Posts by Arthur Thelesser

Human becoming. Likes making pies.

Culinary Attempts #1

So I make pies. A previous iteration of this blog suggested “Books. Pies. Stories.” which is still not that bad.

Anyhow, I thought I’d bake today. It’s the first day of vacation.

I made a pumpkin pie for a family in my congregation that needs some home-baked goodness. Behold!

Crisco/butter crust and pumpkin pie recipe from Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott–I highly recommend you buy this book because it is incredible.

There was a little wiggle in the middle when I pulled it out, as it should be. It’s orange. There’s one little fissure because I grazed it with a spoon by accident. And the crust is imperfect yet browned–I’m happy.

So I also thought I’d make a checkerboard cake, or try to. I make pies–I’m not a big cake baker. But I looked up a recipe for a vanilla cake, and a chocolate cake, and a buttercream frosting, and here it is:

HAHAHA! Just kidding. Here’s the real disaster:

Yup, ran out of frosting. This is right before I tossed it out.

So I learned a few things in this process–and this is a learning process, I want to bake, and baking is a practice just like a musical instrument, or a fruitful prayer life.

  1. Get recipes for cakes from the same source. I found a guaranteed light and fluffy vanilla cake recipe, that never fails and is like angel cake–and it was! And it could not hold up to being sliced up (more on that in a bit). I found a deep, dark chocolate cake that looked great and also was dense–so there wasn’t a lot of balance. Lesson learned–same source, two recipes.
  2. Let the cakes cool completely. This one should go without much further explanation–I was in a rush for no discernible reason, and I went too fast, and then paid for it.
  3. Make too much frosting, not too little. I thought I should double the recipe, and didn’t. And then I ran out at that little dollop up top. (I should also not sample said frosting as much as I have. I may have had pretzel chips dipped in frosting for lunch. This, after I hit 217 pounds today! I am a complex and lovable human becoming, okay?
  4. Remove the middle ring from the outer ring before cutting the inner ring. Otherwise, the middle ring won’t come out right, and will break, and then there will be pieces crumbling and collapsing and the whole thing’s a chaotic, delicious circus.
  5. Clean up, see what went right and what went wrong, and move on. It’s okay to have a baking fail–it’s great, even, because I did something I’ve never done before. I didn’t do it well, but hey, cake is still cake. I’ll focus on only cakes some day, and not have a pie in the midst. And I’ll definitely focus on pies some day, because I’m so much better at making them.

But behold: you can see a little bit of what was supposed to happen, right? RIGHT?!

There is a clear checkerboard pattern in this autopsy photo!

Wednesday Weigh-In #3 (Halfweigh There)

At the start of 2020, at around 240 pounds, I made the goal to weigh under two hundred by the end of the year. That’s a reasonable, healthy goal–40 pounds over 52 weeks is just under 4/5ths of a pound a week, well within range of moderate diet and exercise.

I stuck at or above 235 for the first four months of 2020, for this simple reason: if nothing changes, nothing changes. I made no effort to assess, let alone edit, my diet or (in)activity, but I still faithfully weighed in every two weeks, despondent.

I started a program that changes one’s mindset and habits gradually. I’m on like, week nine, and it’s interesting that they’re repeating original lessons, I guess in case we forget, but I’d also assume because this is very, very simple to understand: don’t eat too much, don’t eat too much delicious garbage, and move more.

Since aiming for 10,000 steps a day, introducing moderate bodyweight exercises (the worst twenty minutes of my day!) and being a little more aware, I am now, on July 1, halfway through 220, at 217.2 pounds. I have officially lost 20 pounds on this program (which remains nameless because they’re not paying me to endorse them… yet?) and I could not be happier.

The little weight graph in the app (one gets to weigh in every day, to see that weight is in flux, not a straight line of decline) suggests I may hit 199.9 before my thirty-sixth birthday. That would be neat–and I’ll bet, since I can see I’ve slimmed up, but haven’t lost some curves and, er, pockets, that I can still tone up and lose some more, healthily and intentionally, once I cross that two-buck threshold.

