Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guest Blogging: Advent Love: Day 5

Given that this is Love week, let's talk about the love of God for a few minutes. God loves you. I expect that if you're reading this, you know that. And God loved us all Soo--ooo much that he sent Jesus down as a baby to be born . . . upon a midnight clear . . . and laid in the sweet smelling hay . . . with the gentle beasts all around him . . . and we cast the scene in a sentimental soft light glow, and call that the love of God during this season. But you know what? The love of God is bigger and brighter than that. More difficult. More all-consuming. Less a 40 watt light bulb, and more of a nuclear explosion.

There's a great Old Testament word--hesed. (It's one of my pastor-husband's favorite words to preach on.) It gets translated love, loving-kindness, mercy, faithfulness, covenant faithfulness. It's all those things and more. The Jesus Storybook Bible talks of it as God's "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love." It's God keeping his promises to us, and finding a way to rescue us from our sin because it's who he IS, and he can no more be unfaithful or unloving to us than we can make a square circle or smell blue. It would be a nonsensical impossibility.

And this is the love of God that is being called on and celebrated in the readings this morning. Psalms 146 and 147, two of the great praise psalms, remind us that hope and salvation are in God. That he is our faithful king, that he rescues all who call him . . . and that if we look to people for the sort of salvation and faithfulness that only come from God, we're going to be disappointed every time. But Yahweh lifts up the humble and heals the broken-hearted. It is with the knowledge and assurance of the hesed of God that the psalmist of Psalm 80 calls for rescue. And then we get to Zechariah, and I'm going to steal a little from tomorrow's reading, because the canticle of Zechariah is one of the great songs of the Bible.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
(Luke 1:68-72 ESV)

That showing mercy? That's hesed, there. But let's look just a second at just who God redeems and how and why. He redeems his people. He raised up a horn of salvation for us. He calls us and redeems us together. Now of course, there is no group that is not made up of individuals, but God doesn't leave us alone to be individuals. He puts us together with other people to . . . do hesed to each other. To love each other. Be faithful to each other. To help each other along the path of redemption.

Real love is hard. Loving real people with real problems is hard. That's one of the reasons that the soft-glow version of Christmas doesn't really do us much good. If we have a God who nicely loves people who don't actually have much in the way of problems that they need fixed, it doesn't help us in loving each other when we run facelong into the fact that really loving real people, in our church, in our marriages, with our children, in our communities, is rather horribly gritty most days. Loving my kindergartner when she's home sick with stomach flu . . . well, there's just not much you can do to romanticize that, or cast it in a 40 watt glow. But God, in his Never Stopping, Never Giving Up Love, becomes Incarnate. He detonates a bomb of mercy, grace, forgiveness and God-With-Us-ness into our world, because that's what it needs, and so that's what he's going to give.

God loves you. God loves me too. He loves my kids, more than I do. He loves the elderly lady in the pew across the aisle, and the uncooperative kid who just wants to lie on the floor during junior church. He meets us at the point of our brokenness and dwells with us and loves us, and heals us, and saves us. And by loving us this way, God teaches us how to love this way. He shows us that love starts with being present. Which he is. That is reason for praise.
The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 146:10 ESV)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls to go with our coffee

What? I hadn't posted this recipe? I've given it out far too many times to not have the link handy. Also, if I have it up online, then I don't need to remember to pack the recipe for myself when I'm supposed to make these somewhere else. Like at my parents' house for Thanksgiving breakfast tomorrow morning . . .

So a little bit of a backstory. My husband has a weakness for baked goods. He has a weakness for cinnamon. Put the two together and you have a man who believes that good cinnamon rolls are basically the perfect food, and that even bad cinnamon rolls are pretty good. To properly take care of my husband, and to save myself from a steady stream of those grocery store cinnamon rolls that never taste nearly so good as they look, I decided I need to learn to make the best cinnamon rolls humanly possible. Fortunately, we were in the right city.

The snack shops at the University of British Columbia make their own cinnamon rolls daily, and have left a city full of alumni addicted to them. The Vancouver Sun kindly prints the recipe on a regular basis.

