31 May 2006

Or perhaps they can't hear us because we're not saying anything

The United Church News, the print news service of the United Church of Christ published an article, "Amplifying the Mainline" this month. The article addresses the woeful lack of presence by mainline church leaders in major news media. It cites a report by the research group, Media Matters that indicates that mainline churches, who according to the article, happen to hold one-quarter of America's church-going membership, are rarely, if ever, represented on national news reports.
The article also goes beyond merely lamenting the presence of mainline church leaders in discussions of Christianity to focus on the work of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, an institution dedicated to reforming the mainline church through a return to biblical principles. In the article it's called a "neo-con" organization that has been launching systematic attacks on the mainline denominations "to disrupt mainline churches, discredit their national agencies, and 'decapitate' mainline leaders. "
So now we know why mainline churches have been failing to reach the hearts of the American public. It's "their" fault.
Or -- and I know this is a stretch -- perhaps it's not someone else's fault at all. Perhaps it's because we haven't had anything to say.
For at least four decades mainline churches have been more focused on holding together crumbling infrastructures and maintaining outdated hierarchies than focusing on what gave us our status as, well, status-symbols in the first place, which was a very pointed and real effort to reach the unchurched. Somewhere along the line, we figured that since we didn't see anyone who was unchurched, they didn't exist. That, or they were "over there" in some far off country or they were young and foolish and would join our ways if just given enough time, though we'd be darned if we were going to expend much effort on them in the meantime. We had proud histories of ministry and change. We rested on them, clung to them, and held them up whenever anyone asked about our relevance in the world.
Into that void, stepped the young upstarts, the evangelical, pentecostal, and charismatic churches who bothered to connect with youth, made mission a priority, worked on being relevant in their communications, and decided to make history now rather than reflect upon it.
Et voila! Evangelicals on the rise, mainline in decline.
Clearly it was "their" fault.
Ok. I know it's more complicated than all of this, but really -- do we have anyone to point to other than ourselves? We're the ones who have let this happen, who have treasured institutions over individuals, structures over Spirit, process over people. This mess is all us, not "them."
The thing is, if we want to change whether we are heard, we cannot use our scant resources to work against those we see as our antagonists. That's just immature and childish. Nor can we adopt the victim mentality with which we are all far too familiar and whine about how those mean big voices are drowning us out. So what if "they" are out to get us? Shake the dust off our feet and get on with ministry, for heaven's sake.
It's time to move beyond this and start actually doing what our denominations were founded to do -- put faith into action without leaving our brains at the door.
The fact is -- the mainline churches do actually have a pretty large leg to stand on when it comes to Biblical theology. We've got pretty good ideas, really, and a history to back us up and inspire us, not excuse us from action.
But in order to speak, we're going to have to have something to say. As the article in United Church News said, quoting Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches said, "It's time for mainline church leaders to spend less time trying to hold their organizations together, and speak instead about those issues that God cares about -- that God cares about the poor. God cares about justice. God cares about the stewardship of the Earth."
And it would really help if we knew what we were talking about. Most of us are terrified by the evangelicals living next door because they know the Bible and we don't. Well, the way to fix that is to read the Bible. Get into a personal relationship with Jesus. Find the mission to which He is calling us. Put faith into action.
And while we're at it, let's just ignore the people trying to derail the plan. Let's not get distracted. Let's not stoop to that level. If conservative groups in our denominations want to call us faithless, so be it. Let's not turn around and call them simple. Let's not prooftext unless we want to be prooftext-ed to. Let's not express pity for the poor fools while looking down the nose at them either.
Let's just follow Jesus.
This seems like a no-brainer to me. If we want to be heard, why don't we start saying something worth hearing. Better yet, why don't we let our actions speak louder than our words. Let's change the world. Eventually, they'll hear what we have to say.

30 May 2006

So that's what a weekend feels like

One of the inconvenient side-effects of my calling is that my family doesn't get to have a weekend very often.
But on extended weekends, we get to have almost two days of time that is just ours. And it is always wonderful.
This time, we went to Eureka for the Memorial Day festivities. We had a good trip down. Annalivia read.
We were greeted with news from Lil and Jake that Fetie II will be joining us in February next year, which is beyond exciting. Kalin fixed my blogs and it was just absolutely amazing to watch her work -- staring at source code with fingers flying. Roo and I went to the cemetery together and had a time to drive around Eureka together like we used to do as high schoolers. Dennis and Jake fixed things and tinkered with the endless little jobs always available at the farm. Annalivia played with her cousins and hung out with Grandpa Bob. Mom made a great dinner and spent some time just chatting with us.
Got to watch a sunset at the farm (though not the one in this pic that Kali took a couple of days ago.)
On Monday we joined Grammy and Gramps for the parade. Then went to the cemetery for a wonderful program. The speaker was a guy who has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and he simply shared stories of fallen comrades. It was so incredibly moving. Really amazing. I once again was glad I made the trip.
Dennis and I had great conversation on the way home and Annalivia did amazingly well on the trip. After she woke up about 45 minutes into the trip, she sang to herself and talked a lot, ate some snacks and stuff, but didn't fuss at all. She did so well, in fact, that we ended up running errands and getting a new portable dvd player to replace one that died. We also bought a gas grill that we've been eyeing. So we got home and had hamburgers, corn on the cob, and watermelon. It was just really, really nice. We had a weekend. Wow.

