Thankful

Taking a break from the values series to note some things for which I am extremely thankful.Today I am lounging in bed. After finishing yet another viewing Home for the Holidays I am lounging in bed, sipping coffee and texting with friends. In a bit I will do a workout and head over to Jim & Betty’s for a day of football watching. Perfect.

  • My french press
  • Someone else cleans my apt
  • Family in general. I’m sure yours is great, but mine is awesomer.
  • A job that I love working for a company that I’m proud of and a boss that is amazingly supportive
  • My church community
  • Friends old and new who love & encourage me, and kick my ass when I need it
  • For painful experiences. They suck, but I’m better for them.
  • To have autonomy
  • For the abilities I have
  • For health
  • My perfectly me-sized apartment. The one that’s cleaned by someone else
  • I have good hair
  • The ability to travel
  • An open mind
  • My education
  • Excellent taste in music
  • Who I get to be in the time & place where I get to live
  • That there is always more than enough
  • That on Thanksgiving Day it’s a sunny 71 degrees

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 3

So what am I talking about when I say that I agree that we need to return to “traditional values”? As I said, I don’t think that the values held by those who espouse what they call “traditional values” are bad, I just see things differently.

1. God is much more concerned about who I am than what I do.

My big issue with what are defined as “traditional values” is that they only deal in superficial, external behavior choices and don’t deal with real inner identity and transformation. This is a value that covers our individual responsibility. As Christians we are to pursue God with all our hearts and allow the rest of life to take care of itself. Not that we should abdicate all responsibilities but that we should be much more aware that all of life is a formation process and allow God to do God’s work in us. When we are listening and responsive to God’s activity in our lives we become more Christlike versions of ourselves and we behave differently in the world.

Tim Kimmel’s book Grace Based Parenting uses the example of endoskeletal and exoskeletal creatures to describe the internalizing of values and the subsequent influence of behavior. As humans, we are endoskeletal creatures, meaning that our skeleton is inside our bodies. If we break a bone, we have it set and it heals and we move on. Exoskeletal creatures, such as a lobster, doesn’t have that luxury. If its shell is broken, it dies. It doesn’t have the internal structure to withstand external pressures. When we are internally transformed, our character is shaped and we can more easily withstand pressures to do things that are counter to our values.

Paul says in the New Testament that while on the outside we may be wasting away (some more than others) inwardly we are being renewed – actualy the Greek word is renovare, where we get our word for “renovate”. We are being re-made, improved, updated, made new. We should not be capable of having an encounter with the living Christ and not be changed for the better.

2. God is much more concerned with compassion than with convention.

The best example of this internal motivation I see is in John 13 when Jesus makes the decision to wash the disciples’ feet.

John 13: 1-5

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

Because of his constant connection to God, Jesus had a strong sense of his identity and mission. Because he knew that he had come from God and was going back to God, he was able to take a towel and perform the lowest household task. Because he knew that he had come from God and was going back to God, he said to the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink.” Because he knew that we have come from God and are going back to God, he said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done to me.”

3. God’s values are counter to our culture, not integrated with our culture.

The pope sort of stole my thunder on this one today, and I’ll address this in a day or so, but my point with this one is all about how American culture has deified business and capitalism and has come to equate financial success with God’s blessing. I love how Christians call the success of something they agree with God’s blessing but the success of something they don’t agree with the devil doing his work. Here’s an example:

Christian Person: Our church is debt free/we have record offerings/our business is thriving/we made _________ dollars, therefore God is blessing us.

Me: What about the Mormon Church? They have assets totaling over $30 billion. Is that God’s blessing, too?

CP: Ummmm….uhhhh….well…….uhhhhh….the devil…..ummmm……Satan……Billy Graham says they’re not a cult anymore…..ummmm

What I’m getting at here is that financial windfalls for individuals and businesses may or may not be from God, but what God is interested in is what we do with them. When we get more, do we give more, or do we hoard more? Again, I speak not against the common sense of saving. But I speak of really listening to what God wants you to do with your money, both as an individual and as a business.

What does it  mean to be a business and to follow God’s values? Does it mean that you have to be a Christian business or that your business has to have a Christian CEO? Do you have to not be open on Sundays?

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 2

In my last post I talked a bit about the history of American culture in the last 50 years and some of the changes that we’ve gone through because of major political and historical events.

I’m going to say right here that my dad is one of those guys who wants to go back to how things used to be. I love my dad more than anything and would never disrespect him. We see things differently on this issue, but I wasn’t there during the 1950’s so I don’t know his perspective. When he talks about things being better then, I ususally say, “Yeah, you were a white guy during Jim Crow. How hard could it have been?” My dad is in no way a racist and sees that element of our history as the shameful plight that it was. What he means is the friendliness, honesty, perceived integrity, no need to lock doors, lifestyle where he grew up.

