Apr 232017
 

Today is the first Sunday after Easter, which goes by a wide variety of names depending on ecclesiastical tradition. In Catholic and some Eastern traditions it marks the end of Bright Week during which the resurrection of Jesus is constantly celebrated. In some of those traditions it is called Renewal Sunday, referring to the continual affirmation of the Easter message. It is also called Quasimodo Sunday in some denominations, especially in parts of France and Germany, the name being taken from the day’s introit: — “Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite” (“In the same way that newborn babies long for pure milk”).

In the early church, catechumens were baptized on the Eve of Easter, and on the Sunday following Easter they cast off their white baptismal robes – yet they were still spiritual newborns (needing spiritual milk). In the Anglican tradition it is commonly called Low Sunday which is how I referred to it in church bulletins when I was a pastor. No one knows quite what “Low” refers to – possibly the feeling that the feeling of the celebration of the resurrection is not as great as it was on Easter Sunday. Pastors in general suggest that it refers to church attendance on that Sunday, which is always very low.

In many churches today is called Thomas Sunday following a standard reading of the day John 20:19-31. Here’s the relevant part of the reading:

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I always preached on this passage because there is much more to it than meets the casual reader. First there are a few simple things to elucidate. The name Thomas (Koine Greek: Θωμᾶς) given for the apostle in the Greek Bible is derived from the Aramaic or Syriac: ܬܐܘܡܐ‎ Toma, equivalent to the Hebrew Teom, meaning “twin.” The equivalent term for twin in Greek is Δίδυμος Didymos. So verse 24 is a gloss, not an extension of his name. That is, he was not known as Thomas Didymos, but simply Thomas. A better translation of the verse would be, “Now Thomas . . . which means ‘Twin’ . . .” Giving glosses for Aramaic terms in Greek is very common in the gospels. Verse 26 says that “eight days later” the apostles were gathered again. This uses a standard method of counting days in Aramaic whereby the first and last days are counted. So, Sunday to Sunday is eight days, not seven as we normally count in English.

The crux of the passage for me lies in verses 27 and 28, and, I believe, is mistakenly represented in classic iconography.  Jesus says “Put your finger here . . . etc.” in verse 27 but verse 28 does NOT begin, “So Thomas put his finger in the wounds, and believed . . .” Thomas IMMEDIATELY answers “My Lord and my God.” He not only believes without touching Jesus, but he goes on to assert that Jesus is both his Lord and is God, going beyond the obvious inference that Jesus died and has returned alive. The resurrection was miraculous enough, but one need go no farther than accepting it as proof that Jesus, AS A MAN (only), was killed by the Romans but the grave could not hold him. That’s quite extraordinary enough, and is enough for the other gospel writers. John’s gospel goes a step beyond that inference because of John’s author’s basic belief that Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, setting up the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, in this gospel, Thomas is the first apostle to get the whole story straight. In many traditions, therefore, he is not referred to as “doubting” Thomas, even though at the outset he doubts the testimony of his fellow apostles. Rather, he is seen as a man of extraordinary insight and faith because he goes well beyond what his senses tell him.

Thomas is traditionally believed to have sailed to India in 52 CE to spread the Christian faith, and is believed to have landed at the port of Muziris, (modern-day North Paravur and Kodungalloor in modern-day Kerala state) where there was a Jewish community at the time.He is believed by the St Thomas Christian tradition to have established Ezharappallikal or Seven and Half Churches in Kerala. These churches are at Kodungallur, Palayoor, Kottakkavu (Paravur), Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kollam, and Thiruvithamcode (half church). The 4th century Syriac Christian poet and scholar St Ephrem wrote:

It was to a land of dark people he was sent, to clothe them by Baptism in white robes. His grateful dawn dispelled India’s painful darkness. It was his mission to espouse India to the One-Begotten. The merchant is blessed for having so great a treasure. Edessa thus became the blessed city by possessing the greatest pearl India could yield. Thomas works miracles in India, and at Edessa Thomas is destined to baptize peoples perverse and steeped in darkness, and that in the land of India.

Thomas is mostly known as the missionary to India through the Acts of Thomas, an early 3rd century work of unknown provenance. The Acts of Thomas connects his Indian ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but Jesus appeared to him in a night vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.” But the Apostle still demurred, so Jesus overruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in northwest India, where he put himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares. Thomas’ ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.

According to the legend, Thomas was a skilled carpenter and was asked to build a palace for the king. However, he decided to teach the king a lesson by devoting the royal grant to acts of charity. Although little is known of the immediate growth of the church, Bar-Daisan (154–223) reports that in his time there were Christian groups in North India which claimed to have been converted by Thomas and to have books and relics to prove it. But at least by the year of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India comprising Afghanistan and Baluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity. The Acts of Thomas identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadeva, one of the rulers of a 1st-century dynasty in southern India.

