8.28.2009

Theology

I overheard some ladies at the Chinese restaurant where I picked up lunch yesterday, grumbling about how the men in their Bible study were just so obsessed with the little details of the Bible that they missed the big picture. "It's just all that... theology. Ugh."

I felt very pleased with my self-control that I managed to keep my wails of dismay to myself, and very pleased indeed that I also held back the lecture on the fact that everyone has a theology, it's just either a good one or a bad one, that theology just means "the study or knowledge of GOD," for crying out loud, and everyone on the PLANET possesses beliefs about God (even atheists!) and if you think theology is about arguing over whether Martha and Lazarus were half-siblings or if the punctiliar emphatic aorist in the Greek indicates a completed action, YOU NEED HELP! AUGH!!! But I didn't say it. Nope! Self control, right there.

So I'm just saving THAT rant for my students. HA.

In the words of a wise friend: "You [ought to] study theology the right way, where truth moves your heart to joy and praise. If more of us would do it this way, maybe it wouldn't have such a bad rap in some circles. Theology should not intimidate the uninitiated, but cause them to want more of it, like a thirsty man who finds water in the desert. "

8.17.2009

Ch-ch-check it out...

My buddy Paul is an awesome writer and wicked smaht. So do yourself a favor and head over to his blog, where he's doing a series on whose job it is to train pastors. Get movin' and join the conversation!

8.12.2009

Evangelism and the Single Girl

I stink at evangelism. Really. I can't remember the last time I shared the Gospel, or even had a spiritual conversation, with an unbeliever who wasn't a) related to me and under age ten or b) my student. No, I can, it was probably with one of my neighbors in the apartment complex I lived in two and a half years ago. The only reason I knew my downstairs neighbor, Jasmine, is because she liked to listen to hip-hop while studying at 1 a.m., and the only reason I knew my across-the-hall neighbor is because he was completely insane, not unlike several of the other people who lived there. I don't think I ever told you about the time that one of the downstairs residents kidnapped (catnapped?) my next-door neighbor's cat and refused to return it.

Anyway, I digress.

I live by myself in my condo, which I totally love about 75% of the time, particularly when I don't feel like cleaning. The other 25% of the time, I feel either like a cloistered nun (who, uh, is on Facebook) or a weird recluse. Good thing I don't have any cats. I've met a few of my neighbors, and they're nice people, but I haven't felt comfortable going door-to-door and introducing myself or trying to form relationships with them. And herein lies my problem.

I totally believe that God has put me in this place for this time. It's not an accident that I live here, or that I have the neighbors I have. But what's a single girl to do? This is a pretty good-size metropolitan area I live in, and while it's quite a safe neighborhood, you just never know. I honestly don't feel right about going out by myself to knock on doors -- apart from the safety issues, what do you do with the propriety issues that arise, like finding yourself on the front steps of a house full of college-age boys? But how else besides meeting my neighbors am I supposed to even be in contact with adult non-Christians?

It's a very angsty issue for me, really. I want to be wise and safe, but I must be obedient.

I don't have any concluding thoughts, because I haven't concluded my thinking on this subject. If anyone has any suggestions, insights, or practical considerations, I'm all ears. Or whatever the online equivalent of ears is.

8.08.2009

...and this is why I love classical education.

"True virtue, my dear Mrs. Graham, consists in a conscious resistance to temptation, not ignorance of it."

-- from The Tenant of Wildford Hall, BBC adaptation

8.02.2009

A Mixed Bag of Randomness

Bit of randomness #1: I rarely watch The Simpsons, but I happened to be home when this week's episode ran. It was my favorite kind of Simpsons' episode, made up of a handful of mini stories that the characters tell each other. While The Simpsons' sharp political critique has been blunted of late, this episode leveled some mid-range missiles at public education, showing the brilliant Maggie's efforts at daycare creativity being thwarted and suppressed by a mediocrity-obsessed headmaster who knocks over her block sculptures and ruthlessly enforces conformity. Good stuff.

Bit of randomness #2: Chowhound, a foodie-type message board that is priceless for seeking out info and advice about everything food-related -- grilling burgers, sourcing uni, pairing wine, finding a great Lebanese restaurant in Sydney, using an immersion blender -- you name it, you can find it on Chowhound. One of the recent topics asked what typically "foodie" foods we just will not eat. Here's what I came up with (partially):

Pate and/or liver mousses and/or meat-based terrines
Sea urchin
Raw bivalves in general
Offal (except maybe sweetbreads. MAYBE)
Raw seafood in general
Pork belly (except in bacony form)
Caviar
Blue cheese
Washed-rind cheese
Mushrooms, unless chopped so finely that I can't detect them

Now, dear friends and sharp-eyed readers will recognize a common theme here: texture! 95% of the time, if I dislike a food, it's not the flavor that puts me off, but the texture! Anybody else have texture "issues"?

Bit of randomness #3: In the last few months, I've watched a half-dozen French movies (yay, Netflix!). I couldn't tell you what any one of them was about, but I can tell you that I liked them all. What is it that is just so satisfying about French cinema? Languid, unhurried pace? A decided lack of the overwrought melodrama that pervades even the best American movies? The deliberate avoidance of the obvious? Yeah, it's probably all that, but the verdict is that French movies are teh awesome.

Bit of randomness #4: I am at last getting around to that blasted no-knead bread everyone was going on about all over the interwebz last year. I'm not what you'd call a "joiner" with the latest fads, and besides, I was pretty sure you needed a big covered enamel cast-iron pot with a lid that doesn't have a plastic handle on it, in which to bake the bread, and I was just not willing to go out and buy one. I'd love one. I'll probably get one eventually. But just so I can bake one kind of bread? Probably not.

Bit of randomness #5: Yay! School! As much as I am enjoying my summer (and I am!), I'm really feeling ready to get back in the groove of teaching. I function much better with a schedule, and I struggle to finish tasks when I have days and weeks of unscheduled time to kick around in -- I can always excuse my laziness with, "Oh, I can just do it tomorrow, right?" Strangely, when I have more to do, I can get more done at home. Hm, maybe I should get started with lesson plans? That's an idea.

7.31.2009

Does God Change His Mind?

An email from my favorite theologically minded friend started this post. Recently, Craig Blomberg, a well-known New Testament scholar whose work on the historical accuracy and reliability of the Gospels has been of great help to many a student, pastor, and layman, wrote an article explaining why he is a "Calminian" -- a jokey riff on the "Why I Am/ Am Not a Calvinist" books of recent years. Blomberg is basically trying to put himself clearly outside the Reformed mindset once and for all. I've read a few expressions of disappointment, and an article agreeing with his position, which is basically what I'm going to attempt to respond to today.

First of all, let me point out that Craig Blomberg is way smarter than I am. I don't pretend that I can tangle with him intellectually. But despite that, I still think he's wrong. Second, let me point out that Craig Blomber is also a brother in Christ, despite what I think are his mistakes on this front. I'm not denigrating his faith or his commitment to the body of Christ, nor am I trying to write off his contribution to the Christian community. One of his books sits on my shelf, and it's staying there! But anyway, here goes.

