Friday, December 23, 2011

Angel Cookies

Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.  Psalm 32:11

I couldn’t have asked for more enthusiastic participants.  After printing the recipe for the angel cookies a couple of weeks ago, I realized it was high time my children got going on it.  It is, after all, nearly Christmas.  I bought the cookie dough and chilled it, bought some decorative sprinkles to go along with the sugar, dyed in bright colors, we already had in the cabinet.  We set to work.

I am always nervous about giving my children new cooking projects to try.  Their interest in such activities, along with their willingness to sit still for them, varies with the day.  I’m never certain if they will like them or not.  Cookies and other sweets, however, do have a leg up, and on this day my children happily took on their new assignment.

I did the cookie slicing, but let them cut most of the shapes (with a table knife).  I coaxed them to put the shapes into the right places to make an angel, which they did with a little help.  Then came the decorating!  The sprinkly stars were nice, and the other decorations were acceptable, but the colored sugar was the best!  They used it.  A LOT of it!  Not just a sprinkling to add a certain hue.  Not even a layer of sugar to change the color entirely.  I’m talking about a pile of sugar!  Empty the bottle on one cookie kind of decorating!

Their enthusiasm was touching.  It somehow seemed profound, whimsical , a bit wasteful yet beautiful all at once.  New bottles of green and red sugar were used up completely.  Possibly – really – on a single cookie.  I’m all for extravagance, but I was out of my league trying to figure out just what was the message of this over indulgence.

Heaven knows, most of us who will be reading this post have more than enough.  We struggle not to be wasteful when we have grown up in a culture that makes disposable everything; when we have been taught that more than we need is just enough.  We have more than enough in our closets, in our pantry, in our bank accounts, in the square footage of our homes.  It may not feel like that on any given day, but we have so much more than we need.  Learning what makes enough is probably a good lesson for all of us.

But there was something greater than mere squandering in my children’s over-sugaring of their cookies.  Their exuberance seemed less wasteful than adulatory.  Now, if you were to ask them, of course, they couldn’t have begun to tell you that their over-enthusiasm with the sugar was their own method of worship.  They couldn’t have said that they were reflecting God’s extravagant grace, poured out in abundance on our humble lives.  Probably not a conscious thought of that went through their heads.  But I believe in some mystical way, through the quiet, sneaky act of the Holy Spirit, it was true.

My children’s cookie decorating was praise; an act of joyful worship and thanksgiving to the God who made such celebrations possible.  Christ is coming, as a small child, more helpless and mute than even my children.   His birth will be heralded by angels, mortals, ox and lamb.  What could be a greater response to that joyous event than to decorate angel wings?

May you worship in this season!  Whether your method of praise is cooking, singing, preaching or praying, may you go over the top in your enthusiasm, and known an abundance of joy.

Blessed eating!

Since I have already shared the “recipe” for angel cookies, here is another family favorite; this time from the other side of the family!  Not the Basses, but the Simmons.

Orange-Ginger Cookies (Spicy Refrigerator Cookies)
Cream:  1 c. butter
                1 ½ c. sugar
Add:      1 egg
                2 tbsp. light corn syrup
Beat well.
Sift together:     3 c. sifted flower
                                2 tsp. soda
                                2 tsp. cinnamon
                                2 tsp. ginger
                                ½ tsp. cloves
Mix dry ingredients into creamed mixture along with 1 tbsp. grated orange peel.  Shape into two 9 in. rolls about 2 in. across.  Wrap in wax paper and chill several hours or overnight.  Slice in 1/8 inch slices and place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake @ 400o.  Makes about 8 dozen.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why I Don’t Mind Being Wished a “Happy Holiday”

So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’  Nehemiah 8:11

There is a lot of discussion nowadays about this word that is floating around: holiday.  As we receive “happy holiday” wishes and observe the increased presence of “holiday” festivities, there is concern that this word is being used in the place of Christmas and that we as a culture run the risk of forgetting the savior whose birth is the reason we celebrate Christmas.  I have even known some folks who will “correct” store greeters and Salvation Army bell ringers, directing them to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ because they feel so strongly that this other more general word is an affront.

