Expecting the Word – Advent One – Wednesday

My Advent series this year will follow the Words Matter Advent study from the National Council of Churches. Download the whole booklet if you’d like, and follow along with the writings for each day. I’d love to discuss them with you. Also, here is a link to the Advent readings from the Inclusive Bible. I prefer the more inclusive language here, than the NRSV texts used in the study booklet (be sure to read the note on page 6).

1 Corinthians 1:3-9.

Wow! After my little rant yesterday about the names for God, and how I (try to remember to) speak of the Holiness, we have this passage from Corinthians where Paul is reminding us that “the coming Gospel of Jesus Christ arrives through words.” Once more, I encourage you to compare the passage from the NRSV and the Inclusive Bible. The thing that just jumps out at me today is the difference in use of “Lord” and “Savior”.

I know that the compilers of the Inclusive Bible were very deliberate in using Savior (or as I like to say, Redeemer). Lord, is not used, not only because of the masculine connotations, but also because of the power and ruling implications. If you really think about it, Jesus modeled a life of shared power. He gave his power away to the disciples and to everyone else. In the wilderness and on the cross he refused to show his power, even though he could have. He was much more interested in empowering those around him to carry on his redemption of society and the world.

I have heard people say they are uncomfortable with being a liturgist in church because they have to read or say the words of forgiveness. They seem to believe that forgiveness or redemption is an act reserved for God – in Holiness and Power! At PHPC we avoid that by having the congregation forgive each other, and themselves, when we say together “We are saved by grace, through faith – in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.” That’s the ultimate sharing of power – it bestows “Lordship” on each of us. We are a priesthood of all believers, and there is no Lord, only a Savior who shares all power with us.

Expecting the Word – Advent One – Tuesday

My Advent series this year will follow the Words Matter Advent study from the National Council of Churches. Download the whole booklet if you’d like, and follow along with the writings for each day. I’d love to discuss them with you. Also, here is a link to the Advent readings from the Inclusive Bible. I prefer the more inclusive language here, than the NRSV texts used in the study booklet (be sure to read the note on page 6).

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

If you are following along in the devotional reading, be sure to read the note about YHWH. I have a friend who is a Christian pastor, married to a devout Jew. She is always careful to write G-d. She says that modern Jews always address the Holy One as You, and never talk “about” G-d by name, saying the Holiness or the Holy One.

This is a day for you to read the scripture in both the NRSV and the Inclusive Bible. (I also looked it up in the Jerusalem Bible.) The Inclusive Bible and the Jerusalem Bible both say “Let your face smile on us” in verses 3, 7 and 19, while the NRSV says “Let your face shine.” The smile of G-d is enough to make us safe – to save us. I love the image of a beaming G-d, being so pleased with all of us that the Holy smile is enough to keep us eternally safe, enfolded in infinite Love.

Since we’re being picky about “words” today, this is as good a time as any for me to restate I am uncomfortable with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I much prefer Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. I even have a friend who insists that while Jesus was male when He walked this earth, the risen Christ was neither male, nor female, but both – like the rest of the Trinity. Big Al doesn’t understand my angst with using male pronouns for G-d, but then he has not had to live his entire life as an “other”.

Expecting the Word – Advent One – Monday

My Advent series this year will follow the Words Matter Advent study from the National Council of Churches. Download the whole booklet if you’d like, and follow along with the writings for each day. I’d love to discuss them with you. Also, here is a link to the Advent readings from the Inclusive Bible. I prefer the more inclusive language here, than the NRSV texts used in the study booklet (be sure to read the note on page 6).

Isaiah 64:1-9.

The study today reminds me that Advent is a time of endings and a time of new beginnings. I hope and pray that it will be that way for Big Al and me. We are approaching the end of two years of liminal living – the decision made to move to our (hopefully) final location after a nomadic life of relocation every couple of years. We’ve been almost two years rattling around in our house with minimal possessions – not wanting to buy new “stuff” because it will just cost us money to move it to Tacoma. We’ve found out just how little “things” matter to us – although there is still some angst when I can’t host Thanksgiving dinner one more year because we don’t have a decent-sized table, or enough plates, or even enough chairs for folks to sit on. I feel like our life has already been “rent asunder” like the mountains in Isaiah, and we’re waiting in the rubble for the potter to put us back together.

