Looking for more…

•October 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Many of the posts you will find here have to do with my personal life. Call it my stream of consciousness. If you’re curious about some more of my thoughts, including some of my more theologically oriented pieces, check out my other WordPress blog Redeeming Rahab. You can also find some of my other pieces at In Our Words, Love Is an Orientation, and Impact Magazine.

Finally, I’ve been able, with the help of some friends to launch my personal site, MichaelMatthewOverman.com as well as move my two WordPress.com hosted blogs over to their own sites here and here. All three of these are up and running, but very much in a transitional phase. Once they are full functional and I feel comfortable with them, I will be sure to make it known here (or just automatically redirect you in 5…4…3…2… just kidding).

In any case, thanks for stopping by. It’s amazing to have had conversations with many of you over recent weeks (and to read about your lives). If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for what you’d like to see here, or would just like to chat, feel free to contact me.

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Lie to me…

•October 11, 2012 • 7 Comments

Since Sunday, my world has gone slightly crazy. I’ve been in touch with various people from within the United Methodist Church, as well as other denominations. Lay people, clergy, upper level leadership. I’ve spoken with old friends, and been blessed to have new ones come into my life. In the midst of all this talking, I’ve still been thinking. And while it might be an inflammatory topic, I feel the need to address it…

Deception…

When I first began the ordination process here in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, the knowledge of gay clergy, both single and partnered, was prevalent. It still is. In many cases, we know who they are. We know their partners. We’ve played with their children. We’ve attended their weddings, housewarming parties, engagements, holiday parties, and other communal gatherings. They are provisional clergy, and they are ordained in full connection. Clearly, there was something happening, something at a corporate level, which allowed the disciplinary regulations prohibiting the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” to be dismissed, or at the very least ignored. This reality left me with more questions, and so I started asking them.

The answers I received, often hidden in subtext, were troublesome. These people—these queer clergy—had gone through their ordination processes without ever vocalizing their sexual orientations or their relationship statuses. They had sat in district committee meetings and board of ordained ministry meetings with people whose job was to get to know them on a deeply personal level, and they left unspoken something I believe to be an integral part of any person’s identity. In their paperwork and in their spoken responses, they either never said anything, or in the more conservative conferences of the denomination, they lied. These people, called by God to be messengers of the good news and caregivers for all God’s children, in order to receive a set of institutional credentials and receive “representational authority,” kept something about how God created them hidden, secret, locked away.

Faced with the choice to do this myself, I realized how wrong it felt. Not only on my part, but on the part of those entrusted with the task of determining my capacity for ministry within our denomination. What happened to them, to the Church, that made growth in numbers and a more balanced ledger more important than the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of those called to do the ministering? When did it become okay for one clergy to ask another to lie, to compromise their integrity, to deny a piece of God’s image within them or a relationship in which God placed them? When did adherence to institutional policies, procedures, and disciplines become more valuable and mandatory and adherence to the commandments of the Creator and the heart of the Gospel… the message of Christ, whose purpose was to bring life and bring it more abundantly (John 10:10)?

Throughout most of my discernment over the past few weeks and months, as I heard more clearly what was being asked of me both by institutional leaders and my Creator, I mostly experienced a sense of sadness and heartache. I loved my home church, as well as many others in the denomination whom I’d met over the years. But since leaving the ordination process three weeks ago and making the announcement to Holy Covenant on Sunday, something else has been surfacing inside me. Something more akin to righteous anger, holy rage.

Anger is not my color. It’s like a sea-foam green, a coral, or a salmon. It washes me out and makes me look like someone other than myself. At least, this is how I’ve always felt while experiencing the emotion. Apparently, though, my anger over recent events is different. I don’t feel like I’m self-directing it. I don’t feel worse about myself for feeling it. Instead, I feel empowered, engaged, awakened. There is an injustice taking place. Not just the injustice of a denomination discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation, though I do believe that to be a grievous, systemic sin. Here, though, there is an injustice being done against those called by God to transform the church and the world, and it’s being glossed over as if it were nothing.

As I spoke with a close friend last night, we thought about what might have happened in my own district committee meeting. What if someone had spoken up and said , “This is wrong”? What if someone had exhibited the courage to realize and vocalize just how harmful it was to ask me (and so many before—and probably after me) to take a significant part of my life underground, all for the sake of the denomination being able to benefit from the gifts, graces, and skills given to me by God for the sake of doing God’s work? What if someone had said what bureaucratically should have been said—that I as a partnered gay man could not, based on polity, be ordained within the denomination? Or better yet… given the number of people in that room I presume believed the discipline to be unfair and unjust, what if the committee had allowed me to come out entirely and then been intentional about moving me forward in the process knowing that they were standing against a set of policies that were driven more by fear than by love?

