Description

The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hebrew

I am taking a course in Biblical Hebrew at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio in nearby Delaware, OH. The people and atmosphere are very welcoming. It is amazing the way you can feel the denominational tradition of a place just by walking around. It feels very Protestant and very good. I am glad to be a guest on this campus and anxious to see how it looks as the Fall unfolds. I would love to linger longer, but after class I need to scurry away to work.

It is the second day of class and I already got the alphabet down pat, including the 5 final-ending letters. How's that for kicking ass and taking names . . . er, letters?

This class puts me in such a good mood. My peak creative hours are in the morning, and I get to put them to use in a meaningful way. Squandering them at work is no small sin.

I just love getting into languages. It is one thing to read a commentary that describes the Ancient Israelites as having a holistic understanding of themselves and the world/universe. It is quite another to experience that in their actual words and thought categories expressed in language.

While the Ancient Israelites would talk of the whole person, it was the Greeks who separated people into body, mind and soul. This fragmentation deepened in the western world through the Enlightenment, assisted by the increased specialization in the sciences in our modern day. It is only been recently that there has been a much-needed return to holistic understandings. I'm sure the tide will swing back someday, but as of right now we are still just beginning the trek to holism, in my opinion.

I'm a big believer in language study. In fact, you can count me among the folks who would bring back traditional Classics education*. If I had my way, Rhetoric, Philosophy, Theology and a rigorous education in classical languages (Greek and Latin) would be requirements of all undergraduates. These courses used to be standard but have since fallen by the wayside in favor of multiculturalism. While I appreciate a multicultural approach, as well, what I think really happened is that universities let go of the "western civ" pillars and didn't replace them with a whole heck of a lot.

As a side note, I would require a course in Shakespeare of all students, too.

ADDED LATER:

* I realize it may be very white-male of me to support the Classics. There are other stories to tell, as well, such as Africa-American and feminist voices. But I also think we lost something when we overlook the foundation of our own culture. We gained breadth but lost a lot of depth by trying to cover so many voices. I think there is something wrong if a person makes a reference to Shakespeare or throws out a Latin phrase in conversation and can't assume that other educated people will understand. It is also a problem when as citizens of a democracy even educated folks can't filter through the rhetoric and illogic of our political leaders and the BS of our religious leaders to make well-reasoned decisions of their own. An education in the Classics is/was designed to address this. Maybe an alternative would be that every undergrad would pick a libertal arts track and stick to it, such as the Classics tract or something else--that way, they could have the depth and breath in a particular approach, but it would not be a requirement for every student to study only the Greco-Roman tradition.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Motion

When most people talk about exercise, they usually hone in on two different types: Cardiovascular and strength conditioning. Health experts understand the need for both. Good cardio keeps your heart, lungs and circulatory system in shape. Strength conditioning boosts your metabolism and develops your tone and overall physique.

However, there is another important aspect to physical exercise, and it could be just as important as the other two: Motion.

The best forms of motion are the things we associate with young children: Bending, twisting, crawling, leaping, climbing, jumping, stretching and reaching. Anything that gets your body to use all of your joints in their full range of motion. Good posture is essential to this--Imagine trying to do this all hunched over with partially-frozen joints.

Take cycling, for example: It is a great cardio workout and helps condition some of your muscles. However, in terms of motion, it is actually rather poor. You do almost all of your work in a small "box." Your legs go round and round and your arms help provide support.

The good thing about cycling is that it forces you to use your muscles in their intended way. It is harder to get into bad habits and poor form. As a result, cycling has the ability to help your posture. I always get taller when I cycle on a regular basis. It stretches out my back and improves my posture by strengthening my legs in the right ways. So cycling is still helpful, because good posture enables proper motion, but by itself it does not provide adequate motion.

Our 21st century world limits motion. Even in jobs with a heavy component of manual labor, most of the work is done in a limited range. There are few chances to lift your arms over your head or do extreme bending. There are good reasons for this, because those extreme motions is where injuries often happen. But it is also those extreme motions that stimulate health, too.

