Being lost for the fun of it. A blog post as meandering as it sounds.

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Streets keep turning up where they shouldn’t—unless my map’s the wrong way ’round. It’s useless anyway: the streets here are unlabled. Daylight’s quickly drifting off in no discernible direction.

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My viewfinder has led me here, although I don’t know what I’m looking for, exactly. Traces of something…but how would I recognize it? Here, old and new run together, and, as anywhere new meets old, it tends to gobble it up. Few of these buildings seem to want to share the stories they so clearly have to tell. They collude with unsigned streets to maintain anonymity.

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“LITTLE PETER STREET!” one non-compliant edifice shouts, placing me back on the map. Now I must feign being lost. I turn my lens toward the railroad tracks, whose massive Victorian arches I follow. Red bricks, blackened with damp, and green with lichen and moss, recount lifetimes of industry, dereliction, reuse—whatever my eye will read into them. Surely there was a history here. Mundane as a train schedule, unrelenting as rain, ubiquitous as cotton thread, or: unrelenting as trains, ubiquitous as rain, mundane as cotton. No matter. Ponderous and decayed but lasting as the capitalist’s monument to himself.

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I’m no archaeologist, nor historian, nor even a photographer. I’m merely recording memories, impressions. Memories may congeal around photographs, but in the end, they are more painterly. My feet ache, my body stiffens, the light is all but gone, and I can’t stop taking pictures.

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A month ago, I was in Manchester, UK, where I presented a paper (“A Wounded Presence: The Virgin of Vladimir Icon”) at a conference (“Images, Icons, and Idols”) at the University of Manchester. I had a couple days free to wander around City Centre, which resulted in what you’ve just read above. These are also some of the photos I took. They’re dreadful photos, and heavily reworked in Photoshop. But they’re all I’ve got. I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll spend some time learning how to use a camera once the weather turns nice again here in Detroit (and the daylight sticks around longer). You know, June. May, if we’re lucky.

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Here’s another photo from my Manchester trip, of “the Wheel” in Piccadilly Gardens, which is less of a garden and more of a public square with civic statues, this big Rerris wheel (which is for seeing the vista, like the London Eye), and the convergence of Manchester’s utterly chaotic bus lines. Seriously, the buses will make you want to walk even if you don’t happen to love walking to begin with.


So, this is a blog about “Poetry, God, and Detroit, in no particular order.” The above italicized musings don’t quite amount to a poem, I admit. My trip was God-related, since I was there for a theological conference. But I’ve also always wanted to go to Manchester, in part because some of my favorite music has come out of that city, but even more so because it’s often (been) compared to Detroit. Both cities are northern (in their respective countries), and both have an industrial past, complete with all the building projects wealthy industrialists like to engage in (as they’re a socially acceptable sort of pissing contest), and the ensuing economic depression from their respective industries’ inevitable declines. Both have offered their industrial ruins to photographers’ lenses. Both have working-class populations who take an inordinate pride in their cities—here’s mine; as I always say, I have a “chosen delusion” ( <–right there, I admit it’s a delusion) that when I mention I’m from Detroit, people will be jealous. And, of course, both cities have given the world plenty to dance to.

I take issue with this.

Poster on the exterior of the former Factory Records headquarters, now a nightclub called Fac51.

The sign pictured above says: “FACT: Statistically there are more rock stars per capita of population from Manchester than any other city in the world. …” Leaving aside the redundant wording, I think the facticity of this claim depends on how you define “rock star,” “city,” and “from.” There’s no need, really, to point out that in Detroit, we invented punk, and techno, which, incidentally, featured on the dance floor even in “Madchester.” Oh, and there was that record label a factory worker started out of his house on Grand Boulevard. But it’s not my intention to start a pond war or anything. There’s been some nice cross-pollination between the two scenes.

Manchester’s seen a revitalization, though, in the past couple of decades. John Gallagher includes it among the cities he compares to the D in his book, Revolution Detroit. I made a point of getting a copy of the book before my trip in order to read the section on Manchester while on the plane over. Beginning in the late ’90s, I remember hearing and reading the opinion that the music scene essentially brought about the city’s transformation, but I never could believe that would be the whole story. In Gallagher’s book, he reports a more sensible assessment: that it was thanks to creative, sustained, hard work on the part of various city leaders. And then there was that other factor…

…which my friend, who picked me up from the airport, also mentioned. “But we’re not supposed to talk about that,” he quickly added. This was something I’d never heard of till I read it in Gallagher’s book, so, well done, Mancunians. But it’s not really quite a secret, just because I was unaware. I was living in Holt, MI and working at a TV station in Lansing in 1996…how could I have possibly heard of something so newsworthy?

Don't mention it!

Polite circumlocution in the Manchester Cathedral

What that plaque is not quite saying is that the IRA bombed City Centre (very near the cathedral, I’m told) in 1996. Following that attack, naturally, people rallied to rebuild whatever was damaged, and it mobilized a lot of good energy, it seems.