Sadly, though, this did not happen. I was not allowed to be wholly authentic. I was not affirmed, truly, in the fullness of who God created me to be… at least not in the meeting itself (I’ve spoken with a few committee members before and after the meeting who were indeed quite loving and affirming). Instead, I was expected to do what so many before had done: to adhere to the status quo, compromise my integrity, offer the parts of myself that were wanted to the denomination and keep the unwanted parts under the rug, behind the bookshelf, or in the closet.

When we sit silent at the sight and realization of injustice, we participate in its mechanisms. When we place church growth and financial stability above the value, worth, and well-being of God’s children, we diminish the message of the Gospel and we reject the love which God offers to us for the sake of seeing it flow outwards into the rest of creation. When we ask queer people called to ministry to hide because it makes us more comfortable, we cause our brothers and sisters to stumble, and well, that never turns out well for those who do the same in Scripture. We’ve gotten cold—no, lukewarm— and complacent.

These words come not out of judgment against those queer people who have chosen to stay within the United Methodist Church for the sake of fighting the good fight and seeing the denomination be transformed into what God would have her become. These words are a challenge to those who let the wheels of an unjust, ill-directed system keep on turning. I pray that you recognize the harm you’re inflicting and the sin that you are encouraging… sin against God and against self. I pray that you again hear God’s voice calling you to make decisions and live your lives based on love… not love for a system, but love for God’s children who you know are called to do God’s work as whole people. Do not hinder that wholeness.

Do not say to God’s beloved children, “Lie to me.”

Whispers…

•October 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Over the course of my life, one question that’s been asked of me time and time again is why I still have faith. After having my biological father give up his parental rights, after struggling with my sexual identity, after being raised in a verbally, abusive household, why do I still believe… both in the existence of God and in the goodness of humanity.

My first response has always been this: nothing else works for me. I’ve tried not believing in any sort of higher power. I’ve looked to science. I’ve meditated. I’ve lit candles and incense, sitting in silence in awkward poses. No matter what I do or where I do it, there has always been that gentle whisper calling to me. Whether I’m in the middle of a sobfest, laughing my ass off, in the throes of passion or surrounded by a quiet stillness, I still find myself face to face with something… someone… bigger than me.

In my particular case, this someone is Jesus. Oddly enough though, sometimes I’ve encountered Jesus in the Gospels, and other times, I’ve recognized him in the Quran. He’s shown up in parts of the Torah as well as Bhagavad Gita. I see him in Ghandi and the Dalai Lama, in the girl at the Subway down the street, or the homeless man I took there for lunch the other afternoon. Since coming to seminary and diving into theological studies, an endeavor many friends said would destroy my faith and “take away my Jesus,” I’ve learned to see him everywhere and in everything. I’ve also learned from my old ways and grown to understand that, for some people, many of whom I’m blessed to call friends, the message (or more often, the messengers) of Christianity and Christ is not all that compelling.

Having dealt with crippling depression for a number of years now, one would think that faith has been seemingly useless to me. From where I’m standing, though, it has been anything but. In times where I struggled with an eating disorder, the temptation for self-injury, and ideations and fantasies of suicide, something kept me tethered to this life and all that it has to give. Sometimes, I could put a name to it… sometimes I couldn’t. This much was for certain… it was bigger than me, but not in a controlling, overpowering way. It has always been gentle, loving, even during those times that it challenged me and pushed me to my very limits.

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” These are the words I heard growing up concerning faith. It makes it all sound so easy and simple, doesn’t it? Well, truth is, for some people, faith is a simple reality. It comes quite naturally with little effort and significant ease. For others, including myself, faith takes work, struggle, and in many cases, a whole boatload of heartache. I’d be lying if I said I felt it was always worth it, at least in the moment. In time though, after realizing how surrounded I am by the faith of others, I frequently see my own faith strengthened. Sometimes it’s in shouts and screams. Sometimes it’s in tears or laughter. Mostly, though, my faith finds its strength in mere whispers.

