Archives For Babette’s Feast

A few months ago, I read a memoir of sorts, “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill. I’ve called it the struggles of a saint, not because Hill is extraordinarily holy, but because saint means ‘one who is made holy’, and we, the beloved of God, made holy by Jesus, are called to be saints [Romans 1:7].

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“The fresh start of the gospel is God’s Groundhog Day. Only everyone around us has a memory as well. And yet each day God gives me another chance. Each time each moment I come to God and ask forgiveness I am washed. There is never, ever, a refusal on his part.”

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“Jenna described that dark time and told me something that has remained with me ever since: “I just wanted to be whole again, Wes, and I thought that by pretending it wasn’t there, the depression would just go away. But ignoring is not the path to redeeming. If I wanted this depression to be redeemed, I had to face it head-on.” I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, realizing those words were for me. Ignoring is not the path to redeeming.”

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“Once Tara described an experience she had had while studying in England for a semester. She had been striving to understand and be what she thought she should understand and be. Finally one night, in a service at Coventry Cathedral, she relaxed and submitted to God’s wound-mending embrace. She felt that God loved her just as she was. I read Tara’s description of that night at Coventry several times, and I realized, with a cold, smarting sense of mingled sadness and helplessness, that I knew very little, firsthand, of what she was describing. My first thought as I got out of bed every morning was not, I am the beloved of God. I had not mastered the discipline, as N. T. Wright calls it, of looking to the cross of Christ and seeing evidence there that I am loved extravagantly and inexorably by the self-giving triune God.
…It has taken years for me to learn, bit by bit, this spiritual practice of meditating on the love of God and to understand that it is central to my struggle… I consciously began the daily effort to view myself as God’s beloved, redeemed by the self-gift of Christ.”

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“When I cannot feel God’s love for me in my struggle, to have a friend grab my shoulder and say, “I love you, and I’m in this with you for the long haul” is, in some ways, an incarnation of God’s love that I would otherwise have trouble resting in.
…No longer was I simply struggling; I was learning to struggle well, with others, in the presence of God.”

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“I’d suggest that living with unfulfilled desires is not the exception of the human experience but the rule. Even most of those who are married are, as Thoreau once said, “living lives of quiet regret.” Maybe they married the wrong person or have the pain of suffering within marriage or feel trapped in their situations and are unable to fulfill a higher sense of calling. The list of unfulfilled desires goes on and on.”

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A friend said to Hill:
“Imagine yourself standing in the presence of God, looking down from heaven on the earthly life you’re about to be born into, and God says to you, ‘Wes, I’m going to send you into the world for sixty or seventy or eighty years. It will be hard. In fact, it will be more painful and confusing and distressing than you can now imagine. You will have a thorn in your flesh…that is the result of your entering a world that sin and death have broken, and you may wrestle with it all your life. But I will be with you. I will be watching every step you take, guiding you by My Spirit, supplying you with grace sufficient for each day.
And at the end of your journey, you will see My face again, and the joy we share then will be born out of the agonies you faithfully endured by the power I gave you. And no one will take that joy— that solid resurrection joy, which, if you experienced it right now, would crush you.’
God is the author of your story. He is watching, supplying you with his Spirit moment by moment.”

What God is doing

October 14, 2015 — Leave a comment

Along with reading the stories in scripture of how God has worked, I also find it encouraging to hear the stories of people who are living now. Reading memoirs is a wonderful way to see God being present with people in their struggles.

“Memoirs and autobiographies [give a] valuable kind of learning…not a definition of grace to be memorized, but the experience of grace as perceived through the window of another person’s life…”       Richard Lischer

Nothing-Is-Impossible
Rose Marie [the mother of Paul Miller] grew up with a schizophrenic mother and began following Jesus as a teenager. But for many years, her life of faith was one of trying to control her circumstances and avoid painful memories as she describes in Nothing is Impossible:

“I kept God at a distance, building walls of self-protection and self-reliance. I said I was a Christian but my life said, “I can manage without God.” When crises came, the walls went higher. But there came a day when building walls did not work and I was left with, “I don’t believe God exists, or if He does exist, He is a dark cloud over my life— a cloud of fear, guilt, condemnation, and loneliness.” Into this dark cloud God spoke, not with an audible voice, but with life-giving words. God, for whom nothing really is impossible— not even changing a self-righteous, independent, desperately-trying-to-keep-it-all-together pastor’s wife— gave me Himself.”

Rose Marie is honest enough not to end her story there, in what sounds like a triumphant final victory. She continued to struggle, make mistakes, and fall back on using God:

“… when the youngest of the four rebelled and left home angry and bitter, eventually living with drug dealers, I realized that much of what I had done was motivated by wanting a perfect family that did not embarrass me. Her younger sister, our fifth child, was influenced by her and also went her own way. It was a very sad and humbling time. I had missed the fact that only God changes the heart. I was expecting all my work to do what only God can do.”

She continues her story to the present day, now in her 80s, working with women in London, and still discovering her never-ending need for God’s grace.

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Joni and Ken tells the story of Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband Ken, and how once they were married it wasn’t quite ‘and they lived happily ever after.’ As the years went on, Ken became overwhelmed by caring constantly for Joni. As she lived in extreme, chronic pain, he sank into depression and emotionally they drifted away from each other. Eventually they found their way back to God and to each other.

“When I wake up an hour or two from now — and I know I will — please let me see You, feel You. I need You, Jesus! Let me know that You’re there and that You’re with me. You have said You will never fail me or forsake me. Please, Lord … may I sense that tonight at some point?”
Later that same night, when [Joni] woke up again, pain seemed to fill the whole room. The atmosphere was thick with it, like a heavy fog off Chesapeake Bay, with dark spirits darting in and out of the mist, taunting, jeering, whispering nonsense. More frighteningly, she could feel her lungs filling up.
She called Ken, and he came to her, stepping into the dim illumination of the bedside lamp. It was the third time that night she needed him, but there he was once again, so patient, so kind, so ready to help, deep love and concern written across every line of his face. He turned her body to another position, pushed on her abdomen, helped her blow her nose. Spoke words of quiet encouragement. Stroked her hair. Chased away the demons with words of prayer as he worked.
Suddenly, Joni turned her head and looked up at him, eyes wide with wonder. It took him by surprise. Was she hallucinating? What was she seeing? “You’re Him!” she said. “I … I don’t understand, Joni.” “Ken … you’re Him! You’re Jesus!” Fresh tears began to flow, and he dabbed them from her face with a tissue. “I’m not kidding. I can feel His touch when you touch me. I can see Him in your smile. I can hear Him in the tone of your voice . Right now! I mean it,” she said with a sob. “This is what I prayed for. You are Jesus!”

“Jesus had never said, “I am the power cord; you are the iPhone.” He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” If [Joni] wanted that life — and she did — there couldn’t be any disconnect. Abiding was what desperate people did who realized they had no life, no power, no resource within themselves.”

