A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Kielbasa and Beans

I love kielbasa. It's probably my favorite of the "prepared meats." I like it better than bratwurst or regular American-style hot dogs, and I like "real" kielbasa better than the hot-dog shaped "polish sausages" which don't usually have quite the same flavor.

However, I'm not aware of a lot of uses for kielbasa. The simplest thing to do with it is to slice it in half, cut in long chunks, and fry it up for use in sandwiches. The next simplest thing to do is to cut in small pieces and simmer it in barbecue sauce. (This dish goes well with plain old mac-and-cheese, for some reason.) This latter dish makes an appearance in a crockpot sometimes at pot-luck dinners or church lunches, but my attempts to cook it in the crockpot have mostly failed, generally because I cooked it for too long, or on high, or with not enough liquid. (This was actually one of the first crockery meals I tried to make, and I really didn't know what I was doing.)

I'm here to tell you that there is a better way to prepare kielbasa in the crockpot. It is as follows.


1 pound of kielbasa, skinless if you prefer (we think the recipe works just as well if you don't remove the skin.)

3 15.5 oz cans of white beans. White kidney beans (cannellini) are preferable, but Great Northern Beans also work.

1 medium-large or 2 very small onions, peeled and diced. (You should have about 1 cup of onion.)

1-2 teaspoons of minced garlic. Adjust to taste: we like more garlic, but you may like less. If you don't already have a jar of minced garlic in your refrigerator, get one. Your life will be easier.

3 tablespoons white sugar.

1- 1/2 cups of water.


1) Prepare the kielbasa by slicing in half, then cutting into quarters or eighths.

2) Drain and rinse the beans. (Hint: use a colander.)

3) Spray the inside of a medium crockpot (this recipe is too small for a large pot) with Pam or another cooking spray. I know that many slow cooker directions say you don't need this step, but trust me, things really do stick less often if you spray the crock first.

4) Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker. Add the water last so that you can make sure it is neither too liquidy nor too far below the ideal cooking volume.

5) Cook on LOW for 3-4 hours.

That's it. This is a pretty simple dish. Better have a loaf of bread or a plate of hot rolls to go with it, and add a salad or spinach for your health on the side.

Recipe adapted from Rebecca Field Jager's How to Make Love and Dinner at the Same Time. I've changed the proportions and altered the directions to bring out more of the garlic and onion taste. The original recipe was more subtle and beany, but we think my version has a better flavor.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Heaven's Bathroom

I finally finished two of the many books on my "What I'm reading" shelf, and I have correspondingly allowed myself to move on to a new book, Peter Kreeft's Three Philosophies of Life. I picked up the book because I am currently interetested in reading interpretations of the Song of Songs, and this book, which treats the Song as a philosophical text, seemed to offer a unique approach.

I'm only two pages into the book, and I've already found a delightful Kreeftian phrase to carry with me. Kreeft, you see, considers Ecclesiastes to be the book of the philosophy of vanity- and vanity is located in Hell. The Song of Songs he reads as the book of the philosophy of love, and love of course is located in Heaven, because God is love. And that leaves Job as the book of suffering, which Kreeft locates not in Hell, but in purgatory, on the grounds that "Suffering is not the essence of Hell, because suffering can be hopeful. It was for Job. Job never lost his faith and his hope (which is faith directed at the future), and his suffering proved to be purifying, purgative, education: it gave him eyes to see God" (9). This is an interesting statement, but it was not what caught my attention. The phrase that made my day occurred in Kreeft's footnote on the word purgatory:

Note to Protestant readers: please do not throw this book away just yet. I am not presupposing or trying to convert anyone to the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Here I mean by Purgatory any suffering that purges the soul. It begins in this life. If it is completed in the next, you can just as well call it Heaven's bathroom. A sanctification by any other name would smell just as sweet. (8)

Purgatory as Heaven's bathroom. . . I like it. It works. When people hear purgatory, they tend to think of cleansing fire and suffering. I don't deny that there are valid reasons for thinking of these things in conjunction with purgatory, but I am of the school that thinks we would have an easier time of explaining purgatory if we talked about it in terms of soap: perhaps even in Leon ard Vander Zee's terms of Gospel Soap, if I may borrow from the Reformed Church.

For Catholics, then, purgatory is the bathroom of Heaven, where we are given the final application of Gospel Soap. I know that I have a tendency to simplify -perhaps to oversimplify- but it seems to me that in this case, it really is that simple.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Megachurch madness!