At one point in his article, Blomberg refers to the story of Joseph's brothers coming to him in Egypt for help during the great famine. Joseph's famous line, "You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good," Blomberg insists, is not a declaration of God's sovereignty, but a mere statement of fact. He says: "Two separate agents, two separate wills, at cross purposes with each other, neither described as logically or chronologically prior to the other. Neither is said to cause the other; they occur simultaneously." What's really happening, he says, is that both wills operate at the same time, without one being over the other.

Well, hold up. I get what he's saying. Joseph says to his brothers, "You sold me into slavery out of a wicked intention, but God's power trumped your evil desires." In fact, God's purposes to preserve his people included the brothers' evil plans and actions. God is so powerful that he can even use human evil -- the condition of our fallen nature! -- to accomplish his purposes. That's comprehensive sovereignty. This is a copout. Blomberg's a great guy, and his work on the historical reliability of the Gospels is priceless, but he just does NOT want to be in the "God is totally sovereign" camp AT ALL. (Plus, calling himself a "Calminian" is cute, but the fact is that there isn't a responsible Arminian on the planet who wouldn't totally acknowledge God's sovereignty in human history. So he's really a Cal-Open Theist-ian. Which isn't quite as cute.)

Moving on to broader arguments about God's sovereignty, I often encounter people who point to the word "relent" in the Scriptures and say, "See? That means that God goes back on his word! If he really is completely sovereign over everything, how can he appear to be influenced by the prayers of his people?" I used to use this argument myself! Well, yes, "relent" means that he will not do what he said he would do, out of a gracious desire to preserve and defend his people. But a couple things:

1) This DOES NOT MEAN that God changes his mind or that he's fickle or doesn't know what he's ultimately going to do. The problem with the argument here is that, while they're trying to just draw a line around the Reformed understanding of God's sovereignty, they END UP basing their whole view on the idea that God actually changes his mind. Listen up: this is where guys like Greg Boyd and Clark Pinnock got started, and where they end up is saying that God takes risks, that he doesn't even KNOW the outcome of certain events, and that in some cases WE have more sovereignty over circumstances than the creator of the universe. That's a pretty stupid place to end up and still call yourself a Christian. It's just like how the Mormons use the methods of 19th century German liberal philosophers to convince people that the Book of Mormon is ok -- the argument might convince people, but you're cutting off the branch you're sitting on!

2) Check out this article. There's some uncool argumentation happening here, and this isn't the only place I've heard this line of reasoning, not by a long shot. You ever hear of "weasel words"? They're little words or phrases that a speaker or writer slips in, sometimes without even knowing it himself, that unfairly denigrate the other position -- it's like straw man + ad hominem all at once. The one that popped out to me was "real relationship." Yates and others imply that, unless God limits his own foreknowledge or sovereignty in some way, it's impossible for him to enter into "real relationship" with his creation. This is nonsense. We don't get to make up the rules for how God interacts with us based on our experiences with each other. The scriptures are full of the truths of God bringing the dead back to life both literally and figuratively. But does that one-sided interaction, that ultimate demonstration of total sovereignty, mean that God has some kind of counterfeit relationship with those he raises to life? Did Jesus have a more or less "real relationship" with Lazarus when he raised him, single-handed, from death?

3) There's also some plain old ridiculousness that gets shoveled around. To quote Yates, who is taking up a common anti-sovereignty argument: "The statements that Yahweh will harden the Pharaoh’s heart at the beginning of this process (cf. Exod 4:21; 7:3) are an expression that Yahweh’s purposes will ultimately prevail in this struggle but not that he dictates or determines the Pharaoh’s responses." Uh... what? What part of "I will harden his heart" is the tough part to interpret? "I will" meaning it's gonna happen, "harden his heart" meaning that's what he's gonna do. Yup. You have to do some pretty sexy contortionism to get around the plain meaning of that sucker.

4) The kicker is the "only a really sovereign God could accomplish his purposes in a universe where he has limited his sovereignty," also known as the "it's true because it ain't" argument. A God who can accomplish his purposes in such a give-and-take, unresolved universe that anti-sovereignty folks try to set up, is truly sovereign? Huh? So only a God who is truly sovereign and omniscient could operate in a universe where somethings are outside his sovereignty and beyond his omniscience? Yeah, that makes sense. What's the purpose of prayer if the God we're praying to has chosen this event to be one of the hands-off parts of world history? How are we to know the difference? Or does he wait until we pray and then decide to re-institute the sovereignty he's chosen to put on hold?

Unlike Blomberg and lots of other people who use these kinds of arguments, I'm happy to live knowing that my choices are BOTH really choices that I really make with my time-bound will and mind AND are mysteriously part of God's plan. It's called paradox, and we have to embrace it, largely because our finite brains can't fathom the depths of God's will. Let's not try to eliminate paradox by making God more like us. That's a pretty dumb Bible study method. Dig?

7.27.2009

*Sigh*

Have you ever done this? Taken an accidental two-month sabbatical from your blog and then just wracked your brain fruitlessly for days, trying to come up with something really, really profound with which to break the silence?

It's just me, then?

I have had six thousand or so ideas sliding around half-formed in my summer-gelatinized brain. (Here's a sampling: The reason many pols and bureaucrats support abortion is that they're unwilling to tackle the more difficult task of dealing with pregnant women and the emotional complexities behind unwanted pregnancies. Modern American labor and delivery practices are sickeningly barbaric, and we've got the stats to prove it. Barbara Mouser's The Five Aspects of Woman is great, and I learned a bunch of stuff about womanhood listening to it. Why is U2 SO INCREDIBLY POPULAR?) But none of them, shockingly, have made the cut so far -- I just can't get stuff to congeal into anything coherent.

Once my schedule and my brain are working a little less... uh... Summer-time-ish-ly... I'm sure I'll develop one of the above topics (or, I mean, you know me, something completely different) into an actual post.

Tune in next time to see if I go for the controversial, the political, the theological, or the utterly vapid and meaningless! WOO!!!

5.18.2009

What's Up With Those Old Guys?

The brilliant Mikey Lynch posted (AGES ago now) a couple musings on a post at The Sola Panel (har har) about the younger generation's responsibility in engaging the older generation. As I pondered his ponderings, I was reminded of what has been happening in the SBC over the last few years.

For those of you who don't know, the SBC went through a pretty dramatic and trying time in the 1990s. The denomination as a whole had really slipped doctrinally -- the seminaries were getting increasingly liberal (and not in a good way but in a "the Bible? Meh." kinda way), the missionary zeal that had characterized the SBC for generations was getting lost, and the whole thing was generally not going in a good direction. So a group of bold, courageous men decided that they were going to do whatever they could to put conservative leaders in positions of influence in order to steer the ship around, so to speak. Did they do everything with perfectly pure motives and methods? No. But the upshot of the whole "conservative resurgence" as it came to be known was a recapturing of the centrality of the Gospel and of the historical foundations of the SBC.

But that was almost two decades ago. So what's a veteran of the conservative resurgence to do? In too many cases, it seems, the answer to that is sitting around nursing war wounds, talking about "kids these days" and generally being grumpy. Which wouldn't be worth wasting bandwidth on, except that many of them are still in those positions of leadership they worked so hard to get in pre-resurgence days! Their grumpiness can't just be laughed off -- it's grumpiness with the power and influence to, for example, de-fund church plants that don't have such a hard line about alcohol as many SBC churches do. Or to carpet-bomb an entire state with anti-Calvinist propaganda dvds. Or to fire a trustee of the International Mission Board for not toeing the party line.