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Life Lessons from the Hiding Place might be better titled, “Life Lessons after the Hiding Place” because it is the story of Corrie Ten Boom’s life after she was released from the concentration camp. She faced a life without much hope: she was a single 52-year-old woman, who had suffered the loss of her father and sister, and who now faced the challenge of making a new life in war-ravaged Europe while sensing a call to continue what she had been doing before the war: sharing the love of Jesus, and telling how He had ministered to her in the concentration camp.

“As Corrie recounted [her experience], one of the neighbors said, “I am sure it was your faith that carried you through.”
“My faith? I don’t know about that,” replied Corrie. “My faith was so weak, so unstable. It was hard to have faith. When a person is in a safe environment, having faith is easier. But in that camp when I saw my own sister and thousands of others starve to death, where I was surrounded by men and women who had training in cruelty, then I do not think it was my faith that helped me through. No, it was Jesus! He who said, ‘I am with you until the end of the world.’ It was His eternal arms that carried me through. He was my certainty.
“If I tell you that it was my faith, you might say if you have to go through suffering, ‘I don’t have Corrie ten Boom’s faith.’ But if I tell you it was Jesus, then you can trust that He who helped me through will do the same for you. I have always believed it, but now I know from my own experience that His light is stronger than the deepest darkness.”

Other memoirs I’ve posted about in the past:
Rich Mullins: Like an Arrow Pointing to Heaven

Little Black Sheep by Ashley Cleveland

Isobel Kuhn Omnibus

What memoirs would you recommend?

Recently on my Sabbath day, I read Ashley Cleveland’s memoir, Little Black Sheep. She’s a Grammy Award-winner singer and songwriter, with a throaty voice and the rhythms of black gospel music although she grew up white in the refined, rich, and religious south of the United States where going to church was what nice people did–along with living secret broken lives.

Ashley tells her journey from respectability to grace, with a whole lot of detours in between. When she was a teenager, she decided to follow Jesus, but she kept stepping off the path. Again and again, she gave in to her particular temptations: drugs, sex, alcohol. Again and again, she’d return to God and ask forgiveness. Again and again, God took her back. For years, her life was one endless zig zag. Zig onto the path, zag off the path.

Occasionally I would have a brief period of sobriety. I would begin to feel a tiny spark of hope; I would clean the house, swim laps in my friend Constance’s pool, and start a diet. I would offer a few tentative prayers . I would call my mother, confess everything (very bad idea), and tell her that I was turning a corner, that I could feel it. Then on an ordinary weeknight, I would find that I could not sit still, that my skin prickled and tingled, that I could not bear my own company, and I would be out the door, heading to downtown Petaluma or down the street to the drug dealer’s house.

Along the way, she got pregnant and kept the baby. Again she turned to God, and again she returned to drinking. Again she hit bottom. Then she went to treatment and stayed sober for seven years.

I knew I couldn’t continue as I was and survive, but I didn’t feel relief; I felt beaten. I thought, even then: I don’t think I want to live without a drink. But I did want to try for Becca’s [her daughter’s] sake. I wanted to know that I had done everything within my power on her behalf.
…I found an AA meeting before I left Knoxville and at the end of the meeting went forward to receive the silver chip that is also called the Desire Chip , indicating the crossroad to choosing a new way of life.

Usually, that’s where the story ends. Or at least that is where we want the story to end: in glorious victory and triumph as another testimony of God’s loving power, another miracle of God’s great redemption.

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But after seven years of freedom, Ashley started to drink again and entered into the long dark abyss once more.

Drinking occupied the bulk of my thoughts. It was the first thing I thought of on waking: “I had two glasses of wine yesterday. Will anyone notice if I have three today?” It was the last thing I thought of at night : “I think I’ll skip it altogether tomorrow, or maybe just one beer … Yes, just one.” In between, my awareness of my thirst lingered on the periphery of the entire day.

…I began to have small encounters with God in my morning devotions. In my efforts to cloak my descent back into my addiction, I would make a show of wholesome activities like prayer and Bible study: five o’clock in the morning., and all is well! I would feel His still, small voice break through my prayers with a simple: “Give Me the drink.”

If I were her friend or a member of her family, this would be the point where I’d give up on Ashley. I’d say, “Look how many times she has screwed up. She takes grace and then she falls away. She’s obviously not serious about putting her life back together. It’s time to shake the dust off our feet and leave her behind.”

But God never gave up on her. God never shut the door. He kept knocking. He kept wooing. He kept waiting.

And then,

“…one morning, for no particular reason, I walked into an AA meeting. I hadn’t drunk myself into a stupor the previous night, I hadn’t been back to jail, I don’t remember what prompted me to go, only the ordinariness of the day. Perhaps the recent vacation where my pronounced detachment from my family and desire to be alone with the wine bottle had done it. Perhaps the fact that the liquor-store clerks recognized me now had done it. Perhaps the prayers …

Thirty years of zigging and zagging, and God’s mercy never failed Ashley. This time, she was truly ready to begin the long, slow process of rebuilding her life through the power of the Holy Spirit. And He was there.

I awoke to find my Savior was wooing me with such tenderness and love that I couldn’t resist. I awoke to my marriage and found that my husband was ready to jump in and do the heavy lifting (and letting go) that a union of value requires. I awoke to find my children.

The story of the continuing grace of God in Ashley’s life gives me great hope. First, it gives me hope for myself, specifically for those deep-rooted flaws in my character that continue to send up their shoots trying to strangle my heart. When I need to go back and ask God to forgive me for the millionth time, I sometimes hear the accuser asking me if it’s really worth to keep struggling; how is it possible that He would take me back again? The story of Little Black Sheep demonstrates that indeed all things are possible with God. He never, ever gives up. And He gives enough grace for the day. Like manna, His mercies are new every morning.

Second, it gives me great hope for the other broken, sinful people in my life. God waits for them too. It is not my place to write ‘the end’ on their stories. God asks me to be as patient with them as He is with me. He asks me to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving others as He has forgiven me. And He gives me the power of His Holy Spirit which is really the only way I can give this supernatural love to others.

What about you?
Where in your life do you need to zag towards God for the millioneth time?
And who do you need to hold out hope for?

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“Little Black Sheep” by Ashley Cleveland

“The boy told the shepherd: there’s a fearful storm
So I went out to the field to drive the flocks home
I counted every lamb into the keep
All except for one
That little black sheep

Chorus:
Little black sheep, little black sheep
In the howling wind with no relief
In a cold, cold world nothin’ sounds so sweet
As the voice of the shepherd to a little black sheep

Little black sheep, he ain’t nothin’ but trouble
He’s not worth much and he’ll cost you double
Shepherd says he knows but he won’t sleep
He’s gonna go out and find
That little black sheep

Chorus

Now the little black sheep was the wandering kind
But the shepherd brought him back every time
Mama says: child, when your pride starts to creep
You best remember we all just
Little black sheep

Chorus”

I don’t think I knew much about Rich Mullins before his untimely death in 1997, except that he had a written some great songs including the contemporary praise chorus, “Our God is an Awesome God.” I was also familiar with his two-volume CD, “The World as Best as I Remember it.”