29 May 2006

The real thing

It was a dreary, drizzling, cold Memorial Day -- the kind that comes after a week of beautiful weather when the sun has shined and the sky has been robin's egg blue and everyone has been looking forward to the holiday weekend because the foretaste of gorgeous weather has been so divine. But then Memorial Day dawns cold and wet and everyone's hopes for the day deflate.
Even in the best weather this parade is for the die-hards. The American Legion leading off, the high school band following, a couple of antique tractors, a skittish group of horses sandwiched between the classic cars and the town firetrucks, it is eight blocks down Main Street to the cemetery where hundreds of people huddle around an aging sound-system to hear a person who has no training in public speaking address what it is to be an American. It is not perfect or even polished, but I make the two-hour trip home to Eureka for the Memorial Day parade and program because regardless of what is happening in our country, my faith in it is fortified there.
However, on this day with rain coming down, the plans had been changed. The parade had been cancelled and the program had been relocated to the high school gymnasium.
My sister, aunt and I were unloading a car in my grandparents' driveway. The cars were sloshing by on Main Street and we were hustling to get the goods inside before a little rain became a lot of rain.
But we were stopped in our tracks by a tinny rimshot. tap, tap, tap We looked around wondering what in the world was going on. The parade had been cancelled, right? tap, tap, tap Perfectly rhythmic, it got closer. tap, tap, tap
Four people appeared on the hill, marching in perfect step towards the oncoming traffic on Main Street. They were wearing full Civil War regalia. One was beating a drum. One was playing a fife. One was carrying a musket and in the center one carried the flag.
Through the drizzle, past cars splashing water at their feet, eyes straightforward, they marched. The only show of emotion on their faces was grim resolution. There was no fear or self-consciousness. No pride or proving. They were completely immersed in their task, doing exactly what it was they were to do, marching towards the cemetery to honor the dead. It was clear that nothing was going to keep them from doing their work. Nothing.
My sister, aunt and I were silent as speechless and they passed by. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. We watched them silently, riveted by their devotion. And when they had passed, when we turned to look at each other, we all had tears in our eyes.
I have seen many parades since then. Some of have had fancy floats, exquisite bands, excellent timing, great candy, even.
But none have ever had the heart of that rainy Memorial Day parade. THAT parade was a lesson in patriotism I will never forget. THAT parade was an example of what being an American is all about.
O beautiful for heroes prov'd in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life.
America! America! May God thy gold refine til' all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine. ~ Katharine Lee Bates

28 May 2006

Two reasons Eureka is better than the rest of the planet

1. Kali is here and she very patiently implemented my redesigned blogs with just a couple clicks on the computer. She is so cool.
2. My parents have BBC America. Dennis and I gave up satellite television shortly before Annalivia was born thinking it would encourage us to watch less television. I don't think that's been true, but we really have not missed Dish Network. Except for BBC America which I watched round the clock pre-child. Tonight I watched 8 minutes of very handsome Alistair Appleton hawking antiques wherein the phrase, "It was a cracking finish," was used. Lovely. Or should I say, "looflee".
Great place, this is.

26 May 2006

Of peonies and parting-places

Memorial Day weekends of the past found my sister and I riding in the back of my grandparents' car, fighting hard for self-control to not tap each other or poke each other or do some other annoying thing to fill the 15 minute trip between cemeteries.
The trunk of the car would be filled with peonies -- beautiful arrangements cut from Grammy's heavy peony bushes, interlaced with greenery, placed in aluminum juice cans and wrapped in newspaper, ready to be dropped into the vases on the graves of remembered relatives. The plastic bucket and wooden handled brush were there, too. And a rag made from one of Gramps' old undershirts was tucked in between the juice-can vases.
First were Grammy's parents in the old part of the cemetery in Washington, IL, then out to the country near Deer Creek to honor other relatives, then back to Eureka to tend to Gramps' parents' graves and the smallest and most haunting, the grave of their daughter, my aunt, Patsy, who had died when she was just two years old.
We'd approach the graves carrying the peonies and a bucket. Gramps would go off to fill the bucket with water and Grammy would brush any leaves or grass from the headstone with the rag. When Gramps returned, they'd wash the stone carefully and arrange the flowers. Then they'd stand for a moment in silence.
By this time, my sister and I would be running around the other graves, careful to show the respect Gramps had reminded us of on the way there. But as I grew older, I watched this ritual more carefully. Rather than running through the gravestones, I stood by Grammy's side as she paused near her parents' graves. I watched as Gramps brushed away the grass clippings from Patsy's stone. I also stood in silence pondering these people who had come before.
This year it will be me who loads up the car with peonies and iris and whatever other flowers are in bloom. My grandparents have long stopped filling the vases and carrying the water buckets and bending over to tend the graves opting instead for a slow drive-by at their parents' graves and an amble across the hill to pause a moment with Patsy.
It is a great honor to be silently passed peony-duty. I have always found myself drawn to these parting-places -- places where we leave a remembrance of our beloveds having trusted that we do not leave them at all, for we have already returned them to their Creator's eternal care. To me these parting-places are places of deep Peace.
So this year, I will brush off the stones and place the flowers. And as a mother this year, I will wonder if when tending Patsy's grave, Grammy and Gramps have brushed the grass off of that stone and thought of the way her hair lay on her head and how they used to stroke it away. And as a daughter, I will touch the cold granite on my great-grandparents' markers and wonder if Gramps and Grammy have touched the stones on their parents' final resting places and remembered what it was like to lay a hand on Momma or Daddy as a child.
Tonight my husband and I took flowers to the grave of my father in law, Harold, Dennis' dad, who passed away several months before I came to this church, far too soon. I watched as Dennis crouched in front of the marker and brushed away the grass and used a little water from the irises we brought to rub away marks on the stone. His hand lingered tenderly on the picture of the tractor his mother had engraved on the stone. And I know that as he touched that Farmall, his heart was that of a little boy watching his Daddy plow the field.
Such a small space separates those we love who live now safe in the arms of God and those of us who must be content with this earthly life. In moments like those I will encounter at the cemeteries, moments of pause, the line between "here" and "there" seems so faintly drawn.
And perhaps that's because "here" and "there" are really the same; for those that have been, those that are and those that will be are all so closely held and deeply treasured in the heart of God.
It's just that in these times of reflection we see through a mirror dimly how close together we actually are.
And that is such a great blessing and a source of such deep Peace, that I find myself praying that every place will be a parting-place where every day I will be more aware of just how close to heaven we are when we rest secure in the promises of God.

25 May 2006

Ick, ick, ick -- ack a tick!!

