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Friday, December 30, 2011

Vexation

In the last few days I've run across these statements in various ways. At this point, I'm just letting them percolate. But I know that at some point, they demand a response.

"This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good. For nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors." John Chrysostom ("Golden Mouthed"), 4th century preacher and early church father

"Never take life for granted." Placard held by someone sitting on a downtown bench on State Street.

"Acts of mercy are needed to relieve immediate crises and human indignities. Acts of justice are needed to prevent or rectify the crises and indignities that are repeatedly visited upon vulnerable individuals and groups." John Hay, Free Methodist pastor


This is the message that the Lord gave to Israel through the prophet Malachi.
“I have always loved you,” says the Lord.
But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?”
Malachi 1:1-2


"Christmas carnage in Nigeria; 5 Churches bombed. Pray for believers in Nigeria after Christmas day. Church bombings left 45 people dead and 73 others injured." Email from World Evangelical Alliance: Religious Liberty Commission

"The greatest test of our integrity and character is the way we treat other people." Gayle Beebe, Westmont president, quoting Peter Drucker




Tuesday, December 27, 2011

FSE #1

I'm back at home after a 3-day trip to see my folks. There was a lot of time in the car to pray and think, and in that time I pondered what is and could be ahead for 2012. I'm not a fan of resolutions I suppose, but I like to consider new things to learn and experience.

So my first new undertaking will be a humble one, but one that I enjoy. In 30 years of working with teens I've met hundreds (thousands?), and I am beyond grateful to say that I frequently get to reconnect with them in some lovely, and sometimes surprising ways. Occasionally I have written about them before

It happens enough to me that I've decided to be that much more intentional about recording them here -- for reflection, for sharing, perhaps even for teaching a thing or two. I wracked my brain for a creative name, but couldn't come up with anything other than "FSE" -- which stands for "Former Student Encounters." I'm open to nominations to call it something else. Just be nice about it :)

Unless it seems terribly necessary, I will not reveal the name of the person I am writing about. Not only do I often talk about very personal things with them (which, have no fear those of you who are former students, I do not plan on sharing in detail with anyone) but ultimately, it can be a distraction. My only goal in sharing these encounters is to continue to taste and understand a deep truth I keep experiencing in my life -- what Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has titled "The Wisdom of Stability."

By living in the same place for so long, I have gained something I missed out on as I grew up, where I moved midway through kindergarten, and again after second grade and then once more after fifth grade. Not having a "home plate" as a child felt like a distinct loss for me, and I vowed that as an adult I would anchor somewhere. Needless to say, I am grateful that I stumbled onto this little town called Santa Barbara!

But I will heartily defend myself by saying I haven't stayed because I surf or like to work on my tan. I have remained because I started working with teens as a senior in college, and couldn't seem to shake the addiction! Commitment to students kept me here when I graduated, and then one thing led to another: first an invitation to work for Young Life full-time, then another eleven years later to plant a youth group from scratch, staying for fifteen years. Somewhere in the midst of all that I learned this truth articulated so well by Jonathan:
In short, stability's wisdom insists that spiritual growth depends on human beings rooting ourselves in a place on earth with other creatures... I am convinced that we lose something essential to our existence as creatures if we do not recognize our fundamental need for stability. Trees can be transplanted, often with magnificent results. But their default is to stay.
Thus for "FSE #1" I will share a delightful little encounter I had today as I headed out from my parents. I had re-connected with this young woman a few months ago when she wrote me out of the blue to tell me of some big changes in her life. I asked if we could catch up next time our schedules coincided. Happily, she readily agreed.

As we sat over lattes and breakfast during this chilly morning, I was deeply moved as we caught up on her story. I knew she had wandered around quite a bit once she graduated from high school, but beyond that I knew little. This was what she'd written in an email a few months ago:
Boy Kel, did I stray. I don't need to get into that because what's done is done and all that, but I can tell you that if ever someone was to go through a selfish phase, I sure had mine. But guess. what. Kel. I'm happy to tell you that about 2 months ago, I renewed my relationship with God!! Praise Jesus!!!!!!!!!!
(I love the multiple exclamation points. Hilarious.) Anyway, this morning in person she focused on how this return got started... It happened near the end of college, when she finally admitted to a deep ache at what she had lost -- the depth of friendships, the support, and the space to share the hard and meaningful stuff. 

She made some half-hearted attempts to find a church again, but finally moved and found a worship community that really made sense. She was blown away by the their sensitivity, and crawled back to God. What stood out to me? She could not shake the still, small voice calling her back. And she realized she didn't have to have it all together. In humility, she opened her heart again. And she is so relieved.

We explored a bit as to why she thinks she did what she did after high school... maybe she was angry, and she definitely was insecure, shaken (I found this interesting) by a teacher or two who felt the need to take her down a notch.  Anyway, while she has deep regrets, she is also thankful for her return, and the deep assuredness she has that she does not want to wander again.

I mostly listened (smiling the whole time!), but also felt it was important to acknowledge the remorse I really sensed in her words. I told her to let Jesus keep healing the shame, and to not believe the lies of the past. It was time to move forward and regain the calling she once had to lead.

She asked me how I have persevered over the years, and not been too discouraged by the many hard things I've experienced and heard over the years. I paused. Then I thought, Well, actually, I have been deeply discouraged at times, and told her that. But I just camped on what I know -- that it really helps to spend time with the Lord each day, even just a few minutes, to read and pray and reflect on what is really important. And also, as she has rediscovered, to be deeply connected to God's people.

Then she asked what she could read. I showed her a couple of daily emails I receive, that often serve to "stir the pot" of my soul. I pulled out my iPhone and together we read today's excerpt from Henri Nouwen:
A Nonjudgmental Presence To the degree that we accept that through Christ we ourselves have been reconciled with God we can be messengers of reconciliation for others.  Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence.  We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label.  When we walk around as if we have to make up our mind about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we will only create more division.   Jesus says it clearly:  "Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge; ... do not condemn; ... forgive" (Luke 6:36-37). In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible.  But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life and will be easily  recognized by those who long for reconciliation.
We simply smiled at each other. It pertained so perfectly to what we'd just been talking about. It was a definite "God thing," and we celebrated.

What did I think about when I got back in the car? That it pays to pursue, as Eugene Peterson teaches, a "long obedience in the same direction." Ironically, the subtitle of that book, first written in 1980 and re-released in 2000, is "Discipleship in an Instant Society." (I guess this whole "as-Christians-we-need-to-slow-down-and-stop-being-so-frantic" thing has been a drumbeat for awhile!)