These are deeply spiritual songs that shy away from a neat, packaged faith. Mullins will ask a question without feeling the need to make up an answer for God. Things don’t always work out well, people suffer heartache and bitter disappointment. They are tempted. Sometimes they fall. Sometimes they wonder where God is.

There’s the haunting honesty of “Jacob and Two Women”:

“Jacob, he loved Rachel and Rachel, she loved him
And Leah was just there for dramatic effect
Well it’s right there in the Bible, so it must not be a sin
But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick
And her sky is just a petal pressed in a book of a memory
Of the time he thought he loved her and they kissed
And her friends say, “Ah, he’s a devil”
But she says, “No, he is a dream”
This is the world as best as I can remember it.”

Then there’s the challenge of “Screen Door”:

“Well there’s a difference you know
Between having faith
And playing make believe
One will make you grow
The other one just make you sleep
Talk about it (yeah)
And I really think you oughta
Take a leap off of the ship
Before you claim to walk on water

Faith without works
Is like a song you can’t sing (sing)
It’s about as useless as
A screen door on a submarine

Faith comes from God and
Every word that He breathes
He lets you take it to your heart
So you can give it hands and feet
It’s gotta be active if it’s gonna be alive
You gotta put it into practice”

And there’s the confession of “Hold Me, Jesus”:

“So hold me Jesus,
Cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight you for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what you give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees”

It was songs like these, as well as joyful and playful songs, that drew me to read “Rich Mullins: A Devotional Biography: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven” by James Bryan Smith.
(the Kindle version is currently $1.99 I also have a copy to lend.)

mullins arrow

As one would expect from a devotional biography, Smith doesn’t give a comprehensive account of the facts. We do learn though what Mullins was like as a child, how his first album bombed, and how he went back to school in his 30s to get a degree in music education. But mostly, Smith looks into Mullins’ heart and tells the inside story of what fueled Mullins’ outer life.

It’s an uncomplicated but rich picture. Mullins loved the Bible, Jesus, and the church with passion. To live a simple life, he let someone else manage his finances so he wouldn’t be tempted by how much money he was making. He received a modest salary from his earnings, and gave the rest away.

Mullins also wasn’t afraid to challenge Christians but he was able to critique without being cynical or harsh. When he spoke the truth, it was with love. He focused on being centered on Jesus instead of making sure everyone else was living right.

He didn’t care about public opinion, but he did care deeply about how God viewed him. Jesus was his starting point and his ending point. But he didn’t focus on devotion to the exclusion of action–or vice versa. He managed to keep the balance between loving God and loving people.

I think what people found refreshing about Mullins was that he lived the gospel–not a Sunday School version but the real-life gospel. He was aware of his sinfulness–and his capacity to sin. At the same time he was grounded in the redeeming love of God through Jesus for those sins.

I came away from the book encouraged by Mullins’ story. My life may look very different from his, but I desire the same simple faith, childlike heart, and graceful love for people. Reading his life story helps point me in the right direction.

Usually we read stories about drunks who then become Christians. That’s the encouraging progression we’re used to seeing in people’s lives. But it doesn’t always work that way. Sober Mercies by Heather Kopp is the memoir of a Christian who became an alcoholic.

With searing and painful honesty, she shares her descent into a very messy darkness and then how she found her way back to life as a recovering alcoholic.

For several years after she started following Jesus as a teenager, Kopp rarely drank. But slowly she began to drink more, and eventually she became addicted. Although alcohol didn’t satisfy her, she found herself pulled back to it again and again. Drinking became another way of life for her, one of hangovers and blackouts.

Trapped in the grip of addiction, she experienced the particular shame that a Christian drunk feels. Because for those who are already saved, “to even admit that we have become addicted feels like a betrayal of Christ’s work on the cross… in order to shield those we love, and to protect God’s reputation (and ours), we try to hide our problem…it’s our desire to maintain a good witness that turns us into sneaks, liars, and hypocrites.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds familiar to me. How many times have I done something even though as a Christian I’m supposed to know better, to act better? How many times have I begun to think I’m worthy of grace because I have cleaned up my act in a few areas of my life– even if there are many other parts that remain messy and broken?

Kopp’s experience reminds us that when we receive God’s gift of salvation our problems are not solved once and for all. I want to cling to the fairytale of faith: Once upon a time, there was a sinner who found Jesus. She became active in a church, developed a love of prayer and Bible study, and lived happily ever after. But what often happens next is not happiness but struggle and heartache.

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We continue to carry longtime brokenness; we fall back into old destructive habits. We can become frustrated and angry that the problems of our past have not disappeared. Then we discover how difficult it can be to live out our faith in God’s redeeming grace.

And we find ourselves developing new bad behaviors and attitudes. We may trade our messed-up life for a proud life. A dishonest life may be traded for a judgmental one. A rigid, authoritarian life can be traded for a slow descent into addiction. Only now we feel more stuck than before because good people don’t do bad things, especially good Christians. Like Kopp, we may try to bargain with God, hoping to find a way to hold on to our unsatisfying craving that is destroying our life.

Kopp finally hit bottom after years of being an alcoholic. At that point she had to begin to face unpleasant truths. Perhaps most importantly she had to accept that her own strength of will and ‘clenched-fist prayers’ weren’t enough to free her from her desire to drink. She started on the road to recovery only when she surrendered completely.

Hadn’t she done that already when she became a Christian? Yes, and probably many times afterwards. But surrender isn’t a one-time act. It’s easy to think of it as the first level on a video game that you have to pass to reach the next level. Sober Mercies reminds us that as recovering sinners, we will never leave the ground floor. Every single day we will need to experience God’s grace. And the only way we can do that is to admit who we really are and what we’ve done, and then surrender our will to God again.

Kopp’s story echoes those we read throughout the Old and New Testament of people who entered into a covenantal relationship with God and then wandered far away. When they turned back to come home, they found their loving Father waiting to redeem their life again.

Recovering from an addition is a hard battle. As in Kopp’s case, there are rarely overnight miracles. But step by step she begins to recover her life, her marriage, her senses. She regains joy and true freedom. This is a story of great hope: God never gives up on us, and when we return to Him, He helps us put our life back together using His love and grace as the glue.

Sober Mercies also reminds us that moral failure is not limited to the pastors and Christian celebrities we read about in the news. There are hiding, hurting, desperate people in church who have been Christians for years. They attend worship services, they are members of a Bible study, they are part of a church ministry. Someone may be sitting next to me in the pew week after week struggling with a shameful secret, and in need of redemption now more than ever.

Someone just like me.

Hello, my name is Annie, and I’m a sinner who needs Jesus. Still.

