LOOK HERE for recipes, quotes, music, books, environmental stewardship, faith, etc

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year, New Curry


I'm slightly cheating in saying "new year" because I made this on Dec. 30, but I plan on including this curry in my life often in 2011. It was utterly wonderful. I found the recipe by googling "brussels sprout recipes indian" and came up with a slightly quirky one that still showed potential. I had to adjust an item here and there, but the results were great. The photo to the left best captures what it looked like... but I confess I didn't take it -- I stole it from the internet. Cheater cheater pumpkin (brussels sprouts?) eater!

I'm calling this Brussels Sprouts Curry, but honestly, this sauce would be amazing on just about anything -- especially potatoes and/or cauliflower.... There may be a couple of new ingredients for you to purchase but DO IT. They are handy to have around if you want to continue to cook Indian dishes.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS CURRY

Ingredients

1 lb Brussels sprouts

2 onions

1 cup tomato puree (I adapted here: I used a small can of TJ's organic tomato paste. I slowly added 3 cans of water into the recipe as I cooked)

2 green chilis or your favorite temperature pepper sauce (my favorite is green "Picamas" from Guatemala)

1 tbsp crushed ginger

½ cup tamarind water (yet another adaptation: I have a jar of tamarind paste, which is also used to make pad thai; I put 2 heaping tsp of the paste in a half cup measure, filled it the rest of the way with water and dissolved it. Voila! Tamarind water.)

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp coriander powder (called "dhaniya powder" here. Learn something new every day.)

1 tsp garam masala (optional)

Salt

Oil

Mustard seeds

Directions

Start your rice.

Cut brussels sprouts in half (or even in quarters if you want). Boil in water for 5-7 minutes.

In a frying pan , add 2 tsp oil and fry mediumly chopped onions till soft.

Add chilis (or hot sauce) and ginger together. Saute together for 1-2 minutes on medium low heat.

Add tamarind water, turmeric and salt and blend in. Let it bubble a bit. Then add tomato puree/paste to it. Then add coriander powder, garam masala. Stir together, slowly adding water, 1 can at a time. Keep stirring

Bring it to boil, then turn it down. When all the ingredients get blended together and the sauce is thick but not too thick, add the brussels sprouts and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Crush some mustard seeds in a mortar & pestle (or spice grinder) and sprinkle on top. You can also top this with plain yogurt, raisins, chutney and nuts.

Serve with hot rice.

Pancakes with Protein?

My new favorite source for recipes (gluten-free, low-cholesterol, organic, blah blah blah) is Whole Foods. I subscribe to their weekly newsletter and I usually take away at least one recipe a week. I'm trying another on New Year's Eve -- if I like it, I'll post it here.

I tried this new one at breakfast today with blueberries. Oh me oh my. Perfection. I will try it with thin apple slices next. I used gluten-free flour and it worked perfectly.

Only thing to remember: if you like thick restaurant-style pancakes, skip this... these are more light and crepe-like. They were oh-so-tasty.

Note to self: Make sure you chew them as you're shoveling them in your mouth....

Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Serves 4

In these moist and tender pancakes, the cottage cheese adds quality calcium and protein. Serve with a bit of butter and maple syrup or, for a special treat, top with fig spread.

Ingredients

1 cup unbleached flour (remember, I used GF flour and it worked great)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 eggs (I used egg substitute - again, great!)
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
Canola oil cooking spray

Method

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, cottage cheese, milk and oil. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and whisk until completely blended.

Spray a large skillet or griddle with cooking spray then heat over medium heat. Working in batches, form each pancake by spooning about 1/4 cup of the batter onto the skillet. Cook, flipping pancakes once, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to plates and serve.

Nutrition

Per serving (about 6.5oz/186g-wt.): 310 calories (120 from fat), 13g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 220mg cholesterol, 600mg sodium, 33g total carbohydrate (1g dietary fiber, 9g sugar), 17g protein

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Speechless


I heard a song today that stayed with me. It's a song about grief, and grief is a relationship I've had to maintain, whether I wanted to or not. Grief demands attention. If I ignore my "friend" Mr. Grief, he comes knocking, barging in, even breaking down the door if I pretend that I'm busy or not at home.

I guess I kept listening to this song because it wasn't sappy, overproduced and sung in a minor key (though perhaps it is and I'm too musically tone-deaf to know that). It's raw, painfully honest, and doesn't tie up feelings into tidy conclusions and a pretty bow. Instead, Johannes just tells it like it is. I get that.

Here are the words. And here's the link to the song:
Found in a maze
As time is ever streaming
Left where it lays
It won't decay, this feeling
All alone, with everything that's born
The gods display their scorn

I won't run away
It only gets me closer
I cut through the day
A murdering of meaning
Either way, endless ways to say
I'm speechless when I pray

I hope I make it home
I hope I make it home
Ah, oh, whoa

Torn by a stitch
The fabric underneath it
Hooked on that glitch
That breathes to life within it
Flesh and bone, carried by the tone
The resonating drone

Lost in a maze
As time is ever stopping
Right where it lays
It's wings clipped by the ceiling
All alone, with everything that's gone
The devil in finest form

I hope I make it home
I hope I make it home
Ah, oh, whoa

Thankfully, that is not where I have remained, sitting with "the devil in finest form." Jesus has gently taken my hand and done what Job's friends do best: he merely sat with me in my grief, not saying anything. As the fog imperceptibly lifted at some point, he started speaking things into my life. Every day, something different. I could not possibly list them all here... nor do I need to. Each passage was like the manna in the desert for the wandering Israelites -- just enough for that day. It provided for that day's needs, nothing more. I would need to show up in the morning and be fed again. If I skipped a day here and there, the gnawing hunger would leave me dizzy and disoriented. Slowly, my strength came back, though now I walk with a limp.

This is the passage of late that gives my soul what it seeks:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)

Grief, as miserable as it is, also tells me, when I am listening, that this life is not all there is... it is incomplete, sometimes empty, ultimately not satisfying. While that sounds hopeless and dark, it really is not. It is simply an issue of perspective. If you know that this life is not the end of the story, that there is more that you need to look to, then it may just be what you need to hear... Do not settle for this life, the present now. Instead, press on toward our real home.

I pray that Mr. Johannes does not remain speechless, though this sadness lasts longer than one expects -- and pops up its head now and again. I pray with him that he will indeed "make it home."