Regarding this former student, she certainly didn't need judgment from me. The tears in her eyes as we talked about the past few years made it evident to me that she was entirely aware of (and grieving over) the mistakes she'd made. I simply needed to be like the father of the prodigal, running back down the road to greet her as she returned. 

As Nouwen says, we need to buck the trend in society (and in the church!) and not make up our minds about other people. May we see each person with the eyes and heart of Christ, and offer unconditional love. In this way, we fulfill our calling to be ambassadors of reconciliation:
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2Corinthians 5:16-21)
Whom can you reconnect with and listen to this week? 


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas is Coming...


...But the goose isn't getting fat. I'm looking forward to church, then dinner with friends, which will include Christmas carols, kids and laughter. Plus a great meal. This is what I'm bringing.

CHICKPEA & DATE TAGINE
Yeah, yeah, I didn't know what a "tagine" was either when I first saw this recipe. But it's easy enough to find out:
TAGINE: Various Moroccan stews featuring meat or poultry gently simmered with vegetables, olives, preserved lemons, garlic and spices like cumin, ginger, pepper, saffron and turmeric. Tagines are often served with couscous.

"A delicious and flavorful vegetarian stew that comes together in just minutes. The balance of savory and sweet is incredible, and it works really well as leftovers too. Enjoy!" (Thank you Vegetarian Times)

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yields 4-6 servings

Ingredients:
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon corriander
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
14 oz. can of diced or crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup water
2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
10 dates, chopped (I'm using raisins - not a big date fan)
1/4 cup lemon juice
(Though not mentioned in this recipe, I'm also adding a diced carrot & 2-3 small potatoes, diced)
Cilantro and plain yogurt for garnish, if desired

Directions:
1. Start couscous, or if you're gluten-free like me, quinoa or brown rice.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the onion and cook 10 minutes until starting to brown.

3. Add in garlic, the spices, the tomatoes, and the water, stir to combine, and cook for another 10 minutes.

4. Finally, add in the chickpeas, dates (raisins), and lemon juice, and keep on the stove until heated through.

Garnish with cilantro if desired, and enjoy!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mission

Changes are ahead for me...

Starting in 2012, I will focusing the majority of my work life with the Free Methodist Church in Southern California (this mouthful is better known as the FMCSC). Since last fall I moved to 30 hours per week as the Director of Recruiting and Leadership Development, and starting next month (January), this will increase to 40 hours per week. (I will still be doing some writing, side consulting, and teaching a Mayterm course at Westmont, but I am excited to move into this full-time.) This does mean I had to finish up my role at Providence Hall. For the first time since 1984, I am not working directly with teenagers as my paid vocation. I will still be meeting with some students one-on-one, but this is a significant transition for me. It feels right, but it is certainly bittersweet.

When I tell people about this transition into full-time work with the Free Methodist Church, they get sort of a quizzical look on their faces... "What exactly does that mean?" is the gist of their response. My face brightens every time as I say, "Lots of things!" Honestly, it fits me so well that it doesn't even feel like work most of the time.

But to give a little specificity, I talk about the internship program I direct. This involves networking with faculty and administrators at Azusa Pacific and Westmont to get referrals for interns, and then in turn I contact these referrals to see if they are interested in one of our internships. So far I've connected with over 40 students from these 2 schools, and in the space of 3 days, I've had 10 of them already express a desire to be interviewed. (Hey: feel free to donate some year-end funds to this program -- I could spend hours here telling you how excited I am to be working with such gifted young leaders whom we are training to be pastors, church leaders, scholars at our Free Methodist schools like SPU and APU, and serving as Christians in the marketplace. Go to this link to give. THANK YOU.)

As the Director I also am giving shape to a new missional approach we are calling the West Coast Initiative. There are many moving parts to this that I won't describe right now, but it is shaped in great part by what we see God doing in the church in the "Majority World," (formerly known as the Third World), where explosive church growth is worth studying. In these contexts, churches are expanding at a remarkable rate by being led by bi-vocational pastors and starting incarnationally with cell groups in people's homes. I really am excited by all of it, and am making tremendous connections with church leaders in both Southern and Northern California, Oregon and Washington, not to mention leaders at Christian schools all along the West Coast. All of our work will be based out of our existing Free Methodist Center located at Azusa Pacific. We are re-launching this as The Center for Transformational Leadership at APU early in 2012, and I will be co-directing this center. I am currently visiting APU once a month to maintain new relationships with faculty, administration and students that I have been meeting at a steady rate since last August.

Meanwhile, I am still fortunate enough to be coaching some Free Methodist pastors one-on-one in strategic planning, church growth, leadership development, youth ministry and district leadership (where some pastors give leadership regionally with our other pastors).

Finally (not really, but I don't want to bore you!) I am also assisting in shaping our new social media strategy. I've started up a Twitter account for us -- find us at twitter.com/fmcsc. I've also started a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fmcsc. We are also really close to re-launching an entirely new website for the FMCSC too, and I will be assisting in providing daily content for that.

On a deeper level though, what drives me to head in this new direction? I have been doing some reading in an obscure but really fine little book that Howard Snyder compiled in 2007 called "Soul Searching the Church: Free Methodism at 150 Years." I first read Howard Snyder years ago when we were reading an amazing book of his that delineated the brilliance of John & Charles Wesley in forming small groups to create massive revival across England that is called The Radical Wesley. I have seen small groups ignite remarkable growth during my entire career, and I can only confirm that the Wesleys got it right!

But only in the last 3 years have I connected most directly with the small group ideas of the Wesleys by being in the Free Methodist Church. I continue to find this church an enchanting synthesis of earnest spiritual formation that is then lived out in corporate social action. (In the old days they apparently called this "personal holiness" and "social holiness.") But working with pastors throughout Southern California has shown me time and again that these Free Methodists put their money where their mouth is. They dearly love Jesus, and they show it best by loving the poor. They reach out to the margins and invite everyone to experience the kingdom.

