Personal Religion - Part 2: Blueberry-Apricot Jam

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

-Because some things are easier to sort out than others.-

Hovering over the jamming pot is the place I do my deepest thinking. I make jam the labor intensive, slow way. I cook it on medium heat and stir, stir, stir until my hand begins to shake and, even then, I continue to stir, stir, stir. It ensures that the fruit doesn’t sit and scorch and that it all cooks up perfectly - evenly - every time. All this stir, stir, stirring grants me the time to mull over my thoughts, turning them over like shiny baubles lost long ago in the attic and found once again, and ponder their meaning.

The last time I made jam I discussed my history with religion. It’s rare that I ever give a topic more than a single post - my attention span won’t ever really allow it – but my most recent batch of jam left me to thresh out exactly what my beliefs are. Sure, I was raised to be a good, if not relaxed, Lutheran whose practice has waned like a the shrinking taper of a dinner candle these past many years.

So what is God to me now? I wonder...

-Blueberries need little consideration due to their tastiness.-

I think that, first, to prostelitize your religion as the only right one without any regard for what other ideas are out there is close minded. Depending on how you were raised or what religion you found that saved you later in life it seems that most people fervently believe that theirs is the correct one. After all, it says it right there in the Bible/Koran/Tengyur/Book of Mormon/Bhagavad Gita/etc. I think this sort of blind belief without even considering the teachings or backgrounds of other beliefs is not only emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually isolating; but close-minded.

It is possible that some people simply don’t want to challenge their own beliefs, or, there's the fear that maybe, just maybe, there might be something to these other religions. I’m not sure.

When I left home for college, I didn’t actively seek out to learn about these other faiths. Rather, some of their people seemed to find me. I became an occasional volunteer for the local Jewish campus group because a friend needed some extra arms setting up for an event. One event turned into many and I can now recite the blessing of the candles at Shabbat dinner. A wiccan friend taught me the beauty in simplicity and gifted me a respect for nature in that I assert some greater power must be behind. I marveled at the stories of the Buddha, whom I previously imagined as simply a teacher of passivity, fought off demonic hoards.

So, over time, my beliefs changed. I grew up learning about in life after death through Jesus, and for the most part I still believe that. I do believe Jesus was the son of God and all that jazz, but I believe it’s a bit more complicated than that. (I think.)

Like the jam bubbling away in front of me I believe IT is a mash of things. On the surface it's very sweet and sour and simple, but analyze all that’s actually going on. Jam isn’t just sugar and fruit. It’s chemical breakdown and bonding, heat exchange, acidic reactions, alkalic processes, sugar crystalline formations, molecular structure, energy. It seems so plain from the outside, but it needs serious consideration.

-Deep stuff, this is.-

Jam and religion both consist of intricate transactions and operations to form a rather salubrious whole.

Given, this is the universe and all that it is that I'm talking about so bear with me as I try to actually, for the first time, put my thoughts on this topic down in words and sort it all out. I think this post is more for me more than you. Still, I hope you'll bear with me and respond to me in the end. Maybe as your stir your own pot of jam?

To start, I do believe in a God. I’m not sure if it’s Christian God, but I associate God with that more than anything else. I don't believe in gods plural, but I suppose one can't rule anything out. It just seems that if there were then you might think we see more battle between them. It's a bit of a human reason to disbelieve in them because where does it state they have to act the way we do? But, as a human, it seems to make sense enough for me.

All in all, to leave explanation of IT solely to dispassionate science comes off as a frigid way of going about digging for the great why's our existence. Science is helpful, but sterile and dark. For the entire universe to work out the way it did so I could type this right now; and you, with your perfectly formed eyes can read this; that each strand of DNA evolved about because a meteor hit the right spot and that first life form that congealed in the ooze was at the perfect temperature; because a rock floated in space at the most ideal speed and rotation... the chances of it all being just perfect are astronomical (albeit possible).

A universe without something guiding, loving or indifferent, feels too empty to me. Too sad.

Is this a bit self-serving? Yes, it is. I'm okay with that.

