• Being a body

    The other day, I caught a bad case of The Comparison Bug when it comes to my running. I started worrying about things like pace and progress, even though I know that I’m forever a member of the Slow Running Club. So, I reached out to some of my Orange Crush teammates, and through their wisdom and encouragement, I realized once again what I do is enough. I am enough, and I don’t need to strive and work myself to the bone to prove my worth. In that moment, I needed them to remind me of that.

    In church on Sunday, my husband reminded us all that we — the collective we — are not a machine. We are not cogs and gears and wheels and wires. We are a body, interdependent and mutual; we give and take; we need and rely on one another because, in the end, we belong to each other. We all have our own part to play, and our parts are not meant to mimic anyone else’s. They are unique and distinctive — but not meant to stand alone. Not either/or. Both/and.

    So, I guess that’s why I’m simply baffled by the behavior of some who call themselves Christians this week in the conversations about debt forgiveness. If we are a body, don’t we want all the parts of ourselves to be healthy & whole so we, as an organism, can flourish? It doesn’t matter if you don’t have loans or you paid them off — your brother or sister or neighbor or coworker does. Our sacred text is, quite literally, full of examples of how the forgiveness of debts is holy. Of how much we’ve been given out of an abundance of grace. There is enough to go around, enough for all of us — more than enough, really. But there are people who need us to help them get it. Perhaps our problem is that we started looking at ourselves as a machine instead of a body. When a machine breaks, we throw out whatever part stopped working. But not so with a body. When part of a body is hurt, the rest of the body compensates for it until it heals. It releases extra white blood cells to fight infection. It uses pain signals to alert your brain. Monocytes activate to control inflammation. Parts work harder not because they have to but because they’re taking extra care of what has become weak. Isn’t that a better — whole-r — way to live?

  • A Better Story | part three

    I look around, and I see evidence of the brokenness everywhere. And so there’s this tension between the ugly truth of our reality and where scripture teaches we were intended to be. And while I believe in human potential and progress and the ability to create beauty from ashes, I also believe we all are salvific wanderers. We cannot save ourselves — not wholly. Not in the way that recreates and restores. We need something more, something beyond our mere flesh and bones, for we truly are dust and to dust we will return.

    That something more for me is Jesus. I don’t know how it all works; the theories of atonement don’t much interest me, if I’m being honest. All I know is that I read the scriptures, and in the brown-skinned rabbi from Nazareth, I see all that is righteous and kind and good.

    I see that he offers a new way of living. And I guess that’s what salvation really is, at the end of the day.

    But here’s the thing: we were not created to be saved OUT of this world. That thinking is not only theologically incorrect but it’s also cowardly. Churches teach (both implicitly and explicitly) that the ultimate goal of salvation is heaven — to be assured one day we’ll live in our mansions in the sky, for earth as we know it will be destroyed. But. But. But. … Nowhere in scripture does it walk about heaven as the eternal destiny for Christians. Nor does it teach that heaven is a separate location from earth. We, as created beings, were made to dwell in and care for this world, this world that’s also God’s good creation. He loves it. The new heaven and new earth does not mean that what we have now will be wiped away. It will be redeemed, which quite literally means to be saved. Ephesians 1:9-20: God will gather up all things in both heaven and earth. Acts 3:21: we hope in a “universal salvation that God announced long ago.” If we truly understand the entire narrative of the scriptural story, then we ought to believe redemption is for the entirety of the created order — including the earth.

    My problem with the Western Church (well, one of them, anyway) is that it is tragically misguided in how it approaches and talks about salvation. We’re taught that there’s a mansion somewhere up in the sky with our name on it, that we’ll all be floating around like disembodied soul wisps in the clouds, and that everything on the earth will essentially be destroyed when Jesus comes back so it doesn’t realllllllly matter, does it, what we do until then? But Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that the kingdom of God was to come — he said it was already here, among us. He, as well as his audience in the ancient world, understood that salvation aims towards a full and extensive transformation of the world. As my brilliant advisor J. Richard Middleton wrote, “No dimension of earthly life is in principle excluded — neither bodily health nor social and economic realities.” Today’s Christianity is seeped in dualism, which teaches that there’s a divide between what is “spiritual” and what is not, which has led to a softening of what salvation really means. It doesn’t look like the kingdom we’ve been expecting — that’s precisely the point. Many are tempted to dismiss it because, to them, it looks too much like the defamed “social gospel.” Yet God cares for people in their minds, bodies, hearts, and souls; it *all* matters. Refugees finding safety matters. Hungry people being fed matters. Those who are sick having equitable access to healthcare matters. No area of our world or our culture is meant to be untouched by Jesus; we are the ones who have drawn lines in the sand to keep him out, to relegate him to help with this but not that, with those who *deserve* it but not those free-loaders. We, fellow Christians, are the problem. I’ve written before about the Hebrew word “nephesh” (in English, “soul”) and how ancient Jews understood the soul to be inseparable from the body. The idea of a soul that is separate didn’t come until much later, with Plato and the Greeks. So when we’re telling people their souls need saved but neglecting to make sure they have access to basic human rights? We’ve strayed from the ways of Jesus.

