Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Really Helps

The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  Proverbs 12:18

Sometimes help is better shown than said. 

When we try to help with our voice, it can be a good thing.  It can also be the opposite.  Because of my profession, I spend a lot of time in committee meetings, gatherings and other conversations.  I have noticed that we spend a lot of time trading divergent opinions, poking holes in others’ ideas and decisions, trying to make everything right, but doing it by pointing out the wrong.

It is easy to spend a lot more time focusing on what is negative, rather than positive; simpler to point out what is wrong rather than what is right.  I have found myself doing it.  What is good needs no fixing. So why mention it?  What is wrong does – in our mind, at least – need to be corrected.  By pointing out this fact we’re just helping, right?  The result of such reasoning, however, is an endless stream of criticism which, because of its own repetitiveness, becomes wearing and ineffective for any good purpose.

A better way to make things right when we think they are wrong?  Volunteer.  Sign up to help.  In far too many of our churches – though I’m sure this is true everywhere – I have heard good people say bad things about programs or groups in which they are not involved.  Rarely are the negative comments helpful.  Even more infrequently does the speaker plan to put in the sweat to make the situation better.

If you want a good dinner, then step into the kitchen.  A kind word goes a long way.  Supportive efforts go even further.  We all see things that need to be corrected.  If you want to see change happen, roll up your sleeves.

Blessed eating!

This recipe has never received a criticism.  Like volunteering, it is easy.

Blond Brownies
(quick and easy)
1 lb. brown sugar               4 eggs
2 c. Bisquick                         2 c. chopped pecans
Mix and bake at 350o for 20-25 minutes – Wyleen Bass Williams

Monday, September 24, 2012


In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
                        Psalm 139:16
I had a birthday last week.  I celebrated with friends and family by eating, singing and hiking.  My name was included on a yummy cake and I received more happy birthday wishes than I will probably ever deserve.  I still feel about birthdays the way I did when I was six.  A party is in order.

Our relationship to birthdays can sometimes change as we get older.  As children we celebrate them with party hats and bright colors.  When we get all “grown up,” we dress in facetious black, and decorate with tombstones and cards that say “Over the Hill.”  I have never understood exactly why we do this, but I suppose it is our way of laughing in the face of a reality about which we are none too happy.

We worry a great deal about getting older.  We have little appreciation for the wisdom of age – at least this is my assumption given the enormous industry we support that promises to make us look younger.  We bewail the passing time.  Having reached what some call “middle age” I can attest that the years do fly quickly.  I, myself, have no interest in them being over any time soon.  Still, the fear we have of adding the inevitable numbers onto our lives is bewildering.

All this was thrown into stark perspective for me this week.  I assisted in the funeral of a church member who should have been too young to need it, and I grieved with a dear friend over the loss of a loved one.   I have huddled with families who were not yet ready to lose a dear member, even when there had been enough days enjoyed by the beloved to have called theirs a full life. 

In light of these experiences, our worry over birthdays seems more than a little absurd.  We waste our energy on so many things.  Fretting over the passing time shouldn’t be one of them.  Each birthday represents the greatest gift we can possibly be given: breath for another day and the ability to look at the sky.  Every year, we receive from the hand of God the best birthday present of all.  I won’t wear black to celebrate it.


The recipe below is not a birthday cake, but one we shared with good friends recently.  I hope you enjoy it.


Blueberry Crunch Cake

¼ cup butter                        ½ cup sugar
1 large egg               1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder         ¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup milk                        ½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

¼ cup butter                        ½ cup sugar
1/3 cup flour                       ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350oF.  Grease a 9x9 inch baking pan; set aside.  For the batter: In a large mixer bowl, cream the butter, sugar and egg together until light and fluffy.  Combine the dry ingredients together and stir by hand into the creamed mixture alternately with the milk and vanilla.  Spread batter in prepared baking pan and top with blueberries.