Annalivia, my sweet, beautiful, unblemished baby girl, had a TICK on her today!! It was in her hair and THANK GOD, I decided to put pigtails in today. I parted her hair and there it was.
My heart was pounding. I managed to get it off with very little difficulty since it hadn't really dug in. No blood was drawn. I flushed the little bugger down the drain, but I remain shaken. I know I'm being over-dramatic, but since melodrama is a specialty in my family and extended family -- I'll indulge.
Why, in the midst of all God's glorious handiwork, does there have to be little bloodsuckers like these? WHY, GOD, WHY? *swoons*
Ick, ick, ick!

Muddled in the mundane

I am not from a family who embraces the virtues of routines. This is putting it very lightly. We didn't even have a clock until I was in first grade and my mother had received tons of complaints from teachers about my tardiness, thus forcing us to join the temporal world.
Deadlines and daily tasks are struggles for me. I fight with myself to see these things as worthy of my time. I would rather see them as mundane, ordinary, less valued than whatever it is that I wish to be doing.
I used to be able to get away with this as a single person, but as a wife and mother, I can't. These daily tasks structure our days and my poor husband and daughter suffer when I decide that making dinner (which *gasping in surprise* just so happens to occur every evening) is below me this evening. My congregation suffers when I decide to forego the office to stay home and work on sermonizing here or put off a visit to hastily cook the aforementioned unplanned dinner. These tasks I have muddled in my mind thinking of them as mundane. They are not mundane; they are ordinary.
In ecclesial life, ordinary is derived from ordinal meaning numbered. And when one numbers something, it is given attention, position, and place. It is anything but mundane.
I am reminded of the Psalmist, "Lord, teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90). I am learning that it is in paying the attention, seeing the position, and setting the place, even on ordinary tasks, that I focus not on my own fleeting desires, but on God's larger purpose for me. Oh, to gain a bit of wisdom along the way!
Once again, Ann V. has meditated upon this far more deeply and eloquently than I ever could. In her post here (which is only part 1 so be sure to read parts 2-5 in the links at the bottom of the post), she relates her daily tasks of laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc., but I think her meditations apply to any daily tasks, be they baking or filing or typing or visiting or praying.
These days are indeed a gift from God. Help me to see this in every task therein, Lord. Teach me to number my ways. Lead me to a heart of wisdom.

24 May 2006

Amazing grace, indeed

In What's So Amazing about Grace?, Phillip Yancey writes:

"Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words, "I am the one Jesus loves." I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning.
At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus' closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as "the one Jesus loved." Manning said, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'"
What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as "the one Jesus loves"? How differently would I view myself at the end of a day?
Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible's astounding words about
God's love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?" Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying.
Impressed, the priest says to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, "Yes, he's very fond of me." [pp. 68-69]

I am the one Jesus loves. So are you. Such good news, eh?

21 May 2006

Things anyone can do to improve their health.

Brilliant Dawn has posted in various fora/ forums these things that will change anyone's life for the better. This is a redaction of her great ideas.
  1. Pray. Pray for God's guidance and wisdom, strength and fortitude.
  2. Drink more water. Try to drink at least 8 glasses of filtered water/day. It needs to be filtered. If we put a whole lot of chlorine in our bodies, we won't be helping ourselves.
  3. Move and breathe. Every step we take will change our bodies for the better. It doesn't have to be big and organized. It just has to be movement.
  4. Take extra-virgin coconut oil (EVCO) as a supplement. EVCO has the remarkable ability to cleanse our digestive systems of bad bacteria and raise our body temperatures. The goal is 3-4 tablespoons a day, but start with less. Dawn suggests stirring into coffee or teas. I put it in my yogurt smoothie. Deeeeelish.
  5. Eat real foods. NEVER eat diet foods, especially diet drinks. They are entirely fabricated from chemicals.
  6. Take your temperature in the morning. If it is below 97.7, it means that the thyroid is not working very well. The body needs to be returned to alkalinity. She suggests, "World Organic (brand) Liqui-Kelp. Put 4 drops in a glass of water and drink it. It has NO taste. If your temp doesn't start going up - you're shooting for over 97.7, remember, then add another drop. Go a day or two - no change, add another one. "

I've been trying to follow these guidelines and they're pretty easy. I drink a lot of water and I've been drinking a yogurt smoothie with super green food powder and coconut oils added for the last week and I've lost 14 lbs in a week. Probably mostly water, but if I didn't have an ear infection and throat infection, I'd say so far, I feel pretty decent. And I'm amazed by how not-hungry I am during the day. I've been following Annie's advice and trying to eat raw until dinner for the enzyme action and have been pretty amazed that just eating fruit and veggies and the smoothie are enough for right now.

Anyway, we're all looking for the magic pill. You might try these and see where you come out on these things.

17 May 2006

Where I am from

I am from rolling farmland thick with the scent of fresh black earth, heavy with the humidity of summer trapped in the cornfields, lit with the light of Orion's belt and the haze of the Milky Way.
I am from the fishing hill and walks to the creek, the paper tree and new kittens hidden in hay, a treehouse and dancing to Madonna's oldest songs.
I am from brick buildings and ivy, tall oaks and lilacs, leaf-catching and sorority serenades.
I am from yards of peonies, tulips, irises, roses, daylilies, a crocus bow, lilacs and moonflowers, spring beauties in April, and fire-red maples in the Fall.
I am from Main Street picnics, patriotic parades, whiffle ball games, bocce ball and jump-rope in the basement, manger sets and New Year's sleep-overs, conversations and tea around the kitchen table.
I am from division and reconciliation, fear and forgiveness, longing and love.
I am from conversations in the candlelight, confessions at camp, and calling in the mountains.
I am from regret and redemption, naivete and knowledge, faltering and faith.
I am from long-houred returns, gleeful giggles, complex scenarios and common dreams.
I am from thick glasses and a shaved head, shy smiles and bold suggestions, giddy acceptance, ever-deepening respect, and overwhelming desire.
I am from whispered prayers and fervent hopes, newborn cries and soft skin, sparkling eyes and peals of laughter.
I am from my quiet Guide, my prescient Listener, my dawning Assurance, the Gifter of all that I am, all that I have been, and all that I will ever wish to be.
Ann posted her "Where I'm From" over at Holy Experience and suggested others do the same. For more info, you'll find the original here and a lengthier instruction here, though clearly it is unnecessary to follow the format prescribed.