I went to a mega-church for the first time last Sunday. First, let me specify that by "mega-church" I mean "seeker-oriented evangelical church which serves thousands." Actually, the church congregation is probably no larger than a large Catholic parish, and in fact their worship schedule was reminiscent of those Catholic parishes which try to reach student populations: there were two Saturday night services and two or three Sunday morning ones, all of which would be identical. Adult education classes were, as far as I can tell, held mid-week rather than before or after Sunday worship. I'll be honest and say that to me this seems far more civilized than the we're-out-to-steal-your-entire Sunday "all day church" program of Sunday school, morning worship, and afternoon worship which some Protestant traditions encourage. For an introvert, church all day pretty much screws the idea of Sunday as a "day of rest," because being social prevents rest, rather than fostering it. So the mega church got ten points from me for having a sane and convenient worship schedule. (But it's only fair for me to admit that I have a vested interest in Saturday evening services: they make life easier for an interchurch couple which hits both churches every weekend.)

The church lost points for the music and atmosphere, though that wasn't a surprise. The auditorium seating and the choice of music made the first ten minutes of worship seem more like attending a Christian rock concert than like gathering for worship. But I'm pretty sure that that's the effect that the church was going for, and I do understand why. As a seeker oriented church, they are trying to present worship in a way which will appeal to my generation. I'm not sure that I'm opposed to the idea of having seeker-oriented activities arranged this way. I do think I am opposed to the idea that such seeker oriented pop-culture services offer spiritual meat for adult Christians, though. There's more to Christian worship than praise and worship music played on an electric guitar!

What the church lost in its music selections, it more than gained in the sermon. I was surprised to find that I thought the pastor made good use of the visual aids. They didn't distract from the lesson, but encouraged it. As a liturgical Christian, I can't help thinking that this kind of teaching format might be better saved for mid-week classes rather than brought into a worship service, where it might detract from the reverent worship which should be offered- but then, I tend to think that about all sermons which are longer than 20 minutes. I also suspect that this church conceives of their worship service quite differently than I do.

Where the mega church really lost me was in their survey. Yes, they passed out a survey to all attendees. (They don't do this every week: we just happened to be visiting on survey day.) I'm not knocking surveys per se: my own parish recently had a survey about the liturgy which I thought was an excellent idea. This survey, however, was done not to get an idea of what the congregation wanted, but of who the congregation was. Unfortunately, the survey shot itself in the foot by wording the choices in such a way as to exclude honest answers from a rather large category of Christians.

You see, the survey asked a question along the lines of "Can you remember a time in your life before you were as spiritual as you are today/ when you felt farther away from God/ something similar?" The answers (roughly paraphrased, since my memory isn't perfect), were as follows:

- Yes, and it was a long time ago.

- Yes, and it happened recently.

- I'm not sure.

- No, and I want to be closer to God.

- No, spirituality isn't really my thing right now.

Notice what's missing: there's no place for the people William James called the "Once born;" people who have always been in relationship with God. What seems tragic about this omission is that it excludes the vast majority of Christians, since the majority of Christians worldwide are Catholic, Orthodox, or "High Church" Protestant [i.e. Anglican or Lutheran] rather than evangelical or Pentecostal.

Sacramental and covenant theologies, while not denying the need to be born again, arguably encourage a once-born view of the Christian life in that they encourage the idea that children enter a covenant relationship with God at birth or baptism, rather than entering it as adults who make a decision for Christ. There is generally no pressure -or less pressure- in such churches for individuals to point to a specific moment of "becoming Christian," because the actual moment when they "became Christian" is at baptism. Conversion in such churches may be understood to happen gradually, over the course of a lifetime, rather than to be located at a single definable, identifiable moment. Another way to put it is that in such churches, conversion is associatied with sanctification or with a progressive model of justification rather than with a one-time model of justification. (Of course there may be evangelical branches of liturgical churches which put more emphasis on a one-time-decision model of personal conversion; for the moment, let's set that factor aside.)

I don't know whether the survey designers deliberately rejected this covenant concept of spirituality, or whether they really just didn't think of it because they are so used to thinking of the Christian walk in terms of a radical conversion, but either way, the limitation was sad. To me, it spoke eloquently to the problem Catholic Christians may have in trying to articulate their spiritual lives to conversion-oriented Christians, to whom accepting Jesus Christ HAS to be a one time event, rather than a process of growth. It was perhaps this single survey question which showed me just how far away I was from the Christian worldview espoused by the mega-church.

In case you're curious, I didn't check any of the answers they offered for this question. Instead, I scribbled a note below the question: "Other- I have been in a relationship with Jesus as long as I can remember." And that, gratia dei, is the truth. When you come down to it, that is the only testimony I can ever give.