  • A Better Story | part two

    The cultural mandate of Christians, found in the Genesis story, is to care for, tend to, and cultivate the earth. However, many of us have gravely misunderstood the implications of power and the Imago Dei (divine image) that we bear. It’s blatantly evident in the way natural resources are exploited, animal species are hunted to extinction, the climate crisis grows worse every single day, and the land is continuously raped for the sake of consumption and greed. Bearing God’s image doesn’t mean that we humans are given the authority to lord power over the rest of creation, assuming our own authority.

    Ahh. There it is. Assuming our own authority.

    Remember that tree in Genesis 3, the one the first humans were told not to eat of? When they tasted the fruit, it was not just their disobedience that broke their covenant with God. It was their autonomy. Autonomy; a Greek word. Autos: self. Nomos: govern or rule. See, the problem with autonomy is that it makes us think we get to be God. It would have us believe (and act) as if OUR rights, OUR wants, OUR needs, OUR desires, OUR plans are more important than anyone or anything else’s. It tells us “me first!” and “mine first!” and even “America first!” and grossly perverts our calling to be God’s image-bearers in the world.

    We humans are surely not nearly as important as we think we are. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s hope for us yet.

    Here’s the thing: I really do believe in us. Some might tell me that I’m being naive. Silly. Simple-minded. And maybe they’re right. I could be wrong; Lord knows I don’t have all the answers, let alone most of them. But I’m willing to be wrong. I’m willing to stake my life on the fact that humans are inherently good because I know that Genesis 1 and my tov’ness (tov: Hebrew: good) came before Genesis 3.

    Maybe I’m wrong. But I’d rather live like I believe I’m right because it is precisely that belief that propels me to work for restoration in my here-and-now life. Creation care is not just a political talking point but actually part of my responsibility as a believer in Christ. Things like reducing waste and my family’s use of single use plastics, growing my own garden to shorten the food supply chain, and walking more and driving less are all examples of how I am working to lessen my carbon footprint. Why do I care about that? Well, simply put, because I believe the earth matters. By taking care of it and stewarding it well, I am being obedient to God. I am also partnering with God in God’s redemptive work in the world. Salvation belongs to God alone, of course, but as God’s children, we are invited to participate in that.

    Additionally, that participation is not limited to caring for the earth. Since I believe God is working to bring redemption to all things, it would only make sense that this belief will affect all things. It affects how I vote; I choose candidates whose policies promise to uplift and care for the most marginalized in our society, for I believe God has a special concern for them. It affects my relationships and how I conduct myself in the world, seeking to live at peace with all and to harm none. It affects what I choose to spend money on, as I opt to support businesses that give back to communities and the world instead of hoarding profits.

    Can you imagine what this world could look like if we all stopped trying to be our own little gods?

  • A Better Story | part one

    Christianity is supposed to tell a better story, and I’m here to reclaim it.

    God created, and all that had been made was deemed “very good.” Many Christians seem to bypass this part of the scriptures, choosing to begin their biblical narrative with the fall of humanity in Genesis 3. This does a grave disservice to the faith because it plants the presupposition (even if it’s unarticulated) that humanity’s brokenness is more important than their glory.

    But our faith is one of a world made good: breathtakingly, awe-inspiringly good, marked by Genesis’ use of the Hebrew word טוֹב (‘tov’) to denote how God viewed creation. Tov doesn’t just mean good; that word is used so much in the English language that it’s lost much of its meaning. Tov is the highest, purest, fullest, most dynamic form of good there can be.

    & God’s plan for redemption is not to throw out all of that good creation (including humanity) because of its brokenness. Rather, redemption means that God is at work putting things back together, re-creating this world and all its inhabitants to be tov once more.

