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Saturday, August 17, 2013

The "A" List of 2013 - Food Faves According to this Blog

Yep, despite my best writing efforts about thoughtful topics, by far the most visits here are generated by my recipes. Unlike the Tom Cruise character in A Few Good Men, I can handle the truth!

So here are the top winners... with one DEFINITELY leading the pack.

APPLE FRITTER RINGS - TRIPLE WOW. This one boggles me. YES, they are amazingly good. But oh my, there is a lot of good food out there. Nevertheless, this recipe has been pinned on some Pinterest pages, and that's all she wrote. I've had visitors from all over the world with that recipe -- I'm talking thousands. Go figure. So here it is again. They are little hand-held apple pies of goodness. If you haven't tried them yet... you crazy.

ALMOST ALFREDO. Yet again, so painfully simple yet so incredibly delish. I probably have this once a week. When you come home and you're baffled as to what to make for dinner, this is the go-to.

ARROZ NEGRITO (just like Gallo Pinto or Black Beans 'n Rice, y'all). This is my most requested "um, could you bring that to dinner?" whenever we have a picnic or potluck. The best thing about it is that you can make it in a rice cooker ahead of time, then bring it in the same pot. I have some friends who make a community meal each week for their neighborhood, and this is apparently the most popular and certainly easiest to make for a large group. It stays warm, and it also multi-tasks -- it pairs well with someone else's main dish, or it serves as a hearty appetizer with warm tortilla chips or tortillas.

I'm getting hungry. Off I go to make somethin'....

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Millennial Musings

Thanks to the interweb, we live in a world where the reactions to words and events often get as much press as the original things themselves. I have been surprised at the uproar over Rachel Held Evans' post on CNN.com last week over why millennials are leaving the church.

On christianpost.com, author Brett McCracken was quoted as saying that "instead of telling church leaders what the church should look like, they should be the ones listening to the wisdom of pastors, parents and older believers. 'As a Millennial, if I'm truly honest with myself, what I really need from the church is not another yes-man entity enabling my hubris and giving me what I want.'" 

Christianity Today posted three responses from noted female writers, perhaps as a counter to Rachel Held Evans. One of them, Caryn Rivadeneira reflects on her own young adult prodigal experience and basically says, "been there, done that," ending with these words:
So, even though I prefer Christians welcoming the messes and the masses to church, it seems we would do well to tell the sick-and-tired, church-weary millennials: We get it. We've been there. Go do what you need to do; go where you need to go. God'll go with you, and we'll save you a seat.
The other two writers bring slightly different takes, but overall, all three essentially say that this "I'm over the church" problem with young people has been happening for decades, and we just need to chill out. C'mon people, they'll wise up and come back, just like we did.

But will they?

Evans' article was posted on July 27, and since then 207,000 people (as of today) have recommended this article to their Facebook page. That tells me something. Sure, people forward kitten videos too, and that doesn't mean much. But when it comes to caring for others, I think my main job at as a Christian leader, pastor, and believer, at least at the outset, is to listen to people. Rather than point out the weakness of an argument or come back with a pithy rebuttal, I want to pay attention to what is being said, and try to tease out some of the metamessages hidden within and behind those 207,000 forwards. And let's not miss the fact that this was on CNN, not some backwater newspaper!

Is it hypocritical of me to rue the fact that we are all over-reacting to RHE's post while at the same time I want to put in my own two cents? Perhaps. Before I continue, I should explain that I have worked with this age group (now called Millennials, those born between 1980-2000) for over thirty years. When I started, they were called "Gen X" back then. And in some ways, I agree with some of the responses I've read. Yes, we all tend to go through that cocky stage where we push back on authority, and yes, in the past I have noticed some of my former students have wandered away from the church during college and then come back when they start making babies.

But I have to say that things feel a little different this time. I think there are two new dynamics at play, which perhaps are one and the same:

  • "Nones." As noted in recent research by the Pew Foundations in 2012, "One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling." Put more plainly, 20% (1 in 5) of the U.S. public claim no religious affiliation, and for those under age 30, the number swells to 1 in 3 (32%). As the Pew Foundations says, this is the highest percentage ever seen. It is becoming more "normal" for young adults to have no particular religious faith.
  • "Choice." I was listening to a podcast called "On Being," which seeks to talk about "the big questions at the center of human life, from the boldest new science of the human brain to the most ancient traditions of the human spirit." (Remember, I'm trying to listen, right? If this is what many in culture are talking about, I want to hear what they are saying.) In an episode from May 2013, the poet Christian Wiman was interviewed about faith and doubt. The host of the program, Krista Tippett, in response to Wiman's own testimony of coming back to faith as an adult after a fundamentalist upbringing in Texas, says, "Your story to me is very much an example also of this phenomenon of our time where we choose these things, where we create our spiritual lives, which is really new, you know. You were given this religious world as a center of gravity in your childhood, which a lot of people were until just a decade or two ago." In other words, it has been the case in America where most of us grow up immersed in a Christianity that surrounded us like water does for fish. Tippett acknowledges that this is becoming less and less the case. She even cites recent conversations with 80 year-olds who are making spiritual quests.
So I guess I am not as convinced as Caryn Rivadeneira, who said (somewhat patronizingly, if you ask me), "Go do what you need to do; go where you need to go. God'll go with you, and we'll save you a seat." I am not sure that our beloved Millennials will "come back" unless we listen well to them. More than any other time in our history, they have the complete freedom to walk away. 