I have to thank The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion for many of these ideas. Pete Egoscue is a trailblazer in this movement, and more and more I am finding out that other people are starting to understand the need for general motion in your overall health, too. Some of the healthiest people are not those who do extreme workouts, such as marathons or triathlons. The healthiest people are those who are able to have a regular range of motion in their lives--people who bend and twist and have short bursts of energy rather than long, monotonous workouts.

Some forms of exercise can make me feel stiff. Doing anything in a limited way for a long time can have this affect on you. Even jogging or walking can be poor motion exercises if you barely extend your legs or arms. When I used to run cross country, the best times were when I would loosen up and break out into long strides--my body was very nimble at those points, my legs whipping around and my arms and torso bending and twisting, too--not sprinting, but just a very healthy run. It is a wonderful stimulation for the body to use it this way.

Egoscue's method is very similar to Yoga, although it targets issues that are common in the modern American lifestyle. The goal is to get your body moving the way it was meant to move, and develop the form that will enable that to happen. If you have chronic bad posture, you can't simply change that on demand. Your body has years of habit, tight muscles and other underdeveloped muscles keeping yourself that way. It takes time to work that out, and something like yoga or the Egoscue Method can help you do that. Sometimes you can also improve your posture just by working out on a regular basis.

How often do you lift your arms above your head? Aside from washing your hair in the shower, you may be shocked at how rarely you actually do this. How many times a day do you bend and flex your joints to their fullest? Deep squats, bending and twisting and . . . leaping! When is the last time you crawled on the floor, or climbed some furniture from the ground up? When is the last time you stretched your body to its fullest in order to reach for something?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Temperature and Outrageous Habits

It's 90 degrees and partially sunny today in Columbus, OH.

I don't think it's too much to ask this of my fellow Americans (and others worldwide): If you are able-bodied and have reasonable access to a clothesline (inside or outside), you should not be using a clothes dryer on a day like this.

You wanna know how hot it is? Lemme tell you:

It's so hot that a load of clothes has dried before the next load is ready to hang!

That's hot, folks.

There is no reason to burn dinosaur when the earth is positively throbbing to help you out.

I just did a few loads, and it really didn't take much more time and effort than if I had chucked them in the dryer. I was amazed how easy it was. I think it becomes harder when the air is cooler and you have to conserve line space and let things sit out longer. But in weather like this, they'd dry even rolled up in a ball in the bucket.

I'm not trying to guilt anyone, but let's be reasonable. Consider how outrageous it is to use a clothes dryer when just letting them hang out in the air for the same amount of time can accomplish the very same thing.

The sun is also a bleaching agent, and the smell of freshly dried clothes is wonderful!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

If You Want to Exercise Regularly . . .

. . . you have to figure out a way to incorporate it into the natural flow of your day--if you expect to have any success at all, that is.

To-Do List

You wake up, get out of bed, and drag a comb across your head--and hurry through traffic to your job. You work 8 hours plus lunch, then scramble through traffic again on the return trip home. You pick up kids from school and the daycare, run to the bank before it closes and the grocery store for milk which you just remembered is nearly empty in the fridge. There is perhaps a quick trip to the doctors office or auto body shop somewhere in the middle of all this, or a return trip to pick up something your kid left behind somewhere that he urgently needs for class tomorrow. You go home and grab dinner. By that time, it is 7:00, you are at the end of your energy, and it's time to pack everyone back up again and go to the gym. Whew!

Headache, sickness, unexpected errands or the slighted provocation and you'll be ditching your excursion to the gym. In such an environment, exercise is superimposed on a lifestyle and it is completely extraneous. It will be the first thing to go when the scales are tipped and your to-do list increases by even the slightest bit. You'll be lucky to hit the gym once a week under these conditions. And let's not even factor in time for rest and relaxation.

Some people are able to find time for the gym despite all distractions, but for many of us, it just ain't gonna happen this way. It takes a colossal effort to force it into your lifestyle when your lifestyle is set up this way. You may end up disappointed in yourself when really the deck was seriously stacked against you and you only had a small margin for success to begin with.

