Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The straitjacket that is “congregation”

Church leaders and pastors admonish Christians to find a congregation, join one, become involved. Congregations provide support, a place to learn and grow, accountability – they say.

I agree that belonging to a Christian fellowship and meeting together regularly is valuable, that it does accomplish at least some of the things that are often touted as beneficial and necessary. At the same time, the cynical part of me thinks, “And it’s a way to make sure leaders get their paychecks and validate their calling and their work…”

As someone who does have a regular church family, but also one who frequents other churches, I’ve noticed a dark side to congregations.

Congregations can become a straitjacket for Christians – both individually and their churches.

What do I mean? A congregation can become narrowly focused. It can come to think that it is self-sufficient. It can become suspicious of other churches and Christians. It can come to believe that it is the most “right” or the only “right” church in the community. It can come to think that they have a special calling for God that no one else has, and that if they don’t follow through the community will be lost.

You might look at the above and think how could anyone, least of all you, think that. Maybe not consciously, but the insidious nature of fellowshipping exclusively is that subconsciously Christians and congregations may take on some of all of the above beliefs about themselves.

When it happens Christian witness is weakened. Those on the outside, instead of seeing a single Christian Church, see a bunch of little churches doing their own thing, trying to grow their own little domains. I’m not accusing churches of intentionally doing such a thing, but it’s what people outside the churches see that matter.

I think that if Christians spent a few days each year worshiping with congregations that aren’t their own, it could vastly improve the strength and unity of the Church within a community. Christians would see (not just in theory, but in practice) that God is working through more than just their home congregation. They would see that differences in theology, differences in orthopraxy, and all the other differences aren’t so important to the mission of caring for the hurts of the world. They would see that “right” is often a matter of tradition and perspective. They would see that there can be great good in working together.

Or, maybe I’m just speaking for myself in this whole essay (or some might say, rant).

These past six months or so I’ve spent most of my Sunday mornings at a single church, offering my musical services. I’ve personally felt less connected to other churches as a result. I feel more isolated.

I need to take some occasional Sundays off from serving to reconnect with other congregations.

From what I’ve seen of the earliest churches and their practice, they met in small groups but their association was more fluid. They would meet together as larger groups, and individuals would go from one group to another. I think we need more “moving around”.

I’d like to encourage individual Christians to make intentional effort to visit other congregations, even ones that differ considerably from your usual tradition, and ones that may believe quite differently from you.

I’d like to encourage pastors and church leaders to encourage their church members to take two or three Sundays away from their home churches and spend time worshiping in another church in the community.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spring, in February?

For some reason, winter hasn’t been around much. The ground is bare, there is very little ice, and daytime temperatures are spring-like, that is to say, in the upper thirties (F). You can see for yourself in these photos. I’m probably jinxing the weather by writing this though. (Waiting for a to-be-announced huge snowstorm to blow through…)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

‘Tis been a warm winter so far

A bout of a cold struck and shot me down a week ago. That coincided with a couple of dry days in Petersburg; days during which I did not get a chance to get out. There’s been some nasty diseases around here from the flu to strep throat so I didn’t want to take a chance. Fortunately I only had one bad day and have been on the quick road to recover since.

I heard dripping wetness coming down off the roof last night, but when I looked out of the windows this morning I saw that some fog but the clouds were starting to break. Since I was going out for coffee anyway I carried along a camera. By the time I left the coffee shop about an hour later, the skies had cleared but the wind had picked up considerably. I walked out toward Middle Harbor to see what it was like out there.

Here’s how things looked.

R0014167R0014168R0014171a

This has been an interesting winter so far. We’ve had some snow in the early season, but overall it has been on the warm side since. There is no snow pack at the lower elevations, and in town, the roads are clear of snow and ice.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Responses to Bill Cosby fake e-mail

I’ve seen the fake Bill Cosby e-mail floating around a number of times in recent weeks. First, his official site says it does not express his views. Second, even if you happen to believe any or all of the message, what does it say about you when you spread it against the express wishes of Mr. Cosby?

Here are some counterpoints against the screed.

