Here we are, deep in the Here we are, deep in the dog days of another summer. School is out, vacation days are being cashed in, and picnic baskets are being packed. Barbecues are firing, pools are splashing, and ice cream trucks are rolling. Meanwhile, thousands, yea millions, are taking to the great American highway.Seventy percent of the U.S. population will hit the road this summer — off to visit grandma, the beach, the closest roller coaster, or a national park. We just love to feel the breeze on our faces and road beneath our wheels. We can’t stop ourselves from being a traveling people. We always have been.In prehistoric times we hoofed it, walking out of Africa scientists tell us, to every point on the globe. Then we built boats, domesticated horses, constructed wagons, engineered planes, trains, and automobiles – not to mention submersibles and space ships – so that no corner of creation has been untouched by the human foot, it seems. We keep moving, rolling, and running, so much so that the theme song of human history might well be Willie Nelson’s, “On the Road Again.”True to form, Christianity is a fluid faith for a pilgrim people. It is a spirituality of sojourn, of “goin’ places that we've never been; seein’ things that we may never see again.” Yet, we don’t always understand faith this way. Look at how we have structured it, however, and it is easy to see why we most often view Christianity as an incorrigible, fixated fortress rather than a living, dynamic movement.Our doctrines, constructed and accumulated over thousands of years, stack up like heavy stones. They are unassailable, infallible, and immovable. The buildings that contain our worship services are almost always built of rock, granite, or the hardest and heaviest material we can find — and there those buildings sit in the same place for centuries.Then, try being an idealistic reformer who seeks to change a church’s policy or its strategy to meet the world where it now is. If you’re not taken out behind the vestry and quietly crucified, you will find that change in the church usually moves with all the terrifying speed of a melting glacier.
It was probably 15 years ago that I discovered the magic that is a nearly empty jar of jam.Until then, I'd always hated those sticky knuckle moments of scraping the slimy dregs of the jar, hoping I had enough to add that sweet balance so needed by the otherwise leaden smear of peanut butter on my bread.Then an Italian cook who was supposed to be teaching me pasta making got sidetracked. She wanted a salad to go with our orecchiette, and she wanted to make her own vinaigrette. That's when she reached for a nearly empty jar of strawberry jam from the refrigerator, dumped in some olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, some salt and pepper. Then she put the cover back on the jar and shook like mad.Revolutionary? Hardly. But it was delicious. More importantly, it changed my relationship with jam. It wasn't just a sandwich spread. And it totally made sense. After all, a jar of grape jelly has long been the not-so-secret ingredient for many a potluck meatball. And since that day, I've used a dollop of one jam or another in nearly every vinaigrette I've made.And that's just the start. I regularly turn to jams and jellies for adding oomph to everything, including sweet-and-sour chicken (apricot jam), barbecue pork ribs (seedless raspberry), beef marinades (orange marmalade), ham glazes (blackberry or cherry), sweet-and-savory dips for vegetables and crackers (red pepper jelly), even sandwich spreads (anything goes!). It's a cheap and easy way to add tons of flavor. If nothing else, you really must try fig jam in a grilled cheese (use extra-sharp cheddar).Fruit spreads — as the retail category is collectively known — accounts for some $959 million in sales a year in the U.S., where some 1 billion pounds are produced, according to the International Jelly and Preserve Association. And the leading variety? Strawberry, followed by grape, then raspberry.