestants get to use? Who eats all the extra food in the kitchen’s fridge and pantry?

Despite my numerous questions and concerns, I am not going to be boycotting Chopped. I don’t think it would do any good for me to do so. Plus, I actually have found that watching the show has helped me remain mindful of some of my religious convictions.

  • Make do with what you have: Even with all its extravagant ingredients, Chopped inspires me to live simply. My best Chopped inspired meals were made because I took stock of what was in the kitchen and then challenged myself to make something delicious out of what we had (I remain very proud of the kale, bacon and pine nut tacos I once made!). Really, the lesson of trying to make the best with what I have applies to much of my life, not just cooking. I don’t need any more stuff in my closet or collections. I know God provides for all my needs every day and I shouldn’t worry. Even in my time management, I don’t need to be stressed about all my tasks, I just need to say “yes” to one thing at a time.
  • Every moment is holy: Speaking of time, on one particularly memorable episode a Zen Buddhist chef amazed me. While her competitors were frazzled and stressed by the limited time, she remained calm and peaceful. She even seemed to be working slowly, as if savoring each second’s holiness. Amazingly, she was able to get her cooking done with seconds to spare and still create beautiful and tasty food. Watching her felt like a bit of a meditation for me. Every moment God has made is holy and God is in all things — even the Chopped kitchen.
  • Food is sacred: I believe the reason shows like Chopped are popular and that there is such an increase of foodies, food critics, and restaurant dining in our culture is because it all strikes a chord with something very innate about our human nature. Food is how we connect as community, it is how we connect to our mother after our birth. Jesus taught us the Truth of compassion, inclusivity, peacemaking and forgiveness over meals and through stories about eating. The summit of our Christian life is also food: the sacrament of the Eucharist connects us to God and to each other as one holy body.

I challenge you to watch Chopped, face your own faith in food and create to your spirit’s desire. Happy cooking and Christian living!

Heaven and Earth: Lessons learned in Assisi

This past summer I had a profound experience that helped me to remember that heaven and earth are one.

I was in Assisi, Italy, on pilgrimage. I was there with other Franciscans who were preparing for (or discerning) final vows, and participating in a study pilgrimage sponsored by Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs. As a Franciscan sister, it is understandable that my heaven-on-earth experience occurred in Assisi, as the village is holy ground for those of us in the Franciscan family.

Sacramental graces

After a morning Mass with our pilgrimage group at the tomb of St. Francis, I went into the upper church of the basilica of St. Francis.  I then found myself praying with Giotto di Bondone’s vibrant frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis. Much was stirring in my heart as I examined the scenes depicting St. Francis’ life of conversion and penance.

Specifically, I was feeling very uncomfortable with my weak and imperfect …

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report.  Continue reading here.] 

 

Snuggle in

I hate it when my children are sick:  when their normally endless energy is replaced by a whimpering lethargy. When their bleary eyes can muster no enthusiasm for treats or excursions. When I know they are suffering and there’s nothing I can do to make it better.

Except for snuggles. Oh, how I love to snuggle my daughters when they’re sick!

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com
Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

I love to snuggle them anytime, of course, but toddlers are squirmy and busy and generally disinclined to sit in one place for any amount of time. But when they’re sick they come willingly, imploringly for snuggles. They bury their faces in my shoulder and wrap their arms and legs around me, as if physical contact will somehow cool their feverish limbs. They doze and cuddle and listen to lullabies.

And my heart swells with love.

I hate it when they’re sick … But I cherish those sick snuggles more than they will ever know.

That thought gives me pause to consider my relationship with God. Like many people, I tend to seek God out far more fervently when I am in need of comfort than when everything is copacetic. The most difficult times in my life have corresponded, un-coincidentally, with the times in which I have felt closest to God.

I’ve always felt guilty about that.

Why am I able to find the time to sit in silence and listen for God’s word when my spirit is sick, but not when all is well?  Shouldn’t I spend as much time thanking God in the land of milk and honey as I spend asking for deliverance from the desert?

Acutely aware of this spiritual weakness, my prayers during those troubled times often begin with an apology:  “God, I know I’ve been neglecting you, and I’m sorry I don’t spend as much time with you as I should … But I really need you right now.”

I feel compelled to confess my devotional failures before I venture toward God in supplication–as though my prayers are less valid because they are made under duress …. or as though God will be less inclined to comfort me because I have not sufficiently nurtured our relationship.

