Monday, March 7, 2011

On Principle

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2

On Sunday, I cooked Fall Potato Soup and Fried Squash Bread.  I am hoping by next fall, I’ll be on to another cookbook, so with the weather turning cold again, this seemed my last best opportunity.  Somehow the soup seemed to call for nutmeg, so I added it.  It worked.  The kids enjoyed the squash bread, not knowing that it contained vegetables that cause even their mother to shudder.  I will confess that since they are not yet engaged in the discipline of eating whatever I give them, I also made hot dogs.  All in all, it was a very enjoyable meal.

I don’t usually cook on Sunday.  I’m not necessarily observing the Sabbath, but my usual cooking days are Monday and Thursday.  But my schedule is becoming increasingly unpredictable.  Sunday’s meal was meant to be last Thursday, then Friday, then later still as I collapsed in the evenings from sheer exhaustion and shamefacedly relied on the mac and cheese backup.  Thus, Sunday became our family dinner.

I don’t mind cooking on Sunday.  As clergy, I never expect Sundays to be my Sabbath, my day of rest.  While we are expected to honor the Sabbath, it is left up to us to make arrangements for another day.  I believe there was a time in a bygone era when Sunday dinners consisted of cold leftovers because the Sabbath commandment was taken to include food preparation along with a host of other things.  I didn’t grow up in this era.  Our Sunday lunches were always nice hot meals prepared for our post church celebration. 

Sabbath is a problematic discipline for most of us.  I’m always surprised to hear people wistfully harken back to the old days when stores and movie theaters were closed on the Lord’s Day.  Anyone listening would think that we wanted it to be that way again, but most of us happily patronize whatever businesses are open.  I myself have made Sunday morning dashes for communion grape juice or coffee hour refreshments, so I appreciate the store being open.  But it certainly calls us to think about the principles we claim and our willingness to uphold them for ourselves.

Upholding our own principles has been on my mind lately, particularly as two news stories have caught my attention.  The first one, you probably heard about.  A star football player at Brigham Young University was recently suspended from the team because he confessed to having a physical relationship with his girlfriend.  At just about any other school, this behavior would hardly have raised an eyebrow.  At BYU, however, his actions were in violation of the honor code which meant suspension from the team.  Recently ranked third in the nation, BYU has since lost to an unranked team and expectations are low for the rest of the season.

In Iowa, history was recently made at the state wrestling championship – which is held by locals to be as important as the Super Bowl or World Series – when two girls qualified for the tournament, a first in the 85 years of competition.  In the first round, Freshman Cassy Herkelman won by default when her opponent, Joel Northrup, chose not to compete.  His decision was based on his religious beliefs.  “As a matter of conscience and my faith,” Northrup said, “I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner.”  Both he and Herkelman lost in subsequent rounds, eliminating them from competition.

These stories offer a lot of food for thought, and they raise complicated questions, but both have left a deep impression on me.  Whether or not I understand or agree with the belief systems involved – I don’t fully know Northrup’s beliefs about women which drove his decision; whether or not I would take on these principles as my own – BYU’s honor code also bans coffee which would leave me suspended on the first day of class – I am deeply impressed by the willingness of both parties to hold unwaveringly to their principles even when it means making a considerable sacrifice.

BYU has likely lost the successful season they hoped for.  Joel Northrup has given up at least one year’s dream of being a champion.  In our sports-obsessed culture, these are extreme sacrifices (the appropriateness of this reality is a blog post for another day).  I profoundly appreciate the example they set.

As a pastor, I watch as parents take their children out of church for sporting events held on Sunday.  I see practice schedules written in blood on the calendar – even for young children – with all other activities moved aside to accommodate the higher priority.  I have wanted to ask parents if they really thought that basketball – or soccer, or whatever the season is – would sustain their children throughout their lives, help them to make tough decision and endure hard times.  Will strict adherence to practice schedules teach their children why they are here on the planet, or why they matter at all?  I am dying to ask these things, but I don’t – in part because I’m afraid these parents will leave angry, to look for a church that is less guilt-trippy.  Maybe I should check my own principles, and my willingness to sacrifice for them.

We have come to believe that faith shouldn’t cost us anything.  We can have our communion cake and eat it too.  To some degree, this is true.  The grace through which we are saved remains available whether or not we cherish it.  But there is also a loss which we suffer when we hold it at arm’s length, when Jesus becomes the neglected relative that we’ve been meaning to visit, but we never quite get around to it.  Faith – while free – is very costly.  If we are not sacrificing for it, we have to ask ourselves if we are really living it.

The season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, is a good time to take a hard look at our lives, our faith, ourselves.  In fact, this is exactly what the season is for.  If you don’t know what Lent is, I’m going to post about it on Wednesday.  For now, suffice it to say that Lent is the season in which we are called to think about the less fun topics of sin and sacrifice.  It is not the giddiest time of year, but it’s an important one.  Its object is the life that we gain when we put our sin into focus and repent, change, find better ways to live. 

May you remember what is most important and live it.

Blessed eating!

Fall Potato Soup
10-12 small new potatoes, or 4-5 med.   1 carrot, grated
1 rib celery, finely chopped                         1 med. onion finely chopped
2 T. margarine                                               1 T. bacon grease
1 t. flour                                                          1 14 oz. can chicken broth
1 c. milk                                                           salt and pepper to taste
Steam potatoes until very tender.  Peel and cut into bite sized pieces.  When cool, sauté carrot, onion and celery in the margarine until crisp tender.  Stir in the flour and bacon grease.  Pour in chicken broth and milk and stir until smooth.  Add potatoes and stir until mixture is lump free.  Heat until ready to boil, but not boiling.  Serve topped with grated cheddar cheese and chopped green onion. – Megan Mims

Fried Squash Bread
1 pt. squash (preferably yellow)              1 med. onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten                                             1 handful plain flour
2 handfuls cornmeal                                  salt & pepper to taste
Water                                                             garlic powder to taste
Stew squash and chopped onions in water; Mash well and drain.  Stir in beaten eggs.  Add salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Stir in flour and cornmeal.  Add enough warm water for desired consistency.  Mix thoroughly.  Drop by heaping tablespoonsful into hot grease.  Fry until golden. – Learvene T. Bass

Note:  I don’t know how much a handful is, but I’m pretty sure I used a lot more of both cornmeal and flour.


  1. This is a hard conversation. I can feel it burning in my throat as well at times. It is the tension we live in these days, "that since they are not yet engaged in the discipline of eating whatever we [I] give them, we [I] also made" other allowances. I don't have the answers.

    I know in the children's ministry settings, it is debated frequently: which is the best pastoral response? Do we train our ball players and families to be able to share their faith in the real world or insist that they sit in the pews on Sundays?

    Isn't it interesting that in Lent, when the earth is awakening, we are down playing the giddiness, and during Advent as it gets darker, we are seeking the light all the more?

  2. You are so right, Cindy. This is a hard topic with no easy answers.

    Other things to be considered is the fact that, say, 11:00am on Sunday is no more "holy" than any other time. Worship can occur at other times. Also, is church attendance the only or best "sign" of our faith, or our way to grow it?

    For me the deeper question comes down to deciding what really matters in our lives and finding authentic ways to live that. It seems that doing so would have to require some sacrifice. But who is to judge what the sacrifice should be?

    May Lent be a fruitful season for us all as we wrestle with these questions!