As 2010 comes to a close, I lovingly remember those over whom I have grieved, and still grieve... Claire, Matt, Andrew, Ruth... and the other things I've lost or had to let go of along the way. I enjoy priceless memories. I also feel the empty place where they once were, and refuse to fill those gaps with other things. I am grateful that I am no longer speechless.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Good Decisions


There will be a grip of Top Ten Lists screaming at us as we hit year-end. This is not one of those. I don't have a Top Ten list worth noting. But I can share ten good decisions from my year. I'd be very interested in hearing yours as well.

These are in no particular order. I wouldn't say they are necessarily the "best" ideas or decisions either. But as I think back on 2010, these are the things that stick with me most.

OK, enough qualifiers. Here goes:

Trip to Alaska, June 2010. In 2000, my best friend and I made a deal: we would travel to a National Park each summer for a vacation until one of us got married. Well... let's just say we're glad there are a LOT of national parks. I think I can confidently say that I have been fortunate enough to see the most magnificent sights in the US. We had put off hucking all the way up to Alaska for a bunch of reasons, but finally decided that this was the year. And I am SO glad we went. Here's an earlier post from the trip. P.S. One piece of unasked-for advice: GO TO ALASKA. And don't take a cruise. Drive around as much as you can. We spent 11 days going from Denali all the way down to Kenai. Lots and lots of driving. And not one minute of bad scenery. The people, the vistas, the restaurants and the wildlife are utterly unique. Don't settle for a sanitized, comfy version.

Tuesday night Bible study. I have been in a Bible study of one form or another since 1976. None of them have been bad. Sure, some have been better than others; but I have liked each one for a different reason. This fall I started a new one. A dozen or so of us came together on Tuesday nights to read through Benedict's Way, a short little book on spiritual disciplines. The book has provided great material for good, honest, vulnerable conversation. But more importantly, I have a strong sense that every person there is a necessary part of our group. I have loved every night we've spent together: singing, eating dessert, laughing hard, tickling the kids, praying, sharing our stories. I am so grateful for these times. Something special is happening there. We all come from different places in life, but we matter to each other. We listen well, and are willing to come as we are. Today I read a quote that touches on why this group is so important to me:
“Over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by. We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power." (Thomas Kelly, 12th century Quaker)
New bike. I really enjoyed my previous bike, a sleek black Felt SR71. It served me well for 6 years. But this summer, as I was revving up to sell my car (see my next listing), I realized I wanted a bike that I would use more for transportation than recreation. I needed something sturdier to carry groceries, manage different terrain, and be a little more substantial in traffic. I have not been disappointed. "Blue Steel," my trusty Globe Vienna 4, had me at hello. It's a very smooth ride and has cool special features (described in this post). It has exceeded what I hoped for in terms of usefulness and fun. I ride it at night because it has great lights, I ride it in the rain because it has excellent fenders and tires that can handle the muck, and I can carry 25 pounds of whatever I need to carry. Best of all, I look good doing it :)

Selling my car. I will not bore you with details since I've already rambled about this decision here and here. I've already been tested in my commitment due to weather of late, even having to rent a car for two days at one point just to be able to get to some appointments I'd committed to before it decided to rain unceasingly for several days last week. But I have no regrets. Last week, when it was torrential, I got a little stir crazy being inside so much, unable to use my scooter and only using my bike occasionally (in other words, when I could show up somewhere sopping wet). But each time I had to make adjustments in my schedule because of the weather, I was reminded, I have a home. I have food. I am employed. Lord, I pray for those who do not have those things. The heavy, heavy rains last week made the lives of the working poor and homeless very difficult. My life is not hard because I don't have a car. It just helps me be a little more creative, and a lot more thankful.

Eating Seasonally. OK, I'm cheating a teensy bit by including this, because I've been doing this for at least two years. But each year I have to renew my decision to do this as I renew my membership to Fairview Gardens, my local CSA. I could write volumes about this one little decision, but it is reaping deep work in life. By eating seasonally, I have learned how to wait. I have learned how to look forward to things. I have learned how to savor things more deeply because I know they are temporary. In our first world, I-must-have-it economy, this is a discipline that must be learned, sadly. What do I mean? I LOVE red peppers. I could eat them every day - sauteed in scrambled eggs, raw with hummus, diced up in any number of Indian or Mexican dishes, or just plain. They are like candy to me. They grow here and are available in the late summer and fall. But thanks to hothouse agriculture and planes, trains and automobiles, I can get them year-round if I want them. But I have learned that that personal satisfaction comes at great cost to the planet in terms of how much energy is used to keep us saturated in red peppers year-round. But personally, I also am seeing what happens to me when I get what I want all the time. I don't have to break it down for you. Suffice it to say, as I defer gratification, as I anticipate, and as I savor in the moment, I learn how to seek out far deeper, substantial, spiritual things that God is calling me to look forward to. Discipline in these small things lead to maturity in the eternal things. So eat seasonally, and see your soul be cultivated.

Fitdeck. From the sublime to the mundane... I am certainly no poster child for fitness. But I can tell you that I exercise just about every day of my life, despite my "sturdy" physique. I can't fight genetics, but I do my best to stay fit. And while I regrettably carry too many lbs on my "undertall" frame, I have great blood pressure and stamina. This has come about from riding my bike almost every day since May 2003, hiking in national parks, walking to the store, and so on. But I have recently picked up an old habit again: Fitdeck. To build up muscles that don't get used in cycling, to kickstart my metabolism (and let's just say, it's needs a lot of help!), to have something to do on rainy days, this is a great and incredibly simple option. I bought a deck of these cards years ago, and have recently bolstered it with another booster deck. Check it.

Google Reader. Everyone is getting into the blogging game, and many are ridiculous and tiresome. Not to mention lame. (Heck, maybe you think that about this blog.) But I have about 25 different blogs that I really enjoy. They range from cooking to theology to green living to photos of dear friends and former students. Previously, to keep up on all of these blogs, I ignorantly surfed from bookmark to bookmark in my browser. That is, until a friend told me about Google Reader. Now all the blogs I follow in one place, on one tab. When I need a 5-minute break from email, or I just want to go back and find that recipe I can't remember the name of, it's all there. Pretty darn smart, if you ask me. Thank you, interweb.

Oliver. I've become a hopeless Cat Lady. It sounds nuts, but this gets my vote for best decision of 2010! He is so cute, I could eat him up. This is a photo from the first day I got him in May, and now he's a much bigger pile of fluff. I want to love him and squeeze him and hold him tight.

