A chocolate lava muffin with a scoop of vanilla ice cream

 

I’ve been wrestling with reverse culture shock as I’ve returned to the States.  It seems to get worse every time, maybe because we’re getting more and more used to the French environment.  So, how to cope with culture shock?  My response seems to be baking, surrounding myself with delicious smells and tastes familiar with home.  What we cook is a link between these two worlds.  So I’ve baked brownies (from scratch, like we make in France), buttermilk biscuits, and the ultimate dessert  - moelleux au chocolat.  Alton Brown calls them Chocolate Lava Muffins, and they’re simply amazing.   His recipe is the one I use, though I disagree with Alton’s need to add melted ice cream to the delightful gooey chocolate center…

"Why?" spray painted on the side of a brick building

 

Jeremie and I were at the science campus.  He’s a student there.  But Jeremie is excited to embark on spiritual discussions with others and that’s what we were doing.  We had a simple survey with only a few questions.  What are people’s main objections to God?  Your biggest obstacles?  And if you could ask God one question, what would it be?  Talking with three guys, their main objection was that it just wasn’t logical to believe in God.  One was especially cutting, “It’s like growing up and not believing in Santa Claus anymore.” He smirked.  When we got to the question he would ask God he said, “Why?”  Jeremie asked what he meant by that.  “Just why, that’s all.”

Isn’t that interesting?  Because in the presumed conflict between science and God, WHY is the question that science CAN’T answer.  With a mechanical engineering degree, I’ve studied a bit of science.  It goes to great lengths to find out how our world works.  But it can’t touch questions like: Why is it this way?  Why do I struggle?  or Why are we here?  When I want to know how long it’ll take to get to my destination I’ll break out an equation.  But if I wonder why I’m going there, can science tell me?  Only God can answer the real why questions.  That poor science student had never sipped from that fountain.  Maybe, someday, through that pride, the water of life will get to those parched lips.

Playing bass with the praise band

 

Over a year ago I wrote an email to my friend Aric.  We’re good friends, roommates in college, and in each other’s weddings.  Aric plays bass guitar, and I was thinking how fun it would be to play.  Aric wrote back about playing bass, passive vs. active, four or five strings, and so on.  This went on and on, and when I’d get out my guitar to play, sometimes I’d practice scales on those bottom four strings, imagining the rumble a bass would make.  When they heard I that play guitar at my church they were quick to say I should bring it in and play.  But there are already a handful of guitar players there, who all play at least as good as me.  The last thing they need is another guitar, but a bass, that would give some depth!  The months went by and my dreams continued to mull. 

Money was an object, because not only do you have to buy a bass, but also an amp.  Finally I thought perhaps I could afford to get one when I go back to the States this summer.  Maybe there was hope.  Then one morning I was on the train heading to a conference when my friend Aaron called.  Aaron is a gifted worship leader, and is asked to do that wherever he goes.  He wanted to know if I would play bass guitar for the national conference in February.  Another colleague was bringing both his electric guitar and his bass and would let me play.  What an opportunity!  I got to play bass with the band, learning along the way.  We practiced and jammed and played and, wow, I really had fun.  I think there is hope, and this dream just might come true!

Birthday cake decorated like a Pokémon ball

 

Efrem and Silas both love it when Daddy decorates their birthday cakes.  One funny thing though, is that Silas doesn’t really like to eat them.  In fact, he didn’t eat a bite of Efrem’s cake at all!  Somehow, in the dessert sense, the apple has rolled away from the tree.  The rest of us fully enjoyed Efrem’s carrot cake with cream cheese frosting – all the more for us!

So, this year Silas had a Pokémon cake.  A pokéball is red and white.  He didn’t seem to mind that the red looked a little pink.  The general idea was there.  But Efrem wanted a Spiderman cake.  You just CAN’T have a pink Spiderman.  I looked to no avail for some red sprinkles, and finally my folks came to the rescue and mailed me some.  Efrem’s Spiderman cake features red sprinkles over the cream cheese frosting.  I used a wide mouth canning funnel to control where they fell on the cake.  The detail and webbing were made using black licorice, which is becoming indispensable for their cakes.

 

Spiderman birthday cake

A homeless man in Rennes, from Ouest-France

The three of us (Hubert, Laurie and Dan) walked half way up the stairs. In our backpack were some turkey and cheese sandwiches, a thermos of warm soup, some plastic bowls, spoons and some fruit. The stairs led up the side of a church where handfuls of blankets lay in disarray, Omar and Abdel lay amongst them, struggling to talk almost as much as we struggled to understand them. A third friend came up on the left and sat down on a chair poised on the stoop. We asked if they'd like some warm soup. "And some coffee?" Omar added. Sorry, we don't have coffee, but we have some soup and sandwiches we'd like to share. We stepped forward and Hubert rustled in his backpack.

Abdel started mumbling unwanted commentary and his seated friend shouted at him in crude terms. Two of them accepted the soup, which was still piping hot. They refused the spoons, preferring to sip directly from the bowls. We poured ourselves some bowls too and asked how long they'd been in Rennes. Abdel got up and refused the food, mumbling back at the others. Omar started yelling, "You're jealous of me! You're jealous!" Apparently he'd been interviewed by someone from the local paper, and was quite proud of the write-up and photo that appeared. He said he was a star, and his friend was jealous. This same exchange was shouted a number of times. Their angry shouts were never directed toward us, in fact they seemed genuinely thankful and courteous. Omar started unraveling his story, which started with serving in the Army in Algeria. Abdel stumbled down the stairs to buy another bottle of whiskey. Omar carried on about how he used to steal medicine from pharmacies and give them to his neighbors, about having one of his toes amputated at a local clinic, all the while sipping from a bottle of white wine. We listened. We tried to understand. They accepted the sandwiches, setting them aside for another time. They kept all the fruit, though they couldn't eat the apples because of problems with their teeth. I wondered what they eat all the other nights we don't come, where Abdel gets the money to buy whiskey, and how they retain any warmth sitting on that cold cement stoop. I was standing with my toes over the edge of the gulf that separates our lives. All I could do was pray. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the needs around us. I'm not against random acts of kindness, but I'd prefer intentional acts of kindness. At least Omar had a warm bowl of soup last night, and someone willing to listen to his story. Beyond that, let's just pray the the Lord's compassionate, all understanding and wise hand reaches out to bless him as only He can.

Postage stamp of Anne de Bretagne

I've had a few occasions to give friends a 'tour' of Rennes.  What makes a place interesting for me isn't just the history, but the stories of the people behind them.  When I give a tour of Rennes I talk about the Knight du Guesclin , Mayor Leperdit who opposed the brutal Jean-Baptiste Carrier during the Revolution, but the central character in Brittany and Rennes story is Anne de Bretagne.  Here is her story:

Brittany finally yielded to France in 1532, after 600+ years of fighting for their independance.  The pivotal character in this story is an 11 year old girl named Anne.  Described as small and thin, charming and rosy cheeked.  One of Anne's legs was shorter than the other, causing a limp. To fix the problem, she wore a higher heel on that leg.  In her time, Anne was the richest woman in Europe.

Her dad was named Francis II, the last Duke of Brittany.  Unfortunately for Anne, Francis lost a war with France and was forced to sign a treaty (Treaty of Verger) saying his daughters couldn’t marry without the consent of the King of France.  About a year later Francis dies after falling from his horse during a leisurely ride.  So Anne becomes the Duchesse of Brittany, at the age of 11.

Read more: Anne de Bretagne