Stranger than Fiction

Becky Chambers has written three exceedingly excellent science fiction novels. I highly recommend them. This past year I read the latest installment in her series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, I had an insight into something that has been troubling me for a long time.

You see, I’m a member of the clergy. And it is hard. It is very hard. It is hard on me. And on my spouse. And on my children. Those are obvious reasons to wrestle with it. While many jobs are hard, not all jobs are hard on your family the way one such as this is hard on my family. But something else was bothering me.

The story focuses on the life of the humans living in the Exodan Fleet. One of the characters is named Eyas and she is a caretaker. Caretakers are functionally like clergy in our contemporary context.  During a conversation Eyas says this:

“‘ The caretaker I encountered that day, he was a …symbol to me. This symbol of fearlessness, of…harmony. He took a terrifying ting I barely understood and he showed me it was okay. It was normal. And that feeling was reinforced by the way adults treated him. They didn’t pull away. They weren’t repulsed. They embraced him- in both senses of the world. He was life and death walking as one, and they wrapped their arms around him and gave him gifts, and by extension, showed me I did not have to be afraid of our reality.’ She paused again. She’d never talked about this with someone outside of her profession, and certainly not to this degree. ‘I am that, now. I am that symbol to others. It’s exactly what I wanted, what I worked for. But there’s this other side to it I didn’t expect. I’m a symbol, yes, but a symbol wearing my face and my name. Myself, but also not. Mostly not. People know, when I walk through my district who I am, what I do. Doesn’t matter if I’ve got my wagon or am wearing my robes. they know. And so I always have to be Eyas the symbol, the good symbol, because I never know who’s looking at me, who needs to see that thing I saw in a caretaker when I was six. It doesn’t matter if I’m having a bad day, or if I’m tired, or if I’m feeling selfish. They look to me for comfort. I have to be that. And that is me, in a sense. That is a genuine part of me. But that’s just it–it’s a part. It’s not–‘

‘It’s not the whole,’ Sunny said.

Eyas nodded. ‘And that aspect of my work, I wasn’t ready for. I never thought about who my aunt’s caretaker was when he went home.’

Sunny held the bowl of his pipe in his palm. The smoke ascended as if he were conjuring it. ‘Sounds lonely.'”

And there is where my story and Eyas’ diverge. She didn’t feel lonely, just incomplete. I feel lonely and incomplete. I can’t have any real friends. I tried, it got messy and bad. And every person I encounter I’m supposed to be leading to Jesus/the church. And so if I can’t befriend people in the church, then anyone outside the church is a potential member and so I’m alone.

And incomplete. I’m a symbol that wears my face and lives my life and has my marriage and my children but I can’t be myself because you never know who is watching. That isn’t to say I would bathe in total depravity but simply that in my vocation, I am judged harshly by others. Fortunately, I’m not worried about God’s judgment.

But it makes this hard. Very hard. And it has me wondering how long I can last.

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Hopped Cider

So many years ago I read online about hopped cider. It sounded interesting and the article mentioned the cider used cascade hops. I had some leftover and thought, “sure.” So I made it…and tried it…and it was awesome.

As a gluten free homebrewer, hopped cider is about the cheapest and easiest “beer” alternative. Of course it is NOT beer. But if you let the cider go especially dry, it can taste a bit like a light beer. And the hop flavor confuses the mind.

However, I prefer to not make imitation beer. When I brew a gluten free beer, I want it to taste like beer. And when I make a cider, I want it to taste like a cider. And when I hop it well…I want it to taste like some sort of delicious bastard. Which hopped cider does.

I was looking through the freezer and saw I had 1oz of chinook and 1 1/2 oz of centennial from my grapefruit IPA. I don’t like leaving hops in the freezer too long (don’t know why) so I decided to do something about it. I give you, Magnificent Bastard Cider (MBC).

  • 5 Gallons of Apple Juice (I use Kroger because it is close to me and in all these years it has never let me down. Now, for the record, if I had the money I once had, I’d buy cider from an orchard. But I don’t.)
  • 2lbs Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 oz Chinook (dry hopped)
  • S-05 Yeast

Let this go a week and then rack it into a secondary. At that time add:

  • 1lb Honey

Three days before bottling I’ll add

  • 1 1/2 oz Centennial Hops

At bottling time (as always) I’ll add a can of apple juice concentrate.

There ya have it. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Weekly Round-Up

Hey hey! If I’m back then my weekly round-up should be back too! This one will be shorter because I didn’t think about it until well…today. In the past I’d collect articles of interest throughout the week so this is just a small sample of what I read and felt was of some interest and or importance.