Working with youth. I had my chance to get out of the game in February 09 when I resigned from my 15-year position as a youth pastor. But gosh darn it, I was asked to substitute teach a class for a few weeks at Providence Hall, and the rest is history. I'm in my 28th year with teenagers, and I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. Phew.

Common Prayer. I've only been using this book a few days shy of one month, but I can already sense this will have a lasting effect on my life. I've shared about it at length here. A simple sentence from today's reading spoke loudly to my spirit. As I finish, let it bother you as well:
Overwhelm us, Lord : with the weight of your glory.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Walk In It

Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
~Jeremiah 6:16

"The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else's imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!"

~Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Both of these quotes stopped me in my tracks today. Let them simmer.

At the end of the day though, my spine stiffens at what follows directly after God's searing words in Jeremiah 6:16...
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
17 I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’
May it not be so, Lord.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Homebody


OK, I think this weather is just nuts. I'm not really complaining because goodness knows California always needs rainfall, but wow it has been unrelenting.

In these last few days my moods have been swinging between AAUUUGGGHH-I-have-cabin-fever-and-am-going-nuts-without-sunlight-and-exercise!!!! and ahhh-I-like-snuggling-at-home-with-hot-drinks-Christmas-music-and-comfort-food...

Yesterday was more of the former. I had just had it. By 4pm I bundled up in rain gear and got on my bike, regardless of what I would face. I was a drenched puppy when I got home, but it felt good. I made a wonderful dinner of risotto with onion and mushrooms, topped with some scallops sauteed in garlic and olive oil.

But today was, by and large, an enjoyable day of coffee, comfort food and work at home. I started off the day with blueberry pancakes (thank you, Bisquick gluten-free pancake mix!), went to lunch with a friend, then worked this afternoon on various projects and topped the day off making dinner for another friend.

To celebrate today's happy homebody state, I'm posting the recipe I made tonight, even though I posted it previously in February 09. It has become a staple in my kitchen. I make it frequently, varying the vegetables (according to the season) and protein option (according to whom I am feeding ~ this works with chicken, shrimp, scallops too). Sometimes I put it over thai rice sticks, other times over sticky rice.

Psssst.... The sauce is the key ingredient. Follow this recipe and you will be popular. Guaranteed.

JAPANESE NOODLES with BOK CHOY and TOFU
1/4 c soy sauce
2 tb balsamic vinegar
2 tb honey
2 tb sesame oil + 2 tsp oil
2 tsp cornstarch
8 green onions, chopped (optional ingredient)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tb fresh ginger, minced and peeled
1 head bok choy - bottom third discarded, leaves sliced and diced (not too small)
12 oz extra-firm tofu, cut into cubes
12 oz package udon noodles, linguine or rice sticks, freshly cooked

Fry up tofu in skillet over medium heat with 2 tsp oil.Whisk soy sauce, vinegar, honey, only 1 tb oil and cornstarch in small bowl to blend. Keep turning them over in skillet till edges are a little crusty. Set aside.

Heat remaining tb of oil in wok or large pot over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic and ginger and stir 30 seconds. (Ginger might spatter, be careful). Add bok choy and saute until it begins to wilt, about 2 minutes.

Mix in tofu, then noodles, then soy mixture. Stir until sauce thickens and coats noodle mixture, about 1 minute. Season with salt and sesame seeds.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Year-End


I woke up this morning to a pleasant little surprise in my inbox: I received a weekly update from the Fuller Youth Institute about their Top 5 Resources for 2010, and one of my articles was listed.

I have another article coming out with them next month, along with a different article in Youthworker Journal. Allow me to be the first to tell you that this is no way to make a living. "Publishing" in the new millennium is a dicey proposition at best. But I'm also no starving writer. These articles are simply a way for me to be creative and reflective. They also give me the opportunity to share a bit of experience. I stumbled into writing, but I'm really enjoying it. Since spring 09 I've had some twenty articles come out. I really can't believe it. I guess being an English major turned out OK after all...

There is another small course change on the horizon. For close to two years I have been working with pastors in the Free Methodist Conference of Southern California, coaching and collaborating on strategic planning, staff management, volunteer development, church planting, cross-cultural ministry, project management, discipleship, and leadership. So far I've worked with thirteen churches from San Diego to Santa Barbara. In that time I've also started to partner with the superintendents on some other projects, to the point where they have asked me to become the Director of Recruiting and Development for the Conference. So starting in 2011 I will work with several Christian colleges to recruit interns to work in our Southern California churches. Once the interns are recruited I will train the supervising pastors and the interns themselves for this projects. Our hope is to raise up a bunch of new pastors for the future. We have a surprising number of tremendous ministries available, and I am like a kid in a candy shop as I prepare for this.

Because of this I will scale back slightly on my work with Providence Hall, but not by much. I will still be teaching there, plus giving direction to some projects, especially those related to admissions, parent support and community outreach.

I am grateful each day for such enjoyable, meaningful and supportive employment. Yet it would be aimless busyness if not for the great, eternal promises of Christ. As 2010 winds down, these two passages I read this morning sum up what is truly worth knowing and living for. As the prayer for today says, "Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ will come again." The older I get, the more I really know that this is good news. Hallelujah.

Psalm 104

31 May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
32 The earth trembles at his glance;
the mountains smoke at his touch.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth;
let the wicked disappear forever.

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

Bishop N. T. Wright of Durham has written, “The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term in the future. And what he was promising for that future and doing in the present was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God’s ultimate purpose — ​and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that large project.”

(Find all of this in Common Prayer for Dec. 20)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Promise


In my devotional reading I'm starting to see that not only is Advent a time of waiting -- reflecting on how Mary and Joseph, and Israel itself, awaited the birth of Jesus, and how we wait for Him to come again -- but it is also a time of promise.

God has made so many promises to His people. And as it says in 2 Corinthians 1:20,
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
To all of my questions, doubts and fears, God simply says, Jesus. He does not promise that we will be protected from danger and damage -- but He does promise that we will never be alone. He does not promise that I will have a solution to every problem, but He does say that all will be made right eventually in Him.

His promise is simple, yet utterly profound: Jesus. After so many years of relationship with Him, I still cannot begin to know how large and real and comprehensive that promise is.

