Friday, January 29, 2010

Further, Not Farther: A Personal Reflection on Word Care & Treadmills

I recently heard a great speech on word care. Perhaps the speaker wouldn't say his topic was word care, but it was. He spoke on differences like good/nice, smart/clever, and smart/wise. It was a great speech and I just might steal, I mean, borrow the idea for a sermon one day, ending with lawful/just. We'll see.

Today, I'm thinking about the words farther and further. I think of Finding Forrester when I recall this distinction:

"Farther" relates to distance. "Further" is a definition of a degree.

So, if you know this person who is good in sports and you find out they are smart, you might slyly say, "I see your skills extend further than the normal jock." But, if you're about to have an endurance race with this same person, you might taunt, "I can sprint farther than you can!"

I think about these words when I'm running on the treadmill. I run and run and run (and, let's be honest, walk), but I never get any farther than the point at which I started. How odd, to run, but never move forward. The treadmill runs counter to how I conceive of running as a practice to get somewhere fast.

But even though I never move, I do get somewhere. Never farther than when I started, but always further. I get further in improving and maintaing my health, further in self-discipline, further in taking care of God's creation (if I can't take care of myself, how can I take care of the earth?).

It's funny, running and getting further, not farther.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Separation of Church & Economy: Another Re-Interpretation of Jesus' Temple Cleansing

One day Jesus was in the temple and started driving people out. No wonder we don't get our ecclesiology from Jesus. Driving people out isn't exactly "seeker friendly."

John's gospel says Jesus "drove all [the money changers and the sellers of oxen, sheep, and doves] out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves he said, 'Take these things away; stop making my Father's house a place of business" (John 2:15-16, NASB). "A place of business" is not quite the "den of robbers" of Mark 11:17 and Jeremiah 7:11, but just as meaningful, at least for me.

Today, US American Christianity often praises the separation of church and state, although many people don't completely understand this distinction as they want America to go back to "its Christian roots," wish "kids could pray in school," and are outraged when people try to omit "in God we trust" from, well, anything (but hopefully we can all be glad Trijicon is taking Bible verses of off the guns they sell to the US military).

I'm not arguing for the separation of church and state, today. Instead, I want to promote another division: separation of church and economics. I see this separation upheld by Jesus, especially in John's gospel where we he says "a place of business," instead of a "den of robbers."

"It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or 'How to Make Money in Real Estate with No Money Down.' ... Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore; it's a pitch. And you're not a human being; you're a marketing rep." The Big Kahuna (Thanks to Heather Kirk-Davidoff in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope for this quote)

And think about how some churches promote "evangelism" and "missions." First they find a way to spread word about their church, be it word of mouth, a new sign, a new service, or a catchy name. They make their service "seeker friendly," coupled with greeters at the door before hand and coffee and donuts afterwards. And once they get you "in," they want to keep you in. Join the choir. Be a greeter. Try Sunday school. Be a teacher. Find your place to plug in ... in the church, inside the church building. And, of course, tithe. If you're going to be a member--and church membership is a virtue, or maybe even a sacrament--then you have to tithe. Although, some churches these days ask for less than 10%, in the beginning. Just wait until stewardship Sunday or, worse, stewardship month.

The church has become a market economy, another product of capitalism.

Let's set the stage again for the cleansing of the temple. Jesus is coming into the temple, one of the holiest places in the Israelite religion. For purposes of worship, it can be helpful to recognize sacred places. The Israelites knew sacred space. Ancient Israelite's knew God wasn't bound to the temple. God's home was where God's heart was--God lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, God performed mighty acts when the ark was in Philistine hands, Ezekiel saw God's glory move from Palestine to Babylon in a vision, and God oversaw the building of a new temple. God didn't need the temple and many Israelites were very aware. Still, they--the Israelites and God--placed an emphasis on sacred place, the most sacred being the holy of holies, which was in the temple, surrounded by courts of decreasing holiness (and increasing sexism and ethnocentrism), maximizing the holiest place's contact with lesser holiness.

When Jesus got into the temple, he was likely still in the least holy court. But for him, it was too close for people to be confusing God's place with a place of business, joining faith and economics. And so he drove out those capitalizing on the sacrificial system. No, the text does not say the sellers were making a gain on the sales, but what person could take their animals to the temple and engage in fair trades all day? They were likely merchants, buying animals from herders and selling them at a profit.

When Jesus got to the money changers, he didn't just drive them and their animals out. Instead, He poured out the coins, an action reminiscent of worship, of pouring out wine and oil in offerings to God (and other ancient religions, not to mention the act of pouring the wine during communion).

Not so many Christians have a large emphasis on sacred space. We have our church buildings and our altars and for a while I judged my actions with the reproving question, "Would you do this in church?"

