Monthly Archives: February 2015

Saying "And"

Presbyterians, including myself, like to think of ourselves as people of the middle way, people who grab and appreciate both ends of a theological argument. I believe that allowing a diversity of opinions strengthens our Church. When our General Assembly meets, we invite ecumenical representatives and invite them to express their views on matters of global importance; people we agree with and those who would challenge our thinking.

But do we really make room for those who hold a minority opinion, those whom the majority discerns as wrong.

The Lord's Supper
The Lord’s Supper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another pastor likens our celebration of the Lord’s Supper to a family dinner where a litigious brother, a crazy aunt, a doddering uncle, and a free-spirit cousin can sit at the same table and enjoy a common meal, embracing our commonality while allowing for our differences.

Changing the definition of marriage has embroiled many Churches in conflict as progressive and evangelical theologians increasingly find reasons to set aside long held, practices that formerly limited marriage to one man and one woman.

Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are now considering an amendment to the Directory of Worship that would broaden the definition of marriage to “two persons traditionally a man and a woman.” Interestingly this amendment neither explicitly includes same-sex marriage nor  does it bind either pastors to perform or a congregation’s board of elders to host “marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.”

I am hopeful that this amendment will all the Church to embody Paul’s boast to the Corinthians:

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
— 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NRSV)

Some prefer to switch rather than fight, leaving one denomination for another to avoid those with whom they disagree. Yet, as another pastor eloquently stated: “We are called to bring light into the darkness, and not to take the light of Christ out of the room.”

How might you celebrate God’s grace and work to advance the Kingdom of Heaven with those whom you disagree?

What Lasts?

English: 8-inch, 5,25-inch, and 3,5-inch flopp...
English: 8-inch, 5.25-inch, and 3.5-inch floppy disks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I found two stacks of 3 1/2″ floppy disks I had used to back up a computer I no longer have. They reminded me of a presentation on preserving church documents from that same. The presenter held in one hand an 8 inch floppy disk and asked if anyone in the audience had equipment to read the files on that disk in his other hand he held a microfiche of the original minutes of the first assembly of the Presbyterian Church held in Philadelphia in 1717. He assured us that the church also had the original paper minutes as well. That paper would last 300 years surprised few in our audience as scholars have access to biblical and other manuscripts nearly 2000 years old.

Fifteen years ago each of those stacks of twenty-five floppy disks contained a compressed version of the data on my hard drive. Additional disks would have held back ups of the programs. These disks were a great improvement over the 5.25-inch floppies from earlier computers, holding nearly six times as much data.

Eventually I upgraded to CD-ROMs each of which could hold twelve times as much data as both stacks of floppy disks combined and they had a better shelf-life. Probably not 300 years, but longer than floppy disks that dust or magnets can degrade.

While sorting and organizing I also purged many of those CD-ROM backups as DVDs have replaced them and more recently cloud storage has taken on that function. But I doubt these will be accessible in a few hundred years. Already I have trouble opening some of the files created less than 20 years ago due to software incompatibilities.

Stone writings (pictured below) although they last for hundreds of years have different problems. The people who made these writings disappeared before Columbus arrived in 1492. Did these markings have religious significance? Do they tell about events of their community? Or are they ancient graffiti; doodles by people with time to waste? Although their writings have lasted hundreds of years, their meanings have vanished with the people who wrote them.

Writings on stone
Petroglyphs seen at the Petrified Forest National Park believed to be between 650 to 2000 years old. (Photo by R. Shaw 2009.)

How will we preserve images and stories for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and …? And if they last, will future generations understand them?

The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
— Isaiah 40:7-8 (NRSV)


Stir Fried Leftovers

When I intentionally cook more than we will eat for dinner, I carefully package and freeze extra portions, occasionally carefully layering and arranging partly cooked ingredients so the dish will finish cooking when we defrost and microwave it later. We call those meals “planned-overs.”

This recipe is for leftovers, servings of vegetables and meat that don’t make a whole meal. We also make this recipe without leftovers, adding a can of beans for protein.

Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is
than a fatted ox and hatred with it.
— Proverbs 15:17 (NRSV)

I recently received two cookbooks, each of which detail how to make similar dishes using whole fresh foods and elegant sauces from scratch. But this recipe can be assembled economically from off the shelf items in about twenty-five minutes.

  1. Start cooking rice. We boil 2 cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Then stir in 1 cup of long grain rice and turn heat down to a light simmer. Set a timer for 20 minutes for white rice and 40 minutes for brown rice. When cooking brown rice, take a twenty-minute break.
  2. Meanwhile assemble and chop vegetables and meat into bite sized pieces. We find that left over green beans, asparagus, carrots, and bell peppers work well. We typically keep a bag of mixed vegetable in the freezer to supplement any leftovers. Add a small onion cut into rings and a teaspoon of minced garlic, if the bagged vegetables (or the leftovers) does not include them. If using beans instead of leftover meat, drain and rinse them thoroughly.
  3. Heat a large frying pan on medium then add about a tablespoon of salad oil. Add the vegetables beginning with the firmest raw vegetables, and especially the onion. Stir nearly continuously to keep the vegetables from sticking. Add any well cooked vegetables and meat last. Some might only need to be heated.
  4. To make the sauce pour 2 ounces (1/4 cup) soy sauce in a measuring cup with a similar amount of water. Stir in a tablespoon of corn starch and a teaspoon of powdered ginger.  When the leftovers include roast beef or when adding a can of beans, I like to add a few drops of Tabasco pepper sauce. If the leftovers include chicken or turkey, I might add a few sprinkles of powdered lemon zest.
  5. When the vegetables and meat are tender and hot, move them to the sides of the skillet then stir in the sauce until it thickens then fold in the vegetables and meat.
  6. Serve vegetables over the rice, which should finish cooking about at the same time.

Focus on the Future

Living in a small home limits the amount of stuff we can keep, prompting us to get rid of things we have not used for a while. But which should we keep and which should we dispose? It is tempting to wonder: “When might we use that again?” or “Might we need/want this again in the future?”

Because the future is so difficult to predict the important question to ask is: “What has always had value?”

Manual toaster
Old manual toaster (c. 1940?) – When one side was sufficiently browned, opening the door would cause it to slide out. Closing the door allowed browning the other side. This toaster has no timer nor pop up to break; only an on/off switch and a heating element.

I still have my grandmother’s manual toaster. Now because it has become symbolic of past frugal living. But as a child I recall I coming off the shelf more than once when a newer and safer automatic toaster had failed. We would use the old toaster for a week or two until a new one could be obtained. It had recurring value.

Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence, discusses how the Church has throughout history relegated some practices at least to the attic, if not to the dust bin. In 1861, a hundred and fifty-four years ago, the Presbyterian Church split over slavery, when some felt it was immoral for elders to hold slaves. Two thousand years ago the church had similar debate (see Acts 15) about circumcision, a ritual required of all males, but a stumbling block for Greek converts to Christianity. The future will tell us if the current turmoil over same-sex marriage demonstrates a similar theological housecleaning. Today’s discussion on marriage, like historical debates of circumcision, slavery, and voting rights, has produced much heat and some light as more and more theologians and biblical scholars weigh in on one side or the other.

But for most local congregations the more important questions relate to our call as God’s people in a particular place for a particular ministry. Questions related to what not to do generate much passion, but little action. Instead we need to ask: “How might the gifts of this congregation respond to the needs of a particular neighborhood?” and “How is this consistent with what God has done in the past?” The Church must invest its energy, intelligence, imagination, and love in advancing what we can accomplish to further the Kingdom of Heaven.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
— Ephesians 4:1-3 (NRSV)