We await Him during this Advent, and this waiting can and should prompt us to want to live an Advent life always, anticipating Him and His return as the only true meaning of my life. What I am realizing is that the only way to do that is to live in the light of His promise. I was reminded of that this morning as I read Isaiah 9:1-7,
1 But there'll be no darkness for those who were in trouble. Earlier he did bring the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali into disrepute, but the time is coming when he'll make that whole area glorious— the road along the Sea, the country past the Jordan, international Galilee.

2-7The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation,
you expanded its joy.
Oh, they're so glad in your presence!
Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
all their whips and cudgels and curses—
Is gone, done away with, a deliverance
as surprising and sudden as Gideon's old victory over Midian.
The boots of all those invading troops,
along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
Will be piled in a heap and burned,
a fire that will burn for days!
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He'll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there'll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
He'll rule from the historic David throne
over that promised kingdom.
He'll put that kingdom on a firm footing
and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
beginning now and lasting always.
The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
will do all this. (The Message)

I know that the words of Isaiah were written 600 years before Jesus came to earth. Reading them another two thousand years after that tells me that we are people who are wading in the stream of faith history. It is a surging river, and I must grip God's hand tightly if I am to navigate these waters without stumbling. I want to keep my life within the perspective of God's eternity. Otherwise, my issues are small and ridiculous.

In this Isaiah prophecy I also see how many of those promises have been answered ~ which helps me persevere as I still wait for others to come to fruition.

So I will wait, because I have been given a sure and steady promise.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Unlimited Patience


This weekend I got an email from a friend that said, in essence, I'm having a hard time, I feel disconnected with God. It's nothing new but I don't want to stay here. Can we talk soon?

We set up a time to get together, and I told her I was thankful for her honesty. I also tried to encourage her to remember this: the fact that this "disconnect" bothers her is a good thing. It would be far worse if she didn't care... or worse still, didn't even notice the distance.

Two things I read today spoke to her unease. Then a third thing, a Bible study with some students, brought even more light to this dark place. So I share them here -- for her... for you... for a friend who might need these words.
When I find that so much of my life has stolen unprofitably away, and that I can descry by retrospection scarcely a few single days properly and vigorously employed, why do I yet try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary and despair is criminal. I try, in humble hope of the help of God. (Samuel Johnson 1709-1784)

God of abundance, help us live today trusting that there will be enough for tomorrow. Your sources have no end.
Teach us to share our resources, believing that the more we give, the more you will provide for all. Amen. (From Common Prayer, Dec. 13)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his
unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17, NIV 1984)
These "stirred the pot" for me, giving my heart and mind such hearty food to chew on. Johnson's words reminded me that in spite of the frustration that comes in stumbling and struggling through old sins time and again, we cannot despair. Dump yourself on God's doorstep and plead for him to pick you up, dust you off and throw you back into the ring. You know He will.

The words from Common Prayer help me to recall that it is in giving that I truly, deeply receive. When I share my resources, I approach the end of my own abilities and tap into God's abundance instead. When I do that, my bearings align in the right direction, and my own shortcomings don't seem so debilitating. Instead, I find a foothold, and gain some traction toward Him. This is the pursuit of holiness.

Finally, Paul's words to Timothy were made new to me as I read them with some students in a coffee shop. Perhaps that is why I love working with young people most -- how can my faith ever get old and redundant when I am constantly around those for whom the faith is a shiny new toy? It refreshes my spirit over and over as I see the wonder of the gospel from their earnest perspective. We read a section of the first chapter of 1 Timothy, and I asked my standard question: What stands out to you?

I always allow for a healthy pause. It takes awhile for the wheels to turn, and I am not in a hurry.

One girl says, I like that phrase, "unlimited patience." That is beautiful. That is God to me.

I shook my head yes. Indeed.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hope for Resolution


I have been sort of waiting for the feeling of Christmas to kick in. I don't know if I've been in a fog because of various work projects and the stuff of life, but I haven't decorated my house, and I've only just started buying some gifts.

But last night it all washed over me. I went to Providence Hall's Service of Lesson and Carols. Since I had never gone to a service like this, which is an Anglican tradition, I had no expectations. Let me tell you, I was utterly, completely blown away.

I won't even begin to try to recreate the evening. For a rough sense of the history of this tradition and what the repertoire was like, you can look up Lessons & Carols on Wikipedia, I suppose. But uniquely, the choral director selects the songs. And our presentation was done with a combination of two choirs -- the Laudate Children's Chorus, a precious group of seventeen children ranging from 5th through 8th grades, bracketed by the Chamber Choir and larger Chorale of Providence Hall. Plus the audience (congregation) participates throughout as well, joining the choirs in singing various Christmas carols.

I had limited expectations also because we are a small school. Thirty-eight of our 75 students are in the choral program. To be honest, I wondered how much talent we would be able to generate!

I was stunningly wrong. I told someone afterward that I have sat through a TON of concerts in twenty-eight years of youth ministry, but I have never listened to choir concert where the students actually believed what they were singing!

The evening got off to an amazing start before it even began: the sanctuary, a classic Episcopal stone church with a high ceiling, which seats 400, was overflowing right before we started. Some staff had to scramble back to our school, two buildings away, to grab as many folding chairs as we could to seat the overflow. The service started with the quiet scraping sound of folding chairs on cement muffled in the back.

I was one of the readers designated to read the lessons: my passage was from Isaiah 11:

The Branch From Jesse

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

This passage was a gripping reminder to me of how desperately our world needs true shalom, the peace of God. This is not peace as the world gives, which is temporary, usually resulting from a narcotic or distraction, or from an uneasy truce, where both sides still hate one another, but agree to stop the conflict for a time. God's shalom makes things right. There is resolution.

That was expressed as well in this service as the choirs sang the Hope for Resolution: a breathtaking combination of two songs: the classic carol Of the Father's Love Begotten, combined with an African Zulu Freedom Song called Thula Sizwe.

The Hope for Resolution started quietly, with the Laudate Children's Choir singing the Christmas carol in their gentle, hesitant, childish voices...

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

This carried on for several minutes. I was sitting close. Their faces, concentrated and animated as they sang, consumed my entire attention.