I’m not qualified to really analyze all that after one week in the city all these years later. But I can report on this little bit I’ve seen, heard, and read. In my not-so-qualified opinion, despite all their similarities, Detroit and Manchester have very different stories, especially from their lowest points on up. The cities have, have had, and will have very different paths, and quite possibly the only thing Detroit can learn from Manchester’s success is that such things are possible, and they take a lot of work, and a lot of civic-mindedness.

Crap. We don’t really have that in Southeastern Michigan. We have a toxic city-suburb divide, which is largely our own circumlocution to bypass actually talking about race and class. (Except that we’re always talking about race and class, just not productively.)

The Metro Times (Southeast Michigan’s alternative newsweekly) recently published a blog post anyone fascinated with Detroit should read, titled, “Please, please, please: Stop ‘saving’ Detroit.” Just as Manchester wasn’t “saved” by a single factor (or, ahem, Factory), Detroit won’t be either. Detroit’s already a great city, just as it’s been for a long time (by American standards, that is), and it will continue to be. The good news is that the good things happening here are piece-meal, grass-roots, and idiosyncratic, just as you’d want them to be. You might not want to get lost in our streets just yet…but there’s a lot to explore here. And a lot of creative, sustained, hard work to do. Just as you’d want it to be.

You’ve made it to the end of this post. Enjoy a couple more photos from my trip!

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My flight, which went through Paris, was the day after the Charlie Hebdo incident. This photo was taken on January 10, 2015.

My flight, which went through Paris, was the day after the Charlie Hebdo incident. This photo of a street artist at work (with chalks) was taken on January 10, 2015 in Manchester City Centre.

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Happy birthday, Detroit

Today was Detroit’s 313th birthday, which is significant for the arbitrary reason that 313 is the city’s area code and one of its nicknames. Arbitrary, yes; but significant enough to warrant month-long $3.13 meals at McDonalds and week-long celebrations Downtown and in the Cultural Center. And significant enough to guilt me into a blog post…about Detroit, of course. (Well, it was that, or poetry, or God, right?)

This didn't happen today, but it seemed like an appropriate photo. (From 23 June 2014 International Fireworks)

This didn’t happen today, but it seemed like an appropriate photo. (From 23 June 2014 International Fireworks)

I had a strange dream last night that centered around the street in Detroit where my dad grew up. In real life, I’d visited that house when his parents still lived there when I was so little I vaguely remember it at all. I have no idea where on the street my dad’s family lived, and it’s a long street. My dream last night is irrelevant, except that it got me thinking today about my family history in Detroit.

I didn’t grow up in the city. My mother’s family had relocated to Farmington Hills when she was a kid, and we lived in that city until I was 4, when we moved out to the boondocks (now exurbs) I lovingly refer to as “the woods I crawled out of.”

Said woods.

Said woods.

But I moved to the city as an adult, landing first in Palmer Park, which is at the northwest corner of 6 Mile (McNichols) and Woodward. Unknowingly, I had arrived in an area full of my family’s history.

Not far away was the hospital where I was born, where my older sisters were born, and I think where my mother also was born. The house where my grandmother grew up, where my mom also lived till she was a year old, is gone now, but was off 7 Mile between Woodward and John R, the area now known as Chaldeantown. When my grandmother was growing up, her aunt and uncle also lived next door, and her aunt played the organ in Detroit’s famous movie houses in Grand Circus Park. (Her brother, my great-grandfather, was a church musician. Such a musical family. Alas, I didn’t get those genes.)

One great story, from that ancestral house I never saw, involved my grandfather. After my grandparents married, they lived for a little while in a trailer in my great-grandparents’ backyard. My great-grandparents’ house didn’t have a basement, but they wanted one. My grandfather helped his father-in-law dig out a basement under the existing house. In true Detroit fashion (see how long this sort of thing’s been going on?), they didn’t bother getting permits. Instead, they worked at night, digging from behind the house, and dumping the dirt around the city to hide the evidence. And this was when there were fewer places to dump dirt, or other things, without being noticed. But I don’t know whether they were working so stealthily out of paranoia, or if the city was on top of such things more than it is now.

My mother has said that when she was little, after her father’s job was transferred out of the city, they used to come visit her grandparents at that house. She and her sister would be taken to play in nearby Palmer Park, or they would ride the streetcars downtown to shop. One time she was visiting me, and at the corner of Woodward and 6, she looked around and said, “I have dreams about this intersection.” It looked completely different, of course, but was apparently still recognizable enough—but not a little disorienting, either.

While we were living in Palmer Park, some friends and I bought an abandoned house in the area around 6 and Livernois. Later, I learned that my great aunt (my grandmother’s sister) and her husband had lived on a street just several blocks down.