I’ve also reached the end of my time on session at Preston Hollow. The final meeting is tonight, and all the out-going elders are supposed to say a little bit about what their time on session has meant to them. For me it was a time to grow outside the boundaries of the local church. I was able to attend Presbytery meetings, and through the three years, I got to vote on four initiatives from General Assembly, a new General Presbyter, and countless church plantings, church closings, new calls, mission opportunities, and all the busy-ness of this wonderful denomination of ours. I also was able to attend several conferences where I met and got to know some amazing people in the Emerging church. I met Bryan McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Margaret Aymer Oget, Carol Howard Merritt, Bryan Merritt, Phil and Stephanie Shephard, and many more who are “being church” in small, out-of-the-way places around the country – bringing love to the least, the last, and the lost. I’ve also been able to rub elbows, virtually, with many others including Cynthia Bolbach, and Bruce Reyes-Chow. My proudest accomplishment was to be involved in the founding of Presbyterian Women Interest Group on Facebook, which has grown in six months from six people with an idea to over 450 women connecting, studying, and generally working for the kingdom of God in cyber-space.

The hope that I see in these Advent texts is definitely for a reshaping of my life, the church, and the world.

Expecting the Word – Advent One – Sunday

My Advent series this year will follow the Words Matter Advent study from the National Council of Churches. Download the whole booklet if you’d like, and follow along with the writings for each day. I’d love to discuss them with you. Also, here is a link to the Advent readings from the Inclusive Bible. I prefer the more inclusive language here, than the NRSV texts used in the study booklet (be sure to read the note on page 6).

Isaiah 64:1-9.

In this time of turmoil in our country, when the news brings fresh horrors and dashed hopes every day, I find myself wondering whether there is any hope. The pictures from the police brutality against the Occupiers, the rumors of conspiracy between governmental bodies to deny the protestors of their basic freedoms to peaceably assemble, and to speak what is on their hearts and minds, the images of starvation and famine in lands near and far, the reports of greed and disregard for others during the Black Friday feeding frenzy – all of these things make me say, “How long must we endure?”

And then this scripture pops up in the lectionary, begging me to remember that it was ever thus. During the time of exile, the Israelites lived in the same kind of “confusion, disappointment, and dissention” that we find ourselves in today. As the writer in our study reminds us, clay – the very stuff of our creation – is decomposed rock. The mountains must break apart for God, the potter, to craft something beautiful, and hopeful from them. If we are “unclean and soiled” we can, have been, and will be made clean and whole by God.

It’s tough for those of us in the midst of the tearing down of mountains – the burning of the brushwood – to remember that God is involved in all the messiness of our lives, shaping us into new creations in accordance with the plan for the redemption of the world.

I’m working on being more intentional and deliberate about “Praying in Color” as a spiritual discipline during this Advent season. I hope to find new messages and images of God’s self in my life.

Raw Cranberry Salad

(I can’t believe it! Abbie is finally updating her blog!)

I was making raw cranberry salad to take to Thanksgiving dinner. It is so much of a tradition that I don’t think my sister-in-law would let me in the door if I turned up without it. I used my grandmother’s recipe (I’m not sure how old the recipe is, but my mother remembered it from when she was a little girl and she was born in 1920.) I have had to make a few adjustments from the original because sizes of packages of the ingredients keep changing.

I found myself channelling the Pioneer Woman, but I’m not nearly the photographer she is.

Anyway, here’s the recipe.

The Cast of Characters: Unflavored gelatin, cherry jello, sugar, an apple, fresh cranberries (and imagine you see, chopped pecans).

In a large bowl, soften two packets of unflavored gelatin in about 3/8 cup of cold water. Just sprinkle it on the top of the water, don’t bother to stir.

Throw in two 2-cup packages of cherry jello, and a cup of sugar.

Add 4 cups of boiling water to the bowl.

(Where did that color come from? I told you I was a terrible photographer!)

Stir it well until everything is completely dissolved (including the clotted bits of unflavored gelatin). You can tell when it’s done, because it is completely clear, not cloudy. Set the bowl aside in a cool place or in the refrigerator.