Then the Providence choir eventually folded in with Thula Sizwe, a thumping, driving chant. Initially you cannot understand how these two songs work together. But quickly they weave as one, the words and songs braiding together:

Thula Sizwe
Ungabokala
Ujehova Wakho
Uzokunqobela

Inkululeko
Sizoyithola
Ujehova Wakho
Uzokunqobela

Translation:

Hush nation
Do not cry
Our God
Will protect us

Freedom
We will get it
Our God
Will protect us

The students rocked back and forth, wrapped around the children like a shawl. The little ones stood straight and attentive, using every fiber of their beings to stay on pace with the song as the larger and older choir rocked around them.

My eyes welled up with tears. To say it was moving is a massive understatement. I really wanted to hold it together though. I was in the second row, and the students could see me. I didn't mind if they saw me cry, but I didn't want to be a distraction. There were little tears rolling down my cheeks, but I was composed. The song finished and there was a nanosecond of silence; in that gap, the man behind me heaved a sob. It was hopeless. I lost it.

I'm glad I did. This is Advent -- celebration of that first coming, the burst of God becoming man and invading the mess we have made, bringing the gospel of hope and purpose. Yet ultimately we were left behind, so in this celebration we also desperately await His return. In other words, we hope for resolution. Where all is made right. Where seemingly dissonant peoples come together as one in worship, delight and true PEACE.

May it be so. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas. Lord Jesus, come quickly.

(For a taste of the evening, listen to this far larger and more advanced choral performance of the two songs. Its grandiosity captures some of the power of my smaller, more intimate but live experience last night.

Since I posted this at first: a parent shared his taping of the service. Here it is. Not the same as being there, but certainly wonderful.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Possession


Thomas Merton wrote, “The monk does not come to the monastery to ‘get’ something which the ordinary Christian cannot have. On the contrary, he comes there in order to realize and to appreciate all that any good Christian already has. He comes to live his Christian life, and thus to appreciate to the full his heritage as a son of God. He comes in order that he might see and understand that he already possesses everything.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Memorize


As I mentioned right before Thanksgiving, I started a new devotional at the beginning of Advent. It has been a wonderful spiritual map for me. I cannot recommend it enough. Please check it out -- if you don't want to take the dive right away and buy the book, check out the accompanying website and take some nibbles. I'll warn you, the book itself is far more satisfying.

A lovely part of the book is a midday prayer that they suggest praying every day.

I have decided to slowly memorize this prayer, and then pray it periodically throughout my days. I have a long way to go in terms of getting it down, but already I sense a difference as these words rattle around inside my head and heart.

Try it yourself. Be patient -- I'm only taking on one more sentence each day. As I keep working my way through it, different words grab my soul each time. I can tell I am being changed.

Give it a test drive yourself... again, there is no need to hurry. Let the words and thoughts percolate on down.

Draw us into your love, Christ Jesus : and deliver us from fear.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me so love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

** Silence for meditation **

Our Father…

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our brothers and sisters throughout the world, who live and die in poverty and pain. Give them today, through our hands, their daily bread and through our understanding love, give peace and joy. Amen

Blessed are the poor.
For theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the hungry.
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the meek.
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
For they shall see God.
Blessed are those who mourn.
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the merciful.
For they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
For they are the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness and justice.
For great is their reward.

** Song: optional **

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go.

Flood our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through us, and be so in us, that every soul we come in contact with may feel your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us but only Jesus! Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others; the light O Jesus, will be all from you, none of it will be ours; it will be you, shining on others through us. Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around us. Let us preach you without preaching, not by words but by our example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do. The evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you. Amen

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee

From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bidst me come to Thee
That with Thy saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever. Amen.

Let us go forth to be the Body of Christ. May we become the hands and feet of Jesus to everyone we meet.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Did It - December 2010 Update

Today marks two months since I sold my car, opting to rely on my scooter, bicycle, the bus, or carrier pigeon... many of my friends and acquaintances have asked me about it, so here I am with an update.

Certainly the chilly weather has made things tricky at times on my scooter commute around 7:45am. I have a great Patagonia windproof jacket, wool scarves and thick leather gloves for up top, but I'm not gonna lie, my legs were really cold. I tried wearing my rain pants one day, and that was useless. Finally I realized I just needed to wear my woolies! I pulled out my capilene long underwear, which fit easily under my clothes and now I'm perfectly toasty. Duh.

Since I was so used to riding my bike, the adjustment to a car-less life has actually been relatively minimal. I choose to do the bulk of my grocery shopping via bike, so I'm going to the grocery store every three days or so -- I could easily take my scooter (and sometimes do), but I want the exercise. With my Specialized Globe "wonder bike" (mine is dark blue, with fenders and a sturdy rack), I sometimes ride at night. Again, no big deal. I am fortunate that I live in sports-crazy Santa Barbara, so it's not strange to go to the store a little sweaty.

These are some of the adventures and experience that have stood out to me in these past 2 months:
  • I took the train to Ventura for Thanksgiving with my best friend's family. She was already down there, so I scooter-ed to the Amtrak station, took the train, and she picked me up there. Important: train travel works best when you make reservations. I had made mine in late October, so I was fine.
  • Someone contacted me from Portugal after reading my blog to tell me that he and his family (he is married with 3 kids) have chosen to scale down to one car, and that I have fellow green friends around the world! How cool is that? My good friends the Rusts in Seattle, despite having 2 kids under 3, are doing the same. People, it's possible.
  • I took the bus whenever it was raining in the morning. I'm so grateful that there are two bus stops within walking distance of my house. The bus is easy, clean and generally on time.
  • I picked up breakfast treats for a staff meeting, and was able to bungee-cord the covered tray onto the back seat of the scoot.
  • I had an overnight project in So Cal. In the old days I would drive my car. But this time I took the train to LA's Union Station, then rented a car. I never had to drive more than 40 minutes at a time, which was a welcome relief. The train ride home on Friday afternoon at 3pm was SO. MUCH. EASIER. than dealing with traffic.
People often worry about me driving at night. While I appreciate the constant requests to be careful, please be assured that I always drive very carefully, FULLY AWARE that no one is looking for me. I also opt for the well-lit main streets at night rather than travel on side streets, dark neighborhoods or frontage roads.

Favorite recent scooter moment:
I was motoring quickly down State Street on the way to an early morning staff meeting for Providence Hall. I needed to pick up the staff meeting treats (mentioned above) ahead of time. I headed down De La Vina, and near the intersection of Mission and De La Vina I saw a school bus stopped on the road, lights flashing.