I also believe in the Big Bang Theory and evolution. Now very often evolution and creationism are bitter enemies, or, at least, their fervent followers are. Couldn't God have created the universe through a Big Bang? It's perfectly practical. I have issues with a lot of the science about the beginning of the universe from a purley scientific point of view. The evidence isn't there for one. Not enough for me as it is.

Point to beta waves and dark space all you want, considering that in the ever expanding life of the universe - a lifetime so long that humans cannot generally even mentally or physically conceive the number of years - we've barely been here for a blip of it. Can humans rally measure The Universe? I suppose to some degree, but I highly doubt we ever will to the point that we ever KNOW it the way we hope to.

Now, don't pass me off as someone who dismisses science. I was also raised watching NOVA. I am all up in the scientifc method. For example, I think ghosts are hogwash. We would have proof of specters by now, otherwise.

You saw one once? Really? Prove it. Do what no other human being on earth ever has in our almost 300,000 year history has and prove it. Also why just ghosts of humans? Not animals? Plants? Science proved that thunder was not of the Gods (not in the direct, firing it from fingertips sense) but rather due to a rapid expansion of air from an atmospheric increase in pressure and temperature due to lightning. So yes, many sciences were seen as magic way back when. It's easier to pass off what we don't understand as simply a higher power.

The universe's vastness and the what that started it all, however, is unknown to us. It's Schrödinger's Universe, both deific and quantitative at the same time.

-His jam was both tart and sweet, but that was a little more determinable.-

As I said earlier, I believe in Jesus. I think he was a rather groovy guy who knew his wine. I bet he was awesome at parties. I do not believe he was Anglo-Saxon, though. He was probably a guy who knew a few dirty jokes, may not have known how to sew up old clothes, and may have sucked at board games. He was made to be a human after all, which leads me to believe I could whoop him at Scrabble.

Now, I also believe in Buddha. He was a pretty smart feller. So was Muhammad. I don't know enough about him one way or the other, but like Jesus I hear he gets misquoted a lot.

Then there is the concept of the afterlife. Is there one? I hope so. As a kid I always imagined that you were given options: incarnation, life eternal in heaven, or door number three. I imagined God had a playful side when it came to your eternal soul.

Nowadays, I don't know. I just hope. That's it. I wouldn't mind coming back as my cat, Cid. He has it pretty sweet. If I do though then we have a really odd situation in this apartment as my one soul concurrently resides in two different bodies.

I admit, I'm scared that there might be nothing at the end. The idea of everything just coming to darkness is unnerving. It is to lots of people. It's one of the main reasons we look to religion. It is reasonable to want comfort.

So there it is. My faith as it stands in bloggy summation. It's evolving and changing as I gain more experience. My age reflects more thought and exposure.

Faith is something raw. It weathers the elements, toughs out the harsh realities of existence, and alters its form accordingly.

Faith, solid as stone, scares me though. Props to you who have it and stand by it. Really. No, I mean the scary people. The ones who use faith as a weapon in it's most dangerous form: an excuse. An excuse can be used for anything. Don't fear the bat in the faithful's hand (okay, yes, fear the bat as it may crack your skull like a ripe honeydew) but be fearful of the gnarly fingered wraith of faith that guides the bat's wielder.

To the peaceful and strong of faith I say, "Props to you." That takes conviction. "Cojones," as Jesus might say if he were punishing a yard of Margarita in Mexico.

Still, seeks out strange and exotic religions. The need to keep exploring and question faith is a way to reassert it. You find what works and what doesn't. It can change faith, but also strengthen it. Faith is a muscle. It needs to be worked out to make it stronger. You can just let it sit without a challenge and expect it to stay in good condition. Without trial faith atrophies.

I stare back at my jam. The bubbling has slowed and the slurry is viscous and dark. Scraping the spoon against the bottom of the bowlallows a swath of air to rush in at the exposed base. The jam rushing into to reclaim its void as the spoon pushes it sounds like two opposing piece of Velcro being ripped apart from one another.