Snyder and others capture so much of the soul of Free Methodism in this Soul Searching book. Here are a few quotes that sum up my experience so far:
Free Methodists believe the best way to keep the world from invading the church is for the church to invade the world with redemptive purpose. (Book of Discipline, preface) 
Accessibility and proximity to the poor clearly meant that Free Methodists were to abolish all separation and distinction within their congregations. It was not charity that they were to offer, but fellowship, advocacy, and justice. (Mark Van Valin, FM pastor) 
Seek first, in actual practice, the kingdom of God and its justice now in the present world, understanding that that's where heaven and eternal life begin; where they overlap. (Howard Snyder) 
The "comparative failure of Christianity to transform the world" is "because women are not permitted to labor according to their ability, for the spread of the Gospel... If women had been given, since the days of the first Apostles, the same rights as men, this would be quite another world."  BT Roberts, founder of Free Methodism, written in 1891.
I feel called to co-labor with this denomination precisely because it feels more like a movement than an institution, though it has existed (with plenty of highs and lows, like anything where humans are involved!) for 150 years. I am blown away that only 1 in 10 Free Methodists live in the US -- we are part of a world church! I am also excited by the doors that have been opening up as I have pursued internships and our new ideas for missional outreach, and I am humbled by those I am able to work with. Like I said earlier, it doesn't even feel like work most of the time.

In the spirit of the holiday films coming out right now, I have to admit that I feel like I'm embarking on something of a "mission impossible"... but thankfully, I am working in the name and power of the one who makes all things possible. I hew closely to the call I hear in these words:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
May God be glorified in all I am doing. I pray the same for you.

P.S. For a 5-minute video that really captures what I am experiencing with the Free Methodists, go to "Equality: The Free Methodist Church at 150."

Friday, December 16, 2011

6:8

As we approach the end of the year, it is easy to spend the bulk of our energy on Christmas shopping, finals for school, shuttles from one holiday party to the next, and tasks that have to be completed by year-end.

I had a good wake-up call this morning as to what really matters. In the midst of juggling bills, to-do's,  tests, and parties full of food that is terrible for you, take one minute to quietly, carefully read this passage from Micah 6:

 1 Listen to what the LORD says:
   “Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; 
   let the hills hear what you have to say.


 2 “Hear, you mountains, the LORD’s accusation; 
   listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. 
For the LORD has a case against his people; 
   he is lodging a charge against Israel.


 3 “My people, what have I done to you? 
   How have I burdened you? Answer me. 
4 I brought you up out of Egypt 
   and redeemed you from the land of slavery. 
I sent Moses to lead you, 
   also Aaron and Miriam. 
5 My people, remember 
   what Balak king of Moab plotted 
   and what Balaam son of Beor answered. 
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, 
   that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”


 6 With what shall I come before the LORD 
   and bow down before the exalted God? 
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, 
   with calves a year old? 
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, 
   with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? 
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, 
   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. 
   And what does the LORD require of you? 
To act justly and to love mercy 
   and to walk humbly with your God.

John Wesley's comments on this passage bring it home for me... I separate his statements to let their impact linger:
“God has already told you in his word with what you ought to come before him: 
  • To render to every one their due; superiors, equals, inferiors, to be equal to all and oppress none in body, goods, or name. 
  • To be kind, merciful, and compassionate to all, not using severity towards any. 
  • Keep up a constant fellowship with God by humble, holy faith.” 
May I not allow the "tyranny of the urgent" to hold my attention and energy captive today and in the next week. Instead, may I fix my eyes on the eternal and truly important things.

Don't forget that Advent is about the spiritual discipline of waiting. Invite your soul to be expectant as you approach this 4th Sunday of the Advent season. What are you waiting for? Are you waiting patiently? Are you pursuing justice, mercy and humility in the meantime?

I finished my morning reading with this verse:


But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, 
   I wait for God my Savior; 
   my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7)


Happy Holidays :)


Saturday, December 10, 2011

To The Full


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.
This reminds me of what I read and wrote about two weeks ago, at the start of Advent. But I am thick-headed, and know that I need to hear the same things again and again... and again. I am no different from the Pharisees in John 10:6-10,
Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
We have everything we need. EVERYTHING. Make use of that abundance, and quit waiting for something else. Step into the life you have.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cold Comfort


A friend and I agreed today that while it is definitely cold these days in Santa Barbara (lows in the 30's at night, mornings very crisp and chilly), this is about as cold as it gets, so we can't really complain...

Nevertheless, I am definitely enjoying the opportunity to cook lots of comfort food. Staying cozy in a warm home at night that smells of good food is an amazing gift, and I do not take it for granted for a moment.

I have posted these recipes before, but I am taking a victory lap once again with 8 winners that others have confirmed are quite tasty. Fire up the oven or pull out the pots and pans. Eat hearty.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Little Ones


It's December 6. This morning, as I laid in bed and tried to think through my day (and all the stuff I have going this week) I thought to myself, "OK, I need to get serious about Christmas shopping really soon." So far I have not spent 5 seconds thinking about it, but I also do not want to be "that girl," shopping frantically on Dec 23...

As I got going with my day, I read this on Common Prayer for Dec 6:
The original “Old St. Nick” who inspired the tradition of Santa Claus, Nicholas was bishop of Myra in fourth-century Turkey. Little is known about his life except that he entrusted himself to Jesus at an early age and, when his parents died, gave all of their possessions to the poor. While serving as bishop, Nicholas learned of three girls who were going to be sold into slavery by their father. Moved to use the church’s wealth to ransom the lives of these little ones, he tossed three bags of gold through the family’s window. We recall this ancient Christmas gift, even as we remember that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year in the global sex trade today.
This reinforced the point further:
Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army and a passionate advocate for children, said, “There is no improving the future without disturbing the present.
So I feel confronted, in a deep and very good way, to reconsider how I will spend my money on gifts this year. These verses completed my call to action:
One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. (Matthew 19:13-15)
How can you change your spending this year to reflect the true history of Christmas? How can I "disturb the present"?

There are so many valuable, multiple causes... I think of International Justice Mission, World Relief, International Child Care Ministries, World Vision... I will be giving to Mission Impact, an organization that I have worked with when I have taken students to Guatemala. I can verify that it is a very solid, reliable organization.

Bottom line: how can you and I truly spend this season differently in the way we spend money? How can your Christmas not be about consumption and instead be about conviction?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Apple Fritter Rings - Triple Wow

I'm not sure where these little gems have been all my life, but thank goodness they found me. My housemate made them tonight for dessert (she only made a 1/4 batch). They are, flat out, ridiculously good!