I'll be honest -- when I get the questions on driver's license tests about school buses, I never confidently know how to answer. That morning, my brain rapidly clicked through my options... it was pulled over to the curb, so I could safely pass? Or was I supposed to slow down to 25mph? Or should I stop altogether? Since I wasn't entirely sure, I decided at the very last second to stop behind the oh-so-small stop sign that is on the side of the bus (fully afraid that a car behind me might roll right over me). A big ol' Country Squire station wagon zoomed past me on my left. As soon as I stopped... a motorcycle cop pulled out from a hidden driveway directly across from the bus and nailed that station wagon! I was thankful and relieved that I stopped, let me tell you.

I'm still waiting for that dang-it-I-wish-I-hadn't-sold-a-perfectly-great-car moment, but so far, so good. Should I mention I spent $12 on gas last month?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Played the Man

This quote rung my bell today.

The power of the truths expressed, and the breathtaking way Sayers crafts her sentences are both utterly stunning to me.
For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is--limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death--He had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it was well worthwhile.
... Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957), Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World, Eerdmans, 1969, p. 14

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy New Year

Today is the first day of Advent, where the church around the world spends the next 4 Sundays looking forward to celebrating the "First Advent," otherwise known as Christmas.

Advent came alive for me last year as I taught on it in two places - at church for an adult Sunday school class, and with the students at Providence Hall. Sadly, it took those opportunities to discover what I'd been missing.

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin word adventus or "coming." It's a time of reflection, pondering how it must have felt to anticipate that first coming of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. What I didn't fully comprehend is that as we celebrate that first coming we are to learn how to await a second coming -- patiently, yet expectantly. So when we light the candles -- usually designated as hope, joy, love and peace -- we should allow ourselves to be challenged in these spiritual disciplines. In other words, how do I live in hope, joy, love and peace throughout the year?

But even more, I was awakened the most in realizing that Advent is the start of the church year. This is where I was really missing the boat. For Christians, our liturgical year starts with Advent -- then is followed by Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost. Pentecost is followed by a lovely season called "Ordinary Time," which simply means "counting the days." Not only are we to weave the celebration of these holidays into our lives, but we can also adapt our spiritual disciplines according to what Christian holiday we are preparing for or celebrating.

That's where I am now -- discovering the beauty and depth of building my life around my worship of God with his church, and not just my calendar year. Follow some of the links I've listed -- seriously, it's worth exploring. Make your daily devotional life connect with it all -- it will have profound effects, I promise. I talked a bit about this a few days ago in reference to a new devotional I'm using. If you can't afford the book, or want to try it on -- go to the daily website called Common Prayer. Warning: you will be hooked.

So I am making some new New Year's Resolutions -- praying according to the liturgical year, reciting some prayers from church history, and following the lectionary in terms of my Bible reading. I pray that all these disciplines help me grow deeper in waiting expectantly. I am grateful that in Christ I have been born again, and that he is always birthing new life in me daily.
Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.
... John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Making Soup: Updates and Memories

Last night, as we were cleaning up from the big feast, I asked if I could take the turkey carcass home. Not surprisingly, no one fought me for it. I wrapped it up in foil nice and tight and then sealed it up in two ziploc bags. I shoved it into my big canvas bag that I was taking home that night.

Being the carless one that I now am, I had made reservations for the Amtrak about 3 weeks ago, patting myself on the back for being so smart and well-planned. I drove my scooter to the train station that morning, and in my ignorance was surprised to discover that I certainly was not the only one who came up with that idea! We crammed on board like sardines, and chugged on our way. My housemate picked me up 40 minutes later and we headed over to her family's home for a day of eating, napping, playing and watching football.

At the end of the day I packed up my bags and said turkey carcass and headed home -- thankfully on much less empty train. As I fell into bed last night I thought about how I would make soup out of my foil-wrapped bundle. It might sound crazy, but I really looked forward to it.

It was fun to think about because I knew I had nothing but time today to do so. It's a lazy holiday. I'm not one to brave the crowds and go shopping, so I'm letting the day unfold, with no attention to time. That feels like pure relaxation to me.

What I'm discovering too is that I am getting used to a slower pace. This was one of my goals in selling my car: it has put on the brakes and simplified my life.

Initially one might think that living life without a car would make things more complicated; but it actually causes the opposite, because immediately you have to accept that you do less each day when transportation requires a plan.

If you have followed my decision, you will know that this it is linked closely with my desire to eat seasonally and organically. As I said in my post on Oct 30,
...Between the way I'm choosing to eat (organically, seasonally, with very little processed food) and the way I'm getting places that I'm spending more of each day in making those two things happen. In the 21st century this might sound a little crazy. But it's working for me. I'm opting for slow and steady over fast and furious.
So today's big project was making soup. I knew it would take all day, and that seemed perfectly fine and normal to me. As I started breakfast, I also started a stock pot filled with water and my traveling companion Mr. Turkey Carcass. I also took home the celery and carrot sticks from the yesterday's afternoon munchies platter, and chopped up some of those for the stock. I added a teaspoon of garlic salt and a bay leaf, and set it all to medium low for 2 hours.

Going slow today is also a way of remembering my sweet friend Claire Carey. Her 36th birthday would have been today. Claire's slow and steady decline from a brain tumor was a study in putting on the brakes, especially in the last two years... incrementally walking more slowly, taking longer to get things done, listening carefully as words and thoughts took longer to formulate. Overall, strength waned and speed disappeared -- but her red-headed will maintained throughout. She stubbornly asserted her wishes, even when it meant minutes of waiting as she shuffled to the bathroom on her own, lifting a bowl of oatmeal out of the microwave, or getting dressed. This was life for Claire, and I needed to learn how to let go of my ever-present drive to get a lot done.

As I look back, I see that the main thing I "got done" with Claire was that I simply spent more time with her. I miss that. Her smile, her questions and her red hair (or lack thereof, depending on where she was with her treatments) are all still just right there for me. Our precious conversations on the big red couch - looking at photos, writing her email updates, crying, laughing, or praying - are great gifts I hang onto.

I thought about all that as I kept making the soup. After two hours of simmering I lifted out the carcass and set it aside on the cutting board. Meanwhile, I started roasting about 6 cloves of garlic in some olive oil, along with more diced up celery and carrots. I carefully strained all the broth through a sieve, dumping out everything left on top of the sieve. The broth was shiny, with a thin sheen of fat on top that I skimmed off.