16 May 2006

And again on mother's day

Dawn has some great insights on Mother's Day presented in her great, light and airy style. Read them here.

15 May 2006

Motherhood for the flawed

Ann posted an incredibly moving piece on motherhood at her blog, Holy Experience. It was republished over at Choosing Home. This link here is to the post with the comments, which are almost as moving as the original post.
I check out Ann's blog pretty much everyday and every single post is always beautifully crafted and moving. Ann and the others inspire me to actually notice life and give thanks when I do. Not a small task at all.

Blog break

I took a couple days off from blogging -- not because I was soooooooo busy, per se, but because I couldn't really figure out how to comment on all that was going on.

We celebrated the life of my secretary on Friday. I sang at the funeral and I think it was the most meaningful time I have ever sung. I was nervous as all get-out before I sang, which hasn't happened in years but it was really wonderful. I looked out at the congregation and the folks from my church were just staring right at me and sobbing. It was an unusual experience.

Lil (beloved sister #2) came up with her daughter to watch Annalivia for the hour it took to sing at the funeral. She drove 2 hours with gas at $3/ gallon to come here and do that. Isn't that so generous! And I know any of the others in the family would do the same thing, if they were able. Annalivia loved, loved, loved hanging out with Cleya. She thought everything Cleya did was hilarious. Which is pretty good fodder for an almost-three-year-old. It was precious to watch.

Friday evening Dennis got home and Annalivia started walking! She walked back and forth between us over and over again. It was adorable. Then I made pizza again and this was even better than before! I didn't let the dough posted below rise and then put all of the previous toppings in addition to green olives on it. Deelish. Then Dennis and I sat around and watched The Office that he had taped and just spent some time together. That was really nice.

On Saturday morning we went down to central Illinois to celebrate a Mother's Day breakfast with the family. Marissa and Lil (beloved sisters #1 and #2) ran in the Race for the Cure in Peoria. Kalin (beloved sister #3) had been judging a horse show and Mom and Dad and Rhys (beloved nephew) and Jake and Cleya (beloved brother-in-law and niece) came in from Eureka and Mackinaw country to celebrate the day at Cracker Barrel. It was very nice. I'm not a big fan of Cracker Barrel, but it was good to see the family. I was so proud of Roo and Lilly. I felt cool by association. And I felt like I hadn't seen Kali in years, even though it was just last week. So, it was lovely.

Then we headed over to Eureka to see Gramps and Grammy and deliver Grammy's Mother's Day book and let Annalivia show off her new walking skills. I am so amazed at my grandparents' ability to get down on the floor in their mid-80's and play with their great-grandchildren. And they were so enthusiastic and encouraging for Annalivia. She pretty much ate up the attention and was asleep before we'd driven the half-mile out of the city limits.

And yesterday, we had a great Mother's Day at church. The men cooked breakfast for us and went all out -- pancakes, French toast, omelettes...etc., etc., etc. It was delicious and I know that the women are already worried that they're not going to be able to make anything even halfway comparable for Father's Day. I told them we should compensate by giving them lots of presents.

Then Alice (Dennis' mom) came over for lunch which was nice. And then the best part of Mother's Day -- Dennis, Annalivia and I all took a 3 hour nap! Oh, bliss.

So, that was the rundown of the last five days. There was so much to comment on and some things I've written needed this background first, so... here it is.

10 May 2006

Praying for purpose

Last night, I talked to Carl before our church board meeting about the possibility of Sunday School in the fall. Carl is a brilliant guy. Really. And he's one of the most thoughtful, devoted and faithful Christians I've ever met. I'm really blessed that he's in this church.
So I talked to Carl about my feeling that God has been asking me to teach Sunday School asked him to join me in praying for direction.
He said he would and then asked if there was something more we can do.
So we spent the next 15 minutes brainstorming all sorts of things.
And when we got to the board meeting and Carl mentioned the desire to do a Sunday School, I asked everyone to pray for direction. And I could tell that they thought, "well, duh, yeah. Now what else can we do."
Do, do, do...
I understand the inclination. I really do. Praying about something can seem so passive, especially if the something about which we are praying is something as involved and technical as starting an education ministry from the ashes of a 100 year program. We want to "do" something, start acting with purpose, make some small movement that will set in motion whatever will eventually happen.
But, for some reason, I think that the ONLY thing that we can do right now is pray for direction.
Maybe that's because none of us in that church have the slightest clue about how to do an educational ministry that is not for ourselves, but for Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. Maybe it's because all of us have a hundred ideas and we aren't really sure which one is God's.
I don't know.
I have a feeling -- a deep feeling that I am suspecting is not actually created by me at all, but is actually of the Spirit's genesis -- that our ministry here at this church will become one of mentoring and modeling. We live in a community that has the second highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the state of Illinois. We have the highest rate of acts of sexual aggression in the state. Here! It's crazy to think of.
We have generations and generations of people in this community who have not grown up with two parents or even two grandparents. We have mothers who don't know their fathers. And fathers who have never learned what it means to commit to a family.
In short, this place DESPERATELY needs Christians who are willing to step up and show these people how to do it. They don't need folks to castigate them. They don't need any more handouts. They need someone to say, "If you want to learn how to be a faithful Christian family, we'll show you how. If you want to learn how to be a faithful Christian mother and raise faithful Christian children, here's the place you come. If you want to learn how to be a faithful Christian father and provide for a faithful Christian family, come on."
Of course, this implies that we need to be faithful folks modeling this in the first place which is SO intimidating for so many of us! Why, OH WHY, do we expect that relationship with Jesus is supposed to be easy? This is the guy who was crucified. His disciples were martyred. He told us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. If something's so easy that we don't need to make any effort or sacrifices, it's not worth doing, right?
Anyway, now I'm ranting/rambling.
So. I have my friend Carl praying for us. And I'm praying for direction, for purpose, and for a mission and most of all, for our willingness to receive these things.
Those aren't TOO big, are they?
For nothing is impossible with God! -Lk. 1:37