The jam I have in front of me is like my faith. A motley mix of things that don't often get paired: overripe blueberries and unripe apricots. Not a lot of method went into it but plenty of thought did. I added what seemed like a logical amount of lemon and sugar with the certainty it would all come out just fine. I moved on ahead and altered as needed, a slight bit more heat, stirring just a tad slower, whatever made it work out best. I swore fealty to the jam when I decided to make it but it would be on my own terms.

It came out amazing by the way. Personal, unique, and a bit contradictory to what others may expect, but I love it.

In all this, though, jam has a one-up on any ideas you may have about whatever is out there:

I'd like you to try and spread the universe out on a piece of toast.

Blueberry-Apricot Jam

4 cups of chopped apricots, pits discarded
3 cups blueberries, smashed
2 + 3/4 cups of sugar
1/4 teaspoon butter
5 tablespoons of lemon juice

1. Place the apricots, blueberries, sugar, butter, and lemon juice in a large, thick-bottomed, stainless steel or ceramic pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Place a couple of small plates in the freezer, these will be used to test the jam later.

2. The mixture will boil and rise in volume. Skim off the pale foam that forms at the top and discard. The boil will subside to larger bubbles, but still bubble vigorously. Be sure to begin gently stirring the jam frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom and scorching.

3 After about 20 minutes begin testing the jam by placing a small amount on a cold plate. Allow 30 seconds to pass and then run your finger through it to see what the cooled consistency will be. Boil for a few minutes longer if desired for a thicker jam.

4. Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars and seal leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Before applying the lids, sterilize the lids by placing them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying the lids.

Makes six 8 oz. jars. Will keep for up to a year.


  1. Very interesting. And the apricots here (Ky) in the grocery are utterly without taste. I thought they were unripe, but left on the counter they progressed directly to mold, totally bypassing anything good. So no jam for my kitchen with apricots.
    On the God topic, in the 7th grade some smartie pants (could it have been me? possible but memory uncertain) asked my history teacher, also a lay Baptist minister, how God could have created the world in 7 days, what with the dinosaurs and all. He answered that there was no conflict, that the Bible said that thousands of years were but a day in the eyes of the Lord. That blew me away at the time (also because I was expecting some intrapersonal wrath stuff at the impertinence), and I come back to this answer again and again. I am comforted that there are mysteries we cannot fathom, rather than frightened. I am more than happy to let a Divine Force make the really big decisions. I can't even buy decent apricots.

  2. I'm terrified to make jam. I find all the stirring and the sterilizing to be rather intimidating. I'm also terrified to contemplate my faith, as my beliefs have changed a lot over the last couple of years to the point that I'm not sure what they are anymore. Thanks for tackling a couple of my big fears! I love your writing.

  3. Thank you for the post, Garrett. I now arrive at the office with a "Woo, it's Tuesday!" attitude because I know your post is waiting with lunch.

    Your logic on why there aren't multiple gods is something that I think is applied by others far too often without the awareness of the assumption that you have. God(s) isn't/aren't human, and I hope would they would be better behaved by nature.

  4. Sounds like finding spirituality in the everyday, which to me seems much more significant than finding Religion...tasty jam makes it all the better. Keep asking delicious questions.

  5. I've been reading for awhile, and haven't really felt compelled to comment (nothing to do with your writing, which I like, but I'm just not that type of person). But this is actually something I've been pondering a lot lately, maybe it's an age thing?
    I actually find a lot comfort in learning about science, specifically universe/time/quantum physics related stuff. Not to get into too much detail, but did you know that some researchers are confused about why we exist in such a low state of entropy? They think it should be higher, but this low state is what allows us to exist. Also, there's no reason for time to move forward, hypothetically, it could move in any direction. Anyway, it could all just be nonsense too, but knowing just how much had to happen for life to exist, makes me feel that there might be something more. Really it comes down to what you can live with.
    Personally, though, I would rather be a religious fanatic than a fervent atheist (although I think they overlap in temperament), it would be too depressing :)

  6. I just started working at a jam kitchen and I have a greater appreciation than ever for the intricacies of fruit, sugar, and heat.

