Ah, did you think theologians did not swear? Quite the opposite. I’ve yet to meet a theologian worth her (or his) salt who couldn’t peel paint when the situation demanded. And here’s the thing about theology, if you are doing it right (and there are other ways to do it) it’ll bring you face to face with the pain and suffering of the world. It’ll also make painfully clear how fucking useless the fucking platitudes we use to deflect that pain truly are.
God needed another angel in heaven. Bullshit.
God won’t give you more than you can handle. Ask fucking Job about that one asshole.
God has a plan. Well then he’s either a shitty ass planner or a total wanker.
None of them are real theology, they’re meaningless ways of hiding what we really mean: “please take your pain somewhere else, it’s making me uncomfortable.”
Theology is uncomfortable, why do you think prophets get killed by their own people? Because theology is really uncomfortable, especially if you are one of the comfortable people in the world.
Theology says there is a whole lot of uncomfortable something we can all do to fix the corrupt and broken systems that bring about poverty, violence, and human inflicted suffering in our world. That’s uncomfortable (cause yes, we’re responsible.) And it says that there is absolutely nothing I can do to “fix” or explain a whole lot of other suffering: like my friends struggling with cancer, depression, addiction. That’s uncomfortable. Theology is complicated.
In the face of so much, so often, all I can really give them is myself, my willingness to be uncomfortable with those who suffer. So in the wise and furious words of Kathie John, one of the women I most respect and want to be when I don’t grow up: Fuck cancer.
I suspect that the Eucharist (last supper, communion) would have never become a “thing” in Christianity if we hadn’t started out as a “religion of women and slaves.” (See Josephus) People intimately familiar with pain, and suffering and powerlessness. People so painfully aware of what an uphill battle this whole human experiment is that the only thing they could do was try to make a little comfort with their own two worn hands.
When the “fuck cancer” or “fuck depression” or “fuck addiction” or “fuck prejudice” or “fuck guns” is reaching a towering point of overwhelm, try this. Take off your rings, and your watch, roll up your sleeves. Go into the kitchen and crank the oven up as high as it will go, 500 degrees if you’ve got it. (If you’ve got some good soulful music, crank that up too. Today my playlist was Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Melissa Etheridge, and a few other sisters who showed up.)
Get out a big bowl, stoneware is best but if all you’ve got is a beat up old metal bowl it’ll do. Get yourself 3 cups of bread flour (regular will work too but I prefer bread flour), add to that a teaspoon of instant dry yeast, and two teaspoons of salt. Stir (your hands work just fine or a wooden spoon, nothing else, hands or a wooden spoon. You don’t need anything your 14th great grandmother didn’t have.) Now measure out 1 and 1/3 cups of lukewarm water. Don’t measure the temp just make sure it feels warm but not hot. Pour it in the bowl. Now stir it all together, you can use that wooden spoon if you want but if things are really bad that day, just use your fingers. When it’s all in big lumps, most of the flour is sticking together scatter more flour on a clean counter top (you don’t need a bread board or anything fancy, just clean and flat).
Turn the dough out, pat it together and kneed. Push that ball of lumpy dough against the floury counter, just press the heels of your hands into it. It’ll give, fold it over and do it again, and again. Really lean into it, get your hips moving, dance to that music! Add flour to the counter to keep it from sticking. Keep kneading for three minutes or until that lumpy dough has become a single silky ball. All the shit you’ve read that says bread is fragile? Ignore that, bread isn’t any more fragile than you are, and you are amazing. Feel it, that’s life, that’s what’s kept this human experiment ticking folks. That elastic dough, those pressing hands. That’s been women’s work for, well longer than any of us can count. You don’t have to be a woman to do it anymore, thank God. You just have to have a soul, bread won’t rise without a soul.
