• It's been fun keeping up with the family these days.  Saw Mindy's play in Urbana Friday night, "Sweat."  It's a powerful play and she did great in it.  Click here to see the review.  Daughter Alison is due at the end of the month, and so we have been talking more frequently by phone.  She's doing well, even though uncomfortable.  Daughter Scarlette has put grandson Sean in a pre-school for the very first time, and is making a foray back to the work world...starting out easy at a coffeeshop part time. And my mom celebrated her birthday yesterday...while they were at a National Marriage Encounter meeting in Kansas City.
  • I plan to take in the State Fair this week with daughter Mindy and chaperone a group of Chinese scholars to Milwaukee to the annual Irish festival there.  

August 12, 2018
Beans, Please
We had our first dish of green beans from this year's garden last night:  one dish.  It is a slow year for beans. 

I planted plenty of them; pole beans this summer.  The seeds sprouted, the plants grew, and the vines climbed the fencing and netting.  I have an 18 foot wall of bean plants, five feet high.  They have been flowering like crazy for a month now; but only ONE bowl of them to eat.
Sometimes we never pay attention to something until it causes us trouble; like a car part or a body part or a bean plant.  And it is true:  I've been eating beans all my life, but a single paragraph will sum up the totality of my knowledge on the subject:

A bean is a seed that comes in a pod.  But sometimes we call the whole pod a "bean." We eat lots of green beans in Illinois, but we grow tons more soy beans.  I like a good cup of coffee every morning, a chocolate snack at the end of the day, hummus now and then, and split pea soup in the winter:  all thanks to beans. I once owned a bean bag chair, until the dog sort of ate it. (And it turned out that the chair wasn't made with beans after all.)  The youth group taught me how to play cornhole this summer...with bean bags. It's not a good idea for a pitcher to bean the batter.  Boston is known as Beantown, but no one can remember why.  Canned beans were a favorite camping menu when I was a Boy Scout, until you had to sleep in the same tent with each other later that night.  An ignoramus is said to "not know beans" about anything.  Pastors are not supposed to spill the beans when someone tells them a confidence. The church finance committee consists of our in-house bean counters.  And like every other vegetable and fruit, the bean gets drafted for numerous lascivious slang metaphors and illicit drug nicknames. 
That's my paragraph: all I know about beans. Perhaps I could be excused for my lack of knowledge, since I am a biblical scholar and the Bible doesn't seem to know beans about beans.  The only two guys in the Holy Book who ever ate beans were David (who was given beans once when his army was on the run) and Ezekiel (who used beans as an ingredient in a bread recipe while having an ecstatic vision.)  Ezekiel's visions were so strange that we are not sure what kind of "beans" he kneeded into his bread.
Wikipedia claims that the world "genebanks" hold about 40,000 varieties of beans.  I won't go into all of them here.  Most of the world's soybeans are produced in the U.S. and Brazil (over 60%.) The green beans we pick in our gardens are actually at an immature state of their development, before the seeds are fully formed. Until 1894, you had to contend with a hard, fibrous string (barely edible) running down the side of the bean pod.  But that problem was solved in those days by Calvin Keeney, now known as the father of the string-less green bean.  

The U.S., while #1 in soybeans, ranks only 15th in world green-bean production, ranking far behind China, which is first.  In fact, China grows almost half of the world's green beans.  I say it's high time we had a presidential candidate who will promise to make America #1 again in green beans! Maybe I'll run on that platform in 2020.
But first I have to figure out what's wrong with my pole beans. How could I lead the rest of the nation (to say nothing of the free world) if I can not control my own beans?   My daughter Scarlette says it's because I ran off all the bees and butterflies that are necessary for pollination. (If she's right, I'll make her my secretary of agriculture.) But I don't remember doing anything to offend the bees, other than slap a few of them out of my face.  And I wasn't even anywhere near the bean patch when they buzzed me.  

One website claimed that bumble bees are best for pollinating green beans. Since the humane society doesn't have any bumblebees to adopt, I checked out the internet.  The first thing that came up was Bumblebee Tuna and Bumblebee Sardines, which I do not think will do beans for my beans. I did find one place where I can order a shoebox full of bumblebees (about 50 bees) for $160, but they are out of stock. I fear that this garden is getting to be way more expensive and troublesome than I planned.
But I do not lose heart (a direct quote from the apostle Paul.)  I am keeping my eyes on the prize:  fresh beans...from the garden to the dinner table. My grandma fixed green beans in a pot and let them stew for hours with a hambone.  Jie stir fries them in about 2 minutes.  My mom likes them steamed and crisp.  My daughters like them during the holidays in a casserole with mushroom soup and French onion chips.  When I was in college, and had no garden, I'd open a can of French cut green beans and cook them with loads of butter.  If one needs a healthy alternative, there is always the three bean salad.  (By the way, what is a wax bean?  Maybe I'll devote an essay to it some slow week.)   And every Methodist cookbook that was ever published always includes green bean recipes.  

And we do not need to limit the prize to what we have already experienced.  Think of all the green bean recipes out there. You can make Arkansas Green Beans (with bacon, brown sugar, and butter.) Or try Greek Green beans (olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes.) If the summer day isn't too hot, we can roast our green beans in the oven.  Georgian green beans involve cilantro, vinegar, garlic, and chicken broth.  And an Indian dish, foogath green beans, calls for red chillies, curry, ground mustard seed, and shredded coconut. 

Most of my prayers are for the big stuff in the world (peace, justice) and the big stuff in the lives of my people (health, strength, faith.)  But these days, I guess it's okay to put a tiny p.s. at the end of our prayers:  "and by the way, Lord, give us this day our daily beans."  --Mike

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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