    You say that ghosts don't exist, and that magic was the simple explanation of the ancients for unexplainable phenomena--wouldn't God fall under the same heading, according to that logic?

  7. I know nothing about making jam, but I agree with anonymous above; if you're able to dismiss the easily debunked "magical" elements of religion such as ghosts and/or divine thunder-making, then why not take the logical step to dismiss an all powerful being? To me, personally, it's a simple 1-2-3. With the change of time, God has been made less attainable and more abstract. The Ancient Greeks believed that the gods were physical beings who lived on Mount Olympus. People eventually scaled the mountain and discovered there were no gods there. Christians believe in Heaven, which was originally meant to be just outside of Earth's atmosphere; hence people being taken up into the sky when raptured, etc. Through science we saw and even traveled into space, and the pearly gates have yet to be found. Where is God? Some people say he's not a real being, and you can't see him through a telescope or from a space station. I've heard some people say that maybe Heaven is in another dimension (?!), which just seems like moving the yardstick to somewhere we can never reach. What happens if we discover how to travel between dimensions? Where will God reside then? Just some thoughts from a "fervent atheist". :)

  8. Garrett: good pot stirring (metaphorical and not).
    I always hope for more spirituality to enter my life because I am not very religious and often challenge standard beliefs. However, I do believe in God as I think there is no other explanation to the magic of life or the infinite or love or beauty in the universe or happiness.
    On a side note, what about evil/pain/unhappiness? have you pondered on those topics? Maybe for your 3rd post on the topic...

  9. Here is why I stad the way I stand with ghosts. Ghosts it seems always have the tendecy to be more present in peoples' stories. Direct. They supposedly make their presence known. Good ones guide people. Bad ones torment people. Yet for beings that people argue on behalf of that supposedly are trying to make themselves present and known and tangible in a way, there is no proof. It seems to only be apparent to one person, not to the many. I dunno. Maybe I'm disillusioned by Hollywood.

  10. Wow great post (and delicious looking jam!).

    Didn’t I read somewhere that the Catholic Church agrees with/endorses the Big Bang Theory? I think that tells us that science and spirituality can coexist.

    Not all Christians are literal believers of the accounts in the Bible. Some see the accounts, especially in the Old Testament (such as the stories of Creation, Tower of Babel, Noah and the Ark, etc), as allegories or myths. That includes me, a scientist and a Christian.

    I chuckled at burnttoast’s recount of “a day is as a thousand years”. I’ve heard that plenty of time from my more ‘fundamental’ Christian friends! If you have to wriggle and twist so much to get your religious texts to line up with what makes sense with the physical evidence, perhaps its time to reassess your understanding of them?!

  11. Garrett, what a great post! Cooking tasks like jam making and bread-making offer time to think about more than just what you are making for dinner, or what you want to do this weekend. So glad to see someone else who does not think that God and Big Bang, evolution, science are not mutually exclusive. Oh, and your jam looks terrific too!

  12. On the subject of being open-minded about one's beliefs, I find that nothing has made me happier about life and the universe in general than my exploration of secular humanism. And yet I continue to hold certain supernatural beliefs, and continue to believe in some as-yet-undefined concept of God, with whom I think I now have a much better relationship.

    It's like learning to love and respect your parents all the more when you realize that you can live independent of them, and judge them by your own adult standards.

    You know?

  13. I can't wait to try this jam, I was just wondering how you would seal the jars?

  14. Leila K. Sterilize the jars in the oven for 30 minutes at 200 and cover the lids and rings in boiling water. Ladle in the jam, leaving 1 inch of head space. Cover, seal, and place in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. The lids should vacuum seal shut. Tighten the lids a bit more and store.

  15. Sweet one more question if you don't mind, my parents are diabetic is there a sugar free way I can make this? Thanks a bunch~

  16. Leila: Sugar is a main ingredient in jam. I'm sorry but not to my knolwedge, no, you cannot do this without sugar.

  17. Great post!

    I was curious - should the apricots be peeled before chopping?

  18. AndreaP: Nope! Just chop them up and toss them in. =)


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