BY REV. CHRISTINE SOBANIA JOHNSON |
Today is my birthday, so it is understandable that I’m thinking about cake. I’m thinking of not just any old cake, but my Grandma Henny’s special Chocolate Chip Date Cake, the recipe which to me is synonymous with love. Years ago, at my request, Grandma Henny spent a day in the kitchen with me to teach me all of the well-developed techniques and nuances that made her confection such a special treat. Some steps were tricky—like getting the baking soda to foam just the right amount when pouring it over a bowlful of water-soaked chopped dates. And there was the matter of the peculiarly European-sized baking dish for which the cake had been created. She shared with me the merits of one brand of flour over another.
But the thing that makes this cake especially distinctive is its topping. Once the cake batter is poured into the pan, but before the cake is popped into the oven, it gets sprinkled with a combo of white sugar, chopped nuts, and chocolate chips. When the cake bakes, the sugar melts and melds with the other toppings. Later, as the cake cools, the sweet liquid magically crystalizes into a candied crust.
“The secret,” Grandma said as she demonstrated spooning sugar all over the batter, “is to be generous.” She applied sugar liberally, making sure to fully treat not only the middle, but the corners. “Take it all the way to the edges. Do not be skimpy. In fact, sometimes I put extra in the corners. That surprises people.”
When I took that baking lesson on that day, I had no idea it would also be a life lesson. A faith lesson. A theology lesson.
My grandmother was a woman of deep devotion. She read her German Bible daily and, as an immigrant to this country, educated herself in speaking the language of her new home by reading the same Bible passages in English. She prayed continually, with words and with actions. She was among the kindest people I’ve ever encountered, rarely offering a harsh comment about anyone. Though she was not a person of large financial means, she trusted in God’s benevolence. Because she saw God as being magnanimous toward her, she was magnanimous with what she had—including the sugar she kept in her pantry.
Be generous. Don’t be skimpy.
The less charitable-in-spirit the world around me seems to become, the more significant my grandmother’s advice seems to grow. The strain that comes with living under the sustained threat of a pandemic, the tension that comes from jagged cultural divisions, the stress that comes from the collective recognition that societal inequities must be repaired—all of these challenges contribute to a brittleness that leaves many with an attitude that resembles anything but generosity. When the world is miserly with ingredients like empathy and compassion, justice and mercy, my grandmother would call us to something much better.
So would Jesus. In fact, he already has. As he preached on the plain to a curious crowd, he advised: Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. (Luke 6:38, The Message) Take it all the way to the edges! That’s what surprises people!
Today is my birthday, and while I hope someone does surprise me with a delicious slice of any type of cake, it would be an even greater gift to see my people—my relatives and friends and church family—practicing unconstrained, unsparing, unhampered goodness deep into the corners of a hurting world.
About the Author
The Rev. Christine Sobania Johnson serves as pastor of College Hill Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Besides occasionally recreating her grandmother’s recipes, Chris enjoys reading, writing, making music, and living joyfully alongside her husband, the Rev. Darrell Johnson.