First up! Space, the final frontier. Lots of awesome developments in the exploration of space thanks in large part to Elon Musk (and lesser part Jeff Bezos). But of course, governments are still doing stuff too. And this week China landed a lunar robot on the far side of the moon! Pictures have already started coming back. What’s cool is they also put a satellite into orbit around the moon to accelerate the communication process.

New Horizons, which gave us so much awesome information on Pluto, has passed by Ultima Thule. Ultima Thula is part of the Kuiper Belt and this exploration is the first time the belt has been examined. Very cool!

The Atlantic has a fantastic article on Amazon’s HQ2 spectacle and says it should be illegal. The article is fascinating, and the part on the Kansas/Missouri border war is down right depressing. The ironic thing is that this pointless bribery happens at the city level. I remember almost 15 years ago Hilliard lured a BMW Finance Center from Dublin to their city. It was a big deal locally. Hilliard gave BMW all kinds of financial tax breaks. Didn’t create any jobs–Hilliard and Dublin are adjoining cities. Guess where the finance center is now? Dublin.

 

2018 Reading

So one of my resolutions for 2018 was to read more. A lot more. I don’t remember the total number of books I put in my reading list…something like 55. But that number is misleading because “one” of those was actually the entire Harry Potter series. I didn’t accomplish my goal…as of today I’ve read 44 books in 2018 (not counting the Bible which I read every year). And yes, some of those were graphic novels (more on that).

I’m okay with falling short because my overall goal was to start reading again like I used to. I used to read all the time. Then that slowly went away. And like brewing and writing, I missed it. I missed a quiet morning or rainy afternoon with nothing more than a book. I missed getting lost in worlds of fantasy, or far flung futures, or the unbelievable events of our own history.

So I approached this list with more flexibility than I normally do in the past. I found some new authors which I liked, and read other works by them that weren’t on their list. I also really struggled with history. I love history. But lately I can’t find a good work of history. I made it through 8 chapters of Potter’s biography of Zwingli and that is pretty much the most history I read. In case you are wondering, I didn’t count that book in my list since I didn’t complete it.

All that being said, I did want to give some awards out. The authors will never know. But maybe it’ll help you one rainy day when you’re trying to decide what to read.

Best Book (I read) in 2018: Death Comes for the Deconstructionist by Daniel Taylor.

This was definitely NOT what I expected. I had the sequel, Do We Not Bleed on my list and so I read this when I discovered that well, it was the first book in the “series.” This book was written in the 1st person perspective, which is very challenging to do and remaining engaging. But what makes it even crazier, no pun intended, is the narrator is crazy. So as he describes things, you never actually know if it is real or not. He talks about the voices he hears, and then we hear them too. He occasionally will drop mention of a hallucination. For example, a giant catfish follows him around. He’ll casually mention it is there. Half a sentence. That’s all.

The author is also a thoughtful Christian. And he weaves his faith into the narrative so that crazy and faith become one some times. For example, “I wonder what Pratt would say about that catfish. Was it remembered or manufactured? Transubstantiation or consubstantiation or mere symbol?”

Daniel Taylor is a wordsmith. He writes sentences that make you just pause and wonder at the thoughtful beauty of it. I knew this from the first chapter. Look at how Taylor introduces the two main characters: “We live together now on a rented houseboat in the Mississippi, in the shadow of the Wabasha Bridge in downtown St. Paul. Kind of an oxymoronic place—out on the river, like Huck and Jim, but going nowhere, towered over by government and office buildings on the far bank. Illusory freedom. It’s not a big old tub, as houseboats go. Two tiny bedrooms up top over a fair-sized living room and galley kitchen below. Engineless, like me, neither houseboat nor occupant seaworthy.”

Taylor also did a great way of bringing his faith to bear on the novel. But most definitely not in a preachy way. In fact, much of it was obtuse enough that people who weren’t Christian may miss it. Such as a reference to a hot dog suspended before an open mouth and a reference to the “already but not yet” which every theologian uses to describe the kingdom of God. Or this, “There is a full moon low in the sky and its light splashes across the waters, squandering beauty on a sleeping town. I try to see riverboats paddling up the river, steam whistles screeching. I try to see women in hoop skirts, bales of cotton, and running boys, me and Huck among them. I am not successful. “Why … why are we stopping here, Jon?” “Oh, just to stretch our legs and look at the river.” “Yes, this is like the Jor … the Jordan River. There’s a picture of this in my … my very own Bible.” “I wish this was the Jordan, Jude. God knows I could use a Promised Land.”

His casual weaving of biblical references into the narrative challenged me with how integrated my worldview and knowledge of the Bible really are. I mean I like to say I have a biblical worldview, but do I? When a murder mystery that most definitely isn’t “christian” can make you ask those questions, you know it is a good book. And this was a very good book. In fact, I’d say it was my favorite book that I read in 2018.