On the other side of the family, I learned from my dad’s mother that she had him baptized at All Saints Episcopal Church on 7 Mile near Woodward. She was Catholic, and my grandfather, an agnostic who had been raised Christian Scientist, wouldn’t let her have their baby baptized in a Catholic church. My grandmother was always a good, pragmatic ecumenist. She told me the Episcopal Church is “like the Catholic Church.” Now, I had just become Episcopalian, and telling her about it was the occasion for her sharing this story with me. Naturally, I teased my dad (who is Evangelical) that he was really Episcopalian. Although we don’t actually think about baptism in sectarian terms. But still.

Now, at this point, I could venture off into the suburbs and tell you about how I grew up attending a church on 6 Mile in Northville, or how, when I was 14, my femur was broken by a drunk driver on 6 Mile in Livonia. So much of my life has happened on or around 6 Mile…and I live just off 6 Mile now. That’s where I’d rather take you, dear reader: to a place called home.

Our house came with a basement.

Our house came with a basement. Sorry, Grandpa.

No, not that place called home. This place:

f88157682…or, more accurately, this sense of belonging. Not just “you are here,” but “you belong here.”

I never felt such a sense of belonging anywhere like I did when, in my 20s, I arrived (back) in Detroit. And now I’ve been away for almost nine years, and am back yet again, and that sense of home has remained—so much that I’ve got the city’s logo tattooed on my wrist, where you find my pulse.

"If found, return to Detroit" seemed too wordy.

“If found, please return to Detroit” seemed too wordy.

There’s a part of me—probably the part that’s a poet—that wants to think the same place to which my ancestors gravitated had somehow called me too. But if that’s too mystical-sounding, I think it’s still a perfectly good metaphor for the spirit a place can have. A place, a home, isn’t just a map imposed onto a blank canvas (even if it’s drawn up on a blank piece of paper). Place, say all the scholars who work on the subject—Casey, Sheldrake, Gorringe, and others—precedes space; we’ve gotten so used to the geometric abstraction of place that we forget it’s an abstraction. Place is storied: it has a history, a name, memories, even legends. Many would say it has a sort of personality—a “spirit”—as well.

Without anthropomorphizing the city, however, it’s not hard to notice that some themes do recur in Detroit’s history. From the founder of the city on, it’s a place where people have come to forget the past and reinvent themselves. People have often flocked here for opportunity: first, French settlers, who heard of the “paradise” of fruit trees and good vegetation; then English-speaking Americans from the East Coast, who came for opportunities in the city’s early industries and in the distribution of Michigan lumber and farm products; and later, people from the US South and all over the world, who came looking for work in the automobile industry. Now people are coming for cheap real estate and the opportunity to start their own businesses; others are coming here specifically to be in a place where they can make a noticeable difference.

It’s been a contested place. Detroit’s location was chosen by the French for strategic reasons—strategic, primarily, for controlling the fur trade along the Great Lakes. But first, it was populated by native tribes such as the Hurons and Wyandots. Later, it was valued as a strategic military site, and changed hands several times (the French, British, and US flags have all flown here; and under the French and British, Detroit was part of Canada). The original French settlers were pushed to the margins by English-speaking settlers from the US East Coast. Various immigrant groups would coexist with mixed success, as in all US cities. Race riots occurred from time to time—1833, 1943, and 1967. Racist policies in government, housing, and business—not least of which involved the destruction of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley—along with “white flight” to the suburbs changed Detroit to the largest majority Black city in the US. It’s also a city where you can find a Polish or (historically) French church with Masses in English and Spanish.

Early French settlers were known for what the later English settlers thought was an inordinate love of music and dancing—and, more recently, Detroit has given the world the musical genres of Motown, punk, and techno, and many talented artists in hip hop, rap, jazz, blues, folk, gospel, and rock’n’roll. Not to mention the world-famous DSO.

We’re an industrial center. Before cars, we made stoves, ships, train cars, and just about anything you could make by bending and stamping metal. Industry is an obvious part of our civic character. Currently, we’re making clothing, watches, bikes, food, and lots of arts and crafts.

Farming may be another theme. Detroit’s earliest settlers grew their food here, and, once they had enough to satisfy their needs (the land was generous, it seems), they enjoyed the good life. (The later English settlers called that “lazy.”) During an economic recession in the 1890s, mayor Hazen Pingree launched a program of urban gardening whereby Detroit’s poor could farm vacant lots. It earned him the nickname “Potato Patch Pingree,” but it worked (eventually). And now, as everyone knows, urban farming has returned to Detroit. Local farmers (in and around the city) provide produce for local restaurants and stores.

Remember the recent bad mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, who was driven out of office in disgrace? So was the city’s first leader, its founder, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (though not for quite the same reasons).

And, if you followed the above link about Pingree’s potato patches, you might have noticed words like “insolvency” and the city’s treasury being “almost empty.” I really don’t have to say more about that.