What's up with that?

Anyhoodles, the SP article and following discussion, as well as the discussion on Mikey's blog, are enlightening and interesting. Check 'em out.

5.16.2009

Books, Thunderstorms, End of the School Year, and Other Miscellaneous Musings

Last night I went browsing at a couple of bookstores to try to find the Anne of Green Gables series in box set. The school has a few of them, and I've been reading (or, devouring) them this last week. Have you ever thought of books as friends? The Anne books are that for me -- dear old well-beloved friends. Monday night, when I was finishing up Anne of Green Gables, I sobbed -- sobbed! -- through the last four chapters, and laughed at myself for crying so hard, and then cried some more. If you've read it, you probably understand. It's been wonderfully restful to come home from school and sit in my comfy chair and just read for hours. I haven't done that in far too long.

On my way home from the bookstore, I got caught out in the worst thunderstorm of the year so far. Rain was coming down, hammer and tongs, with lightning streaking across the sky and downbursts of wind from the edge of the storm. When it started hailing, I pulled over in front of the Lyndon fire station, got in the rain shadow of the building, and prayed that the doors wouldn't suddenly open and a fire engine come roaring out! I listened in dismay as the hail pelted the back end of my car, and when it subsided, I pulled around to the side of the building just in case and waited for the rain to let up. It was wild! The hail turned out to be in the half-inch to two-inch range -- definitely the largest hail I've seen since I've been here.

I have two more academic days left at school, and then three fun days which will involve a baseball game, a field day, a talent show, an awards ceremony, and a picnic! And then three glorious months of Summer stretching out in front of me, waiting to be filled with cook-outs and visits from family and afternoons when it's too hot to leave the house and days by the pool and sunburns and hot, muggy air, and melty ice cream and all manner of other delights.

Do all teachers get a panicky feeling about how much hard-fought learning their students will inevitably forget between now and next year? Ooh. That reminds me. I need to get my hands on a couple copies of the books I'm assigning my 8th graders (almost 9th graders! Imagine!) over the Summer... Mwahahaha...

5.11.2009

Ummmm...

*tap, tap*

Ahem.

This thing on?

Uh, sorry. I'm probably the worst blogger who ever blogged. It has been approximately seven million years since I blogged. My excuse is pretty decent: long school days followed by mental exhaustion compounded by zero inspiration to write. But.

I just couldn't resist blogging about the most boring subject in history, something so boring it's actually code for boring -- the weather.

Last "spring" (ha) we didn't really have much of a spring. We had a soggy winter, followed by a few half-heartedly springlike days, followed immediately by 24-hour-a-day air conditioning weather. It was hideous. But apparently God has been smiling on Kentucky these last couple of months and, boy howdy, have we had some unbelievable weather. Cool, breezy nights, and warm, sunny days, punctuated by big beautiful thunderstorms and enough days of soaking rain to keep us all from taking those sunshiny mornings and long languid evenings for granted.

Because the nights have been staying so cool, the flowers have hung on the trees much longer than in years past, and for one glorious week we had gorgeous, lacy dogwoods AND daffodils AND irises AND tulips AND the first azaleas. Cheeky azaleas -- I just can't get enough of them. They're like the girl at your first school dance who wears a sparkly, low-cut dress and makes all the boys stare. Brazen, those hot-pink azaleas, I tell you!

Hooray! It's supposed to get down to 49 tonight! It's a marvel, this weather. I wish it'd go on forever.

4.14.2009

What's On Laura's Mind Today?

Hooray, I am done with my bloody taxes finally. Yuck. I HATE doing taxes. Luckily I've found an inexpensive (and relatively idiot-proof) online way to do everything, and e-filed both my state and federal returns. No trip to the post office! Woot! Also, refund! WOOT!

Top Gear. Seriously. I would love to watch this show every week, but the only way to get it in the U.S. is to pay major ducats for turbo-cable with seven billion other channels. Which, I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I would totally love, but it's bordering on a hundred bucks a month. And I love Top Gear, but really.

My students are the BESTEST. I wish I had the time to go into detail about why each one of them is so precious to me, but I don't want to try your patience with that many words. As crazy-making as kids can sometimes be, not a day goes by when I don't laugh with total delight at something one of them does. I mean really. My eighth graders especially are just the joy of my life.

Passover! My community group had a great time doing a little Passover seder this past week. It was a blast -- everybody came over to my house and we rigged up as many spots as we could and did an extremely abbreviated version of a typical Messianic seder, since a normal one can last 3 or 4 hours! Good food, good company, and a cool insight into the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples.

Did you know that Deadliest Catch is Discovery's most popular show? If you've watched it, you probably understand WHY it is, and if you haven't, you're seriously missing out. It's got the perfect reality-show alchemy: honest-to-goodness peril + salty, interesting characters + million-dollar rewards. Crab fishing in the Bering Sea is truly one of the world's most dangerous jobs, and not a season goes by without the captains hearing the crushing news that one of their sister ships has gone down in a storm. The captains themselves are hilarious -- tough, smart, foul-mouthed, third and fourth generation fishermen. And the million-dollar payout isn't a prize sponsored by advertisers, but the actual earnings of the captains and crew. Watch it! It's seriously addictive.

Spring in Louisville is gorgeous when it actually shows up. Last year, we had the shortest spring EVER -- freezing cold followed by two weeks of nice weather followed by blazing hot summer. But this year... it's been rainy and fickle and crazy, with thunderstorms and cool weather. Great stuff! The dogwoods are starting to bloom right now too. Ahhh...

4.08.2009

An Open Letter To My Aussie Friends

There are a few things you should know before Em and Gwyd get back to 'Straya in a few weeks' time. I thought it would be best if you had a bit of preparation for the stories, rumors, and inside jokes they'll be armed with upon their return.

Here's what you need to know:

1. Em and Gwyd are both pregnant with babies made (Mighty-Boosh-like) from barbecued ribs, Indian food, and Dr. Pepper. The appropriate response to this: jealousy.

2. They will definitely try to explain something called an "orc Elvis" or "orc Elvis impersonator." The explanation will probably involve snippets of Elvis tunes, snarling, and discussions of bouffant hairdos. The correct response to this is mildly-amused puzzlement.

3. They have perfected their imitations of American homeschool kids. The correct response to this is to ask them whether or not the Balrog has wings, if Hobbits can be found in Mammoth Cave, or if the economy can survive without the contribution of Wood Nymphs.

4. Speaking of Mammoth Cave, Gwyd has developed a theory about how Mammoth Cave was built. If you ask him about this, be sure he replies in his American homeschool kid voice.

5. The next time you are around them while they're eating, their "Mmm" noises in response to the tastiness of the food will likely turn into an "mmm"-punctuated laugh fest. They might wipe tears. The appropriate reaction to this is awkward silence. I'm sure you can manage it.

Also be sure to ask them about Andrew's reaction to seeing Androdgo, and who carried the food down to the tuberculosis patients in Mammoth Cave. You have a few weeks to prepare yourselves.

