There are things we learn when we’re getting older than some people have known since they were in fourth grade. Twitter is one, I suppose. It seems like a fad to me, but I enjoy the similar feature on Facebook.
Me, Myself & I wishes everyone a Happy Easter.
You may now hit “Like” or Comment. But what I’m talking about is my one-man fish fry on Good Friday. After all these years I can finally do it!
We never ate fish when I was a kid, unless you count those ghastly fish sticks they made us eat with a gun to our heads in grade school. This was back in the days when Catholics made a big public to-do about not eating meat on Fridays. That all got swept away during Vatican II, which the Roman Catholic Church has been trying to undo ever since. My parents didn’t like fish, so of course my mother didn’t know how to cook one. I remember enjoying fish exactly once, when I was about 12 and my grandparents took me on vacation for two weeks to a cabin on a lake in northern Wisconsin. Granddad and one of his cronies caught some fish that morning and fried it up that night. I don’t know what they were, just “good eatin’.” Of course I wasn’t allowed on the fishing trip; too Gay, probably. I could hook a worm on a fishing pole today if I had to, but back then I was too delicate. I didn’t want to kill a worm just so I could go sit in a boat for hours while nothing happened.
I never ate a tuna sandwich until I was in college. Fish wasn’t part of my world.
My mother couldn’t fry a chicken either; I was 40 before I learned how. Oh, she tried often enough, and it was always edible, but not nearly as good as other people can fry chicken. Plus she always made this heavy cream gravy as thick as paste. It was tasty but you couldn’t move for an hour afterwards.
Two Fridays ago I tried an old recipe for poached fish, with peppercorns and lemon slices and bay leaves in the water. It was like poaching a washcloth, not my idea of decent food even in the season of self-sacrifice. I threw that 3 x 5 card out!
I had a half pound of frozen perch left over, which I decided to fry last night. I have never had success frying fish, so I seldom do it. I always did the egg wash and cornmeal thing with disappointing results. I decided to look for another recipe because—and this is what’s important to me—I’ve had a great Lent this year, dedicated and productive, and I wanted to keep my string going.
I shocked all my friends by giving up alcohol. It wasn’t all that hard. I was tempted every other day, but somehow I kept going; Lent is only 40 days, the same length of time Jesus fasted in the wilderness, and if you can’t make 40 days by giving up something that isn’t essential in the first place, and is self-destructive in the second, something is wrong in your relationship with God. I never felt like I was suffering; somehow I had a positive attitude, “this is a good thing.” Time seemed to open up; I suddenly had more of it than usual, which I filled with housecleaning and gardening and catching up on my finances.
Unfortunately I haven’t seen my friends these entire six weeks, which tells you something. I’m glad Easter’s here.
So to last night’s fish fry. I’d found some malt vinegar in a nearby town which I was eager to try. I had lemon, potatoes and tartar sauce on hand. (My mother was pretty good with hand-cut french fries in a skillet; none of those machine-cut crinkly things out of a plastic bag.) I wondered if my perennial problem was the cornmeal; I know it’s supposed to work but it never tasted like much to me. Perch is not traditional but it’s what I had. I went online to view some recipes; I wanted some seasoning that made sense.
Well, voilà and eureka! I have found it! Used my own homegrown dried herbs, too, which surely adds to the flavor.
Josh’s Whiz-Bang No-Pope Fish Fry
1/2 lb. perch fillets
1/4 C flour
1/4 t thyme, basil, oregano, onion salt, garlic salt
1/8 t cracked-up pepper
1/2 C soybean oil
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into thick strips
It almost doesn’t need directions: Heat oil in cast-iron skillet over medium heat. (You can go higher but it splatters more.) Fry potatoes to golden brown; remove, drain on paper towels, salt and keep warm. Mix flour and seasonings in a flat dish. Dredge fish. Pan-fry 3-4 minutes per side. Serve with lemon, malt vinegar [and tartar sauce if you must].
Mmm, lip-smacking, not greasy. A feast for Good Friday. Seems like a sin but isn’t.
On that: the important thing in Lent is that whatever discipline we take on, it be voluntary. If the Church just imposes some rule, that always feels like a burden, a have-to. Being human, we resent it. What kind of a God makes you suffer for no discernible reason?
But deciding not to indulge ourselves in the same old way leads to spiritual growth, wholeness, health. It even allows us to enter into Christ’s pouring out of himself on our behalf. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
We can dwell on the enormous suffering Jesus went through in his Passion; or we can begin to imagine the joy he simultaneously experienced, fulfilling the will of his Father, the purpose for which he was sent, by acting out and incarnating the greatest love for his friends.
The Stations of the Cross are designed to make us wail and gnash our teeth, along with all the flagellating re-enactments and parades of popular Popery in Latin countries. But I’m an Episcopalian; we don’t use guilt as a motivation. We don’t manipulate people into believing. We want to find out the rest of the story.
Being human, Jesus didn’t enjoy crucifixion. It hurt like hell, physically and emotionally and spiritually (“Why have you forsaken me?”). Yet he could go through it, and did go through it, because he understood what it all meant. He wasn’t just atoning for our sins, he was giving us a first-hand look at what love really is.
If I say I love you, but I’m not willing to be inconvenienced for you, much less to suffer for you, I don’t really love you at all. The only way we know we’re loved is when we see someone else stop what they’re doing to help us.
Since God is love, and NOT the Great Demander in the Sky, we have to be shown what love really looks like: “There is nothing I’m not willing to do for you.”
A soldier on the battlefield knows what love is; F.D.N.Y. (and all of America) found out on 9/11. Jesus gave up his life for his friends—and he was glad to do it. On some level, if only in his brain, he was overjoyed to find the courage to go through with it, knowing that some portion of humanity (not everyone, sadly, just a portion) would stop and look and listen and learn.
If we don’t understand the joy of that act, “Good Friday” makes no sense to us. What can be good about dying?
Alone among religions, Christianity provides ultimate meaning to human life.
To be human is to suffer. We are mortal creatures and all must die. Pleasure is never permanent. We cannot live without undergoing hunger, thirst, poverty, injustice, illness, violence, loneliness, exploitation, estrangement. It’s always been that way, it always will be. The sum total of thousands of years of cultural development is that we still don’t know why we’re alive, or what to do with ourselves. Everything leads to despair—so we might as well get drunk and party, because tomorrow we die. The day after we’re forgotten.
For this we get a reward in heaven? Who says?
In his suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus turns that whole system upside down. Love is permanent. Love is the only meaning. Love gives us life and sustains it forever.
No love, no life.
Love, in fact, is life. For humans it’s the only life. But we need to be taught; that is, we need to be shown.
As Christians we almost need to be made to look. Do you know, on my Daily Office website, almost twice as many people visited on Maundy Thursday as on Good Friday?
That’s screwed up. Thursday, which celebrated Christ’s institution of the Eucharist or love feast, is seen as a joyful day, though leading to sorrow. By Friday, only half of us can bring ourselves to look at the Cross.
It should be the other way around; a big crowd on Thursday and an even bigger one on Friday. (So maybe the Papists have it right after all; at least they’ve got a spectacle going.)
We have to develop, in the Church and in ourselves, the desire to see all that is good and noble and holy, joyful even, in Good Friday. The name is apt—or call it Great Friday.
Because as much as Jesus suffered in his humanity and his body, all that was part of the deal; he knew from the beginning what was involved and he took on the job with great joy. He really did love his “friends.”
He showed us how to do the same.
That’s why I’m so happy I learned to fry him a fish on Good Friday.++