APPLE FRITTER RINGS

INGREDIENTS
1/2 c plus 2 tb sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 c buttermilk or milk
4 tsp veg oil, plus 2 c for frying
2 lg eggs, lightly beaten
2 c all-purpose flour (gluten-free flour worked perfectly)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
4 med tart apples (such as Granny Smith), cored, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch-thick rings

DIRECTIONS
1. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 c sugar and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk milk, 4 tsp oil and eggs. Stir in flour, 2 tb sugar, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a large, heavy, high-sided skillet, heat 2 c oil until it registers 375 with a candy thermometer (or if water spatters when you flick drops of it in). In batches, coat apples in batter and fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes per batch, flipping halfway through.

3. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Toss apples in cinnamon-sugar and serve immediately. MAKES ABOUT 20.

Come Soon

On the second Sunday of Advent, these readings prepare my heart for gathered worship this morning, and help me to enter the season more attentively:

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Advent is a time of waiting.

Our whole life, however, is Advent--that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: "On earth peace to those on whom God's favor rests."

Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. "I stand at the door..." We however call to him: "Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!"
From Henri Nouwen:
"A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him . . ." (Isa.11:1-2).

These words from last night's liturgy have stayed with me during the day. Our salvation comes from something small, tender, and vulnerable, something hardly noticeable. God, who is the Creator of the Universe, comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddenness.

I find this a hopeful message. Somehow, I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God's saving power; but over and over again I am reminded that spectacles, power plays, and big events are the ways of the world. Our temptation is to be distracted by them and made blind to the "shoot that shall sprout from the stump."

When I have no eyes for the small signs of God's presence - the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends - I will always remain tempted to despair.

The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown young man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, he asks for my full attention. The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises. But the promise is hidden in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.
1John 4:15-16
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
As I have often taught to students, God not only loves us... He IS love. He is the source, definition, and embodiment of love. All love comes from him. To know him is to be changed.

I wait patiently, Lord Jesus, yet I yearn so deeply for you to come. During this Advent season, the beginning of our new year, I want to "rely on the love God has for us" and nothing else. I will seek to live life to the fullest every day, not because I think I somehow deserve it, but because I want to be a good steward of the life you have given to me. Thank you for your manna, Lord. You are endlessly generous and good. You are love.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Spiritual Adventure


This, of course, is what religion is about: this adherence to God, this confident dependence on that which is unchanging. This is the more abundant life, which in its own particular language and own particular way, it calls us to live. Because it is our part in the one life in the whole universe of spirits, our share in the great drive towards Reality, the tendency of all life to seek God, Who made it for Himself, and now incites and guides it, we are already adapted to it, just as a fish is adapted to live in the sea.

This view of our situation fills us with a certain awed and humble gladness. It delivers us from all niggling fuss about ourselves, prevents us from feeling self-important about our own little spiritual adventures; and yet makes them worth while as part of one great spiritual adventure.
... Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), The Spiritual Life

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Slow


I had a you-can't-make-this-up moment tonight.

My bible study goes out to Isla Vista, a student community next to UC Santa Barbara, once a month. We join our friend Ryan, who has been faithfully doing the laundry of homeless folks out there on the last Tuesday of every month. He calls it Laundry Love. We usually end up washing sleeping bags and many loads of laundry. Ryan has also negotiated a great deal with the Domino's manager next door, and gets a break on pizzas and soda for all the friends there. They get to do their laundry, eat some food and we hang out with them, building relationships through low-key conversation. I'm not gonna lie -- it takes some real self-discipline to get myself there sometimes. There are some tough conversations at times, with folks who are sometimes really at the bottom. Tonight I talked with a woman with 4 children who just cannot take care of them. Another woman simply cannot kick her alcohol addiction. Another man was so absolutely gone mentally it was difficult to watch and I can only wonder how he lives each day.

Tonight, as I stood chatting with someone, a man came up to me. He paused, stared at me, and then burst out, "You used to work at a house on Chino, right?" My eyes went wide. It took me a few moments to gather my thoughts, and then thought, yeah, when I worked for Young Life we had our office in a house behind Calvary Baptist Church, on Pedregosa and Chino. I left Young Life in 1995... so we're talking 15-20 years ago. I said, "Yes, I did. At the Young Life house."

And he said, "You're Kelly. You look exactly the same. I tell my girlfriend about you sometimes. Do you remember me?"

I paused, and thought, heck, I need to be honest. I did not recognize him. But to be easy on myself, in these past 30 years, I would guess I have know many hundreds of kids. But he fixed his eyes on me, and told me many stories of hanging out at the house and going to Wild Life, that is, before he got into a lot of trouble.

For the sake of his privacy, I won't mention the details shared. But he has lived quite a life. He has 4 kids now, and seems to be slowly rebuilding. I visited with him for quite awhile, met his girlfriend and 5 year old son, invited him to church. I really hope he comes. We hugged when I left... I gave a side hug, which is my usual when I am just meeting someone or catching up -- I don't want to overwhelm them. But he swung his other arm around and gave me a tight hug. I rubbed his shaved head and told him how happy I was to see him.

As my day is winding down I pick up my Bible, and read through today's reading in 2 Peter 3. Could it be more appropriate?
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
I was reminded again that staying in one place is such a powerful thing. We all have our own journeys, but if it is possible for you, I truly recommend staying in one place for the duration. I cannot believe how many amazing things I have seen by being here to see the fruit of seeds planted years before, and to be available to water them at times when they needed a little TLC. More importantly, I was humbled as I tried to imagine how hard it must be for the Lord to wait as we get lost the way my friend did for so many years.

Lord you are good. Thank you that you are not slow in keeping your promise. These verses, used in a worship song, are humming in my head as I think about tonight:
Psalm 36:5 Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Everything We Need


Today marks the first day of Advent, which for us as Christians is the beginning of our new year. So before I continue, allow me to say, "HAPPY NEW YEAR!"

In teaching on Advent last year, both to my high school students and an adult class at church, I refreshed my memory on a few important things about this season:
  • The circle of the wreath is to remind us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end?
  • The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness and eternal life?
  • The candles are used to symbolize the light of God coming through the birth of His son. The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.
This is rich stuff!

Advent is not only a reminder of how God-followers waited for Messiah 2,000 years ago; Advent guides us in our own wandering today as we wait for that dear Messiah to come again for us. In other words, it’s not just about the first coming; it’s about his Second Coming too. Advent is intended to be practice for an entire life of “Advent faith,” where we wait daily with hope and expectation.