09 May 2006

Recipe: Chocolate zucchini cake attempt #2

I found a blog last week called Whole Wheat Cookbook. I think the guy just finds whole wheat recipes online and then posts them to his blog. But on the blog, there is a recipe for Whole Wheat Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

Well, I tried it and it was ok. But my friend, Patrice, makes THE best zucchini bread in the whole world and I was hoping that this cake would taste like a chocolate whole wheat version of her bread. Not so. In my opinion, zucchini bread is best when you can press on it and oil beads on the surface. Yeah. I like it a little moist and frankly, the Whole Wheat guy's recipe was a little too dry for me.

So, I tried my version -- a marriage of Patrice's amazing zucchini bread recipe and the guy at the Whole Wheat cookbook blog's cake recipe today.

Miraculous, Marvelous, and Versatile Whole Wheat Chocolate Zucchini Cake

1 cup yogurt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Mix and cover -- it will be very thick! Let sit at room temperature for 8-24 hours.

In large bowl cream together:
4 medium eggs (3 large)
1 cup rapadura or sucanat
1/2 cup olive oil (or 1/4 olive oil and 1/4 cup applesauce)
1 T vanilla
1/2 cup grated apple or applesauce

3 cups raw finely shredded zucchini w/rind (or you can use yellow squash, carrots or apple, though clearly that would change the title of this masterpiece!) I think the finely shredded/ grated thing is key to the amount of moisture in the cake. You want this to be very moist!

Sprinkle the following evenly over the flour/yogurt mix:
3 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 T cocoa

Mix and then add to creamed mix. Mix well for about 2 minutes. Pour into well-greased and floured cake pan, muffin tins, etc.

Sprinkle with 1 cup chocolate chips, if desired (highly recommended by this choco-nut!).

Bake at 325 for about 50 minutes, if using 9 x 13 pan. Try hard not to overcook. This will make a very, very moist cake. Can be frosted with cream cheese frosting if not using chocolate chips!

When a girl is called by God...

An incredibly interesting article by Ben Witherington on the role of women in churches can be found here. Special thanks to Molly over at Choosing Home who graciously responded to my intro on the Choosing Home forums with kindness.

08 May 2006

Leaving comfort zones

I realized this afternoon that I am a creature of habit -- bad habits.
I'm really ashamed to admit all of this, but I really struggle with being rebellious. There are a thousand things a day that I should do and thus a thousand things that I don't do. I find myself being self-indulgent almost all of the time. And I justify my self-indulgence by telling myself I am learning new things. But who am I kidding?
Anyway, today, I managed to do one thing that has been weighing on my mind and got out and planted the seeds I had bought a couple of weeks ago. Not a big deal, but I had some silvis, coleus and cardinal vine that needed to be planted. So I got out the flats and started some seeds and I remembered how good it feels to actually accomplish something -- anything, really -- it just feels right to actually do what needs to be done.
Then I did a little weeding in the gardens that my mom planted for me a couple of years ago and it all looks beautiful right now. It needs to be weeded a lot still (see all the dandelions in the photos), but I love that I actually have a beautifully lanscaped parsonage thanks to Momma.

This afternoon I took the Bug outside and showed her the flowers in the garden. She is terrified of the grass. In this first picture she was standing right next to me as I sat on the deck hence the smile.
Then I showed her the flowers I got for Easter from Mom and have yet to plant (I know, I know -- LAAAAZY!) She was scared of those too, then started exploring a little. In this second pic she's got dirt on her fingers and is none too pleased. I think she's thinking something I've often thought, "Ewww--- nature."

Guess we all need to leave our comfort zones sometime!

07 May 2006

The shadow proves the sunshine

It was a hard day at church this morning.
Our secretary passed away during the evening after a brief, but brutal battle with lung cancer. She was too young.
I tried to pass the news around the church before we got to the Lifting Up our Joys and Concerns portion of our service this morning. But there was the audible gasp of air as I shared our concern for her family and our thanksgiving that she passed into eternal life peacefully.
During the morning prayer, I could feel the heaviness of the congregation. It is hard to trust that the future is in God's hands, especially when loved ones are struggling with illness and uncertainty. We came before God asking for comfort and assurance and praying for courage and faith. But I felt like we didn't have a chance to say all that needs to be said, or express our longings clearly enough.
My sister gave me the new Switchfoot cd for my birthday. I keep hearing,
"O, Lord, don't be far away...storm clouds gathering beside me... please Lord, don't look the other way"
And at the end
"the shadow proves the sunshine...let my shadows prove the sunshine."
In the midst of the heaviness and the depth of feeling my congregation is bearing right now, there is so much more to say. There are so many questions that will go unanswered. There is so much grief that will hit us when we least expect it. There is just so much! These situations have knocked us down before.
I pray we can continue to bear witness to our faith in the Comforter.Lord, let our shadows still prove the Sunshine.