I set myself to slowly picking off all the meat left on Mr. Turkey Carcass. This is a tedious process. But I wasn't in a hurry. I had Christmas carols cycling through the stereo: James Taylor Christmas, Jim Brickman, Westminister Abbey, Christopher Williams, George Winston. Glorious.

Kitties tail-talked around my feet as I picked away at the bird. Perhaps a piece or two landed on the floor...? I picked and tore and diced and nibbled my way through. I set aside some for a little turkey salad (diced turkey, a teaspoon of mayo and some garlic salt), and collected a surprisingly large pile of turkey for the soup. Periodically I'd push around the garlic cloves and vegetables on the stove. I set aside one clove and smeared it on some toasted bread, then piled the turkey salad on top. What a lunch!

I rooted around in the fridge for other vegetables to add: a couple of turnips left over from Fairview Gardens (it's amazing to me how long they last), a zucchini from last week's share. Chopped them up and threw them in. Added a couple of potatoes, plus a cup of arborio rice and spices: sea salt, oregano, sage, basil. This was my "manna" soup -- it would be made out of the supply God had given to me this Thanksgiving. Nothing needed to be purchased. I felt so thankful.

When I pulled the carcass out of the broth, it looked done -- used up and ready for the trash. Instead, I picked and tore and kept looking over it for scraps of turkey here and there. Regardless of how many times it turned over in my hands, I kept being surprised by little nuggets of meat hidden here and there. I thought more about Claire as I did this. What did she teach me in her last months? Slowly I realized that she taught me how to keep squeezing life out of the little scraps she was given. I watched her lose so many things to cancer over the years, but she kept at it regardless. She sent cards, she gave hugs, she dropped off flowers, she held your hand and asked questions. She gave to others until the very end, and lived life fiercely.

I will eat my day-long manna soup tonight for dinner, and be grateful. In the midst of profound loss and sadness, I am thankful. I am different for having known Claire. As I said at her memorial, I have been "changed for good." Take stock of your own life. Is it time to slow down and squeeze more out those gifts in front of you?

Today, in my devotional reading, these verses in Revelation 22 resonate with what I'm thinking about:
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

20
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Live with your eyes on heaven -- Revelation gives us a picture of what awaits us. Enjoy those gifts in front of you now as tastes of eternity. These are promises of resurrection life.

As for me, I will keep trying to "make soup" out of all of life -- taking my time and picking over those things I've received in order to enjoy them as much as possible. Feel free to join me!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Appetite

Yesterday was a hearty day of learning for me. It started in my Foundations of the Faith class at Providence Hall. We finished up a month-long series on Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. (Note to self: a month is not nearly long enough! Especially when I only get to teach on it twice a week. But something is better than nothing, right?)

It's a mixed bag in terms of how much students got out of our discussions. Lewis uses language that is so intricate and thought-provoking. And sometimes, just plain hard. So it takes awhile for teenagers (anyone, really) to shift gears into his vocabulary and logic. But it is so worth the effort!

In yesterday's meeting we spent time looking at two letters from the end of the book [Spoiler alert: if you haven't read the book, I'm giving away the ending here...] Letter 28 is a review of how the demons Uncle Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood have worked at tempting and deceiving and "muddling" the "patient." This book was written in 1942, so the heavy presence of the war, compounded by the carpet bombing of London, is prevalent as a ready source of discouragement and temptation. As a class we then spent time together thinking about and comparing how we are tempted in sunny Santa Barbara in 2010.

One of the many wonders of this short novel is how Lewis gets us to see how even the stupefying horrors of war can be used to bring believers closer to God. More wondrous still is how Lewis resolves the book. The "patient," a new believer tormented in various ways by Screwtape and Wormwood, nonetheless thrives in his faith, despite various ups and downs -- or "undulations," as Lewis terms them. Then the book ends with a big surprise -- the patient is killed during the bombings. As one student told me, "this actually brought me to tears. It took my breath away to realize that this was a good thing."

Indeed, amazingly, this is a "happy" ending, because the demons' efforts at destruction and damnation are thwarted. The patient ends life in this world loving his Savior, safely in the arms of the "Enemy," as the demons refer to God Himself.

As a school, we reviewed what we'd learned from our time reading through Screwtape:
  1. Beware of how subtly and persistently Satan wants to destroy you. He will never give up.
  2. The greatest weapons you have against temptation are prayer and godly, unselfish love.
  3. This life is not all there is. We are sustained as we realize that we are being shaped for eternity. Develop a hunger for heaven...
There are a world of things I could say about those 3 lessons learned. But one thing in particular really hit home. The daily Nouwen quote that arrived in my email inbox said this:
If we do not wait patiently in expectation for God's coming in glory, we start wandering around, going from one little sensation to another. Our lives get stuffed with newspaper items, television stories, and gossip. Then our minds lose the discipline of discerning between what leads us closer to God and what doesn't, and our hearts gradually lose their spiritual sensitivity.

Without waiting for the second coming of Christ, we will stagnate quickly and become tempted to indulge in whatever gives us a moment of pleasure.
By sending this quote yesterday, I believe that God was using a "holy highlighter" with me, reinforcing the very words in my own life that I was to be teaching to others. I was reminded to strengthen my heavenly appetites, not my worldly ones. God is most satisfying when I allow myself to be hungry for him, "waiting patiently in expectation for him." If I eat the "junk food" of this life instead, I gain a false sense of fullness that leaves me shallow and wanting.

Thus I enter Thanksgiving, the beginning of the new church year (starting with Advent on Sunday) wanting to feed myself with Jesus even more, stoking the fires of true spiritual hunger. But where do I start? Providentially, a great opportunity to do so arrived in my mailbox the very day!

I have included a photo of the book that arrived. It has just been released by Zondervan, and its title is simple: Common Prayer. The subtitle says a bit more: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. One of its authors is a friend of mine, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I can't even begin to describe all that it includes. But simply put, it's a unique sort of daily devotional, especially useful for groups to use too. I am so excited to get started on it. It provides a generous yet challenging structure for deepened prayer and devotion. I am going to get it for friends, and recommend it to everyone I talk to. I suggest you do the same... perhaps we can start a quiet little revolution!

I say all this not just because I want to support my friend's book (though I do!); but because I was reminded in multiple ways yesterday that, when it comes down to it, I have one fundamental prayer in my life:
He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30, NIV)

Restated in other versions:


He must increase, but I must decrease. (NASB)

That's why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines. (The Message)

One paraphrase I heard states it this way: "Less of me, and more of Thee."