Best Devotional of 2018. Letters to My Children by Daniel Taylor. So the first two books that made my awards list weren’t on my initial “to read” list at the start of the year. The joy of being flexible. After enjoying Death Comes for a Deconstructionist so much, I did some research on the author and found this book. Out of a fear of a too sudden death, the author decided to write letters to his children about a variety of things: suffering, vocation, marriage, friendships, etc. The wisdom contained in these letters is rich and worth dwelling upon for many years. As I peruse my highlights, this little gem speaks to me on this evening so I’ll share it with you: “So why when we prayed for Mr. Cuendet did he get well, but when we prayed for Uncle Clinton, God took him to heaven instead? I don’t know. God never promised to tell me why everything happens the way it does. But he did promise me that anytime I wanted to talk, he would be happy to listen. And in a world where so many people feel they are all alone, that’s a pretty great thing to know.” I’ve already quoted this book this year more than everything else I’ve read combined!

Best Science Fiction book I read in 2018: Roadside Picnic by Strugatsky Brothers. So…this one wasn’t on my original list either. Oops. Anyways, I love science fiction. It is, without a doubt, my favorite genre. And I’ve got oodles of “best science fiction books of the century” lists and somehow, this one was never on them. But then when I learned of it, it seemed like every Grand Master and Grand Madame of Science Fiction couldn’t stop talking about it. Funny how legends can hide in plain sight.

The premise is brilliant. And there seem to be no other books that have come up with anything like it or attempted to copy it sense.  Aliens visited earth. Several spots around the world. They were there briefly and then left. The places where they touched down have been profoundly changed.  And that doesn’t even begin to describe what I mean by profoundly changed. The dead are reanimated. Children of people who venture into the zones become inhuman as they age. Physics go bonkers in the zone. And people called Stalkers sneak into the Zones to steal technology and sell it on the black market while the governments of the world try to protect the zones and figure them out on their own. The story follows one Stalker in one zone who is a master at going in and finding new technology.

The title comes from the idea of a roadside picnic. Imagine a large family decides to have a picnic in an undisturbed area. Their bodies flatten the grass. The picnic blanket they lay down changes the ecology of the region. The build a fire ring and roast hotdogs. The heat of the fire, the left over stones, the ash from the fire change the landscape and are left behind. Then there’s the trash. Maybe a child’s toy was left behind. A watch fell off. An earring came lose and fell to the grass, lost forever. And we are….the ants who lived in that spot. That’s where the title came from and why the Zones are so profound. The aliens had a roadside picnic on planet earth and it changed everything forever.

Finally, the best graphic novel I read this year was Vision Vol I & II by Tom King. Ever since Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, the graphic novel has become a legitimate medium for not only some great stories, but for some great philosophical explorations. Tom King nailed it with his take on The Vision in Vol I: Little Worse than a Man and Vol II: Little Better than a Beast. The underlying question of Vision is this, “How far would you go to try to live a normal, American, life?” You just want to fit in. You want the two kids. The house in the suburbs. Even the dog. But you aren’t a white, middle class, American. You’re Vision, an android (or synthezoid) created by Ultron and capable of destroying the Avengers. But you just want to fit in. How far would you go, what would you compromise, to live the Suburban American dream? Dark, depressing, and eye opening on our quest for normalcy.

So there ya have it. My 2019 list is just about finished. I anticipate it being as fluid as this one. And hopefully I’ll read even more book in 2019 than I did in 2018.

 

How Few Remain

Well…I see my last update was in February of 2015. I notice in that post I apologized for the absence but said “things have been crazy.”

As I sit here the sun is setting on 2018. Three years since my last post. A long time.

What happened? Well, in short, a lot.

A verse that has kind of come to surmise my life over the last few years is Genesis 47.9: “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘… Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life…'” A lot of time has passed since I last posted. And I don’t mean simply in terms of chronology. I’ve been revisiting this blog and I find it is very much like watching myself in an unfamiliar way. I don’t recognize the person who wrote these things. I don’t remember that life. Where did it go? Where did he disappear to?

So much of my life has changed. So much has happened. Much of it good. Some of it painful. Some of it bad. Some of it very bad and very painful. I learned a lot about grace. Experienced a tremendous amount of it. I hope to give half that much back to others one day. I was a very dogmatic person. I think now I’m certain but flexible. (I hope) more humble. Certainly more patient with others. Definitely less quick to judge. Hopefully, more loving?

Mrs. Wine and I had a couple of more children. Moved next door. I did some big time work in my vocation which I’d rather not discuss here. Gave up brewing. Missed it. Gave up writing. Missed it too. And that’s why I’m back.

