leavening the whole lump

I just pulled some bread out of the oven. It's oatmeal bread, from the More With Less cookbook (Heather says her mom used to make this when she was little). On a cold day like today, it can take hours to rise. Moist and flavorful, and great toasted.

Mix in a large bowl:

1 c. quick oats
½ c. flour
½ c. brown sugar
1 T. salt
2 T. margarine
2 c. boiling water
Let it cool until it's lukewarm, then add:
½ c. water
1 T. yeast
And knead in approximately 5 cups of flour (or until dough is no longer sticky)

Let rise until doubled in size, then divide and shape into two loaves, place in pans, and let rise again (I let it rise until it clears the top of the pan). Bake 30-40 minutes at 350F.


"the Church"

A friend of ours is applying to a seminary and had to write an essay on "The Church." He wrote about some of the usual issues faced by churches today: declining membership, how to be relevant in the world, surviving. And I'm sure those are the challenges that seminary is trying to address.

But I think questions like these are really just concerns of our human institutions (churches or not) that have little to do with "the Church." The more organic biblical imagery for the church, such as "the body of Christ" or "I am the vine and you are the branches," point to something very different. If these are accurate, then the life and nature of church is not determined by us, but by Christ. It is not us, our choices or actions or constitutions, that make the church what it is. It's Jesus. The church is the corporate, communal manifestation of Jesus in the world. It is his presence and nature that make it what it is. If he is not in it, it is not the church. If it is not like Jesus, obeying him as head, doing his work, loving with his love, then it is not the church. This is not something we decide about or make happen. It's not an issue or challenge or question for us to solve. The church is, and can be nothing other than, Christ.

Of course that answers the concern about "survival" as well. Our institutions can die (they all will eventually, every one of them). But Christ will not. If nothing else, the resurrection demonstrates that. So we need not have any fear that the church will not survive. That's not a problem we need to concern ourselves with; if we're fighting for survival, then it's not the church we're fighting for.

The church lives because Christ lives. The church is compassionate and fearless and holy because that's what Christ is. These are not up to us. What is up to us is whether we will be a part of Christ's church or not. Whether we will accept the invitation and embrace of Jesus or not. Whether we will allow ourselves to be directed and inspired and moved by Jesus or not. The church's direction and nature and membership is not in our hands. All we can do is accept the church Jesus offers us, or reject it. Not once, but every moment of our lives.


morning prayer on my birthday

On my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night
for your have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.

My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.



end and beginning

Heather noticed this entry from nine years ago, and thought I should post it again, as it's even more relevant now. I remembered it last year as I was thinking about the care of our older neighbor. Now every day I'm experiencing the juxtaposition of an old man's life and a new baby's, being constantly reminded of this:

One unique aspect of human life is our complete helplessness for a long time after birth. Other animals quickly become mobile and independent, but human beings need constant care for several years. Our first, most formative experience is one of complete vulnerability and dependence on others. And we usually end life much the way we began it. As we age, we become more and more dependent and vulnerable. I think there is a powerful meaning in this.

If it is true that the purpose of our lives is to impose our own will, then our human dependency and vulnerability can only be seen as an impediment to be overcome. Childhood would then be seen as something to be quickly grown out of, and old age something to be dreaded. And this does seem to be the view of many people.

On the other hand, if it is true that the real purpose of our lives is union with God, and that this comes not through imposing our own will but by surrendering to God’s will in faith, then the natural human experience looks much different. If our aim is complete dependence on God in faith, then childhood is a very good model for human life. As the child is dependent on the parents for care and protection and, though vulnerable and helpless, lives free and happy under the parents’ care, so we are to live under God’s care. Of course childhood is not voluntary. But as we mature and take control of our free will, we then have the choice whether to continue to follow the way of life we were born into, or leave childlike ways of dependence and pursue independence and power to take control of our environment. The choice is ours. And what we choose will shape our experience of life and also how we face the vulnerability of old age (if we don’t face it sooner through disease, injury, loss, etc). But it seems to me that childhood dependence reveals something of the meaning and ideal for our lives, and the similar vulnerability that slowly intensifies as we age calls us back to this and tests what we have learned.

Then our natural human vulnerability and dependence becomes, not a curse or impediment, but a gift. It is not meant to be conquered, but embraced. We are not meant to “outgrow” our childhood, but rather mature and see that our true dependence is meant to be directed towards God rather than other human beings. As children we completely trusted our parents, though this trust was sometimes misplaced. But it symbolized the true desire and goal of human life: To be completely dependent and trusting on God for care and protection and live in the joy and freedom of God’s love. And to help others do so as well.