Embracing wholeness, answering call…

•October 7, 2012 • 5 Comments

Little did I know that a private message I received from a fellow member of the Gay Christian Network nearly four years ago would drastically change the entire course of my life. I’d been a part of the online community for a short while, and at the time, was not involved in any sort of faith community. My previous home church, a Baptist church in west-central Indiana had asked me to step down from all ministry activities and suggested I stop attending services because of my identity as a gay man. These events led to a spiritual drought and a six-year hiatus from any church.

In winter of 2008, I received the aforementioned private message from a GCN member who lived in one of Chicago’s many suburbs and whose son lived in the city. He’d read many of my posts, and felt led to tell me of a church community on the edge of the Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods, Holy Covenant United Methodist Church. It would take a few more months before I could muster up the courage to take his advice and attend a worship service at Holy Covenant, but finally, two weeks before Easter of 2009, I woke up and made the trek down to the red-bricked, mural-emblazened building that would become my home, my refuge, my safe haven away from a world that told me it didn’t want me, not as I was at least.

From there, the rest seems like history. Immediately, I was made to feel welcomed, loved, and valued. The people of Holy Covenant made it a priority to get to know me and to be a part of the healing work God was doing in my life and on my severely broken heart. I experienced my first ever Maundy Thursday service, which coincidentally was the first time I’d been offered communion since leaving my former denomination. I was welcomed to the table as a broken but whole person, never asked to leave a part of myself at the door. Even to this day, I cannot put into words how significant this was for me.

That summer, I marched in Chicago’s Pride Parade for the first time with my new community. Along the route, I had a conversation with a few other church members. The question was asked whether or not I’d ever considered going to seminary and pursuing a vocation in ministry. I had, in fact, but had been led to believe that my sexual orientation made me unfit for answering that call. These new friends told me otherwise. They affirmed that my orientation was part of who God made me to be. I’d never really heard any of this before. And so I visited the seminary suggested to me (Garrett-Evangelical in Evanston, Illinois) and applied for admission soon thereafter. While my acceptance letter came quickly, I postponed going for another year for the sake of discernment. More changes were to come.

I met my now-husband and life partner, Frankie, who was also welcomed into the Holy Covenant community, regardless of his difference of faith beliefs as a practicing neo-pagan. Holy Covenant loved me, and I loved him, and so they grew to love him as well. I was given various opportunities to serve, including serving communion, reading scripture, singing, praying during worship, leading a small group, serving on a committee, and so much more. As time progressed, all of the brokenness I’d experienced as man coping with depression and the effects of being raised in a physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive household started to mend, albeit slowly. I was learning to love myself through the love with which I was being covered by this amazing family of faith. I decided to pursue ordination within the denomination in which I’d found a new home.

Herein lies the struggle. Although churches like Holy Covenant exist where all people are welcomed regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the United Methodist Church’s written polity refers to the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and therefore individuals such as myself are believed to be unfit for ordained ministry. It didn’t make sense. I’d known gay clergy, gay partnered clergy, in our denomination. What did it all mean? As I began seminary and developed relationships with people serving elsewhere in the district and conference, I learned the answer to my questions, and they were disheartening.

In order for me to be ordained in the UMC, I would quintessentially have to go into a professional, vocational closet. In meetings and on paper, I would be “single,” making no reference to my sexual identity or my relationship status. I would have to leave a part of me outside of the ordination process. I’d known others going through the same thing who seemed to be okay with it all, who seemed sane and mentally/emotionally healthy, and so I pressed forward. I continued in my seminary education, served another church in the city for my second-year internship, and proceeded to have my local church declare me as a candidate for ordination.

The time came for me to meet with my district committee on ordained ministry for their approval and certification of my candidacy process. I met with mentors and fellow clergy for advice on how to best express myself on paper and in speech. I found myself using the term “significant other” for Frankie instead of “husband” or “partner.” It hurt, deeply. In the meeting itself, I shared my excitement for getting to work with The Marin Foundation this year—a non-profit whose mission is to bridge the relational gap between the evangelical church and the LGBT community. I spoke of my passion for full inclusion of all people. I have no doubt that anyone in the room had any misgivings over my sexual orientation or relationship status. I was partnered, and it was easy to tell that my partner was not of the opposite sex.