Why did it not last?

If things were so great in 1955 and people were so happy and crime-free, then why did things change? Why didn’t we hang on to that utopian ideal and why don’t we all still live in an episode of the Andy Griffith Show?

1. Morality of the time was about external appearance, and did not stem from an internal transformation.

I went to Christian schools my entire life. The first time I set foot on a public school campus was when I started teaching at one when I was in my 30s. I can beat you at Bible Trivia but it didn’t make me a better person. Within a few years of my high school graduation a good portion of my class had completely turned their back on the faith we were taught in school. They kept up the appearance when they had to, but it wasn’t part of them. They behaved with integrity because they were supposed to, not because it was who they were.

2. “Separate but equal is inherently unequal.”

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court handed down the rare unanimous decision known as “Brown vs. The Board of Education.” This decision overturned the 1896 decision “Plessy vs. Ferguson” which made legal the segregation of schools. Now with school segregation overturned based on the 14th Amendment, the tide of desegregation that eventually led to the Civil Rights movement begun.

The utopia of 1950s America didn’t last because it wasn’t fair, and therefore couldn’t possibly be real. The patina of an idealistic society had underneath it the scourge of social and economic injustice. The tension was bound to boil over and it did. Selma, Stonewall, etc. It all came crashing down because it was built on a false foundation.

Take a look at this series of graphs, some of which have information that go back to 1960. Over the last 20-40 years things have not gotten markedly better for people of color.

3. God’s values have been tangled up with American values

Americans have long been confused about the role of religion. The Founders intended for the government and religion to be separate but they couldn’t possibly envision how complicated that could get. I’m glad that American doesn’t have a state church. I’m glad my taxes don’t support the maintenance of someone’s house of worship. But I believe very strongly that America is about freedom for people of all faiths and one faith shouldn’t have greater public display or advantage than any other. Frankly, I think the Founders would’ve been more specific about some stuff if they’d known just how many religions there are.

When we got it in our head that God had somehow blessed America above all other countries, we began to believe that everything we did, our form of government, our economic system, our massive businesses, were blessed and preferred by God. Therefore, anything that was “American” became “Christian”.  If we prosper, we’re blessed by God, and if we stop prospering we’re no longer blessed by God. This prosperity gospel has permeated the Church in America so that when bad things happen to people or to our country, we cry “Unfair!” since we’ve supposedly done everything right. But have we really?

Another question I have is:

Were things really all that much better?

Depends on who you were/are.

In 1955, homicide rates were 4.1 per 100,000. They peaked at 10.2 in 1980 and as of 2007, they were 5.9. Compare that to the rate being 5.4 for white men an 39.7 for black men.

Between 1990 and 2009 the rate of forcible rape went from 80.5 per 100,00 to 100,000 52.3. While horrifying, it’s still an improvement.

I’m not going to go too deeply into statistics here. We all have the Google machine. I browsed through a bunch of stats and it looks like the most dangerous time in the US in the last 50 years was 1980-1984. Glad I made it through grades 3 – 7. Whew.

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 1

Today marks a couple of big 50th anniversary deaths, one that impacts American culture at large and one that impacts the Christian subculture. And nerds. For Christians (and nerds) we remember the death of C.S. Lewis. In America, that is overshadowed by the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and never more this year because it is the 50th anniversary.

50 years ago today, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. JFK was the first president to be President On Television, so the fact that this young, vibrant, attractive, and popular president was gunned down as he rode through the streets of Dallas with his wife and other officials had a big impact on the country. Similar to the death of FDR, his death came at a tenuous time in our history and, as FDR had been one of the earliest presidents to be seen on film, JFK was beamed into America’s living rooms on a daily basis.

I wasn’t alive then. I was -8.5 years old. My parents’, however, had just gotten married 13 days before and since they waited to take a honeymoon, they were at work in their home town of Enid, Oklahoma. The interesting thing about their jobs in those times was that my mom worked as an operator at the phone comany and my dad worked at the town newspaper. You can imagine how their work days were suddenly, massively impacted by the events that day. My mom said her board lit up instantly. You know that thing in older movies where they run in to the newspaper office and yell, “Stop the presses!” That totally happened.

The death of JFK kicked off a decade of turmoil in American culture and just a few years later, RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., were also assassinated, further plunging American into a time of cultural unrest and moral uncertainty. If you weren’t alive then, you should watch Mad Men. From what I understand, it’s a pretty good picture of life in that decade. And even if it isn’t, you should watch Mad Men because it’s freaking brilliant. But I digres.