But if my experience as a mom is even remotely indicative of the love that God has for us as children, then this is not how God cares for the afflicted.

When my daughters approach me with runny noses and sore throats, seeking sympathy and comfort, I don’t ask them, “Where was this affection when I was taking you to the park or coloring with you?!”  I simply gather them into my arms and treasure them.

I want only for them to snuggle in and abide in my love.

So the next time I find myself in need of spiritual comfort, I’ll try to remember that God cherishes any opportunity to lavish me with love. I’ll breathe in the divine essence that surrounds me, knowing that God, too, is breathing me in with an infinite tenderness – a tenderness of which I’ve only had a glimpse in this life, while snuggling my sick children.

Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s and mom to a three-year-old and one-year-old. She writes from the Seattle, Washington, area, where the flu season apparently started early this year.

Equal worth, unequal living

It’s Blog Action Day!

The topic this year is inequality.

I have a lot of passion about this. My experiences and awareness have formed a little fire about inequality to burn within me.

Really, when I pray and think about this issue, much comes to mind. Limiting myself to just a few hundred words is going to be tough. So, my strategy is to share five things with you: a quote, a video, an image, a story and a call to action.

1.) A quote from one of my current heroes, Pope Francis:

Photo Credit: Franciscan Action Network
Photo Credit: Franciscan Action Network

If you’re not one to naturally think about things with a Catholic vocabulary, basically Pope Francis is saying that every social problem that exists–poverty, warfare, hunger and food insecurity, lack of clean water, lack of adequate housing, discrimination, human trafficking–all injustice is connected back to problems of inequality. Turning away from our sinful, greedy, prideful, violent and selfish tendencies will cause us to protect the dignity of all people, no matter what stage of life they are in. Sounds like good Gospel living to me!

2.) A video, one by an anonymous filmmaker named “Z” or Politizane that went viral over a year ago:

Although the video focuses on wealth inequality nationally, not globally, it still helps paint the true picture of how horribly unequal things are–even in a rich and powerful country. For a video full of statistics, it’s definitely captivating and informative!

 

3.) An image, from Oxfam International’s Pinterest page:

Photo Credit: Tuca Vieira SAO PAULO, BRAZIL, 2008. The Paraisópolis favela borders the affluent district of Morumbi in São Paulo, Brazil via Oxfam International’s Pinterest page

I’ve never been to Brazil, but the stark contrast in this image reminds me of the borders of some poor and rich neighborhoods that I have visited in other parts of the world, including Mexico and South Africa. Those travels help me to recognize that the houses on the left side of this picture are actually pretty sturdy and adequate, as they are mostly made of brick and appear to have water and electricity.

Still, the inequality disturbs me. In fact, when I consider how my convictions regarding social justice (and equality for that matter) developed, I think back to the uncomfortable daily drive through a shantytown to a neighborhood of wealth where I stayed in Mexico City when I was a 16-year-old exchange student. Something very deep stirred within me then, helping me to know that such inequality is wrong.

4.) A story, from my own recent life:

This past Sunday I attended Mass with my parents at their parish in northeast Iowa. A missionary priest with Food for the Poor was visiting from Haiti and spoke about the current conditions that many people are living under there. I’ve never been to Haiti but several of my friends, including one of the guest bloggers for Messy Jesus Business, have.

I am not naive. I know Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The poverty there certainly is much worse than anything I have been exposed to in my lifetime.

Nonetheless, as I listened to the priest speak about his friends in Haiti, I realized how clueless I actually am. My comfortable American life is way too distant from the Haitian experience. I can easily go through my days without thinking about the harsh realities of economic inequality that impact most people.

I thought about all this as I drove back to my community after the home visit and I realized my comfort is combined with bad habits. Despite my concern and intentions, I have been influenced by this culture. I remembered that even during the Mass when I was praying, especially for the thousands of people in Haiti who are living in tents without sanitary water, my mind wandered to material things. My prayer was distracted by admiration for the fashion and clothing of other women in the Church. I started daydreaming about the clothes shopping I might do some day! Even when my heart is sick with the Truth of inequality, petty and materialistic habits creep up and tempt me to further increase inequality!

5.) A call to action to take today, to be in solidarity with those who suffer due to inequality:

Each of these opportunities will allow you to make a difference and help advocate for more equality and justice.