What about you? Are there areas in your life where you wandered away from God’s transforming grace?

What Christian sinner needs you to love them with fearless honesty and compassion?

I want to thank you for the gift you’ve given to me.
Yes, I mean you.

Now, some of you may be wondering what exactly it is that you’ve given.

before the gift was given

before the gift was given

Well, you come to this website, you subscribe and follow, you read my posts, you share your thoughts in the comments or by email. And I’m thankful you take the time to stop and listen and walk with me for awhile.

Because we’re on a journey that God designed to be taken together, your companionship makes a difference to me. It’s a special gift to find kindred spirits along the way. When I sit down to reflect and write, I think of you, faithful readers. You are jewels in God’s crown, treasures in His kingdom. As James K.A. Smith put it:

…perhaps nothing is so important for our walk with the Lord as good friends.
I think God gives us good friends as sacraments—
means of grace given to us as indications of God’s presence
and conduits for our sanctification.
While “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24),
that same Friend sends us friends to help make His presence tangible and concrete.
Nothing continues the incarnation like Christian friendship.”

Along the way

Along the way

And Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote as the Nazi darkness was forming in Germany, said:

“The measure with which God gives the gift of visible community is varied.
Christians who live dispersed from one another are comforted by a brief visit of another Christian,
a prayer together, and another Christian’s blessing.
Indeed, they are strengthened by letters written by the hand of other Christians.”

That’s my hope for these posts–electronic letters really–that they will encourage us all on the journey together, even if we are spread out all around the world from Oregon to Massachusetts to Switzerland to Morocco to India to Thailand and everywhere in between.

Thanks for walking with me. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey with you this coming year.

** ** **

“We must all be saved together!
Reach God together!
Appear before Him together!
We must return to our Father’s house together…
what would He think if we arrived without the others, without the others returning, too?”
–Charles Péguy

our outside door

Jesus came to my door this morning

This morning a man [I’ll call him Bob] came to drop off some money so we can pass it on to God’s work in the world.

Bob’s life has not always been easy. As a young man, he worked in the fields, without having a chance to go to university. I’m not even sure if he finished high school. And Bob and his wife have followed a singular path here for many years, one which has brought them into some very dark lion dens. Continue Reading…

I love reading your comments on these reflections, especially when I share something I am struggling with. It encourages me.  As I replied to one commenter a few days ago, “It’s nice to know I’m not the only one–in fact I think being in community is something else that helps me stay on the altar.”

That reaction of mine has made me think more about how connecting with others keeps all of us from slinking away from God. Continue Reading…


Once upon a time, before food blogs and before the Food Network–but not before Julia Child–there was an Episcopal priest by the name of Robert Farrar Capon [Don’t ask me why he went by three names. Perhaps because he was Episcopalian…] He was a good pastor, fond of eating and drinking with sinners, just like his Master. He also enjoyed cooking as much as eating, and theology as much as writing, a rare combination. Then he put all of these talents to use and wrote The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. It’s called a reflection and not a cookbook because although he does guide the reader through recipes, the book is not just about cooking, but also about savoring food, and of course, about God.**

The book is framed around a simple premise: one leg of lamb for eight people, four times. You’d think that would take about five pages at most. But Capon is a preacher, a very good one in fact, and he’s engaging, funny, and easy to listen to. However, don’t worry. The book is not written from the pulpit, but in front of the stove where he ruminates as he works. The result might be what you would get if Babette, the wonderful cook in Babette’s Feast,** decided to write down how she cooked her amazing meal. I doubt she would give any recipe that could be reduced to a 3 x 5 index card. It might even have 45 steps.** In the eponymous** movie version**, Babette doesn’t come across as talkative, but I think in her more exuberant moments she would end up writing something like The Supper of the Lamb.

Capon’s** instruction to slice an onion leads to a ten page meditation. There are discourses on knives and cutting and water and meat. He is an amateur in the true sense of the word: someone who cooks out of love not duty.** He is filled with a holy joie de vivre that echoes God looking at the His creation and saying it was good.

“Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and a tongue to taste it. But more than that, food and cooking are among the richest subjects in the world. Every day of our lives they preoccupy, delight and refresh us. Food is not just some fuel we need to get us going toward higher things. Cooking is not a drudgery we put up with in order to get the gruel delivered. Rather, each is a heart’s astonishment. Both stop us dead in our tracks with wonder.

Rereading this book [I first read it over a decade ago in the middle of my once-a-month cooking phase], I see the errors of my ways, given what I wrote about making Boeuf Bourguignon. To complain of labor, in Capon’s view, is to complain of love, for what we love we are willing to work for. If I have a problem then, the fault is not in Julia Child or French cooking, but my acceptance of the gospel of speed and efficiency.

In this corrupt world of high-fructose corn syrup, mass slaughterhouses, and food products created only to tempt and never to satisfy, cooking real food and eating it with friends is a very holy act. That’s why holidays like Thanksgiving are good for us. It’s a day that slows us down and gives us a chance to savor the bounty of God’s culinary creativity with the dear family and friends He has graced us with.

Happy Thanksgiving. May you enjoy your banquet feast and remember the Giver of all good gifts.


**Links and notes
**Capon on why he wrote the book:
“The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: it is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral—it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.”

**summary of Babette’s Feast

**post about my Waterloo: making Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

**I will give a special prize for the person who knows how many times I’ve been able to use my new favorite word, eponymous, this year.

**The movie version of Babette’s Feast has the distinction of being the first [but not the last] Danish language film to receive the Academy Award for best foreign film.

**I wonder if Capon developed a love of cooking because his last name is a kind of prized cooking bird [actually a castrated rooster].

**Capon on being an amateur:
“The role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace… Instead, the world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor and his boredom will break it to bits…on the other hand turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its lights and shadows warm a little….”

When I read “The Objects of His Affection”**, I was in the states visiting family, and experiencing the reality that along with being the object of my Heavenly Father’s affection, I’m also the object of my earthly father’s affection. When he greets me, there is a warmth in his voice and a smile on his face, and I know he is glad to see me. It makes me feel so valued. And it’s a wonderful picture of how God welcomes us home.**

My father has loved me well, in so many ways. He always focuses on the good things I do, and gracefully overlooks my shortcomings, a model of how love covers a multitude of sins.** He encouraged me to do whatever interested me. When I became an adult, he was always ready to loan me money, no questions asked. He didn’t judge my choices, or the choices of my four brothers.

By his example, I learned reverence, saying grace at every meal. I learned faithfulness as we went to church every single Sunday, and I would watch him bowing his head and repeating the Apostle’s Creed. He suffered a tremendous loss but did not become bitter after my mother died. He remarried and loved well again, [going on 54 years].