Many of the folks who were alive at that time mark it as a time when we began to see a decline in what they refer to as “traditional values” or “morality” or any combination of those words. There is a dramatic uptick in crime, drug use, violence, protests and definite change in the sexual moirees of the time. When the folks who bemoan those changes talk about the decline of “traditional morals” they are usually talking about the change in the behaviors of individuals. They are talking about people having sex outside of marriage, the LGBTQ community being more open about their identities, crime, violence, drug use, and even sometimes they are upset about greater racial equality. You have to take the good with the bad. The lessening of repression is good. The increase of behavior that devalues the life and properties of other people is bad.

I have a different definition of traditional values. I do agree that crime, violence and drugs are bad. I do think there is a proper context for sexual relationships, but it’s probably not as narrow a definiton as some. But all of my feelings about these things go deeper than just “because it’s not nice.” I’m going to explore in a few posts here what I think the values are that some folks are talking about here, the values I think are more important and what I think the church should be doing to bring us back to the “good old days.”

Friday Five: Thanksgiving Food Edition

Deb writes:

This week’s Friday Five is because of my preparations for our Thanksgiving dinner celebration, which here in the US will be next Thursday, November 28th. I hope our RevGals and Pals who are not in the US will play along, particularly as it relates to menus and food!

1. Turkey: love it? hate it? self-basted? fry it or roast it? Tofu-turkey? Tell me more. (I’ve only had one roasted turkey come out totally delish so I’m fishing for your tips!)

Turkey is amazing. Love it. But only white meat. Usually when my mom does it, we do it upside down in a roasting bag, brined all night the night before of course. Since we alternate with my brother’s in-laws, this year we’re doing our main dinner on Friday at his house and he’s doing the turkey on the grill. He’s got a smoker thing.

2. Stuffing: bagged? homemade? sage? sausage? cornbread? oysters? nuts? Got any inspiration for me?

My family is from the Midwest so we do DRESSING. That’s basically just stuffing that is baked on the side, not stuffed in the bird. Let me tell you, this is my paternal grandmother’s recipe and it is RIDICULOUS. We have converted more than one dressing-hater with this stuff. It’s got cornbread, regular bread, sausage, onions, celery, mushrooms, pecans, sage, the works. It’s amazing. If it were up to me, I’d experiment with throwing a few dried cranberries in there but my dad would probably disown me for messing with it. Perhaps I’ll do it on the DL at my house 🙂

3. Cranberries: When we celebrated Thanksgiving in Europe one year, our French friends thought we were nuts to choose a very sour berry and then load it with sugar. (Let alone the stuff that comes out of a can in a blob of gelatinous ooze!) What do you do with cranberries?

Again, paternal grandmother to the rescue. We do what’s called Cranberry Fluff. So, the night before you use a food processor or blender to chop up your cranberries and then pour a bunch of sugar in them and let them macerate overnight. The next day you mix in red grapes (that have been cut in half), chopped apple (honey crisp, golden delicious, something firm but sweet), pecans and then fold it all together with whipped cream. It’s amazing and super popular. Converts a lot of haters.

4. Potatoes: (Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew…) What’s your pleasure?

Mashed. Mashed. Mashed. Mashed. With butter and half and half. Mashed.

5. Pie: I’m married to the Pie Man. Anything but coconut pie floats his boat. What do you make? (or buy?) Pumpkin? Pecan? Apple?

I’m the pie woman. Normally, I do pumpkin pies, one with pecans in it and one without. This year, my neice has specially requested an apple pie so I’m doing some recipe research and see what I can come up with. I’m probably going to do something with a caramel sauce in it because that’s how I roll. PS – also might try using a vodka pie crust recipe, because, well, vodka.

BONUS: A recipe that you’ve tried out and will make it to your table this year.

This is actually something I’m bringing to the church potluck this Sunday because my last initial means I bring dessert:

Pumpkin Pound Cake with Buttermilk Glaze

Cake:
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour (about 13 1/2 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fat-free buttermilk

Glaze:

1/3 cup fat-free buttermilk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. To prepare the cake, lightly coat a 10-inch tube pan with cooking spray; dust with 1 tablespoon flour. Spread pumpkin over 2 layers of paper towels; cover with 2 additional layers of paper towels. Let stand about 10 minutes. Scrape drained pumpkin into a bowl.
  3. Place 3/4 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed 3 minutes or until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in pumpkin and vanilla. Lightly spoon 3 cups flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt) in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and 3/4 cup buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pan, and cool completely on wire rack.
  5. To prepare glaze, combine 1/3 cup buttermilk and remaining ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Drizzle cake with glaze.