Monday Mull: Revelation 21:1-8

I’m never sure what to do with Revelation. I love the letters in the beginning, once I learned how to read them contextually and not presently. (YOU are not lukewarm, you do not need to worry about being spat from God’s mouth.)

My friend Spiff, with whom I co-host Two on One (a conversation on pop culture, church and the intersections inherent), loves the Jezebel preacher mentioned in the opening letters–there must have been a woman who would not shut up, who cheesed off John of Patmos, and who had a following for her different views.

And there’s the end of the letter–the finale, the word of hope. That God will triumph; when God can say, “It’s over!” there’s a new earth and new Jerusalem and there are no more tears and it is the Zed at the end just like there’s the alpha in the beginning.

I guess I wish more people spoke Greek, or read it? I feel like I’ll be preaching to former frat boys and sorority girls, and the occasional biblical scholar with this text. A-to-Z, or a-to-zed, just doesn’t cut it yet. How do we enclose the full narrative? Tie the beginning to the end? How does one inherit from that which never dies?

What happens when the entire book is a metaphor except this chapter, which is the culmination of hope we need in this current moment, not just against Rome but all Romes? What does a post-progressive do with Revelation and all its baggage?

Full and fair disclosure, friends: I am mulling four separate sermon texts (Hosea and John, Romans 10, and Mark 7) in the same week, as I prepare for a concentrated week of doctoral classes, and then a week of vacation. I am not writing all of these sermons in a week… probably… but if these seem more clipped than normal, perhaps that is why.

Working One Hour a Week (Part One)

I’ve been asked before, What is it you DO during the week, anyhow?

Pastors struggle with boundaries between working and not-working–I have met very few clergy who are willing to turn off their phones for a day, to not check church e-mail at least daily, who are always (even if low-key) planning and preparing. I am no exception to this rule, but I work very, very hard at becoming an exception.

That being said, in the time of Corona, there is far more blending in my life between what is church work/ministry, and what is time away. I have had to limit my use of Zoom, because it is draining and Zoom Fatigue is real. I have been intentional in setting one night a week–usually Tuesday–aside in order to not drown in meetings (and to have intentional dinner with B). And I’m loathe to answer texts, emails or calls on Fridays, though, I do, I do.

But that’s not the question asked in the beginning. What is it a minister DOES during the week, anyhow? (And I do not speak for all ministers, and I recognize plenty of ministry is not congregational, and plenty of ministry is not in solo pastorates. This is what I does, during the week, I guess.)

First and foremost: I serve as theologian in residence. At least, on my best days. I spend a lot of time praying, studying, preparing curriculum and crafting sermons. I’d say it is at least half my job, and it looks kind of easy, I guess. I research, I read commentaries, I take notes, I spend four hours trying to perfect a paragraph.

Do I count the time when I sit on the bench in my kitchen at three a.m., wondering if we could do 1 Corinthians in forty sermons? When on a Saturday I stop for three hours and re-write another draft because the Spirit so moves (and just refuses to operate only during office hours)? What to do with afternoons where I know I have to just stop and listen and breathe because I’m forcing a sermon and thus it’s a speech, a lesson, a presentation?

I get low on myself about writing–I’ve been wrestling with the fact that I’m just not going to have time, energy or the wherewithal to write fiction or plays like I used to–but I do write, every week. Thousands of words, researched and refined (on my best days). But that’s not all–but there are other posts, surely.

Saturday Songs and Stories

So the summer between the sixth and seventh grade–that would have been 1996, or twenty-four years ago–I was the piano player at middle school jazz camp. Not for the eighth grade band (and that just devoured my little jealous liver!) but for the sixth/seventh grade band, which made sense, as I was in both and neither, the summer between.

At said camp was a kid from the other middle school, and his name was Louie. He now goes by Louis just like I now go by Arthur, not Artie. (He’s allowed to call me Artie, still. You? No.) Lou was a prodigy then just as he’s magnificently brilliant now. And he asked me if I would play Take Five with him, since he played the alto sax. Yeah, of course, I said. We got Clif and Nick to play drums and bass, and there you go. It sounded, to our barely adolescent ears, just like this:

Maybe a bit more like the recording, who knows. I loved that song, as Louis introduced me to it. I still love that song. It’s also really easy to jam with, on the piano, once one learns the bridge. (I still remember it, or at least, the ham-fisted bad comping I developed for it!)