Although I like the idea of sacred space, Christians are right not to give this practice too much credence. God is not bound to space. We need to be able to experience God wherever God is and God is everywhere. In the Bible, we often recognize the decline of sacred space when the veil of the curtain was torn and the divide between clean and unclean was shattered. The holy of holies was no longer separated from any of the less holy places. It was like everything else. (Although, there are other interpretations of the veil-tearing story. Matthew doesn't write all there is to write about this tale.)

Sacred space is now everywhere.

So what do you think Jesus would do on Wallsteet?
In a Christian bookstore?
At a Christian school?
At a Christian concert?
In Walmart?
At the grocery stores we frequent?
At the places we eat?
At the places we buy coffee?
At our work places?

Where is our zeal for our God's house, which is everywhere?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Is God Bound by God?

Paul tells me Christ
was emptied of God
before incarnation and Immanuel.

So Jesus was fully human,
fully void of God
(yet still fully God).

God bound Christ
and sent him to earth:
a God in chains.

God binds God?
An Almighty who isn't
all that mighty?

For freewill's sake,
for love's sake
and for God's (some say),

God holds back God.
They call this Love.
They call it Just

that God stands still,
abounding in grave grace,
and bound by holy fetters.

Yet, some say, God will remove the chains.
They say God only wears them for a time.

Was God ever really hindered?

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Amish Friendship Bread Fiasco, I mean, Recipe

A few of my friends have been raving about my variation of Amish Friendship Bread, so I am posting the recipe.

First, you need to get a starter bit and directions. Supposedly on the Amish can make the starter. Apparently wasn't aware of this rule.

Step 1: get your starter either from the Amish or the internet.

My starter was in a ziploc baggie, but you can put yours in a bowl, as long as it isn't metal. Don't use anything metal. Let's assume you have your starter in a baggie like I did.

Step 2: mush it and let out any air (aka, yeast farts) that is in the bag. Reseal Repeat this step once a day for three days.

Step 3: Add one cup of flour, one cup of sugar, and one cup of milk. Or, those were the directions I were given. However, the process is a little tricky. Let me explain further.

You don't need all that sugar, so when you are measuring out the sugar, just don't fill the measuring cup all the way. When you put the flour in the baggie, be sure to dump about 3 tablespoons on the kitchen table.

When adding the milk, be sure to hold the bag open with your left hand while pouring the milk with your right. Be sure to pour the milk so that it starts running down the side of the measuring cup. When you notice the milk dripping down the measuring cup, don't stop pouring the milk. Instead, allow it to drip on one of the edges of the bag you are not supporting with your hand. As the milk drips on the bag, it will weigh it down enough to get in the way of the milk actually going into the bag.

Step 4: Get mad.

By this point, your measuring cup will be empty and you will have no clue how much milk actually got into the bag. Plus, you've made a mess. Since you're going to need more milk in the baggie, put the baggie down and pour more milk into your measuring cup. But be sure to only place the baggie down briefly, because you will make a larger mess as the contents of the bag spill onto the table, as is only natural. Prop up the baggie against something, pour a little more milk into the measuring cup, and this time pour the milk fast, but still allow some milk to go onto the table.

Step 5: Spend a few minutes trying to close the bag. This task will prove difficult as the bag is a mess and the stupid mixture is all stuck in the part that is supposed to seal the bag. Make do with what you can get, clean up your mess, and begin mushing the bag until well mixed. Note: the bag will inevitably reopen and spill more of the mixture onto the table and floor. When this happens, utter a few almost cuss words--"dang it!" works well. If you don't like to almost swear, you can substitute this ingredient for a "no!" or two. When mixed well and the baggie is resealed, put it in the sink, because you expect the bag to explode or something equally annoying to happen. Be sure to sigh as you walk away.

Step 6: On the next day, mush the bag and let out all the yeast farts. Repeat this step for three more days.

Step 7: Preheat your oven to 325ยบ and then place the contents of your baggie in a nonmetal bowl. Make sure the bowl is a Goldie Locks size: not too big, not too small. Don't add another cup of sugar, because that is just too much. As in step 3, add as much as you feel like, as long as it is less than one cup. Add a cup of flour and a cup of milk, but this time don't spill any. Mix, but don't be worried about lumps.

Step 8: Your mixture will make four new starters. The Amish suggest you save one for yourself and give the other three to your friends. But not everyone wants to make a dessert bread, so only make two starters. To make the starter, search for another ziploc baggie. One just big enough for a sandwich will be a little on the small size, but use it anyone. It will make the mess in step 3 a lot easier to make. Place this baggie in the freezer. For the second starter, use a much larger baggie, because that just makes a lot more sense. Write the date on your baggie and set it aside for a friend.

Now, you'll have enough mixture for two more starters with some left over to bake. Let's just assume you have two times as more as your directions call for even though you don't know if a starter equals the amount you'll have left over to bake. Of course, if those two amounts were equal, then you would actually have three times the amount your directions expected you to have. Just ignore that logic and double the rest of your ingredients list.

