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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


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.

Serves 4


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.


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


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.