Inequality is real and it’s oppressive. As Pope Francis says, it’s sinful. Each person on earth has equal worth and we all deserve to live more equal lives. Let us pray and work together for God’s reign of justice and peace to come. Thank you and God bless you!

Hope during death and decay

An Ebola epidemic.

Beheadings. Bombings.

War. Violence. Obituaries.

We don’t have to go deep into the headlines to know that death and despair surround us. Our human family is suffering intensely. We all are.

When I really let myself feel it, I squirm. Awareness of injustice gnaws at my edges, compelling me to feel uncomfortable with the peace and security that I enjoy daily. The thickness of sorrow stews in my praying heart. Intercessory prayers begging the madness to end pour out of me; these prayers seem to be stuck on repeat.

Then, a message from an ancient prophet quiets me:

On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”  –Isaiah 25: 7-9

There is hope for all nations! I know this is real. God’s power is stronger than death. The Truth of Easter teaches me this.

The beauty of God’s designs in nature also remind me that we can be people of hope. The colors of the falling leaves insist that even when death and decay has its way, there’s reason to rejoice. There are many beautiful signs of God’s loving presence in the decay, in the changes and pain.

"colored decay by Julia Walsh, FSPA
Colored Decay by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Indeed, signs of hope surround us. God’s love is known, even in the most awful, painful situations impacting our global family:

The people of God are helping God’s love and peace to be known! We all have a part to play. Each of us can become a sign of hope.

Yes–through our service, advocacy and prayer we can see God’s signs of hope, even in the midst of death and discouragement.

Yes–we can rejoice and be glad for God is saving us! Amen!

What other signs of hope do you know of? What actions are you participating in to help God’s love and peace be known?  Please share with a comment!

Australian crime drama removes plank in my eye

By Guest Blogger Sarah Hennessey, FSPA

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? — Matthew 7:4

I have started watching an Australian cop show, a drama called Rush, in which the main focus is on de-escalation. The officers are gifted at negotiation and always use the least force possible. They use Tasers and beanbag guns instead of real pistols. If the team of officers is chasing a car with teenagers in it, they tell everyone to back off and follow slowly to reduce the potential for an accident. Hands are clasped with simple plastic tags, and tear gas is used to diffuse a violent situation quietly without hurting anyone.

Rush-season-2-ad-rush-australian-tv-series-8722553-500-313I just watched the season finale. Usually, in American crime dramas, the season finale includes a massive explosion or hostage situation with multiple deaths, leaving you and your favorite characters hanging in suspense. On Rush, the big drama was a ballistics report. One of the officers had mistakenly killed a bystander in a dangerous situation, and they didn’t know who had done it. It was only the second time in 35 episodes that anyone had actually been killed. The whole squad was saddened, withdrawn, and visibly shaken by the death. When Dawson finally tells Stella that her gun had fired the shot, she breaks down crying and responds “I killed someone. How do you get over that? Well, you don’t, do you.”

I feel like I have a plank in my own eye. Why are these story lines so surprising to me? They treat officers as human beings, with reasonable reactions and emotions. They portray violence and death as real tragedies to be avoided at all cost; not as fodder for another night’s titillating entertainment. What amazes me most is simply seeing a portrayal of police officers who take every measure to limit the use of force, and are saddened profoundly by any act of violence. This is not what I see in American media or even on the nightly news.  Violence is gory, graphic, and glorified. The body count and the emotional aftermath are passed over quickly in the rush towards a climactic finish of utter destruction. The shows we watch, the games we play, and the streets of our home towns are increasingly violent. Recent events emphasize our militarized police force, the very real threat of terrorists, and armed conflict on a global scale.

This violent reality is what we see every day—our center, the very ground we stand on. The person in Jesus’ parable does not see the plank in her own eye. I wonder if it gets harder to see with a log in your eye, or if you just get so accustomed to the view that the whole world just has a plank-sized hole in it. Watching this Australian show is like seeing the world from a less militarized, more emotional perspective.

eye-series-1159617-s
Image courtesy of freeimages.com

Jesus instructs us, First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye – Matthew 7:5. Does he set before us an impossible task? Can we really remove the plank, or is the whole point of the story just a reminder to be more compassionate and merciful about the speck in our neighbor’s eye? A theology professor pointed out to me that when we are looking at the world we can never clearly see or name the land we are standing on. Is it possible to ever see where we really stand, to recognize how our own personal blindness and cultural biases shape our perspective on everything?