4.04.2009

Kentucky Mountain Boys

Mammoth Boy



So we went to Mammoth Cave today. Em and I were there, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. Who do you think was taking all these great shots of the boys? In the grand Tassie tradition (ahem. Or something) of Mountain Boys photo shoots, and because of the amazing natural beauty of Mammoth Cave National Park... I give you, Kentucky Mountain Boys.



Waterfall Boy




Naughty Stars and Stripes Forever!




Jesse James





Rugged Pioneer Explorers!

Yeah! It was a very good day. Coming up: more food pics, Sojourn, and evidence of Em's presence in America.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

They're both doing quite well in America and enjoying themselves. But Gwyd's... found a few American foods he really likes. Yeah, let's go with that:


Yeah...

4.01.2009

3.30.2009

Why Em and Gwyd Will Love the American South

So, I've come up with a little theory about why I think my Aussie friends Em and Gwyd are going to love the American South. Incidentally, this theory also helps explain why I loved Tasmania so much.

Both Tassie and Kentucky:

  • have profound, and often unappreciated, natural beauty
  • are looked down upon by the "cooler" parts of the country
  • have a whole set of jokes directed toward them -- jokes relating to inbreeding, ignorance, etc. (Seriously, name one thing you know about Kentucky that's not a) the movie Elizabethtown or b) about hillbillies marrying their cousins)
  • have a sort of homey, mellow coolness all their own
  • have a legit, growing indie music/art scene

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. We'll see if my theory is correct.

3.29.2009

Grrrrrrr...

The story of my life involves one rather irritating theme, and it goes a little something like this:

1. I like something that might seem a bit odd.
2. I am too timid to like it openly, and nobody understands when I DO confess that I like it.
3. EVERY SINGLE FREAKING PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE starts liking that same thing, and then I look like a joiner, a poser, a groupie.
4. That thing I liked loses its charm because it a) gets copied, b) gets dumbed-down because of its popularity, or c) becomes so ubiquitous that starts to be sickening, like eating too much sugar.

GEEKS. Three or four years ago, there weren't t-shirts in every teenybopper store that said "I Heart Geeks." There wasn't sitcom about socially awkward nerds befriending their hotcha neighbor. There wasn't a reality show pairing geeks and models. That skinny intellectual hipster look was only to be found in Williamsburg, NYC.

WHATEVER, PEOPLE. I LOVED NERDS BEFORE THEY WERE COOL. ARGH!

3.26.2009

From "The Knowledge of the Holy"

"The mind looks backward in time till the dim past vanishes, then turns and looks into the future till thought and imagination collapses from exhaustion: and God is at both points, unaffected by either."

-- A.W. Tozer

3.24.2009

Random, and Taking Bets

OK, so I'm currently taking bets on how soon some trendy seeker-sensitive church will tweak the Pussycat Dolls' new single "Jai Ho! (You Are My Destiny)" and turn it into "Oh Lord! (You Are My Destiny)" It has SO much of that cheesy-romantic language common to CCM "Jesus is my boyfriend" pop worship music.

Over/under on two months?

I'm on Spring Break this week. It's awesome. I'm catching up on my sleep, getting some projects finished, tidying my house for my guests who will be here on April 1, working on grades (a little), hanging out with friends... pretty good week so far.

I've also updated my other blog, the foodie/frugality one with a post about homemade cleaners, a links roundup for some great thrifty recipes, and a step-by-step guide to making your own yogurt!

Sorry the posting here has been so scarce. I just haven't had the time to post on a lot of theology stuff, and I'm mostly theologied out because of a series of great conversations I've been having with a friend (you know who you are...). I hope to get some more consistency here -- or at least to write a bunch of stuff this week and schedule some future posts!

3.04.2009

Thoughts on Congregational Church Music

If you haven't visited Sojourn's music blog, you need to do a couple things. First, repent. Second, get over there. And third, as penance, post a link on Facebook, email links to everyone you know who is even vaguely connected to music ministry in churches, and go back to the site every Wednesday for the next ten weeks.

Bobby Gilles, one of Sojourn's lyricists and the blog's moderator, is going to be posting a series of short videos every Wednesday -- videos of a round-table discussion with Mike Cosper, Sojourn's worship/arts pastor, Chip Stam, founder of the SBTS school of church music and worship, and Harold Best, a well-known author and the former dean of Wheaton college, best known for his books Unceasing Worship and Music Through the Eyes of Faith.

This week's video clip is all about congregational music -- ranging from style questions to thoughts on tradition. Check it out!

2.22.2009

Single Women in the Church

Craig wrote a little paragraph a few days ago asking how the church can do a better job ministering to "older" (meaning 30+) single women. 71 comments later (as of this posting), there have been some dynamite suggestions and some brutally honest critiques as well. I would highly recommend reading the entire thread -- especially if you're in church ministry of any kind. It's very revealing of the pain and struggles unmarried women go through, and amazingly gracious and balanced despite its length. This one has so far defied Godwin's Law.

2.21.2009

Abstinence or Chastity?

Ever since the oh-so-wise and ultra-experienced new mom Bristol Palin expressed her opinion about "abstinence" being "unrealistic," the Christian blog world has been abuzz, with bloggers tsk-tsking, scolding, pontificating, and hand-wringing by turns.

I'll be the first to admit that the abstinence movement (the stalwart True Love Waits and various smaller efforts) has been a joke and a general failure. A Slate.com article from a while back (one of many on the subject) called such programs a success on a sociological level, in that they motivated participants to delay sexual intercourse by around eighteen months, on average. Wow! Eighteen whole months! What a triumph...

"Joke" might sound like a bit of a strong word. It is. But in the words of Inigo Montoya, "Lemme splain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up."

Abstinence is a stupid term. Abstaining is something teetotalers do, something Sylvester Graham touted. However fancy the packaging, the word "abstinence" still feels punitive. It's the absence of something. And as any dieter will tell you, when you feel deprived, you're that much more likely to splash out by having an appetizer AND a rich dessert AND a glass of wine.

But a proper view of human sexuality is not supposed to feel like eating celery sticks at the Food and Wine Classic. Sexuality is woven into the created order. It's got a whole book of the Bible dedicated to it. It's supposed to be honored and protected. It's meant to be celebrated by the community of faith. It's part of our identity as image-bearers of God.

Do you see why it's completely insufficient to say merely that true love (whatever that means) "waits"?

Waits for what? Waits how? Waits why?

I think we need to completely remove the idea of "abstinence" from our discourse -- particularly the discourse we aim at young people -- and put in its place the idea of chastity. Chastity is both broader and narrower in its focus than "abstinence." To abstain is to do without something -- in this case, sexual intimacy. To be chaste is to view sexuality and sexual intimacy as something godly, valuable, and noble, to be experienced freely and joyfully in the right context, and to be directed toward that context. It's not a "don't." While abstinence is necessarily temporary, chastity is to be practiced throughout the Christian life.

(As a side note, I can't tell you how many times I've heard Christians say, "I was sexually pure until I got married." Hold up! If you've only ever been intimate with your spouse, you are STILL sexually pure. I believe this rather amusing and revealing malapropism stems from the idea that sexual purity is for the virgin but not the wife -- still perpetuating the old stereotype that sexual intimacy is a malum in se rather than an evil only when misused.)

