Monday, August 16, 2010

It's The Final Countdown!

I cannot believe that I am finally about to begin my last year of grad school.  This year is looking to be the most hectic year I've had yet.  In addition to juggling my double life of minister as well as Duke student, I will also be working on commissioning.  For anyone who doesn't know, becoming an ordained minister is no easy task in the United Methodist Church.  There are several steps and this is a journey that I have been taking since my senior year of high school.  I became a certified candidate my junior year of college, and now is the first of a two step process for becoming a full elder.  If all goes well, I'll be turning in a HUGE stack of papers in January about the doctrine of the church, as well as my call into the ministry.  And in March, I'll be going before the Board of Ordained Ministry for what I'm sure will be the scariest interview of my life.  

Classes start back soon and I'm so excited for what will be my last year of school EVER.  I have to say that I have really loved being a student at Duke.  I really feel like I have grown so much in the last three years.  I have had the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest theologians and preachers and I would never trade that experience for anything.  Of course, Duke has been a great source of stress as well, but it comes with the territory I suppose.  I think that I might actually miss the challenge of grad school.  I mean let's face it, I've been in school for the past 21 years.  I love school and it's going to seem strange to not be starting back to school this time next year.

I'm looking forward to the new adventures that are ahead of me though.  Nathan and I have been married for over a year, and things are going great.  I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us in the year to come.  Nathan will be working towards ordination while I'm working on commissioning, so we are going to be one stressful household.  One thing that I am going to be better about this year is keeping my study sabbath.  I realize that term is a bit of a conundrum, because sabbath isn't supposed to include studying.  But this year, with the course load that I have and the fact that I'm also working on all this commissioning stuff, I have to be intentional about keeping that time set aside.  

As always prayers will be greatly appreciate for Nathan and I as we continue to fulfill our call and take on the task ahead of us.  Blessings to all of you!  <><

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The art of Procrastinating Through Cooking, Part II

Dinner is done, and I am extremely full.  I have to say, it was a great success.  I feel so accomplished when I cook a good meal :)

Here are the finished results of my previous post:

The finished product.  If this doesn't make your mother water, you probably don't have a soul.

It's a mess, but it sure is tasty :)

YUMMMYYY... I have a confession, though, I cheated and made instant potatoes.  I know that makes me a slacker... however they do have cheddar and bacon in them :)

Now on to dessert:

It made a little more juice than it was supposed to, but that's okay... It was still super delicious!

My piece of cobbler

So, needless to say I am full beyond belief... all I want to do now is lay around on the couch for the rest of the night.

Tomorrow's dinner, strawberry glazed roast beef with rosemary and ginger :)

The art of Procrastinating Through Cooking, Part I

Ever want to know what happens at the end of the semester when I have two huge papers to write and a midterm to study for?  I take the one free day I have and make the most of it, enjoying every ounce of divine procrastination.  Today's procrastination effort? Chicken Pot Pie, and a Strawberry Cobbler.  In this post, you will see the preparation efforts, the end results are to come in the next post.

Chicken Pot Pie:
I didn't have anything in the kitchen, and I didn't feel like going to the grocery store.  When you live in the country, going to the grocery store is at least an hour long commitment when you include travel.  So I dug up what I had in the freezer.

3 Chicken Breasts
2 Rolled Frozen Pie Crusts
1 bag of frozen corn
1 package of brown gravy  mix

So really this is only semi-homemade (but not like that Sandra Lee lady because she is NOT a real cook).  I love chicken pot pie, but I wanted to do something a little less traditional.  With a regular chicken pot pie you would boil a whole chicken, both white and dark meats, and then pull apart the pieces, saving the broth and using it to make gravy.  Instead, here is what I did.

I began by cutting the chicken into really tiny pieces, and then grilled it on the stove, with some lemon juice, poultry seasoning, cajun seasoning and parsley, until done and beautifully golden brown.

I placed the bottom pie crust into a pie plate, and then the cooked chicken, along with 1/4 of the bag of corn into the pie crust.  I then prepared the gravy and poured it into the pie, and placed the other pie crust on top.

The pie with the chicken, gravy and corn :)

Now the crust is on top, it needs to be prettied up :)

It's nothing fancy, but look what a simple use of the fork around the edges does!

It is now sitting in the refrigerator until dinner time.  I'll cut a small slit in the middle to let out steam, and then it will be cooked at 400 until the crust is golden brown :)... YUM!

Now to dessert!  Something you should know about Ruffin is that we have the most amazing strawberries in the world (thanks to the Brown family) and since it is now Strawberry season, tonight's dessert is a delicious Strawberry cobbler.  This one IS entirely from scratch!