According to the most ancient tradition of the Mar Thoma (“Church of Thomas”) congregations along the Malabar Coast of Kerala State in southwest India, Thomas evangelized this area and then crossed to the Coromandel Coast of southeast India, where, after carrying out a second mission, he was killed in Mylapore near Madras. According to local tradition, Thomas was killed at St.Thomas Mount, near Chennai, in 72 CE and his body was interred in Mylapore. Numerous churches in India claim to possess his relics, and these remains have been moved a number of times.

  

How much of all of this can be taken is legitimate history is open to question. It was certainly quite feasible for Thomas to travel to India, but whether he did or not is another matter. Churches in Cornwall in England claim that both Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea traveled to England (Joseph bringing the Holy Grail with him), but these tales stretch credulity to the breaking point. On the other hand, a trip from the Mediterranean to India was not only possible, but was a regular trade route by sea. The question remains what would have prompted Thomas to make such a trip. The canonical Acts of the Apostles, while not utterly reliable as history gives an account of early evangelizing that accords well with the letters of Paul, who knew the apostles. The narrative in Acts suggests that the apostles, who had been devout Temple-worshipping Jews, were content to remain in Judah and work on proselytizing at home to the Jews, showing that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Jews, whereas Paul, already an itinerant Hellenized Jew, took it as his mission to travel widely outside of Judah, preaching first to Hellenized Jews throughout the Roman empire, and then to Gentiles.  All parties seemed happy with this state of affairs. It, therefore, seems unlikely that Thomas broke ranks and journeyed to India. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries numerous Christian churches sprang up across Europe and Asia and many desired bona fides that they were founded by apostles. Actually, what is astounding to me is that Christianity took firm hold so early in India – certainly by the 2nd century – whether or not Thomas was involved.

Whether or not we can trust the histories, Thomas is most decidedly linked to the region of Kerala, so a local recipe is in order. Kerala is known as the “Land of Spices” because it traded spices with Europe as well as with many ancient civilizations for millennia, the oldest historical records being trade accounts with the Sumerians from around 3000 BCE. Kerala’s cuisine is quite distinctive in India because of the large numbers of both Muslims and Christians living alongside Hindus. Hindus emphasize vegetarian dishes as well as chicken and fish, but Kerala’s large Thomas Christian population has no food restrictions, so meat dishes in the local style are common as well.

Rice and tapioca are the staple foods of Kerala. All lunches and dinners focus on them and they are served with side dishes that can be meat, fish, vegetables, or a mix of all three.A favorite festive dish of Kerala’s Thomas Christians is a well-seasoned chicken stew in coconut milk with cashews. Lamb and duck can replace chicken in the recipe. Coconuts grow in abundance in the region, and both coconut milk and grated coconut flesh are common ingredients and thickeners. Using whole, fresh spices is more traditional than using powdered ones. Sometimes I crush them a little with a mortar and pestle before the cooking process to help release the flavors. In Kerala this would normally be one side dish among many, along with condiments.

Kerala Chicken Stew

Ingredients

1 ½ lb /750 gm chicken with bones (cut into medium size pieces)
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp thinly julienned, fresh ginger
1 tbsp thinly sliced, garlic
2 or 3 green chiles, cut lengthwise
3 whole black peppercorns
3 whole cardamoms
3 whole cloves
1” cinnamon
3 bay leaves
2 star anise
4 curry leaves
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup thick coconut milk
2 ½ cups thin coconut milk
8 cashews
salt to taste
1 tbsp coconut oil

Instructions

Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the cardamom, cloves, whole peppercorn, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaves and sauté gently for 1 minute.  Add the sliced onion, ginger, garlic, green chiles and curry leaves and sauté until the onion is translucent. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ingredients to a heavy-bottom saucepan.

Add the chicken pieces, cubed carrots, potatoes, thin coconut milk and salt to taste to the saucepan. Bring to a slow simmer, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender (about 40 minutes).

Meanwhile cover the cashews with hot water and let soak for about 30 minutes. Place them with the water and the thick coconut milk in a food processor or blender, and blend to a smooth paste.

When the chicken is cooked add the cashew and coconut milk paste to the pot, and simmer, uncovered, for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened a little.

Heat the coconut left in the skillet over medium-high heat, add the sliced shallots and curry leaves, and sauté until they are golden. Add them to the stew, simmer an extra minute then serve in a bowl along with plain boiled basmati rice and flat bread.

 

 

Feb 092016
 

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Today is the birthday (1737) [O.S. January 29, 1736] of Thomas Paine, an English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. He was one of the so-called Founding Fathers of the United States, primarily because he published the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, and he inspired the rebels in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era rhetoric of transnational human rights. He has been called “a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination.” The “corsetmaker” piece was a deliberate slur by opponents. He was a “stay” maker, for sure, but the stays he made were not the whalebone stiffening of corsets, but thick ropes used on sailing ships.