I signed a True Love Waits pledge as a young teen, and I even wore a promise ring for a while until I misplaced the darn thing (sorry, Dad!). But I did so alongside dozens of friends who went on to forget those foundationless and hastily-written promises, which sounded so meaningful at age fourteen but somehow wore thin over time.

The truth is, we have failed to give young people a compelling reason to direct their sexuality toward marriage. At the same time, we've encouraged them to put off marriage, making even compelling reasons ring hollow! We've hinted that sex is dirty and sinful. We've told them No, No, No, No, and that's the end of it. We've told them they have to conquer the beast of temptation alone. We've spoken in hushed and shocked tones of fallen women and p orn addicts and all manner of other sexual sinners, driving the struggling and fainting heart into isolation.

Worst of all, we've failed to put before them the blinding glory of Christ and the plan of the Almighty God of the universe for human relationships. We've failed to tell them of the provision of Christ for our every need, and for the precious gift of the Holy Spirit who comforts us in our distress and guides us into all truth.

Given all these failures, is abstinence unrealistic for most young people? Of course.

But chastity, grace, and the glory of God? That's a message well worth our time to tell.

2.20.2009

There is A Fountain

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.


One of my favorite hymns -- this one almost always makes me cry. Little known fact: girls will undoubtedly remember in the movie version of Sense and Sensibility the scene where Marianne is brutally critiquing poor Edward Ferrars's reading of a poem. We catch the lines: "No voice divine the storm allayed/ no light propitious shone..." The author of that poem, William Cowper, is also the author of "There is a Fountain."

Cowper battled depression his whole life. I love the fact that, in the midst of his struggles, he wrote such a beautiful hymn that expresses not just his personal hope but the hope of "all the ransomed church of God."

2.15.2009

Praying and Waiting!

UPDATE! She's here! Olivia Kious Jolly, born today (Eastern Standard Time), but 7:20 a.m. February 16th in Hobart, Tasmania! Congratulations!

Just a quick update to ask you to pray for my dear friends Mike and Christine in Tasmania, who just headed to the hospital where they are hoping to meet their baby girl, Olivia! Pray that it's not a false alarm, that the labor and delivery go smoothly, and that Olivia enters the world in perfect health!

2.10.2009

Introducing MadEnough Tips!

Hey all! I've been working on a new blog for all the Kitchen Keeping tips I've posted on here, as well as lots of other fun stuff on frugal living, gardening, preserving, and much more! Add it to your blogroll if you like, bookmark it, follow it, or just stop by occasionally.

All the frugal and KK tips will be moved over to MadEnoughTips next week, and It's a Blog will go back to its regularly scheduled programming.

2.08.2009

Kitchen Keeping Tips #5 -- Waste Not, Want Not

I just finished reading a long thread on the Chowhound boards about culinary gems that usually get thrown away. It was a great reminder to me to return to my blog and continue the Kitchen Keeping series with a post about using everything in your kitchen.

To me, frugality is, in large part, about stewardship. My desire is to make the best possible use of the things I buy, so when I shop, I think in terms of how I can use up every item, true -- but throwing food away is not the only issue! Anyone on a budget hates throwing away food. My previous posts on planning and shopping can help you cut down on (or even eliminate) food waste.

But what if you were discarding stuff that you thought of as trash, but that wound up actually being a highly valuable asset to your cooking? Here is a list of things I never throw away:

1. Stale or old bread. Dried out bread (or heels or crusts) should be ground and stored in a bag or canister in the freezer. You can dry it out in a low oven for easier grinding. Dozens of uses: as filler/binder in meatballs, as a crispy coating for any meat, as a thickening agent in soups, etc.

2. Vegetable scraps. Carrot ends, celery leaves, parsley stems, and onion and garlic skins go into my stock bag to be either made into a delicious veggie stock or added to chicken scraps to make a rich chicken stock. If you're just making a veggie stock, you can add any other kind of veggie scraps you have on hand. I wouldn't add potato peels, but other than that, the sky's the limit. Also, re-think what "scraps" are. Don't toss radish tops, use them like you would any other green. Don't throw away broccoli stems, peel them and thinly slice or shred to add to stir fries or salads.

3. Bones. Seriously, if you roast a chicken or use bone-in chicken parts or have a ham with a bone or beef or pork ribs or anything else with a bone in it, for the love of flavorful cooking, do NOT throw those things away!! Even if you don't have the time to use it right away, at least put it in the freezer and mark your calendar. If you have beef or pork bones, toss them in a vegetable soup to add richness (not to mention nutrition!). If you have chicken bones or a whole carcass, throw that in a pot with your veggie scraps (along with skin and, if you're lucky and you have a good chicken, the neck and innards), cover with water and simmer for a few hours, and you'll have the most delicious stock you ever tasted! If you have a ham bone, put it into a pot with any kind of beans, some carrot and onion, and let it simmer all day. You'll be amazed at how much flavor you can get from something most of us would just throw out.

4. Cereal. Almost any kind of cereal can be used to make muffins, and there are dozens of good recipes online. Yesterday I made honey-walnut-banana muffins because I had a couple cups of Kashi cereal sitting around, four black bananas in my freezer, and a few tablespoons of walnuts languishing in a bowl on my counter. Something I would have otherwise pitched out became my breakfasts for this week AND next week!

5. Milk. People: ignore, forget about, and reject the date on your milk carton, ok? The milk I put in my tea on Friday was three and a half weeks past the date, and it was just as sweet and fresh as the day I bought it. Here is the trick: every time you get milk out of the fridge, give it a quick shake before you put it back. It will last a good month past the date on the carton, easily. And if you forget to shake it for a few days and the last of the jug goes sour, bake something. Sour milk is perfect for biscuits, scones, cakes, pancakes, even homemade bread.

Next up: a fun new project...

1.31.2009

Kitchen Keeping Tips #4 -- Making the Most of Your Pantry (Pantry Philosophy Edition!)

What is a pantry, and what goes in it? Why should you have a well-stocked pantry?

Your pantry is any storage area in or adjacent to your kitchen where you keep dry goods (like rice, pasta, beans, grains, flour, etc.), canned goods, and other nonperishables. For the purposes of this post, your freezer counts as part of your food storage. If you have a deep freeze, that counts, too.

In the past, I've given a pantry list, along with ten pantry-only recipes and a 30-day menu plan, as shower gifts for brides-to-be. I figure it's incredibly practical. How many times have you come home, hungry and exhausted, from your family vacation, only to be greeted by an empty fridge? And if your schedule looks anything like mine, there are times when you literally have no time to grocery shop. A well-stocked pantry will get you through those moments with minimal stress.

Think about a steaming bowl of spicy, savory pasta puttanesca. Or a rich, comforting risotto. Or Cuban red beans and rice. Or a quick vegetarian black bean chili, served over creamy polenta. You can make all of these things in thirty minutes or less, with only ingredients you have in your pantry, if you stock it according to the list in the previous post.

But just how do you do that without breaking the bank?

It's simple. Make a list like the pantry list below of all the items you do not have, and keep it with your shopping bags (you do use cloth shopping bags, don't you?) or in your purse. Each time you go to the grocery store, pick up one or two of the items, or more if you can find them on sale. You're going to be saving money by using my shopping plan anyway, so you'll be well able to afford those few extra items -- and they're cheap items!