I can sympathize with their concern, but I don’t necessarily share it.  Being told “Happy Holidays” is a wish that I welcome as much as “Merry Christmas.”  Here is why.

                1. Christmas is a holiday.  I don’t mean to state the obvious, but by wishing me a happy holiday, a greeter or receptionist is not failing to wish me a merry Christmas.  They are wishing me joy on whatever day I consider to be sacred, for whatever reason is meaningful to me.  That seems to me to be a rather gracious thing, particularly since there are other sacred days celebrated this time of year.  This general wish is a courteous one, presuming that they care at all what they are saying to me which . . .

                2.  . . .they may very well not.  The big box Christmas greeters will say what their managers tell them to.  This decision will be motivated by the good of the business; what will cause the greatest inflow of cash.  Because I consider my day to be sacred, I’m not vehement that it be named by someone who has little concern for either the actual event or the miraculous story behind it.   It is of little consequence, therefore, if a retail establishments speak the name of my holiday when their religion (that is, their organizing principle and motivation) is profit.  Now, if I could make the store greeter care about The Story, I would greatly prefer to do that.  Because . . .

3.  . . . I am deeply interested in helping others to know the miraculous love offered in Jesus Christ.  I have no interest, however, in pressuring someone – particularly a non-believer – to pay lip service to my holiday.  If they are not a believer, they are not likely to become one by speaking the name of Christmas.  Forcing the issue may even be counterproductive to my purpose of telling convincingly God’s story of grace.

4.  Finally, while this is only a small concern, I am saddened by the cold shoulder we have given the word “holiday.”  Because this is the particular word that has been used in the generic wish for our happiness, it has also received the bulk of our frustration.  “Holiday” has almost become the enemy, the anti-Christmas if you will.  But that is not a fair reflection of the word.  Holiday means “holy day.”  It speaks to the most sacred times in our lives and our most meaningful celebrations.  “Holiday” is a beautiful word with a profound meaning and one that I don’t want to give up. 

For those of us who claim Jesus as savior, the Christmas story is our story.  It is our holy day.  We who believe are the ones who are called to tell it.  If we are to keep the Christ in Christmas, then it needs to be done by those who love Jesus and have been transformed by the story we tell.  This is important because our telling of the story must not be just in our words, but in our hearts and actions.  Do our lives reflect the Christmas story?  When we use the title of this holy day, will people actually see in us all that it is about?  I hope so.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday!

Blessed eating!

I hope the recipe below will help you to enjoy this holy season!

Spice Tea
½ cup tea leaves                               2 cups sugar
1 tsp. each: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice
4 cups cold water                             10-12 cups boiling water
1 cup orange juice                           1 cup lemon juice
1 cup pineapple juice
Put sugar and 4 cups cold water in boiler, let simmer 5 minutes.  Tie tea, spices in bag.  Place in boiler of water and sugar, let simmer 10 minutes.  Now add 10-12 cups boiling water, 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup lemon juice, 1 cup pineapple juice.  Let this steep 5 minutes.  Can be reheated as often as needed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Greetings from the Johnson-Pierson Family, 2011

Greetings and Merry Christmas!
For the second year¸ we in the Johnson Pierson family will use electronic media rather than paper to send our Christmas greetings to you.  They are no less heartfelt.  May you experience this holy season with joy! 

2011 been a great year for the Johnson Pierson Family.  Though we have a difficulty believing it, Todd and I and the kids are all another year older.  We have seen a lot of changes and a lot of fun activity.  Most of all, this year has helped us remember the many reasons we have to be grateful and the many ways we are blessed!

Our year began on a sad note.  We buried my grandmother, Eunice Read Simmons, in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Grandma was a tremendous influence in my early faith life.  She invited me to her church when I was a teenager and would faithfully pick me up and drive me there each Sunday.  It is hard to believe it has been a nearly year since her funeral, but then it is hard to believe she is gone.  I miss her.

Both Vivian and Roland and doing great.  They both have the same wonderful teachers as last year.  Both are making great progress.  Vivian was even given the Principal Pal award at her school this year.