    Beloved, you may have been told by the Church all sorts of wrong stories about who you are. Maybe you’ve even been tempted to believe them. But here is the Good News: you were made GOOD. Tov. Exceedingly, incredibly good. At your core, that is who you are — don’t believe anything or anyone that tells you differently. And God has not given up on creation (though some days, I wonder if God should.) *That* is the better story, one that I believe with all my heart, one I’ve staked my very life on and one I’m committed to forever proclaiming. Christians, let’s start there, shall we?

    After all, creation is our culture. So, what are we making?

    In the account of Genesis 1, we read humanity is created in God’s own image and according to God’s likeness. In Latin, this is the “Imago Dei” — the Divine Image. This sets humanity apart from the rest of creation, which was created good but not implicitly with the Imago Dei.

    Humans, then, are instilled with the same propensity God has to create. The anthropological link between agriculture and culture is fascinating, especially as we look closely at scripture. Genesis 2:5-7 notes humans were not created until AFTER the Garden was made *and* there was water, a necessary agricultural tool for cultivating it. God provided all the materials needed so humanity could cultivate, care for, and tend to the land — which is our mandate, evident in Gen. 2:15. Why would God command us to care for something that didn’t matter? Clearly, the created world is important to God, and it ought to be important to us, for we have been tasked with tending to it. From the Garden comes fields, then farms, then villages and towns. Our story begins in a garden and ends in a city — a beautiful, diverse, multicultural, multiethnic, and multilinguistic city.

    We have been given the task of creating, progressing, growing, evolving, developing. Cultivation is seen in the way we humans grow crops and design buildings and raise children and write books. It’s in how we cook dinners for our families and make art and run for office and carve things from wood and fix broken pipes and volunteer at our kids’ schools. By doing this, we create culture; we make the world around us. Which means if we want a different world, we can make it. But we need each other; this creation was never meant to be something we do alone. We need mutual partnerships with our families and our neighbors and our communities so that we may all walk each other home.

  • The mosaic of God

    I don’t know who needs to hear this, but: there is no wrong way to have a body.

    I know that social media and culture and sometimes even the voice in our own heads tells us that there’s a “right” body, an “ideal” body – and that we must be damaged goods if we’re unable to conform to it. That our body must be a mistake if it’s not the same as what the world deems as “good.”

    But can I tell you an ancient and beautiful story? In the beginning, there was nothingness, and in the beginning, God said to one another, “Let us make humans in our image.” And then God envisioned and imagined and created bodies. There were bodies with skin the color of clay and the color of fresh milk and the color of rose petals and the color of an inky midnight sky. There were bodies with dimpled buttocks and doughy bellies; bodies with taut thighs and bulging biceps; bodies with angled cheekbones and jutting ribs. There were bodies that loved women and bodies that loved men and bodies that loved both and bodies that loved neither. There were bodies with extra chromosomes, and bodies with missing limbs, and bodies with two seeing eyes; or maybe one or maybe none. There were bodies tall as tree trunks and bodies short and squat like mushrooms. There were bodies that felt at home being female, and bodies that felt at home being male, and some bodies felt at home being both, or neither, or somewhere in between. There were bodies with eyes like rich cocoa and icy glaciers and deep forests, bodies with hair like fine straw and bodies with hair like the swell of a wave, and bodies with lots of hair and bodies with very little.

    And God saw them all, and God declared them very, very good.

    Our bodies were purpose-fully, wonder-fully made by a God who dreamed them exactly as they are as a direct representation of who God is. Body diversity is a glorious gift that gives us glimpses of the divine in every single person’s flesh and bone. God didn’t just make white, thin, abled, cishet bodies because the image of God is a beautiful mosaic and not a uniform pencil-sketch. Black bodies, brown bodies, disabled bodies, trans bodies, nonbinary bodies, fat bodies – these bodies all bear the image of God who made them in God’s own image. And so when we reject them, we’re rejecting God.

    There is no wrong way to have a body, no matter what anyone else – or sometimes even yourself – tells you.
    You are very, very good, friend. God says so.

    // A word of God for the people of God.

    (Photo is a selfie taken by my beautifully, wonderfully made daughter – a closeup of her one seeing eye with a glimpse of her blind eye in the peripheral.)

  • The lesson of Palm Sunday

    She pressed a cross made from her palm branch into my hand before we parted ways. Her fingers had been folding, creasing, twisting as we spoke. It’s been almost a year, I remember thinking. She’s never wanted to talk before. How could I possibly have known everything she’s been going through?