First, start with some delicious strawberries!

Cut them up into small pieces

 Place into a saucepan over medium heat

Add one cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Drain off juice and place the strawberries into a square casserole dish.  Save the juice to make syrup for pancakes, or to use as a glaze for a roast :)

Mix up secret sweet crust recipe from Great Grandma Miller ;)

Place crust on top of cobbler :)

Bake at 350 for about 30-40 minutes or until crust is done.  

Pictures of the end results will be posted soon :)... I'm excited for dinner tonight!

If you want some delicious strawberries, come to Ruffin and visit North Star Farmer's Market!  They have some amazing stuff, like different preserves and salsas.  Today I got some Strawberry Cider, and Strawberry salsa.  Are you noticing a theme?  And all of them are just divine!

Anyway, it's time for me to finish my cooking (and hopefully end my streak of paper-writing procrastination) ... See ya soon!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Confessions of a Preacher!- Political Party Throw-down!

The issue of politics is something that I really try to avoid.  I'm not good at politics, and some may even argue that I'm a flip-flopper.  It's not that I intend to be that way, it's just that I try really hard to listen to all sides, to weigh out the argument that each side has to offer (of any issue, really) and sometimes that may make it seem like I change my mind a lot, but I like to think of it as being open minded- and willing to change.

I'm not good at politics because I don't have strong feelings for one position or another.  I have always been a middle of the road sort of person.  When I registered to vote when I turned 18, a little known secret about me is that I registered as a Republican, and for a long time, I've been an American flag bearing, NRA supporting conservative.  But, even at that, I was't strongly opposed to a lot of the views that the Democratic party had.

This week, I went to the DMV to get my license renewed since it was to expire on my 25th birthday.  While talking to the lady at the DMV and answering all the questions to get my license renewed she asked me if I wanted to keep my voter registration the same, or if I wanted to change it.  I paused for a moment because it hadn't even occurred to me that this was something I could choose to do that day.  I don't know why it didn't occur to me before.  But I looked at her and I said, "You know what?  I don't want to be a Republican anymore."  And it was with those words that I switched my voter registration to .... *insert ominous Jaws music here* Democrat!

Now before you start calling me a socialist or some crazy nonsense, I'll explain the very reasoning that I have for switching:

1. I'm embarrassed to be called a Republican right now.  It's not that I don't agree with a lot of Republican ideals and principles, but the way the Republican party is representing itself right now is just down right embarrassing.  I realize that every Republican is not so extreme in their thinking, but there are a lot of people who just make the party look bad.  If you want an example, I have a great one for you.  Yesterday President Obama met with Rev. Billy Graham to have prayer for about 30 minutes while he was in NC with his family.  On all three of the local (piedmont) news websites, there were comments on the story saying things such as, "It's like Satan visiting God" or "It's like the anti-Christ visiting God's chosen" or "Obama is a terrible Muslim who is trying to win over Christians."  The comments were so ignorant and all from people who after these "gems" then boasted pride in their Republican party affiliation.  I know that every Republican doesn't feel this way, but I can't help but cringe when I see the ignorance in these kind of comments.  Everyone is entitled to their political opinions, and I'm not here to tell anyone that they should love Obama, but I DO think that if you have any respect for God at all, you wouldn't refer to Billy Graham as "God" or "God's chosen one", because that, my friends, is idolatry.  

Of course, there are many more examples of this, but for the sake of time, I'll move on:

2. I kind of like the term "liberal".  Allow me to elaborate:  Every time Fox News and that wretched Glen Beck use the term "liberal" it's usually in reference to something I agree with or like that the Democratic party does.  Maybe it's some sort of Pavlav's dogs effect that the term has on me, but any opportunity to disagree with Glen Beck in the incessant list of ignorant comments he makes, sounds like a good opportunity to me.