Integration

I spent a semester in Spain in college. Me and a buddy lived with a family about a mile out of town. We quickly learned that taking the bus was going to be too costly and saved it for only the rarest of occasions. We had to walk to class and return to town anytime we wanted to shop or go out socially. We walked a few miles every day, and that doesn't count the many more miles walked on weekend excursions around the country.

And we walked. Rain? We walked. Tired? We walked. Blisters on our feet? Walked. Sick? You guessed it. Didn't feel like walking? We. Still. Walked. And walked and walked. We had to!

Walking is often thought of an old person's exercise. However, walking became a nearly religious experience for my friend and me, and we were 22-year old men. We absolutely loved it. Once we got into shape, we looked forward to it. On the rare occasions when we took the bus, we noticed how irritable we were and how unsatisfying the day was without our morning and afternoon walks.

In Addition

Yet, the moment walking was not absolutely essential, we dropped it. We had every intention of maintaining the habit once we got back to America. After a few attempts, we both let it slip away and quick. Despite our conditioning and intense love for walking, it got put off when it no longer fit into the normal flow of the day back in America.

So do what you can to make sure that exercise is integrated into your day in a natural way. You won't need to force yourself, because sheer necessity will do that for you. Set yourself up and make the planning easy on yourself. Live within walking distance to your favorite stores or within a safe bike ride to work. Don't allow yourself too many modern conveniences when you could be getting valuable motion and exercise. Put your Exercycle in front of the TV, not in some out-of-the-way corner of the basement. Any other ideas?

Design your day with exercise in mind. Make exercise an essential part of your normal activities--then you won't have to tack on additional time for it. You also will have great success doing it--you'll have to!

Sauce Be Damned

You don't need sauce for your food. Marinades, dressings, dips--these are all fine, but unnecessary. I like to cook on the primitive. All that I need is my trusty cast iron pan--coated with grease, spices and residue from meals gone by--and the desire to let things mingle.

Today, I threw down some steak, seasoned only with salt, garlic & pepper with a little bit of olive oil to start the cooking. I seared it on both sides but also let the juices sizzle out. Next came an assortment of green peppers, hot peppers and onions, all sizzling in the juices of the meat. Those came out of the pan and I replaced them with eggs.

I had a dinner of steak & eggs with a pile of peppers & onion, all with robust flavor. No expensive sauces or marinades full of additives. Just wonderful grilled flavor mixed all together--the steak flavored the vegetables which together flavored the eggs.

You don't need to add flavor, just learn how to use what you got. Cook it all together or consecutively, and don't be in such a hurry to wash out your pots & pans because you might be washing away the secret to a delicious meal!

Monday, August 11, 2008

A View Through the Okra



The flowers on an okra plant are really amazing. Who knew?

You can see a nearly-ripe fruit on the bottom left of the picture.

I love the stuff, but it's crucial to cook it properly. You'll be amazed at its slimy texture, but its greatest liability is also its greatest asset: It helps form the base for many soups and stews, especially in Cajun cooking.

The slimy texture is also a natural conduit for breading. A traditional Southern recipe would have you roll around sliced rings of okra in cornmeal, salt and pepper until they are well-coated. Cook in olive oil until tender and before the breading gets burnt. I did it yesterday using seasoned breadcrumbs, and it worked great. Prepared this way, there is no slimy texture, just a wonderful breaded, fried vegetable!

(double-click the picture for better view!)

Bonus points to whoever can successfully count the fruit in the picture.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Crispy, Toasted Garlic

It’s almost a shame my parents gave me probably the nicest handheld garlic mincer you can find. The truth is that I have recently discovered the joys of eating thick slices of garlic.

The phrase “toasted garlic” has become cliché among packaged foods and restaurants when they want to make something sound gourmet. But have you ever had toasted garlic? Believe me, you are in for quite a surprise if you haven’t.

What I do is simple: I take a clove of garlic and cut it into slices—not so thin that you can see through it, but not too thick that is is cube-shaped, either. I then cook the slices on medium heat in a thin layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan. You want to get it so that it is crispy brown. It overcooks easily, so watch out for it—the underside can turn pitch black while the top still looks uncooked. I flip it over regularly to brown both sides.