Get out your grandmother’s grinder (if you don’t have one handed down from grandmother to mother to you, I feel sorry for you.) There really is no substitute for an old-fashioned grinder for raw cranberry salad. I’ve tried a food processor, and a chopper, and cutting the cranberries by hand, and nothing else gives the right texture like a grinder.

You’ll notice I have it attached to the table with a piece of old newspaper under it. Also it has a chair pulled up under it that’s lined with newspaper, and a large baking dish sitting in the chair, directly under the handle.

This configuration is born of experience and years of back-breaking floor/counter/cabinet door, etc. scrubbing after the juice dripped all over the place. There is really no substitute for this configuration unless you have a dog who loves raw cranberry juice and can be encouraged to help with the clean-up.

Carefully wash and pick over the cranberries. They were in great shape this year, and I only had to throw away about a dozen that had gone soft in the bag. Some years I have had to throw away over a cup full.

Grind the cranberries (I use an old pie pan to catch them.) The grandchildren love doing this, but unfortunately they aren’t around to help this year. Now is when you will appreciate having the drip pan under the handle.

There’s a lot of juice in these little beauties.

Do NOT get excited and take the pan to the sink to empty it yet. When you take the grinder apart, you’ll find there’s lots more juice inside it! Keep the drip pan waiting for that time. I’ve tried to think of some uses for the juice, but it’s pretty tart without a lot of sugar added, and nobody in my house is that fond of cranberry juice anyway. I conned Big Al into drinking some one time, but he didn’t care for it.

Core and chop an apple. I’ve found the best way to do this is to cut the apple in quarters; cut out the core; then cut each wedge into four pieces long-way. Then just cut thin slices crossways. It makes nice little apple wedges that are about the right size and texture for the salad.

If you don’t have some chopped pecans in the freezer (like I do) you’ll need to chop them fairly fine. This is another job the grandchildren really like to do because I prefer broken pecans to chopped pecans, and good, fresh pecan halves are easily broken in half and then broken again two or three times. You’ll need a cup of chopped pecans.

By this time the jello should be cool and starting to thicken (particularly if you had to chop/break your own pecan pieces.) Throw all the ingredients in the bowl of jello juice – ground cranberries, chopped apples, chopped pecans – and mix it around. It should be stiff with fruit and very little evidence of jello. The jello is only there to hold the rest of the ingredients together.

You can now pour it into a mold (I used to have a circular mold similar to a bundt pan, only shallower – but it got sold in the estate sale). You can also mold it in individual ramekins. This year I settled for a store-bought aluminum disposable pan so I don’t have to worry about bringing anything home. I’ve also done it in Christmas tree-shaped cake pans for the Christmas table. This year, I’ll cut it into squares and serve with a dollop of Miracle Whip. When I used the tube pan, I used to put a small glass/jar filled with Miracle Whip in the hole so people could garnish as they pleased.

Stick it in the refrigerator overnight until it is completely set. If you use a mold, unmold it by filling the sink with hot, hot water. Then hold the mold in the water as deep as you can without letting the water get in the salad for about 30 seconds, or until it wiggles when you shake the pan. Place your serving plate over the mold and invert everything together. Lift the mold away and Voila! you have a lovely, bright red congealed salad.

This and That

I know, I know. I’ve been sorely remiss in updating this blog. (You’ve heard all of these excuses before.)

What I’ve been doing.