05 May 2006

Recipe: Some mighty fine 'za

Fridays are becoming our pizza night and tonight's was really good, so I thought I would post the recipe. I made it with whole wheat flour that had not been soaked, since I can't really figure out how that would work in a recipe with yeast. Anyone with a clue about this, feel free to respond.
We used organic toppings, which I think makes a difference, but regardless both of these are really good. We make two smaller pizzas out of the crust recipe.
Whole Wheat Crust
1 cup warm water
2 T honey
2 T olive oil (or 1 T olive oil and 1 T coconut oil)
2 t sea salt
2 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 pkg yeast
optional seasonings: oregano, basil, garlic, onion, etc.
I use a bread machine and add the ingredients in the order listed and set it on the dough setting. Sometimes I let it rise in the machine, other times I take it out and use it as soon as it's mixed. The second is our favorite. If you plan to let the dough rise, don't put the seasonings in the crust until after you press it out.
After it's done, I press it out on an oiled and cornmeal floured pan and seal it with olive oil or olive oil and garlic.
Top with toppings and cook at 350 degrees about 30 minutes or 'til done.
Spinach Artichoke Topping
1 16 oz bag of cut-leaf spinach with water squeezed out of it
1/2 can of artichokes drained
1/2 c cottage cheese (may need more)*
1 T dill chopped, or dry dill
2-3 garlic cloves
1/2 onion chopped
sea salt to taste
parmesan cheese
mozzarella cheese or pizza cheese blend
Mash cottage cheese well 'til it is fairly well broken down. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and taste for seasoning -- add more of whatever until it tastes like you like it. Spread on 1/2 of the above pizza crust. Top with cheese.
*You can also use cream cheese and mayo
Zucchini and Veg Pizza (modified from Rachel Ray)
Pizza sauce
1 small zucchini cut into very thin slices
Italian seasoning
mushrooms, onions, green pepper sliced thinly
green olives
sausage, ham, pepperoni, etc.
parmesan cheese
mozzarella cheese or pizza cheese blend
Take thinly sliced zucchini and lay out on paper towel. Sprinkle very lightly with sea salt and then sprinkle with Italian seasoning. You can also use red pepper flakes, if you'd like, but a little goes a long way! You're trying to emulate pepperoni.
Spread desired amount of sauce on pizza. Then put zucchini slices on pizza, but don't overlap, or your pizza will be soggy.
Our favorite so far has been sauce, zucchini rounds, Italian seasonings, garlic, parmesan, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, green olives, cheese in that order. Delicioso!

My amazing sisters

I have friends who can't stand their siblings. I have friends who love their siblings, but just can't figure out how to get along with them. I have friends who don't talk to their siblings.

My sisters (or sistahs, as I like to call them, because I was "raised on the streets" and thus am fluent in "street talk") are the coolest people I have ever met. Seriously. They are SO hilarious, incredibly clever, wise beyond their years, silly in the most wonderful way, friendly and respectful... I could go on and on. They are just AWESOME!!

I'm really excited because this weekend we are going to have a sistah day. This means that we (the three sibs and I) are going to hang out in Peoria, IL, probably have lunch and a beer or wine or something, then go to Barnes and Noble or Borders and read magazines/ look at books without talking to each other. And we'll harass each other and joke around about our family and harass each other and laugh. It will be freakin' great.

Whenever I talk to my sisters or hang out with them, I think about them for the next couple of days and smile and laugh when I remember their hilarity. And I try to relate their cleverness to Dennis so that the next couple days end up being full of phrases like, "And then Marissa..." "And Kali said..." "Lil was ..." These stories usually end up with me saying, "I guess you had to be there." And Dennis agreeing, though very politely.

When we live on our commune north of Eureka, we'll probably test the strength of these bonds, but I'm guessing we'll be ok. I just hope, should Dennis and I be blessed with more children, that we can replicate the closeness I have with them among our own children.

I love my sisters.

Learning to cook all over again

I have just purchased the book, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I got the recommendation from the Christian homeschooling moms' blogs that I check out daily now. ( The body of Christ has lots of diversity, thanks be to God!)

Anyway, Nourishing Traditions is a huge repository of information and research on how the body processes food and how societies have considered or not considered the body's ability to digest foods. Turns out that a lot of the recommendations that we receive from the FDA, AHA, etc. are pretty incomplete.

For example -- whole grains are really good for us, but humans can have a hard time digesting whole grains. Our ancestors took care of this by soaking their grains in a substance that had lactic acid -- yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, milk/vinegar -- something that slightly fermented the grains and released the difficult acids within.

Another example -- a lot of fats on the market today aren't great for us. Canola, safflower, and even some olive oils are extruded under a lot of heat, thus killing their natural goodness. And coconut oil, which was demonized in the 80's can actually be very good for us. Olive oil is a good choice most of the time, but if it's heated beyond about medium heat, it releases free radicals which is not good.

Animal fats are not as bad for us as the food pyramid makes out, but the animal fats need to be from organic sources from animals that are treated well and feeding on their natural diets. Meat from such sources has balanced cholesterol and excellent nutrients. The fats are not evil either, if they are from clean sources.

And soy -- not so good for you, unless it's treated as a whole grain would be and fermented. Soy mimics estrogen and can create big difficulties for humans, especially little humans. And since I realized that government subsidies create a heck of a lot excess soybeans in our country, I'm highly suspicious of the recent health campaigns touting the excellence of soy in our diets.

ANYWAY -- the point of all of this -- I am having to re-learn how to cook. I can't just knock off a plate of whole wheat pancakes for Annalivia the morning those pancakes need to be eaten. I have to plan to figure out how to get the wheat soaking for 12 hours before. Same goes for oatmeal. Or pizza crust. Or anything with whole grains which is now everything that we eat!

And trying to figure out how to eat a lot more veggies because we don't have access to organic meats is pretty difficult, too. They have to be very palatable and mostly laced with cheese or Dennis won't love them. So far the big successes have been veggie pizzas, black bean tortillas and zucchini/squash spaghetti sauce and whole wheat penne. But, again, none of those were made with soaked grains.

Which makes me wonder -- what goal should I shoot for? For the most part, I'm an all or nothing person. It would be better if I was less a perfectionist and more willing to accept a 75/25 % ratio at the start. Shoot for whole foods properly prepared for 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time, if I can't get to the home-prepared stuff, let it go already, April!

Well, I'm off to soak wheat for pizza tonight.