Then I pour the garlic and the olive oil directly onto toasted bread. I used whole wheat hot dog buns last week and it was phenomenal. I imagine french bread would work nicely, too.

Extra points if you put melted cheese and tomatoes on top, maybe fresh basil leaves if you have some handy.

Another great recipe starts out the same: Get your slices of garlic cooking in olive oil and let them start to brown. Then pour in some whisked eggs (which includes milk, salt and pepper in my kitchen). Just prepare scrambled eggs like your normally would at this point. The chunky, toasted garlic mixed in is one of the few experiences in life that I would be willing to classify as “dreamy.”

I’m not sure if what I do is technically “toasted garlic.” You can put whole heads of garlic in a toaster oven, which cooks into something like a spread which you can put on bread, as well. Maybe that is what is meant by the phrase. Whatever you call it, I will say this: There is nothing quite like crispy toasted chucks of garlic mixed into your favorite recipes!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Faith and Reason

One of the most common traps people fall into is leading their spiritual journey by either too much faith or scientific reason. Both faith and reason by themselves are a dead end in a spiritual journey. Only an interplay of the two works:

Faith Only

Some people have such a strong adherence to their faith that they will denounce what science has suggested or even declared outright. They may believe the world was created in 6 days approximately 4,000 years B.C.E, even though scientific evidence does not support that. They may go to painstaking lengths to explain away (albeit unconvincingly) the numerous contradictions in the Bible.

Their faith has led them to such a rigidity--they are so locked into the God of their imagination they refuse to experience the God that is. They also refuse to entertain the risk and the danger of real faith, which is about stepping out into the unknown--not with blindness but with real trust and eyes (and heart) wide open.

Reason Only

Many who approach from a scientific standpoint refuse to affirm anything that they can't taste, touch, feel and prove. When it comes to God, that leaves them very little.

As Dermot Lane writes, "The mystery of God is not some kind of theorem to be proved; it is rather, an experience to be lived" (13). Trying to "prove" God is an impossible situation--you have to first step out with faith before the proof comes (9). That is outrageous to the modern mind, where we feel entitled to proof before taking the first step. The problem is that once you have proof, the experience of faith becomes an impossibility--one something is proven, there is no need for faith anymore, it is simply a verifiable fact. But I wouldn't recommend stepping out for no reason whatsoever--we have to have some tugging, some experience of God, some burning in our hearts that draws us near to ignite our faith, as Lane writes. So reason and faith are not opposites, they can and must work together at all times.

If there is anything I have learned from studying Theology, it is that no one person can ever pretend to know everything. You can't prove it all, verify each detail or ever hope to study everything. It would take a lifetime to know every historical fact about religion or peruse every theory of every theological concept out there. On top of that, much of history has been forgotten and new ideas haven't been developed, yet. At some point, you have to decide to either be part of a faith community or not, and that may involve ascending to certain beliefs and traditions that you are not going to independently verify yourself.

The Middle Road

Both of these extremes are exercises in fear--a fear well deserved. One group is afraid of a world where the truths of their faith are flat out wrong. The other group is afraid of the power of religious institutions--they are also perhaps afraid that God may have power, as well. Both are terrifying to the core, and I have personally experienced each of them quite strongly. However, Jesus us reminds us not to lead with fear.

The wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas still ring true today: We need both faith and reason.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Faith of the Faithless

My Friend Scott directed me to a post on a discussion board. It reads:

"The British Museum is putting online the remaining fragments of the world's oldest Bible. The Codex Sinaiticus dates to the fourth century BCE and was discovered in the 19th century. Very few people have seen it due to its fragile state — that and the fact that parts of it are in collections scattered across the globe. It'll give scholars and those interested their first chance to take a look. However, I've got a feeling that some people won't be happy to see it online, since it makes no mention of the resurrection, which is a central part of Christian belief."

There are plenty of errors in this:

* The date is closer to 400 C.E., not 400 B.C.E! Obviously, the New Testament was not written before Christ. Okay, I can forgive a typo, but there's more.