It needs the love you’ve given away, the love you’ve kept for yourself, the love you’ve had thrown back in your face, the love that’s broken and bleeding all over the floor around your feet. It needs the salt of your tears, the ones you’ve shed for yourself, for the people you love, for the people you don’t know but whose pain has found its way across the world and into your life. It needs your joy too, it needs those moments in the rain laughing and spinning, tossing the umbrella away. It needs that moment the snowflake landed on your nose and you laughed, or they caught in your eyelashes and you blinked them away like stars. It needs your first kiss, and your last kiss. It needs the dog you miss, the cat who is just waiting to hook a claw-full of dough, the kids whining and fighting in the next room, and the kids you desperately wish were whining and fighting in the next room.
The first few times might feel awkward and weird, but the memory of your ancestors is there, down to all the gathered Marys slapping bread against board while their tears ran and they sobbed for hope spent and gone and did the only thing they could think of. Your arms will remember even if you mind hasn’t made the memory yet, your shoulders will know the rolling feel, your weight will lean into the warm rising mound beneath your palms. Pour your soul into the becoming bread under your hands.
Sprinkle more flour in the bowl and drop your smooth tight round of dough in, dust its top with another handful of flour, let that be hope, or prayers to whatever great Something is out there slow and steady as time, or the emptiness of having neither of those left. And set the whole thing on the top of that heated stove, where it’s glowing warmth will do the only thing we can all do in the end: be present. Cover the bowl with a bit of saran wrap if you have it, and then run a kitchen towel under a hot tap, get it good and wet and then wring it out really, really well (no drips) and drape it over the bowl and walk away. Walk away and trust that the little fizzing bits of life within that bread will do what life has always, unaccountably, done for billions of years now, and grow.
In two hours you will have pizza dough, warm and risen and beautiful. Break it into half or quarters, slap it out on a board, bake it until it’s golden brown. Make pretzels out of it, or rolls, pour melted butter and garlic over it, or bake it just the way it is. Sometimes in this life it is all we have to give, broken bread steaming and rich. Bread that’s full of our own soul shared out. And if this is all we have, let it be eucharist (thanksgiving) that there is something real in the face of evil, tragedy, and suffering. There is nourishment that goes beyond the body between us, binding us together. Take, eat.
If you’ve made bread, and read even a bit of the Jesus’ story then you know that Jesus wasn’t your average man from Galilee in 30 CE. You can guess he helped Mary in the kitchen, that after he taught Mary and Martha he made the disciples grumble by sending them to peel onions and slapping some bread against a board, flour in his beard and light in his eyes. If you’ve made bread you know, he knew how to knead and wait. And in the end that is what he too had to give: himself shared out. Go and do likewise he said. Because fuck cancer, and violence, and hatred, and screaming self-righteous pundits who cannot see the beauty of the souls at whom they fling word spears, and fuck lying depression and all the other twisted things that tear at our souls. When we make bread we pour ourselves out, break ourselves open, get our souls mixed up with all those other hurting, loving, living humans who have ever kneaded, and waited, and broken, and tasted and found it good. Eat, become strong again, and go make the world a comfortable place for those who are now suffering, and a very, very uncomfortable place for them that need it. You’ll know the difference.
- Bread flour 3 cups (plus a little more added while kneading)
- Instant yeast 1 teaspoon
- Salt 2 teaspoons
- Lukewarm water 1 1/3 cups(about 90°F)
- Combine all ingredients in large bowl until a soft dough forms.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead roughly 3 minutes.
- Add flour to your bowl, set the dough in the bottom and sprinkle the top liberally with more flour.
- Cover with plastic wrap and a thoroughly rung out hot towel.
- Let sit on stove top (oven preheating to highest setting), or other warm place for 2 hours.
- Divide in half, pat out pizza dough to desired shape. For a thin crispy crust immediately top and bake in your very hot oven (500 degrees) on a pizza stone (or baking sheet if you don’t have a stone) until toppings are cooked and crust is golden brown. For a loftier crust pat out into shape and let rest and rise roughly 10 minutes before topping and baking.