    And I got to thinking about this Palm Sunday, when the crowds gathered in expectation of a warrior king seated upon a mighty steed. They got a rabbi from Galilee on a donkey instead — him, and his rag-tag group of followers: unemployed fishermen. A despised tax collector. Women of questionable (at best) reputation.

    And I wonder how often we might miss God because She comes to us in ways that we’re not expecting? How often do we overlook the divine because it doesn’t look like what we’re used to?

    Maybe that’s the whole point that rabbi on the donkey was trying to make. God likes to show us that things are not always what they seem. He reminds us over and over and over again that he’s not here to keep the status quo, that he’s unconcerned with peace-keeping but, instead, peace-making, that the empire was never meant to free us — which is exactly why he upends it.

    Maybe freedom comes in disguise, in subtle ways we aren’t always accustomed to looking for.

    But freedom comes nonetheless — for all of us, yes, but for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized first.

    And that can be uncomfortable for those of us with privilege to acknowledge. Because we’re not always good at laying down what we have so the last can be first.

    But as Jesus reminds us — even if we choose to turn our backs, shut our eyes, stop up our ears, the stones themselves would cry out in this liberation song. Because freedom is coming. And it’s inviting us along.

  • How to dye Easter eggs using all natural ingredients!

    If you know me, you know that in the past few years I’ve been more intentional in trying to live a toxin-free lifestyle. Once I realized how many chemicals are found in so many products I used to use every day, I’ve made it my mission to make as many natural swaps as possible. So, when it came time to dye eggs this year, I really wanted to try making my own dyes from food scraps. I am so pleased with how the colors turned out, and I’m excited to share with you what I did so you can try it, too!

    As far as ingredients, you’ll need

    • hardboiled eggs
    • water
    • vinegar
    • tumeric (approximately 3 tbsp)
    • purple cabbage (4 cups chopped)
    • beets (do NOT use canned; fresh is best. You’ll need 4 cups chopped)
    • onion skins (4 cups; that’s skins from about 12 onions)

    To make each dye, you’ll add to a pot

    • main ingredient – tumeric OR cabbage OR beets OR onion skins. Put this in first, then add
    • 4 cups water
    • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

    Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and let simmer for 45 minutes. Then strain the dye solution into a bowl and let it cool completely. Once cooled, you can start dyeing your eggs! Use a slotted spoon to immerse/remove eggs. Here are some color combinations you can try!

    • yellow: soak eggs in tumeric solution. Check after 30 minutes but continue to soak until desired color is achieved.
    • orange: soak eggs in onion skin solution. Check after 30 minutes but continue to soak until desired color is achieved.
    • pink: soak eggs in beets solution. Check after 30 minutes but continue to soak until desired color is achieved.
    • blue: soak eggs in purple cabbage solution. Check after 30 minutes but continue to soak until desired color is achieved.
    • lavender: soak eggs in beet solution for 30-45 minutes to get a good base pink color. Then soak in the cabbage solution for about 15 minutes or longer until you get the desired color.
    • chartreuse (green): soak eggs in tumeric solution for approximately 30 minutes. Then soak in the cabbage solution for 15 minutes or longer until you get the desired shade of green.

    That’s it! Super easy, right? Let me know if you give these a try!

  • Springtime Nest Cookies

    If you’re looking for an easy sweet treat to celebrate spring or Easter, I’ve got you! These only take a handful of ingredients and come together in no time. You can also play with the recipe a bit to find out what you like best!

    You’ll need

    • a bag of butterscotch chips OR a bag of regular chocolate chips OR 1/2 bag of each (feel free to use a bag of each if you like it extra sweet!)
    • 2/3 c. of smooth peanut butter
    • a bag of chow mein noodles OR 1 c. crushed cornflakes OR 1 c. crushed rice krispies
    • 1/3 c. quick oats OR 1/3 c. shredded coconut (unsweetened is best)
    • candy eggs

    Combine the butterscotch/chocolate chips with peanut butter in a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 30 second increments until everything is melted. Stir together.

    Stir in all other ingredients EXCEPT for candy eggs until well combined. Line 2 cookie trays with wax or parchment paper. Spoon out dollops of the mixture and immediately press candy eggs into the top. Let cool on the counter or chill in fridge. Makes approximately 24 nests.

    Enjoy!