Our motto is all about things burning down, which they’ve tended to do rather frequently here. I hope that’s not part of the spirit of this place. Speramus Meliora—Resurgit Cineribus: “We hope for better; it will rise from the ashes.” We’ve rebuilt this city before.

Official city seal. Photo by the author.

Official city seal. The woman on the left is mourning after the 1805 fire that destroyed the city; the woman on the right is trying to console her with a vision of the city’s future. We haven’t added a third woman yet. It just seems cruel.

I hope if you’ve noticed other themes in this city’s history, you will share them in the comments. So far, it seems to me we can characterize this city as  a place whose people, whatever their ethnicity, whatever language they speak, work hard, enjoy the good life, make music, suffer hardships, reinvent themselves, and keep hoping and rebuilding.

Does that sound like Detroit to you?

It sounds like home to me.

313 years is still young in the grand scheme of things. Happy birthday, Detroit, and many returns.

I seem to be writing again!

A few days ago, I finally had that feeling other poets surely know, that sense of, I’ve got a poem to write.” It was the first time since my move home to Detroit at the beginning of June—the first time in several months, actually.

Over the past few days, I’ve drafted and revised two poems (which now need time to simmer, perhaps some input from others, and more revision). Both are slice-of-life narratives, both about a single afternoon: the afternoon I learned it takes longer to bus home to the University District from Eastpointe (née East Detroit) than it does to drive home from Flint during rush hour (which my roommate was doing at the time).

Now, since I’ve been home, I’ve enjoyed some of the great activities and places Detroit has to offer. I’ve been back to my church—jumped back into lectoring again already!—and have shopped at Eastern Market several times, including the new Sunday artists’ market; I checked out Log Cabin Day at Palmer Park, and enjoyed the RiverWalk (or River Front; it’s unclear to me), the Detroit Ford Fireworks (formerly known as the Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival), and, just today, the Concert of Colors. None of these inspired poetry. A bus ride, however, inspired two.

(I’m not going to post them here. I know, I’m such a tease.)

This has me thinking now about Detroit’s rebirth, which is largely contained in Midtown and Downtown, and the everyday lives those of us in the neighborhoods experience. It has me wondering why all the good things, the things I intend to celebrate, with more than a hyperlink, in this blog, things which are beautiful, which are welcome, which welcome me home—none of these births poetry in me. A bus ride along McNichols (a.k.a. 6 Mile), however, produced twins.

It definitely has me looking more closely at the ordinary things in life.

 

In my neighborhood, though, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen five burned-out houses on my street demolished, the rubble removed, and, finally, today, the holes filled in with dirt. I’m the kind of poet this should inspire, but no. Not that either. I guess the poetic muse isn’t interested in bulldozers.

The Spirit of Detroit and Christian Hope

Photo by the author

Statue informally known as the “Spirit of Detroit,” by Marshall Fredericks. The sculpture sits outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center at Woodward and Jefferson Aves. Photo by the author.

The Detroit city motto has become better known in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of books—about the city’s history, and, yes, about the ruins, by authors who live in the Metro Area and love the city—and of merchandise such as bookbags, t-shirts, postcards, and other items you might find at City Bird, the Detroit Merchantile Company, Pure Detroit, various Eastern Market vendors, pop-ups, or other local boutiques. Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus—We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes. These words were penned by Father Gabriel Richard, a Catholic priest and a major figure in Detroit and Michigan history, after fire destroyed the city in 1805.

What does it mean to “hope for better things”? Is it the same kind of hope as when children hope for a snow day, or when you hope your favorite team will win the game?

I think the fact that it was written by a priest in the context of city-wide disaster suggests that Fr. Richard was thinking more along the lines of Christian hope, which I would define as the confidence we have in virtue of our trust in God, whom we know to be trustworthy. That’s a very different kind of hope.

Which is well and good and quite encouraging, really, for Christians, and perhaps for other religious theists. But in today’s pluralistic context, even in a predominately Christian city like Detroit, I think it’s important to find where a similar kind of hope is accessible to all.

Confidence from trusting in that which is trustworthy—where can we find that today? Not in City Hall, not in Kevyn Orr or Gov. Rick Snyder, not in Dan Gilbert or the Ilich family; not in the economy, certainly not in the strength of the U.S. Dollar. Not even in the ideal of democracy, which is so clearly broken. I would suggest we find that secular version of confident hope in the people of Detroit: in its people of good will, whose civic identity and spirit, I think, is characterized by strength, loyalty, pride, and resilience. “Detroit hustles harder,” as they say.

