30 July 2012

The Epic Demise of The Late Great Baked Potato

Humanity is facing a new challenge: the Baked Potato has appeared on the international food list of “Most in Danger of Becoming Extinct.” The timeframe for extinction is some time in the next twenty years (perhaps even sooner according to other sources). 

For decades, the Baked Potato was living large in North America, Europe and many other parts of the world.  As late as the 1990s it was thriving in fast-food restaurants, and in eastern Canada, where they slathered it with their own kind of “love” called poutine.  But now the Baked Potato, if not dead to the epicurean world, is experiencing one of the fastest declines since the gelatin molds of the 1950s.

Admittedly, the Baked Potato (like so many celebs) was responsible for its own present precarious condition, at least in part. Not very long ago, the Baked Potato was riding the crest its popularity wave basking in the warmth, not of the lowly oven, but of fame. It was being lauded for its versatility and basic tastiness as the popular “Stuffed Baked Potato Skin.” 

As far as I can tell, it was about this time that the Baked Potato began running with the late-night crowd. He started becoming closely associated with pubs, bars, and club dining.  Was the Baked Potato trying to put some distance between itself and the family dinner-table wholesomeness?  Was it feeling uncomfortable with its famously pedestrian chums at the dinner table: the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Bacon-Bits?  Both the Dough Boy and Bacon-Bits have remained firmly attached to their middle class meat-loaf roots—neither rising nor falling dramatically.  It makes me wonder, did the Baked Potato have higher aspirations all along--did he see his future stretching out in a great parochial shadow when he looked at The Boy and B-Bits?

The beginning of the end for the Baked Potato started when he began hanging around at Kmart looking for a frankfurter. I know it sounds like an odd match, but who are we to judge? Some speculate this was a sign of early onset dementia—perhaps the Baked Potato thought the Kmart window resembled an old Woolworths, which used to grill and serve hot dogs. But I think he just wanted to be hip, that he needed to get off the dinner table and out of the house, and he was looking for a bigger, cooler group to hang with.  Unfortunately, all the Baked Potato found at Kmart was bad company, cheap watches, and a broken Dr Pepper soda machine.

Around the time the Baked Potato was getting in with the wrong crowd, we saw the near simultaneous Rise of the French Fry (it’s been speculated that this is partly due a deal made with Coke).  The French Fry, once a humble little guy, threw off his greasy, home-grown roots with along his reputation of running with the hard-rocking, late-night party crowd. He calculated rightly that if Mick Jagger could be respectable, then it was the Fry’s time for his own makeover. The Fry went directly into Starch Rehab where he became acquainted with all the upmarket spices and twists. Unfortunately, the Baked Potato chose poorly: instead of putting himself out there, he retreated. By simply adopting a James Dean-style detachment, he seemed disengaged and uninteresting. As a result, the Baked Potato only lost ground.

Perhaps you noticed the French Fry popping up in some of the best restaurants in Leiden, Belgium, Sidney and in Buckingham Palace? Well, the French Fry didn’t exactly “pop up.”  No, the French Fry’s menu dominance is more strategy than serendipity.  Indeed, the French Fry was deliberate in carving out his turf.  Rather than seeking to unsettle the noodle or the pasta from their native territories or uproot the bulgurs, naans, nachos, tortillas, pitas and chapattis from their native zones, he left them alone.

But every other part of the food world was fair game and the French Fry conducted all-out “scorched earth” operation, battling for the palates of the globe from his rival and one-time friend, the Baked Potato. His campaign was so successful that former strongholds of the Baked Potato now favor the Fry (places like Ukraine and Russia, for example). The French Fry’s zero-tolerance survival campaign was so successful that Romanians of this generation have never even tried a Baked Potato (my Romanian daughter-in-law never had a Baked Potato until she had one at our dinner table.)  In Canada, a place which traditionally has welcomed potatoes of all sorts, poutine goes with French Fries, and never with potatoes. But if you order potatoes in a Montreal restaurant, they will come mashed. 