And so we sat there with this invisible rainbow elephant in the room. One committee member asked me why I’d felt it important to mention my relationship in my paperwork, especially using such red-flag language as “significant other.” He continued, “You’re not going to have a problem here. We simply want to make you conscious of what is and is not going to make it possible and easy for you to make it through the whole ordination process. There are people at the board level who will rip you apart if there’s even a hint of you being, well, you know.” Another person asked why I, with my passion for inclusion and with my knowledge and awareness of the state of our denomination not being inclusive, would stay here. Why not go elsewhere? By the time they were ready to deliberate and vote on my certification, I was nearly in tears and ready to leave the room as quickly as I possibly could.

The committee certified me, and I felt no joy. It had been made clear what I would have to do and how I would have to portray myself in order to receive clerical credentials in the UMC. While it was never articulated so directly, the message was clear: You cannot be ordained here as a whole person. You have to split yourself. We don’t want all of you. Only part of you is truly worthy of this calling. You have to hide. You have to lie. You have to be someone other than you.

In the weeks since, I’ve prayed and fought and yelled and screamed and cried and talked and sat in silence. I’ve wrestled with what to do. Slowly, the recognition of what was being asked of me came, and I could not foresee myself complying. My family at Holy Covenant taught me how to be a whole person and gave me the strength to start loving myself, truly for the first time. It would be a grievous sin for me to undo all their hard work, and all of my own. My identity and relationship are something God loves and finds joy in and takes pleasure in. I am God’s beloved in the entirety of who I am, and God has not asked or called me to change. I am worthy because my Creator has called me worthy, and to lie or be inauthentic would be to make unclean what God has called clean, to make bad what God has called good. I cannot do that… I will not.

Two weeks ago, I submitted my letter stepping out of the ordination process for the United Methodist Church. I’ve met with a pastor of a United Church of Christ / Disciples of Christ congregation who is supportive of my decision and willing to help me get involved with his congregation and begin the ordination process in his denomination. This morning, I stood before some of the people I love most in my life and told them I was leaving. Even now, the pain feels unbearable. I’ve felt like I was giving up, but I realized that to stay and to hide would be to do just that. In leaving and pursuing my call to ordained ministry in a setting where I can be a whole person, I’m honoring the work that my friends and family at Holy Covenant have put into getting me to this point. With my partner, friends, and church family gathered around me this morning, their hands laid on me and on each other, I felt surrounded by and covered with more love than I feel I could ever deserve or be given. I listened and cried as friends came up, sharing my pain and expressing their pride in my strength, courage, and apparent bravery. I spent time holding one of the young boys I’ve grown to love, and got the chance to hug another. I know I’m always welcome there, and I leave knowing just how much I’ve loved, supported, and valued.

Change will come. There will be a day when all God’s children are welcome at the table, both receiving God’s blessing and presiding over God’s gifts of meal and water, regardless of who they love. I desperately long for that day, and I pray for the strength to be a part of the work God’s Spirit is doing to get us there. I know much of that strength will come from my Holy Covenant family.

I will come back… someday soon. We will still have conversations, exchange emails, share meals and drinks, offer each other love, prayer, support, and encouragement. I cannot tell you how much you’ve changed me, how much your love has given me new life and restored my joy. Thank you for taking me in, helping me answer my call, affirming and celebrating my relationship, sitting with me in times of grief, depression, sorrow and joy. I love you all so much. Know that as you’ve given me a piece of yourselves, I have left a part of myself with each and every one of you. Though we may feel divided, we are one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.

Simple words…

•October 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I talk to myself… a lot sometimes. Hell, every now and again, I even respond to myself. Sometimes the words I have to say are meaningless banter. Sometimes they’re harsh criticism for something I’ve done, words I’ve spoken, or for simply just being me. But every so often, I speak kind words to myself. It’s a rare (but ever-increasing) occurrence. After realizing just how hard I am on myself, I’ve begun to understand the value of self-directed affirmation. There are a few ways that I do this…

Last year, one of my dearest friends made a suggestion to me. I’d been struggling with both my body image and my intellectual capabilities. Additionally, my personal faith had been struggle. Her suggestion was a simple one, but more powerful than I would have thought. Every day, at least once, I was to look in the mirror and tell myself, “I’m sexy. I’m brilliant. I’m a Beloved child of the Divine.” If speaking it wasn’t enough, then I was to plaster my apartment with post-its filled with similar words. It sounded silly, and while I don’t do it nearly as often these days, I’m able to discern when I need to reestablish this habit. When I do, it usually ends up being just as powerful.