The religious meaning of hope is, I think, primary; but it’s important even for those of us who consciously place our trust in God to also discriminate among those objectives vying for our hope in the world around us. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we place our trust in God, and also place it in an earthly savior, such as a corporate benefactor or a politician. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we “seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness” but also chase after economic security before all else. But for people of faith, hoping in God is always done in community, as community. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are people of covenant. We believe God calls peoples into covenant with Godself, and so we simply cannot fully trust in God without each other. To trust in the human spirit—in this case, the spirit of Detroit—requires civic engagement, concern for one’s neighbor, and holding virtues like charity, commitment, and forgiveness above the shiny distraction of money. It requires creativity, sharing, peacemaking, and hard work—but not just the individualistic hard work of earning one’s own living. It is entirely congruent, I think, with trust in God, because God’s dwelling is among the people. (If you don’t believe me, go read James Cone or Jim Perkinson, or any of the Liberation Theologians.) If we are to trust in one another, though, we must work, as a people, to be trustworthy—to be worthy of this confident hope. Thankfully, we bear this task together.What kind of city do we want to build? What Detroit do we want to be?

Official city seal. Photo by the author.

Official city seal, also at city hall (visible on the upper left in the image above). Photo by the author.

The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;
he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

But the LORD’S will stands fast for ever,
and the designs of his heart from age to age.

Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!
happy the people he has chosen to be his own!

The LORD looks down from heaven,
and beholds all the people in the world.

From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze
on all who dwell on the earth.

He fashions all the hearts of them
and understands all their works.

There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army;
a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.

The horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
for all its strength it cannot save.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear him,
on those who wait upon his love,

To pluck their lives from death,
and to feed them in time of famine.

Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.

Indeed, our heart rejoices in him,
for in his holy Name we put our trust.

Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us,
as we have put our trust in you.

(Psalm 33:10-22, BCP)

Tasty treats from Michigan

This blog has been quiet for a while. I’m  a bit overwhelmed with a number of things right now—one of which is preparing to move back to Detroit in May!!!

I’m looking forward to being able to show you all more of Detroit—my Detroit, that is; everyone experiences it differently—once I’m living there again. And it will look different to me for having lived in a very different place the last eight years.

It’s an interesting thing, living away from home. You see your home in a new perspective—and often, you see quite sharply some things you had missed. For example, I lived for a year in Virginia Park (a neighborhood in Detroit off Rosa Parks and Virginia Park Street, just north of Grand Boulevard). In all my years in Michigan, in Detroit, and even within walking distance, I never visited the Motown Museum. I always liked the Motown sound enough, but it wasn’t the music of my own subculture. And besides, the museum was always there; I could visit it any time. So I never did…until one year while visiting home from California. Now I want to recommend it to everybody!

The same is true of most of these goodies. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of pride in Detroit and Michigan, and stores catering to Michigan-made items have flourished. In addition, locally based stores like Meijers (headquartered near Grand Rapids) have createdor expanded sections devoted to locally made goods. Eastern Market has long been a great source for food and other items from Michigan (and Ontario, Ohio, and Indiana). Here’s a sampling of the deliciousness I’ve discovered, during my annual trips home:

Berry Wines

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Click on the image for a Google search of “Michigan Water Blues.” True to the blues, there are a million different versions. Jelly Roll Morton’s version says that “Mississippi water tastes like turpentine, but Michigan water tastes like cherry wine!” I rather like Jeff Daniels’ version on his album, Keep It Right Here. (He has another version as well.)

 While I lived in Michigan, I never tried cherry wine. I’m not much of a wine drinker. But now that I live near Napa Valley, my Michigan pride made me want to find a wine that Northern California does not offer.

Turns out there’s raspberry wine, too!

The wines pictured above—two cherry and one raspberry—still represent the sum total of Michigan wines I’ve tried.

The Traverse Bay Winery cherry wine is my favorite so far. I’ve brought extra bottles back here to California and shared them with the natives—much to their delight! It’s a little stronger than your average grape wine, apparently (17% alcohol by volume). Not too sweet, but still suitable for a dessert wine. And, much like cherries, it tastes nothing like that fake cherry candy flavor. It has the flavor of Michigan tart cherries, exactly the flavor you want it to have. Plus alcohol.

The Leelanau Cellars raspberry wine, on the other hand, is really sweet. While it’s not cloying, it does taste just like candy, or like perfectly sweet raspberries.

The St. Julian Wine Co. cherry wine is disappointing. It’s OK, but not one to share with wine snobs Northern Californians. I ended up using it in baking (like brownies and homemade apple sauce).

As far as I know, these wines aren’t available outside of Michigan—unless some of them can be ordered online, I don’t know. (I do know that ordering wine online involves some complicated process to prove you’re of legal drinking age and all that.) You can get them, and others I have yet to try, at Meijer, or at Detroit’s new Whole Foods; I was impressed with the Michigan wines selection at both stores.

Preserves

And another way to get your daily servings of fruit, particularly if you don’t drink alcohol, is jam.

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Click on the image to visit Slow Jams’ facebook page.