UBC Cinnamon Rolls, adapted:

1 cup milk plus 3 TBSP water
2 TBSP butter
1 egg
3/4 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups flour
2 TBSP sugar
2 tsp yeast

1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar combined with
1 TBSP cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, divided

Mix dough ingredients in bread machine on dough cycle or in a stand mixer. (If you use a stand mixer, let dough rise until doubled after mixing). Take out and knead in barely enough flour to make it possible to handle. This is a very sticky dough. Melt 1/4 cup of the butter and pour it into the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass baking pan. Roll the dough out into a 12 x 12 square. Melt the other 1/4 cup butter and smooth it over dough. Top with cinnamon sugar. Roll up jelly roll style and slice into 12 one inch slices. Arrange in baking pan. Cover and let the cinnamon rolls rise again, either in a warm place until doubled in size (if you want to bake immediately) or in the fridge overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Frost as desired.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I can't believe I haven't saved this recipe to my blog. When I was in Scotland in 1996, I absolutely fell in love with STP. I cornered the mother of one of my Scottish acquaintances as someone who had a proper Scottish cookbook, brought the recipe home, and it's been one of my signature desserts ever since. A word to Americans: "pudding" in British parlance is simply "dessert" to Americans, so this cake and sauce combo bears no resemblance to Jell-O anything. This is the only version of the recipe that I've seen that calls for the coffee flavoring in the cake, and I think it really makes it. :)

The Cake (12-16 servings):
6 Tbsp. real butter
2 eggs
5/8 cup of flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. coffee extract and 1/4 cup water or 1/4 cup espresso
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
optional: add stoned dates, soaking in liquid ahead of time to soften
Bake the cake 350-375 for 25-35 minutes in a 8" round pan

1/2 cup butter
6 Tbsp. heavy cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
Boil butter and brown sugar. Reduce to low. Add cream one tablespoon at a time and stir until smooth.

Serve cake with sauce and whipped cream. Lick plate.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

thank goodness it hasn't been like this . . . .

It's the creamer-sugar-spoon mobile that really makes it for me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: In Constant Prayer, by Robert Benson

"Get this book," my best friend told me. "I've been meaning to buy it for you--I thought of you every chapter when I read it." This is the friend who knows me better than anyone except my husband--there was nothing to do but get the book.

Benson's "In Constant Prayer" is a book about liturgical prayer, specifically about using the daily office for what most evangelicals would call personal quiet time. It's a primer on what the daily office is for people who think that is office is where you keep your desk. It's a challenge and encouragement to the Protestants to take up this ancient practice. It's a poetic meditation on beauty and challenges of choosing this form of structuring your prayer life.

It's been a long time since I read a book that simultaneously challenged, convicted and encouraged me like this one has. Here is a way to practice prayer, he suggests, for those of us who are no good at praying and aren't ever going to be on our own. It's utterly deflating and freeing. So you're not a praying artiste. You don't need to be. You don't need to reinvent "quiet time." The church throughout the ages has an easy step-by-step guide for you.

Most American Christians are not very good people of prayer. If you feel like you ought to pray more, but just can't quite seem to get it to work, try praying by the recipe with Benson and the daily office.

Five stars.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Who does OSHA think they are--

limiting Science with their small-minded regulations?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Review: International Children's Bible, "Big Red"

As a mother of four with concerns about discipleship, I'm interested in anything that will get my kids interacting with scripture. Touted as "The Translation Children can read and understand" and "now with fresh 3-D art," I was interested to take a look. Sadly, I was diappointed on all counts.

One of the things I've learned as a parent is that any book that I want my children to read must be built to withstand a child's handling, but this Bible wouldn't last a month with my first-grader. It's cheap paperback version with standard Bible-onion-skin pages and standard Bible six point font. It fails on the durability and readability counts. This isn't a Bible that they can grow with.

I'm ambivalent about the "fresh art for a video-game generation." The artwork looks like a set of World of Warcraft screen shots. Lots of ripped biceps and action hero stubble. I also wonder if a generation which has been systematically trained to view this style of artwork as "not real" or "only a game" wouldn't actually lead some children to have a lesser view of the veracity of scripture.

As for the translation itself, the ICB is also known as the New Century Version. It's a dynamic equivalence version--with rather more dynamic than equivalence, it seems. (A good overview of the history of the NCV can be found here.) It's not a translation that I would personally choose for my children, for a couple of reasons. One, simplifying the language down to a third grader's level of understanding is itself a translational choice. There are some passages of scripture that I as an adult do not understand--we do our children a disservice if we teach them that the Bible ought to be able to be squeezed into the box of our own understanding. As the above link points out, there are glosses that drift into full mis-translations here. Two (related by not quite the same), adults often forget that children can smell condescension a mile away, and have nothing but scorn for it. Children don't want something that has been "dumbed down" for them. They want the real thing. It's a balancing act, of course, to present children with "the real thing" in a form and to a degree that will not overwhelm or daunt them, but this isn't a translation that seems to add much to the mix. As regards "extras," the dictionary, concordance and maps are quite decent, but not enough to make up for the other drawbacks.

Two stars out of five.