He worked two jobs to provide for his five children, teaching junior high math all week, and then on Saturday getting up at 5 AM and working all day at the post office. Sundays, we we went to the early church service so we could drive out to my grandparents for the rest of the day, returning home after supper. He must have gotten tired, but he never complained. In fact, I remember him singing songs as we drove home in the dark.** In his spare time, he paid the bills, and did the grocery shopping, always coming home with a bargain or store special, showing me how to be thrifty.

He modeled a concern for the oppressed and a sense of justice. In the 60s, living in a town with a total of two African-American families, he still joined the local branch of the NAACP** and worked for equal housing in the area. When an African-American family in a nearby town was told there were no apartments available, he went and proved that wasn’t true by asking to rent one.

He taught me hospitality by hosting [along with my mother of course] African exchange students, once for an entire school year. He taught me honesty. He taught me forgiveness and not holding a grudge. He taught me how to live in a wealthy town and yet resist succumbing to materialism and greed. He taught me practicality and foresight: after he remarried when I was two, he chose to move to the wealthy town because it gave full tuition scholarships to residents at the local all-women’s college. 16 years later, I ended up going there, and graduated without any college loans to pay off. After I left home, he continued to serve me. When he came to visit, he cleaned my oven. He babysat for our daughters. One night, he drove 2 hours to come pick me up after my car had broken down.

He modeled a fruitful post-retirement life by helping to start a vocational school in the area and helping the elderly with their taxes every year. He enjoyed life too, singing in an all-male glee club and traveling to Europe every year, and going to Elderhostels in the states.


Today he is celebrating his 89th birthday. He is still faster than an earthworm**, continuing to help make meals when family comes.


He takes pride in his children and grandchildren, and delights in his great-grandchildren.

He’s not perfect, of course, but whatever his faults, he has always loved me unconditionally, no strings attached, no expectations to meet. I’m so thankful for such a wise and loving earthly father.

**Links and notes
Objects of His Affection
**But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:21

**Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8

**Aba Daba Honeymoon, one of my father’s favorites

**The NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] is a one-hundred year old civil rights organization.

**This expression comes from a Margo Hennebach song, On Preacher’s Hill, about her aging father-in-law. “Mark’s dad is older now, but as he told Mark during a walk this summer,”I’m still faster than an earthworm.”

The death of Jesus allows us to look into our Judge’s face and see a Bridegroom. This is the heart of the good news, the gospel: Jesus has been punished for our sins so that the floodgate of God’s affection can be loosed on us like a healing river! He died that we might dance.

Scotty Smith

I’ve just finished reading Objects of His Affection by Scotty Smith. As an extended meditation on how our hearts can become alive to the compelling love of God, the book is a perfect complement to my recent reflections about being God’s beloved. Smith explores why we can have such a hard time really experiencing God’s love, taking his personal story as the prism.

Chapter by chapter, he reveals the fallout in his life after his mother died in a car accident when he was 11. In the years that followed, she became a taboo subject in the family. In high school, he began to follow Jesus but there was a gap between his knowledge of God’s love and his experience of it.

Two things started to define Smith more than the fact that he was God’s beloved: his busy, noisy heart, and that he hadn’t dealt with his mother’s death. As a result, God’s love was blocked in his life, both to him, and through him to others. The result was detachment, busyness, withdrawal, passivity, fear, coupled with an arrogant, wordy spirituality [that’s not a typo– wordy is exactly the word Smith uses].

“A wall of self-protection, a commitment to controlling my world, and a lifestyle of staying busy took over. For the next season of life, theological knowledge and ministry became a substitute for learning how to relate to people and to love well.”

But God continued to love him. Smith discovered that “in the theater of His word, through the care of friends, by the pain of suffering, with the help of all kinds of allies, God pursues and calls to us.” It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually Smith was able to face his mother’s death, talking to his brother and father about her. As a result, an obstacle to accepting love and loving well was removed from his heart.

I was especially interested to read this book because Smith’s story parallels my own in many ways. Though I was only a baby when my mother died, I too grew up carrying an unknown loss, and then came to Jesus and had a deep experience of God’s comforting love. I easily took on the view that because Jesus was now living in me, everything would be wonderful. But there was a large part of me that remained closed off. No one–myself, God, family, friends, was allowed to open that door. Like Smith, I eventually came to a crisis point and discovered that carrying the unacknowledged burden of my mother’s death for so many years had warped and deformed my heart. First came spiritual and emotional surgery, then reconstruction. The healing did not happen overnight, and it often seemed more painful than the pain I hadn’t allowed myself to feel. But I didn’t do this on my own and I like the analogy Smith uses about God’s approach to repairing the sorry condition of our souls:

“To be a Christian is to be accepted by God on the basis of the tarp of his righteousness,which he graciously places over us in Christ,
not on the basis of our efforts to reconstruct or remodel our own lives or even the degree to which the project has progressed.
In fact, God doesn’t only provide the tarp, he is the whole construction team,
actively working in our hearts to make us more and more like Jesus.”

As God continued to work in me, His love began to transform the broken places in me. His instruments for healing included friends and family and a wise therapist. I look back now many years later truly amazed at the changes that have resulted in my life. There’s been a domino effect of grace. One experience of God’s mercy has lead to the next.

As Smith says, “As our heart gets unstuck, the river of God’s grace and mercy can flow through it with greater ease and healing….we are redeemed to become conduits, not merely receptacles of God’s love and compassion…the whole point of the Christian life is to bring glory to God as more and more obstacles to loving well are removed from our hearts.”

Amen.

Looking to Jesus

August 25, 2011 — Leave a comment

When a woman a prepares to give birth, she’s often told to choose a focal point, something to look at in the midst of the deep contractions. A few weeks ago, the sermon by preacher Dave was on Hebrews 12:2-3 which talks about God’s focal point for us:

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Dave mentioned a little booklet called Looking to Jesus.** I had never heard of it before but it’s a wonderful classic, originally written in French by Theodore Monod.**

Here’s a taste:

Looking unto Jesus

And not at the interests of our cause, of our party, of our church– still less at our personal interests. The single object of our life is the glory of God; if we do not make it the supreme goal of our efforts, we must deprive ourselves of His help, for His grace is only at the service of His glory. If, on the contrary, it is His glory that we seek above all, we can always count on His grace.

Looking unto Jesus

And not at the sincerity of our intentions and at the strength of our resolutions. Alas! how often the most excellent intentions have only prepared the way for the most humiliating falls. Let us stay ourselves, not on our intentions, but on His love; not on our resolutions, but on His promise.

Looking unto Jesus

And not at our strength. Our strength is good only to glorify ourselves; to glorify God one must have the strength of God.

Links and notes

Looking unto Jesus

Régardant à Jesus for any francophiles out there

**Théodore was born in Paris in 1836 but went to seminary in the States before returning to France. Interestingly it is not Théodore who warrants a Wikipedia entry, but his much more famous uncle, Adolphe, “undoubtedly the foremost Protestant preacher of 19th century France”; his father Frédéric who helped found the Union of the Evangelical Churches of France, and his eponyomous grandson who was an explorer and an expert on the Sahara Desert.