At first I was going to just leave it at that, but oh heck, let’s take a look at it and see what I think.

Bill Cosby "I'm 83 and Tired"

Well, we know that is not true in any way.

I've worked hard since I was 17. Except for when I was doing my National Service, I put in 50-hour weeks, and didn't call in sick in nearly 40 years. I made a reasonable salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, it looks as though retirement was a bad idea, and I'm tired. Very tired.

None of the details are true. So what is the message? “I’m a workaholic”…? “I have no life”…? That you made poor decisions during those 40 years so you can’t have a decent retirement? Ok, maybe that isn’t what you intended, but that’s what I see.

No, I know what you’re trying to say. You’re trying to say that all I have is due to my own efforts and no one else’s. Good for you. Are you sure you didn’t receive any assistance from anyone?

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy to earn it.

Well, it’s a good thing you’re not retiring, because I assume you would refuse any kind of retirement benefits except for those coming directly from your own investments.

I’m sure there are bad apples who are truly lazy when they really could be working. But there are many more who want to work who aren’t being hired, or those who do work but don’t earn a living wage. There are also those who truly cannot work. There is such a thing as a “common good” that forms a social contract.

If religious institutions, businesses, and other private organizations truly took care of every person unable to work or earn enough, perhaps government wouldn’t need to step in. But from what I’ve seen, religious institutions tend to discriminate against certain groups, businesses aren’t interested in taking care of the needy, and there aren’t enough other charities and people willing to donate to causes to fully fill in the gaps. So I’m sorry, but government has a role to fill.

I'm tired of being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace," when every day I can read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters, wives and daughters for their family "honor"; of Muslims rioting over some slight offense; Muslims murdering Christian and Jews because they aren't "believers"; Muslims burning schools for girls; Muslims stoning teenage rape victims to death for "adultery"; Muslims mutilating the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the Qur'an and Shari'a law tells them to.

Let’s not stop at Muslims. For some reason, religious extremism and fundamentalism corrupts all religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, you name it. Have you heard of the proposal to legalize killings of abortion providers? In South Dakota? Yeah. Take the plank out of your own eye before trying to take the speck out of your neighbor’s.

Yes, there are extremist Muslims and these examples given certainly remind us that there are some truly atrocious actions done in the name of religion. But do you personally know average Muslims and have you spent any time with their community? Don’t stereotype and paint a entire people group with a narrow description.

I'm tired of being told that out of "tolerance for other cultures" we must let Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries use our oil money to fund mosques and Madrasa Islamic schools to preach hate in Australia , New Zealand , UK, America and Canada , while no one from these countries are allowed to fund a church, synagogue or religious school in Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country to teach love and tolerance..

Two things. First, when we buy oil, the purchase money is no longer “ours”. They can do whatever they want with it. Second, if we’ve suddenly developed morals and ethics in our energy spending, maybe we can spend them on other forms of energy, or pay more for oil from geographies that aren’t so problematic. But that means higher energy costs for all of us. We can choose between greed and ethics.

Fear leads to repression. What you are saying and suggesting is that we prevent the teachings of ideas that we find offensive. But let me ask, who is “we” and how do “we” determine what is offensive? That’s the problem with freedom of conscience, of religion, of speech. We have to allow those things that offend us. Because we believe in the end, truth can win over error, without having to employ force, coercion, or repression. Because to employ force, coercion, or repression to disallow offensive speech and teachings is to become the very thing we are trying to avoid.

I'm tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global warming, which no one is allowed to debate.

First of all, there has been plenty of debate. Second, whenever new technologies are needed, it presents an opportunity, an opportunity for economic growth and better lives.

The scientific evidence is overwhelmingly towards climate change. The fact that there were some problems with research ethics around this issue does not negate the science. They are two different issues.

I'm tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do. Did a giant germ rush out of a dark alley, grab them, and stuff white powder up their noses or stick a needle in their arm while they tried to fight it off?