  • The Table of My Ancestors: Week 24 (Portugal)

    I can’t believe this the last week of this project. Honestly, the last six months have flown by! It’s been fascinating to explore my heritage through cooking recipes from the lands my ancestors came from: Scotland; North Africa; Egypt; Spain; Senegambia; and Portugal. Most of those regions were a complete surprise to me when they showed up in my 23 and Me DNA results. But I discovered the most beautiful thing when I dove in and started researching them: an unexpected sense of connection. Connection to beautiful places and fascinating people and celebrated recipes and complicated histories. Connection to something bigger than myself. I write in my book that not knowing where I came from has always left me feeling untethered, like it was me all alone out here in this big world, not knowing what my place was or where I belonged. This project, combined taking the ancestry test, has resolved that for me. I am Scottish. I am Moroccan. I am Egyptian. I am Spanish. These are new identities for me, ones that I tried timidly at first, unsure of how they’d fit — like trying on a coat in a boutique’s fitting room. But over the past six months, they have become a part of me, etched themselves into my blood and bones. I know who I am. I know where I came from. It’s an incredible, beautiful feeling.

    To celebrate, I chose to end this project by baking a cake. Since it needed to be a Portuguese recipe, I wanted something that Portuguese hosts would serve for family or friends. Enter caramelized apple cake. It’s essentially an upside down apple cake with dark, homemade caramel and sliced apple on the bottom, topped with a rich and fluffy vanilla and lemon cake.

    Assembling the base

    Apples have an interesting history of being used in literature and art to convey symbolism. Typically, they’re meant to communicate ideas of love, beauty, and sentimentality. In the Christian religion, the apple is thought of to be the fruit that Adam and Eve ate of in the Garden of Eden (though the biblical text does not actually specify what type of fruit it is!), giving it a bit of a bad rap. However, it also symbolizes knowledge, since Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In some artist depictions of Jesus, he has an apple in his hand, denoting the redemption he brings to the brokenness originating in the garden. For all those reasons and more, an apple cake seemed like the perfect ending for this journey I have been on for the last six months.

    I think I’ll probably be a little bored with my same old recipes going forward, so I’m always on the lookout for new ones, particularly if they’re meaningful to your family or culture! What are your favorites? Comment below and let me know. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for embarking on this project with me. So many of you have let me know how interesting it’s been and that you love seeing the things I made. It’s been a gift to have you along for the ride. Thank you.

  • Introducing…Until the Bones Shine!

    After nearly five years of working on this book, it was released into the world this week! I am equal parts proud and terrified and excited and exhausted and relieved and overjoyed. Basically, as per usual, I am feeling allll the feelings. All of them.

    The idea for a memoir had been floating around in my brain for a long time. I know that I’ve lived an awful lot of life in my 38 years, and though many chapters of my story were brutally painful, I can also look back and see how much I learned and grew during those times. It’s no secret that I believe wholeheartedly in the power of stories. Prior to the written word, history was passed from generation to generation through oral narrative. Visual storytelling, using rudimentary drawings on cave walls, dates back 30,000 years at least. It is human nature to use the power of story to inform, instruct, and inspire. And every single one of us has our own story: things we’ve experienced or learned, things we can share with the world to help others feel less alone. If there’s one thing I know to be true, it’s that being brave with our own stories gives others permission to be brave with theirs, too. That’s what this book is for me: a gift, an offering, a way to help others find the light in their darkness and understand that the world needs their stories, too.

    I spent Launch Day at our family cabin in the Adirondack Mountains with my husband, children, and in-laws. I was a bundle of nerves the whole day, but the good kind of nerves; it was thrilling to see orders coming in, share reviews from my launch team, and hear about the impact this little book-baby of mine has had on those who’ve read it. I got to see it on shelves of a real, live bookstore, and in less than 48 hours, the Book House had already sold out!

    The thing that has meant the most, I think, is seeing my children react to this book. In many ways, I wrote it for them. It’s the story of journeys: my journey before them, and how our journeys entwined to make a new one. My daughter, who is quiet and typically scarce with her praise (hello, teenage years!) wants to read it for her English class. My son, while watching me print labels for shipping, had the sweetest conversation with my husband in the other room, one that I don’t think he knew I was listening to.

    Atticus: “Dada, Mama is doing a good job with her book!”
    Kyle: “She sure is, buddy!
    Atticus, after a pause: “And she never, ever gave up. Even when it was hard.”
    Kyle, smiling: “Yeah. I’m pretty proud of her.”
    Atticus: “I’m proud of her, too.”

    Cue the sobs. My kids are watching, and they’ve heard me talk about this book for actual years now, and they know how important it is to me. It’s been such a gift to have them witness this process and that they know they are in integral part of this whole story.

    Until the Bones Shine is available on elenadelhagen.com with free shipping, on Amazon, and in the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, New York.