I started brewing again with a simple cider. It was pretty good.

Then I made my Grapefruit IPA. Ran into some technical difficulties regarding the fact that I forgot to add priming sugar. So it is taking a loooong time to carb up.

Currently, I have a bourbon oaked cider that needs to be bottled. Actually, I went to bottle it tonight and discovered I was out of my sanitizing solution! Rookie mistake! I guess homebrew isn’t quite like riding a bike. Here is the recipe:

Bourbon Oaked Cider

  • 3 gallons of apple juice
  • 1lb of brown sugar
  • 1lb of honey
  • S-05 Yeast

I took a handful of French oak chips and soaked them in a cup of bourbon for about a week (Yes, I know that is longer than usual, life is still crazy but I’m trying). Either way, when I went to pour them in, it smelled amazing. Poured the bourbon into the cider through a sanitized strainer. Before bottling I’ll add one can of apple juice concentrate to back-sweeten and reintroduce the apple flavor. This one should be a winner.

In the next two days I’ll bottle this and make a dry hopped cider with chinook and centennial. Pretty excited about that. I think money will keep me making ciders more than beer. Though I have 3/4 of my ingredients for 1st Date Dunkel so hopefully by February I’ll be able to brew that up. Maybe my IPA will be carbonated by then.

So I’m not sure how to end this except to say to the readers out there, if any still remain, thanks for your patience. I’m back. The brewery is open again. And if no one has remained to see if I’d return that is okay: there is something in this writing process that I think my soul needs. And that’s good enough for me. But if you are out there, I’m currently drinking a wine spritzer. Pola voda i pola vino as I first learned it was called back in Serbia. Cheers!

 

 

 

Maple Blueberry Cider

Well, I realize it has been a while since I posted anything but much has happened in my life. Time has become my commodity of choice and so I try to use it wisely and, when leisure time comes my way, there are a few things that rank higher than my blog. Like brewing. I’m still brewing. Not as often nor as voluminous as I used to but I am happy to report that I am still brewing.

I’m a big fan of Woodchuck’s summer cider. I like it because it has a hint of blueberry. I wanted to brew some sort of summer cider that would be easily drinkable and have that hint of blueberry. But after my disastrous attempt at Blueberry Pancake Mead, I decided to approach this one differently.

First off, I used maple flavoring instead of actual maple syrup. Yes, I know–that isn’t very cool. But it did work. I like brewing with maple syrup, but I’ve also come to learn while it is a good ingredient for fermentation and adds an interesting flavor, the maple flavor disappears. With the maple extract, it remained. The second thing I did was rack the cider off of real blueberries and then added a large amount of pure blueberry juice to the secondary. This really helped the blueberry flavor remain.

Maple Blueberry Cider (3 gallon batch)

  • 3 gallons of apple juice
  • 2 pints of blueberries cooked in 1 cup of white sugar.
  • 1lb of sugar (minus 1 cup).
  • 1 teaspoon of maple extract
  • S-04 Yeast

After 1 1/2 weeks in the primary, I racked this off of the blueberries and into the secondary. Then I added 32oz of blueberry juice.

After another 1 1/2 weeks I bottled it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this will make it to the summer. 3 gallon batches instead of 5 (which is what I’m brewing now) don’t last as long. They especially don’t last as long since I now give so much of what I make away. I’m not complaining.

For your viewing pleasure:

maple cider

God loves an orchard: “Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls. ” (Deuteronomy 20.20 NASB) 

Exciting Development

While we are in the period of transition and preparing to move I thought I’d share an exciting development with you. Mrs. Wine and I have become members of a CSA. A CSA means community supported agriculture and basically, what it means is we have become shareholders in a local farm. The farm is Bird’s Havens Farms and it had some neat add ons. We’ll get 1/3lb of raw cheese/week as well as eggs. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, I found a farmer that sells whole, 1/2 and 1/4 beef as well as 1/2 or whole pork. Even better, he has trained under Joel Salatin. So we’ll be buying our yearly supply of beef from him as well as pork (something we’ve wanted to do for a while).  I’m looking forward to eating in 2015!

 

Update on the Brewery

I’m sorry for the long silence. Things have been crazy. There will not be much activity for a while because we are moving. Our prayers (and perhaps yours?) were answered. Mrs. Wine got the job; I got the job as well. We found a beautiful century home. When we went into the basement Mrs. Wine said to me, “You can brew here” and I was sold. I have big plans for the brew room which will culminate in a keezer. Lots of pictures to follow. There will also be brewing again with recipes. It’ll be fun.

So patience please and the blog will pick up once we are settled.