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Advent, Happy next year in Jesus Christ. Stuff yourself with more of Him!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Still Waiting

Nouwen builds on the theme of waiting from yesterday:
How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means "to suffer." Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God's glorious coming.

My life is full of waiting: for lost ones to know the Lord, for unrealized hopes to come to life, for struggles to get easier, for fears to end... So I want to understand this active waiting that Nouwen is describing, in order to enter the moment, as he says, and find the signs of Jesus in the strain of it all. Otherwise, I just bear down and endure and somehow hope the yuck and hurt go away.

In Romans 8:19, the Apostle Paul uses this word "waiting":
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.
That phrase, waiting eagerly, is apokaradokia in the original Greek. It is only used here, and in Philippians 1:20,
For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.

One commentator, Kenneth Wuest, breaks it down this way:
Apokaradokia comes from apo (away), kara (the head), dokein (to watch). A watching with the head erect and outstretched. Hence a waiting in suspense.

The Greek scholar Colin Brown says this:
Translated as anxious waiting. The Greek fathers, however, interpreted the noun without any negative tinge as intense anticipation, strong and excited expectation... free of fear and uncertainty... bearing witness to the fact that the power of expectation does not lie in strength of feeling but in the certainty which God has given and which is peculiar [unique] to hope.

In other words, I don't have to generate some sense of excitement on my own and pretend I'm happy all the time. Instead, I must lean into God's spirit to give me peace and rest and deep hope -- a hope that is secure, and as it says in Romans 5:5, does not disappoint, because it is anchored in God's love for us.

This week I have watched many of my students eagerly await the opening of the latest Harry Potter movie (friends too perhaps?!). They stay up late for midnight showings, they talk about favorite characters, they dress up... this is all fine. (Admittedly, I don't get it, but I won't judge).

But if I understand all these smart Bible scholars, it is apparently possible for us to be that excited in the midst of our struggles and trials as well, "watching with our heads erect and outstretched," as Wuest describes it. It's a mental picture that helps me get my head and heart around this concept of active waiting.

I know I am not there yet. But "Christ in me, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27) can reveal it to me. In my Benedictine devotional yesterday I was called to live ordinary life with extraordinary awareness and commitment. May it be so, Lord Jesus.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Active Waiting



An outstanding quote from Henri Nouwen this morning:
Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God's footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert - yes, joyful - waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.

I pray I may embrace patience in my waiting, rather than just try to keep distracted to somehow make the time pass more quickly. As I get older, the things I wait for become much larger and deeper. I am realizing that I still must learn how to actively wait.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

High School Students (part 2)

I spontaneously posted some thoughts about my work with high school students last week. I didn't really expect that the week that followed would give me so much further food for thought.

Tomorrow we have a Preview Day for prospective students at Providence Hall. It looks like close to 40 jr highers are showing up to spend the day and get a taste of high school life with us. This is the first time we've done something like this, and I'm excited.

Sometimes people say to me, "I don't know how you work with jr. highers... I hated jr. high." I don't really see how your own experience of jr. high should color your feelings about jr highers themselves, but oh well... What I usually say is something to the effect of, yes, I didn't really enjoy jr high either. But I've worked with students for so long that I have seen the other side. I've gotten to see how many of them turn out as they get older. So the investment, though there are no guarantees, makes the risk worth it to me...

As it says in Psalm 27:13-14,
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
Seeing the fruit of one's labors, the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, even only once in awhile, is so encouraging. And that is a gift I've been given far more than I deserve. Just this week I had 4 different wonderful reminders...

Early in the week I received an email from a student who graduated six years ago, who is now working with jr high students at her church on the other side of the country. This is part of what she wrote to me:
Thanks again for all you did in my life... just so you know, at the end of every email from now on you will be getting one of these sappy "thank you's" because I'm understanding more and more how much hard work goes in to really loving and discipling kids and just how hard it is in general!
I asked her to tell me about her girls, and got a very long email detailing all the sweet quirks and challenges of each one. It was lovely to hear Jesus in her words.

A few days later I received a phone call from a guy who is away at college, who met, of all people, another one of my former students who is now teaching at the same college (that makes me sound so old!) He couldn't really wrap his brain around the whole concept that I loved him and I loved this other guy so many years before and how long I've been at this thing. I saved the message on my voicemail archive because it was just the best.

Then tonight I heard from another student (I'm telling you, this was a good week!) who is student teaching and trying to decide between many great options for her next steps. We talked through teaching, campus ministry, and other things. Just hearing her excitement, while treasuring in my head the mental picture of her loading on the bus for camp as a 5th grader, gave me deep, deep joy.

This morning I read Psalm 73 before church. Every word, though written many centuries before, seemed uniquely addressed to me. As I finish up my day though, these are the verses from it that sum it all up best:
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

Working with youth is like the winding road at the top of this post - twisting, with some treacherous turns and many unknowns. Though we may get carsick a few times, these are also the kind of roads that take you to stunning mountaintop views. I like that part.

So I enter tomorrow seeing those jr highers not really for what they are like now, but for who they might become. Pretty great stuff.

Monday, November 8, 2010

High School Students


I have worked with high school students since 1982. As I told one of them the other day, I've been doing it for so long that we used dittos when we needed to make flyers. I can't believe the difference now in terms of technology. Sheesh.

Regardless of the many ways the world has changed in that time period, one of the best things about them that hasn't changed is their sense of hopefulness. I do not usually find teenagers to be hardened or cynical. Believe it or not, they still have a great sense of wonder. They are still idealistic. They love adventure. And these things inspire me and keep me feeling young. (Shush! No smart remarks...)

Just tonight, a large group of students from Providence Hall served at the Rescue Mission. We've committed to going once a month -- but it's still a very new experience for most of them. I got nervous this morning, wondering if they were ready to go for it tonight. But here are some of their posts on Facebook about it are a delight (yes, there can be something redeeming about FB):
  • Rescue Mission was great tonight!!! I wish I could do it more often :) I'm anticipating next month!!
  • definitely felt God's presence at Rescue Mission ! cant wait for next month!
  • Great night of worship at the rescue mission! Glory to God!
  • Had a great time at the rescue mission.. I was so touched by some of the conversations I had :) I can't wait to go back.
Let's not give up on 'em, people. They are worth the hard work, blood, sweat and tears. I promise.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1Timothy 4:12)