Vivian is still collecting princesses and fairies.  She should probably go into decorating as often as she rearranges her room.  Roland is still drawn toward any toy with wheels, especially trains.  He is also enjoying a new passion:  Angry Birds.  Once their mom and dad invested in smart phones, they joined the ranks of many American children who are more tech savvy than their parents.

We enjoyed some fun travels this year.  We made what we want to be our annual trip to Navarre Beach and to The Singing.  (Read more about The Singing here and here if you haven’t heard of it.)  While we were there, we enjoyed being with family and seeing old friends.  We visited Disney World twice this year.  Yes, twice!  On one occasion, we experienced it from a tent while staying on the Disney campgrounds.  During our travels, we even meandered through some back roads and visited some small towns and attractions around the southeast.  Each one was a treasure.  They included Enterprise and Dothan, Alabama; the Cathedral Caverns in Woodville, Alabama; and after years of just driving through it, we finally spend some time in historic Rome, Georgia.

Todd has been staying busy working in many important ways.  He has been our family’s travel agent and trip planner as we have trekked around the country.  In 2012, Todd will begin an important new venture; he will lead our UMYF (United Methodist Youth Fellowship) program and has already begun planning for it.  As always, he has put herculean effort into getting our kids where they need to be and helping them to grow.

My work has changed over the 2011. As the year began, I was working with Church Development.  I had the blessing of leading programs at both North Forsyth UMC and Sacred Tapestry.  What a great experience!  I miss you guys!  In June, I was blessed to be appointed as senior pastor to Christ United Methodist Church.  My experience here has been wonderful. I couldn’t imagine a better place to be appointed or a more loving and gifted congregation to serve.  Todd, Vivian, Roland and I have received an exceptionally warm welcome.  The kids have thrived in our wonderful children’s program here.  Roland even worked up the courage to practice a little with the children’s choir.  I have preached, taught, organized and guided but, as in all the service that we offer to our God, I have received much more than I have given.

As you can see, I’m still writing.  I still send articles to the magazine that used to be Around About Cumming, but in 2012 will be My Forsyth.  I am still keeping up with my blog. My new schedule keeps me away from the kitchen more than I would like, but I am still cooking and writing fervently.  I still love putting thoughts into words, and transforming ingredients into meals.  I still love feeding others.  Even if I can’t keep up the pace I used to, I’m not quitting! 

We are a family very blessed by the graciousness of God and the love of our friends.  That we can count you among those friends is one of the greatest blessings!  Thank you for being part of our lives.  May you have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed new year!


The Johnson Pierson Family
Todd, Nancy, Vivian and Roland

I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

Luke 2:10-12

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why I'll Be At Church On Christmas

This piece was originally written for my church newsletter, but it bears repeating.

Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. That doesn’t happen very often. Roughly every few years, varying quite a bit due to leap years, the holiday will fall on a day that we will normally go to church. This leaves us with a decision to make.

Christmas is traditionally a time we spend with families. The better part of the day is spent in pajamas that is until we get dressed to go to Grandma’s house. We empty the stockings and open the gifts under the tree. We turn on our video cameras or smart phones to capture the expressions on little faces as the children open their presents. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast together, then later a feast for dinner. All the while playing Christmas carols from the iPod.

Spending time at church can really mess with these plans. But it isn’t going to stop me. I’m going to be here singing, praying and preaching, and I’ll tell you why (and it isn’t because I’m the pastor and I have to):

  • Every Sunday, we are called to give an hour or three from the entire week to come to church. Here, we worship and express our gratitude to the God who made us. This is our opportunity to draw nearer to God, to rest, to grow. In this time we celebrate the abundance we enjoy and the beautiful world in which we are permitted live. Even better, we do this in fellowship with a whole community of believers. In other words, I hope we would be here anyway.
  • You might have neighbors who don’t fully know the reason for the season. They might know something of the story, but not why it matters. Your car pulling out of the driveway, or into the church parking lot, could be a witness to those who need to know the very real hope that lies behind the glitter of the season.
  • Most obvious, Christmas is Jesus’s birthday – not ours, not even Grandma’s. We come to church on every Sunday to worship the God who gave us life, and who was gracious enough to send a savior. I don’t usually stay home from church on Easter. Why would Jesus’ birthday celebration be a reason not to worship?