  1. On Thursday I have to give a talk to a bunch of other old people about “The Turks in Dallas.” You’ve probably noticed a couple of times when I’ve mentioned that we were going to have dinner with the Turks, or I’ve talked about our Turkish friends. There’s quite a thriving community of Turks here, and they are wonderful hosts. They are mostly Muslim (about 96% of the population of Turkey is Muslim), and they reached out to the Christians in the area shortly after 9/11. Through the church, we were invited to an Iftar (the traditional breaking of the fast during Ramadan) at the home of a lovely young couple, and since then we have had them to dinner and invited them to a Christmas Eve service at the church. Additionally, their community has a Saturday-night Social a couple of times a month, and we are always on the invitation list. They serve traditional middle Eastern food and have speakers about a variety of topics. Their women’s association, TAWA (Turkish American Women’s Association), has luncheons, and gives classes in Turkish cooking. They also sponsor Friendship Trips to Turkey and the participants are hosted in Turkish homes. We haven’t ever been to Turkey, but it would be nice sometime. At any rate, I’ve been busy boning up on Turkey and writing and practicing my speech.
  2. I’m still very active in the Facebook Presbyterian Women Interest Group. As one of the organizers, I try to keep track of our membership, and to send each new member a note of Welcome when they join. We’ve had an influx of new members since an article about us appeared in the PCUSA Newsletter. I also am an on-line Circle Leader, and help lead the Bible Study on the Beatitudes right here on WordPress (it’s a closed blog, so if you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll add you to the group.)
  3. I’ve started working on a darling hat for Kate for Christmas (don’t show this to her if you’re reading this). I’m doing it in purple that has sparkles in the yarn. I think it will be just perfect for an almost-10-year-old.
  4. I’ve finished the current book I was reading. You can read my review on my “Books I Have Read” page. It was the newest Jack Reacher, and was pretty good, but not quite up to Lee Child’s usual standards.
  5. The new “Words Matter” study for Advent (expecting the word) is out, and I will be using it for my Advent blog series (Hooray, Abbie is finally going to be blogging regularly again!) You can download the booklet in .pdf format if you want to get a jump on me. This booklet is really expanded from what we have had in the past, with photographs, poetry, and art work. I’m very impressed.
  6. The current book I’m reading is Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus, by Kathy Escobar. It talks about how we should be downwardly mobile, rather than upwardly mobile, if we are going to fulfill Jesus’ mission. I’ll probably be blogging more extensively on this in the coming year. She draws on the Beatitudes and it seems like it is going to fit right in with where the Spirit is leading me in these days of the Occupy Movement.
  7. I continue to update and work on the genealogy, and attempt to put my Legacy posts into a form that I can self-publish.

So you see, I haven’t been wallowing in sloth, even though I haven’t been posting here. From the stats here, it looks like lots of people have found this blog because of my posts about Maggiano’s Thanksgiving Dinner (by the way, we’ll probably do that again this year as we’ll be heading to South Louisiana for Christmas). I hope some of them were tantalized enough to read elsewhere on the blog as well.

In Praise of USAA

We are 45-year members of USAA, a mutual insurance company that was started by military officers because it was often difficult for them to buy cost-effective automobile insurance. USAA has since branched out into investments and banking, but it is still owned by the members and the board of directors (who we elect) are all retired military officers. When I began to take seriously the calls by the Occupy movement to take my money from the big Wall Street banks, I immediately thought of USAA.

We have had their auto insurance for over 45 years. It’s almost funny when I get sales calls from other insurance companies, and tell them our current insurance is with USAA. They can’t hang up the phone fast enough. We haven’t had many claims – a couple of fender benders – but I have totalled three cars in the 45 years. There’s never been a question about raising my rates. In one case, it was totally not my fault – I was hit on the interstate. In another case, the car was totalled by one of our patented Texas hail storms. But in the third case, it was at least half my fault. In every case, their first concern was whether I was all right, and then they set about getting me an appointment with a repair shop, and seeing that I had a rental car available.

Our mortgage is with them, as well as our household insurance. We had a nightmare of a time with a previous mortgage company – the mortgage started out with our bank (one of the predecessors of Bank of America), and then it was sold several times. Every time the note was sold, it seemed like, payments got lost in the mail, and I spent hours and days trying to track it down. This time, I got the mortgage through USAA, and they are still holding it, after two refinancings with lower rates, and 11 years.

We have a line of credit and a credit card with them that both have a much lower rate than we had on our card with Bank of America, even with stellar credit rating and perfect repayment history.

We also have an UTMA for each of the grandchildren under their charge. Their mutual funds might not have wonderful performance ratings from Morningstar, but they are solvent and earning money with minimal risk. After the horror stories I’ve heard (and experienced in my own IRA) the fact that these funds are solvent is a big plus. And I trust the USAA managers to keep them that way. They certainly are low on individual risk, suffering only from general market risk, as far as I can tell.

In October, I finally got a checking account and a savings account there. I have made all the calls, and sent all the letters and e-mails to get my allotments and automatic withdrawals moved to them. As of the first of December, when I’m sure that everything is in effect, I will no longer have any dealings with Bank of America.

Their motto is “We know what it means to serve,” and USAA absolutely wrote the book on customer service, in all my dealings with them.