The next time you're in the neighborhood of an ethnic grocery (there are Indian, Korean, and Mexican groceries close to me, so that's where I go), pick up some of those ingredients as well. Indian groceries are a fantastic source for cheap spices, lentils, and basmati rice. Mexican groceries often have canned and dried beans that are much more reasonably priced than a regular grocery store. An Asian market is obviously the best place to buy your everyday rice, and is a surprisingly reliable source for fresh, unique produce.

If you're a meat-eater and own a deep freeze, look into sourcing meat directly from local producers. If you put half a beef or a whole pig -- butchered and custom cut, of course -- into your freezer once a year (almost always at a dramatically lower price per pound than comparable meat at the grocery store), you can keep eating the meat you enjoy while saving literally hundreds per year.

Now, how much to buy? The answer to that involves three considerations: how much money can you save by buying in bulk, how much space do you have, and how quickly will you go through pantry items?

I have a very small kitchen, and all of my pantry items are in one standard sized cupboard and one small cupboard above my stove. Plus, I'm cooking for one most of the time. So buying beans or rice or flour in fifty-pound sacks isn't practical for me. I don't have any place to put that amount of food, and there's no way I could get through it all before it got bugs or went rancid and I had to throw it away, which negates any savings I could get by buying such large amounts.

But let's say you have six kids, your house has a root cellar, and you bake all your own bread and eat rice and beans twice a week. For you, buying rice and beans and flour in fifty-pound sacks would probably be a great plan, and the best use of your money!

Here are some good rules of thumb for determining how much to buy:

1. Buy as much of the product (rice, pasta, beans, flour, etc.) as you can store, in the largest package possible. It's more economical to buy staple foods in large quantities than small, not to mention the environmental benefit of reducing packaging materials.
2. Balance that with how much you can use before the item gets rancid (a consideration with whole grains and nuts), attracts bugs, loses potency or flavor (as with baking powder, herbs and spices, tea and coffee, etc.), or gets freezer burn in the case of your "freezer pantry."
3. Plan. I cannot over-emphasize this. PLAN to use each item in turn as you plan your meals. Focus your meal plans on your pantry stocks rather than on meat -- in other words, if you use a flex-plan like I outlined in my Shopping post, plan to have rice one day a week and pair it with a meat that was on sale at the grocery this week (or go meatless and do rice and beans!). Another day, have pasta with another meat that was on sale (or, again, go meatless). Have a meal that puts a homemade bread at the center, like pizza, crusty bread with soup, or hot sandwiches.

Whew! That was a LOT of info, but I hope it was helpful!

1.30.2009

Kitchen Keeping Tips #4 -- Making the Most of Your Pantry (Reference Edition!)

So now the question is, what's in a well-stocked pantry?

The answer varies depending on what you enjoy, but in general, this is what I wouldn't want to be without:

Dry goods:
  • several kinds of pasta, including long (like linguine) and short (like ziti) and whatever other kinds blow your skirt up.
  • brown and white rice. I also include jasmine and basmati, just 'cuz I like 'em.
  • several kinds of legumes (a.k.a. "pulses"). Lentils are the quickest-cooking and don't require soaking, so I keep two or three kinds on hand. Right now I have plain brown lentils and red split lentils. I also keep white beans, black beans, and chickpeas. flour. This is such a no-brainer that I hesitate to list it, but you ought to have at least All-Purpose flour on hand. You're fifteen minutes from biscuits, at minimum. I also have whole wheat flour, rye flour, and bread flour.
  • sweeteners, including at least brown sugar, white sugar, and honey. I also keep molasses. I really love raw sugar in my tea, but it's a bit pricey, so I don't always keep it around. Real maple syrup is another rare indulgence.
  • cornmeal. Being in the South, grits are also a pantry staple.
  • rolled oats
  • miscellaneous: I also keep steel-cut oats, walnuts, various breakfast cereals, and homemade baking mix (like Bisquick, but I make it). Onions and garlic are also absolute necessities that keep well for long periods of time -- they're halfway between dry goods and produce.


Canned goods:
  • Never, ever, ever let yourself run out of canned whole tomatoes. EVER!! They are the foundation for awesome and cheap Italian, Mexican, and Indian dishes.
  • Canned meat, like tuna, salmon, and chicken. These are economical and incredibly versatile.
  • Canned beans. If you can get these for a good price, they're really good to have on hand. Canned beans were some of the first "convenience" foods, and there's hardly anything else that you can use to make a ten-minute supper that tastes great.
  • That's it. I don't use canned soup, I rarely use pre-made pasta sauce. I have other things on hand (coconut milk, canned pumpkin, etc.) now and then but I wouldn't call them staples per se.


In your freezer:
  • A variety of frozen vegetables. Must-haves for me are spinach, green beans, and peas -- incidentally some of the most-delicious frozen veggies. Others I sometimes have (depending on price at the grocery store) include corn, broccoli, cauliflower, stir-fry or other blends, frozen hashbrowns, etc.
  • A few frozen fruits. I always have blueberries, which I eat nearly every day. In warmer weather, I keep frozen strawberries and mixed frozen fruit to make smoothies and sorbets.
  • Ginger root. Random, I know, but it keeps basically forever in the freezer, in a plastic bag or just tossed into the door, if you're lazy like me.
  • Meat, if you're a carnivore. I happen to have a vacuum sealer, so I can keep things for a pretty long time in my freezer. The key for this is to PLAN to use EVERYTHING you freeze. Do NOT put meat in your freezer until you write on your calendar when you'll use it.
  • Cooked rice. This is a lifesaver! Next time you cook rice, make a huge batch -- it doesn't take any longer. While still warm but not hot, put into quart-size plastic bags, flatten out, squeeze out as much air as you can, and stack in your freezer. Then when you need rice for a quick weeknight meal, there it is, ready to be nuked for 30-60 seconds. Sound lame? Masaharu Morimoto, the famous Japanese Iron Chef, uses this trick. Hugely credible.
  • Your stock bag. Take what would otherwise be throwaway odds and ends of vegetables and meat and turn it into culinary gold that will take your cooking to a whole new level of deliciousness.
Spices, herbs, and flavorings. This is where you'll have to customize depending on what YOU like to make. In general, this is what I need, in order to be able to make what I like:
  • The basics for cooking: dried oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, celery salt, red pepper flakes, black pepper and kosher or sea salt.
  • Baking: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla
  • For Mexican food add: cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper
  • For Indian food add: coriander, cardamom, garam masala, hot and mild curry powders, turmeric
  • For holiday cooking add: whole cloves, poultry seasoning and/or sage


Now, you can do just about anything.

Kitchen Keeping Tips #3 -- Shopping Wisely

So I lied.

I'm not doing pantry stuff next. As I was putting the pantry post together, I thought, "Where are you getting this stuff? There has to be some shopping involved FIRST!" So here goes:

There are two general philosophies, if you will, of meal planning and grocery shopping, each with strengths and weaknesses.

First is to plan specific meals and buy only the items necessary for those meals. Simplicity is this shopping style's major advantage: it's a no-brainer to buzz through the grocery store looking for a very specific list of stuff. The main disadvantage? Inflexibility. When you're chained to a list, you run the risk of overspending because you don't have the freedom to buy chicken if it's on sale or get the produce that's on manager's special or to buy seasonally.