04 May 2006

What food REALLY costs us

Shnykies! I bought organic milk today for $6/ gallon from a local farmer. The organic eggs were $2.50. The organic butter was $3.25/half-pound.
Wheat berries to be ground are more expensive than the pre-ground whole wheat. Expeller pressed oils are far more pricey than Wesson. Whole wheat pastas are twice as much as the enriched flour kind and we haven't even been able to approach organic meats! I don't think our food budget will be able to take organic eating!

We need to put in a garden. And get a cow, I guess. But somehow I don't think there's enough grass in the backyard of the parsonage to support a milk cow.

I'm amazed at how much everything costs to eat well and healthily. But the more I think about it, the more I am outraged at the lack of quality food available to Americans today.

I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR the other day. Terry Gross was interviewing Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Pollan was speaking about the challenge facing low income families when it comes to eating well. The average family can walk into a grocery store and spend a couple of bucks on fruits and vegetables that will provide them with high nutrients, but very few calories. If they walk to the center of the store, they will find tons of processed junk for the same amount of money that will provide them with far more calories. And when you're trying to feed yourself on few resources, caloric value is a major concern.

HERE'S THE KICKER -- the reason all of those junky foods are so inexpensive is because our government subsidizes the products used to make all those extra calories. High fructose corn syrup is something that you and I support with our tax dollars. Fresh zucchini is not!
I guess I should have been aware of all this, but honestly, it's never occurred to me that the American people are bankrolling our own diseases. I mean, I knew we (myself especially included) are making some pretty poor choices, but I guess I didn't realize that my dollars are making it harder for you to make good choices and your dollars are making it harder for me to feed my family home-grown foods.

And I know that farming is an important and beneficial way of life. I grew up in a farming community and the family farm is the fabric of that wonderful little town and its environs, but I have to wonder, what kind of disservice are we doing to our fellow beings and our own families by creating an artificial demand and perpetuating systems of poor nutrition? Our myriad crises that are going to cause a breakdown in *insert government system here* by *insert year here* couldn't help but be significantly improved by national upgrades in nutrition! The real cost of our cheap food is a national health crisis that will end up "costing" us far more in the future!

It really ticks me off, but I'm not sure what to do about it. I think part of the answer for our family will come in self-sufficience, but I don't think that's the answer for everyone. And where is my role as a Christian in this? My faith compels me to consider and act on behalf of the poor. But where are the answers?

As I ponder, I guess I'll pay $6 for a gallon of milk. I guess I just wish others had the same options that I do.

03 May 2006

Back where she belongs

I'm taking my daughter out of daycare.

It's not that the daycare did anything wrong. In fact, they probably were more attentive to her than I am on an hourly basis.
But I'm her mama and regardless of what finger plays they come up with or what Sesame Street they don't watch, she loves being with me and hates being away from me.
And I don't like being away from her, either, even if it is just for 8 hours once a week.
I've struggled with how to juggle ministry and motherhood. I never thought that anything could trump the call to ordained ministry until I became a mommy. Then it became clear that the ministry of mommyhood is a far greater calling. I don't say that to deny my congregation their pastor or the importance of pastors, but let's face it -- raising a faithful family is a far greater calling.
I've prayed and prayed since realizing this, figuring that God would just remove the call to ministry so that I could be a mommy, but that hasn't happened. We aren't in a financial position for me to just leave ministry. And more importantly, beyond that, I know that God wants me here ministering to this church. And things at church have gone a heck of a lot better since they got word Annalivia was going to daycare. But as much as I know God wants me to do a good job ministering to my congregation, I know God wants me ministering to my baby girl, too.
So somehow Dennis and I are going to have to juggle this around and figure it out. We are blessed to have Dennis' mom nearby and, thank God, she is available to watch Annalivia so that I can get in some visits. And Dennis loves to have time alone with his daughter and is happy to be with her so that I can go direct choir and do bulletins and such. And Annalivia and I are just going to have to be more disciplined about getting to church in the morning (i.e. sticking to a morning routine).
But I think we can do this. The truth is, being a mother has made me a better pastor. And being a pastor, will probably make me a better mother, if I choose to use church obligations as a gift and an opportunity instead of a requirement and punishment. It will also help if I put the future of this congregation in the hands of the True Caretaker, instead of trying to raise it myself. And Annalivia will grow up with the love of many people with whom she wouldn't interact if we just went to church somewhere. She'll also grow up knowing that God sometimes calls us to do more than we believe we can and doesn't fail us as we strive to be faithful.

So, that's where we are. Two more weeks of contractually obligated Tuesdays at daycare and then she's home. Thank God.

02 May 2006

How do we get out of this mess? (A post on problems in the mainline church!)