Because there’s never just one song in these posts–Dave Brubeck converted to Catholicism, and began writing hymns and chorales. To Hope! A Celebration is just wonderful, because this horn-filled loud-voiced formal chorale breaks into jazz as Brubeck had cuts where he jammed with his combo. Because of course he did, and of course he should have. In the hymnal for the Disciples of Christ, the Chalice Hymnal, we have this neat little Christmas hymn, God’s Love Made Visible.

“His star will always be, guiding humanity, throughout eternity, his love shall reign.” Some day I’ll write about Riggs and the Jazz Mass we pulled off at Brite Divinity School.

The hymn above, you may notice, is in 5/4. Anglo congregations don’t do 5/4 well–and so it’s good on Christmas Eve, as everyone wants their favorite hymns and familiars, to bust out a little fast-paced syncopation on them. It’s good theology. (I’ve never heard the caroling and candy canes verses, in the version above them; they did not, in fact, make it into our hymnal!)

I can’t talk about Take Five and Dave Brubeck without mentioning one of my favorite covers of all time–Tito Puente’s version. He took the iconic, weird metered definition of cool jazz and dropped it into a hot Latin 4/4. I love it, and I love jazz because it does stuff like this. I leave you with it.

On Sabbath

I have just finished my first class for my Doctor of Ministry degree. I am part of the first class that’s in the hybrid model, and because of the COVID, we met entirely online this week. It was four hours of Zoom, with an hour of Zoom for chapel. I am Zoomed out. I am screened out! I need a break.

Fridays are my intentional days off, and I usually have this rhythm: get up early as normal, and do the regular routine until 8:30. Then–read. Do laundry. Go for a walk. Write. Prep DND games. Avoid screens until evening. Have a relaxed evening with Brian. Be prepared for whatever Saturday may bring.

I work hard to take a day off. I have struggled previously, to the detriment of myself and my ministry, in not checking e-mail, not answering calls (but checking voicemail if it is an emergency), not participating in life online because these boundaries have helped me emerge on Sundays (usually Saturdays, this job has weird hours) more refreshed, more refilled, more (God forbid!) rested.

I’ll be taking tomorrow off as much as I can. I waver on how much church work can be done on days off–sometimes, an e-mail must be replied to (with a simple “OK, let’s run with it,” even); sometimes, a text gets through. I hate to think the entire day is toast. If I spend two hours (timed) going over my sermons for tomorrow, is that work, or being present and purposeful and ready, knowing I’ll have two hours on Sunday to recoup?

Sometime I’ll write about resting in advance. Not the best practice, folks! But that day is not today. Today, I want to power down this computer and have a sustained break from Zoom, typing, this monitor and my study.

Quarterly Evaluations

One of my goals this year is to figure out where I am in regards to my call–to check in with myself, and to make sure things are level and loving. The practice I’m developing is Twenty Questions.

Note: I have done this once, in March (as it’s quarterly) and it was supremely helpful. It puts everything out there–and only I see it. Here are the questions (and never the answers!)–use them as/if you wish.

  1. Do you still have a sense of call?
  2. Are you paying the bills? (That is, is that which must be done in congregational life being accomplished before extraneous projects or visioning work outside the regular sphere of operation)
  3. What are your strengths?
  4. What are your areas of growth?
  5. Are you praying regularly?
  6. Are you studying regularly?
  7. Are you accessible?
  8. Are your boundaries strong?
  9. Have you met with your Pastoral Relations Committee (or Parish Relations, or Personnel)?
  10. Have you written a manuscript for every sermon? (This is a personal practice I continue, after a season of trying to preach extemporaneously)
  11. Are you collaborative and communal?
  12. Is your family happy and well-received at the church?
  13. What characteristics of the congregation would you like to see change?
  14. What characteristics of the congregation would you like to see continue?
  15. What are you most excited for?
  16. What are you most afraid of?
  17. What are you celebrating in the life of the congregation right now?
  18. What are you mourning in the life of the congregation right now?
  19. How are you practicing self-care?
  20. How are you an example of the faith?