This verse in my reading of 2Peter 1 this morning gave me great encouragement as I embark on a new year of that life of waiting:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (verses 3-4)
A commentary sums it up perfectly:
In a real sense, to grow in grace is simply to take advantage of what God has already done for us. Peter declares that God, in divine power, has bestowed upon us all the resources we need to reflect his own glory and excellence (1:3), to escape from the impact of a corrupt world, and to participate in God's divine nature (1:4). These resources assume the form of promise, indeed very precious promises (1:4). God promises through his divine power all the resources needed for a growing and deepening Christian life.
It is a remarkable privilege that we get to, somehow, participate in the divine nature through his grace. And as we pursue him, we will grow in "increasing measure" (vs. 8) in becoming more like him. Rather than be mired in my same cyclical, destructive patterns, we have the opportunity to be truly transformed. THIS is good news indeed.

Given that I have followed Christ for many years, I run the risk of just going through Advent and Christmas with a "been there, done that" attitude. Instead, let's push each to embrace the promises offered to us, and to take advantage of the resources at our disposal. I want to remember every day -- I have everything I need. Praise Him.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My List of Leftover Likes

I have a relatively new relationship with cooking, having only discovered that I really love it when I went on sabbatical for 3 months in November 2008. Finally, after going on a break from a then 27-year career in youth ministry, I found out that life could be more than microwave meals, breakfast-for-dinner and leftover pizza from the youth event the night before.

However, I am not an aspiring chef, nor do I fan through my cookbooks daydreaming of what to make next. Perhaps there is not a fine, haute cuisine name for what I do, but my goal is simply to make it work with whatever is in season. After a visit to local food stands, I surf Mr. Internet for interesting recipes, or even improvise once in awhile. Successful recipes have been posted here previously. It has actually become a form of spiritual discipline... rather than eat whatever sounds good at the moment, I want to enjoy God's provision and eat according to his timing, not mine.

So I see a fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers as the seasonal manna from heaven that has been provided for this week (or more!). Each meal is a new challenge and experiment. Here is what I have tried so far. I entertain hopes of a dialogue here -- pass on the leftovers recipes that you are using as well:
  • Lunch yesterday: Turkey salad (diced turkey mixed with 2 tsp of mayo and garlic salt) on toast, topped with just a bit of cranberry spread.
  • Dinner last night: Turkey & Mashed Potato Pot Pie. To. Die. For.
  • Breakfast this morning: diced ham (we had both ham and turkey on Thanksgiving) scrambled with eggs.
  • Anytime: leftover pecan pie (thank you housemate for making it with a gluten-free crust!)
What's ahead? I plan on making a big pot of turkey & rice soup tonight after cooking the carcass for a few hours and getting some broth... Turkey tetrazzini later in the week...

Talk to me - what are you cooking?

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Pretty Library


The acquisition of a book signalled not just the potential acquisition of knowledge but also something like the property rights to a piece of ground: the knowledge became a visitable place.
James Wood, from "Shelf Life," New Yorker magazine, Nov 7, 2011

The photo to the left is taken from my home office. Looking at it gives me, alternatively, both joy and misery. I love seeing all of my books, but they also look sort of disheveled and sloppy, and I am a little embarrassed for you to see them.

I have a complex relationship with books. I chose to be an English major in college purely because I love to read. It seemed incredible to me that my "job" for four years would be to simply do something I would rather do than nearly anything else.

However, not surprisingly, somewhere during that journey, reading became a bit more of a chore, and nearly 30 years later I have yet to recover a real enjoyment for fiction. I firmly believe it got killed off (not completely, but deeply wounded) when I took not one but two English lit courses and had to consume 17 novels during the ten-week span of an academic quarter. That essentially meant reading two books per week, and it basically did me in.

Upon graduation, I don't think I probably read an entire book for two years. I was burned out, and also very distracted by a full-time job as a technical writer and my first foray into youth ministry as a Young Life volunteer. But fortunately, two things occurred: I heard the horrifying statistic that 42% of all college graduates never finish another book, and I started going to seminary. Both of these situations vaulted me back into my love for reading.

But a love for reading is different than a love for owning books, I believe. For years I shlepped around my many boxes of English major books as I migrated from tiny, cheap apartment to slightly less tiny, slightly less cheap apartment. The books were already beat-up paperbacks to begin with, with massive underlining and highlighting. But I couldn't let them go. I liked having the proof that I had read them.

At some point though I went through some major need to get rid of stuff (perhaps because I have never had a garage), and decided to get rid of all of my books from college, telling myself that a) I didn't need to prove anything anymore and b) I would eventually re-read every book someday and buy them in hardcover in order to do so.

Where in the world I got that second idea is baffling to me. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful that I have read classics like the Odyssey, the complete works of Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer and the like. I read everything that Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James ever wrote. Large doses of Wordsworth, Hawthorne, Dreiser, Lawrence, Herbert, Coleridge, and Percy can be added as well... And let's not forget I went to seminary too. I have jammed a lot of books in my brain.

But what I have discovered is summarized perfectly in the quote at the beginning. For me, reading is as much as about acquisition as it is about enjoyment. I love holding a book in my hand, and I love putting it on the shelf when I am finished, knowing that I have read it. But the second I am done, I am hungry to acquire more, NEW knowledge. So a paradox rages inside me: I like keeping a book that I have read (though I will most likely never read it again) AND I love acquiring new books!

Indeed, it is not about owning the books themselves. Rather, it is about the opportunities that await! It takes genuine self-discipline on my part to keep myself from buying too many books. I have to limit myself to a certain quota, to be honest. But that gets all thrown off if people choose to give me books, tee hee!

So between the closing of Borders stores and the generosity of friends, I have a delightful pile that beckons me, and that pile never diminishes. I spent years daydreaming about a sabbatical where I would simply read all day, every day. I envisioned chipping away at a glorious pile of all the books I have wanted to read. It was a happy place in my imagination that I returned to regularly. In this magical land, I would stay on that sabbatical until I had read them all...

Ironically, in November 2008 I went on said sabbatical. And I read about 10 books in 3 months. And didn't make more than a little divot in the pile! The sabbatical succeeded in dissuading me of my fantasy. Instead, I have finally realized that the joy is in the journey. I will never "finish" reading all of the books I want to read. And I don't want to anymore. I will just read as much as I can and enjoy every second!

I am going to list my current books that are patiently waiting for me, not because I think it is impressive, but simply because it sheds some light on the "visitable places" where I want to go sometime soon:
  • Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through The Five Books of Moses, by Bruce Feiler.
  • Movements That Change the World: Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel, by Steve Addison
  • Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry
  • The Multicultural Leader by Dan Sheffield
  • C.S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time, by Scott Burson and Jerry Walls
  • Muscular Faith, by Ben Patterson
I will further admit that I keep a list of books I would buy in a New York minute if I got a gift card! (Please do not take this as a hint -- I am simply illustrating my hopeless addiction.) I will spare you the titles.