The other method is the "no-plan" plan. In this method (or... um, non-method), you go up and down every aisle putting into your cart everything that a) is on sale, b) looks good, or c) you think you might use in some dinner this week. The benefit of this method, if there is one, is that you are free to buy what looks good in the produce department, what's on sale, etc. Wastefulness keeps this from being a tenable long-term method, however. Inevitably you'll end up with fresh food in the trash because you don't have a plan to use what you buy. Overspending is another obvious danger, of course.

The best strategy for meal planning and grocery shopping, in my experience, is somewehre in the middle. It involves three very simple steps:

1. Make your meal plans "flex plans." Plan in advance generally what you'll have for weeknight dinners (like meatless Monday, pasta Tuesday, soup Wednesday, crock-pot Thursday, pizza Friday).
2. Shop with an eye out for sales. Learn what is a reasonable price to pay for the items you buy regularly, and develop a mental "high number" that you won't go over (like, "I won't pay more than $1.29/lb for apples"). Never, EVER buy meat that isn't on sale. There is always something on sale that you can incorporate into your flexible meal planning strategy.
3. Plan to eat from both pantry and fresh food storage during the week, with a specific plan to eat or freeze (and, again, plan to eat later) all leftovers before your next trip to the grocery store. Planning is key here!

As I said in the first installment of Kitchen Keeping, the biggest hurdle in frugal cooking is a mental one! The actual steps are simple, once you change the way you think about your kitchen!

Just as a side note, let me answer the question that may be nagging at your mind right now: Why bother? Let's say that you and your spouse spend $500 per month on groceries. If you could save $200 per month by implementing these strategies, that is $2400 in your pocket (or bank account, or toward your mortgage) by this time next year. So we're not talking about working hard, feeling deprived, and ending up with not much to show for it. That is real money, people! It's worth it.

Um...Yeah... Totally Unrelated to Kitchen Keeping at All

So, the movie He's Just Not That Into You comes out February 6th in the U.S. Having read excerpts of the book and knowing the general premise (namely that a man who likes a woman goes after her, therefore if he doesn't go after her, he isn't interested in her), I'm predisposed to like it already.

Potential pros of this movie:
good plot premise
awkwardness
Justin Long
Ginnifer Goodwin
seriously, Ben Affleck is in this movie? Where the crap has he been the last five years?

Potential cons of this movie:
cheesiness
over-awkwardness
Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore is a terrible actress
She also is awkward
She's also not very bright-seeming
Also Drew Barrymore.

But anyway...

This video definitely increased the probability that I will drop ten bucks to go see HJNTIY. It's about six minutes long, and it's called "10 Chick-Flick Cliches You Won't Find in He's Just Not That Into You."* It stars three of the male leads, who act out the ten chick-flick cliches, complete with soaring violins and green-screen backgrounds. Classic!

*Caution: N particularly SFW as it contains one bleeped but still recognizable off-color remark.

1.27.2009

Kitchen Keeping Tips #2 -- Getting Ready

Once you've become aware of what you buy, food's true cost, how you cook, and so-called "scraps" in your kitchen, you're ready. Well, almost.

I've been in the kitchen a looong time -- from the time I could reach the counter on a step-stool, Mom put me to work stirring, measuring, rolling, mixing, and peeling. I still hate peeling. Anyway. In all that time, I've learned that there are some things that you really need, and a whole lot of things you really do NOT need.

Here are my absolute essentials. In other words, these are things you'd find it pretty tough to cook extensively at home without:

two knives -- one 8 or 10 inch chef's knife and one small paring knife. There's almost nothing you can't cut with these two. Knife sets are a HUGE rip-off -- you can get a good chef's knife for $30-40, and a paring knife for $5, and that's absolutely all you need. Buy your knives (both of 'em!) individually from a place where you can actually hold them and see if they fit your hands and feel comfortable. And keep them sharp. Repeat after me: "A sharp knife is a safe knife!" You can use the bottom of a coffee mug to hone your blades. Then a couple times a year, take them to a cutler and have them professionally sharpened. It should only set you back a few bucks per blade. If you have funds for a third knife, make it a good serrated knife, which will serve you well for bread, chicken carving, tomatoes, and anything delicate.

two or three cooking pots -- 1) a large dutch oven or oven-safe stock pot for soups, making stock, boiling pasta, doing braises, etc. The heavier the better. 2) A 10-12 inch skillet with a heavy base, nonstick or not, cast iron if you can find one. This you'll use for browning, stir-fries, sauteing, making sauces, and on and on. It's your everyday pan. Get an oven-safe one if you can. 3) A 3-4 quart saucepan, again with a heavy base. Useful for steaming veggies, cooking short pasta, making sauces, etc.

a few baking items -- a couple of bread pans, a 9"x12" glass or porcelain baking dish, a muffin tin, and one or two sturdy half-sheet pans, which are DIRT CHEAP at Sam's Club, Costco, and restaurant supply stores.

a few (FEW!!) utensils -- a couple of wooden spoons, a whisk, a pancake turner/flipper thing, a garlic press, a vegetable peeler, a bottle opener, a can opener, a rubber spatula, kitchen shears, and a pair of tongs. I cannot live without my tongs -- they're by far the most versatile utensil in my kitchen.

some miscellaneous stuff -- a medium-sized and a large mixing bowl, a couple of big cutting boards (one for raw meat, one for everything else), a good set of measuring cups and spoons (or a scale), and a big glass liquid measuring cup.


In the "maybe" or "when you have the money" category:

a roasting pan. I got one for $20.

a meat thermometer

an oven timer

a square baking dish

an electric kettle (this is an essential for me as a tea drinker, and it has lots of other uses, but for most Americans it's not really crucial)

an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer (like a KitchenAid)

a food processor

serving pieces



In the "heck no, what are you thinking" category:

citrus juicer

egg slicer

anything from an infomercial

knife sets (see above)

anything that only does one thing (a "unitasker") like mango slicers, avocado forks and other absurd drawer-space-wasters.


Next up: stocking that pantry!

1.26.2009

Kitchen Keeping Tips #1 -- Mindfulness

Ok, ok. "Mindfulness" is a totally granola, Oprah, new-agey word. I got it.

But when it comes to kitchen keeping, the first step is just that -- being aware, mindful, of what you already do, and becoming aware of the areas where you most need to change. I had an acquaintance who spent $500 or $600 per month on food for just two people. I'll give you Aussies a sec to do the conversion there, but can we all agree it's way too freaking much money to spend on food?

And why did she spend that much money? Because she had no idea how much she was actually spending or what she was going to do with what she bought. She just wandered into the grocery store, looked at her list, and threw things into her cart. She never looked at a price tag, never compared prices, found the best deal, or substituted a lower-priced item for a higher one. And then at home, she just cooked whatever she wanted to eat without planning to use leftovers, so she wound up throwing food away every week.

Don't be like that.

Become aware of what you buy. If you think your grocery budget could stand a trim, go through the grocery store and, as you pick up items on your list, ask yourself: Why am I buying this? Is it just a habit (I always get bananas when I grocery shop, etc.) or do I have a plan to make sure I use it before it goes bad? Is this the best use of my money?