3. Open Mindedness: I realize that this one might get me in trouble as a preacher, so I have to be careful with my explanation but here goes:

I like Health Care reform- not because I agree with everything that was in the health care bill- because I don't.  People may think that this is socialist, but then again, isn't socialism a part of Christianity?  I'm not at all for taking people's rights away from them, but what is the deal that people hold on so tightly to their money and to things that "belong" to them?  It says it over and over and over again in the Bible, throughout the Gospels and Acts, that you are to give up your wealth, to help the poor, to leave everything behind and do God's work in the world.  Why is it that we don't mind spending all our money on cars, on frivolous things like going to the movies (I mean, I'm guilty of all of this too), but at the same time we are so afraid of giving our money to other people or missing out on an opportunity to have MORE.- Honestly, what is the deal?  Have you seen how the economy is?  No longer can we make the claim that people who are on unemployment or welfare are just "lazy".  As pastor of a church where people are losing their jobs (and health insurance, and other benefits) left and right, I realize more and more that there are GOOD hard working people out there who need help, yet for some reason there are people out there who have so much and don't want to lose what belongs to them to help others.  I don't believe in a system where some people sit around and do nothing while they take what other people are working hard for, but I do believe in a system that cares for people because they are human beings and realizes that we are responsible for feeding God's sheep.

I think that there is a place for EVERYONE in the church.  I think that as a church we are responsible for accountability, but that does not mean we are responsible for the judgment of others, because that's all up to God. I think there are some issues that we worry WAY too much about, like homosexuality.  Just so we're clear ( and I may be hated for this) I would not marry a homosexual couple in the church, and I support the Methodist church's stance on this.  But as further explanation, I'm really picky about marriage, and homosexuality is not an issue that I pick on.  In my three years as pastor, I have done ONE wedding, but have been asked to do many more than that.  I don't believe any person who has committed adultery should have a second chance at marriage, and I believe that people who have had multiple marriages shouldn't be married again in the church, especially if they refuse to take any responsibility for their past divorces.  Marriage is something that is sacred, something that to me, personally has very deep meaning, and my theology may be over the top and it may be wrong, but it's how I believe.  The institution over marriage has been destroyed over the years (not by homosexuals, mind you, but countless celebrities who have been married again and again and again, and had multiple children by multiple partners, all out of wedlock).

However, that said, I think that there truly is a place for everyone in the church.  I think if a person is tearing apart the church, then by all means do something about it, but to kick someone out of the church simply because they are homosexual, or because they have different beliefs, then that is something that the church will have to answer to God to.  It never made sense to me, the people who would say that they want homosexual people to "change their ways" and to "come to God" (ridiculous nonsense), and then make them feel like they aren't welcome in the church.  If you really felt that way, then wouldn't you make even more room for them?  The truth of the matter is we have a lot of dumb assumptions about homosexuality.  First of all, what person would choose to be gay?  The way they are treated is absolutely terrible, and this even includes rejection by their own families (and churches) sometimes.  Also, homosexuals are not pedophiles... Feel free to reread this sentence about five million times.  So why are we afraid to have someone around our children simply because they are gay?  That's like saying that all women like little's absurd, and disgusting.

What really upsets me is the fact that the church gets so caught up on the issue of homosexuality when there are ten million other issues we should be worried about in this world, like the people who live in our own communities who are poor and starving, and can't even afford to feed their own children. It's really time for the church (universal) to get its act together and start prioritizing things a little better.

In conclusion:

I realize that a lot of people may disagree with me, but this is the first time I have spoken outwardly and publicly about my political (and some religious) views.  I don't know all that I believe and all that I feel because I feel like this is something that is still very much in the development process.  I don't know anything about homosexuality or what it means to be a part of the homosexual community.  However, after hearing some words from some very wise people at Duke, I have been very much enlightened lately about just how terribly the homosexual community is treated, and I don't think those of us who haven't been through it, really have any idea what it is like at all.  I think that we need to find bigger issues to fight against, and realize that God's grace is exactly that,... it's God's, not ours... 

So yes, that is my rant.. I'm a democrat....and it feels good to confess it.  I'm always open to a good conversation and the chance to see someone else's side...I think being able to do that very thing is what the world needs to do as a key for true reconciliation and understanding.

I AM, the Lamb

This is my sermon from the 4th Sunday of Easter- on Psalm 23.  Forgive the grammatical errors, as I haven't really taken the time to go through it.  Also, obviously there are no footnotes included but if you want any reference resources feel free to ask!  :)