Instead, please tell me tell me -- do you keep a pile of books too? What are you looking forward to reading? Oh! The places we will go!

Monday, November 14, 2011

By Community



This is the reading from Henri Nouwen today. It builds perfectly on what I wrote yesterday:
The Fruit of Our Communal Life

Our society encourages individualism. We are constantly made to believe that everything we think, say, or do, is our personal accomplishment, deserving individual attention. But as people who belong to the communion of saints, we know that anything of spiritual value is not the result of individual accomplishment but the fruit of a communal life.

Whatever we know about God and God's love; whatever we know about Jesus - his life, death, and resurrection - whatever we know about the Church and its ministry, is not the invention of our minds asking for an award. It is the knowledge that has come to us through the ages from the people of Israel and the prophets, from Jesus and the saints, and from all who have played roles in the formation of our hearts. True spiritual knowledge belongs to the communion of saints.
Yesterday I was challenged by Hebrews 11 and the call to live "by faith." Today I am reminded that I do not do this alone. It's not a simple matter of pulling myself up by my faith bootstraps and somehow believing harder. It's about pressing in to my church and community of faith. The Bible is a book written to us, not me. I like the way that Hebrews 12 is given in the New Living Translation:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
To live by faith is humanly impossible. Praise God that we are not asked to do it on our own. Through the Spirit and through God's people, may we run the race. It may not always look pretty and athletic, but through His grace, we get there.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

By Faith

Our religion is not a system of ideas about Christ. It is Christ.
... Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

I received this quote yesterday in my email. The profound simplicity gave me pause.

Is my faith really that straightforward? Do I really just "fix my eyes on Jesus" alone, or do I cling to a set of beliefs, relationships, habits and history?

Philippians 1:20 in the JB Phillips paraphrase calls me out in much the same way:
For living to me means simply "Christ", and if I die I should merely gain more of him.
To agree with Brooks' quote from the beginning, we know, serve and worship a person, the eternal person of God. This is radical, and unlike any other world religion.

On certain days, this reality is clean and clear for me; God feels present, close, and available. On other days (more than I care to admit), I get lost in what if's and how come's and but what about them's. On those days it is so hard to trust in the unknowns, when fears seem so much more real than anything else.

It would be so nice to know the future in order to get through the present. But in my more lucid moments I recognize the same thing that Jack Nicholson barked to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men:
You can't handle the truth!
In my old age I have to come to know that it is nearly always better to not know the future, because I couldn't have handled knowing it ahead of time anyway! God reveals things to us as we are able to take them in.

That was the jumble of thoughts that poured out of my mind as I read Hebrews 11 last night before I went to bed. These were the verses that stood out the most:
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (verses 13-16)
Sure, I've read these words before. But in that amazing way that only scripture, the living Word, can do, it was as if I had never seen them. To believe in something does not make it happen. Faith is comprised in believing in the Giver, not what He gives. As it says so succinctly in verse 1, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see."

In affluent, can-do America, this is a difficult pill to swallow. We want rock-solid guarantees before we commit. But Jesus asks us to put skin in the game solely on his words, his promise, his power and life. We must live by faith, not by sight. Otherwise, let's be honest: it's not faith. As Oswald Chambers says, “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.”

To quote the desperate father in Mark 9, "I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief." Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rainy Day Cooking

I am not tired of cooking with the squash of the fall, so today, as my way of unwinding from the week, I returned to my big-bottomed friend, the butternut squash, for another recipe. Oh me oh my. This recipe really worked. It was very easy, very tasty, very filling. It sort of had that same effect that really good homemade mac 'n cheese has. I wonder if the color orange has some sort of narcotic effect....

The house was filled with warm and yummy smells and all felt right with the world.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO
Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cups roasted butternut squash, mashed (usually 1/2 a roasted squash; save the other half and make a soup or another batch of this recipe!)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 onion, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
3 cups hot chicken stock
1 tsp rubbed sage
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 heaping tablespoons cream cheese, if you've got it (Greek yogurt works too)
salt and ground black pepper to taste (up to 1/2 tsp each)
Diced tomatoes for garnish

Additional vegetables work great: I've added mushrooms, zucchini, arugula or bell peppers to this recipe as well. Carrots would work too, though I hate them and would not add them myself.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut butternut squash in half and lay face-down on a cookie sheet that has been coated with a thin film of olive oil or sprayed with Pam cooking spray. Roast squash for one hour. (Can be done ahead of time).

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook and stir for 2 minutes until the onion begins to soften, then stir in the rice. Continue cooking and stirring until the rice is glossy from the butter, and the onion begins to brown on the edges, about 5 minutes more. (Add additional vegetables at this point if you want; saute until translucent)

Pour in the white wine; cook, stirring constantly, until it has evaporated. Stir in the mashed squash and 1/3 of the hot chicken stock; reduce heat to medium. Add rubbed sage and salt. Cook and stir until the chicken stock has been absorbed by the rice, 5 to 7 minutes. Add half of the remaining chicken stock, and continue stirring until it has been absorbed. Finally, pour in the remaining stock, and continue stirring until the risotto is creamy. Finish by stirring in the Parmesan cheese and cream cheese (or Greek yogurt), and season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with some diced tomatoes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Motto

Today at school I taught on Mark 12. At first glance, it's a dense chapter full of conflict and confrontation between Jesus and his opponents.

In the spirit of October being chock full of college applications and letters of recommendation for our seniors, I started our message today with a look at the university mottos of schools where my past students have gone. The mottos are rather stunning, really ~ here's a sampling of what I shared:
  • Brown University: In deo speramus = "In God We Hope"
  • Dartmouth College: Vox clamantis in deserto = "A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness"
  • Johns Hopkins University: Veritas vos liberabit = "The Truth Will Set You Free"
  • Northwestern University: Quaecumque Sunt Vera = "Whatsoever Things Are True"
  • University of California: Fiat Lux = "Let There Be Light"
I simply asked the students this morning, "What stands out to you?" One of them blinked slowly and said, "These are all verses from the Bible."

"Exactly! What does that tell you?"

"That these used to be Christian schools."

Indeed. Each one of these prestigious universities were begun by earnest followers of Christ who wanted, as believers, to seek after knowledge and truth, understanding God's creation and calling.