This is not a simple issue; it is complex. Ignoring it hasn’t helped and the problem will only grow. Treating drug addiction as a crime hasn’t helped either. We need a multifaceted approach that addresses all areas: those getting wealthy from the drug trade, the producers, the distributors, and yes, the addicts. Psychological studies have shown that treating addiction using a disease model has better results than treating it as a crime.

Let’s suppose we stop treating addicts. What happens to them? Do they get locked up? For how long? Who pays for that?

Stop treating everything that happens in the world in simplistic black or white terms.

I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of all parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. I'm tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

Well now, isn’t that being a tad bit judgmental of you. It’s probably true that some are only sorry for getting caught, but all? You’re implying that people in power and influence are never truly sorry and never accept responsibility. That, to me, says more about your narrow-mindedness than about them.

I'm really tired of people who don't take responsibility for their lives and actions. I'm tired of hearing them blame the government, or discrimination or big-whatever for their problems.

I almost agree with you here. Almost. There is much that a person can accomplish by taking responsibility and making good choices. But there is also quite a bit of influence that circumstances, environment, and even just plain dumb random chance can have on how things turn out. Many obstacles can be overcome by hard work and effort, but there are other obstacles that simply are. And from some perspectives this may not be considered promoting equality of opportunity, and maybe that is a legitimate case of faulting the government, or religion, or business, or “big-whatever”. Can something be done about such obstacles? Maybe if enough people speak out against it, mobilize, and do something. But to fault complaining or blaming as a problem in itself, is off the mark.

By the way, aren’t you sort of blaming the government for some of the “problems” you raise in this screed?

I'm also tired and fed up with seeing young men and women in their teens and early 20's be-deck themselves in tattoos and face studs, thereby making themselves unemployable and claiming money from the Government.

Uh, really? Have you been to Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington? Because I’ve seen plenty of employed young people matching the description you give here.

Maybe you’re just a little prejudiced against people that don’t look like you. That is not their problem; it’s yours.

Yes, I'm damn tired. But I'm also glad to be 83.. Because, mostly, I'm not going to have to see the world these people are making. I'm just sorry for my granddaughter and their children. Thank God I'm on the way out and not on the way in. There is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on! This is your chance to make a difference.

So that’s it? After all that ranting, you’re giving up? You’re no better than all the people you just criticized.

“I’m 83 and I'm tired. If you don't agree you are part of the problem!

I’m tired, too, not of what you describe, but of seeing bigotry, prejudice, and misrepresentations, and of not having a wide enough vision to see all the good that is taking place, of not having enough faith that good always finds a way. Maybe not in your lifetime or mine, but some day.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Winter Squash Pasta Sauce

I had some kabochas sitting around and I needed to use them in some way. Yesterday afternoon I was informed that our daughter was bringing a couple friends over to try on some dresses for homecoming and would be around for dinner.

Okay… what shall I put together for teenage girls whose culinary tastes I don’t know at all? Pasta is generally a safe choice. But how could I work kabocha into it? And should I even try? I figured that sauce from a jar would be present in case my plan failed, so with that I split open the kabocha and stuck them in the oven.

I imagined a cream based sweet-savory sauce, so I went to my usual go-to aromatics of onions and garlic to form the base. Some red pepper flakes and oregano to provide an accent, and I was on my way. Together with broth, cream, some grated Romano cheese, the baked squash combined into a thick sauce. I boiled some Rotini, and then right before serving stirred in a bit of Extra Virgin olive oil into the sauce.

Now came the verdict: what did the girls think about it? No one turned it down, and all went for multiple helpings – apparently a success. To further prove the point, I was asked to write down the recipe.

The backup Marinara sauce never got touched.