 One of the most common images in the Bible is the image of the lamb.  We find it all over the place, all throughout the Old Testament and in Messianic writings like Isaiah, as well as throughout the gospels.  The image of the lamb is a powerful image and is one that carries an insurmountable amount of symbolism behind it.  What does it mean to be the lamb?  And even more, who is the lamb?
The lamb is symbolic of gentleness of character and patience under suffering. It signifies purity, meekness and sacrifice.  The lamb is also a symbol for Christ, which is interesting since Christ is also the shepherd.  In this way the Lamb reminds us that though Jesus was divine, he also took on the same form as the rest of us, to live like one of us, and to know us.
To be the lamb means to be someone who is patient, someone who perseveres in the face of hardship.  The lamb is someone who is meek and mild, who doesn’t mind being obedient to the shepherd.  The lamb is someone who in normal situations, sticks to his flock, and never leaves the side or the direction of his master.  It is funny that throughout the Bible we are characterized as the sheep, too.  We are supposed to be obedient to God, and humbly serve him, fitting all the characteristics of the lamb.  However, when we really think about who we are and how we live as Christians it is clear to see that sometimes we don’t fit this description as closely as we should. 
When I think of this description of the lamb, it makes me think of those people who we have always referred to as the “saints of the church”.  Those people who have gone ahead of us, who made a difference in our lives and our concept of what it meant to be a Christian.  Those people in the church who have always given it their all, who would never complain, and would do anything for any person who needed help.

 Last week, we read the story of Peter and Jesus, when Jesus in an attempt to undo the denial that Peter had done the night before his death, asks him three times, “Peter do you love me?”  And all three times there is a different response from Jesus.  Peter politely says yes, and Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”  Not only are we the sheep, but we have a responsibility to recognize those who are in our fold.  That doesn’t mean those who go to our church, or those who are like us, or those who have the same beliefs as us, but every person who is in the fold that is the family of God, which would include every human being that God ever created.

To be the lamb, is to respect God as the shepherd, to ignore our own wants, to give up the need to be in control all the time, and to allow ourselves to simply be taken care of.  When we start wanting to be in control, that’s when things get messed up, that’s when things start going awry. 

Today we read the 23 Psalm as our responsive congregational prayer, and the words, no matter what translation we read are so familiar to us.  I’m going to read them to you again.  This morning the version that we read was the NRSV, but oddly enough, even if we have never really read the King James version of the Bible, for some reason that is the translation that is most familiar to us.  I invite you as you hear these words to just pause and listen.  Listen to them, let it absorb, think about the words and what this passage means for God’s presence in our lives.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The Lord is my shepherd-  In this very first statement we make the confession that God is control.  NO matter how brave or bold or adventurous we may try to be with our lives, ultimately God is bigger, and wiser.  God protects us from danger, God knows what is best for us, and as such, we respect his authority and care.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures- This is perhaps one of the most important lines in this entire scripture reading.  Have you ever seen the picture of Jesus carrying the lamb over his shoulders?  Or how about the image of the lamb in the Episcopal church holding the flag and the staff?  In that image the lamb has two bandaged legs.  The reason for this is one that sounds cruel at first but has deep theological meaning and purpose.  Historically, when a lamb would continuously wander from the rest of the fold, the shepherd would have to do something to prevent the lamb from getting lost.  So in desperate situations, for the protection of the lamb, and the rest of the fold who would often follow a wandering sheep, the shepherd would break the legs of the sheep. 

 Now before you wonder about animal cruelty or anything like that, it would be done in such a way that the sheep could heal, but it was also done in such a way that would teach the lamb to depend on the shepherd, and to stay close to the shepherd at all times.  A sheep that wandered from the rest of the fold meant danger for everyone else, it meant the ability of wild and dangerous animals such as wolves being able to more easily find the rest of the fold.  But also for the safety of the individual lamb, the one who was straying away from the shepherd, to prevent it from getting lost or hurt.  But remember, the shepherd doesn’t abandon the lamb, the shepherd carries him, to show his love for him.

This image is so very important for us as Christians.  We are given the gift of free will, the ability to make choices for ourselves, but at the same time, God has a plan for us, and if we wander too far, we can endanger those around us, we can endanger ourselves, and we can really mess things up.  So sometimes, we need to be forced to lie down in green pastures, to rest near quiet waters, and realize that we don’t always need to be in control.  And sometimes out of pain and suffering, those moments where we are knocked down, sometimes we don’t have to get right back up, but it’s okay to mourn, it’s okay to suffer, it’s okay to just be.  But out of those moments of rest and comfort come blessing, even if it is through pain, sometimes, we find that there is true blessing in every circumstance and situation.