Paine was born in Thetford, in the county of Norfolk, and emigrated to the British North American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. Virtually every rebel read (or listened to a reading of) his powerful pamphlet Common Sense (1776), which crystallized the rebellious demand for independence from Great Britain. His The American Crisis (1776–83) was a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

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Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote Rights of Man (1791), in part a defense of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on British writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel. In 1792, despite not being able to speak French, he was elected to the French National Convention. The Girondists regarded him as an ally. Consequently, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/death-of-marat/ .

In December 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794. He became notorious because of his pamphlets The Age of Reason (1793–94), in which he advocated deism, promoted reason and free thought, and argued against institutionalized religion in general and Christian doctrine in particular. He also published the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1797), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income. In 1802, he returned to the U.S. where he died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral partly because he had been ostracized for his ridicule of Christianity, but also because in the 18th century funerals were small affairs for close intimates only.

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Paine’s Common Sense was influential and incendiary for many reasons. Most importantly, it was written in language that common people could easily grasp. Paine’s ideas were not remotely original, but the arguments of the social philosophers of the day, on which he based his writings, were not widely known outside elite circles. He thus popularized growing revolutionary and democratic sentiments. It must be noted, however, that his words met with some resistance from the elite of the colonies, some of whom, such as John Adams, president after Washington, were opposed to democracy as tantamount to rule by the uneducated.

His arguments against British rule of the colonies may be summarized:

It was absurd for an island to rule a continent.

The North American colonies were not a “British nation,” but composed of influences and peoples from all of Europe.

Even if Britain were the “mother country” of North America, that made her actions all the more horrendous, for no mother would harm her children so brutally.

Being a part of Britain would drag the colonies into unnecessary European wars, and impede international commerce.

The physical distance between the two nations made governing the colonies from England unwieldy. If some wrong were to be petitioned to Parliament, it would take a year or more before the colonies received a response.

The New World was discovered shortly before the Reformation. The Puritans believed that God wanted to give them a safe haven from the persecution of British rule.

Britain ruled the colonies for her own benefit, and did not consider the best interests of the colonists when making laws.

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On February 19, 1768, he was appointed excise officer to Lewes in Sussex, on the south coast of England. You can’t visit the town without immediately seeing evidence of his presence there from plaques to place names. Lewes is a town with a tradition of opposition to the monarchy and pro-republican sentiments going back to the revolutionary decades of the 17th century. Paine lived above the 15th century Bull House, the tobacco shop of Samuel Ollive and Esther Ollive. In Lewes Paine first became involved in civic matters, and he appears in the Town Book as a member of the Court Leet, the governing body for the town. He was also a member of the parish vestry, an influential local church group whose responsibilities for parish business would include collecting taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor. On March 26, 1771, at the age of 34, he married Elizabeth Ollive, his landlord’s daughter.

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Paine is known to have attended meetings and dined at the White Hart Inn whose chef/owner, William Verrall, recorded all of his recipes in a book that is still in print. Verrall decried the plain eating habits of the English at the time and trumpeted the tastes of the French. At this time the English gentry had mixed feelings about Frenchified “made” dishes – stews, ragouts, complex sauces &c – preferring steaks, chops, and roasts. What we might call a meat and potatoes diet these days. Verrall advocated fricassees and casseroles as well as delicate pairings of ingredients. Well, Paine, being a common man, loved mashed potatoes. Not much scope there for a recipe of the day. Instead I turn to Anglo-French cooking of the 18th century. Here is a typical recipe for an omelet stuffed with poached sorrel – an underused green vegetable these days. It’s easy to grow, and can get out of hand if you do not watch out. It looks a bit like spinach, but is a perennial. Because of the high oxalic acid content it’s a little sour. To make a ragout, poach shredded sorrel leaves in light stock, then drain it and squeeze out excess liquid.

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Here’s the French recipe for omelette à la gendarme taken from Les Soupers de la Cour, Menon (1755) found here http://18thccuisine.blogspot.it/2015/02/omlette-la-gendarme-military-omelette.html .

Omelette à la Gendarme.

Ayez un petit ragoût de farce d’oseille bien fini & bien lié; ajoutez-y du Parmesan rapé & mies de pain; faites une omelette naturelle, un peu mince; dressez-la dans le plat; mettez dessus le ragoût de farce; couvrez avec une autre omelette; garnissez tout autour avec des filets de pain frit que vous collez avec dublanc d’oeuf, de façon que les deux omelttes n’en fassent qu’une, sans que l’on voie la farce; arrosez le dessus avec du beurre; pannez moitié mies de pain & Parmesan; faites prendre couleur au four.

Loosely translated: Make a little sorrel stew (well finished and well appointed) and add some grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Make an omelet, a little thin. Put it in a dish, spread on the sorrel stew, and cover cover with another omelet. Garnish around with slices of fried bread that you stick with down with egg white. Sprinkle the top with butter, and a mix of breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Put it in the oven to give it a little color.

I’d make the omelet first, dot the top with butter, breadcrumbs and cheese, and slip it under the broiler for a minute or two. Then garnish with fried bread or toast.