Winter Squash Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 medium butternut or kabocha squash, split and seeded
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • Pinch, red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 red onion diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Place squash halves on baking sheet, cut side down. Place in oven (okay to start cold) and bake at 425F for about an hour or until very soft. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle without burning fingers. Meanwhile, prep any remaining ingredients.
  2. In a large saucepan heat vegetable oil over medium heat. When hot drop in red pepper flakes and let sizzle for about 30 seconds. Add oregano and onions and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add broth and cream. Bring to simmer and reduce heat to keep at simmer.
  3. Peel outer skin off of squash and add flesh to the broth and cream. Stir, breaking down squash into a thick sauce. Stir in cheese. Stir in 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Add more to taste. Add more broth if sauce appears to be too thick.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in olive oil.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Saying Nothing Might Have Been Better

The North American Religious Liberty Association (NARLA) issued the following release following the U.S. Post Office’s announcement that later in 2013 it will cease home and business delivery of mail on Saturdays.

 

Adventists Celebrate The End of Saturday Mail Delivery in the United States

In what Seventh-day Adventist Church Associate Counsel Todd McFarland hailed as "great news for Adventists and people who keep Sabbath throughout the United States," the U.S. Postal Service announced today that it would cease Saturday mail delivery beginning August 1. Saturday package delivery will continue, and post offices will remain open on Saturdays, but with reduced hours.

The move was motivated by tens of billions of dollars in losses in recent years, and should save the agency about $2 billion a year. However the decision has a positive, albeit unintended, consequence as well.

"For decades the USPS has been the single most troublesome employer for those seeking Sabbath workplace accommodation. Halting Saturday delivery will not only prevent many future Sabbath observance conflicts for Adventists employed by the post office, but will help resolve current situations in which mail carrier-church members are experiencing discrimination," said McFarland.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that job discrimination complaints continue to grow at an alarming rate in the United States, with charges based on religious discrimination jumping by 9.5 percent in 2011, the largest increase of any category.

While I don’t disagree with the release in that it will become easier for many postal workers who believe in a particular religious practice – that of observing the Sabbath on Saturday by refraining from work – I’m not sure that this release is appropriate.

The problems I see are as follows:

First, the release conflates an implied religious liberty victory (“great news”) with a change in employment practice necessitated by economic and business conditions.

Second, the release implies that a unilateral change that affects all employees for the sake of a few (“Adventists and for people who keep Sabbath”) is more valuable and morally right than the right and freedom for those who don’t believe in Sabbath to be on Saturday to work and obtain income.

Third, in spite of its source from NARLA, the release fails to address religious liberty in any meaningful way. By writing, “For decades the USPS has been the single most troublesome employer for those seeking Sabbath workplace accommodation. Halting Saturday delivery will not only prevent many future Sabbath observance conflicts for Adventists employed by the post office, but will help resolve current situations in which mail carrier-church members are experiencing discrimination”, the release seems to communicate that legal arguments, logic, and ethics don’t matter as long as we (NARLA) get the results we want. The statement makes the implicit assertion that “our view is the only right one and any that conflicts with ours is wrong”. It is essentially the same philosophical position that is held by the USPS.

I think it would have been better if NARLA had just kept silent on this development, or if it had to say something, to temper its statement.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Tater Tot Nachos or “Totchos”

Apparently tater tots are becoming the next “in” ingredient at some restaurants. Bon Appetit writes, “And while they'll always be second to french fries, chefs are starting to show them some respect on menus.” And in an article on alternative nachos the tots are featured in Mole Tots at Bunk Bar in Portland, Ore.

Inspired by the articles, here’s my take on the Mole Tot “Totchos”. There’s not much of a recipe. It’s mostly eyeballing stuff and intuition to get what you think will be good.

I made it for lunch today, and another to take to the KFSK radio annual member meeting potluck.

For the Totchos

  • Bag of frozen tater tots
  • Mole sauce
  • Sour cream or crema
  • Avocado
  • Pico de Gallo
  • Queso Fresca
  • Green onions

For the Pico de Gallo

  • Red onion
  • Tomatoes
  • Jalapenos
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • Cumin
  • Salt and pepper

R0014161Bake the tater tots (or you could fry them, but that means more fat). Overbake them a bit because they’ll be at the bottom of a bunch of wet layers.
R0014162Pour mole sauce over the tots. (I put the tots into another dish.)
R0014163Spread some sour cream next, and then lay down some avocado slices.
R0014164Continue layering with pico de gallo, queso fresca, and chopped up green onions.