Very recently my husband and I were very nearly speechless when we thought we had a Baked Potato-sighting here in Jakarta. My husband pointed out “Baked Potato” on the menu at The Kitchenette in Plaza Indonesia, his eyes glistened with excitement, and his voice barely above a whisper, “Look!” 
“I’ll have a Baked Potato!” he loudly announced, joyously stabbing the menu. But, when his fish was served what was with it? the Hipster Cousin, the French Fry. My normally ebullient and easygoing husband glumly sent it back.  Since that first time, we have returned twice to The Kitchenette, and each time he has ordered the Baked Potato. He has yet to see one.  I think we may never return judging from his behavior the last time we were there.
This past time, he (once again, and against my pleadings) ordered a Baked Potato. And, once again he didn’t get a Baked Potato.  When he called the waiter back, he uncharacteristically pointed to the menu and said loudly: “Baked potato!” he then pointed to the potato-and-mystery-vegetable casserole masquerading as a Baked Potato and said flatly (and with some edge), “Not Baked Potato!” 
The poor waiter happened to be one of the many messengers bearing the sad news of the demise of the Baked Potato, and here was my husband (verbally) shooting him.  The waiter, on the edge of tears, fled to the kitchen.
I leaned forward and murmured gently to my husband:
“Dear, you have worked all over the world in the past 30 years. It’s hard to accept certain losses. Can you accept that we are witnessing the Epic Demise of the Late Great Baked Potato?”  He didn’t respond, but just put his head in his hands. 

The following evening, to console, I made him several baked potatoes. The restaurant experience brought the truth home like a hammer: the Baked Potato is not yet dead, but it can only survive through our individual efforts.
- Charity Johnson

17 July 2012

Trust-Love's True Test

Banks fail, government plans do not deliver, and even anti-aging products leave the hopefuls with dashed dreams. A promise is only as good as the trustworthiness and the ability of the promiser to keep and to be able to fulfill the promise.
The word “promise” has acquired the taint of the accumulated disappointments to our ears. Its meaning is diluted to resemble something stronger than a wish and a hope but not much. In our daily life this doesn’t give us any pause, but it is possible that our thoughts regarding God and His promises are made a bit softer round the edges, if not almost more cynical. We may have dragged our human problems into the domain of theology and then blame God rather than seeing clearly how it is we who have crossed the wires.
God is the Genius of Geniuses, and is stronger than the essence of strength itself. God has, in our language, a will of iron and His purpose is driven---there is nothing that can stop His ends coming to pass (which is very good news if God loves man). And--extraordinarily good news for us--is that He by quality and by character (which are the same) is the Fulfiller of all obligations He has ever made. So, how reliable is His signature, His imprinteur about His stated promise?
God has a way of relating Himself directly to the human heart-- He has infused our hearts are desire to be loved. When we say we just want someone who loves us, aren’t we saying a lot of things? Aren't we saying something which is imbedded in the meaning of love: that this is someone we want someone we can trust?
If it is true that God will have His way and if it is true that He is more trustworthy than Trust itself, then what does that mean for you and me?
It means that specific promises He made will be accomplished—and we will see it. In His time He will restore beauty, creation, truth and trust. Christ will be in charge—and we will be there....
“...whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”   Romans 8:18-21     J.B. Phillips New Testament
-Charity Johnson

11 July 2012

To Know Him is To Love Myself Better

Jesus said, "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26 NLT. In another place He stated: "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other." Luke 16:13 NKJV.

At first blush, it seems our Lord was calling for us to leave everyone and everything and be completely devoted to Him. Or is it not that simplistic? Jesus also said: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39 NKJV.

How can we understand these contradictory seeming commands? An ascetic can easily "hate" everyone...even himself and devote himself to God’s service alone. Yet, Jesus tempers our enthusiasm and inclination to a fanatical ego-centric selflessness and its polar extreme of self-centered feelings about our feelings.

Jesus in his simple statement drops the plumb line of loving God with your entire being, mind, and life as the first order of business.

Then, secondary, yet somehow inter-related, is to love yourself and to love others. Evidently there is no call to strict asceticism nor complete self-involvement.

Yet, if He made us, He surely understands how we function best, so this should be no surprise. This is not a contradiction or an enshrouded mystery. It is simply a divine command of "well-ordered loves" that brings us emotional—and spiritual—health. It’s the state we should daily seek to live in and it is also, by God’s design, the state in which the gifts of God’s grace grow and thrive best.

CS Lewis stated it succinctly:
"When the sun is vertically above a man he casts no shadow: similarly when we have come to the Divine meridian our spiritual shadow (that is, our consciousness of self) will vanish. " C. S. Lewis (on well-ordered loves)

08 July 2012

Love's Alternative

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will most certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your hear to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will be unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. ... The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
- C S Lewis