I don’t know whether this brand, Slow Jams, existed when I moved in 2005, but I just discovered it this past summer (2013) at Eastern Market. You can purchase it in the market proper or at Rocky’s. The flavor I tried is rhubarb ginger—OMGOMGOMG it’s so delicious. “Homemade in small batches,” this jam hails from Grosse Pointe. There are plenty of other flavors to try, and if you find the booth on market day, you can sample them!

Their facebook page lists the following flavors:  Spiced Apple, Blueberry Lavender, Blueberry Peppercorn Sage, Blueberry Cardamom, Cran-Cherry, Cranberry Red Onion, Tart Cherry, Cherry Thyme, Peach, Peach Rosemary, Peach Cilantro, Peach Basil, Raspberry, Raspberry Jalapeno, Raspberry Lemon Verbena, Raspberry Basil, Strawberry, Strawberry Bomb, Strawberry Balsamic Peppercorn, Strawberry Vanilla, Rhubarb Ginger, Sweet Pepper, Blackberry, Blackberry Ginger, Tomato, Green Tomato.

Peach basil sounds interesting! I’ll try that when I get back home.

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Click on the image to link to their website, which includes all their products, recipes, and more.

Here’s another that’s become a staple for me in recent years, a treat to pick up whenever I’m back home: Food for Thought’s Organic Michigan Tart Cherry Preserves.

There are whole and half cherries in there (sans pits, of course), with just enough jelly as well. Spread it on a Belgian waffle, and every nook will have a cherry in it. I find it also makes a nice pairing with Nutella for a new spin on PB&J. (I use whole wheat bread, ‘cause something has to be healthy in there.) Meijer sells this one, as do various stores specializing in Michigan products, such as Heart of Michigan in Howell.

Mustards

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Click on the image to go directly to their online store, where you can buy all sorts of blueberry products—stuff you’d never imagined, like this mustard, or the basics, like preserves and syrup.

Here’s a strange taste sensation: blueberry mustard. I still can’t decide whether or not I actually like it. It’s not repulsive, though. More adventurous eaters than myself will probably know what to do with it. I bought it from Heart of Michigan’s website. The Blueberry Store makes all kinds of blueberry products, though. I feel like I’ve had their preserves, but I don’t have any on hand.

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This time clicking on the image will take you directly to their online store. They really have an interesting array of products!

Food for Thought’s Organic Cherry Honey Mustard sounds like such a wonderful idea. It’s good, but you can’t really taste the cherry much, so that was disappointing. Maybe I got an off batch. Use it anywhere you’d use honey mustard. When you do taste the cherry, it does harmonize; they use tart cherries.

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Click on the image for the website of Sansonetti Sauces, a family-owned business that makes mustards, vinaigrettes, barbeque sauces, and more. I’ve only tried this one, so far.

Sansonetti’s Roasted Red Pepper Mustard is quite good—and not too hot, which I can promise you, because I (a “supertaster” very sensitive to heat) can enjoy it. Also, roasted red peppers are never all that hot. Just delicious! It is indeed a Michigan product, despite the “Napa Valley Gold Medal” on the label (which means it won the Gold Medal at the 2010 Napa Valley World Wide Mustard Festival, their website explains). If you want heat, layer it with other hot ingredients in your sandwich, and spread it on thick. I find it quite delicious on a veggie burger or on a sandwich with crisp veggies (like spinach and onions).

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Click on the image for their website, offering “artisanal fruit preserves and condiments.”

Once you get past the strange disconnect of your mustard looking like some kind of berry jam (well, not exactly; it looks like you mixed mustard into your jam), this cranberry mustard will delight you. It’s the perfect blend of tangy and sweet – but not too sweet. Both the mustard and the cranberry flavors come through nicely. I’m a vegetarian, so I would use this on a sandwich with lots of fresh, crisp veggies;  but I imagine it would be perfection on a turkey sandwich—especially, next November, on those Thanksgiving leftovers.

Sweets

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That’s olive oil in the background on the right. Bad photography. Oh well. Still, you can click on the image to link to the Sanders website, where their famous dessert toppings are just a fraction of what you can break your diet (or Lenten fast in a month or so) with.

OK, I’m bending my own rules a bit. You know this is one I had tried while in Michigan! I grew up with the stuff. I’m just including it here because Sanders.

You can buy this in many places—Meijer, your local grocery store (in Michigan, anyway), and many sweets shops and specialty stores, such as Heart of Michigan, Rocky’s, and RJ Hirt DeVries and Co.  You can also order it, and any of their products, from their website.

What I’d never tried before, because it’s so expensive, is Sanders’ candy. A coworker ordered me some for Christmas the year before last, knowing how much I love Sanders. He bought me the peppermint bark, which I can honestly say is the best peppermint bark I’ve ever had, and the salted caramels. The salted caramels were also the best of any I’ve ever tried. They were so good, even this chocolate addict could eat just one piece per day and be satisfied with it. I’d never experienced that in a chocolate before!