First up in Caleb’s Crew is John Stott who died last week.**

He’s not a member of the crew merely because he lived to be 90, but because he kept running the race and bearing fruit long after retirement age. In the memorial video about his life, I was struck that virtually all the pictures of him in action showed him with white hair.** He wrote his last book at 88, in longhand no less.** Here was a man who didn’t focus on the finish line but who kept his eyes on Jesus.

When Stott was 80, a longtime associate described Stott**:

To those who know and meet him, respect and affection go hand in hand. The world-figure is lost in personal friendship, disarming interest, unfeigned humility—and a dash of mischievous humour and charm. By contrast, he thinks of himself, as all Christians should but few of us achieve, as simply a beloved child of a heavenly Father; an unworthy servant of his friend and master, Jesus Christ; a sinner saved by grace to the glory and praise of God.

At 85, Time Magazine selected Stott as one of the world’s most 100 influential people, putting him in the “Heroes and Icons” category.**

As another blogger put it last week , “He lived well, he died well, and now he lives better.”**

I think you’ll find it well worth it to look at the links below.

Notes and Links
Stott’s obituary in the New York Times
Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times about Stott

video story with lots of white-haired pictures of Stott

Stott’s last book,The Radical Disciple

A few talks and sermons by John Stott that you can download
Note that Stott gave these from the ages of 84 to 86

Timothy Dudley-Smith’s reflections on Stott’s 80th birthday

Time Magazine’s profile of John Stott for their 100 most influential people issue [written by Billy Graham]
Time Magazine’s full list of the 100 most influential people

Dennis Haack on Stott

After two years of posting on a blog whose title alludes to food, I think it is time to finally share some of my easy cuisine recipes. They’re in pairs, in honor of Noah’s ark cruise. Bon appetit!

Two condiments
Croutons
1] Cut some bread into cubes
I prefer a firm bread though any kind is fine. And stale bread works well too.

2] Sprinkle with spices to taste: I use salt and garlic powder. But you could also try dry parsley,basil, oregano, thyme, or just about anything else.

3] Toss with olive oil, regular oil or melted butter. I use olive oil and go easy on it.

4] Arrange in single layers on cookie sheets. Bake at 300°F for 10-15 minutes or until crisp.
Keeps 4 weeks, or may be frozen for up to 6 months.

Honey mustard salad dressing
1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
4 1/2 tablespoons vinegar
Whisk or shake together all ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Two appetizers
Caramelized Onion and Spinach Dip
6 cups fresh spinach, coarsely chopped or a pound of frozen spinach
olive oil
one large onion, thinly sliced
1 cup yogurt
8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt
pepper

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add spinach and saute until wilted, about 4 minutes. Scrape into a bowl. When it cools, squeeze the moisture out of it.
In same skillet, heat more olive oil over medium high heat. Add sliced onions and saute until golden and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool.
In a food processor, combine yogurt, cream cheese, garlic, and 1/2 the caramelized onions. Scrape into a bowl, and add spinach, remaining onions, parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

Baked brie
1 round or wedge of brie
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit [raisins, cranraisins or apricots for example]
2 T brown sugar
2 T water
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried rosemary or Provence herb medly
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

In a bowl, mix the dried fruit, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, water and rosemary together. Spoon on top of the brie. Sprinkle on the chopped walnuts. Microwave on medium power until soft. Or you can bake it in the oven at 200F, covered, for about an hour or so. Serve with apple slices and french bread.

Two main dishes
Mexicali Rice    
one 15 1/4 oz can corn, drained
two soup cans black beans or kidney beans,
two taco seasoning packets
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups long grain rice 
4 cups boiling water   
1 1/2 T ground cumin
1 T chili powder
1 1/2 tsp Salt
sliced sausage or ground beef or turkey
 
In an oven proof casserole, mix together everything . Cover and cook on the low, 2-3 hours [200 F]. Mix well. Serve hot. Serve with grated cheese, yogurt, corn chips.
 
  
Barbecue Chicken 1
1 frying chicken, cut up
1 cup Ketchup
3/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sweet basil
1/4 tsp. thyme
Place chicken in slow cooker or in oven proof casserole. Combine all other ingredients and pour over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, or in a 250F oven for four hours or in a 350F oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Two desserts
Chocolate bundt cake
1 package dark chocolate cake mix
1 (3.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
2 cups yogurt
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup coffee or water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1] Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan.
2] In a large bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, yogurt, eggs, oil and coffee. Beat until ingredients are well blended. Fold in chocolate chips. Batter will be
   thick. Spoon into prepared pan.
3 ]Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, or until cake springs back when lightly tapped. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn out and cool completely on wire rack.
 

Baked apples
6 large baking apples
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon butter

Wash and core apples, then remove a 1 inch strip of peel around the middle of each apple; place in a 2-quart shallow baking dish.
Combine sugar, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar in a small bowl; fill the center of each apple and dot with 1/2 teaspoon of the butter. Add just enough water to baking dish to cover the bottom of the dish; bake, uncovered, at 350F for about 30 minutes, or until apples are tender. Baste with juices occasionally. Serve warm with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

I’m nibbling my way through Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another short but pungent book. In the early 1930s Bonhoeffer helped create the Confessing Church which opposed the Nazi regime. As Hitler’s darkness began to grow, Bonhoeffer led a seminary and wrote Life Together based on that experience.

In it, he cautioned against a person “looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere” and to watch out for the danger of “confusing Christian fellowship with some wishful idea of religious fellowship.” The natural desire of a devout person to join a community is not the same thing as being part of the body of Christ.

Christian fellowship is not an ideal we aspire to; it’s something we participate in simply by being followers of Jesus. It’s a spiritual reality, not a psychological or emotional experience. It’s not a country club, or Scouts, or a sports team, or an educational association. It’s not a nationality or a culture, it’s not an affinity group. As Bonhoeffer says, “For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. He is our peace. Through Him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.”

My brother [or sister] is that other person who has been redeemed by Christ, delivered from his sin, and called to faith and eternal life. Not what a person is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community. What determines our fellowship is what the other person is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us.

***

God has put his Word into the mouth of people in order that it may be communicated to other people. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother or sister. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his fellow Christian as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.

***

You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what He is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now He’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as He cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
Ephesians 2:19-22 The Message

This Week’s Special
You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.
You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all.

Ephesians 4:4-5 The Message

Just one thing

May 31, 2011 — 2 Comments

By nature, I’m a solitary person. I often joke that I’m not an I for introvert but an H for hermit. Group activities are not high on my list. And yet, lately I have had a new appreciation for what we call ‘the body of Christ’. I’ve realized again that being in relationship is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. There is the trinitarian relationship in God Himself, there is God restoring fellowship with us, and then we become connected with others to be “built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” as Paul put it to the Ephesians.