So, I’ll be in church on Christmas Day and I hope you will too. In fact, I fully expect to see the hordes that surged into the retail outlets on Black Friday. Surely Jesus means more to Christmas than a sale on electronics at Walmart.

We have great services planned on both Christmas Eve and Christmas . They will tell again the Christmas story and remind us of the reason for our joy. I look forward to seeing you there.

Blessings, Rev. Nancy

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Visit with Reindeer (and Santa Claus)

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.      Luke 2:7

When our family goes somewhere we really like, I write about it.  Today, we visited the Amicalola Deer Park in Dawsonville.  A lovely place in the north Georgia mountains, not far from the state park and an easy drive from Atlanta.

Our visit was a district clergy event, so many families from the Atlanta Roswell area were there.  The day included animal feeding and patting, a visit with Santa, his wife, elves and other family, plus lunch and a great deal of hospitality.  It was wonderful to receive such a warm welcome and the staff bent over backward to be friendly and ensure we had a good time.

The only thing that didn’t cooperate was the temperature.  Though it was a beautiful day, we stepped out of the car and found it to be a lot colder than we had expected.  The kids had adequate coats, but no gloves.  I thought wistfully of the scarf that I almost decided to wear.  But we didn’t have much time to think about the cold.  There were big, white bear-like dogs (Great Pyrenees?) expecting attention and keeping us entertained until we climbed aboard a Bobcat-pulled trailer that took us to even more critters.
Soon, we were offering corn by hand to an unusual variety of species.  Sometimes we had to reach through a protective fence, sometime not.  Our kids didn’t warm to the activity immediately.  These were some pretty strange characters.  Behind the fence were deer, emu, and pigs.  Wandering the world freely alongside us were llama and goats.  All of them could be fed by hand, but their noses were dirty from foraging the ground which made their breakfast a messy undertaking.  Gradually, however, the kids got used to our new relationship with members of the natural world.  And we got used to what they were and weren’t willing to do.  By the time we tossed corn to reindeer from the “sleigh,” everyone was happy.

Faith is a lifetime of getting “used to.”  Becoming accustomed to things we don’t expect or prefer.  This message is shouted through the Christmas story.  Jesus was the savior like no one expected; humble, from a poor family in a poor town with more than a hint of scandal surrounding his birth.  While I love the sweet nostalgia of our traditional celebrations of the Christmas story, we must make ourselves accustomed to the grittiness of the actual details.  While we sing songs of little towns and starry nights, we also remember that those nights were cold and the towns dusty.  And the two – who became three – in the chilly stable were not strangers to sadness and hardship.
Our Christian lives today are also a balance.  We take the joy and personal peace gained from faith in Jesus Christ the risen savior, but get used to the reality that these things are absent in much of our world.  We are comforted by the presence of God, but called to be in the uncomfortable presence of people disconcertingly different from ourselves.  We celebrate the knowledge that “He’s got the Whole World in his Hands,” but we acknowledge that the needs of the world are often handed right back to us and we may not be able to meet them without significant personal sacrifice.  We might get our hands literally dirty or have to contend with some pretty strange characters.
This isn’t going to change.  We may as well breathe deeply and get used to it.  All of the coarseness and dirt is the reality of our world.  If we try to avoid it we will live partial lives, disconnected from the creation that belongs to God.  Me, I’ll take the grime, as long as it arrives part and parcel with the gift of life in abundance.

Blessed eating!

The recipe below is a repeat, but suitable for the day.

Reindeer Cookies
Peanut Butter Cookie recipe            small pretzel twists
M&M’s                                                 red gumdrops

Divide cookies out as directed but shape into a soft triangle shape. Place pretzel twist at top on two corners for antlers. Place a gumdrop on other corner for nose, and two M&M’s on cookie for eyes. Bake as directed. (You can also use red peanut M&M’s for the nose.) – Laura Taylor