For the topping: combine the topping ingredients using pastry blender, two knives or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle over the blueberries.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until tested done when wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool slightly before serving.  Makes 9 servings.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Food, Faithfulness, and Family Meals

Our Labor Day trip was to see the grandparents in Florence, Alabama.  It had been several months since we last saw them and, especially for the kids, it was a great reunion.  We cooked together while we were there.  We made a family dinner of Wanda’s Grilled Beef Steak with Sauteed Onions, roasted tomatoes, new potatoes and for dessert, Cream Cheese Pound Cake with the last of the Pumpkin Ice Cream.  We also enjoyed Sunday lunch with our extended family who live just down the road.  My cousin made Deviled Eggs to look like baby chicks peeping out of eggshells, along with some great homemade mac and cheese (a novelty in our lives – our m&c comes from cardboard), and fresh watermelon for dessert.  For a long weekend, we feasted on good food and good company.

Our most interesting adventure during our stay was to Ethridge, TN and visit a community of Amish.  The Amish are a faction of Mennonites who, for reasons of faith, reject modern technology.  Valuing humility, they travel by horse and buggy rather than automobiles and wear modest clothes of a 19th century style.  While I love the exploration of different cultures, I always feel a bit strange being a tourist of people; gawking at other human beings simply because live differently than I do.  My fears calmed a little, though, as their children also stared at us in open curiosity.  I supposed we were novelties too.  I can live with that.

On our visit we rode in a horse drawn wagon, though the business was run by the “English” (non-Amish).   The inhabitants of the farming community were Old Order Amish who didn’t run businesses per se, though they happily interacted with us outsiders visiting their farms.  As our wagon would stop at one farmhouse after another, family members would sell us jams and candies, canned vegetables and woodworked crafts and furniture. 

We bought raspberry and huckleberry jelly, more chocolate candy than was good for us, and a wooden yo-yo and top for the kids.  We took in the serene beauty of the farm life, though the hard work involved in daily routines was clear.  For all their simplicity, the Amish make their lives look lovely.  Their crisp white houses, and their carefully constructed barns housing well-cared-for animals speak of a life of dedication.

I don’t know if I could be Amish, but I think too many of us brush off such a possibility too easily.  With a roll of the eyes, we disdain the commitment that makes such a life not only possible, but even a good idea.  By contrast, I think of how difficult we find commitment today, especially to religious practices.  We attend church when our work or our children’s sports schedules permit.  We give things up for Lent, but mostly feast on every good thing the rest of the year.  We work our faith in and among our other things to do.  Though we may name it among our top priorities, our faith can be the grudging recipient of our most precious commodity: our time. 

We act this way, because we know we can.  We can push our faith practices to the back of the line because we know we will be forgiven.  We can miss worship because we know services will still be going on when we return.  We know that God will hear our prayers whether it has been an hour or a year since we last gave them our attention.  Here we find the irony of grace.  Grace makes it possible for us to be lax. 

Sure, there is nothing magical about worshiping at the 11:00 hour on Sunday morning.  True, God doesn’t require of us a certain amount of scripture reading every day, or an exact number of minutes spent in prayer or service.  But all too easily, the practice of our faith becomes like a gym membership which, by itself, won’t make us lose weight or become one iota healthier.  Faith is a lot like exercise.  The only penalty for non-participation is self-imposed.

A problem we face in our modern culture is that we are told by a thousand different sources that we really can have it all.  Then the things which aren’t directly measured are often the things that lose out; family loses out to work, faith community to recreation.  It is to our disadvantage that there is no tally kept.  No book – at least no visible one – where it is all written down so that we can see how we are doing.  The total is only fully known when it is well past changing.

To what are we really committed?  We shift our schedules all the time to accommodate our shifting priorities, but what in our lives is so important we are willing to sacrifice?  We may not surrender electricity or modern convenience, but what will we give up in order to gain something greater?  If our Creator isn’t very high on that list, then why on earth not? 

Let’s change things.  Let’s knowingly choose what matters and commit to that.  You may not have to give up your mobile phone or driving in cars.  But you might choose to close the laptop and turn off the Blackberry every once in a while.  Cook a meal for your family or friends, or worship in a sanctuary on a day you would rather sleep in.  Like exercising, you will find that the effort is worth it.

Blessed eating!

Wanda’s Grilled Beef Steak with Sauteed Onions

1 tablespoon olive oil                     1 large onion (about 2 cups)
2 pounds beef sirloin, strip or rib steak, cut into 8 pieces
1 jar (16 oz) Pace Roasted Pepper & Garlic Salsa

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until tender.  Remove onions and keep warm.  Heat remaining oil in same skillet.  Add beef and cook until browned on both sides.  Add salsa. – Wanda Barnes