Back in his day, there wasn’t any choice if you wanted to join with other disciples of Jesus. You found yourself with people from all walks of life and cultures. But now, in the states at least, there are so many different churches, we can go ‘church shopping’ [an oxymoron if ever there was one] and chose one that fits us best, a warm cozy place populated with people like us. Do we like the worship style, the theology, the church’s position on x, y or z? Do we have the same political views? Are we in the same stage of life? Do we have similar interests? Frankly, that’s often how J and I chose where to go.

Then we moved overseas to a city that has exactly one Protestant English-speaking church. Suddenly, we found ourselves confronting differences galore: theology, culture, language, politics, interests, spiritual practice. Really the only thing the people have in common with each other, besides being expatriates in this country, is a common faith in Jesus Christ.

This past weekend, 19 women from the church traveled a few hours south for a retreat in a traditional house with a wonderful interior courtyard and garden.


Our ages spanned 5 decades, we came from 8 countries and from every denominational stripe. We were single and married, with children and without children, with different careers and levels of education. Some of us were new to the country, others have lived here for much of their adult lives.

Yet as we came together, in spite of all those differences, there was a spirit of love and of belonging. Unlike a human community based on natural interests and affinities, we were part of a spiritual community created by the Holy Spirit.

It was an amazing experience. We laughed together, ate together, shared together, went shopping and sightseeing together, had coffee together. It felt like we had known each other all our lives, like we were family.

It was a little taste of heaven.

We must all be saved together! Reach God together! Appear before Him together! We must return to our Father’s house together…what would He think if we arrived without the others?

Charles Péguy

“I myself can never get enough of other people’s personal essays and memoirs. I think we’re all hungry for stories, hungry to make sense of the world, hungry to know we’re not alone. And we’re all really, really hungry to laugh. Not that every memoir has to be funny, but if you look hard enough at any human life, it’s a mixture of the lowest tragedy and the highest comedy. That’s why when you find a person who can tell his or her story with self-deprecation, insight and humor, you know you’re really onto something.”

That quote from Heather King aptly describes why I enjoy reading other people’s stories. That includes her own spiritual memoir, Redeemed: Stumbling toward God, Sanity, and the Peace that Passes All Understanding.

One reviewer said Redeemed “deserves to be as popular as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.” I’ve only seen the movie version of EPL, but I’m not sure that’s the right comparison. Redeemed is more thematic than chronological. The gory details of her private holocaust as an alcoholic are found in King’s first memoir, Parched. Here she picks up the story as she comes to believe in God and then follow Jesus.

As King begins to grow in her faith, she faces the challenge of dealing with the leftover damage from her former life. Through episodes and events in her life [divorce, cancer, the death of a parent], she chronicles the power of Christ to take a person out of the mud and mire and set them on a rock solid foundation that can weather the harshest storms. But she doesn’t describe her transformation with a sense of personal triumph, rather with a hard-won obedience to the One who knows better than she does. She seeks to take God at His word instead of sliding into a self-help gospel [what John Ortberg calls the Moral Therapeutic Dream**] even when this brings her discomfort. She joins the Catholic church and lest you think it is more socially acceptable these days to be a Catholic Christian than an Evangelical Christian, she tells how she was mocked at a meeting of artists when she identifies herself as a Catholic.

You could think of her as a Catholic Anne Lamott, only she doesn’t come across as snarky.** Although she’s now feasting at her Father’s table, she hasn’t forgotten the pathos of eating eat with the pigs or crawling home for forgiveness. She manages to write about her former lifestyle with what I can best describe as a wise and compassionate humility, holding on to truth and love at the same time.

King deals with her past as a self-described “broken-down alcoholic, drug-addicted, sex-and love-obsessed depressive” just as a priest friend of hers, Father Terry, described how to handle someone who’s difficult:

“…you’ll find that the person is generally trying to force you into one of two positions: into either being a doormat or into assuming an adversarial position—it’s as if the person wants to get you to teach him or her a lesson, to get you to return his or her psychological violence with your own. And he [Father Terry] said there’s a middle way—the way of Christ—which is to stand tall and hold the other person accountable, but with total love: not by accusing, or pointing the finger, or laying out your case, but by refusing to pretend that you don’t see what you see or smell what you smell.”

It’s that attitude that enables her to give a compelling account about why life with the pigs isn’t as fulfilling or rewarding or enjoyable as proponents of secular moral freedom would like us to believe. “How can I abort my own child, then purport to abhor the mind that would plan 9/11? It’s not the same thing, but it is the same principle: I’m more valuable than you; you’re in the way; one of us has to go.”

King takes the same thoughtful stance when she describes her journey to move her attention off of herself and focus instead on the praiseworthy Shepherd of her soul:

What if I quit feeling guilty and ashamed; what if I believed I really had been forgiven? What unimaginable freedom might I enjoy if I ceased thinking of myself as congenitally damaged and defective?…what if my emotional fragility was ‘just a manifestation of my oh-so-inflated ego? What if I’d just been protecting myself: from taking risks, yielding control, having some fun? What if I could just pick up my mat, like the paralytic Jesus cured—and walk?
[On the other hand]I can’t ‘put on the new man’ by an effort of will. I don’t have to try harder, I have to resist less. I have to be willing to try a new way and to let the old way go.

Here is a wise guide worth reading, a prodigal daughter who has returned home and is honestly struggling to learn what it means to be beloved.

**Links
**The basic beliefs of Moral Therapeutic Deism
Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, says the primary expression of faith in our day is Moral Therapeutic Deism. This religion is characterized by five beliefs:
“–There is a God who created earth and watches over it
–God wants people to be nice, fair and good (as it taught in the Bible and most other religions)
–The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself
–God doesn’t need to be involved in your life except when there’s a problem that needs Celestial Performance Enhancement
–Good people go to heaven when they die.”

**Heather King’s blog

Two from Saint Ignatius:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding, and my entire will.
All I have and call my own.
Whatever I have or hold, You have given me.
I return it all to You and surrender it wholly
to be governed by Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace
and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

***
Work as if everything depended on you,
Pray as if everything depended on God.

***
Ignatian spirituality:
1. It begins with a wounded soldier daydreaming on his sickbed.
Ignatian spirituality is rooted in the experiences of Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556), a Basque aristocrat whose conversion to a fervent Christian faith began while he was recovering from war wounds. Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits, gained many insights into the spiritual life in the course of a decades long spiritual journey during which he became expert at helping others deepen their relationship with God. Its basis in personal experience makes Ignatian spirituality an intensely practical spirituality, well suited to laymen and laywomen living active lives in the world.

2. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
This line from a poem by the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins captures a central theme of Ignatian spirituality: its insistence that God is at work everywhere—in work, relationships, culture, the arts, the intellectual life, creation itself. As Ignatius put it, all the things in the world are presented to us “so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” Ignatian spirituality places great emphasis on discerning God’s presence in the everyday activities of ordinary life. It sees God as an active God, always at work, inviting us to an ever-deeper walk.