Another way that I’ve learned to speak kindly to myself has been through solitude. It’s easy for any of us living today to become caught up in the busyness of life. Meetings. Classes. Lectures. Homework. Relationships. Dates. Hookups. Bar-hopping. Dinner parties. Holiday gatherings. Shopping. You name it, and it can be used to keep us from spending time getting to know ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, solitude often happens best alone. But even something as simple as riding the train without putting in the headphones or turning on the e-reader can make a difference. When we take the time to give notice to our thoughts and our feelings, we get a chance to know something new about ourselves, even if it’s subtle and seemingly miniscule. It’s a powerful thing when we make self-awareness a priority.

Finally, as odd as this may sound, I speak kindly to myself through taking care of my body. Admission: I am not a gym rat. I hate running. Lifting weights makes me awkward. But I enjoy taking walks with close friends, and within the past two months, I’ve developed a love for yoga. I stand close to the mirror in the studio, not so I can practice vanity, but so I can make sure I have proper form, but even more importantly, so I can spend close to an hour seeing myself for who and what I truly am. I’m able to see nearly every nook and cranny. I’ve learned to accept the reality of my barrel chest and broad shoulders, of my incapability of ever looking a particular way. As I reach the end of my yoga practice and flow into fetal pose, I often find myself gazing in the mirror with a smile. This simple gesture is a way of affirming the fight within me, the transformation I’ve allowed to take place.

We all need to hear kind words. Sometimes those are words unspoken. Sometimes they’re written encouragement and affirmations. Sometimes is a smile seen in the mirror, the feel of one’s heart racing and sweat dripping off of one’s skin. The list is as long as we make it. This much is true: when we take the time to be kind to ourselves and to develop self-love, we’re able to release that love into the world around us. When we let go of the busyness and the “stuff”, we make it possible for our intentions and affections to be directed where they’re really needed. The kindness we speak to ourselves becomes kindness we offer to the world.

Crashing…

•October 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

There are periods in life where my depression takes a backseat, where it coasts, not fully easing up, but not fully debilitating or crippling either. Recent weeks however, it’s felt two or three steps downward with only a half-step up. A lot of changes have happened, and more are quickly heading in my direction. According to Blake, the decision to be proactive about my self-care (physical, emotional, and spiritual) is one that often causes disorientation, especially for someone like me who has always struggled with his own self-worth and intrinsic value. It feels weird to be making myself a priority… even more weird to be declining offering care to those I love because I’m unable to do so without causing harm or weakness to myself.

In a conversation with a staff member at my school recently, something was shared with me… something optimistic… something prophetic. After sharing what had been going on in my life as of late, I was told by this person, this mentor, this friend, that they perceived my depression coming to an end, or at the very least, to a juncture where it would start transforming into something new, where the truth of who I am, the reality of myself as one whom the Divine calls Beloved.

As much as this message should be one that brings me hope and strength, I cannot help but be reminded of a similar conversation with an old friend many years ago while I was an undergraduate student. She told me that I was called to to great things, to make a significant difference in the lives of both individuals and the Church. Not long after that conversation, I returned home only to have leadership of my primary faith community ask me to step down from all ministry activities and suggested that I should no longer attend services there. Not long after that conversation, my world fell apart. Not long after that conversation, I began hearing a voice that told me I was not God’s Beloved, I was not important, I was not worth anything. Not long after that conversation, part of me died.

One could see why this most recent “prophecy” might not be one I want to embrace very tightly. For much of my life thus far, there seems to have been this cloud of pain and turmoil following me. Like any set of clouds, there are gaps where slivers of light become visible. There have been moments where the sky grew dark and the air circulated, but no storms were present. And there have been times where the rain, hail, and sleet were caught up in violent winds, surrounded by lightning, floodwaters rising up against the weak sandbags of my own strength and boundaries.

I’ve tried to explain to those closest to me what life has felt like lately. Tired is almost always the only way I can describe it. Every part of me is fighting to hold on. My mind almost never stops racing, constantly thinking about my coursework, my relationship, my friendships, my spiritual life, my family, my grief, my fears, and an onslaught of other topics. I think about my vocation, my strengths and weaknesses, my faults and failures, my hopes and dreams, my optimism and my cynicism.

I just want rest. I want to feel something other than the weight of the world’s brokenness crushing my body beneath itself. I miss taking care of others, though there have been a few chances here and there where I’ve been capable of doing so (and according to those people, quite effectively). I miss feeling joy for more than seconds at a time. Not some superficial, short-winded laughter or smile, but a deep-seated feeling of joy, of worth, of hope. If I had to be honest, I’ve not felt that for a long time (with the exception of my wedding, but even then, only for a brief time).