Well, start by adding 3 eggs, two large and one medium. Then don't add one cup of sugar, because, really, you've added way too much sugar. It is getting ridiculous. Just add some sugar. The recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, but you should only add a cup and half, since that is all you have, which wouldn't be too much of an issue, except you are actually supposed to double the recipe, even though doubling the recipe makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Step 9: Get mad. But not too mad, it isn't the end of the world. You've still got some dry pancake mix in the cupboard and you use that instead of flour all the time. But don't add more than a cup of pancake mix. You want to run out of pancake mix before being able to double the amount of flour you are supposed to put in, even though doubling the recipe is a pretty stupid thing to do. Throw the stupid box in your recycling pile and add another medium egg. Why not? It isn't like you are going by any sort of recipe now. And sure, you are probably just wasting stuff, because the bread won't taste good at all.

Skip adding the baking powder and baking soda, because the pancake mix makes up for that, right? Ignore the fact that you didn't add much pancake mix at all, certainly not enough to account for doubling the baking soda and baking powder, even though you should probably be tripling the recipe, at least.

Since the recipe calls for one cup of oil, add two. Say, "crap" as you realize you don't have enough oil.

Step 10: Get mad. Say "crap" a few more times and text someone about your frustration of how you went all the way to Walmart to get the ingredients for this stupid bread, made a list, and still managed to not get any oil, even though it was definitely on your list. Pace a little bit, trying to figure out what you're going to do, since the grocery store is now closed and you've already made plans to hang out with people.

Don't get too relieved when your friend offers to bring over some oil, since he is a great guy. When he asks what kind you want, be sure to lighten up enough to make a joke. Tell him you want anything but motor.

When your friend arrives, go back to making your bread and being mad. You need to make sure he sees how upset you are with the bread. When you tell him about the mess you made on day 3, be sure to talk fast and loudly, raising the pitch of your voice here and there, because you are still mad. Add the large box of dry, vanilla pudding mix and then go for the oil. Add one cup of oil.

Step 11: Get mad. The friggin' mixing bowl might not be large enough. But it is the biggest one you have. I mean, dang it! Stupid bread.

Measure out another cup of oil, I mean, you've got this far. Add as much oil as you can without spilling any. Pour the remaining oil back into the oil container. Grab a mixing spoon.

Step 12: Get mad. How are you supposed to mix the stupid stuff if you filled it to the brim, you idiot? Whatever. What-ever. I mean, can the mess you're about to make be any worse than the mess you made on day 3?

Stir mixture very carefully, but start by spilling some on your sweater. Don't be alarmed when the oil at the top of the mixture inevitably drips down the outside of the bowl and onto the table, I mean, who cares now, right?

Step 13: Look at the mixture and realize it actually looks like it might not be horrible. Search for bread pan. Or, since you don't have a bread pan, get a casserole dish. Or, get out a few, since you have a lot more dough than you expected.

Pour mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle some cinnamon sugar on top. Don't scrimp on the sugar, though. Your pissed off, you might as well use as much sugar as your heart desires. When making the cinnamon sugar, put the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl with a cover. Shake the bowl, but make sure the cover comes off just enough to get cinnamon sugar on the floor, table, and on your pants. Brush the sugar off of your pants, but overreact as you do it. You're enjoying the attention from your friend and, well, that would happen, wouldn't it? As if enough hasn't gone wrong, now you would spill sugar all over the freakin' place. Dang it! Uuuuugh! I mean ... just ... argh!

Bake for one hour. Or, maybe about 50 minutes. Just don't over bake it. You obviously don't know what you're doing, so you better check it at after 45 minutes to prevent a disaster.

Lick the batter off of your mixing spoon and be pleasantly surprised by the taste of the batter. All that sugar came in handy, because it actually tastes good. And, come to find out, the bread actually tastes really good, especially the crispy top with the cinnamon sugar on top.

Sure, you got mad, but it was worth it. I mean, don't go crazy and take that other starter out of the freezer. Let's be honest, you need a break from making Amish Friendship Bread, even if it is really good.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Ethics of Edward Scissorhands: An Untimely Review

Galatians 6:7
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

John 4:36
"And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth."

In Edward Scissorhands, Dianne Wiest's character Peg says, "When I brought Edward down here to live with us, I really didn't think things through. And I didn't think about what could happen to him, or to us, or to the neighborhood."

That is the ethics of Edward Scissorhands: doing what is right, no matter the consequences. Sometimes you do the right thing, but you do not reap what is right. You might do something right, and reap trouble.

"But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world"
-Jesus, John 16:33

Do a simple search on any Bible search for the world "tribulation" (or "trouble" if you go through the trouble of changing the Bible version from KJV to, well, anything else). Jesus, Peter, Paul and the rest know from personal experience: doing the right doesn't yield right consequences, at least, not immediately.

Do what is right. Prepare for the consequences if you can. If not, do what is right anyways. The consequences of right can't be worse than your other options.