Thus brings up the tension of whether we seek after the lost, as described in Jesus' parables in Luke 15, or shake the dust off our feet (Luke 9, among other places) and move on, knowing they will come back when they figure things out. And while it is tempting to use the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) as our model, I think that limits our vision. You recall that when the younger son wants to stomp off in independence and rebellion, the father in this parable allows the son to do so, all the while waiting for him to return, running feverishly down the road to greet him when he does. However, the other, older son gets very little press in this parable. He has remained, faithfully working for his father and following through on his obligations. Nevertheless, he is frustrated and dare I say it, rather cynical? As the Asbury Bible Commentary states
The second son is a self-righteous, law-abiding person, like Jesus' critics. And Jesus may well have told the parable primarily as a challenge to such people. The parable is a story without an ending. Although the younger son has been received into the house, the elder son stands outside complaining. It is not clear whether he accepts or rejects his father's invitation to step inside. But it is clear that the father extends the same love and mercy to both his sons.
The young adults I talk to nearly every day have a lot of spiritual interest, but as one told me last week, "our BS detectors are tuned really high, and we can tell when someone is being phony." And the second that happens, they are gone. Like the older son, I see them standing outside the church, complaining. Perhaps some see me as enabling or codependent, but I cannot just pat them on the head with an "oh-you're-just-being-a-snarky-Millennial" remark and let them go on their rebellious way, clucking my tongue knowingly.

My favorite line from RHE's post was this (speaking for Millennials):
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.
As the Asbury commentary says, "it is clear that the father extends the same love and mercy to both his sons." For me, the big question is not whether or not Rachel Held Evans is "right," but whether or not the church will remain engaged in conversation and relationship with young people, even in their wilderness wanderings. Put another way, what does it look like for us to keep extending love and mercy?

I especially ask that because right now what I see is that the church, by and large, is still trying to create some sort of "thing" (cafe, event, conference, book, whatever) that will draw in those darn Millennials. Like the prodigal son, the young people have to come back to them, and we are just upping the ante with our "if we build it, they will come" approach. Instead, I want to encourage believers to leave the brick-and-mortar buildings and wander out into the wilderness too, listening and learning. Why? Because that is what Jesus did. He did not sit at the synagogue every day and wait for people to come to him. He was always "on the road," healing and listening and touching and laughing and arguing and praying. I really do not like Rivadeneira's "God'll go with you, and we'll save you a seat" approach. Are we to sit smugly in our church pews, "knowing" we are right, letting others just wander off?

Do I think there has to be some level of personal responsibility for every person, where they have to pay attention to the conviction of their souls and repent, as did the prodigal son? You betcha. But I will say it again, I want to pay attention to Evans' assertion that for some churches, "Jesus has left the building." I have far more questions than answers, but I am at a point in my life where I believe the church needs to go back out into the "fields," just as John Wesley and George Whitefield did, reaching out to men and women, young and old, who will not enter our churches. I'm not just talking about the cynical Millennials; I'm also talking about those who live on the streets, the immigrants, the unemployed, the elderly, the professionals. 

May we emulate Jesus, who understood that "equality with God" was not something for him to cling to (Philippians 2:5-8). Instead, he shed his prestige and power and entered the lives of others. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sublime Summer

As I slowly shape a syllabus for the fall, finish up with my summer interns, and start fleshing out the bones of my calendar for the year, I panic a little. I am not ready for summer to end. The produce in season, the weather, the slightly more open schedule... all of it is so delightful!

I don't want to waste any lingering opportunities, so this week I tried to cram in as much as I could. I grabbed all the little grape tomatoes left on the vine in my teeny garden. Each one is a shiny and impossibly red orb of goodness. I am putting them in omelettes and tuna salads and veggie sandwiches. Tonight I roasted an eggplant into unbelievable creaminess for dinner. Yesterday I bought an extra half-pint of berries at the store, already mourning their absence.

Today I jumped on my bike and rode feverishly to the beach, not wanting to miss any chance of being outside. At night I am reading as much as I want because my mornings can start just a little bit slower. And finally, I'm trying my best to get a little writing done. As you probably know already, being creative is not something you can just turn on like a faucet. But I do not have time to really "get in the mood" or "find my muse." There are some things I want to write down or at least lay out for future chipping away.

So I have thinned out my schedule for the month, taking a break from some of the consulting I do week to week. I am reading a whole bunch of different things, then scratching down various thoughts and quotes and nuggets.

I'm also trying to figure out how to better integrate writing into my life on a more consistent basis. So as I mentioned in my previous post, I'm trying to learn from far better authors who have gone before me. Here are some of their wise words... though I haven't come to any conclusions yet as to writing looks like for me, their words are moving and motivating.

The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say. Anais Nin

Something that irritates you and won’t let you go. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book, or die. You have to go through that... Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance... When you're writing, you're trying to find out something which you don't know. James Baldwin

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. William Faulkner

I can't imagine not writing. Writing simply is a way of life for me. William Goyen

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it. Hemingway

As a writer, I do more listening than talking. W. H. Auden called the first act of writing “noticing.” He meant the vision—not so much what we make up but what we witness. John Irving

If you persist in doing something, sooner or later  you will achieve it. It's just a matter of persistence -- and a certain amount of talent. Wm. Kennedy

I am compulsive about writing, I need to do it the way I need sleep and exercise and food and sex; I can go without it for awhile, but then I need it. John Irving

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be. That’s why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time you write a short story, you have to begin all over again. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

You are always concentrated on the inner thing. The moment one becomes aware of the crowd -- performs for the crowd -- it is spectacle. It is fichu (done for). Jean Cocteau

At the time of writing, I don't write for my friends or myself, either; I write for it, for the pleasure of it. Eudora Welty

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. Hemingway

I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Hemingway