From there I pointed out that it is so easy to stray from our mission. We always start our projects and commitments with a genuine desire to fulfill them. But over time, we can slowly shift and get distracted from the initial goal. What are our goals as Christians? As believers, our "motto" can be simple: Seek first the kingdom of God. Yet how often do we stray from that?

We spent the rest of the time in class reading in Mark 12. I asked them to look for a thread that ran throughout the chapter...

When I read it, what stood out to me is that time and again, in multiple and incredibly creative ways, is that Jesus calls his listeners to their priorities. "What matters most to you?" is what I hear him saying in each of these encounters. For example, in the classic "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's" section, what he is forcing his enemies to face is whether they will cling to power, or cling to God.

In the trick questions about marriage at the resurrection, he is calling them at their bluff (the Sadducees didn't even believe in the resurrection), and reminding them that it is our relationship with Jesus that will last eternally, beyond our relationships on earth. Yet whom do I love most?

In the final poignant scene with the widow and her tiny (yet heartfelt) offering, he reminds me that my hope is only found in Him, not in money or possessions.

Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God,
And His Righteousness.
And All These Things Shall Be Added Unto You,
Allelu, Alleluia.

Simple, but true. May this be my "motto," and may I never stray from it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October Comfort Food, Part 2

Tis the Season o' Squash, so at the local organic stand this week I bought yet another butternut squash and then also an acorn squash... honestly not knowing what I would do with it. But I am committed to eating whatever is in season ~ I see this as part of thankfully receiving God's provision (in other words, I don't want to be like the ungrateful Israelites on the exodus, when God provided manna and they whined about it...)

I had only eaten acorn squash as a nice little side dish during the holidays. And it was pretty darn good. But I knew this little squash had more in her than that. And one little surfing jaunt on the internet proved me correct. The texture, taste, aroma and yes, I'll say it again, the lovely combination of savory and sweet, of this dish had me at hello. Enjoy!

MOROCCAN-STYLE STUFFED ACORN SQUASH
Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 large acorn squash, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth
1 cup uncooked couscous (my gluten-free needs prompted me to use quinoa)
Crumbled feta for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Arrange squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake 40 minutes, or until tender.

Dissolve the sugar in the melted butter. Brush squash with the butter mixture, and keep squash warm while preparing the stuffing.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic, celery, and carrots, and cook 5 minutes. Mix in the garbanzo beans and raisins. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper, and continue to cook and stir until vegetables are tender.

Pour the chicken broth into the skillet, and mix in the couscous. Cover skillet, and turn off heat. Allow couscous to absorb liquid for 5 minutes. Stuff squash halves with the skillet mixture to serve. Top with crumbled feta. Chew slowly and savor (instead of inhaling it, as I did...)

Monday, October 24, 2011

October Comfort Food

Cool weather + autumn colors = lots o' squash for me.

The butternut squash makes me laugh... it looks like Mr. Potato Head, but with all of his weight moved down to his butt.

Though it is a prosaic-looking vegetable, its taste more than makes up for it. In one word, it is DELICIOUS. Best of all, in multiple ways. I've used butternut squash for soups, stews, pasta sauces, and even filling for enchiladas. Friends have used it for the obvious - baby food - and also for desserts. Its texture, taste and color are simply wonderful.

I had used half of a baked one this weekend for a pasta dish (shoot, I'm realizing I haven't posted that recipe yet...) and had the other half looking at me every day in the fridge. What to do, what to do... it was another cool and foggy day here in Santa Barbara town, so I felt like making some stew. All I had to do was google butternut and stew, and found a wealth of options. Fortunately, I chose well, because tonight's meal was splendid. Even better, it was so easy.

The key to keeping this meal prep easy is to bake the squash ahead of time = if you have never done that, go here. The directions on this page however, say to pour 1/4 c of water. I would say to pour enough water to have the squash sitting in 1 inch of water.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH, COCONUT & LENTIL STEW
Serves 6-8

Ingredients
1 cup yellow split pigeon peas (toor dal) (OK, I call these yellow lentils. Not sure why they need to call them pigeon peas. That name sounds creepy.)
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 Roma tomato, diced
1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or dried shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups vegetable stock or water, or enough to cover

Tempering:
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon brown or black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I used a few drops of my favorite hot sauce)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

Directions
Steam a pot of white or brown rice.

Rinse the pigeon peas (LENTILS!) in a couple changes of water.

In a large soup pot, combine the squash, drained pigeon peas, tomato, coconut, turmeric, cumin, and enough stock to cover. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Remove the cover and simmer another 10 minutes.

To temper: In a small skillet, warm the canola oil until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds and when they stop popping, add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and salt. Swirl the skillet so the contents cook evenly, and cook another 10 seconds. Then pour the contents of the skillet into the soup, along with the salt. Spoon a ladleful of soup back into the skillet (it will sizzle, be careful!), and pour back into the soup pot.

I topped the stew with a little honey, lime juice, raisins, yogurt, peanuts and cilantro. Adjust the seasonings, to taste, and enjoy filling your belly with some tasty, warm, salty and sweet stew that might end up making you look a tiny bit more like a butternut squash!


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Simple

(I was asked to testify in church today about my own experience with the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Here is what I said...)

When I was asked to share this morning on simplicity, I hesitated. If you know me at all, you know that I didn't hesitate because I am shy! I hesitated because I think of simplicity the same way I think of humility...

You know what I mean. In those rare times when God works in and through you to such a point where you actually do some kind and godly thing and it feels so great, you might say to yourself, WOW, I was just really humble right then! and the whole darn thing gets nullified right then and there... THAT is how I think it works with simplicity. It's something you live out, not point out, in yourself.

However, as Richard Foster says in his classic book The Celebration of Discipline, The majority of Christians have never seriously wrestled with the problem of simplicity, conveniently ignoring Jesus' many words on the subject. So I will run the risk of nullifying my pursuit of simplicity today for the sake of greater discussion.

What do I mean by "simplicity" as a spiritual discipline? Foster says it is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. In other words, as we seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33) rather than seeking first after career or status or wealth or power, that singular focus on Christ should then flow out in and through our daily lives.

How did I come to practice this discipline? I backed into it. In February 2009 I resigned from a 15-year position as a youth pastor here in town, from a church in which I'd been a member for 23 years altogether. This decision was the right one, but it was so difficult, nonetheless. I needed time to wait on God for what was to be next, and to recover from the jarring transition that it was, so I had saved some money to do so.