The next line: he restores my soul.  Though we may find ourselves lost, and broken and sometimes alone, God does not leave us to fend for ourselves, but he restores our souls, he offers us comfort and wisdom.  He offers us the ability to make it through, to be comforted by the presence of God.
When we have true faith in God, there is no reason to fear, there is no reason to worry there is no reason to always try to take things into our own hands.  Sometimes it is okay to just listen, to just believe, to just know that God is there.  It is okay, and it’s a good and it’s a wonderful thing to be the lamb.  It’s a good and wonderful thing to be loved by the shepherd.  It’s a good and wonderful thing to be a part of this fold, to know that just like everyone else, we are loved, loved equally and unbreakably. 
So who is the lamb?  We are the lamb. A beautiful relationship can grow from the realization that we don’t have to wander out on our own.  That beautiful relationship with God can flourish when we realize that we don’t have to worry so much, but that all the comfort we could ever need in this world comes straight from the love and compassion of God.  I am the lamb because I am a child of  God.  To be the lamb means to offer our lives as a sacrifice to God.  It means being willing to give up our desires in order to make sure that God’s plan in this world is met.  It means putting the needs of the fold before the needs of our own.

Who is the lamb?  The lamb is God, more specifically the son, Jesus Christ.  And how much does that mean to us?  That the one who is also the shepherd, the one who is also responsible for guiding us and watching over us, is also humble enough to take on the form of a lamb, to be a living sacrifice, not for God, but for us.  There is a sense in which we realize with this characterization that God is not a God of vengeance or wrath, but is a God of grace.  We realize that our God truly is perfect because he does not require a sacrifice of us without giving a sacrifice of himself.  NO matter how tough we may think we have it in this life, the one constant we can depend on is the very fact that God loves us regardless of our imperfections and our inabilities, and the evidence is written everywhere.

I am the lamb, you are the lamb, and we share in this role with the very one who created us.  So let us be humble, let us be gentle, let us be willing to be broken in order to be close to our God.  Let us be willing to see the blessings of lying in the green pastures, let us trust God enough to allow him to restore or soul.  You are the lamb, a child of the shepherd who also shares in this beautiful fold.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Too Fat to Fight??

CNN had an interesting/sad article online earlier today about people in the United States being too fat to fight in the military, and making the argument that this could one day lead to a national security threat.  You can find the article here: Too Fat to Fight Article

My thoughts on this?  Well to those of you who have known me for a while you may be shocked by this, but I'm kind of a pacifist.  That's right, Duke has had a bit of an influence on me over the years.  Now that doesn't mean I am against guns, but it does mean that I can't stand the idea of war... I think it's a waste of money, and I think it's a waste of human life and the list goes on and on.

I do think gluttony and the excessiveness of the way we live in this country is really disgusting and we should be doing something to fix it... we have become fatter and fatter, and lazier and lazier over the years, and it's not going to get any better unless we kick it into gear.  But, I can't help but wonder after reading this article, if more and more people are becoming too fat to stay in the military, maybe this is the answer to the problem of war.  Just get everyone really fat, to the point that they CAN'T fight, and in the future we can settle all disputes over a good piece of cake and a cup of coffee.

Maybe gluttony is the true answer to world peace.  Maybe if we are all too fat to run around and shoot people in real life, we can instead live out our battles through a good game of Splinter Cell... whoever takes out the most people wins!

Of course, I am meaning this somewhat facetiously, and it is sad that we as a country are too unhealthy to even have the option of serving in the military.  But, I can't say I would be too terribly disappointed if there wasn't a war at all...we can't fight a war without people to fight.  Maybe this could prompt us to learn new ways to end problems, and maybe open the opportunity for real reconciliation in this world.  But of course that is just wishful thinking!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An Amazing Past

I am currently working on a paper for my Methodism class, which, by the way, I am struggling with.  I am writing specifically about my church, Ruffin UMC, and the influence that Bishop O.P. Fitzgerald had on its mission, beliefs and development over the years.  Bishop O.P. Fitzgerald was from Ruffin, NC, and remnants of his family still exist in this area.

This is the historic marker on Business 29 in Ruffin

As I was doing some research for my paper I was looking through some of the Ruffin UMC history books and found some amazing stories shared by various people over the years.  I think sometimes we take for granted the places that we worship, the way that they were developed.  Ruffin UMC has been around for well over 100 years, closer to 150.  The church building itself is only about  74 years old, because there were two other church buildings (possibly a 4th as well) in the past that were either sold or burned down.

This church did not just appear out of nowhere, but there were people who worked to build it, to make it what it was, to make sure that the mission was lived out, and that throughout history, more and more people would claim Ruffin UMC as their church home.  There were people who made it their life's work to make the church successful.  There were people who donated their own land, their own money, their own equipment, and their own time to make sure that the church existed.  My hope and my wish is that we can reawaken that love and that passion for God's ministry in the world.  To remember what so many people have worked for in the past and to make sure that dream stays alive.  Ruffin UMC has an amazing history, a spectacular past, and just the same, Ruffin UMC has an incredible future ahead of it.