3. It’s about call and response—like the music of a gospel choir.
An Ignatian spiritual life focuses on God at work now. It fosters an active attentiveness to God joined with a prompt responsiveness to God. God calls; we respond. This call-response rhythm of the inner life makes discernment and decision making especially important. Ignatius’s rules for discernment and his astute approach to decision making are well-regarded for their psychological and spiritual wisdom.

4. “The heart has its reasons of which the mind knows nothing.”
The spirituality Ignatius developed places great emphasis on the affective life: the use of imagination in prayer, discernment and interpretation of feelings, cultivation of great desires, and generous service. Ignatian spiritual renewal focuses more on the heart than the intellect. It holds that our choices and decisions are often beyond the merely rational or reasonable. Its goal is an eager, generous, wholehearted offer of oneself to God and to his work.

5. Free at last.
Ignatian spirituality emphasizes interior freedom. To choose rightly, we should strive to be free of personal preferences, superfluous attachments, and preformed opinions. Ignatius counseled radical detachment: “We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.” Our one goal is the freedom to make a wholehearted choice to follow God.”
from Ten elements of Ignatian spirituality

This Week’s Special
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

This week’s sermon was from Matthew 11 where the disciples of John come and ask Jesus if he is the one. He tells them look around and tell John what they see and hear: the blind, the deaf, the lame, the lepers, the dead and the poor all receiving the healing grace of God. The preacher [my DH that is] made the point that though we may not see miracles like that around us, we do see other marvels. He had us look around and consider the miracles contained in each of our lives–miracles of long faithfulness through hard circumstances, miracles of obedience and perseverance, miracles of faith. Then he suggested we take time during the week to share with each other the stories of how we have encountered God so we could be encouraged.

This made me think of a eulogy I read recently.** I never had met, let alone heard of Evelyn Ross before I read what her grandson Jonathan Rogers wrote about her. But I was encouraged to read about this dear saint who followed and served faithfully to the end of her days on earth. As a child, too poor to have a piano but wanting to learn, she marked out the keys on a plank of wood and practiced on it. A beloved teacher, she was a working mother before it was fashionable, helping out at her husband’s sausage plant after school while raising three children.

My obituary will never be confused with hers for many reasons including the fact that during my short-lived career as an elementary school substitute teacher, my favorite time was when the students worked at their desks and I could read the book I brought. And unlike Evelyn’s husband who never saw the ice cube at the bottom of his glass because of her attentiveness, I’m afraid that my DH has.

But as the years go by [never mind how many], I find myself looking for models of how I want to be like when I grow up. In Evelyn’s life I discovered much I hope to emulate.

“She made everybody feel better about themselves… Anybody who came into contact with her thought, “Well, maybe I’m more lovable than I realized.” Which is to say, Evelyn was truly an agent of grace. She was eager for everybody she met to know that God loved them unconditionally, and she treated people in a way that it wasn’t so hard to imagine that it might be true.”

In hard times and stressful circumstances: “She carried on with that almost otherworldly serenity that came from a deep and abiding faith in a God who loved her and had a good plan for her life. She was truly graceful. I mean that literally. Her life was full of grace—grace received and grace extended.”

And she finished well. “For nine years, well into her eighties, she taught English as a second language in Central Baptist’s language school. She always had time for anyone who needed her time and attention. She was a joy to the very end of her life. As her body failed, she could have gotten grouchy and no one would have blamed her; but she never did.”

Evelyn Ross, truly one of God’s miracles.
**You can read Jonathan Rogers’ entire eulogy for his grandmother here

Gathering together

November 25, 2010 — Leave a comment

Blessed is the Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe, who sustains the entire world with goodness, kindness and mercy.
God gives food to all creatures, for God’s mercy is everlasting. Through God’s abundant goodness we have not lacked sustenance, and may we not lack sustenance forever, for the sake of God’s great name.
God sustains all, does good to all, and provides food for all the creatures whom God has created. Blessed is The Lord our God, who provides food for all.

Jewish blessing after a meal
***

Today Americans celebrate Thanksgiving to remember God’s provision of food for the Pilgrims. But this wasn’t like the manna that dropped down from the sky. Instead, as with many of God’s gifts, He used people as His instruments of care [in this case the local native Americans who shared their expertise and resources with the Pilgirms].

For the first half of my life, Thanksgiving was a family affair. Several generations would come together, grandparents, cousins and nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, to feast on my mother’s baked carrots and my grandmother’s Pennsylvania Dutch filling [potatoes and bread mashed together].

When we moved to New Jersey, we sometimes had an opportunity to invite non-Americans to join us for the Thanksgiving feast: Greeks, Turks, Canadians. I didn’t know that some day I’d be the foreigner flummoxed by strange holidays that appear out of nowhere. Since going overseas, we’ve continued to celebrate the holiday and our table has been graced by friends from South Africa and France, Morocco and England and Germany, along with other Americans.

The last two years, we’ve been visiting C and her family in Chiang Mai and we’ve gone to a local American restaurant.

It’s a little strange to eat mashed potatoes and cranberries in the land of pad thai and mangos, but it beats trying to stuff a turkey into a non-American oven. [American ovens, if you think about it, must be designed specifically to hold big turkeys.] Of course if we were following the spirit and not the letter of the law, we would be having rice and green curry–and celebrating the rice harvest which is going on now.

It also feels odd not to eat at home with family. But the first American Thanksgiving was a community-affair, and with people from two different cultures and some new strange foods and customs, it couldn’t have been very cozy. I don’t think the Pilgrims minded though. They were just happy that they had survived.

Thankfully, my life is so much easier and full of comfort. But comfort can bring thoughtlessness and a lack of gratitude. In a world of fast food, I often forget that producing what we eat is a long and hard communal effort.


Take rice for example. Up until last week, I don’t think I had ever seen a rice plant up close. My rice appears on the grocery store shelf, cleaned, husked and packaged. All I have to do is put it in my shopping cart, and then go home and put it into a pot of boiling water and presto, I’m ready to eat. It’s an amazing convenience that I take for granted. But after visiting a rice field, I got a glimpse of all that goes on first: from the Sovereign God who created it to the farmers who plant the seedlings to the harvesters who cut the mature plants bending over from the weight of the grains, [or who operate the harvesting machine, depending on where you are].



So today I’m thanking God for the people who grew and prepared the food on the table: those who plowed the ground and planted the seed, who watered and weeded, who harvested and hulled, who packaged and transported, who chopped and cooked and cleaned up the pots afterwards. Left to my own efforts, I’d be pretty hungry. Instead, I’m enjoying an abundant feast.

And I’m thanking God for those I share the meal with, not only my family but the other, less familiar people who remind me that I’m always part of a larger community whether I’m close to home or far away.


All creatures look to You
to give them their food at the proper time.
When You give it to them,
they gather it up;
when You open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.

Psalm 104:27-28