However, in my immaculate timing I made this decision one month before the historic financial collapse hit bottom! Amidst daily news of gloom and doom I tried not to panic, but also decided I needed to dramatically pare down my budget, not sure when I would be employed full-time again. Thus I declared 2009 to be The Year of Living Simply. I decided to buy nothing new (other than food). I refrained from spending money on entertainment - movies, books, music, eating out and travel. I let magazine subscriptions expire. I stopped buying gifts and just sent cards (sorry friends). This took a third out of my budget!

As I stuck to this approach, I learned three things rather quickly:
  1. It just wasn't that hard. That sounds crazy, but once I got over the hump of this seemingly hard decision, I discovered that I wasn't suffering. Richard Foster quotes the famous Arctic explorer Richard Byrd, who lived through months of deprivation in his travels to the North Pole: I am learning... that a man can live profoundly without masses of things. Indeed, I discovered the same. Once you wean yourself off the constant acquisition of stuff, you realize it's all rather fleeting in its satisfaction.
  2. I was much more grateful for what I received. Once you orient yourself around God's provision rather than thinking of it all as the fruit of your own labors, you see everything as a generous gift! The novelty of something new regained its meaning. When someone had me over for a meal, or took me out for coffee, or gave me a gift, I delighted in every part of it, since these things came less often.
  3. My default became "Why?" instead of "Why not?" When I faced the decision as to whether to buy something or not, now I operated from the assumption that I would not be getting it, and was forced (by my own decision) to think through what I "needed." Rather than get something just because I had the money or because everyone else already had one, I jumped off the treadmill and thought through my spending far more carefully.
Let's be clear -- I am not advocating some dreadful legalism that disdains enjoyment. God wants us to enjoy his provision and his creation. But I was now recognizing how much of my joy came from stuff rather than from God himself and from the people and things he provided already.

Needless to say, I had more free time since I wasn't busying myself as I had previously. I spent some of that new time reading up on monasticism and benedictine spirituality. Monks take vows of poverty and/or simplicity -- they hold belongings in common, because they believe that the more possessions you have, the more those things possess you! They meditate regularly on this passage from Matthew 6:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
I am happy to say that after my Year of Living Simply that I am now quite gainfully employed. But that year instilled some good habits in me. So I am trying to pursue this spiritual discipline of simplicity in ongoing ways:
  • When I buy something new, I give something away. For example, when I buy a new pair of shoes, I give away a pair.
  • As I have mentioned here previously, I sold my car about a year ago. I now use my scooter, my bike, and public transportation (with occasional rides from friends). This slows me down and often forces me to think through how many things I try to do in a given day.
  • I eat seasonally. I love, love, LOVE red bell peppers and could eat them every day. And in 2011, I can eat them every day, thanks to hot houses in South America and semi-truck trailers hauling food all over tarnation. But I choose to eat red bell peppers when they are in season where I live. By eating seasonally I am reminded to enjoy God's provision in God's timing. Sometimes he gives us things to enjoy, and sometimes he asks us to wait. And it is often in the waiting, and anticipation, that I learn how to deeply enjoy the things he gives me.
I shared this earlier this year, but here is the way that I remember this spiritual discipline of simplicity. It's an adaptation of the 3 R's of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...

I say Repent (of my materialism), Reduce, Reuse, Refuse (to try to keep up with everyone else, and just buy the things I truly need), Recycle.

Tell me what you think... thanks for listening!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Writing Projects


I'm here to report, as a former English major, that I am glad I have never entertained notions of actually making a living as a writer. After 3 years of concerted effort to get my work published, I can say that I have had many articles (at least 30?) accepted and published. I've listed some of the links on my blog.

But I hesitate though to add up how much money I have made doing this. I would venture it hovers around $1,000... in total! Yet I cannot deny that I enjoy it immensely. It is great to work with editors, figure out how to work within deadlines and word limits, and be creative with what topics are given to me. Writing is a craft I want to continue to work at and improve upon. And again, while my other work pays the bills, it is gratifying to see thoughts and experiences turn into words. I will never get tired of that.

I have an eclectic assortment of stuff right now -- some has just been released, some is still pending. Here is what is in the hopper at present:
  • Tweets, Texts, Technology... and Theology: my first cover story! This was published in Light & Life magazine, a national and international magazine produced by the Free Methodist Church. (I'll try to find a link to the Spanish-language version of my article and post it here as well). This goes out to the thousands of churches around the country, and is also shared around the world.
  • Augustine's Confessions - Still Going Deeper: I was contacted by Immerse Journal to write a response article for one of their articles. I have been impressed with the deeper content they provide here.
  • It Happens - Dealing with Everyday Stuff in Youth Ministry: I was contacted by the general editor, Will Penner, and asked to contribute a chapter to this book. I told a great story about having to decide whether or not to take a student to the hospital after being injured during a night game at camp, and what I learned about safety and youth ministry (which should not be mutually exclusive terms!)
  • Conversations Journal: I have just been asked to be a contributing blogger to this incredible online publication committed to spiritual formation. This is an outstanding resource for a wide variety of work on discipleship. Bookmark this website -- you will not be disappointed by the breadth and depth of content there.
  • YMToday: this is a really useful youth ministry resource produced by Memphis Seminary. They have archived a bunch of my work. We are in discussions about me writing a monthly column for them on spiritual formation for youthworkers.
  • Youthworker Journal: I appreciate the quality of their publication, and I am indebted to them for being the first ones to accept my work. I have another article coming out with them soon on turning "doctrine into devotion through small group ministry." Here are most of the articles I have written for them.
While the bulk of these articles are not lofty creations, they emerge out of the many adventures and struggles I have had over the years. I am grateful that I am still standing, and that I am still learning.

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. ~James Michener

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mammoth Diaries, Buh-Bye


Not much left to say... this trip was a delight all the way around. Snow on the first day left the whole area picturesque and made for a crisp welcome into fall. Warm weather after that allowed for lots of time outdoors in long walks where we could admire the leaves turning and look at the sunlight shaft through the trees at the end of each day.

I had plenty of time to read, reflect, pray, eat well and just turn OFF. I feel great, and so refreshed for the many projects and adventures that await me these next several months. Best of all, I am so happy to go back home, because life there is wonderful. I am inordinately blessed, and ridiculously thankful.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1Thessalonians 1:2-3)

God, you never fail to dazzle us with your grace and mercy. We pray for the boldness to await the fulfillment of life that you promise, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Common Prayer)