what do we knead?

15 years ago, or so, I got right into eating freshly baked bread.

I loved the smell, the taste, and the convenience of baking bread whenever.

We baked white bread, multi-grain, fruit bread, all sorts.  It was, I have to say, fantastic. A time in life that I really enjoyed.

And then our bread making machine broke down.

That’s right, the machine.  I was an expert in the use of the bread-maker. Load up the ingredients, set the timer, go to bed. Wake up the next morning to a magically baked fresh loaf for breakfast.

All I had to do was insert the ingredients in the right amounts (or better yet use a pre-mix that I got from someone else), press the buttons in the right order…and “fresh bread” was on the way.

Without the machine? No chance.

Until just the last month or so.

I’m not sure why, but I woke up one morning with the overwhelming urge to bake bread. Really make it, mix it, knead it, rise it, punch it down, rise it again, bake it, tear it apart and smother it with butter and jam.  The whole nine yards.

So the kids and I started, rustled up a recipe and set about turning our once-tidy kitchen into a bread-making disaster zone.  Each Saturday morning (if we’re at home) we get to work, churning out something different for morning tea or lunch while Sheri watches on, patiently offering much-needed tips and I’m sure bemused by my latest mid-life mini-crisis.

It turns out actually baking bread is hard work.  But it also turns out that I love it.

I love the fact that with subtle changes to the mixture, or the time spent kneading or rising, the result is different.

I love the fact that the dough changes completely as you knead – becoming elastic, flexible and responsive as you work it longer, and longer.

I love putting it in a warm place, letting the yeast go to work and watching the dough rise to double it’s size. I even like that it has to be protected, kept safe in the rising phase.

I love (actually, the 7 year old son loves) punching it down, kneading again, resting and rising again.

And I love the waiting time in between each stage, waiting, watching, chatting, anticipating.

And the smell that wafts from the kitchen as the oven works its own magic on the dough….and then the taste…..oh my!

Turns out I still love baking bread, but even more as I work at it myself compared to letting the machine take over for me.

I have to confess, my bread is nothing special, no earth shattering flavours, no award winning recipe. But there is something about making it myself.  And it seems to me, that I’m learning some lessons about church and mission as well.

As a church nearly obsessed with good order, with structure and institution, we’re good at the “bread machine” version of dealing with the changing world in which we live. We’ll import the right program, line up the ingredients, press go and know it will all work out ok.  Much as I enjoy the “messy church” approach, it’s an example of that same thing (and I’m not picking on messy church, it’s just an example).

Get the program, get the ingredients, press the buttons, wait for the bread.

The challenge is for us to learn to bake our own bread. To think about all the different elements that go into it. Mixing it carefully and patiently, watching the mix change and become flexible, elastic, responsive, letting it rise in a warm place, with the right catalysts at work, reworking it when required. And most of all being patient and gentle.

And anticipating the smell, when that fresh loaf comes out of the oven, not quite sure what we’ll find inside, but enjoying it nontheless.

What would it look like if we, in the church, baked our own bread?

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