These questions are rather open-ended on purpose. Do you practice this kind of self-evaluation? In part? In full? More so? Let me know!

Workout Wednesday (6/24/2020)

So here’s progress:

So June 6 was the first day I did actual sets–I’m working on sixes right now. If I can do any, I can do six more. So June 6, I did three sets, give or take.

By continuing to do this every day after walking–with a couple days here and there where I did nothing–by June 19, I got up to four sets of jumping jacks, and four sets of squats, and three sets of hop heel clocks and plank jump-ins and push-ups and sit-ups, 18 each.

It’s not hard to go from a total 144, my first goal in June, to hitting 500 in total, which is my last goal for this month.

… I will also note two things. I’m writing this on Monday, and I did not do bodyweight today. I also haven’t written yet. It’s easier to do in the morning, before breakfast, rather than later in the day. That affects my count, and my morale. But I can get right back in it. I hit 408, dang it!

The other thing to note is that I’m trying to get to a specific goal right now–four sets on each exercise (30 for jumping jacks, 24 for squats, 18 for the rest, giving a total of 504)–and I may hit it before I post this. I may not. I struggle with sustaining the practice. I keep wanting to go higher and higher rather than getting used to the constant work.

On Projects and Projections

At the beginning of this year, getting ready for an intentional time of transformation (some personal, some from God; some accidental, some surprising), I limited what projects I’d work on.

The five I’d chosen, having reminded myself to do a few things passionately instead of everything theoretically, were these:

  1. deep theological study, which I’m doing–weighing three commentaries, pericope by pericope, on First Corinthians.
  2. arthur the lesser–this very website! I finally just pulled the trigger, and I’m trying to become regular in posting as I build out this site.
  3. D&D! I run a game for div school friends every week (or so), and I have begun a game in person with a family here in Wichita, but COVID has slowed that down. More info than you need; onward!
  4. Culinary pursuits–I like to make pie, and I am trying to develop a rhythm on making, trying and baking new recipes. Being on a diet changes this! I don’t want delicious, fatty, sugar-filled treats in my kitchen. Do I start giving away pies?
  5. And then, there’s writing.

I live in ideas; I struggle with execution of ideas. I find myself unable to write in a sustained or regular fashion. I aim for twenty minutes in a day, and it lands at the bottom of my priorities in any given day.

I justify this in a variety of ways–I write a twenty minute sermon every week, and that is a lot of words. I tell stories communally through DND. Even these micro posts (or regular sized posts, as it seems today), are something.

I wonder if I’m cultivating the ideal of writing fiction when I’ve always been a playwright, and a lover of reading fiction. The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, shares her mantra that “writers write always,” and I have to then wonder not if I am a writer (because by that definition, I am not) but if I want to be.

Maybe that fifth project changes, and opens up into something new. Maybe it pivots. Maybe it stays the same. This is simply a point of reflection.

Monday Mull: Romans 10:5-17

Hail, Caesar! was not my favorite Coen Brothers movie, but I loved Clooney in it.

What does it mean to call Jesus Christ Lord?

It’s subversive at its heart. It implies a continuation, to say “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and that continuation is, “…and Caesar is not.”

And who is Caesar? Why the Empire, of course.

And you may say to me there is no Empire, but there is. There is oligarchy. There is the status quo. There is discrimination and powers and principalities and institutions and spin-zones and supremacy and fragility and recolored flags flying trying to invoke a country that’s theoretical.

Caesar does not need more worship. We must repent for that. Caesar does not care for the individual; Caesar is not here among us. Christ needs not ascend or descend or even be invited to be present.

Full and fair disclosure, friends: I am mulling four separate sermon texts (Hosea and John, Revelation and Mark 7) in the same week, as I prepare for a concentrated week of doctoral classes, and then a week of vacation. I am not writing all of these sermons in a week… probably… but if these seem more clipped than normal, perhaps that is why.