Become aware of the true cost of things. Not just the price per ounce (or gram, perhaps?), though that is also extremely important, but the cost to Creation and to your body as well. A cheap cut of meat that comes from an animal that was raised on a super-polluting factory farm, treated cruelly, pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals, slaughtered inhumanely, and butchered carelessly is not as "cheap" as it seems.

Become aware of how you cook. Do you find yourself spending money to buy recipe ingredients that you never use again? Can you improvise with what you have in your cupboards and fridge, or are you chained to a cookbook every time you step into the kitchen? Can you creatively re-use leftovers or are you constantly either repeating the same meal or throwing out old food?

Become aware of scraps. Seriously. I mentioned my "stock bag" in my last post. It's full of the odd bits of vegetables that I would otherwise have tossed-- onion and garlic skins, parsley stems, carrot ends, celery tops, etc. -- plus the giblets and neck from the last chicken I roasted. When the meat gets picked off that chicken, his skin and bones will go in the stock bag too. When the bag is full, I'll soak the bones in acidic water to get the calcium and magnesium to dissolve, and then I'll cook the veg ends along with the chicken bones and skin to make a rich, nutritious stock. Why should all that goodness go in the landfill? And what else are you throwing out that could have another use?

1.23.2009

Frugal frugal frugal

When I was growing up, we lived on a pastor's salary while my mom stayed home. So... you do the math and figure out if we were the kind of family that ate out three or four times a week. Hint: no.

We had a garden. We bought ingredients instead of prepared food and cooked all our meals from scratch. We bought beef once a year from a local rancher. We didn't waste food, ever.

For my mother, it wasn't such a stretch. She, like many in my parents' generation, was raised by folks who grew up during the depression, whose frugality wasn't an affectation, but a characteristic learned by bitter necessity. But somewhere in the prosperity of the last thirty years, my parents' generation struggled to pass the skills of frugal living and frugal eating along to my generation. And for many people my age, we had little motivation to learn those skills. In times of unparalleled economic growth and national wealth, it seemed unnecessary to many of us to learn how to bake our own bread, how to plant a garden, how to make a roast chicken stretch into three meals, how to can and preserve food.

But I'm blessed to have a stubborn mother whose dad was the youngest of eleven and grew up on a farm. Gardening, baking, canning, and generally saving money were second nature to her. I basically grew up in her kitchen. And now that we seem to be in for a long haul with this recession, I'm more glad than ever for that fact. I can bake bread (and I do!). I can make delicious meals with frugal ingredients. I can home-can produce and beans. And these skills are saving me money.

I was talking with my awesome, gorgeous sister-in-law last night and, on the topic of stretching grocery budgets and feeding ourselves and our loved ones with less meat and more love, I said, "By golly, if our grandmothers could do it, so can we!"

Too often what hinders people (especially women) in my generation from really mastering domestic frugality is just plain fear: fear that it's too hard, that it's not worth it, that we really can't do it even if we try. But that's just not true! We can do everything our grandmothers did to steward our finances and care for our families. We truly can.

1.12.2009

A glimmer of hope on a dim horizon

Flame. LeCrae. Shai Linne.

If those names don't sound familiar to you, they should. They are men who preach the whole Gospel boldly, who aren't afraid to talk serious theology while dropping some serious beats and spitting some serious rhymes. It's crazy stuff, and y'all need to get all over it right now.

While you're waiting for your shiny new Shai Linne album to come in, hop on over to the man's blog and check out what he has to say about serving the Lord with fear and rejoicing.

Go on.

1.10.2009

Roundball, Baby.

So, you thought Davidson v. Oklahoma was exciting back in November? Or that nailbiting Tennessee-Gonzaga game last week? Or U of L taking up the bitter fight against UK over the Christmas holidays? Well, you would be wrong.

NOW is when the roundball matchups get really exciting. Take a look at the games today. Louisville-Villanova, for example. That's not just sweat rolling off those youthful foreheads. It's determination, even desperation. Rage. These are the games that matter -- a major loss for either of these teams, currently ranked 21 and 17, respectively, in the second half of the season means being pushed back to the bottom of a hill far too steep to climb between now and the start of March Madness.

The play gets uglier now. Uglier, and bolder, and riskier, and much, much better. Defensive players who watched, stultified, while the offense took three or four shots now light up under their opponents' basket, fighting for rebounds, stealing passes, risking goaltending calls to knock the ball back.

And on offense, even the most prima of prima donnas suddenly realizes that there are four other guys on the court. Passing gets cleaner and more creative. Players cut better, and shot selection improves. Even musclebound, Shaq-esque lugs get their feet moving to get open.

It's the purest form of the purest form of the game of basketball.

If you haven't been watching up to this point... well, what exactly are you waiting for?

And one more thing. Tyler who? Steph Curry is the best basketball player in the NCAA. Don't even try to argue with me.

1.07.2009

Ask the Question.

Linked to a really interesting article today by Carl Trueman on what he calls the "shibboleth" of cultural relevance in Evangelicalism. He describes a conversation he had with a student about Mel Gibson's uber-blockbuster, The Passion of the Christ. "We then," he recalls, "entered a discussion about whether it was right to depict Christ visually on the big screen." The upshot? Take a look:

At the end of the discussion, he said that he felt sorry for me because my qualms about the visual depiction of Christ were making me irrelevant to ministry in the modern church. [...] What shocked me in this encounter, however, was not that we had different views on the matter, but that the student could not even see that there was any question to be asked. For him, the question of the meaning, relevance, and application of the second commandment was not even a question. He just thought it was obvious that anything which generated interest in Jesus was a good thing; thus, my concerns about the visual depiction of Christ revealed me as an irrelevant old hack, a superannuated puritan who simply didn't get it. [...T]his student did not even have the categories to see that there was any question to be asked.


Yesterday my eighth graders and I talked about worldview. I admit it's a hard line to walk, to explain the importance of living Christianly while not pushing my students toward total neurosis about the Christianness of each decision. I've quoted Luther on the subject of living an ordinary life that God makes extraordinary, and Trueman references Pascal's similar views on the blessing of relaxation and even entertainment.

I guess I don't really have any concluding thoughts about this -- I just want to emphasize my agreement with Trueman that we must ask these sorts of hard questions about culture, but without allowing ourselves to turn into whack jobs who have a "theology of vacuuming" and the like.

Read the article for yourself. It's a nice little rant, with a lot to ponder.

1.06.2009

OK, It's late, but...

Quick rant:

What is up with guys doing covert ops on girls they're interested in? You know what our parents called it when a guy was getting to know a girl he was interested in? They called it DATING. Because they were DATING. Gosh.

Is it really so hard to walk up to a girl and say, "Hey, would you like to have a coffee this Saturday afternoon?" Surely it cannot possibly be as complicated as spending six months scoping her out, trying to get the skinny on her from all her friends via your friends, hemming and hawing around, sending her name out to the prayer committee at your parents' church, confessing to your accountability partner that you think she's hot, casually and vaguely mentioning group outings in her presence... all the while planning to ambush her with a carefully scripted speech. It's like sleight-of-hand dating: Now, look here, nothing in my hand, look closely, and... PRESTO! I pulled a coin from your ear! I mean, WE'RE DATING!

Just. Say. No.