Four years ago as new residents of Minnesota, my husband mentioned during a grocery shopping trip that he thought he would “pick up some lamb chops.” “Great,” I said, or maybe even “Yum.” However, as I began browsing the dairy aisle he called out that he couldn’t find the lamb. “Nonsense,” I said, “It must be here.” I searched up and down the meat cases to no avail and decided to ring the bell for the butcher.
“Lamb?” he said with a quizzical expression, “well maybe at Easter.”
What! Beef, chicken, turkey, ham, walleye, bison, venison, lutefisk – and no lamb?
I realize now that it must have something to do with “mutton” and the perception that lamb is a far cry from tasty. In googling, I discovered that lamb for consumption should be less than 2 years old, usually slaughtered between 4 and 12 months. Mutton is not only older but has stronger flavor and tougher meat, was considered “cheap” food for the military, often over cooked and dry, hence the perception carried “home” that it was not something to eat as a treat.
Somehow we didn’t get that message in California. Leg of lamb remains the preferred Easter dinner choice, and chops are always a culinary delight. So, who knew?
We celebrated this Easter after finding just four lamb loin chops at Service Foods and they were labeled “fresh” (most likely meaning they were local, grass-fed lambs). Served with a combo of veggies they were divine. Minnesotans, you don’t know what you’ve been missing.
My Personal Chef aged them uncovered for three days in the refrigerator. The day before the holiday, he rubbed them with fresh garlic and pepper on both sides, and on Easter afternoon he added kosher salt (which would draw out the juices if added before that time) and let them rest at room temperature for one hour. After heating a cast iron skillet in a 375 degree oven, he browned them on the stove top and finished them off in the oven for about 7 minutes. Ahhhh.
Because it was a special occasion, if just the two of us, we decided to “dress for dinner.” The Chef donned his dark green cashmere vest sweater over his usual t-shirt. I spent time rummaging through my closet, trying on various combos before deciding upon black tights (the chosen standard of my youth) and a grey, Norwegian looking sweater dress, set off with almost new grey and silver earrings. And so we dined in style amidst the heights of gastronomy, Californians with a touch of Minnesota.
Earlier that morning at the Unitarian Church in Underwood, Minnesota, the message had circled around the topic “Making Easter Meaningful in a Unitarian Universalist Church,” highlighting the conundrum that Unitarians (I considered myself a Lutheran Buddhist before I became a Unitarian) often face within the context of traditional Christian rituals and beliefs. The truth lies within the fact that Unitarians don’t actually practice rituals or even entertain specific beliefs, all the while embracing truths within all religions. A fact succinctly expressed in my favorite part of each Sunday service, the chalice lighting, where members come up and light a candle for a current joy or concern after reciting together – “This chalice is a symbol of our community. No single belief includes us here; no disbelief excludes us. Our celebration of life and common search for meaning bind us together.”
Someone asked me once, what was the point if we didn’t recite scripture or celebrate miracles or follow a liturgy? Someone else (not a Unitarian) jumped in before I could reply and answered, “It’s because they’re Humanists.” Humanists. It might well have been an indictment, but I took it as a compliment, as in humanitarianism, as in “devoted to promoting the welfare of humanity, especially through the elimination of pain and suffering, the doctrine that man’s obligations are for the good of the whole.”
Sounds like Jesus to me.
In fact, the first listed official Purpose of our church begins with the phrase –
“Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” And continues with – “Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.” They certainly are less about the praying and the pontificating, and more about the doing – Habitat for Humanity, Lunches for Seniors, Someplace Safe. If there is a community need, the Unitarians are inevitably there, sleeves rolled up and serving.
But back to the morning talk which contained a number of insightful questions about how a Unitarian can celebrate Easter without caring or needing to focus upon a death and resurrection. The main thought that resonated for me personally concerned “Roots and Wings,” an analogy around the truth that for the majority of us that morning, “roots’ would be represented by our Lutheran (or Christian or Jewish) upbringing and “wings’ would be the Unitarian experience.
The past Palm Sunday found us with family at the Shepard of the Prairie Lutheran Church in Hickson, North Dakota, celebrating the baptism of Charlee Marie, my cousin’s granddaughter. I must admit that my brain dozed off that day during long readings and recitations, but there was a certain sweetness about the occasion, and a comfort in the familiar old church within the history which had a lot to do with who I am today. I love going downstairs after the service and have the church ladies exclaim about the fun they had with my mother in elementary school and ask “Aren’t you Jennings daughter?” and smile approvingly.
There were times when I didn’t fit into my Lutheran Sunday school because I dared to suggest something that seemed wondrous to me but not appropriate to the teacher who then, made me feel shamed. But there was un-deniably also a providence and blessing and history which would form my being and become my roots.
The wings began to grow much later with many things – meditation and a study of Buddhist philosophy, the discovery of the written genre dubbed Magic Realism, the passion of the garden and creatures of the wild, and yes, the humanism of Unitarianism.
Easter can be celebrated in many ways and from multi-layered contexts. And right now I’m dreaming about having some left-over lamb to wrap inside a piece of lefsa.