I am worried about my denomination.
Ok, yeah -- I know that where we end up will be in the hands of God.
But I'm worried about my denomination.
We in the mainline church have kind of screwed things up. Well, not "kind of." We've really screwed things up!Our churches are facing aging populations, struggling or irrelevant ministries, and, needless to say, declining budgets.
And none of us know what to do about it.
We pray. At least, I do. I pray that God will revive us. I pray God will reform us. I pray God will renew us. I pray God will just help us!!
And I think about our decline a lot. Probably a lot of my posts will be on this subject, so any readers should just get ready.
Here's the thing -- I think somewhere along the line, we committed a pretty big sin when we turned church into a country club that even Jesus couldn't join.
I hate to say this, because the genesis was before my time and I hate to point fingers and throw stones when I know that I am failing at being a witness to Christ in a gazillion different ways.
But for just a second, can I put that aside and say, "What the heck were we thinking?" And how can we atone for something that most of us are unwilling to admit and many are willing to sacrifice the call to make Christ known to all the earth to perpetuate?
I grew up in a church full of good people -- honest people. And I was beloved there. And I LOVED the feeling of being loved. And that sustained me through most of my growing up and even into college. That human relationship was a really good starting point.But it wasn't enough to sustain me through seminary and into my first pastorate where I finally realized, thanks be to God, that the only relationship that is going to give me love enough to get through days when people think you've failed them (and you have!) is a relationship with Jesus Christ!
And frankly, I'm kind of ticked off that no one in my church or my college or even my seminary had the guts to question me and challenge me as to where my joy for the church lay because my denomination is so darn grateful to have anybody under 30, or heck, 60, in a room, let alone preparing for ministry, that they will let pretty much anybody in, even somebody as clearly starved for Jesus as I was!
What happened to us? Our denomination was at the forefront of changing the world less than 100 years ago. We had people turning over their lives to Christ right and left and leaving behind all forms of certainty to follow what God wanted them to do. We had children who knew the Word of God not just that their favorite felt-board character was Miriam. We had teenagers who went to college training for the ministry, college students who were heading overseas in missionary work, parents mentoring children in the way of God, older adults working alongside younger adults. And this was not a fascist group. Men and women, young and old, all were finding a calling in bringing about the kingdom of God.
I might be accuses of yearning for a past that will not come again, but friends, I think we must figure out a way to return to that sense of calling. We absolutely cannot sit back and let the few children in our churches absorb the sense of relationship with Jesus by accident! In my opinion, our children need a foundation in the Bible that will provide for them throughout of their lives. They need to memorize Psalm 23 and the 10 Commandments. They need to know scriptures by heart so that as teenagers and adults the words that are in their hearts are the words of LIFE!! Our teenagers need to see young adults working in the church and being honored and cherished for their willingness to follow God. They need to see that when they graduate from college, they will have a place in our churches where they can put into action their faith without us providing a gazillion hurdles over which they have to jump to be involved! And our young adults need the same respect! They also need adults who are ending the process of raising families and have tried to work out how to be faithful stewards of their resources who will be mentors to the younger adults. And we need mature adults who are willing to work hard for the church so that those who are younger don't have to sacrifice their families to sustain a Sunday School program! And we need older adults who are willing to be the voice of wisdom, yet are also willing to trust those who are younger to use their gifts for ministry, all the while knowing that they are not being pushed aside because of their age, but instead honored and respected.
It's not like I'm just pulling these ideas out of the air. Check out Proverbs 22:6, Titus 2, Leviticus 19:32. 2 Timothy 3: 14-15. I could go on... (And, yes, I know that as mainliners our skin crawls when somebody takes scripture "out of context." Well, for right now, so what? Set within the larger context of the biblical mandate to raise up generations of faithful people and the failure of our churches to do so, the context does not work in our favor!)
And thus is my lament. But without a willingness to confront these shortcomings, I'm just whining. I want to be clear -- I love my denomination and really truly believe that it has a GREAT things to offer. (I'll post more about those sometime soon). But I believe its people need an intervention so that we can let the good things inherent in its history and mission come forth.
So here's what I'm going to do, and I'm going to invite those of you are also concerned about these things to join me in figuring out what God wants you to do about this.
My plan.
  1. Pray. I'm going to pray for God's church, for my church and that they might be one and the same. I'm going to pray that God will help us to find a way towards faithfulness.
  2. Seek. I need to start really reading the scriptures and looking for God's Word to speak to me and my congregation.
  3. Trust. I need to trust that God will lead us and speak to us. I think this goes hand-in-hand with #1 and #2.
  4. Listen. Open ears make it easier to hear God's plan for me and our church.
  5. Act. I need to put into action what God has told me. I think that God has been asking me to help teach our Sunday School for a long time. I keep thinking that maybe He'd want to rethink that, but so far we've no such luck.
  6. Encourage. I'm going to ask others in my church to pray and trust and act on what God has been asking them to do. I'm going to encourage their efforts, even if they are being led in directions I haven't considered.
  7. Respect. I'm going to listen to God, but also to those who are also praying for His direction. If they believe that we are being led differently than I, I'm going to respect their opinions and try to work out any differences with prayer and discernment.

I pray that this is a good start. I hope that those of you with similar concerns will interact with me, especially by agreeing to pray for our churches.

May God go with us!

Feeling Salty

Well, I have a blog. "Blog" is a word I formerly hated, fyi. However, I find myself wanting to comment on life and wanting people to interact with my commentary so I'm posting a weblog. I should quit using the phrase, "I'll never..."
And I have named my blog, "Salt for the Spirit." Why, you ask?
Well, those of you who know me, know that is the title of my newsletter article. It is also a title of which I am pretty proud. (Yes, I know where pride goeth!)
I love salt. It is an affection cultivated by my family. My grandmother is the best everyday cook I've ever encountered and liberal salting accompanies every dish. And I have always been a fan. I remember coming in from playing outside on hot summer days and heading for the Claussen pickle jar when I would gulp salty dill pickle juice right out of the container. Sounds disgusting now, but boy was it ever delish then!
Turns out that I'm in pretty good company when it comes to holding an adoration for salt. In the Old Testament, salt was used as a sign of covenant and God's people were commanded to bring their grain offerings with salt before God. In fact, salt became a symbol of God's covenant. Known for its preservative qualities, its tendency to be unchanging, it was representative of God's unchanging commitment to God's people.
It was also used as a sign of covenant between individuals. A pinch of salt symbolized a promise to each other and a willingness to attempt to emulate God's everlasting relationship with humanity.
Salt can heal wounds. It can enhance flavors. In Matthew, Jesus tells his followers to be "salt for the earth" and to not lose their saltiness because these properties are not easily replaced. "Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another," he tells us in Mark. In Colossians we read "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."
Yet salt can also be destructive. It can irritate and it can even kill. Sowing an enemy's land with salt guaranteed that their harvest and livelihood would be destroyed. It is not something to be taken lightly.
What if we, as followers of Jesus Christ, decided to get a bit more salty? What if we served and loved Christ together with others, working to enhance their gifts, trusting that they are working to enhance our gifts? What if we worked at healing the broken hearted by introducing them to the healing love of Jesus? What if we preserved God's word and the deep, unflappable knowledge that God's abiding presence is always with us by interacting with each other in peace, gentleness, honesty and courage?
I don't know about you, but I think it's worth trying. I hear a dill pickle calling!