There’s this voice I hear that yells at me for being melodramatic, for not just pressing on and getting over it. My life isn’t all that bad after all. Food in the fridge. Clothes on my back. Roof over my head. Money in the bank. The resources to be able to go to school. Friends who love and care for me. An amazing partner who most days I feel I don’t deserve. All that said, my heart just hasn’t caught up with it all. I still feel “not enough.” Unworthy. Inadequate. Expendable. An annoyance. An intrusion. The heaviness of it all is crippling, and while my head tells me I can make it through, my heart feels like it’s running against a brick wall.

I just want rest…

Sweet retreats…

•September 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

A few months ago, I stumbled across what has become one of my favorite cooking sites, smitten kitchen. The creator of the site, Deb Perelman, resides in New York City. Even in the matter of a few minutes, it’s easy to see just how much she loves food. This is something we have in common. One of her recipes in particular has become a personal favorite, mostly because it’s fun to make with a friend.

Apple Sharlotka. Sounds fancy right? Maybe even difficult. It almost sounds (and looks) like something one might take hours to make and perfect. In reality, the most exciting part of this recipe is the big reveal. It’s like Extreme Makeover for your eyes and tummy.

See what I mean? It just looks classy, like something that you’d find in a Victorian sitting room with people holding themselves back from it as much as they might hold themselves back from sexual hedonism. But alas, one can resist only so long. Trust me.

I’d made the recipe once on my own before I decided it would be fun to make with someone else. Mostly though, I just get lonely in the kitchen. I always feel better about whatever I’m making, whether sweet or savory, when I know that someone else will be eating it with me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s almost always some fulfillment that comes from seeing my own creativity come to life in such a rewarding fashion. But when I stand in our small apartment’s kitchen with someone I love, doing the dance that must be done in the tiny space we have, I feel more whole.

One of my closest girlfriends came over awhile back. I’d been craving something sweet, and as is the case with this recipe, something not excessively rich or decadent. After meeting at Target to buy groceries, we headed back to my place and got to work.  I started working on the batter, the part of this recipe that makes it a slight conundrum. I mean, it looks like a cake right? Well, it’s technically not. The batter lacks both milk and butter (sad face, right?). In fact, this recipe is mostly just apples bound together by a egg/sugar/flour mixture, and topped off with some powdered sugar (also one of the most exciting parts of the recipe… I even got one of the little shakers just so I could go nuts with it). When I told my girlfriend this, like me, she was surprised and intrigued.

While I put the batter together, she started on the apples. Granny Smith apples. Lots of them. Peeling and coring, peeling and coring. Chopping. I was almost tempted to try another method mentioned by a friend whose family is Polish. His grandmother would actually grate the apples like hash browns. I definitely think that would require a certain amount of teamwork. One of these days, I’ll give the “hash brown” method a try…

The fun part is coming together, me with the apples and spoon, my girlfriend pouring in the batter… side note — this is my one modification to the original recipe. Deb suggest putting the apples in the buttered springform pan and then adding the batter. Past experience has taught me that it’s easier to mix the batter with the apples and then pour the entire mix into the pan. But that’s just my take.

Once the sharlotka goes into the oven, it then becomes a waiting game. I usually top it with some cinnamon and even a slight dusting of sugar before it even gets baked, but waiting until after has turned out to be better. I know it may seem that this is a recipe able to be made by one person, and it is. I’ve done it. But again, I love cooking with friends. It brings a sense of pride and accomplishment to make a good dish or meal with someone by my side. With this dish in particular, especially the first time, it’s worth seeing the look on their face as you flip the cake out onto its final serving dish, to see their eyes close as they soak up the scents wafting into the living room from the kitchen. It’s rewarding to let a friend go crazy with the powdered sugar. And it’s heavenly to let them take the first bite, to see pride well up in their eyes. I can cook nearly anything with a friend. This just happens to be one of the first recipes that came to mind. And here it is…

Apple Sharlotka

Adapted from Alex’s mother, who adapted it from her mother, and so on…

Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan
6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths
3 large eggs
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
Ground cinnamon, to finish
Powdered sugar, also to finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.

Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter so that it covers all exposed apples. (Updated to clarify: Spread the batter and press it down into the apple pile. The top of the batter should end up level with the top of the apples.) Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon.

Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar. Alex’s family eats it plain, but imagine it would be delicious with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped or sour cream.