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Click the image to visit their website!

A friend sent this to me along with other goodies this past Christmas. She probably got it at Rocky’s or somewhere in Eastern Market.

You can’t see the actual honey very well in this photograph, but it’s honey, and you know what that looks like. This honey is a rich amber color. The flavor is bolder than most honey you might buy at the grocery store, so if you prefer mild honey, it might take some getting used to. But it’s perfect for spreading on bread with butter (which is my main use for honey). I’m not a tea drinker, but I imagine it might be better in some teas than in others, given its strong flavor.

The label you see here is the only labeling on the jar. However, their website indicates that their honey is raw. Even cooler: “We take care of 100 beehives in the backyards, schools and community gardens of Detroit and suburbs. We provide you with raw honey and pure beeswax candles.” They also say you can buy their honey at Avalon Bakery, where (if you’re in Detroit) you can pick up some great bread to enjoy with the honey!

Sources, and other stuff I haven’t personally tried:

I didn’t include any products by Cherry Republic above, but as you would expect from the name, they make various cherry products. I’ve tried their cherry salsa, and at first I liked it, but then got sick of it pretty quickly. I think it was too sweet for my taste in salsa.

Traverse Bay Winery‘s home page, should you wish to browse their products. Theirs is the cherry wine I highly recommend, and which met the enthusiastic approval of the NorCal folks who sampled it.

Leelanau Cellars, who make the raspberry wine above, make a wide variety of wines, which you can check out at this link.

And, should you not trust my judgment, you can check out St. Julian’s cherry wine here, or look at their other selections, which might be tasty for all I know. Maybe the label design should’ve been a giveaway.

To purchase these products and more: In addition to all the links from images above, you can visit the following stores in person or online.

Heart of Michigan, located in Howell.

Rocky Peanut Co., located in the Eastern Market Historic District in Detroit.

DeVries and Co., formerly R.J. Hirt (but still in the family), is located at Eastern Market. They don’t appear to have a website/online store, but are on facebook.

Eastern Market, where Detroiters have been getting good local food since 1891.

Meijer, Michigan’s answer to Walmart. Located throughout the state, and a few places in some adjoining states.

Some Michigan/Detroit based foods can also be found at other shops like Pure Detroit (which seems to always have Sanders sauces, and blends from the Detroit Spice Company), even though they’re primarily a clothing/attire brand.

Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Detroit Bold coffee, although I’m not a coffee drinker (and have never tried Detroit Bold. I don’t like coffee, so the fact that I wouldn’t like it shouldn’t reflect on them.) It’s a great story, though, and founder A.J. O’Neil is a great guy, very supportive of his hometown, Highland Park. Check it out on facebook, too.

A brief Advent reflection

Advent’s just begun.

Ordinary Time closed with a celebration of Christ the King; now we’re waiting for that King to be born…while at the same time, looking for him to “come again in glory.” Even while Christmas preparations must be done, we hold those celebrations at bay during this strange season of remembering the eschaton and anticipating Christ’s birth 2,000-some years ago, all while continuing to meet his Real Presence in the Sacrament at every Mass we attend. Advent is “timey-wimey,” as the Doctor might put it:

Well, in the Church, we usually use the phrase, “already and not yet,” but it’s a similar idea.

The entire Church year, in fact, is like this—not just Advent. When we walk the Way of the Cross with Christ during Holy Week, we’re also busy preparing for Easter celebrations, while celebrating the Eucharist before, on, and after Maundy Thursday. We know that Christ was born, lived, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to his Church, but we mark the days of our year in ways that combine memory, anticipation, presence, longing, and participation in ways that allow us to find, afresh, our own place in the story, year after year. We sound the depths of the traditions, which have accrued and continue to grow through the centuries, and find that they echo back our own longing, fear, joy, pain, faith, doubt—whatever we might be experiencing right now. We have the opportunity to put our lives as they are this year in conversation with that story which is both historic and eternal, the story of the One who was, and is, and will be.

Blessed Advent. May the mysteries we ponder with Mary resonate in our lives throughout the coming year.

Annunciatory Angel, Fra Angelico, c. 1450-1455. Detroit Institute of Arts.

Annunciatory Angel, Fra Angelico, c. 1450-1455. Detroit Institute of Arts.

PS: I’d be remiss not to mention that today, Detroit’s application for bankruptcy protection was approved by a judge. I ask for your prayers for the city and its residents, as well as the surrounding region, and for wisdom and a spirit of servanthood in the leaders who will be hashing out a plan going forward. For more information:

USA Today’s report, which gives a general overview of today’s news on the subject.

Huffington Post’s report centering on the fate of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collections.

The Nation’s report, which considers the really bad precedent(s) that could come out of this.