* The question about resurrection accounts relates primarily to the ending of the Gospel of Mark. There are longer and shorter versions of the ending of Mark, some of which have more detail of the resurrection. However, Mark is one of 27 books in the New Testament. The resurrection is either implicitly or explicitly mentioned in all of them! It is absolutely false to claim that this manuscript of the Bible has no mention of the resurrection.

* It is misleading to say this is the "world's oldest Bible", but in shorthand it is somewhat forgivable. This manuscript named Sinaiticus is one of the most important documents in the Christian tradition. It is the oldest document that contains the entire New Testament all together. This lends weight to the idea that the Christian community had recognized these books as scripture by that time. However, there are individual books and fragments that are much older than this manuscript. Also, another manuscript named Vaticanus is a document from around the same time, but it was probably a copy of an earlier manuscript. So even though it is missing some books, what it has may be closer to what the original authors wrote.

You have to understand that no one has an original copy of any book of the Bible. The best we have are copies of copies of copies. In many cases, there is reason to believe that the scribes copied the originals verbatim--but not always. The more people touched it, the more chance that someone altered it in some fashion, which did happen.

So big deal, you say, someone's running their mouth on the internet. Where's the story in that? This may not even be an expert in the field (let's hope not!) but just some idiot posting on the internet.

I bring this up because it's a clear example of the kind of double-standard that exists. People with religious beliefs are often called on the carpet to substantiate their claims--and for good reason. However, here you have someone trying to denounce the central claim of Christianity (the resurrection) with absolutely incorrect information. It is common for people to bash Christians for believing in fanciful things all the while throwing out "facts" that they just made up themselves on the spot!

Poor scholarship is literally everywhere, so be careful. I am guessing this person skimmed over the link that they included in their post (see above) and quickly saw the line that reads: "It cuts out the post-resurrection stories". This clicked with their idea of how Christianity came to be and it made sense with their preconceived notions of how the world works, so they included it as fact in their post. It didn't seem to matter that this fact was incorrect--what mattered was that this "fact" backed up the claim that they wanted to advertise. It is interesting the way the human mind works. Of course, I don't know what the motives of this person in particular were, but it illustrates a common trend. It makes me wonder who is living by blind faith--Chrisitains, or non-believers?

Comic taken from xkcd.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Lil Bacon and Some Beans




What you see here is this:




* Summer squash

* Pig stomach with green & yellow beans



Okay, okay, its not technically "pig stomach," I just like to say that it is. It's the skin and fat from the side of the pig--the stuff that they use to make bacon.

When I got my pig, I decided not to have any of the meat cured or smoked (due to additives). So I ended up with a lot of plain meat. Some of it has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, such as this "fresh side" pictured above. I add a little salt and sugar, allow it to brown in the pan, and it tastes just great--long strands of fat and salty meat.

It's not bacon--it's something altogether different. I tried curing it with salt and sugar over long periods of time, but in all actuality it didn't seem to bring any flavor that I couldn't just bring in by adding those items at the time of cooking.

The summer squash is cooked up in olive oil with onions, lots of garlic and some salt and pepper.

Bacon and beans. I think that's an ideal food. Maybe it's a male thing.

I'm a little bummed because these farm-fresh vegetables were picked almost a week ago. Due to busyness/laziness, I didn't get around to preparing them and freezing them until today. The good news is that I decided to use the new vacuum sealer that Erin bought me for Christmas last year (or was it the year before?) I'm particularly bad about taking a long time to use new items, even the most generous gifts. But once I get in the swing of things, I'm okay. It's very easy to use--you fill the bags, attach the vacuum device, then let 'er rip.

Vacuum-sealed foods retain quite a bit more freshness, they say. The only downside that I can think of is that the plastic bags are wrapped snug around the food in a tight seal. It is believed that plastics leech out toxins in high and low temperatures (such as a freezer). A tightly-sealed bag seems to have more parts of the food in contact with more parts of the plastic bag. However, if you are going to use plastic bags in the freezer anyway, I am not sure that vacuum sealing really adds much more than you would get if you didn't seal it. I have no idea, though.