Buildings and Bodies

Since I don’t seem to have the time right now to sort through and edit, in order to share, my Detroit photos, I thought I’d at least stop in and post something. This is a bit of a flashback—I published it as a facebook note on May 24, 2011.

I’m not normally one to argue with a bishop (although a facebook note is hardly arguing), but the sermon we heard on Sunday for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul’s building has gotten me thinking, and talking, quite a bit. That’s good—that’s what a sermon should do. And I don’t totally disagree with what the Bishop said, I just want to nuance it a bit, or maybe just deepen part of it with further reflections. At any rate, his sermon is the occasion for me writing some thoughts I’ve been having anyway here in this note.

Bishop Wendell Gibbs (Diocese of Michigan) remarked in his sermon that buildings are a curse: they require so much effort and so many resources for upkeep, and they can lock us into certain styles of worship (in the case of a church) rather than allowing flexibility and adaptation. Bishop Gibbs’ primary concern in this regard is mission, and he’s absolutely right that there is a danger both of becoming complacent inside a lovely building during worship hours rather than going out into the streets and into the world and being the Church there; and of draining our resources on the building’s upkeep so that not enough is left for growth and ministry. And that was his primary focus: the “living stones” that should not merely be contained inside stone buildings. It wasn’t a sermon about architecture.

However, when he said that “buildings are a curse,” after chuckling knowingly a bit, I instantly thought, “so are bodies!” I don’t know about you, but my body requires a lot of upkeep, especially the older I get. I have to devote a lot of time to sleeping, eating, grooming, working for a living, and so forth; I have to spend a lot of money on food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and health care—and despite all of this expenditure, my body still disappoints me constantly! It’s quite a bit bigger than I would like; it’s not terribly flexible; it burdens me with health issues from eczema to bipolar disorder. It limits me to whiteness, femaleness, a certain height, and having to be in only one place at a time. It is weighted down by gravity and worn out by use and by the elements.

And yet my body is precisely my means of being in the world. Without my body and all of its draining requirements, I can’t interact with others, enjoy tastes and smells and sights and sounds, or even know anything at all, since all of our knowledge is mediated by our senses.

Buildings, in fact, are very much like the human body. Buildings and bodies enjoy a certain connaturality. Buildings are built precisely to house human bodies and activities. Because of this, much of what we can say about buildings can also be said about our bodies, and vice-versa.

Our buildings are how we as communities exist in the world. We build grandiose civic buildings not (primarily) to display wealth and privilege but to use wealth in the service of facilitating and celebrating the civic project—our common life. We build homes as dwelling places and decorate them to celebrate family (however configured) and to situate us in a neighborhood, as well as to accommodate all the provisions we need. We build houses of worship to not only serve as a meeting place for like-minded people, but to celebrate and exemplify our common faith, our love of God, God’s love for us, and the community God has made of us.

Furthermore, houses of worship serve sacramentally as visible and tangible reminders of the “cloud of witnesses” St. Paul talks about—all the saints, known to us and unknown, who have gone before. In a church, for example, windows and fixtures have been given by members in the past (who have or had lots of money, and whose names are usually inscribed on the gifts), but these fixtures have been used and cared for by those who have gone before us as well as those currently in our midst, and we will pass them all on to others. You can touch the back or end of a pew and know that others have done the same over the years, and that many dedicated individuals—sextons, vergers, clerks of the works, Altar Guild volunteers, or whoever—have lovingly cleaned, polished, restored, and protected them. These objects witness to our bonds given in baptism, nourished in the Eucharist, and deepened by common worship and life.

They do drain our resources, but they can also serve as signs of the risen Christ in our midst, since without him, none of these things, these material objects, would have been put together and used as they have been. And his Incarnation, which comes with death attached (as our own incarnations do) and his Resurrection have hallowed all created matter so that materiality has been taken into the very Godhead. “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon with our hands concerns the Word of life,” writes St. John in his first epistle, “for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us… [NAB].” God who is beyond all space and time, who revealed Godself as the God of Israel, could not be contained in a physical dwelling; but in Jesus God ate and slept, suffered death, sloughed off dead skin and excreted waste, and was limited in every way all human beings are. This was his way of being in the world. It is the “scandal of particularity,” from which neither we nor our buildings are exempt.

Our buildings are our means of being in our communities, and they help to form us in the faith. Even—or perhaps especially—when we bruise ourselves against the walls trying to make the building fit whatever we want to do in it (as liturgies change, e.g.), our buildings also remind us of our own particularity, with all the limitations and mortality our creatureliness entails. Like us, buildings adapt to new situations with mixed success. Like us, our buildings show their years, and, if we have the spiritual senses to perceive it, they get better with age. Wear comes from use, and years of prayer deepen the sacredness the church building already had upon its dedication, just as the years that show in our bodies’ wrinkles and scars have deepened the christliness we received in our baptism.

Burden, yes. Curse, yes. Blessing—yes, yes, yes!